The Amelia Alderson Opie Archive
1805 Adeline Mowbray; or, the Mother and Daughter
Literary Journal, 5 (1805): 171-5.


The mother of Adeline Mowbray was an only child, and heiress to a large fortune. Her parents were of that common character which is generally distinguished by the appellation of 'good sort of people,' and indulged her in all her whims. Her education was left to an old maiden aunt, who had a strong passion for what has been called eccentric philosophy. This learned lady initiated her inexperienced niece into all the mysteries of her school, and Mrs Mowbray at an early age began to entertain a thorough contempt for the prejudices of the world. Her parents considered her as a genius, and forgot to teach her to be useful, because a genius was not to be managed in the common way. But though she despised the prejudices of the world, she thought proper to comply with some of them, and was accordingly in due time married. Her husband a short time after the marriage, died and left one daughter, Adeline, wholly dependant on her mother. Numerous were the plans formed by Mrs Mowbray for the education of her daughter. Her favourite authors were ransacked for materials to form a system of education that should give her every requisite qualification both of mind and body with the least possible pains and trouble. Various doubts, however, occurred on particular points which wonderfully retarded the progress [172] of the system. Light shoes would give agility to the limbs; but heavy ones would strengthen the muscles by exertion. Here was a dilemma. But while the system was constructing, Adeline would have probably grown up without any education at all, had not her grandmother taught her something according to the old way. The old lady was repaid by the attentions and usefulness of her grand-daughter, and often blessed heaven that Adeline was no genius. The compliment of being no genius, did not however sound agreeably in the ears of Adeline, and after the death of her grand-mother, she resolved to try whether or not it was possible for her to rival her mother. The first thing to be done, was to learn what were the books on which her mother's reputation for learning had been founded. Having discovered this, she went to work, and soon had a sovereign contempt for the ignorance and prejudices of society. - There was this difference, however, between the mother and the daughter. Mrs Mowbray studied these books for the sake of her own amusement and the superiority which she fancied her learning gave her over other women. Adeline studied without ostentation, but with a full resolution when she was introduced into society to act up to the principles which she professed. Such was the state of matters when Adeline and her mother took leave of their old friend Doctor Norberry, and set out for Bath.

Glenmurray, a young enthusiast, whose works had been read and admired by Adeline and her mother, was at that time at Bath, and visited the public places, though his company was universally shunned on account of his principles. - These principles, however, were a recommendation to our eccentric ladies, and they soon contracted an intimacy with Glenmurray. Between him and Adeline a mutual affection took place. The mother was rich, and also found a lover in Sir Patrick O'Carrol, a gentleman of an ancient family and small fortune. Adeline made no secret of her principles, and openly declaimed against the folly and immorality of marriage. In a short time Mrs Mowbray had no visitors but Sir Patrick and Glenmurray. The former was delighted with the libertine principles, as he conceived them to be, of Adeline, and enjoyed the idea of having the mother for a wife, and the daughter for a mistress. Glenmurray saw with vexation, the light in which Adeline was considered in the world; and in opposition to his own system he offered to marry her, and fought a duel with Sir Patrick on her account. But Adeline was too much devoted to her system to consent to marriage, and had almost deserted her lover on account of the duel. Sir Patrick married Mrs Mowbray, and insisted that she should forbid Glenmurray to visit her daughter. This was done, and Adeline went to Ireland with her mother. There Sir Patrick began to make ardent love to her, and insulted her in such a manner, that she made her escape to Glenmurray, with whom she immediately proceeded to the continent.

The remaining part of Adeline's life was almost a series of misfortunes, chiefly the consequence of her principles. She found herself driven from society. This she did not much regard, as Glenmurray was [173] every thing to her. A letter from Doctor Norberry informed her of the death of Sir Patrick, the misery of her mother, and her resentment against her daughter, whom she considered as the cause of her misfortunes. Adeline and Glenmurray return to England. Doctor Norberry endeavours to effect a reconciliation between herself and her mother, but is unable to succeed. Mrs Mowbray retires to Cumberland, while Adeline and Glenmurray take a house at Richmond. There she is insulted by libertines with offers of protection, and to add to her mortification Glenmurray refused to introduce her to any of his visitors, or to combat their prejudices on her account, but like other men seemed to do homage to 'things as they are.' Glenmurray too was extremely infirm, and at his death his property would go to the nearest male heir. Adeline had been insulted by her own servant who presumed on her situation. She went out one day on a walk, and passing near the church yard, saw a funeral. A woman was looking at it, and giving it as her opinion that the dead man's soul was in hell for having an illegitimate child, which, because he had not made a will, was left with its mother to starve. - The woman asked Adeline whether the child ought not to curse both father and mother. - Adeline made her escape from this scene, which had the most violent effect upon her. She was with child and that child might live to curse her. The idea for a while overturned her system in her mind, and she was proceeding home to Glenmurray to beg of him to marry her, but her principles again usurped their sway and altered her resolution. It was a fine season of the year. The noise of several boys at play was heard. Adeline went to overlook them, but her attention was soon arrested by a boy who was sobbing at a distance. The other boys would not allow him to join in their sports, because he was a little bastard. Adeline advised him to go home to his parents. He would not, he replied, for they were wicked people. Such will be the future anguish of my child, thought Adeline, and such his opinion of his parents. She ran home, eagerly intreated Glenmurray to marry her and fainted. Her anxiety brought on premature labour. The child was still-born, and all Adeline's arguments against marriage recurred in their full force. Glenmurray had been for a considerable time ill, and his dissolution appeared at no great distance. The misery which his opinions had brought on the object of his affections constantly tormented him. His remorse for having given these opinions to the public before they had received the sanction of his maturer years was extreme. He informed Adeline that some of them were changed, and that the rest though he believed them to be right in theory were utterly unfit for practice in the present state of society. Berrendale a relation of Glenmurray's had visited him in his illness. He saw Adeline and loved her. The dying request of Glenmurray was that she should consent to marry his relation. The death of Glenmurray was followed by the insanity of Adeline, which continued for six months. She could not, after her recovery, bring her mind to endure the idea of marrying Berrendale, and retired to a village where she opened a school for children. The village [174] was the native place of the female servant who had insulted Adeline. She came there on a visit to her relations and told Adeline's story. Nobody would believe it, and the woman, enraged at this, took an opportunity of exposing Adeline in the parish church. The school scheme was of course at an end, and she had no resource but in marrying Berrendale. - He turned out a bad and unfeeling husband, and refused to introduce his wife into society. The wretchedness of Adeline was extreme, from the churlish temper of Berrendale who at last abandoned her. Having accidentally been infected with the small-pox, and dreading that her death might be the consequence, she resolved to set out from Cumberland to her mother's house. - They met and were reconciled. The disease was of the malignant sort, and Adeline breathed her last in her mother's arms.

Such is the substance of the story before us. It will readily appear that its object is to point out the consequences of opinions that have been propagated by certain persons calling themselves philosophers, especially respecting the institution of marriage. The tale itself is simple, elegant, and highly interesting throughout. The style is perspicuous, and though it cannot be said to be always pure and correct, yet it does not deserve the epithets of harsh and unpleasant. The characters are ably drawn and well preserved. Adeline is represented with all those qualities that can command our esteem, or gain our affection. Her faults arise from the want of an enlightened instructor, a circumstance over which she herself had no controul. She is young and beautiful, possessed of the most benevolent heart and of the most pleasing manners. Her mind is invigorated by exertion. Having once adopted erroneous principles, she acts upon them with ardour and decision. While we condemn her conduct, we pity her as a martyr to mistaken notions of virtue. The fortitude with which she bears her distresses is exemplary. The change in her sentiments is sufficiently accounted for, and the sincerity of her repentance consistent with her character. It may perhaps be supposed that such a character as this must be prejudicial to the interests of morality, by giving vice the appearance of respectability. Here the address of our authoress is conspicuous. The error in Adeline's education is constantly kept in view, and all her miseries are clearly exhibited as its natural consequence. By its operation we find a being, formed to adorn society, rejected as an outcast; and our abhorrence of the vice almost rises in proportion to our esteem for her virtues, and our pity for her misfortunes. The character next in importance is Glenmurray, a young man who is also formed to adorn society, but whose opinions have rendered him an isolated and useless being. He had published one of the works which had perverted the mind of Adeline. His mind is constantly tormented with the idea of the miseries which his opinions brought upon the object of his affection. When we find him blaming his own rashness and youthful presumption, and brought by anxiety to an early grave, we are forced to confess that his punishment is adequate to his offence. The character of Mrs Mowbray is also well drawn, but her continued affection for a man who [175] deceived and married her, while he had another wife alive, does not seem to be altogether natural. Her virulent hatred against her daughter for having been an object of preference to such a wretch, is equally objectionable. Instances, however, are not wanting that might at first view appear to justify such a departure from probability. But unless all the circumstances could be brought under our view that contributed to produce such instances, they cannot be considered as decisive in favour of our authoress. Doctor Norberry is represented as a man of the highest benevolence, with a dash of eccentricity, which adds considerably to the effect of his character.

The moral of the story is unobjectionable. it points out the fatal consequences of an improper education, and the danger of acting upon principles contrary to the established rules of society. It shews the folly of forming rash and presumptuous opinions in our youth, and propagating them before they have received the sanction of our maturer years. The tale is throughout a lively representation of the incompatibility of a disregard of the institution of marriage with the happiness of the individual and the good of society.

Upon the whole this work must be allowed to rank considerably higher than the ordinary productions of the same kind. The interest of the story is well preserved to the end. The incidents in general follow naturally from the causes assigned, and are wrought up with uncommon skill. The tale is for the most part close and connected. We only recollect one instance of what appeared an unnecessary digression from the principal story. It is the rise and progress of Colonel Mordaunt's love for the sister of Major Douglas. But this digression, though it detracts from the uniformity of the tale, is in itself so agreeable that we cannot wish it away.


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