Anonymous, The Widow of Roseneath (1822)
For bibliographical details describing the copy of this book owned by the Ruskins, see Books Used by Ruskin in His Youth. In the Ruskin family, the tale would have served—in the terms of the bookʼs subtitle—as “A Lesson of Piety Affectionately Dedicated to the Young”; and its lessons may have been considered appropriate not only for John but also for his cousins who survived the deaths of their parents, Patrick and Jessie Richardson of Perth. The role in the tale of the benevolent American merchant‐uncle may have strikingly suggested the generous support that John James Ruskin lent to Johnʼs orphaned cousins.
Access to the text of the tale appears to be limited. In an 1823 review, the plot is summarized and commented on as follows. (For ease of reading, paragraph breaks have been added editorially to the plot summary, which is published as a single paragraph in the original.)
Mrs. Stewart, who had lived in a respectable sphere of life in Scotland, becomes a widow; and as her husband died insolvent, no reversion is left for her and her two orphan children, Gilbert and Allan. She parts with most of her now useless furniture, and retires with her sons to a small cottage in Roseneath; “where seeking a solace to her griefs in works of piety and affection, she devoted herself diligently to the care of their instruction”, and in bringing them up in the ways of truth and goodness. Thus consoling herself in her misfortunes under the influence of religion, and firmly believing that the God who governs the world never chastens unkindly, she submits in pious resignation to his sovereign will.
Years roll on, and the period arrives when it becomes necessary that her children should go forth to some employment in the world. Gilbert, her eldest son, a boy about fifteen years of age, is destined for America, in the employ of an affectionate uncle; and Allan, about fourteen, is to be apprenticed to a goldsmith in Greenock. They leave their widowed mother with accumulated anguish upon her wrinkled brow. They embark—the fond parent becomes inconsolable at her additional bereavement—she revives;—but she no longer embraces them with maternal tenderness, for they are beyond her reach; and all her concern is, how they will preserve those pious habits which she had endeavoured to impress upon their minds, and avoid the dread infection of temptation and of crime, to which it would be their lot to be exposed.
They arrive at their looked‐for homes; Allan at Greenock, and Gilbert at New York. Gilbertʼs uncle meets him on the quay, and welcomes his young nephew to the shores of America: every thing looks auspicious. After spending nearly three years upon the beautiful banks of the Hudson, and having raised himself high in the estimation of his kind relative and benefactor, by his attentive conduct and exemplary deportment, Mr. Stewart (the uncle) having some business to transact in Glasgow, determines to entrust his faithful nephew, Gilbert, with the important commission; at the same time appointing him to be the bearer of an invitation to his mother and brother Allan, to take up their abode in New York.
Gilbert embarks with the pleasing intelligence;—he sets his feet once more on Scottish ground; he looks forward with anxious solicitude again to embrace his best of parents. As he approaches nearer home, he redoubles his eager steps—at last, his eye catches in the distance his widowed motherʼs dwelling—he presses onward—he beholds the cottage door, but sees not his parent upon her wonted seat. His heart beats high with doubt and suspense—every filial emotion is excited—scarcely a tiny vapour from the chimney tells that there is an inhabitant within. He lightly raises the latch—he witnesses his mother once again in the weeds of her widowhood, but, insensible of his return, and wringing her hands in agony, and her eyes drowned in tears. He inquires the cause of such lamentation; the mother identifies his voice; she looks upward, and, in a compound paroxysm of ecstasy and grief, beholds her son Gilbert; but nature cannot sustain the struggle. At length he extorts the fact, that his brother Allan is incarcerated in a dungeon, and is to be tried on the morrow for forgery on the Greenock Bank.
The widowed mother and her pious son repair with hurried steps to the prison‐house, to catch one glance of their son and brother. She lies down to sleep; but the still darkness of midnight affords her no repose: images of terror, dungeons, gibbets, and executioners, rise in her feverish dreams; and the only balm to her racking mind is to call upon God to preserve his life; to interpose his grace, and save his precious soul. They arrive in Glasgow, and behold the streets unusually crowded;—they witness the lords justiciary passing to the court‐house. They hurry to the jail, and inquire for Allan Stewart; but admittance is denied them, as he is summoned to the bar, to be put first upon trial. With much urgent solicitation, they obtain a place in court; they immediately fix their eyes upon the bar where the culprits stand; but no prisoner is there. They turn pale, and tremble—they shrink from every sound of the coming footsteps. Allan at last appears as the criminal between the liveried officers. The indictment is read; Allan pleads Not Guilty!—the trial proceeds—the evidence is unquestionable;—not even a motherʼs fondness can deny that the charge looks black against him. The verdict of the jury is unanimous and unhesitating. The solemn word of “Guilty” is recorded. The judge pronounces the awful sentence; and implores him to pass the remainder of his time in genuine repentance and Christian meditation.
They visit him in his gloomy abode, chained in fetters. The interview is melting. Gilbert and his mother urgently intreat him to seek remission of his sins through the blood of the Saviour; and endeavour to dissipate, by the radiance of Christian faith, the fearful cloud of Allanʼs despair. Time rapidly advances—and poor Allanʼs life is drawing to a close. Three sleepless nights remain, and the destined morning will arrive, when the heavens shall be clothed with sackcloth. Gilbert and his mother hasten once more to the dreary dungeon; and in unutterable anguish at the thought of Allanʼs speedy dissolution, endeavour to console him with the unspeakable comforts of religion; but powerful nature seems to invade, as it were, the still more powerful empire of religious trust. A pardon, however, unexpectedly arrives; Gilbert conveys the pleasing intelligence to his disconsolate parent; but she cannot survive the past overwhelming shock; she closes her eyes in death, before her liberated son reaches her abode.
Thus have we hastily glanced at the history of the pious widow of Roseneath, and with much pleasure we recommend it to the perusal of our readers. We have already stated that it is a work of fiction; but it has none of the unmeaning and ungovernable incidents of an overdrawn romance, which has seldom any thing to recommend it but the delusions of a disordered or uncultivated mind—the visionary speculations of a fanciful imagination—wild in its scenery—improbable in its situations—distorted in its character—inconsistent with itself—and baneful in its tendency;—but it is a work which bears so close an approximation to real life itself, as it is continually verified by our own daily observation, that it might well pass current as a narrative of fact, had not our author apprised us of the contrary.
The source of this review, the Imperial Magazine, was, according to William McCarthy, a pro‐Dissent, pro‐Reform, and anti‐slavery periodical, addressed to a lower‐middle‐class readership. The magazine was a loyal admirer of Anna Laetitia Barbauld (1743–1825) (McCarthy, “‘A High‐Minded Christian Lady’”, 167).