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Ritchie, Anne Thackeray / A Book of Sibyls Miss Barbauld, Miss Edgeworth, Mrs Opie, Miss Austen
Peabody, explaining some
passage in his review of 'Helen' which had troubled her from its
allusion to her father. 'But,' she added, 'no one can know what
I owe to my father. He advised and directed me in everything. I
never could have done anything without him. There are things I
cannot be mistaken about, though other people can. I know them.'
As she said this the tears stood in her eyes, and her whole person
was moved.... It was, therefore, something of a trial to talk so
brilliantly and variously as she did from nine in the morning to
past eleven at night.

She was unfeignedly glad to see good company. Here is her account of
another visitor:--

_Sept_. 26.--The day before yesterday we were amusing ourselves by
telling who among literary and scientific people we should wish
to come here next. Francis said Coleridge; I said Herschell.
Yesterday morning, as I was returning from my morning walk at
half-past eight, I saw a bonnetless maid in the walk, with a
letter in her hand, in search of me. When I opened the letter I
found it was from Mr. Herschell, and that he was waiting for an
answer at Mr. Briggs's inn. I have seldom been so agreeably
surprised, and now that he is gone and that he has spent
twenty-four hours here, if the fairy were to ask me the question
again I should still more eagerly say, 'Mr. Herschell, ma'am, if
you please.'

She still came over to England from time to time, visiting at her
sisters' houses. Honora was now Lady Beaufort; another sister, Fanny,
the object of her closest and most tender affection, was Mrs. Lestock
Wilson. Age brought no change in her mode of life. Time passes with
tranquil steps, for her not hasting unduly. 'I am perfect,' she writes
at the age of seventy-three to her stepmother of seventy-two, 'so no
more about it, and thank you from my heart and every component part of
my precious self for all the care, and successful care, you have taken
of me, your old petted nurseling.'

Alas! it is sad to realise that quite late in life fresh sorrows fell
upon this warm-hearted woman. Troubles gather; young sisters fade away
in their beauty and happiness. But in sad times and good times the old
home is still unchanged, and remains for those that are left to turn to
for shelter, for help, and consolation. To the very last Miss Edgeworth
kept up her reading, her correspondence, her energy. All along we have
heard of her active habits--out in the early morning in her garden,
coming in to the nine o'clock breakfast with her hands full of roses,
sitting by and talking and reading her letters while the others ate. Her
last letter to her old friend Sir Henry Holland was after reading the
first volume of Lord Macaulay's History. Sir Henry took the letter to
Lord Macaulay, who was so much struck by its discrimination that he
asked leave to keep it.

She was now eighty-two years of age, and we find her laughing kindly
at the anxiety of her sister and brother-in-law, who had heard of her
climbing a ladder to wind up an old clock at Edgeworthtown. 'I am
heartily obliged and delighted by your being such a goose and Richard
such a gander,' she says 'as to be frightened out of your wits by my
climbing a ladder to take off the top of the clock.' She had not felt
that there was anything to fear as once again she set the time that was
so nearly at an end for her. Her share of life's hours had been well
spent and well enjoyed; with a peaceful and steady hand and tranquil
heart she might mark the dial for others whose hours were still to come.

Mrs. Edgeworth's own words tell all that remains to be told.

It was on the morning of May 22, 1849, that she was taken suddenly
ill with pain in the region of the heart, and after a few hours
breathed her last in my arms. She had always wished to die
quickly, at home, and that I should be with her. All her wishes
were fulfilled. She was gone, and nothing like her again can we
see in this world.




_MRS OPIE._

1769-1853.

'Your gentleness shall force more than your force move us to
gentleness.'--_As You Like It_.


I.

It is not very long since some articles appeared in the 'Cornhill
Magazine' which were begun under the influence of certain ancient
bookshelves with so pleasant a flavour of the old world that it seemed
at the time as if yesterday not to-day was the all-important hour, and
one gladly submitted to the subtle charm of the past--its silent veils,
its quiet incantations of dust and healing cobweb. The phase is but a
passing one with most of us, and we must soon feel that to dwell at
length upon each one of the pretty old fancies and folios of the writers
and explorers who were born towards the end of the last century would be
an impossible affectation; and yet a postscript seems wanting to the
sketches which have already appeared of Mrs. Barbauld and Miss
Edgeworth, and the names of their contemporaries should not be quite
passed over.

In a hundred charming types and prints and portraits we recognise the
well-known names as they used to appear in the garb of life. Grand
ladies in broad loops and feathers, or graceful and charming as nymphs
in muslin folds, with hanging clouds of hair; or again, in modest
coiffes such as dear Jane Austen loved and wore even in her youth.
Hannah More only took to coiffes and wimples in later life; in early
days she was fond of splendour, and, as we read, had herself painted in
emerald earrings. How many others besides her are there to admire! Who
does not know the prim, sweet, amply frilled portraits of Mrs. Trimmer
and Joanna Baillie? Only yesterday a friend showed me a sprightly,
dark-eyed miniature of Felicia Hemans. Perhaps most beautiful among all
her sister muses smiles the lovely head of Amelia Opie, as she was
represented by her husband with luxuriant chestnut hair piled up Romney
fashion in careless loops, with the radiant yet dreaming eyes which are
an inheritance for some members of her family.

The authoresses of that day had the pre-eminence in looks, in gracious
dress and bearing; but they were rather literary women than anything
else, and had but little in common with the noble and brilliant writers
who were to follow them in our own more natural and outspoken times;
whose wise, sweet, passionate voices are already passing away into the
distance; of whom so few remain to us.[4] The secret of being real is no
very profound one, and yet how rare it is, how long it was before the
readers and writers of this century found it out! It is like the secret
of singing in perfect tune, or of playing the violin as Joachim can play
upon it. In literature, as in music, there is at times a certain
indescribable tone of absolute reality which carries the reader away and
for the moment absorbs him into the mind of the writer. Some
metempsychosis takes place. It is no longer a man or a woman turning the
pages of a book, it is a human being suddenly absorbed by the book
itself, living the very life which it records, breathing the spirit and
soul of the writer. Such books are events, not books to us, new
conditions of existence, new selves suddenly revealed through the
experience of other more vivid personalities than our own. The actual
experience of other lives is not for us, but this link of simple reality
of feeling is one all independent of events; it is like the miracle of
the loaves and fishes repeated and multiplied--one man comes with his
fishes and lo! the multitude is filled.

Footnote 4: And yet as I write I remember one indeed who is among us,
whose portrait a Reynolds or an Opie might have been glad to paint for
the generations who will love her works.

But this simple discovery, that of reality, that of speaking from the
heart, was one of the last to be made by women. In France Madame de
Sévigné and Madame de La Fayette were not afraid to be themselves, but
in England the majority of authoresses kept their readers carefully at
pen's length, and seemed for the most part to be so conscious of their
surprising achievements in the way of literature as never to forget for
a single instant that they were in print. With the exception of Jane
Austen and Maria Edgeworth, the women writers of the early part of this
century were, as I have just said, rather literary women than actual
creators of literature. It is still a mystery how they attained to their
great successes. Frances Burney charms great Burke and mighty Johnson
and wise Macaulay in later times. Mrs. Opie draws compliments from
Mackintosh, and compliments from the Duchess of Saxe-Coburg, and Sydney
Smith, and above all tears from Walter Scott.

Perhaps many of the flattering things addressed to Mrs. Opie may have
said not less for her own charm and sweetness of nature than for the
merit of her unassuming productions; she must have been a bright, merry,
and fascinating person, and compliments were certainly more in her line
than the tributes of tears which she records.

The authoresses of heroines are often more interesting than the heroines
themselves, and Amelia Opie was certainly no exception to this somewhat
general statement. A pleasant, sprightly authoress, beaming bright
glances on her friends, confident, intelligent, full of interest in
life, carried along in turn by one and by another influence, she comes
before us a young and charming figure, with all the spires of Norwich
for a background, and the sound of its bells, and the stir of its
assizes, as she issues from her peaceful home in her father's tranquil
old house, where the good physician lives widowed, tending his poor and
his sick, and devotedly spoiling his only child.


II.

Amelia Opie was born in 1769 in the old city of Norwich, within reach of
the invigorating breezes of the great North Sea. Her youth must have
been somewhat solitary; she was the only child of a kind and cultivated
physician, Doctor James Alderson, whose younger brother, a barrister,
also living in Norwich, became the father of Baron Alderson. Her mother
died in her early youth. From her father, however, little Amelia seems
to have had the love and indulgence of over half a century, a tender and
admiring love which she returned with all her heart's devotion. She was
the pride and darling of his home, and throughout her long life her
father's approbation was the one chief motive of her existence. Spoiling
is a vexed question, but as a rule people get so much stern justice from
all the rest of the world that it seems well that their parents should
love and comfort them in youth for the many disgraces and difficulties
yet to come.

Her mother is described as a delicate, high-minded woman, 'somewhat of a
disciplinarian,' says Mrs. Opie's excellent biographer, Miss Brightwell,
but she died too soon to carry her theories into practice. Miss Brightwell
suggests that 'Mrs. Opie might have been more demure and decorous had
her mother lived, but perhaps less charming.' There are some verses
addressed to her mother in Mrs. Opie's papers in which it must be
confessed that the remembrance of her admonition plays a most important
part--

Hark! clearer still thy voice I hear.
Again reproof in accents mild,
Seems whispering in my conscious ear,

and so on.

Some of Mrs. Alderson's attempts at discipline seemed unusual and
experimental; the little girl was timid, afraid of black people, of
black beetles, and of human skeletons. She was given the skeleton to
play with, and the beetles to hold in her hand. One feels more sympathy
with the way in which she was gently reconciled to the poor negro with
the frightening black face--by being told the story of his wrongs. But
with the poor mother's untimely death all this maternal supervision
came to an end. 'Amelia, your mother is gone; may you never have reason
to blush when you remember her!' her father said as he clasped his
little orphan to his heart; and all her life long Amelia remembered
those words.

There is a pretty reminiscence of her childhood from a beginning of the
memoir which was never written:--'One of my earliest recollections is of
gazing on the bright blue sky as I lay in my little bed before my hour
of rising came, listening with delighted attention to the ringing of a
peal of bells. I had heard that heaven was beyond those blue skies, and
I had been taught that _there_ was the home of the good, and I fancied
that those sweet bells were ringing in heaven.' The bells were ringing
for the Norwich Assizes, which played an important part in our little
heroine's life, and which must have been associated with many of her
early memories.

The little girl seems to have been allowed more liberty than is usually
given to children. 'As soon as I was old enough to enjoy a procession,'
she says, 'I was taken to see the Judges come in. Youthful pages in
pretty dresses ran by the side of the High Sheriff's carriage, in which
the Judges sat, while the coaches drove slowly and with a solemnity
becoming the high and awful office of those whom they contained.... With
reverence ever did I behold the Judges' wigs, the scarlet robes they
wore, and even the white wand of the Sheriff.'

There is a description which in after years might have made a pretty
picture for her husband's pencil of the little maiden wandering into the
court one day, and called by a kind old Judge to sit beside him upon the
bench. She goes on to recount how next day she was there again; and when
some attendant of the court wanted her to leave the place, saying not
unnaturally, 'Go, Miss, this is no place for you; be advised,' the Judge
again interfered, and ordered the enterprising little girl to be brought
to her old place upon the cushion by his side. The story gives one a
curious impression of a child's life and education. She seems to have
come and gone alone, capable, intelligent, unabashed, interested in all
the events and humours of the place.

Children have among other things a very vivid sense of citizenship
and public spirit, somewhat put out in later life by the rush of
personal feeling, but in childhood the personal events are so few and
so irresponsible that public affairs become an actual part of life and
of experience. While their elders are still discussing the news and
weighing its importance, it is already a part of the children's life.
Little Amelia Alderson must have been a happy child, free, affectionate,
independent; grateful, as a child should be, towards those who befriended
her. One of her teachers was a French dancing-master called Christian,
for whom she had a warm regard. She relates that long afterwards she
came with her husband and a friend to visit the Dutch church at Norwich.
'The two gentlemen were engaged in looking round and making their
observations, and I, finding myself somewhat cold, began to hop and
dance upon the spot where I stood, when my eyes chanced to fall upon
the pavement below, and I started at beholding the well-known name of
Christian graved upon the slab; I stopped in dismay, shocked to find
that I had actually been dancing upon the grave of my old master--he who
first taught me to dance.'


III.

After her mother's death, Amelia Alderson, who was barely fifteen at the
time, began to take her place in society. She kept her father's house,
received his friends, made his home bright with her presence. The lawyers
came round in due season: Sir James Mackintosh came, the town was full
of life, of talk, of music, and poetry, and prejudice.

Harriet Martineau, in her memoir of Mrs. Opie, gives a delightful and
humorous account of the Norwich of that day--rivalling Lichfield and its
literary coterie, only with less sentimentality and some additional
peculiarities of its own. One can almost see the Tory gentlemen, as Miss
Martineau describes them, setting a watch upon the Cathedral, lest the
Dissenters should burn it as a beacon for Boney; whereas good Bishop
Bathurst, with more faith in human nature, goes on resolutely touching
his hat to the leading Nonconformists. 'The French taught in schools,'
says Miss Martineau, 'was found to be unintelligible when the peace
at length arrived, taught as it was by an aged powdered Monsieur
and an elderly flowered Madame, who had taught their pupils' Norfolk
pronunciation. But it was beginning to be known,' she continues, 'that
there was such a language as German, and in due time there was a young
man who had actually been in Germany, and was translating "Nathan the
Wise." When William Taylor became eminent as almost the only German
scholar in England, old Norwich was very proud and grew, to say the
truth, excessively conceited. She was (and she might be) proud of her
Sayers, she boasted of her intellectual supper-parties, and finally
called herself the "Athens of England."'

In this wholesome, cheerful Athens, blown by the invigorating Northern
breezes, little Amelia bloomed and developed into a lovely and happy
girl. She was fortunate, indeed, in her friends. One near at hand must
have been an invaluable adviser for a motherless, impressionable girl.
Mrs. John Taylor was so loved that she is still remembered. Mrs. Barbauld
prized and valued her affection beyond all others. 'I know the value
of your letters,' says Sir James Mackintosh, writing from Bombay;
'they rouse my mind on subjects which interest us in common--children,
literature, and life. I ought to be made permanently better by
contemplating a mind like yours.' And he still has Mrs. Taylor in
his mind when he concludes with a little disquisition on the contrast
between the barren sensibility, the indolent folly of some, the useful
kindness of others, 'the industrious benevolence which requires a
vigorous understanding and a decisive character.'

Some of Mrs. Opie's family have shown me a photograph of her in her
Quaker dress, in old age, dim, and changed, and sunken, from which it is
very difficult to realise all the brightness, and life, and animation
which must have belonged to the earlier part of her life. The delightful
portrait of her engraved in the 'Mirror' shows the animated beaming
countenance, the soft expressive eyes, the abundant auburn waves of
hair, of which we read. The picture is more like some charming allegorical
being than a real live young lady--some Belinda of the 'Rape of the
Lock' (and one would as soon have expected Belinda to turn Quakeress).
Music, poetry, dancing, elves, graces and flirtations, cupids, seem to
attend her steps. She delights in admiration, friendship, companionship,
and gaiety, and yet with it all we realise a warm-hearted sincerity, and
appreciation of good and high-minded things, a truth of feeling passing
out of the realms of fancy altogether into one of the best realities of
life. She had a thousand links with life: she was musical, artistic; she
was literary; she had a certain amount of social influence; she had a
voice, a harp, a charming person, mind and manner. Admiring monarchs in
later days applauded her performance; devoted subjects were her friends
and correspondents, and her sphere in due time extended beyond the
approving Norwich-Athenian coterie of old friends who had known her from
her childhood, to London itself, where she seems to have been made
welcome by many, and to have captivated more than her share of victims.

In some letters of hers written to Mrs. Taylor and quoted by her
biographer we get glimpses of some of these early experiences. The
bright and happy excitable girl comes up from Norwich to London to be
made more happy still, and more satisfied with the delight of life as
it unfolds. Besides her fancy for lawyers, literary people had a great
attraction for Amelia, and Godwin seems to have played an important part
in her earlier experience. A saying of Mrs. Inchbald's is quoted by
her on her return home as to the report of the world being that Mr.
Holcroft was in love with Mrs. Inchbald, Mrs. Inchbald with Mr. Godwin,
Mr. Godwin with Miss Alderson, and Miss Alderson with Mr. Holcroft!

The following account of Somers Town, and a philosopher's costume in
those days, is written to her father in 1794:--

After a most delightful ride through some of the richest country I
ever beheld, we arrived about one o'clock at the philosopher's
house; we found him with his hair _bien poudré_, and in a pair of
new sharp-toed red morocco slippers, not to mention his green coat
and crimson under-waistcoat.

From Godwin's by the city they come to Marlborough Street, and find Mrs.
Siddons nursing her little baby, and as handsome and charming as ever.
They see Charles Kemble there, and they wind up their day by calling on
Mrs. Inchbald in her pleasant lodgings, with two hundred pounds just
come in from Sheridan for a farce of sixty pages. Godwin's attentions
seem to have amused and pleased the fair, merry Amelia, who is not a
little proud of her arch influence over various rugged and apparently
inaccessible persons. Mrs. Inchbald seems to have been as jealous of
Miss Alderson at the time as she afterwards was of Mary Wollstonecraft.
'Will you give me nothing to keep for your sake?' says Godwin, parting
from Amelia. 'Not even your slipper? I had it once in my possession.'
'This was true,' adds Miss Amelia; 'my shoe had come off and he picked
it up and put it in his pocket.' Elsewhere she tells her friend Mrs.
Taylor that Mr. Holcroft would like to come forward, but that he had no
chance.

That some one person had a chance, and a very good one, is plain enough
from the context of a letter, but there is nothing in Mrs. Opie's life
to show why fate was contrary in this, while yielding so bountiful a
share of all other good things to the happy country girl.

Among other people, she seems to have charmed various French refugees,
one of whom was the Duc d'Aiguillon, come over to England with some
seven thousand others, waiting here for happier times, and hiding their
sorrows among our friendly mists. Godwin was married when Miss Alderson
revisited her London friends and admirers in 1797--an eventful visit,
when she met Opie for the first time.

The account of their first meeting is amusingly given in Miss
Brightwell's memoirs. It was at an evening party. Some of those present
were eagerly expecting the arrival of Miss Alderson, but the evening was
wearing away and still she did not appear; 'at length the door was flung
open, and she entered bright and smiling, dressed in a robe of blue, her
neck and arms bare, and on her head a small bonnet placed in somewhat
coquettish style sideways and surmounted by a plume of three white
feathers. Her beautiful hair hung in waving tresses over her shoulders;
her face was kindling with pleasure at the sight of her old friends, and
her whole appearance was animated and glowing. At the time she came in
Mr. Opie was sitting on a sofa beside Mr. F., who had been saying from
time to time, 'Amelia is coming; Amelia will surely come. Why is she not
here?' and whose eyes were turned in her direction. He was interrupted
by his companion eagerly exclaiming, 'Who is that--who is that?' and
hastily rising Opie pressed forward to be introduced to the fair object
whose sudden appearance had so impressed him.' With all her love of
excitement, of change, of variety, one cannot but feel, as I have said,
that there was also in Amelia Alderson's cheerful life a vein of deep
and very serious feeling, and the bracing influence of the upright and
high-minded people among whom she had been brought up did not count for
nothing in her nature. She could show her genuine respect for what was
generous and good and true, even though she did not always find strength
to carry out the dream of an excitable and warm-hearted nature.


IV.

There is something very interesting in the impression one receives of
the 'Inspired Peasant,' as Alan Cunningham calls John Opie--the man
who did not paint to live so much as live to paint. He was a simple,
high-minded Cornishman, whose natural directness and honesty were
unspoiled by favour, unembittered by failure. Opie's gift, like some
deep-rooted seed living buried in arid soil, ever aspired upwards towards
the light. His ideal was high; his performance fell far short of his
life-long dream, and he knew it. But his heart never turned from its
life's aim, and he loved beauty and Art with that true and unfailing
devotion which makes a man great, even though his achievements do not
show all he should have been.

The old village carpenter, his father, who meant him to succeed to
the business, was often angry, and loudly railed at the boy when good
white-washed walls and clean boards were spoiled by scrawls of
lamp-black and charcoal. John worked in the shop and obeyed his father,
but when his day's task was over he turned again to his darling
pursuits. At twelve years old he had mastered Euclid, and could also
rival 'Mark Oaks,' the village phenomenon, in painting a butterfly; by
the time John was sixteen he could earn as much as 7_s._ 6_d._ for a
portrait. It was in this year that there came to Truro an accomplished
and various man Dr. Wolcott--sometimes a parson, sometimes a doctor of
medicine, sometimes as Peter Pindar, a critic and literary man. This
gentleman was interested by young Opie and his performances, and
he asked him on one occasion how he liked painting. 'Better than
bread-and-butter,' says the boy. Wolcott finally brought his _protégé_
to London, where the Doctor's influence and Opie's own undoubted merit
brought him success; and to Opie's own amazement he suddenly found
himself the fashion. His street was crowded with carriages; long
processions of ladies and gentlemen came to sit to him; he was able to
furnish a house 'in Orange Court, by Leicester Fields;' he was beginning
to put by money when, as suddenly as he had been taken up, he was
forgotten again. The carriages drove off in some other direction, and
Opie found himself abandoned by the odd, fanciful world of fashions,
which would not be fashions if they did not change day by day. It might
have proved a heart-breaking phase of life for a man whose aim had been
less single. But Opie was of too generous a nature to value popularity
beyond achievement. He seems to have borne this freak of fortune with
great equanimity, and when he was sometimes overwhelmed, it was not by
the praise or dispraise of others, but by his own consciousness of
failure, of inadequate performance. Troubles even more serious than loss
of patronage and employment befell him later. He had married, unhappily
for himself, a beautiful, unworthy woman, whose picture he has painted
many times. She was a faithless as well as a weak and erring wife,
and finally abandoned him. When Opie was free to marry again he was
thirty-six, a serious, downright man of undoubted power and influence,
of sincerity and tenderness of feeling, of rugged and unusual manners.
He had not many friends, nor did he wish for many, but those who knew
him valued him at his worth. His second wife showed what was in her by
her appreciation of his noble qualities, though one can hardly realise a
greater contrast than that of these two, so unlike in character, in
training, and disposition. They were married in London, at Marylebone
Church, in that dismal year of '98, which is still remembered. Opie
loved his wife deeply and passionately; he did not charm her, though she
charmed him, but for his qualities she had true respect and admiration.


V.

Opie must be forgiven if he was one-idead, if he erred from too
much zeal. All his wife's bright gaiety of nature, her love for her
fellow-creatures, her interest in the world, her many-sidedness, this
uncompromising husband would gladly have kept for himself. For him his
wife and his home were the whole world; his Art was his whole life.

The young couple settled down in London after their marriage, where,
notwithstanding fogs and smoke and dull monotony of brick and smut, so
many beautiful things are created; where Turner's rainbow lights were
first reflected, where Tennyson's 'Princess' sprang from the fog. It
was a modest and quiet installation, but among the pretty things which
Amelia brought to brighten her new home we read of blue feathers and
gold gauze bonnets, tiaras, and spencers, scarlet ribbons, buff net, and
cambric flounces, all of which give one a pleasant impression of her
intention to amuse herself, and to enjoy the society of her fellows, and
to bring her own pleasant contributions to their enjoyment.

Opie sat working at his easel, painting portraits to earn money for his
wife's use and comfort, and encouraging her to write, for he had faith
in work. He himself would never intermit his work for a single day. He
would have gladly kept her always in his sight. 'If I would stay at home
for ever, I believe my husband would be merry from morning to night--a
lover more than a husband,' Amelia writes to Mrs. Taylor. He seemed to
have some feeling that time for him was not to be long--that life was
passing quickly by, almost too quickly to give him time to realise his
new home happiness, to give him strength to grasp his work. He was no
rapid painter, instinctively feeling his light and colour and action,
and seizing the moment's suggestion, but anxious, laborious, and
involved in that sad struggle in which some people pass their lives, for
ever disappointed. Opie's portraits seem to have been superior to his
compositions, which were well painted, 'but unimaginative and
commonplace,' says a painter of our own time, whose own work quickens
with that mysterious soul which some pictures (as indeed some human
beings) seem to be entirely without.

'During the nine years that I was his wife,' says Mrs. Opie, 'I never
saw him satisfied with any one of his productions. Often, very often, he
has entered my sitting-room, and, throwing himself down in an agony of
despondence upon the sofa, exclaimed, "I shall never be a painter!"'

He was a wise and feeling critic, however great his shortcomings as a
painter may have been. His lectures are admirable; full of real thought
and good judgment. Sir James Mackintosh places them beyond Reynolds's in
some ways.

'If there were no difficulties every one would be a painter,' says Opie,
and he goes on to point out what a painter's object should be--'the
discovery or conception of perfect ideas of things; nature in its
purest and most essential form rising from the species to the genus, the
highest and ultimate exertion of human genius.' For him it was no
grievance that a painter's life should be one long and serious effort.
'If you are wanting to yourselves, rule may be multiplied upon rule and
precept upon precept in vain.' Some of his remarks might be thought
still to apply in many cases, no less than they did a hundred years ago,
when he complained of those green-sick lovers of chalk, brick-dust,
charcoal and old tapestry, who are so ready to decry the merits of
colouring and to set it down as a kind of superfluity. It is curious to
contrast Opie's style in literature with that of his wife, who belongs
to the entirely past generation which she reflected, whereas he wrote
from his own original impressions, saying those things which struck him
as forcibly then as they strike us now. 'Father and Daughter' was Mrs.
Opie's first acknowledged book. It was published in 1801, and the author
writes modestly of all her apprehensions. 'Mr. Opie has no patience with
me; he consoles me by averring that fear makes me overrate others and
underrate myself.' The book was reviewed in the 'Edinburgh.' We hear of
one gentleman who lies awake all night after reading it; and Mrs.
Inchbald promises a candid opinion, which, however, we do not get.
Besides stories and novels, Mrs. Opie was the author of several poems
and verses which were much admired. There was an impromptu to Sir James
Mackintosh, which brought a long letter in return, and one of her songs
was quoted by Sydney Smith in a lecture at the Royal Institution. Mrs.
Opie was present, and she used to tell in after times 'how unexpectedly
the compliment came upon her, and how she shrunk down upon her seat in
order to screen herself from observation.'

The lines are indeed charming:--

Go, youth, beloved in distant glades,
New friends, new hopes, new joys to find,
Yet sometimes deign 'midst fairer maids
To think on her thou leav'st behind.
Thy love, thy fate, dear youth to share
Must never be my happy lot;
But thou may'st grant this humble prayer,
Forget me not, forget me not.

Yet should the thought of my distress
Too painful to thy feelings be,
Heed not the wish I now express,
Nor ever deign to think of me;
But oh! if grief thy steps attend,
If want, if sickness be thy lot,
And thou require a soothing friend,
Forget me not, forget me not.


VI.

The little household was a modest one, but we read of a certain amount
of friendly hospitality. Country neighbours from Norfolk appear upon the
scene; we find Northcote dining and praising the toasted cheese. Mrs.
Opie's heart never for an instant ceased to warm to her old friends and
companions. She writes an amusing account to Mrs. Taylor of her London
home, her interests and visitors, 'her happy and delightful life.' She
worked, she amused herself, she received her friends at home and went to
look for them abroad. Among other visits, Mrs. Opie speaks of one to an
old friend who has 'grown plump,' and of a second to 'Betsy Fry' who,
notwithstanding her comfortable home and prosperous circumstances, has
grown lean. It would be difficult to recognise under this familiar
cognomen and description the noble and dignified woman whose name and
work are still remembered with affectionate respect and wonder by a not
less hard-working, but less convinced and convincing generation. This
friendship was of great moment to Amelia Opie in after days, at a
time when her heart was low and her life very sad and solitary; but
meanwhile, as I have said, there were happy times for her; youth and
youthful spirits and faithful companionship were all hers, and troubles
had not yet come.

One day Mrs. Opie gives a characteristic account of a visit from Mrs.
Taylor's two sons. '"John," said I, "will you take a letter from me to
your mother?" "Certainly," replied John, "for then I shall be sure of
being welcome." "Fy," returned I. "Mr. Courtier, you know you want
nothing to add to the heartiness of the welcome you will receive at
home." "No, indeed," said Richard, "and if Mrs. Opie sends her letter by
you it will be one way of making it less valued and attended to than it
would otherwise be." To the truth of this speech I subscribed and wrote
not. I have heard in later days a pretty description of the simple home
in which all these handsome, cultivated, and remarkable young people
grew up round their noble-minded mother.' One of Mrs. John Taylor's
daughters became Mrs. Reeve, the mother of Mr. Henry Reeve, another was
Mrs. Austin, the mother of Lady Duff Gordon.

Those lean kine we read of in the Bible are not peculiar to Egypt and to
the days of Joseph and his brethren. The unwelcome creatures are apt to
make their appearance in many a country and many a household, and in
default of their natural food to devour all sorts of long-cherished
fancies, hopes, and schemes. Some time after his marriage, Opie
suddenly, and for no reason, found himself without employment, and the
severest trial they experienced during their married life, says his
wife, was during this period of anxiety. She, however, cheered him
womanfully, would not acknowledge her own dismay, and Opie, gloomy and
desponding though he was, continued to paint as regularly as before.
Presently orders began to flow in again, and did not cease until his
death.


VII.

Their affairs being once more prosperous, a long-hoped-for dream became
a reality, and they started on an expedition to Paris, a solemn event in
those days and not lightly to be passed over by a biographer. One long
war was ended, another had not yet begun. The Continent was a promised
land, fondly dreamt of though unknown. 'At last in Paris; at last in the
city which she had so longed to see!' Mrs. Opie's description of her
arrival reads a comment upon history. As they drive into the town,
everywhere chalked up upon the walls and the houses are inscriptions
concerning 'L'Indivisibilité de la République.' How many subsequent
writings upon the wall did Mrs. Opie live to see! The English party find
rooms at a hotel facing the Place de la Concorde, where the guillotine,
that token of order and tranquillity, was then perpetually standing.
The young wife's feelings may be imagined when within an hour of their
arrival Opie, who had rushed off straight to the Louvre, returned with a
face of consternation to say that they must leave Paris at once. The
Louvre was shut; and, moreover, the whiteness of everything, the houses,
the ground they stood on, all dazzled and blinded him. He was a lost man
if he remained! By some happy interposition they succeed in getting
admission to the Louvre, and as the painter wonders and admires his
nervous terrors leave him. The picture left by Miss Edgeworth of Paris
Society in the early years of the century is more brilliant, but not
more interesting than Mrs. Opie's reminiscences of the fleeting scene,
gaining so much in brilliancy from the shadows all round about. There is
the shadow of the ghastly guillotine upon the Place de la Concorde, the
shadows of wars but lately over and yet to come, the echo in the air of
arms and discord; meanwhile a brilliant, agreeable, flashing Paris
streams with sunlight, is piled with treasures and trophies of victory,
and crowded with well-known characters. We read of Kosciusko's nut-brown
wig concealing his honourable scars; Masséna's earrings flash in the
sun; one can picture it all, and the animated inrush of tourists, and
the eager life stirring round about the walls of the old Louvre.

It was at this time that they saw Talma perform, and years after, in her
little rooms in Lady's Field at Norwich, Mrs. Opie, in her Quaker dress,
used to give an imitation of the great actor and utter a deep 'Cain,
Cain, where art thou?' To which Cain replies in sepulchral tones.

We get among other things an interesting glimpse of Fox standing in the
Louvre Gallery opposite the picture of St. Jerome by Domenichino, a
picture which, as it is said, he enthusiastically admired. Opie, who
happened to be introduced to him, then and there dissented from this
opinion. 'You must be a better judge on such points than I am,' says
Fox; and Mrs. Opie proudly writes of the two passing on together
discussing and comparing the pictures. She describes them next standing
before the 'Transfiguration' of Raphael. The Louvre in those days must
have been for a painter a wonder palace indeed. The 'Venus de' Medici'
was on her way; it was a time of miracles, as Fox said. Meanwhile Mrs.
Opie hears someone saying that the First Consul is on his way from the
Senate, and she hurries to a window to look out. 'Bonaparte seems very
fond of state and show for a Republican,' says Mrs. Fox. Fox himself
half turns to the window, then looks back to the pictures again. As for
Opie, one may be sure his attention never wandered for one instant.

They saw the First Consul more than once. The Pacificator, as he was
then called, was at the height of his popularity; on one occasion
they met Fox with his wife on his arm crossing the Carrousel to the
Tuìlerìes, where they are also admitted to a ground-floor room, from
whence they look upon a marble staircase and see several officers
ascending, 'one of whom, with a helmet which seemed entirely of gold,
was Eugène de Beauharnais. A few minutes afterwards,' she says, 'there
was a rush of officers down the stairs, and among them I saw a short
pale man with his hat in his hand, who, as I thought, resembled Lord
Erskine in profile....' This of course is Bonaparte, unadorned amidst
all this studied splendour, and wearing only a little tricoloured
cockade. Maria Cosway, the painter, who was also in Paris at the time,
took them to call at the house of Madame Bonaparte _mère_, where they
were received by 'a blooming, courteous ecclesiastic, powdered and with
purple stockings and gold buckles, and a costly crucifix.



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