Tales of the Heart (1820): Shorter Reviews

Literary Chronicle, vol. 2, July 22, 1820, 466-7.

THOSE persons who have read this lady’s performances, either in prose or verse, will not find any thing in these tales particularly new, or eminently striking.  Each volume, notwithstanding its being formed in a series, may be taken up or put down as inclination or opportunity may suggest; this is an advantage equally to be found in Edgeworth, Mrs. Hannah Moore, and other estimable writers.

            There are, we believe, but two opinions as to general merits of this fair author: — the one, that her writings are virtuous in their tendency, and consequently moral in their consequence; — the other, that her descriptions are common place and her stories sometimes ineffective. Every production which has a virtuous example for its guide, is praiseworthy; and however common place, ought to be received favourably.  Narrative is the medium through which truth or fiction is seen, the chain which keeps the incidents together till we can discover and appreciate, or discover and reprehend.  Effect appears to us, to be of two characters, — a gradual detail from beginning to end, or a final dénouement at the end, when curiosity is satisfied and patience rewarded.  Some of the tales under review produce the one effect, and some the other.  The titles of them are aptly chosen and inviting.  ‘A Woman’s Love’ and ‘a Wife’s Duty’, are two most endearing qualities.  The lover adores the first and the husband enjoys the last.  The object is supreme, and her performance admirable.  Love and Duty are two amiable sisters, and in heaven if not always on earth, inseparable.  Although we have not room for extracts from this tale, under the above united title, yet we will give a scrap or two of the poetry interspersed in it, and which we conceive to be the best.  But first, we do not like the hacknied rhymes of some of them, which are as familiar to our ears as the chiming of the church-bells for prayers, — ‘impart’ is a most delicious word, — ‘rove’ is another, especially to accompany ‘love,’ – and ‘roam,’ followed by ‘home,’ or rather estranged from it, is exquisite Gretna-green language.  And as, we are told, ‘the duet,’ in which this wandering is found, is set (we presume to music) and about to be published, we pass over it, though “that is a charming duet,” cried Seymour, when it was ended.  Then leaning behind Lady Martindale and Lord Charles, and calling to me, he said, with a look from which my conscious eye shrunk, “Helen, I admire the sentiment of that duet – I think, my love, we will get it – we should sing it con amore, should we not?”’ Oh yes! sing it con amore certainly; –what would songs be without Italian, or tales without French? since we have so much served up by the delicate lady, and our native language has not obscurity sufficient for such tasty purposes.  But what a beautiful comparison we quote here before we proceed, which says, ‘Lord Charles’s eyes were “like boiled gooseberries,” and “really dead eyes.”’  Sublime indeed!  We give the title of another song, ‘Fairest, Sweetest, Dearest,’ which must be enough without the contents.  The following, from ‘a song,’ is pretty, and might serve as a relief after reading ‘Poor Mary Ann! –

[quotes “No, never” ?]

            ‘Happy Faces, or Benevolence and Selfishness,’ the last tale of the fourth volume, is, we think, very good and highly entertaining. –

[quotes “Happy Faces”]

            However, being determined to make happy faces with his savings from his estate, which is entailed on the male heir of his family, and having an immense fortune left him by the death of an old friend in India, he sets about it in the persons of a nephew at college and a niece who has a fortune of fifteen thousand pounds, and other relations; in whom he discovers such qualities and dispositions as he imagines deserve encouragement.  Of course, as nothing can be done in such stories, without love, — the aforesaid nephew loves his niece, but his fortune not being equal to her’s, will not form a matrimonial union; this reaches his uncle’s ears, who givens him a sufficiency to maintain his dignity and complete his happiness.  The marriage is solemnized with all the usual dramatis personae.  Arthur left divinity, and, in conformity to his own wishes, entered himself a student in Lincoln’s Inn, soon after his marriage, as he liked not a life of idleness; but Sir Edward’s seat was his country home, and he and Justina, with their lovely children, threw a charm over the evening of their benefactor’s life.  The careless laugh, the playfulness of infancy, and the more sober testimonies of enjoyment exhibited by happy and grateful maturity, are in unison with the feelings and affections of the man of benevolence; and Sir Edward still continues – and long may he continue! – to bless the hour when his Quixotism led him to leave his retirement and eventually gave him the supreme delight of making of seeing HAPPY FACES!  And finally, we take our leave by thinking, though we do not always agree with some of the sentimental passages in these tales before us, yet, as they will glide into the presence of many amiable circles; and as they are ‘Tales of the Heart,’ many ‘Happy Faces’ will acknowledge the literary merits of their author.

Lady’s Monthly Museum, series 3, vol. 12, Aug. 1820, pp.95-8.

PERHAPS no writer of the present day possesses so fully as Mrs. Opie the power of interesting  us by presenting us with vivid and natural portraits of human feelings and passions, as exhibited in domestic life.  Other authors surprise, elevate, or dazzle our imaginations by romantic incident, splendid imagery, or the description of highly-wrought character, in scense and situations remote from the habits of ordinary life; but she has achieved the far more difficult task of uniting our suffrages by narrating ordinary and probably events, in a manner at once true to nature, and yet novel and touching; while the development of character, she displays such an accurate knowledge of the human heart, such justness of principle, and so much warmth of feeling, as excite at once our sympathy and admiration.  Some little disappointment will be felt, however, by those who contrast the tales before us, with her earlier productions, for much as we find in them to praise, we are yet compelled to say, they are in many parts inferior to her former works.  If, however, she lose in some respects by being compared with herself, there are few others by a comparison with whom she would not gain.  The first tale, Love, Mystery, and Superstition, is very interesting; our sympathy is powerfully excited for the unfortunate Rinaldo and Angela; but we must observe, Mrs. Opie has fallen into an error, when she speaks of the former as having taken his vows at seventeen; no monk can be professed previous to the age of twenty-one.  The second tale, The Two Sir Williams, is a very pleasing domestic sketch; the supper scene is admirable, and has a very dramatic effect.  The story of The Two Sins, is exquisitely written throughout; Ronald never for a moment loses his hold on our hearts.  Nothing can be more exquisitely pathetic than the description of his feelings on leaving the paternal home, and on recovering his poor old parents; the contrast between him and his brother is admirable.  The catastrophe, though we were in some degree prepared for it, thrilled us with horror.  The story of A Woman’s Love, contains many striking passages; but it is upon the whole inferior, both in interest and pathos, to the generality of Mrs. Opie’s productions.  The continuation of it, A Wife’s Duty, is much better written: the suffering wife, Helen Pendarves, is admirably drawn; it is one of this authoress’s principal merits that she paints the feminine virtues in the brightest and the loveliest colours.  The plot of The Opposite Neighbour, is ingenious and well wound up; but Evelyn’s romantic stratagem is certainly inconsistent with the general tone of his character.  The concluding tale, Benevolence and Selfishness, is delightfully written.  Never did benevolence wear a more amiable form than that of Sir Edward Meredith.  All the characters are, in fact, sketched in a masterly manner, and supported with the greatest spirit throughout.  The style of the work has the same elegant and pathetic simplicity which distinguishes Mrs. Opie’s former productions.  We regret that we can only give a short extract; it is from the conclusion of the tale of A Wife’s Duty.

[quotes from “A Wife’s Duty”]

Monthly Magazine, vol. 50, Sept. 1820,p. 168.

Our celebrated novelist, Mrs. OPIE, has lately gratified the public by a new and very interesting publication, entitled, Tales of the Heart, in four volumes.  They consist of numerous stories, both fanciful and historical, characterised throughout by the same pathetic powers of sentiment and description, which exercise so strong an influence over the feelings in most of the former productions, which are so deservedly appreciated and felt by almost all manner of readers.  Delicate and touching, however, as many of these traits of the heart undoubtedly are, we do not think there is any single tale which we could point out, equal in depth of interest and heart-rending power – to the simple but sublime delineation of passions, exhibited in that of “The Father and Daughter;” which rivals the happiest efforts of Mrs. Inchbald, and those of the first of the school to which she gave birth.  In this power of dramatic effect, wrought out of the most simple materials, Mrs. Opie’s genius is peculiar and inimitable.  Among the most pleasing and delightful which the present volumes contain, we notice The Two Sons, a Woman’s Love, the Opposite Neighbour, and perhaps, Benevolence and Selfishness, may be added.  Though we do not perceive any visible superiority in the progressive writings of this lady, compared with her more early ones, yet, they are always such as to merit our approbation.

La Belle Assemblée, ns, vol. 22, Nov. 1820,pp. 236-7.


WE have often been pained at seeing the imagination of writers decline with the increase of their years, which serves to prove, that the mind is sometimes subject, as well s the body, to decay; but Mrs. Opie, with many other female writers of infinite merit, are exceptions to a rule by no means general: we do not scruple to declare, that a more delightful writer than the author of the present tales before us (that is, among the female authors of Great Britain). Does not exist: true to nature, she never violates its rules; she places her characters before us in so genuine a light, that we seem to have met them in the ballroom, in the social party, amongst cottages and in other humble scenes of life. Feeling, fancy, and poetic taste, lend their aid to her pen; and the only unpleasant sensation we experience in reading the tales of Mrs. Opie is when we close the last volume, to find them at an end.

The writings of tales is not an easy task; the multum in parvo, which is requisite to render them interesting, renders them difficult to the mere novel writer; and such would do well never to undertake them: now, though Mrs. Opie is the author of some very excellent and amusing novels, we think that tales are her peculiar forte. Her last New Tales were delightful; these are no less charming; but why she gave them the title of Tales of the Heart, we must say we are at a loss to define; since we do not find this series peculiarly calculated to touch the heart; nor is pathos their predominant feature.

What we admire particularly in the heroines that Mrs. Opie draws, is that they are neither paragons of perfection, nor are they, on the other hand, depicted of so atrocious a character, as to make human nature shudder, and the female sex blish at the enormity of their vices: the fair author of the Tales of the Heart paints life exactly as it is; yet the elegance of her manner in relating the artless interest of every-day life, fascinates while it amuses.

The Tale of Love, Mystery, and Superstition, is sweetly told, and adpated to the time in which the history is laid; we feel for the victims of monastic superstition; and those who can peruse their sad fate, without feeling the heart touched, must be a stranger to all the softer sensations. The characters in this tale are finely marked; the Italian priest and the penitent nun exctie the wamrest interest for their sad fate; and in them the tyranny of the passions and the baneful effects of superstition, are described with that energy and pathos, which, we will venture to affirm, no pen but that of Mrs. Opie could have been capable.

The Two Sir Williams, or The Night after the Ball, is an admirable transition from a pathetic tale of former times, to one describing all the little emulation of young ladies residing chiefly in the country, and belonging to the present: the mistake is very well kept up; nor are we quite prepared for its elucidation, though suspicion has certainly been previously awakened, till the bashful Baronet is about to take his leave. The character of the Gorge de Crapeau, Mrs. Norman, is well drawn in this tale. We rejoice in the good fortune of the modest and unassuming Caroline; and the only fault we find in this tale, is a vulgarism put into the mouth of a lady, who, speaking of a heavy lady dancing, says, “She ought, in common humanity, (as she is coming down a dance) to cry gare toes. Such an expression, we think, could never have been made use of by a young lady, desirous of appearing amiable in the eyes of a handsome young Baronet.

The Opposite Neighbour, though extremely interesting, charmed us the least of any of these tales, on account of its improbability; nevertheless, we must confess there are many self-tormenting characters like the hero; and he is not unlike him, whom Mrs. Opie has before pourtrayed, in her Confessions of an odd tempered Man.

It seems almost like Momus, who, not being able to find a single defect in the Goddess of Beauty, affirmed that “Her slippers were too noisy,” when we take upon ourselves to point out faults among so many beauties as we are sure of finding in Mrs. Opie’s works: but, as

“The smallest speck is seen on snow,”

So these defects become more glaring in works of pre-eminence: and Miss Wallinton’s description of the Miss Selvyns, we find too gross for the lips of an accomplsihed, however invective, young lady to utter—

“to night these lovely creatures looked as red as red cabbage; and red cabbage dipped in oil too.”

Now it is very seldom that this plebeian pickle makes its appearance at tables belonging to the higher classes; and for the sake of a greasy metaphor, she dips the homely pickle in oil, an immersion which we believe it never underwent. The musical performance is, however, so strictly in character, that it makes amends.

We have not gone through these tales in regular rotation- they have all merit; they all excite interest: that of The Two Sons, is most touching, yet attended with horrible circumstances: and we find, though we are sorry to be obliged to make the remark, that the characters of Mr. and Mrs. Fullarton are unnaturally good. The tale entitled A Woman’s Love, though well told, is not among our favourites, because many of its scenes, though true to nature, are mingled with some improbabilities: the quotations used by Mrs. Pendarves, to the suffering Lady Helen, are among the worst of its incongruities. The following is a beautiful passage, which Mrs. Opie puts into the mouth of an officier’s widow:-

“Soothing, though painful, are the tears which we shed for those who fall in battle; and sweet, like music in the dead of night, heard after distressing dreams, or while we are kept waking by mournful realities, falls the sound of a nation’s regret on the ear of those who weep over a departed hero!”

Among the most pleasing of these tales, and truly a tale of the heart, is that entitled Happy Faces: we read it from beginning to end with indescribable interest.