The Warrior’s Return and Other Poems (1808): Shorter Reviews

Annual Review, vol. 7, 1808, pp. 522-4.

THOUGH Mrs. Opie may not excel in the sublime, she is eminently successful in the pathetic.  Her amatory poems are unrivalled; they display as much delicacy of sentiment and refined allusion as Petrarch can boast; with as much warmth of imagination [text defective] [as is consist]ent with perfect purity.  The poems which compose this little volume were written, as the author tells us, some years ago, some of them we recollect to have seen in the Annual Anthology.  The first ballad must be admitted to be rather tame; text defective see, at the commencement, how the tale is to end, and thus all the pleasure produced by the sensation of surprise, is lost. – Julia, or the Convent of St. Claire, is a far more interesting poem than the Warrior’s Return.  The count Clermont, in order to bestow the whole of his large fortune upon his son, condemns an only daughter to take the veil.  Julia, at first, readily consents, but, at her brother’s marriage, is unfortunately placed next an accomplished young baron, who becomes enamoured of her charms, and for whose sake she now repents her destination.  Montrose, the lover, proposes to her father, but is refused, although he offers to take the lady without any dower, Julia, in vain, supplicates the haughty Clermont.

[quotes “But vain remonstrance, tears, and prayers;” to “And bathed in blood, his Julia lies.”]

            The poem might have closed here, as it was unnecessary to describe the despair of the lover, and the remorse of the father.

            There are a number of songs and short love elegies contained in the present volume, many of which display great delicacy of feeling, and considerable command of language.

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British Critic, vol. 34, Aug. 1808, pp. 183-184. *

Mrs. Opie’s Poems are generally of the plaintive and melancholy cast, and are expressive of strong feeling, united with a natural taste for poetry.  The tale mentioned in the title page is a very tragical one, of a father, who returning home to his family, after a long absence in the Crusades, finds that, by a strange combination of circumstances, he had there killed his own son.  The second is a no less sorrowful tale of a Nun, who destroys herself for love.  We turn from these hopeless distresses to the following pleasing picture of conjugal affection.

[quotes “Song” “Yes, thou art changed … And read my blessings there.”]

            We conceive that the second edition, in this title-page, means only that many of the poems have been separately printed before.  There is an elegant frontispiece.

Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. 78, July 1808, no. 2, pp. 612-3.*

THIS neat diminutive volume, containing 185 pages, is thus modestly introduced to the Publick by the fair Authoress, the relict of Opie, the late excellent painter, who had the singular good fortune to unite the sister Arts of Poetry and Painting by his marriage with this lady: “The Poems which compose this little volume were written, with two or three exceptions, several years ago; and to arrange and fit them for publication has been the amusement of many hours of retirement.” The contents are, The Warrior’s Return; Julia, or the Convent of St. Clair, a Tale, founded on Fact; The Mad Wanderer, a Ballad: Lines Written in 1799; Song, I am wearing away like the Snow in the Sun; To Lorenzo; Ode to Borrowdale, in Cumberland: The Lucayan’s Song; Song, Was it for this I dearly loved thee?  Ballad founded on Fact; Song, Yes, thou art changed; Stanzas to Cynthio; The origin of the Sail; Sonnet on the Approach of Autumn; To Laura, and a Love elegy to Laura; Love Elegy to Henry; To Henry; To Henry; Lines on the Opening of a Spring Campaign; Lines on the Place de Concorde, at Paris; the Moon and the Comet, a Fable; To Lothario; To Henry; To Anna; Remembrance; Secret Love; To a Maniac; Lines on Constantinople; Song; To Henry; and the work concludes with five other Songs.

            A neatly-engraved frontispiece is prefixed to the volume.

            There is a description of Poets and Poetesses who become such through strong retentive powers of memory; those persons, extremely fond of the productions of our best writers, read them till they are enabled to repeat whole poems, and quote correctly the most beautiful passages from twenty different authors; they then proceed to write sonnets, elegies, and speak impromptus, which they publish, and the Publick immediately discover that every thought and every image may be appropriated, without the least difficulty, to the original owners from whom they were borrowed, almost unconsciously, by the unfortunate retailer, doomed to sink with his or her books into oblivion.  This fact, undoubted and incontrovertible, induces the real friend of the Muse to exult when he meets with originality and polished metre, animated by the genuine fire of the Poet; such is the case in the present instance.  Mrs. Opie, possessed of a mind disdaining imitation, and conscious of its own resources, has presented the community with the means of passing a leisure hour innocently and delightfully, an assertion we shall support by two short extracts which would do honour to the pens of our best modern Poets.

[quotes from Lines Written in 1799]

            The following lines are the application to the fable of the Moon and the Comet, told with equal ease and spirit; unluckily for the Arts, the satire is but too well founded.  Wilke, the modern Teniers, whose works are the admiration of all persons of judgement, is thus addressed:

[quotes from The Moon and the Comet, a Fable]

Monthly Review, vol. 57, Dec. 1808, pp. 436-438.*

It is said by Ben Jonson, in his lines on Shakespeare, that

                        “A good poet’s made as well as born;”

and the remark is just, since due cultivation must be superadded to poetic talent before its due expansion can be obtained.  Parnassus ceases to be fertile ground when labour is spared.  Our modern writers of verse seem, however, to entertain a different opinion.  Confiding in their genius and facility of composition, they fondly supposed that whatever they produce must be good poetry; and by being too easily pleased with themselves, they often fail to please others.  Mrs. Opie’s mind is certainly imbued with the spirit of poetry, and her writings have acquired deserved reputation: but, if her muse found more difficulty in satisfying herself, she would more effectually augment her fame.  Though this lady can plead the example of Old Ballads, in justification of stanzas in which, out of four lines, two only rhime to each other, such negligence is not to be tolerated in the modern poet ‘The Warrior’s Return,’ and the piece which immediately follows it, intitled ‘Julia, or the Convent of Ste. Claire,’ have the defect of not rhiming in the first and third lines of the stanzas.

            On another point, also, we would mildy remonstrate with Mrs. Opie.  Her legendary passion and stage-effect pathos, (if we may be allowed this expression,) appear to seduce her from the walk of true nature, and from that style of poetry which is adapted to the habits and feelings of men and women of the present day.  The Warrior’s Return, here hymned, is a return from the Holy Land in the time of the Crusades, and the story is as improbable as any of those which legendary lore furnishes by dozens: but we do not so much object to its improbability as to the waste of feeling and sentiment on so remote a fiction, when a tale more appropriate to the circumstances of modern war might easily have been invented.  The incidents, which Mrs. Opie’s muse delights in recording, are of the affecting kind, in which the pathos is produced by a single stroke.  We exemplify (because it is short) with the

                        ‘BALLAD, founded on fact,’

[quotes “Round youthful Henry’s restless bed”]

            In the perusal of this little volume, we meet with charm rhiming to calm; with an evening walk flying; with the very prosaic expression ‘thee I beheld and fled from;’ and with the following lame couplet,

                        “Twas night … but still a mimic day

                        Shone softly forth from milky way.’

            Conceiving that Mrs. Opie is capable of producing poetry of the superior kind, we are solicitous to stimulate her to vigorous exertion.

Poetical Register, vol. 6, 1811, pp. 541.*

In the writings of Mrs. Opie there is an unaffected elegance, a graceful simplicity, which cannot fail to charm every reader of taste.  She never, like the painter who not being able to make his Venus beautiful was determined to make her fine, hides a poverty of thought under profusion of tawdry ornament.  Still less, if possible, does she imitate those persons who present to us an idiot in rags, as a specimen of native grace and proper decoration.  We sincerely hope that, in the course of our labours, we shall have frequent occasion to bear testimony to her merits.

Universal Magazine, ns, vol. 9, Apr. 1808, pp. 306-7.

VIRGIL has beautifully described Fame as a mischievous deity, (Aeneid, IV.) and it may truly be said that it operates as such towards living authors.  It is indeed peculiarly unfortunate, when a writer attains celebrity by a first production, for it rarely happens that any subsequent ones are judged with candour.  They are no longer estimated intrinsically, but by the standard of their predecessor: and it is not enough that they equal their elder brother, they must absolutely surpass him, or we are not contented.

            Somewhat in this predicament we conceive Mrs. Opie to stand.  Her novels procured her some sort of reputation, and her first poetical publiction added to it.  But we do not think that the present volume will have that effect; for, though containing some pretty pieces, it seems to consist of the refuse of her writing desk, collected together simply for the purpose of making a volume.  We are justified in this supposition by the declaration of Mrs. Opie herself, who says in her preface, that “the poems which compose this little volume, were written, with two or three exceptions, several years ago: and to arrange and fit them for publication has been the amusement of many hours of retirement.”

            The first poem, and which gives the title to the volume, is founded upon a sufficiently interesting circumstance; but many of the stanzas are exceptionable.  The cacophony of the last line in the following is remarkable:

                        For terror now whisper’d, the wife he had left,

                                    Full fifteen long twelvemonths before,

                        The child he had clasp’d in his farewell embrace,

                                    Might both then, alas! Be no more.

            Mrs. Opiew has a great deal of turgidity and inversion in style.  She seems not to be aware that the most natural mode of expression is the nearest to poetry and that the latter differs from prose in an harmonious collocation of the words, than in an unnatural disposition of them.  It is not easy to conceive any thing more pompously obscure than the following:

                        But should he not live! – To escape from that fear

                                    He eagerly spurr’d his bold steed:

                        Nor stopped he again, till his own castle moat

                                    Forbade on the way to proceed.

                        *            *            *            *

                        On Julia’s softly dimpled cheek,

                                    Just bloom’d to view youth’s opening rose,

                        When proudly stern, her father bade

                                    St. Claire’s dark walls her bloom enclose.

            The “Song,” at p. 51, has a line in it that is irresistibly ludicrous:

                        I am wearing away like the snow in the sun.

            It reminds us of the preposterous and absurd similies which modern dramatists put into the mouths of stage Irishmen.  Mrs. Opie, however, meant to be serious.

            As a favourable specimen, we select the flowing: —

[quotes “To Lorenzo”]

            Mrs. Opie seems to have felt the power of love, and of hopeless love: and as the language of nature soars infinitely beyond that of art, so the amatory verses of the present volume are the best.  The various pieces addressed to “Henry,” which paint in delicate colours the feelings of unrewarded passion, are written with all the peculiar merit of Mrs. Opie’s manner.  The following is one of them:

[quotes “Love Elegy to Henry]

            The remaining pieces in this volume do not rise above mediocrity: they are merely nugae canorae.