British Fiction, 18001829

LOCKHART, John Gibson. Some Passages in the Life of Mr Adam Blair Minister of the Gospel at Cross-Meikle (1822)

Contemporary Reviews

La Belle Assemblée, n.s. 26 (Dec 1822): 522–24.

[Review is of the following works: Some Passages in the Life of Mr. Adam Blair and Lights and Shadows of Scottish Life (EN2 1822: 82)].

It is one of the phenomena of our nature, that those writers who have drawn most tears, have ever been the most permanent and universal favourites. Ask the question simply, would we wish to hear of death, distress, and all the various ways in which man may be made miserable, and we should certainly answer in the negative, and probably wonder that any should prefer such details to the lighter effusions of the laughter-loving muse. But let us once pause over a tale of sorrow and of suffering, with all its auxiliaries of natural and graceful expression, powerful description, and ingenious arrangement, and how fondly does it entwine round the sympathetic chords of the heart, and keep them long vibrating, with an emotion almost heavenly. The flow of wit, the sparkle of humour and gaiety, leaves no such after feelings, no such soft echoing of the past. It is perhaps that we have all known more of sorrow, than of joy, at least, remember the one more strongly than the other, and it is the deep tone of sympathy which speaks within us. There is also a sublimity attending most deep afflictions, which makes us like to contemplate them, especially when they are so far removed, as not to awaken actual and individual suffering, we then love to prolong the term of our melancholy enjoyment. Thus there are few who witness a great conflagration, without many emotions of pleasure arising from the sublimity of the object, although they may be deeply sensible of the situation of the sufferers. These reflections have been suggested by a perusal [522/523] of ‘some passages in the life of Mr. Adam Blair, minister of the gospel at Cross Mickle,’ which we have done with a high degree of interest and pleasure. It is by the same hand as ‘Lights and Shadows of Scottish life,’ of which more hereafter. The very first pages called forth that sweet pity, which wakes the heart so thrillingly, the young widower is led into the room, where they were just preparing to close the coffin-lid on his loved and lovely wife. ‘Well as he was acquainted with all the habitudes of his country folks, he had never before brought fully home to his imagination all that now met his view. The knots, the ribbons, the cushions, the satin, the tinsel—all that melancholy glitter turned his soul sick within him.’ He is led unmanned—unnerved from the chamber of death, to his own room, ‘and for the first time in his life, he was undressed by other hands than his own.’ We see him laid on his widowed bed, and feel all the bitterness—the loneliness of his soul, we hear the kind John Maxwell bid God bless—God strengthen him, and feel ’tis only he who can. With something like his own composure, we accompany him to the church-yard, with the long cavalcade of friends and funeral attendants, but it again forsook us, when ‘the clods as they rattled down, sent a shudder to every bosom, and when the spade was heard clapping the replaced sod into its form, every one turned away his eyes, lest his presence should be felt as an intrusion on the anguish of the minister. He, on his part, endured it wonderfully; but the dead mother had been laid down by the side of her dead children, and, perhaps, at that moment he was too humble to repine at their reunion. He uncovered, and bowed himself over the grave, when the last turf was beat down, and then leaning on the arm of John Maxwell, walked back slowly through the silent rows of his people, to the solitude of his Manse.’ This is painting from life—this is painting to the heart—to the heart of such as can feel for sorrow and bereavement, not such as the author pointedly observes, ‘who cannot conceive grief apart from white handkerchiefs, long weepers, and black sealing wax.’ We mark the deep unostentatious character of his woe in descriptions like the following. ‘Often would he permit the fire and candles to go out unnoticed, and sit musing in darkness and in silence, beside the cold hearth, that once used to shine so brightly—at other times he would throw open the window, and lean over it for hours and hours, listening to the sulky ravings of the midnight tempest, or watching the pale uncertain stars, as they drifted hither and thither, like the lights of storm-tost vessels.’

We shall not abridge the interest our readers will feel in the perusal of this beautifully written volume, by giving a hint of the sequel, or even outline, of the story. We will indulge ourselves by giving a description of Mrs. Campbell, and then bid the subject farewell, who, ‘though she could no longer boast the sylphlike shape and sparkling maidenly vivacity of Charlotte Bell, was one of the finest women imaginable. Her form, although with something of a matron-like air, had preserved its outline as perfect as at bright seventeen;—her full arms were rounded with all that delicate firmness which Albano delighted to represent in his triumphant sea-nymphs:—the clear brown of her cheek had banished its once steady roses, but that did not prevent an occasional flush of crimson from being visible; if the curls of her hair were not quite so silky and so slender, they were darker and richer, and more luxuriant than they had ever been; and a slight heaviness about the lids, did not diminish the effect of her beautiful black liquid eyes, whenever they ceased to be downcast. It was the fashion of the day to wear two or three long ringlets of hair down on the shoulder, and never did glossier ringlets float on a fairer bosom than hers. There was an intermixture of pensiveness and gaiety in her aspect and her manners, which few women would have denied to be singular, and which I believe, no man would hesitate to pronounce singularly interesting. Altogether, if Titian had seen Charlotte, he would have made a point of painting her portrait; and his only difficulty would have been, whether to have made her a companion to the most radiant of his Ariadnes, or the most lovely of his Magdalens.’

Of the ‘Lights and Shadows of Scottish life,’ we shall, from the necessity of our limits, be brief. It is a volume of tales, some of infinite beauty, but there is a pervading sameness throughout the volume, and an aim at excessive sweetness of style, that palls upon [523/524] the mind of taste and judgment. ‘Sunset, and Sunrise,’ ‘The Rainbow,’ and ‘The Lily of Liddesdale,’ are, perhaps, the most charming tales in the book. And the following from the story of ‘The Omen,’ p. 342, is certainly an exquisite passage.

‘It was a mild night in Spring, and the leaves yet unfolded, might almost be heard budding in the bower, as the dews descended on them with genial influence. A slight twittering of the birds in their new built nests, was audible, as if the happy creatures were lying awake in the bright breathless night; and here and there a moth that enjoyed the darkened light, went by on noiseless wing.’

Notes: The reviewer mistakenly attributes Lights and Shadows of Scottish Life to the author of Some Passages in the Life of Mr. Adam Blair: the former is by John Wilson, the latter by John Gibson Lockhart.

Monthly Review, 2nd ser. 98 (May 1822): 110–11.

From the title of this volume, we were led to expect an edifying account of the pastoral labours of some precious member of the Scotish [sic] presbytery, intermixed with sundry disputations on the most knotty points of polemical divinity. We were, however, surprised by discovering these ‘Passages’ to be a very interesting fictitious narrative, proceeding from that vast forge of novels which has within the last few years been established in the Scotish capital. The life of Adam Blair contains the history of a young Scotch minister, who possessed every virtue but that of doubting his own steadfastness; and who fell from virtue at the moment when he was engaged in a most Christian-like and charitable action. It would be useless to attempt any outline of the story, the interest of which does not consist in any variety of incident, but in the truth of feeling and character which it exhibits. In some instances, undoubtedly, we detect an exaggeration of senti-[110/111]ment: but, on the whole, the volume displays a very intimate acquaintance with the human heart. The author, whoever he be, (and we venture to assert that this is no lady-writer,) is one who, if he has not looked ‘quite through the ways of men,’ seems to have lost no opportunity of scrutinising with an accurate eye the secrets of our bosoms. The characters of the hero, and of old John Maxwell his friend and one of he elders of his people, are finely drawn portraits:—but with Mrs. Campbell we were not so well pleased, though there may perhaps be as much nature in the painting.

In one instance, we have observed a plagiarism, of which the author himself was probably unconscious; viz. the very striking similarity between the death-scene which is described at the commencement of the present volume, and that which Mr. Edgeworth has recorded in his memoirs, at the time of losing his wife Honora. A few inaccuracies of language also occur in these ‘Passages,’ which seem to be the consequence of hasty publication;—such, for instance, as in page 38., where we find, ‘He could not bear neither to think,’ for nor could he bear to think.

Notes: Listed under ‘Monthly Catalogue: Miscellaneous’. Format: Post 8vo; price 10s. 6d. Boards. Publisher: Blackwood (Edinburgh) and Cadell (London).

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