25 November - Amelia Opie (1769-1853) Jul 14, 2008 22:06:09 GMT 2
Post by moira on Jul 14, 2008 22:06:09 GMT 2
painted by husband, John Opie
Amelia Opie (1769-1853)
Here are four poems by Opie
A visionary one, is a cross between the picturesque poetry of Radcliffe and wild melancholy landscapes of Ossian:
The Despairing Wanderer
Oh! 't is an hour to misery dear!
No noise but dashing waves I hear,
Save hollow blasts that rush around,
For Midnight reigns with horrors crowned.
Lo! clouds in swarthy grandeur sweep
Portentous o'er the troubled deep:
O'er the tall rocks' majestic heads,
See, billowy vapour slowly spreads:
And lo! fantastic shapes seem near,
The rocks with added height appear,
And from the mist, to seek the tide,
Gigantic figures darkly glide;
While, with quick step and hurried mien,
The timid fly the fearful scene.
Again loud blasts I shuddering hear,
Which to my mournful soul appear
To toll some shipwrecked sailor's knell!
Of fear, of grief, of death, they tell.
Perhaps they bade yon foaming tide
Unheard-of misery scatter wide.
Hail! dread idea, fancy-taught, ....
To me with gloomy pleasure fraught!
I should rejoice the world to see
Distrest, distracted, lost, like me.
Oh! why is phrensy called a curse?
I deem the sense of misery worse:
Come, Madness, come! though pale with fear
Be joy's flusht cheek when thou art near,
On thee I eager glances bend;
Despair, O Madness, calls thee friend!
Come, with thy visions cheer my gloom, ....
Spread o'er my cheek thy feverish bloom,
To my weak form thy strength impart,
From my sunk eye thy lightnings dart!
O come, and on the troubled air
Throw rudely my disordered hair;
Arm me with thy supporting pride,
Let me all ills, all fears deride!
O bid me roam in tattered vest,
Bare to the wintry wind my breast,
Horrors with dauntless eye behold,
And stalk in fancied greatness bold!
Let me, from yonder frowning rock,
With thy shrill scream the billows mock;
With fearless step ascend the steep
That totters o'er the encroaching deep;
And while the swelling main along
Blue lightning's awful splendours throng, ....
And while within each warring wave
Unnumbered victims find a grave,
And thunders rend the ear of Night,
Which happy wanderers' souls affright ...
Let me the mountain torrent quaff,
And midst the war of nature ... laugh!
Another on something of the same theme:
To a Maniac
There was a time, poor phrensied maid,
When I could o'er thy grief have mourned,
And still with tears the tale repaid
Of sense by sorrow's sway o'erturned.
But now thy state my envy moves:
For thou art woe's unconscious prize;
Thy heart no sense of suffering proves,
No fruitless tears bedew thine eyes.
Excess of sorrow, kind to thee,
At once destroyed thy reason's power;
But reason still remains to me,
And only bids me grieve the more.
An anti-war poem (she lived through the Napoleonic era):
Ode Written on the Opening of the Last Campaign
Spring! thy impatient bloom restrain,
Nor wake so soon thy genial pow'r,
For, deeds of death must hail thy reign,
And clouds of fate around thee low'r.
Alas! not all thy store of charms
For patriot hearts can comfort find,
Or lull to peace the dread alarms
Which rack the friends of human kind.
In vain thy balmy breath to me
Scents with its sweets the ev'ning gale;
In vain the violet's charms I see,
Or fondly mark thy primrose pale.
To me thy softest zephyrs breathe,
Of sorrow's soul-distracting tone,
To me thy most attractive wreath
Seems ting'd with human blood alone.
Arrest thy steps, thou source of love,
Thou genial friend of joy and life!
Let not thy smile propitious prove
To works of carnage, scenes of strife.
Bid Winter all his frowns recall,
And back his icy footsteps trace;
Again the soil in frost enthrall,
And check the War-fiend's murd'rous chace.
Ah, fruitless pray'r! thy hand divine
Must on the teeming season lead,
And (contrast dire!) at War's red shrine
Must bid unnumber'd victims bleed.
But not in vainif on this hour
The fate of Freedom shall depend
If o'er this earth th' Eternal Pow'r
The scale of Justice now extend.
For then, O Spring, thy sun shall see
The patriot flame triumphant shine;
Gallia shall bid the world be free,
And war his blood-stain'd throne resign!
An effective sonnet:
Power of the awful wind, whose hollow blast
Hurls desolation wide, thy sway I hail!
Thou o'er the scene around can'st beauties cast,
Superior far to aught that Summer's gale
Can, in the ripening year, to bloom awake;
To view thy majesty, the cheerful tale,
The dance, the festive song, I, pleased, forsake;
And here, thy power and thy attractions own,
Now the pale regent of thy splendid night
Decks with her yellow rays thy snowy throne;
Richly her beams on Summer's mantle light,
Richly they gild chill Autumn's tawny vest
But, ah! to me they shine more chastely bright,
Spangling the icy robe that wraps thy breast.
Amelie Opie (1769-1853) is still known for the one supposedly revolutionary-radical novel, Adeline Mowbray. She was born in Norwich, the only child of Amelia Briggs and her physician husband, James Alderson. She was very close to her mother who died in 1784 whereupon her relationship with her father became the overriding force in her life. Her father was high in Norwich circles, and Amelia ran his household, entertaining, going with him to the theatre, to balls, and mingling with provincial centers of culture. She became friendly with many radical writers and thinkers of the era, first in the provinces and then in London (e.g., Godwin, Elizabeth Inchbald, Thomas Holcroft, Mary Wollstonecraft), and in 1794 attended the treason trials of Thomas Hardy, John Horne Tooke, and John Thewall, partly because she shared her father's ardent republicanism. She was also close to women artists, Sarah Siddons and Anna Laetitia Barbauld (poet).
In 1797 she met and married John Opie, an acclaimed painter (he painted her), a self-educated man, son of a Cornish Carpenter. He did very well professionally, and it was during their marriage that Opie began to publish, first The Father and Daughter, A Tale in Prose and poetry. This novel (now utterly forgotten) was translated into French and Portuguese, made into a popular Italian opera (Paer's Agnese), a five act comedy by Fanny Kemble's mother (Smiles and Tears) and went through ten reprintings. The story is the heroine runs off with a man, is abandoned, and then returns home to find her father gone mad. It has many autobiographical undercurrents. Adeline Mowbray concentrates similarly indirectly on Opie's relationship with her mother. It's about a young couple who live together without getting married and how the world treats them abominably and then treats the heroine a pariah-scapegoat when the husband dies. Somehow it's her mother's fault for teaching her too radical ideas and giving her idealist novels to read (another heroine done in by books -- an often deeply anti-feminist theme). I've read Adeline Mowbray twice now. She also published poetry. In 1802 during the peace of Amiens she visited Paris and met many of the English set there: Helen Maria Williams among them, also Charles James Fox, Benjamin West.
John Opie and she apparently had a wonderful mutually supportive marriage, but he died young, and she returned to live with her father at Norwich (where it's said she spent 8 to 10 hours a day writing). She did continue to travel and mix with the elite of the cultural world at the time (which includes radicals), e.g. Byron, Keats, Wordsworth, Scott, Southey, Caroline Bowles Southey, Caroline Lamb, Charles Lamb, Gemaine de Stael. She became engaged again, this time to a the son of an earl, but broke the engagement. All this time she kept writing, poems, didactic novels. Her work became increasingly pious as she was increasingly influenced by the evangelism of the era: at one point she had a romance with a young Quaker man and almost married him.
By 1820 her father had fallen ill and she devoted herself to nursing him for some 5 years. She wrote on, now novels influenced by Quakers and devotional poetry (religious). She had been left independently wealthy by Opie and set about doing good works (visiting people in prison and writing about what she saw, the homeless, the mentally ill). She became an abolitionist and wrote books for children. Now she produced tracts against slavery and poems too, and again travels (to Switzerland, Belgium, France, Scotland and Cornwall -- where Opie came from), and this time in Europe meets the marquis de Lafayette, Stephenie-Felicite de Genlis (an important writer for women). She lived well into the Victorian era and was in her later years a Victorian; she attended an anti-slavery convention (and appears in a painting about the convention), and attended the 1851 Great Exhibition in London (age 79) where she participated in a wheel chair contest (good wheel chairs were a new invention).
She became gravely ill in 1852 and died the next year. Her body lay in state surrounded by portraits of her friends, and she was buried in the Friends' cemetery in Norwich, the same grave as her father.
The above little life is mostly taken from Paula Feldman's British Women Poets of the Romantic Era (from which two of the poems come), and Feldman's retelling makes Opie a much more sympathetic figure than most retellings you come across. Often she is described in a condescending way. Feldman's is a sympathetic appealing woman. One problem is her novels: they are not really radical or revolutionary on the surface at any rate, and can easily be read as warning lessons and anti-Jacobin novels (that's what I think they are). "The Maniac" comes from Jerome McCann's The New Oxford Anthology of Romantic Period Verse, the sonnet from another anthology by Feldman, A Century of Sonnets (starting in the middle of the 18th and moving to the middle of the 19th century).
British Women Poets of the Romantic Era: An Anthology
ed. Paula R. Feldman, Johns Hopkins, 2000.