In Ormond and Arthur Mervyn, Brown describes the ravages of the yellow fever, of which he had personal experience in New York and Philadelphia. The hero of Ormond is a member of a society similar to that of the Illuminati, whose ceremonies and beliefs are set forth in Horrid Mysteries (1796). The heroine, Constantia Dudley, who was Shelley’s ideal feminine character, is the embodiment of a theory, not a human being. She “walks always in the light of reason,” and decides that “to marry in extreme youth would be a proof of pernicious and opprobrious temerity.” The most memorable of Brown’s novels is Edgar Huntly, which bears an obvious resemblance to Caleb Williams. Like Godwin, Brown is deeply interested in morbid psychology. He finds pleasure in tracing the workings of the brain in times of emotional stress. The description of a sleepwalker digging a grave—a picture which captivated Shelley’s imagination—is the starting-point of the book. Edgar Huntly is impelled by curiosity to track him down. The somnambulist, Clithero, has, in self-defence, killed the twin-brother of his patron, Mrs, Lorimer, to whom he is deeply attached. Obsessed by the idea of the misery his deed will arouse in her mind, he attempts, in a moment of frenzy, to slay her. Believing that Mrs. Lorimer has died after hearing of the murder, Clithero flees to America. When he disappears from his home, Huntly resolves to follow him, and in his search loses himself amid wild and desolate country. He is attacked by Indians, and after frightful adventures at length reaches his home. Clithero, whom he believed dead, has been rescued. Mrs. Lorimer is still alive, and is married to a former lover. This news, however, fails to restore Clithero, who, in a fit of insanity, flings himself overboard when he is in a ship in charge of Huntly.
Brown’s plots, which often open well, are spoilt by hasty, careless conclusions. It was his habit to write two or three novels simultaneously. He was beset by the problem that exercised even Scott’s brain: “The devil of a difficulty is that one puzzles the skein in order to excite curiosity, and then cannot disentangle it for the satisfaction of the prying fiend they have raised.”