Biographical Sketches: The Ladies’ Monthly Museum

The Ladies’ Monthly Museum, vol. 5, February 1817, pp. 61-4.

Mrs. Opie

In selecting proper subjects for the Biography of our work, we are ambitious of such only as are pre-eminent for their attainments, talents, or celebrity, when united to private worth, and a character fit to inspire the emulation of our fair readers. As one of the first of these favoured few, we class the relict of the celebrated artist, John Opie, Esq. R.A. and Professor of Painting to the Royal Academy; who died in 1807. Mrs. Opie was born in Norwich, in 1771, and is the only daughter of Dr. Alderson, and eminent physician in that city. At an early age, she developed extraordinary mental powers, and under the care of her father, a gentleman of classical attainments, who has distinguished himself on a variety of occasions* [*Dr. Alderson is a member of the Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh; his published works are–On the Nature and Origin of the Contagion of Fevers, 8vo. 1788. essays on the Rhus Toxicodendron, Pubescent Poison Oak, or Sumack, shewing its Efficacy in Paralysis, and other Diseases of extreme Debility, 8vo. 1794. On the Improvement of Poor Soils, 8vo. 1802; Second Edition, 1807.], a direction was given to her talents that could not fail of success; and accordingly Miss Alderson advanced so rapidly in her acquirements as to outstrip those of her own sex and age, and to give her confidence to write poems, dramatic pieces, and novels, at a time when others are mere learners. Among these, Adelaide, a tragedy of considerable merit, was performed, under the sanction of her father, at Mr. Plumtree’s private theatre, at Norwich, the 4th and 6th of January, 1791. In this play, the principal parts were performed by Miss Alserson, Baron Harvey, and her friends the Misses Plumtree. Although the fertility of Miss Alderson’s mind was shewn in various productions, we believe she did not publish any of her works until some time after her marriage with Mr. Opie* [*Mr. Opie, it is well known, was indebted to the discrimination and friendship of Dr. Wolcott (Peter Pindar, Esq.) for his first introduction into public notice. When Dr. W. resided at Truro, in Cornwall, practicing as a physician, in one of his rides through the village of St. agnes, he was much struck with some rude sketches in chalk, and few on paper, which were shown him, of Mr. O’s performance, who was then an apprentice to a house-carpenter. Dr. W. in consequence invited him to his house, and there gave him such lessons and assistance as enabled him in a short time to set up as an itinerant portrait painter. The celebrity Mr. Opie afterwards arrived at is her unnecessary to mention.] which took place on the 8th of May, 1798. This early display of talent raised the expectations of her friends; and the reception given by the public to the more mature productions of her pen have not disappointed them–Of her person, the portrait prefixed will give a good idea; but the vivacity of her manners, so different from what might be expected, no one can have a conception who has not been in her company; for in conversation, she is very animated, free, and unreserved; her satire is, however, severe, her remarks are just, and on serious subjects, she expresses herself energetically. She has little of that softness and delicacy which is peculiar to her sex; and which, from indulgence, in many, totally destroys their usefulness for domestic or public life; but she is prepossessing and agreeable; her candour inspires confidence, and her unassuming superiority, respect. Though bereft of her mother when too young to know her loss, she has been happy in her connexions; with her father and aunt, a maiden lady, she has always lived on the best terms; and with her husband, she passed nine years in a perfect union of heart and mind. Mrs. Opie is highly respected in her native city, where she visits many of the first families; and, among her friends, can rank many well-known literary characters. To add to her felicity, her father, though advanced in years, is a fine well-proportioned man, with the glow of health on his cheek, and the uprightness of figure, and the firmness of step, of a young man. On the death of Mr. Opie, in 1807, she edited his Lectures on Painting, and prefixed a Memoir of his Life which does honour to his memory, and reflects credit on herself. Mrs. Opie’s first publication, the Father and Daughter, a tale, with other pieces, 8vo 1801, is generally read and admired. This tale shows the dire consequences of seduction in a stronger light than any publication we know of. The amiable writer professes that this tale is founded in simple nature; a such, perhaps, there never was a composition so well calculated to rouse the passions in the cause of virtue; and as a proof of the high esteem in which it is held, it has not only had a very extensive circulation in this country, but has been translated into the French language. Indeed, all her productions are written with the laudable view, and none in the English language are better, or so well calculated, for the improvement of her own sex in moral and virtue, in all their respective relations of daughter, wife, and mother. Her forte is evidently in plaintive description, and horror-struck scenes of woe, which she marks with great feeling, and a strong and bold hand; her delineations are so forcible as to arrest the attention, and leave never-to-be-forgotten traces in the mind. She next produced an Elegy to the Memory of the Duke of Bedford, 4to. In 1802; and the same year, a 12mo. vol. of beautiful Poems; of which a second edition appeared in 1804. Mrs. Opie’s poems are generally characterised by sweetness, simplicity, and pathos; her songs are exquisitely tender; and the stanzas, under “Aeolus’s Harp,” have probably not been equaled since the days of Thompson; and “The Maid of Corinth” will be read with attention as long as simple natural expression shall have power upon the mind. These were succeeded by Adeline Mowbray, or the Mother and Daughter, a tale, 3 vols. 1804; Simple Tales, 4 vols. 12mo 1806; Dangers of Coquetry, anonymous, 2 vols. 12mo The Warrior’s Return, and other Poems, foolscap 8vo. 1808; Memoir of Mr. Opie, 4to.1809, before spoken of; Temper, or Domestic Scenes, a novel, 3 vols. 12mo. 1812; and Tales of Real Life, 3 vols. 12mo. 1813.

All of which deserve the attention of our readers, they have all passed the critical ordeal with great credit; and were we to descant upon the merits of each separately, would far exceed the limits allotted to this department of our work; suffice it to say, that Mrs. Opie’s reputation as an author is founded on a solid basis; she stands high in the list of those who have exalted the female character; her works evince a combination of knowledge, taste, and genius, rarely found in similar productions; and with so few competitors in her own sex, that we know not to whom she can yield the palm.

Biographical Sketches