The Amelia Alderson Opie Archive
1812 Temper; or, Domestic Scenes
 
Critical Review, series 4, 1 (June 1812): 621-6.

 

THIS tale of Mrs. Opie’s commences with an important lesson to parents.  We would request those mothers who read novels for their amusement, when their children are asleep, to take instruction from the first page of the first volume, and to reflect on the baneful consequence of suffering a child to get the better.  We could almost fancy, that we hear a fond mother exclaim at this, our request, ‘Ah, it is fine talking; it is very easy to write on such subjects;’ but that is a good proverb which says, ‘Maids, children and bachelors’ wives are well taught.’ And so it is a good proverb; but like many good proverbs, and many good things, it is miserably perverted.  Many an anxiously fond mother takes this proverb in a wrong sense, and fancies that those persons who are not parents themselves, talk upon education and the bringing up of children, as subjects which it is impossible for them to understand, whereas, from being divested of those blindly fond feelings of a parent, they see the little faults which children exhibit; in a more clear light than the parents themselves.  But we would have that mother beware who, from a mistaken fondness, an indolence of disposition in herself, an impatience of temper, or any other cause, we would have her beware how she overlooks the first impulses of temper in her children. For let it be remembered that temper proves either the bane or the blessing of life.

            Every observing person will agree, that temper in children displays itself at a very early age.  On its first appearance, it may be effectually checked, and brought under proper controul by judicious management.  But if the little ebullitions of temper are suffered to have a temporary reign, the task of correction becomes terrific.  We often hear – ‘Oh, poor little loves; they know no better; they are but babies;’ and parents are too apt, when a child is tiresome and shows a violent temper, to give up the point in contention merely for peace-sake; but this is but a sorry and a selfish feeling on the part of the parent.  To be sure, order is restored for the time; but the next offence of the child, which follows quick upon the heels of the former, is committed with a more daring countenance, and with a mind more assured of gaining its point.  With all the delightful artlessness of infancy, children frequently evince a degree of cunning which is thought to belong only to more advanced life.  It is surprising how soon they know, that a smile, an arch look, a rosy lip put up to be kissed, or a pertinent answer, will call forth a blessing on the little darling, that has just offended.  It is indeed wonderful how soon the little creatures know their power over the affections, how warily they feel their way, and how daringly they proceed, after gaining a point.

            If obedience be not firmly inculcated, self-controul earnestly impressed, and government of the temper strictly enforced, parents may bid a long farewell to all the dreams of bliss they had fondly cherished for their old age.

            In the female character obedience and good temper are great essentials; for let a woman’s rank in life be ever so exalted, let her possess all the beauty of her sex, let her have the capacity of calling forth for the hour all the fascinations it is possible for the mind to imagine, if she have not good temper by her own fire-side, and a proper sense of obedience, as a wife she is nothing; and as a daughter it is a thousand to one but she brings her parents’ ‘grey hairs with sorrow to the grave.’

            In the sad story of Agatha Torrington, which Mrs. Opie has sketched in these volumes, the government of the temper is many parts very powerfully displayed. ‘Shut the door, Agatha,’ said Mr. Torrington, to a beautiful girl of four years old; ‘the wind from the passage is intolerable.’ But Agatha stirred not. – ‘Did not you hear what I said?’ resumed her father; ‘shut the door, for I am cold.’  Still, however, the child heeds not what is said, and continues to amuse herself.  During a sensible conversation between the father and mother, in which the former endeavours to persuade the latter how very wrong this false tenderness of overlooking will be in the end, the child seizes a pair of sharp-pointed scissors, and runs away with them to the end of the room.

           

[quotes from Temper]

            Under the controul of Mr. Torrington, Agatha’s temper improves, but a short time afterwards this sensible parent is snatched away by death.  The affliction which this event brings upon Mrs. Torrington, so far weakens her mind as to induce her to relax the wise system her husband had begun.  The fatal consequence is that when Agatha approached the period of womanhood, she became an object of fear to her mother; ‘and the tyrant of her mother’s household, the torment and destestation of all the relations and friends who visited at the house.’  This turbulent, fiery-spirited young lady (who is of course very beautiful) falls in love at a ball with the handsome Mr. Danvers; and as her mother disapproves (from very good reasons) the match, Miss Agatha chooses, in contradiction to her mother’s will, to go off with him and marry him.  The unsubdued and unhappy temper of Agatha is not qualified to make a husband happy.  Danvers is so disgusted by it, that after the birth of a daughter, he abandons her, telling her at the same time that when he married her, he had a wife living in India.  In the few scenes which follow between this unhappy couple, Mrs. Opie has evinced her capacity of acting upon the feelings, as will appear from the following extract:

[quotes from Temper]

            We do not enter fully into the particulars of the story; but give the above as a specimen of the work.  The daughter of Agatha, who is named Emma, evinces the same untractable violence of temper as her mother had done in her infancy; but on the death of Agatha, the education of her daughter is undertaken by a worthy clergyman, of the name of Egerton, under the aid of whose judicious tuition, she turns out a different character from her unfortunate mother.  In the description of the process of instruction pursued with Emma, by Mr. Egerton, the principal merit of the work consists.

            Mrs. Opie, as a novel writer, has met with her full meed of praise, nor do we withhold it from this tale of Temper.  But we do not think the present performance at all equal to Adeline Mowbray, or the tale of the Father and Daughter.  The few characters, which are introduced, independently of those connected with the story, are very poor, quite beneath the genius of Mrs. Opie.  Mrs. Felton, the conquest-making widow, Mrs. St. Aubyn, silly and extravagant – and the vulgar Mr. Popkinson, are mere ephemerals.  The latter, we must own, made us smile; for in his conversation with Emma at the ball, we renewed our acquaintance with certain venerable personages not an hundred miles from the famed city of Norwich, a place of some note for good dinners and scarlet-dyers.  We have in our young days heard of such a character as Old Sal, which answers to Mrs. Opie’s delineation of Old Peg.  And perhaps our good friend, Mrs. O. may have heard tell of such a being as Old Bob, and an Old Sal of Norwich?  Surely this is not The Opie, to use an opera phrase.

            We cannot very much commend the plot which Mrs. Opie has adopted in these volumes.  It comes too near that in the novel of Evelina.  In fact the denial of Danver’s marriage with Agatha Torrington is similar; and the conduct of Sir John Belmont is not unlike Danvers’s.  But the discovery of the legality of Agatha’s marriage is not so well managed; nor is the tout en semble of the piece so skillfully arranged.  The forbidding of the marriage with Emma and Balfour, who proves to be her brother, just in the nick of time, is but poorly contrived; and, as we said before, very much beneath the genius of Mrs. Opie.  What interests most in this novel is the unhappy story of Agatha, and the correction of her daughter’s temper; and in this consists the chief merit of the performance.

            It is well known to every reflecting mind, that the most serious ills arise from an immoderate indulgence in early life; and that every good may be expected from proper attention to the correction of a child’s temper and disposition.  The unsubdued spirit of Emma showed itself on the following occasion.  A dispute having arisen between her grandmother and a gentleman by the name of Hargrave, a near neighbour, who had a nephew almost brought up with Emma, it was desire by Mr. Hargrave that the young Emma and Henry should not meet.  However, the young folks, like all other young folks, who really love, do find an opportunity of meeting, though without the wish, or the thought of doing wrong.  But when Emma is told it is wrong, what is her answer?

[quotes from Temper]

            Mr. Egerton enters the room and hears this undutiful speech of his pupil’s; and Mrs. Castlemain, Emma’s grandmother, thus addresses him:

[quotes from Temper]

            This is no very amiable specimen of the heroine of the tale; but it is a useful lesson to know, that such a temper as Emma here displays, is corrected and improved by proper discipline; and that she becomes an amiable, sensible, and worthy member of society.  Her mother’s marriage is proved; and her father, whom she discovers by chance, dies penitent for the injury which he had committed against Agatha.  Emma marries the man whom she loves; and all ends as it should, according to those laws, to which most novelists render an unqualified obedience.

 

 
   
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