Announcement: Digitising William Godwin’s Manuscripts

Pamela Clemit is leading a new project to digitise the manuscripts of William Godwin’s two most celebrated works.

From the press release (London, 3 April 2017):

For the first time, the sole surviving manuscripts of the most celebrated works of William Godwin (1756-1836) will be digitised and made freely available on the Shelley-Godwin Archive as part of a collaborative project announced today by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), and Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH).

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Manuscript of William Godwin’s Political Justice (1793), showing authorial revisions. Image courtesy of the V&A.

William Godwin was an English radical political philosopher of the French Revolutionary era. He married Mary Wollstonecraft, the early advocate of women’s rights, but lost her shortly after the birth of their daughter Mary, who grew up to marry Godwin’s disciple, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and to write Frankenstein.

Godwin shot to fame with a massive book, An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793), now seen as a founding text of philosophical anarchism. He rejected all forms of political authority in favour of justice, equality, and mutual moral accountability. The rule of law would be replaced by the rule of reason. Godwin’s greatest novel, Caleb Williams (1794), was the first detective thriller in the European narrative tradition. A study in power relations, it dramatised the impact of tyrannical government on the ordinary individual.

Under the leadership of Pamela Clemit of QMUL’s School of English and Drama, one of the world’s most renowned Godwin scholars, the original handwritten manuscripts of these two epochal works will be digitised for the first time and made freely available worldwide.

These  treasures are held at the V&A in London, in a vast archive of literary manuscripts. The V&A will undertake conservation and photography, and will host a public event in September 2017 to launch the new electronic publication.

MITH, one of the world’s leading digital humanities centres, will publish images of the manuscripts on the Shelley-Godwin Archive. This electronic resource is making freely available the digitised manuscripts of William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Mary Shelley, reuniting online the handwritten legacy of one of England’s most important literary families.  “MITH is excited to be working on this project with two such distinguished partners, and we look forward to publishing images of these momentous texts,” said Neil Fraistat, Director of MITH and a General Editor of the Shelley-Godwin Archive.

Pamela Clemit said: “Digitising the manuscripts of Godwin’s most celebrated works will make it possible for everyone to experience the thrill of using the original documents without visiting the archive. Both manuscripts contain extensive revisions, providing a unique record of what was sayable at a particular historical moment.

“These are works of political protest, written during a government crackdown on freedom of speech in the aftermath of the French Revolution. One of them imagines a better future; the other dramatises the experience of living in a world of inequality, hardship, and injustice. They have a special appeal in turbulent times like our own.”

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Manuscript of William Godwin’s Caleb Williams (1794), showing authorial revisions and printer’s marks. Image courtesy of the V&A.

Bill Sherman, the V&A’s Director of Research and Collections, said: “We are delighted by this partnership between the world’s largest museum of art, design, and performance, and academic leaders in the fields of literature and digital humanities. The project will introduce new readers to two of the most powerful and enduring literary texts in the V&A’s manuscript collections.”

The project is supported by the QMUL Humanities and Social Sciences Collaboration Fund.

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Important Update: MLA 2017 Special Session on Godwin and Shelley

A Special Session to be held at the 2017 MLA Annual Convention (Philadelphia, 5-8 January) on Thursday 5 January, 1:45-3:00 p.m., 104B, Pennsylvania Convention Center

Owing to the sad demise on 20 November 2016 of our colleague, the distinguished and much loved scholar Charles E. Robinson, this Special Session will now be made up of the first two papers listed below. It will be chaired by Stuart Curran.

Reloading the Romantic Canon: New Texts and Contexts from Godwin, Shelley, and Hazlitt

Until the last two decades of the twentieth century, the canon of British Romantic authors installed by the Victorians looked fixed, though its boundaries were constantly debated. It gave primacy to the ‘big six’ poets — Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake, Byron, Keats, and Shelley — the most significant modern adjustment being the replacement of Sir Walter Scott by the tradesman-class visionary Blake. Things could not go on like that for much longer. Since the 1980s, there has been recovery, recontextualization, and rehistoricization of both established and previously little-known authors on a grand scale. Many new texts have appeared in the classroom. Study of the literary past continues to yield a constant stream of discoveries, providing evidence and new angles of interpretation which disturb existing certitudes. The subject of this session is work in progress by scholarly editors, based on new finds of archival and rare printed material, which is further reshaping the Romantic canon. It is hoped that the session will catalyse the interest of younger members of the profession, helping to nurture the next generation of textual scholars. The session will comprise three fifteen-minute presentations, leaving ample time for discursive synergies.

Presiding: Pamela Clemit, Queen Mary University of London

‘The Signal of Regard: William Godwin’s Correspondence Networks’ — Pamela Clemit, Queen Mary University of London

godwin-lawrence-15Pamela Clemit takes as her subject new letters emerging from the archive and being published in her Oxford University Press edition of The Letters of William Godwin, 6 vols. in progress (2011-). She seeks to recover the culture of reciprocity which was sustained by letter-writers in an era without email or telephone. She argues that the letter is a gift of attention, in which the writer seeks to communicate regard by means of a signal crafted uniquely for the recipient. The concept of ‘regard’ (as developed by the economic historian Avner Offer) overlaps with its dual common meaning, indicating both attention and approbation. David Hume and Adam Smith took it to be the driver of human exchange in emotions as much in commerce. The exchange of regard is a key which captures the logic of a prodigious correspondent like Godwin. The personalisation of the gift-signal confers an obligation to reciprocate. Godwin was self-conscious about this obligation and worked hard to fulfil it — with varying degrees of success. His correspondence encompassed just about every significant literary and political figure on the political left from the era of the French Revolution to the 1832 Reform Act, and was nourished by bonds of reciprocity. His letters embodied a larger conversation, allowing intimacy to be preserved at a distance. This conversation is so rich and intense that, in many cases, Godwin’s letters might be considered as substantive additions to the literary canon.

Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things: A Newly Recovered Poem by Shelley and its Contexts’ — Michael Rossington, University of Newcastle

1024px-Percy_Bysshe_Shelley_by_Alfred_Clint-25.jpgMichael Rossington, one of the lead editors of The Poems of Shelley in the Longman Annotated English Poets series, 5 vols. in progress (1989-), focuses on a previously unknown, newly published poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things. This poem, composed by Shelley at the age of eighteen and published in 1811, just before he was expelled from University College, Oxford, invites a reconfiguration of the canon of Shelley’s poems. The only copy known to exist came to light in 2006, but it was not made public until it was published on the Bodleian Library’s website in 2015. Rossington examines the text and contexts of Poetical Essay. He explores its overtly political content, including its publication (as declared on the title-page) to raise funds for the Irish war correspondent Peter Finnerty, then imprisoned for libelling Castlereagh, and its alignment with the reformist politics of Sir Francis Burdett. He situates the poem in relation to Shelley’s earliest published works of 1810 and 1811, and to the manuscripts of Shelley’s earliest writing in the Bodleian Library, the Pforzheimer Collection of the New York Public Library, and other archives. This newly published poem invites a far-reaching reassessment both of Shelley’s early thought and of his oeuvre as a whole.

‘William Hazlitt and his Liber Amoris Letters to Peter George Patmore’ — Charles E. Robinson, University of Delaware

1024px-william_hazlitt_portrait-25Charles E. Robinson turns the spotlight on a text deplored by the Victorians and by early twentieth-century critics, but accepted into the Romantic canon in the early 1980s: William Hazlitt’s Liber Amoris; Or, The New Pygmalion (1823). This epistolary narrative tells the story of the author’s sexual obsession with his landlady’s daughter, Sarah Walker. Robinson is preparing a comprehensive new edition of Hazlitt’s letters, which corrects and augments The Letters of William Hazlitt, ed. Herschel M. Sikes et al (New York, 1978). Robinson presents findings arising from his re-editing of the texts of the sixteen letters written in 1822 to Peter George Patmore which formed the basis of Hazlitt’s book. He provides a new sequence and dates for those letters; restores omitted passages, including sexual references to Sarah Walker that were heavily cancelled by both Hazlitt and Patmore; and provides new evidence of the manner in which Hazlitt prepared printer’s copy for John Hunt’s 1823 edition of the anonymously published Liber Amoris. Such evidence raises new critical questions about a text that we thought we knew well, showing (for the first time) how it came into being, and complicating its canonical status.

The texts to be discussed in this session form part of a flow of discoveries from the archives (and from the book dealers). They place canonical creation in an entirely new light. They make possible many new critical questions, explorations, and interpretations. They shift attention away from Romantic texts as singular, individual responses to external stimulation. New archival findings constitute a different medium for the Romantic sensibility: they reveal dense networks of obligation and interaction, for which the mode of transmission is handwritten words on paper. We are not dependent solely on print to capture the content and experience of a cultural movement. A printed text can be lost to its own time — as Shelley’s poem was — and rediscovered in ours. For those engaged full-time with the Romantic canon and its classroom application, whether as teachers or scholars, such findings make passing on the torch of knowledge a pleasure as well as a duty.

Announcement: MLA 2017 Special Session on Godwin, Shelley, and Hazlitt

A Special Session to be held at the 2017 MLA Annual Convention (Philadelphia, 5-8 January) on Thursday 5 January, 1:45-3:00 p.m., 104B, Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Reloading the Romantic Canon: New Texts and Contexts from Godwin, Shelley, and Hazlitt

Until the last two decades of the twentieth century, the canon of British Romantic authors installed by the Victorians looked fixed, though its boundaries were constantly debated. It gave primacy to the ‘big six’ poets — Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake, Byron, Keats, and Shelley — the most significant modern adjustment being the replacement of Sir Walter Scott by the tradesman-class visionary Blake. Things could not go on like that for much longer. Since the 1980s, there has been recovery, recontextualization, and rehistoricization of both established and previously little-known authors on a grand scale. Many new texts have appeared in the classroom. Study of the literary past continues to yield a constant stream of discoveries, providing evidence and new angles of interpretation which disturb existing certitudes. The subject of this session is work in progress by scholarly editors, based on new finds of archival and rare printed material, which is further reshaping the Romantic canon. It is hoped that the session will catalyse the interest of younger members of the profession, helping to nurture the next generation of textual scholars. The session will comprise three fifteen-minute presentations, leaving ample time for discursive synergies.

Presiding: Pamela Clemit, Queen Mary University of London

‘The Signal of Regard: William Godwin’s Correspondence Networks’ — Pamela Clemit, Queen Mary University of London

godwin-lawrence-15Pamela Clemit takes as her subject new letters emerging from the archive and being published in her Oxford University Press edition of The Letters of William Godwin, 6 vols. in progress (2011-). She seeks to recover the culture of reciprocity which was sustained by letter-writers in an era without email or telephone. She argues that the letter is a gift of attention, in which the writer seeks to communicate regard by means of a signal crafted uniquely for the recipient. The concept of ‘regard’ (as developed by the economic historian Avner Offer) overlaps with its dual common meaning, indicating both attention and approbation. David Hume and Adam Smith took it to be the driver of human exchange in emotions as much in commerce. The exchange of regard is a key which captures the logic of a prodigious correspondent like Godwin. The personalisation of the gift-signal confers an obligation to reciprocate. Godwin was self-conscious about this obligation and worked hard to fulfil it — with varying degrees of success. His correspondence encompassed just about every significant literary and political figure on the political left from the era of the French Revolution to the 1832 Reform Act, and was nourished by bonds of reciprocity. His letters embodied a larger conversation, allowing intimacy to be preserved at a distance. This conversation is so rich and intense that, in many cases, Godwin’s letters might be considered as substantive additions to the literary canon.

Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things: A Newly Recovered Poem by Shelley and its Contexts’ — Michael Rossington, University of Newcastle

1024px-Percy_Bysshe_Shelley_by_Alfred_Clint-25.jpgMichael Rossington, one of the lead editors of The Poems of Shelley in the Longman Annotated English Poets series, 5 vols. in progress (1989-), focuses on a previously unknown, newly published poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things. This poem, composed by Shelley at the age of eighteen and published in 1811, just before he was expelled from University College, Oxford, invites a reconfiguration of the canon of Shelley’s poems. The only copy known to exist came to light in 2006, but it was not made public until it was published on the Bodleian Library’s website in 2015. Rossington examines the text and contexts of Poetical Essay. He explores its overtly political content, including its publication (as declared on the title-page) to raise funds for the Irish war correspondent Peter Finnerty, then imprisoned for libelling Castlereagh, and its alignment with the reformist politics of Sir Francis Burdett. He situates the poem in relation to Shelley’s earliest published works of 1810 and 1811, and to the manuscripts of Shelley’s earliest writing in the Bodleian Library, the Pforzheimer Collection of the New York Public Library, and other archives. This newly published poem invites a far-reaching reassessment both of Shelley’s early thought and of his oeuvre as a whole.

‘William Hazlitt and his Liber Amoris Letters to Peter George Patmore’ — Charles E. Robinson, University of Delaware

1024px-william_hazlitt_portrait-25Charles E. Robinson turns the spotlight on a text deplored by the Victorians and by early twentieth-century critics, but accepted into the Romantic canon in the early 1980s: William Hazlitt’s Liber Amoris; Or, The New Pygmalion (1823). This epistolary narrative tells the story of the author’s sexual obsession with his landlady’s daughter, Sarah Walker. Robinson is preparing a comprehensive new edition of Hazlitt’s letters, which corrects and augments The Letters of William Hazlitt, ed. Herschel M. Sikes et al (New York, 1978). Robinson presents findings arising from his re-editing of the texts of the sixteen letters written in 1822 to Peter George Patmore which formed the basis of Hazlitt’s book. He provides a new sequence and dates for those letters; restores omitted passages, including sexual references to Sarah Walker that were heavily cancelled by both Hazlitt and Patmore; and provides new evidence of the manner in which Hazlitt prepared printer’s copy for John Hunt’s 1823 edition of the anonymously published Liber Amoris. Such evidence raises new critical questions about a text that we thought we knew well, showing (for the first time) how it came into being, and complicating its canonical status.

The texts to be discussed in this session form part of a flow of discoveries from the archives (and from the book dealers). They place canonical creation in an entirely new light. They make possible many new critical questions, explorations, and interpretations. They shift attention away from Romantic texts as singular, individual responses to external stimulation. New archival findings constitute a different medium for the Romantic sensibility: they reveal dense networks of obligation and interaction, for which the mode of transmission is handwritten words on paper. We are not dependent solely on print to capture the content and experience of a cultural movement. A printed text can be lost to its own time — as Shelley’s poem was — and rediscovered in ours. For those engaged full-time with the Romantic canon and its classroom application, whether as teachers or scholars, such findings make passing on the torch of knowledge a pleasure as well as a duty.

New Post: Rachel Prescott, a Manchester Correspondent of William Godwin

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is working with The Letters of William Godwin, edited by Pamela Clemit (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011-), to bring new information about Godwin and his correspondence networks to a wider readership. To read more about the project, click here.

The first ODNB entry arising from this collaboration has now been published. The ODNB May 2016 update includes the biography of Rachel Prescott (1765/6-1824), the Manchester poet and philanthropist, co-authored by Pamela Clemit and Jenny McAuley.

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Manchester from Kersal Moor, by William Wylde, 1852.

Rachel Prescott was the daughter of a Manchester printer and newspaper proprietor. She is thought to have assisted her father in editing Prescott’s Manchester Journal.  She was an enthusiastic reader of the works of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. Her early writings included some stanzas praising Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792).

Rachel Prescott was one of many people who read Godwin’s Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793), and then wrote to the author for advice on  how to put his principles into practice in their lives. She wrote him two long letters in the spring of 1799, asking: ‘What are the individual, or reciprocal claims founded in marriage? and when this contract is discovered to be erroneously made, whether it is nevertheless to be irrevocable?’ (Letters of William Godwin, ii. 79, note 2.)

Rachel Prescott’s letter reached Godwin at a time when he was reconsidering his views on marriage (and seeking a second wife). His first wife Mary Wollstonecraft, who died in 1797, had introduced him to a ‘new language’ of feeling. His ill-fated courtship of the author Harriet Lee in 1798 had further tested his convictions (and her patience). On 17 April he wrote Prescott a carefully-worded, four-page reply:

I hold the institution of marriage, as explained by our authorities in church & state, to be unfounded & injurious.  I see no reason in nature or morality why a connection of two persons of different sexes should be treated as indissoluble … Yet I hold the exclusive attachment of man & woman … to be the dictate of taste, refinement & virtue … & to protect, the woman in particular, from misrepresentation & calumny, I should think it commendable to marry her in the established forms. (Letters of William Godwin, ii. 77-8.)

In the autumn of 1799 Rachel Prescott published a collection of poetry reflecting her progressive and humanitarian interests, which was reprinted in 1812. She died unmarried at Leigh, Lancashire, at the age of 58. Her will made provision for the founding of a local charity which lasted until 2011.

To find out more about Rachel Prescott and Godwin, see The Letters of William Godwin, Volume II: 1798-1805 (2014), now available in print, and, to subscribers, on Oxford Scholarly Editions Online.

Guest Post: John Bugg, ‘The Generosity of Joseph Johnson’

JosephJohnsonJoseph Johnson’s bookshop at 72 St Paul’s Churchyard, London, served as a hub for some of the most important writers and artists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. William Godwin’s diary records his attendance at Johnson’s monthly dinners from the mid-1790s to around 1810. (The tradition was continued, after Johnson’s death in 1809, by his great-nephew Rowland Hunter, who inherited a half-share of the business.)

Perhaps this is not surprising, given Johnson’s close personal and professional association with Godwin’s first wife, Mary Wollstonecraft. Her tragic early death brought Godwin and Johnson closer together. Johnson, we know, helped Godwin with the funeral arrangements and supplied him with biographical notes on Wollstonecraft’s early years for his Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, co-published by Johnson and G. G. and J. Robinson in 1798.

What might be more surprising is that about a decade after Wollstonecraft’s death, Johnson became not only Godwin’s friend but also his vocational adviser, as Godwin worked to get his own publishing venture up and running. Together with his second wife, Mary Jane Godwin, he launched a publishing imprint and bookstore dedicated to children’s and educational books, a subspecialty of Johnson’s and a lucrative market. The Godwins’ ‘Juvenile Library’ was located first in Hanway Street, a few blocks from the British Museum’s original Montagu House site, and later at 41 Skinner Street (near the present-day Holborn Viaduct), very close – perhaps too close – to Newgate Prison.

The market for children’s books was strong (and expanding), but Godwin was a first-time bookseller and publisher, and had not served a formal apprenticeship. He had understandable difficulties in the trade. His friends and acquaintances supported him, however, and, three years into his venture, in spring 1808, they rallied to provide him with a capital fund. Johnson was involved with this plan from the beginning, helping to sketch out a strategy for Godwin to move forward as a publisher and bookseller on a stronger footing.

A surviving letter from Johnson’s newly published correspondence gives us a window onto these plans. On 21 March 1808, prompted by a visit from Godwin, Johnson wrote to Richard ‘Conversation’ Sharp, a politically, and, as his nickname suggests, socially active London merchant and dissenter. Johnson explained that Godwin had just received a friendly enquiry from Whig MP William Smith about his financial situation. ‘This has brought him to me’, Johnson wrote to Sharp, ‘with a statement of his affairs & desiring my opinion, a very unpleasant office but I cannot refuse him’.

Johnson’s letter to Sharp addresses two issues: Godwin’s current stock and some practical actions that might now be taken to stabilize his finances. The first, Johnson noted, ‘consists principally of books composed by himself & a friend [i.e. Mary Jane Godwin] which have been well received, & bid fair to become stock books for children & young people’. Godwin published children’s books by other writers, perhaps most notably Tales from Shakespear (1807), by Charles and Mary Lamb, but Johnson had in mind Godwin’s own volumes, written under the pseudonym Edward Baldwin, Esq. These included Fables Ancient and Modern (1805), The Pantheon: or Ancient History of the Gods of Greece and Rome (1806), and The History of England (1806) – books that received positive reviews from the British Critic, the Monthly Mirror, and even the Anti-Jacobin Review.

So much for Godwin’s assets, but what to do next? Johnson proposed a three-part plan to help to continue and expand the business. The current stock of books should first of all be advertised, and with ‘common attention’ Godwin could anticipate £300 per year from the sale of these and subsequent children’s books. The other facets of Johnson’s plan were more challenging. Godwin at this time stood £1500 in debt and Johnson was one of those who had already lent him money. Johnson wrote that, should Godwin’s other creditors agree, ‘I will put my bond into the fire’. But even with all of these debts cancelled, Godwin would still require fresh capital to move forward: Johnson estimated that ‘there should be raised from £1500 to 2000£ either as gifts or loans without interest for, say 10 years’.

The plan went ahead with the opening of a public subscription. The Whig peers Lord Holland and Lord Lauderdale took the lead, and Johnson made the arrangements. Promised contributions totalled £1,220 even before the lists were formally opened. There is no record of the total collected, but it was a very large sum.

Johnson clearly wished to see his old friend succeed in the book trade, where he might find a steady income, support his growing family (including Wollstonecraft’s two young daughters), and help to educate young readers. But Johnson’s intervention in the spring of 1808 was one of his last opportunities to help Godwin navigate the contemporary book trade. When Johnson died in 1809, Godwin was bereft of a loyal friend and a valuable guiding hand.

The rescue plan that Johnson outlined in his letter to Sharp is representative of his lifelong endeavours both to assist his friends and to promote the work of writers in whom he believed. This cocktail of common sense, kindness, and business acumen is on display throughout the letters published in The Joseph Johnson Letterbook.

John Bugg is Associate Professor of English at Fordham University, and the editor of The Joseph Johnson Letterbook (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), from which all quotations are taken.

Online Publication: ‘Revisiting William Godwin’

An essay by Pamela Clemit, ‘Revisiting William Godwin’, has just been published on Oxford Handbooks Online.

IMG_0363 (3) (640x480) (340x255)Since the 1970s, when paperback editions of Political Justice and Caleb Williams became available, Godwin has been approached in various ways: as a literary writer, a guru, and a serious philosophical thinker. Broadly speaking, these perspectives were united by the first wave of historical critics (often associated with the “old” New Left), split apart by the rise of postmodernism, and welded together again by new historicists, who often drew on other innovatory critical trends, such as the history of the book. A number of tropes surface periodically in Godwin criticism, testifying to the enduring power of his ideas.

To read the full essay, go to Oxford Handbooks Online. This is a subscription database accessible via most research libraries. Please encourage your library to subscribe if you are unable to access it.

Guest Post: Ann Farrant, ‘The Different Faces of Amelia Opie’

Amelia Opie, née Alderson (1769-1853), the Norwich-born novelist and poet, is probably best known for her friendships with William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. But her creative milieu included many other writers, as well as thespians, musicians, politicians, judges, and artists.

Amelia Opie double-cropped (2)In 1798 Amelia married the portrait artist John Opie (1761-1807), who painted nine portraits of his attractive wife. One of the most intriguing is this double portrait (reproduced by kind permission of the Lander Gallery, Truro). Amelia is shown full face on the left and in profile on the right. The date is not known, but Amelia’s black dress and hairband suggest she may have been in mourning, possibly for Opie’s mother who died in 1805.

Opie’s decision to portray Amelia holding a harp lute is significant, for she was an accomplished musician and had a fine singing voice. Harriet Martineau wrote in her obituary of Amelia Opie that those who heard her sing Thomas Campbell’s Ballad of Lord Ullin’s Daughter would never forget it. Amelia also enjoyed writing lyrics for well-known airs, and many of her published poems were set to music by Edward Biggs.

The gregarious Amelia Opie was the daughter of James Alderson, a physician who gave his services free to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, which was set up for ‘the deserving poor’.  He and his wife Amelia, née Briggs, encouraged their only child to respect others and introduced her to the anti-slavery movement.  Her campaigning included writing poems for children; The Negro Boy’s Tale, written in 1790, was published in her first volume of poems.

After her mother’s death in 1784, Amelia Alderson took charge of her father’s household. James Alderson was active in Norwich reform movements, and he and his daughter attended the Octagon Presbyterian Chapel, where the congregation included many Unitarians. As well as hosting her father’s radical friends, including the Norfolk-born William Godwin, Amelia was a regular contributor to The Cabinet, a periodical begun in Norwich in 1794 by a group of reformers calling themselves ‘A Society of Gentlemen’.

Amelia Alderson and John Opie met some time after Amelia started to spend time in London in the early 1790s. Here Godwin introduced her to his circle of literary and political friends, including Thomas Holcroft, Elizabeth Inchbald, and, later, Mary Wollstonecraft.

In London she attended the 1794 treason trials, in which the government tried to suppress the reform movement. A rumour persisted that when her friend John Horne Tooke was acquitted, Amelia scrambled over benches and seats to give him a kiss. Outraged to read this anecdote in William Beloe’s The Sexagenarian (1817), she wrote to Archibald Constable, publisher of the Edinburgh Review, asking that this ‘positive falsehood’ might be refuted, should the magazine review the Beloe memoir.

When Opie and Amelia first became acquainted, he was in the process of divorcing his first wife, who had eloped with another man. Amelia appreciated Opie’s portraits of her friends, including Wollstonecraft (whom he painted twice), but she was indifferent to his personal qualities at first. Opie persisted and she succumbed.

The marriage worked well. The couple visited Paris in 1802, and met leading literary and political figures including Helen Maria Williams, Charles James Fox, and the Polish war hero Thaddeus Kościuszko, who asked Amelia to write some verses for him. Opie encouraged his wife’s literary ambitions. Her first novel as Mrs Opie, The Father and Daughter (1801), was an immediate bestseller, and was followed by Poems (1802), which was well received.  Then came Adeline Mowbray (1805), a fictionalised treatment of the ideas of Godwin and Wollstonecraft, and Simple Tales (1806).

Amelia was a popular guest at soirées, balls, and breakfast parties, while her husband got on with his work. She also had a passion for the theatre: one of her ambitions was to become a playwright. In 1791 her tragedy ‘Adelaide’ was staged at Norwich in a private theatre, with herself playing the leading role. She offered drafts of other plays to Godwin for his opinion. None were staged, but L’Agnese, an opera based on an Italian adaptation of The Father and Daughter, was performed at the King’s Theatre in London in 1817.

Amelia was a friend of the actress Sarah Siddons, née Kemble, who was painted by Opie and whose sister Fanny was married to the theatre critic Francis Twiss. His parents were both from Norwich; he and Fanny, another friend of Amelia’s, lived for some time in Norfolk. Opie’s portrait of Fanny inspired a poem by Amelia, published in the Monthly Review (1800), paying tribute to the artist and the sitter: ‘Thus pride and friendship war with equal strife, / And now the friend exults, and now the wife.’

Amelia sought commissions for her husband and welcomed sitters to their London house in Berners Street.  Mary Russell Mitford, then aged twelve, accompanied her father when he went to sit to Opie.  Years later, in a letter to Cecilia Lucy Brightwell, she recalled Amelia Opie as having been ‘kind and charming to the poor little schoolgirl’. Opie’s marriage brought him many commissions from the great and good in Norfolk.

When John Opie died in 1807 Amelia left London and made her home with her widowed father. Although she often wrote of her soul-searching about religion, her long widowhood was far from being a plain life. She continued writing novels, short stories, and poetry and travelled extensively both at home and abroad. She took her cousin Henry Perronet Briggs under her wing and helped to promote his career as an artist.

Dr Alderson’s Norwich clients included the Gurneys, a prominent Quaker banking family, who became Amelia’s longstanding friends. Her decision to become a member of the Society of Friends in 1825 was encouraged by Joseph John Gurney and his sister Elizabeth Fry, the prison reformer. Thereafter Amelia undertook much philanthropic work, and in 1840 she attended the first world Anti-Slavery Convention in London.

Amelia returned to Paris on her own in 1829 and 1830; here she was befriended by Lafayette, the veteran soldier and statesman of the American and French Revolutions. The sculptor and medallist David d’Angers admired her writing and wanted to meet her. They became instant friends; he made a medallion of her and later created a bust of her in marble.

Amelia Opie never lost her zest for life. At the age of eighty-one, she took her last trip to London, where, in a wheelchair, she visited the Great Exhibition. Confined to her house during her final months, she received a stream of visitors and, almost to the end, continued to write witty, informative, and entertaining letters to her friends.

Ann Farrant is the author of Amelia Opie: The Quaker Celebrity (Norfolk: JJG Publishing, 2014), which is available from www.jarrold.co.uk; or contact ann@amelia-opie.co.uk