The Amelia Alderson Opie Archive
1834 Lays for the Dead
Literary Gazette; and Journal of the Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, &c, 909 (June 21, 1834): 430.


THERE is truly, as the amiable and accomplished author anticipates, something of monotony in these Lays, all devoted to one sad subject – death.  However various the circumstances which attend this final catastrophe, they are so swallowed up in its own immensity, that it seems to matter little in the end whether it be sudden or lingering, easy or painful, a slumbering natural chance, or one preceded by every species of torture which the flesh can endure or the malignant passions of man can inflict.  Within a few hours, and the sleep is equally pangless and profound.  The wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.

            Thus there is little essentially to vary the theme of mourning and lament.  The quick pestilence and the aged decay, the lonely cloister and the tumultuous battle-field, the magnificent couch and the lowly pallet, the murderous knife and the slow-consuming disease, the infant’s sigh and the strong man’s struggle, are but so many of the innumerable passages to the one grave: the be all and end all here.  Yet Mrs. Opie has touched several of these events with feeling and pathos; and drawn from them moral conclusions and religious consolations which cannot be read without improvement.  The compositions are, therefore, to be more highly prized for the sentiments they embody than for their poetical excellence: that fate which levels all things has, in this respect, contributed to level them.

            From among about fifty pieces, on the hopes of friends and relatives – on funerals and their anniversaries – on the young and old who have departed – and on other subjects connected with the last scene which closes mortal history – we select the following as an interesting example.  It is simple, but descriptive of a series of thoughts and emotions which will find a response in every rightly constituted human heart; and it is particularly affecting when we reflect who is the writer and who as the theme: --

[quotes “A Lament”]

            The last twenty pages of the volume contain sketches of Saint Michale’s Mount, Cornwall – would we were near it to enjoy its beauteous scenery! – and by way of variety to this notice, we copy a short episode which relates to the discovery, in making some alterations, a few years ago, of a skeleton embedded between two of the massive walls: --

[quotes “But to thy masses hanging o’er the deep” to “And breathe a requiem to they nameless dust!”]

            These specimens are fair illustrations of this graceful and melancholy volume, to which the name of its author will give extensive currency without our adding a single line beyond the foregoing extracts to recommend it to the public favour.


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