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Opie
Opie
229

ney, travelling in Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland. An account of the first part of the trip, entitled ‘Recollections of Days in Belgium,’ appeared in ‘Tait's Magazine’ for 1840. Once again settled in Norwich (now in lodgings), she spent much time in letter-writing. She calculated that she wrote six letters a day, besides notes. She also contributed to periodicals, among others, in 1839, to ‘Finden's Tableaux,’ then edited by Miss Mitford (Friendships of M. R. Mitford, ii. 40–43). In 1840 she attended the anti-slavery convention in London, as delegate for Norwich. She sat to Haydon, who called her ‘a delightful creature,’ and appears in his picture of the meeting of the delegates, now in the National Portrait Gallery. She is on the right-hand side, the second figure in the second row, in a tall black quakeress bonnet (Taylor, Life of Haydon, 2nd edit. iii. 159). She was in London in the two following years, attending meetings, dining out, and breakfasting with Rogers. For the next four years (1842–6) she remained in Norwich, in close attendance upon an aged aunt.

Time touched Mrs. Opie lightly. In 1839 Miss Mitford called her ‘a pretty old woman’ (Letters of M. R. Mitford, 2nd ser. i. 143); Caroline Fox dined with her in 1843, and found her ‘in great force and really jolly’ (Memories of Old Friends); and Mr. S. C. Hall, who saw her in 1851, declared that time ‘had only replaced the charms of youth with the beauty of old age’ (Retrospect of a Long Life, ii. 184–7). Till almost the end she retained her love of fun, her merry laugh and ready repartee, and her faculty of telling stories to children. In 1848 she again took a house of her own at Norwich on Castle Meadow. The house has since been pulled down, but the little street at the corner of which it stood is called Opie Street. In 1849 and 1850 she indulged in her favourite amusement of attending the assizes. At the age of eighty-two she visited the great exhibition of 1851 in a wheeled chair, and meeting Miss Berry, her senior by six years, in a similar position, playfully proposed that they should have a chair race. Mrs. Opie died at Norwich at midnight, 2 Dec. 1853, after a few months of enfeebled power and partial failure of memory. She was buried on 9 Dec., in the same grave as her father, in the Friends' burying-ground at Norwich.

Mrs. Opie's poems are simple in diction. Two or three of them are deservedly found in every anthology, and one, ‘There seems a voice in every gale,’ is well known as a hymn (Julian, Dict. of Hymnology, p. 871). Her novels, which were among the first to treat exclusively of domestic life, possess pathos and some gracefulness of style, but belong essentially to the lachrymose type of fiction, and are all written to point a moral. Harriet Martineau declared that Mrs. Opie wrote ‘slowly and amidst a strenuous excitement of her sensibilities’ (Autobiography, i. 299). Sydney Smith, when returning some manuscript tales that Mrs. Opie had sent for his inspection, said ‘Tenderness is your forte, and carelessness your fault.’ Mrs. Inchbald thought Mrs. Opie cleverer than her books. After her death, Miss Mitford complained of Mrs. Opie's ‘slipshod tales and bad English,’ although in 1810 she placed her beside Miss Edgworth and Joanna Baillie. In 1822 Miss Mitford amusingly writes, before reading ‘Madeline:’ ‘One knows the usual ingredients of her tales just as one knows the component parts of plum pudding. So much common sense (for the flour), so much vulgarity (for the suet), so much love (for the sugar), so many songs (for the plums), so much wit (for the spices), so much fine binding morality (for the eggs), and so much mere mawkishness and insipidity (for the milk and water wherewith the said pudding is mixed up)’ (L'Estrange, Life of Miss Mitford, ii. 148). Moore found her tales dull and impracticable (Memoirs, ii. 269–70).

Mrs. Opie's character presents some curious contrasts. She managed to combine a love of pleasure, society, and pretty clothes with the religion of a quaker. ‘Shall I ever cease,’ she avowed, ‘to enjoy the pleasures of this world? I fear not’ (Hall, Retrospect of a Long Life, ii. 184–7). She wore the quaker garb, although she confessed to Gurney the agony of mind she endured at the thought of adopting it (Braithwaite, Gurney, i. 242); but her dress, though fawn or grey in colour, was always of rich silk or satin. Miss Sedgwick fancied that Mrs. Opie's ‘elaborate simplicity and the fashionable little train to her pretty satin gown indicated how much easier it is to adopt a theory than to change one's habits’ (Letters from Abroad, i. 98). Crabbe Robinson declared that ‘her becoming a quaker gave her a sort of éclat; yet she was not conscious, I dare say, of any unworthy motive’ (Diary, ii. 277). Harriet Martineau, who neither approved nor was greatly interested in Mrs. Opie, noted in 1839 ‘a spice of dandyism in the demure peculiarity of her dress’ (Autobiogr. iii. 202). Dr. Chalmers, however, who met her in 1833, called her a plain-looking quakeress, and could hardly reconcile her appearance with his idea of the authoress whose works he had read with delight. Her benevolence was unflagging. She conceived the idea with Mrs. Fry of re-