ADAM GRAEME OF MOSSORA.Y..
A wovEusx with but one class of subjects, and one mode of treat- ing them, is like an author continuing a theme, which is prover- bially a disappointing affair : the novelist having this additional
• Memoirs and Resolutions of Adam Graeme of Mossgray; including some Ohre-. nicles of the Borough of Fendie. By the Author of " Passages in the Life of Mrs. Margaret Maitland,. "Mertraand," &c. in three volumes. Published by Colima and Co.
disadvantage, that each successive fiction further and further ex- hausts the original quarry. The historian who continues his task, may find, as Gibbon expresses it, that "an author who cannot ascend will always appear to sink," and the interest of his sub- jects will vary ; still, the subjects themselves as well as the re- cords are fresh. The writer who has to depend upon his own observation for his matter will present its cream in his early books, and if he continues in the same style, will have to resort to skimmed milk, and be driven by artifices of style to attempt to sup- ply the deficiency of matter till manner falls into mannerism.
Something of this is visible in the fiction before us. The stand- ing subject of the author of "Mrs. Margaret Maitland" is Scottish life of rather a narrow provincial kind ; and her great excellence lies in the minute truthfulness of its delineation, rather than in story, incident, or passion. Such a subject is limited from its na- ture, and soon exhausted in its essential features : probably, too, its interest lies much in its novelty. A single Gerard Douw fixes the attention, but a collection of Gerard Douws would become monotonous.
Had Adam Graeme of Mossgray been the first publication of the writer, it would perhaps have raised her reputation higher than did " Passages in the Life of Mrs. Margaret Maitland," or " Merkland." There are a greater number of persons, with a greater variety in the story, or rather, there are several stories connected more or less with the princi- pal figure, Adam Graeme. But the life described is merely a re- petition of what we have had already, while its character is of a more singular or common kind. The story itself is possible in its romance, and that is about all ; in its level parts the inci- dents and objects are too narrow for the superstructure raised upon them. It may be laid down as a rule, that things common to all are not by themselves adapted to elaborate prose fiction. Gazettes, or gazettelike records—bankruptcy, births, deaths, and marriages—are hardly fit even for tales ; they require something in circumstance, character, well-grounded pas- sion, to adapt them to the novel. Considered in this point of view, the materials of Adam Graeme are insufficient for their pur- pose : hence attempti by writing to make them answer. Adam Graeme, in very early life, falls in love ; but as he is too bashful to tell it, another suitor succeeds, and though family influence induces the lady to listen to Adam, she elopes before the next morning. This is mortifying enough ; but hardly sufficient to in- duce the utter prostration of a youthful mind which follows, or to colour with sadness a whole life. Adam has a friend, Hew Murray, who goes to India, and is supposed to be killed ; and though Adam follows in search of his friend, and visits many countries, it is without effect. Hew Murray never turns up till the end of the book ; when the son of his sister, who has also met mishaps in India, returns to marry Lilies Maxwell, the daughter of Adam's old flame, whom he has adopted on her mother's death.
Besides these principal stories, there are some smaller ones con- nected with the " borough of Fendie." Of these the most elaborate is the love of William Oswald, the banker's son, for Helen Bu- chanan, a reduced gentlewoman, who keeps a school. As the dis- appointment of youth's romantic feelings under the realities of life seems to be the idea of Adam's more immediate story, the propriety of changing a rash vow is the object of Helen Buchanan's tale; the banker having expressed his resolve never to receive her as a daughter. As in Adam Graemes's personal history we are called upon to " assist " at effects disproportioned to their causes, and at everyday griefs which are not only too intense but turn out to be baseless, so the loves of William and Helen are commonplace though natural.
But, though the story of the novel is insufficient, and its con- duct has many technical defects, there are parts of great truth and beauty. Lucy Murray, the sister of Hew, has been engaged to Adam's cousin, Charles Maxwell ; but he deserts her on a reverse of fortune ; and the whole of this episode is painted with quiet and simple truth. The most powerful section of the whole relates to the trouble of Saunders Delvie. Saunders is a Scotch peasant— pious, sternly conscientious, hard in manner and appearance, but deeply tender at heart. The child of his advancing age has turned out wild and something more. His father cursed him in the agony of his disappointment; Peter enlisted, and went to India ; and a report has reached the little town that the prodigal is dead, though the full report has been kept from the parent.
" The market was over in Fendie ; and as the summer afternoon drowsily waned and the weekly stir subsided, Mr. Oswald sat in his little private office alone. The banker was an elder of the church, and a man, as Saun- ders thought, of kindred mind and temperament to his own. It was from him that he came to seek counsel.
" Mr. Oswald looked up in some astonishment as the old man was ushered into his sanctum.
It's a case of conscience, sir,' said Saunders, in his harsh tremulous voice. I was wanting to ask your counsel.' " Mr. Oswald was a little startled. Cases of conscience were not quite in his way, although he had the ordination of the eldership upon him. "'Had you not better speak to the minister, Saunders ? ' he said : but sit down, and tell me what troubles you.' " The banker's heart was touched with the trembling vehemence of the old man's manner and appearance as he stood before him.
" Na, air, I canna speak to the minister,' said Saunders. The minis- ter's a young man, and doesna ken the afflictions of the like o' me : he may hae comfort for his sin kind, but the griefs o' the grey head are sheen the ken o' lads like him. I canna speak to the minister.' " Mr. Oswald had heard the rumour of Peter Delvie's death, and pitied the stern old father ; again he asked him to sit down. " Saunders took the offered seat, and pressed his bonnet convulsively be- tween his hands. It's touching the lawfulness of a vowa vow before the Lord.' "Mr. OswaM'a voice faltered a little ; an indefinite thrill of conscience moved him. What is it, Saunders ?' " I made a resolve; said the old man, his features twitching, and hi, strong harsh voice shaking with the very force of his determination to steady it, to put forth ane—ane that had sinned—out from my house as an alien and a reprobate. He had shamed the name that righteous puir men had laboured to keep honest for him—he had sinned in the sight of God and man ; and before the Lord I pat him forth, and took a vow on me that he should cross my door-stane never mair. Meister Oswald, ye're an elder of the kirk, and a man of years, and ane that has had bairns born to ye, and ken—am I no' bound before the Lord to haud to my vow ?'
" Mr. Oswald moved upon his chair uneasily : he could not answer.
" 'I have had converse with Mossgray,' continued Saunders, shrill tones of excitement mingling with the usual slow grave accents of his broken voice ; but Mossgray is anther manner of man, and kensna—kensna the like o' me. He tells me that change is a guid gift of God, given for our using, like ither providences, and that what I have said wi' my lips may be broken, and me no 111suawOru : but I say, no--I ken nee law ither than the auld law of Scripture, and I maun perform to the Lord my vow. Sir, Mr. Oswald, think ye not so ? ' "The old man's shaggy eyelash was wet, but the fire shot forth behind. Strongly the two contending powers within him struggled for the mastery. He wanted his authority to second the dictates of the yearning nature, which, moved by whispers of some unknown calamity to his son, contended bitterly, with the stern obstinacy of his temper and his sense of right; yet he had entered upon the oft-repeated arguments, with which he had been used to defend himself against the gentle attacks of Mossgray, and was be- coming heated in his own defence. If the banker had pronounced his judg- ment against the breaking of this vow, it would have carried a bitter pang to the old man's heart, and yet would have been a triumph. He sat, press. ing his bonnet in his hard hands, and shaking like a palsied man. He had put his fate on this chance. He had resolved to make the judgment of the other pertinacious man to whom he appealed his final rule, and anxiously he waited for the decision.
"But George Oswald, moving there uneasily in his elbow-chair, was too much perplexed and conscience-stricken to give a ready answer. The vehe- ment father-love of Saunders Delvie, which in its agony of disappointed hope produced this vow, sublimed the old man's sternness and lifted it out of the class of ordinary emotions. It was not anger, or wounded pride, or shame alone ; but it was all these, intensified and burning with the strong bitter love which still worshiped in its secret heart the son whom it had expelled from his home. The worldly man who had put the barrier of his disapproval in the way of his son's happiness, for such paltry motives as Saunders Delvie never knew, felt himself abashed in presence of the old stern peasant, whose appealing eye was upon him.
" Saunders,' said Mr. Oswald with a faltering voice, we are bound at all times to forgive.' " 'It's no that I dinna forgive him!' cried the old man in his passion. 'It's no that I dinna think upon him night and day—it's no that—oh man ! do ye no ken?'
"And Saunders, forgetting all artificial respectfulness, put down his gray head into his hard toil-worn hands, and sobbed aloud—such strong convulsive sobs as the awed banker had never heard before.
"Hope Oswald had opened the door very quietly to look in, and the in- stincts of childhood were scarcely yet subdued in the young heart of the banker's daughter. She came softly across the room, to stand by Saunders' side, and touch his hand with awe-and pity.
"'Saunders,' whispered Hope, 'maybe it is not true—the minister says it is not true.'
"The old man lifted his face ; no face less stern could have been moved so greatly.
" What is't that's no true ?'
" Poor Peter !' said Hope with tears upon her cheek ; do you mind how good he aye was, Saunders ? and his heart broke, people say, because you were any at him. But you are not angry now ; and when he comes back, you will go out to meet him like the man in the Bible, and be friends ? for, Saun- ders, you are friends with Peter now ?' "He could not wait for any judgment ; he could not think of any VOW. A burst of weeping, such as might have hailed the Prodigal's return, fol- lowed the simple speech of Hope. The living love within him burst through its perverse and unseemly garments ; and those peaceful walls, unused to great emotion, had never heard such a cry as broke through them now, from lips that trembled as the great king's did of old when he too wept for his Absalom. ' My son! my son!' "