Amelia Opie and the Music of the War with France

The first recording project, “Music which reaches the heart,” focused on the affective power of Opie’s lyrics and her work with Thompson on National Airs. Among the songs chosen then for recording was “My Love to War is Going,” one of the songs that helped to establish Miss Alderson’s (later Mrs. Opie’s) fame and that also represented her interest in the recently declared hostilities with France. This project, undertaken on the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 2015, focuses primarily on a set of the songs that relate to the war with France (1793-1815). Songs such as “Here’s a Health to those far away” (1795?) had a resonance for contemporaries that it is difficult to recapture today. Mary Martha Sherwood (1775-1851), author of several children’s books, recalled of an event in 1805 as the troops set off on renewed hostilities:

“The evening was externally gay, though inwardly, no doubt, sad to many. The war had broken out again after the short peace, and all the feelings which the English ladies had experienced before that short peace were, in increased force, revived. Those feelings consisted in the close connection between gaiety and death; in the fearful apprehension that the blooming young man, in his gold-laced coat and emplumed cap, who last month, perchance, was the gayest member of the circle of the little country town, might, perchance, in the next month’s Gazette be reported as a breathless corpse. It is hardly possible to bring these feelings, in all their bearings, before the minds of the young people of the present day. Perhaps it may now hardly be believed, that I have seen a whole room, at a public assembly at Bridgenorth, thrown into tears by the song of ‘Here’s a health to those far away.’” (The Life of Mrs. Sherwood, 1857)

Songs that may seem simple or trivial, when understood in the context of their contemporary reception, offer glimpses of a cultural moment long past. Similarly, “The Orphan Boy’s Tale” (1798) speaks to Opie’s ambivalence about the cost of the British victory with Nelson’s triumph over the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile.

Amelia Opie Songs (recording, April 21, 2015) [Listen]


Captain Morgan’s March

Away to the Battle

Crazy Sally

Stella! Thou False One

Here’s a Health

Lullaby song

A Hymn to the Creator

Nos Galan (New Year’s Night)

Poor Mary Anne!


Elizabeth Ferguson, soprano

Rachel McCauley, mezzo soprano

Spencer Vass, tenor

Gregory Dunleavy, baritone




How Still is now the Hamlet

Dream of Soft Delight

(Elizabeth Ferguson; Rachel McCauley; Gregory Dunleavy)


Stay Gentle Damsel, Stay Awhile

Flaunting Two

(Elizabeth Ferguson; Rachel McCauley; Spencer Vass)



The Orphan Boy’s Tale

(Elizabeth Ferguson)

The Emigrant

(Rachel McCauley)


Video: Away to the Battle