John Taylor's ‘Account of Mrs. Opie’ in the Cabinet, 1807). When about eighteen she wrote a tragedy entitled ‘Adelaide,’ which was acted for the amusement of her friends, she herself playing the heroine.
In 1794 Miss Alderson visited London. The excitement to be found in courts of law had already made her a regular visitor at Norwich assizes. She now attended the trials of Horne Tooke, Holcroft, and others for treason at the Old Bailey. She shared her father's radical opinions, and the prisoners had her fullest sympathy. When Horne Tooke was acquitted, she is said to have walked across the table and kissed him (Mrs. Sidgwick, Recollections of Mrs. Opie). Miss Alderson's acquaintances soon included Mrs. Barbauld, the Duc d'Aiguillon, and other French emigrants, the Kembles, and Mrs. Siddons, for whom she formed a lasting affection. Her admirers at the same time grew numerous. Godwin had met her in Norwich in 1793, and was now credited with an intention of asking her to marry him. But Miss Alderson merely regarded him as a friend, and her attachment to him was compatible with unbounded admiration for Mary Wollstonecraft. Everything that she saw for the first time disappointed her, she declared, except Mary Wollstonecraft and the Cumberland lakes (Kegan Paul, Life of Godwin, i. 158). A more serious suitor was Thomas Holcroft [q. v.] ‘Mr. Holcroft,’ she wrote, ‘has a mind to me, but he has no chance.’
It was at an evening party in London in 1797 that she first met John Opie [q. v.], the painter. He had already divorced his wife on the ground of her misconduct. According to Miss Alderson, Opie at once became her ‘avowed lover,’ and they were married on 8 May 1798 at Marylebone Church, London. The union proved wholly satisfactory, although Mrs. Opie's love of society was not shared by her husband, and occasionally produced passing differences.
With a view perhaps to fixing her attention at home, Opie encouraged her to become what she called ‘a candidate for the pleasures, the pangs, the rewards, and the penalties of authorship.’ She had published anonymously before her marriage ‘The Dangers of Coquetry,’ a novel in two volumes, but it attracted no attention. Her first acknowledged book, ‘Father and Daughter,’ appeared in 1801; it was dedicated to her father, and claimed ‘to be a simple moral tale.’ With it were printed, in the first issue, ‘The Maid of Corinth,’ a poem, and some smaller pieces. The book was warmly received. A second edition was called for in the year of its publication, and it reached a tenth or twelfth edition in 1844. The tale has pathos, the interest, although purely domestic, is sustained, and the literary style is tolerable. Sir Walter Scott cried over it, and it made Prince Hoare so wretched that he lay awake all night after reading it. The ‘Edinburgh Review’ (July 1830) called it ‘an appalling piece of domestic tragedy.’ Paer based his opera of ‘Agnese’ on it (Mayer, Women of Letters, ii. 79), and Fanny Kemble's mother took from it the plot of her play ‘Smiles and Tears’ (Frances Kemble, Records of a Girlhood, i. 10). Early in 1802 Mrs. Opie published a volume of poems which went through six editions, the last appearing in 1811. It contained several pretty songs. One of the most popular, ‘Go, youth beloved, in distant glades,’ was quoted approvingly by Sydney Smith in one of his lectures on moral philosophy at the Royal Institution (1804–5). Mrs. Opie, who was present, was surprised at the unexpected compliment. The volume also contained the most popular of all her poems, ‘The Orphan Boy’ and ‘The Felon's Address to his Child.’
In August 1802 the Opies went to Paris (cf. her account of the journey in Tait's Mag. iv. 1831). There she met Charles James Fox, Kosciusko, West, David d'Angers, and many others. She caught a glimpse of the First Consul, and saw Talma play Cain in the ‘Death of Abel.’
In 1804 she published ‘Adeline Mowbray, or the Mother and Daughter,’ a tale in three volumes, in part suggested by the history of Mary Wollstonecraft. A third edition appeared in 1810, the latest in 1844. Mackintosh (Life, i. 255) allowed the tale pathetic scenes, but judged ‘that it may as well be taken to be a satire on our prejudices in favour of marriage as on the paradoxes of sophists against it.’ In the spring of 1806 appeared ‘Simple Tales,’ in four volumes; a second edition followed in the same year, a fourth in 1815.
On 9 April 1807 Opie died, and his widow returned to Norwich, to live once more with her father, to whom she proved through life exceptionally devoted, and to participate in what Harriet Martineau unfairly denounced as the ‘nonsense and vanity’ of Norwich society (Martineau, Autobiography, i. 299). She at once prepared a memoir of her husband, which was prefixed to his ‘Lectures on Painting’ (1809); and her friend Lady Charleville encouraged her to continue her literary work. In 1818 she told Mrs. Austin that she was writing eight or ten hours a day (Ross, Three Generations of Englishwomen, i. 37). She published tales at intervals until 1822.