Lays for the Dead (1834): Reviews

The Athenaeum, vol. 354, August 9, 1834, pp. 594.

‘Lays for the Dead, by Amelia Opie.’ — The forte of this once favourite authoress always lay rather in prose fiction that in verse.  The collection of votive poems before us reveals much deep affection and sincere regret, and we respect the feelings which have prompted the verses it contains – while we cannot think that it will add to, or perhaps, more properly speaking, revive, the writer’s popularity.

Literary Gazette; and Journal of the Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, &c, vol. 909, June 21, 1834, p. 430.

THERE is truly, as the amiable and accomplished author anticipates, something of monotony in these Lays, all devoted to one sad subject – death.  However various the circumstances which attend this final catastrophe, they are so swallowed up in its own immensity, that it seems to matter little in the end whether it be sudden or lingering, easy or painful, a slumbering natural chance, or one preceded by every species of torture which the flesh can endure or the malignant passions of man can inflict.  Within a few hours, and the sleep is equally pangless and profound.  The wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.

            Thus there is little essentially to vary the theme of mourning and lament.  The quick pestilence and the aged decay, the lonely cloister and the tumultuous battle-field, the magnificent couch and the lowly pallet, the murderous knife and the slow-consuming disease, the infant’s sigh and the strong man’s struggle, are but so many of the innumerable passages to the one grave: the be all and end all here.  Yet Mrs. Opie has touched several of these events with feeling and pathos; and drawn from them moral conclusions and religious consolations which cannot be read without improvement.  The compositions are, therefore, to be more highly prized for the sentiments they embody than for their poetical excellence: that fate which levels all things has, in this respect, contributed to level them.

            From among about fifty pieces, on the hopes of friends and relatives – on funerals and their anniversaries – on the young and old who have departed – and on other subjects connected with the last scene which closes mortal history – we select the following as an interesting example.  It is simple, but descriptive of a series of thoughts and emotions which will find a response in every rightly constituted human heart; and it is particularly affecting when we reflect who is the writer and who as the theme: —

[quotes “A Lament”]

            The last twenty pages of the volume contain sketches of Saint Michale’s Mount, Cornwall – would we were near it to enjoy its beauteous scenery! – and by way of variety to this notice, we copy a short episode which relates to the discovery, in making some alterations, a few years ago, of a skeleton embedded between two of the massive walls: —

[quotes “But to thy masses hanging o’er the deep” to “And breathe a requiem to they nameless dust!”]

            These specimens are fair illustrations of this graceful and melancholy volume, to which the name of its author will give extensive currency without our adding a single line beyond the foregoing extracts to recommend it to the public favour.

Monthly Review, series 4, vol. 10, 1834, p. 538.

[omnibus review of Philip van Artevelde by Henry Taylor, Scenes and Hymns of Life with other Poems by Mrs. Hemans, Poems by William Stanley Roscoe, and Lays of [sic] the Dead by Amelia Opie, extending from 527- 538]

            The last work we have to notice, is a volume of sacred poetry, by Mrs. Opie, of which little can be said in its favour.  Some of the pieces, nevertheless, are very sweet and tender.  We give the following very pretty verses as a specimen.

[quotes “There was an eye whose partial glance” to “From future ills to guard – but now!” ie “A Lament”]

            Could we estimate the present condition of our poetical literature by the number of works which are daily increasing its bulk, we should have a favourable prospect to contemplate.  In every succeeding month we have to exercise our discretion in choosing from a vast pile of minor poems, which are worth of precedence in notice, and which a worthy of noticing at all.  But unfortunately, it is seldom we are not disgusted with the appearance of either an intolerable vanity or a crude fancy.  The works which we have taken the advantage of Mr. Taylor’s production, to bring before our readers, are far more worthy of attention than is often the case with the species of writing to which they belong.  But though they possess a certain degree of merit, they are weak in the highest essentials of poetry.

New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, vol. 41, July 1834, p. 376.

The name of Amelia Opie acts as a talisman upon our memory, it calls back the time when we read her “Simple Tales,” and we wept over her “Father and Daughter,” – when we repeated her verses, and treasured her books under our pillows.  Yet here she is tuning her harp to sweetest melody, though to a mournful story – one to which there is a chord to respond in every heart; for who is there that cannot number amid the dead those whom long they loved?  This alone, without Mrs. Opie’s name, would ensure popularity for this beautiful little volume.  Those who can enjoy and cultivate the best affections of the head and heart will often turn over these simple pages, and pay the tribute of their admiration by their tears.

            We have heard that the Standard Novels, so long in publication, are nearly concluded; and we have been looking in vain for the name of Opie amongst those celebrated women whose works have already appeared in the series.  Why was this? And why were her tales, so excellent in moral, so charming in execution, omitted?  No female library can be considered complete without her works.  We have felt the days of our youth return when we again saw her name before us.