The Father and Daughter (1801): Reviews

European Magazine, vol. 40, September 1801, 194.

The Father and Daughter: A Tale in Prose. By Mrs. Opie. 12mo 4s.6d. Longman and Rees.

A very affecting moral story. The incidents, which are of a domestic nature (as, indeed, the title imports), occur naturally, and ‘come home to the business and bosoms’ of every class of readers. The scenes of distress in which Agnes and Fitzhenry are involved, Mrs Opie has depicted with great force and effect; and the lessons that she inculcates do credit to her head and heart.

Of the general tendency of the work, we cannot convey a more clear idea, perhaps, than may be formed from a perusal of the following lines, with which the fair Author has concluded it.

Peace to the memory of Agnes Fitzhenry! – And may the woman who, like her, has been the victim of artifice, self-confidence, and temptation, like her endeavour to regain the esteem of the world by patient suffering and virtuous exertion, and look forward to the attainment of it with confidence! But may she whose innocence is yet secure, and whose virtues still boast the stamp of chastity, which can alone make them current in the world, tremble with horror at the idea of listening to the voice of the seducer, lest the image of a father, a mother, a brother, a sister, or some other fellow-being, whose peace of mind has been injured by her deviation from virtue, should haunt her path through life; and she who might, perhaps, have contemplated with fortitude the wreck of her own happiness, be doomed to pine with fruitless remorse at the consciousness of having destroyed that of another. – For, where is the mortal who can venture to pronounce that his actions are of importance to no one, and that the consequences of his virtues or his vices will be confined to himself alone?

Monthly Magazine, vol. 11, 1801, p. 606.

Mrs Opie, whose numerous poetic pieces give evidence of a lively fancy and correct taste, has published a tale entitled the ‘Father and Daughter,’ which will be read with interest, as exhibiting some genuine traits of nature.

Monthly Mirror, vol. 11, 1801, p. 327.

The talents of this elegant and accomplished lady have long been conspicuous in many sweet sonnets and other pieces of poetry, interspersed through the medium of our periodical works. The Daughter and Father, a tale, in prose, will not diminish the reputation of the fair author. There are some pretty songs and pieces of poetry at the end. The Orphan Boy’s tale is truly affecting.

Monthly Magazine, vol. 12, 1802, p. 584.

‘The Father and Daughter, 5s.’

The pleasures of melancholy are suited only to minds of uncommon susceptibility, to those who have a sympathetic taste for distress; and from such readers this tale of woe will meet with peculiar acceptance. It is replete with interest, and possesses pathos enough to affect the heart of the most callous reader. So tragic is the story and the catastrophe, that one is glad to seek consolation in disturbing the illusion of the narrative, in recollecting that it is not fact but fiction, and in rushing, like the remorseful, to incredulity for relief. The tendency of this novel is not merely harmless – it is moral. Some poems are appended.

The Critical Review, or Annals of Literature, vol. 35, May 1802, pp. 114-7.

We are by no means surprised that this work should have passed through the first edition before we had an opportunity of stating our opinion of its merits.  The public have, by the extensiveness of its circulation, given a decisive verdict in its favour; and though we would not lay it down as a universal rule that the public voice is the voice of just taste, yet we must observe, that the general approbation bestowed upon a story like that under our consideration, “simple in its construction and humble in its pretensions,” affords strong presumptive evidence that it is calculated strongly to arrest the attention and to interest the feelings.  This conclusion, which we drew from the circumstances in which it was submitted to our notice, was amply confirmed by its perusal.  Seldom have we met with any combination of incidents, real or imaginary, which possessed more of the deeply pathetic.  The moral inculcated by this tale is seriously impressive.  It exhibits in the most affecting point of view the misery consequent upon the illicit indulgence of the passions; and the effect of the awful lesson which it teaches is not impaired by any intermixture of levity of dialogue or pruriency of description.  The style of the authoress is elegant and correct, free from ambitious ornament, and never degenerating into colloquial negligence.  We will not, by analyzing the story of the Father and Daughter, diminish the pleasure of such of our readers as may be induced to read the work itself; but, as a specimen of Mrs. Opie’s skill in composition, we shall make an interesting extract, only premising that the heroine, Agnes Fitzhenry, after having been tempted by the wiles of Clifford to quit her indulgent father, and, after the lapse of a considerable space of time, being convinced of the villany of her seducer, is represented as returning in the dreariness of a winter’s night to the house of her parent.

            [Quotes the scene in which Agnes meets the mad Fitzhenry, from “Agnes was now arrived at the beginning of a forest” to “Agnes beheld her father!!!”]

The Edinburgh Review, vol. I, October 1802, pp. 113-22.

[Review of the Poems, including the following commentary on The Father and Daughter.]

THE anxiety of a young writer, who yields, with trembling hands, the first production of his genius, to the survey of the world, unknown to him in all but this one fearful circumstance, that the praise, of which he is ambitious, and the neglect or scorn which he dreads, are dependent on its voice, whether of judgment or caprice, is a feeling that requires, for compensation, a large share of the fame, which it is probably never to receive; as, however great the multitude who have shared alike the misery of expectation, the happy recompense must belong only to a few.  Yet, there is a feeling, perhaps more painful that this first anxiety, when the young writer of a work which has raised him to popularity, submits his powers a second time to criticism, of which he has already exhausted the indulgence, and which now expects to applaud, rather than to forgive.  The favour excited by past excellence, is a favour which requires progression in its object; and though, in some, it may be the heedless partiality of friendship, is, in those higher minds that may be considered as representing posterity, more like the interest felt by an upright judge, which, though it allow him to delight in merited acquittal, never induces him to palliate guilt, but rather to consider delinquency as aggravated by the previous character of the culprit.  There is, besides, an innocent selfishness, which modifies our opinions by an influence unperceived, and persuades us, that success is more difficult of attainment, because we have ourselves succeeded.  It is not so much, however, in this imagined increase of difficulty, as in the actual increase of penalty, that the evil of reputation is felt by the fortunate.  It is now no longer a simple, and almost unknown failure, which he has to dread.  He has brought a multitude around him by his triumph; and a failure would now have all the disgrace of degradation.  There has not been a single voice of applause, that would not add to his remembrance its whole weight of ignominy; and amid the variety of possible sentences, there is thus only one to which would have satisfied his humbler ambition, must now be accompanied with the mortifying ideas, of disappointment in his readers, and of inferiority in himself.

            It was probably with feelings similar to those we have described, that Mrs Opie committed to the world her volume of poems.  To a very large number of readers, “The Father and Daughter” had already made its appearance a promise of much delight.  That it has completely satisfied the expectations which her novel had excited in us, we will not say.  It would be, at best, an ambiguous compliment; and preferring therefore an opinion, which has no reference to the past, we are ready to admit, that her volume of poems has afforded us much pleasure, and that it would have obtained for its author a very considerable reputation, though her former work had been wholly unknown.

            But, while we thus express our praise of Mrs Opie’s miscellany, we do not wish it to be considered as applicable to the whole, or even to the greater number, of the pieces of which it consists.  These are of very various species of composition, and are perhaps still more different, in merit, than in subject.  In the tender song of sentiment and pathos, there is uncommon elegance; but, in pieces of greater length, which require dignity, or even terseness of expression, and an easy development of thoughts, which rise complicated in the moment of fancy, without relieving, the sweetness of the simpler pictures.  Mrs Opie’s mind is evidently more adapted to seize situation, than to combine incidents.  It can represent, with powerful expression, the solitary portrait, in every attitude of gentler grief; but it cannot bring together a connected assemblage of figures, and represent each in its most striking situation, so as to give, as it were, to the glance of a moment, the events and feelings of many years.  When a series of reflections is to be brought by her to our view, they must all be of the immediate relation, which allows them to be introduced at any part of the poem, or we shall probably see before us a multitude, rather than a group.  She is therefore wholly unfit for that poetry, which endeavours to reason, while it pleases; and, powerful as she is in solitary pathos, we do not think that she is well fitted for bringing before us the connected griefs and characters of the drama.  She has, indeed, written a novel; and it is one which excites a very high interest: But the merit of that novel does not consist in its action, nor in any varied exhibition of character.  Agnes, in all the sad changes of her fortune, is still the same: and the action, if we except a very few situations of the highest excitement, is the common history of every seduction in romance.  Indeed, we are almost tempted to believe, that the scene in the wood occurred first to the casual conception of the author, and that, in the design of fully displaying it, all the other events of the novel were afterwards imagined ….

            We remember, that, in “The Father and Daughter,” we frequently regretted the intrusion of the writer of the tale, when were wholly occupied with the misfortunes of her heroine.  Reflections of anticipation are always injurious to the interest excited, as they diminish curiosity; and reflection on the past are superfluous, and offensive to the reader’s vanity, if they state what may naturally be inferred from the circumstances of the tale, and call us away too coldly to reason, when the inference is forced.  But, above all, reflection is unnatural, when introduced by a sufferer in the midst of distress.  Dear thought!  Blest thought!  Sad thought! &c. are parentheses which we wish to see banished from poetry.  Who pauses, in impassioned soliloquy, to determine the classification of his own feelings? ….