Biographical Sketches:The Cabinet (1807)

The Cabinet, vol 1, 1807, pp. 217-9.

“Mrs. Opie”

The Portrait which we here present to the public, is peculiarly valuable, as it exhibits a characteristic resemblance of a lady who is no less admired as a writer, than beloved as a friend and companion. Seldom have the graces of person, mind, and manner, been more happily united, or their attractive influence more generally felt and acknowledged. How much are the feelings with which we view a likeness so interesting in itself, increased from the recollection that it was traced by a hand eminently calculated to do justice to the subject, both by nature and by circumstances, and that this hand, alas! can trace it no more. But we must refer our readers to those pages of our work, where so great a national loss is particularly mentioned, and proceed to a brief account of Mrs. Opie’s early life.
She is the only child of Dr. Alderson, an eminent physician in Norwich, and of a lady whose ancestors were long since known in that city. Perhaps no two persons could have been more calculated to foster opening talents. Besides the improvements derived from them, their daughter was indebted to the instructions of the Rev. Mr. Bruckner for her accurate knowledge of the French language. Frequent proofs appeared of the poetical genius of Miss Alderson, before the death of her mother, which happened while she might yet be called a child. Some of her single compositions, were printed separately in newspapers or magazines, or in a periodical miscellany, called the CABINET.
Her marriage with Mr. Opie, took place on the 8th. of May, in the year 1798. The first of her works which was given to the world after that event, viz. “The Father and Daughter,” not only received the sanction of the English public, but was greatly admired in different parts of the Continent, especially in France, where it has been several times translated. Of the Poems, which were afterwards collected in one volume, it is needless to speak; we may safely make our appeal to the hearts of their numerous readers; and her succeeding productions, “The Mother and Daughter,” with “A Collection of Tales,” lately published, possess the same power of touching the passions.
Mrs. Opie’s musical talents, were early cultivated. Her first master was Mr. Michael Sharp, of Norwich; who, although not distinguished as a scientific musician, yet possessed a degree of love for, and ardour towards, his profession, which comparatively few of those who are employed in the drudgery of teaching enjoy. Mrs. Opie never arrived at superiority as a player, but she may be said to have been unrivalled in that kind of singing in which she more particularly delighted. Those only who have heard her, can conceive the effect which she produced, in the performance of her own ballads. Of these, “The Poor Hindu,” was one of her chief favourites, and the expression of plaintive misery, and affectionate supplication, which she threw into it, we may with safety affirm, has never been surpassed, and very seldom equalled. Mrs. Opie may fairly be said to have created a style of singing of her own, which though polished and improved by art and cultivation, was founded on that power which she appears so pre-eminently to possess, of awakening the tender sympathies, and pathetic feelings of the mind. Mr. Biggs is indebted to her, for the poetry to the Hindu and Welsh airs, which he collected and published. This difficult task of writing appropriate words to such various and singular metres, she executed with an uncommon degree of ability.
Such accomplishments as we have enumerated, form merely the embellishment of a character, and sometimes, by the intoxications of vanity, and the delusions of flattery, greatly lessen its intrinsic value. Sometimes they cast a thin veil over dispositions naturally selfish and assuming, which can never wholly conceal their defects. In Mrs. Opie, they bestow additional charms upon a heart and mind distinguished by frankness, probity, and the most diffusive kindness. In her own home, where Mr. Opie’s incomparable talents drew a constant succession of the learned, the gay, and the fashionable, she delighted all by the sweetness of her manners, and the unstudied and benevolent politeness with which she adapted herself to the taste of each individual.
Such is the testimony of the many; let the few bear witness to those sympathies which make the happiness of her friends, her own; and the unremitting ardour with which she labours to remove the miseries that come within her knowledge or influence: they are confident that in the hour of trial, her conduct will prove that the qualities and propensities which can preserve a character unspoiled, through the brilliant periods of human life, will dignify and support it, in those seasons when feelings of self-approbation, and conscious rectitude, are of more value than the applause of millions.

Biographical Sketches