Glance At Colonial And Revolutionary Literature
Literature At The Dawn Of The Century
Charles Brockden Brown
Washington Irving And The Knickerbocker Group
William C. Bryant
James Fenimore Cooper
The Early Literary Magazines
New England Literature
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Charles Brockden Brown
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
> It is necessary to turn now to the true pioneer in the realm of the American novel. Charles Brockden Brown, the first American professional man of letters, as well as first of all Cis-Atlantic writers of fiction, was born in Philadelphia in 1771, was educated in the school of Robert Proud, the historian of Pennsylvania, and would have entered the bar but for ill health. His first published article appeared in the "Columbian Magazine" of August, 1789, and in 1806 he himself became an editor. Perhaps his invalidism put him in peculiar sympathy with those ghostly, ghastly, "clumsy-horrible" English romances before Scott's Waverley Novels those of "Monk" Lewis, Walpole, and Mrs. Radcliffe. From William Godwin it was that Brown caught the style of his first work, "Alcuin, a Dialogue on the Rights of Women" (1797). Godwin's "Falkland" and "Caleb Williams" furnished the models for Brown's "Wieland" (1798), a story of crime committed by means of ventriloquism, and "Ormond" (1799). Shelley was under the spell of "Wieland," according to his own confession, in writing "Zastrozzi" and "St. Irvyne." Godwin's influence on Brown thus returned upon Godwin's son-in-law. Sir Walter Scott also admired this American novelist, naming the hero of "Guy Mannering" after him, and calling one of its characters Arthur Merwyn. Brown's novel, "Arthur Merwyn" (1799), contains vivid descriptions of the scenes in Philadelphia during the terrible yellow fever pestilence of 1793.
Brown's somber genius "for churchyard romance" found a congenial theme in this narrative of the horrors of a plague. His next work, "Edgar Huntley," followed the fortunes of a somnambulist in the mountains of Western Pennsylvania. This curious plot of sleep-walking was as strange as the ventriloquism of the villain in his first novel, which led the hero to believe in spiritual voices and to kill his wife and children; but the incidental descriptions of wilderness scenery atoned for much. Weak as his style now seems, he deserves credit as the first writer to discover the capability of romance in America, its scenery, and its people.