Review of 'The Novels of Charles Brockden Brown,'

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Editors: Janet Mullane and Robert Thomas Wilson
Date: 1989
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay; Excerpt
Length: 2,190 words

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[Dana was an American poet, journalist, and editor during the early nineteenth century. In the following excerpt from a review of the 1827 edition of Brown's novels, he underscores the uniformity of Brown's subject matter and the power of his characterization.]

Twenty odd years have been allowed to pass before even an imperfect edition of the works of fiction of our long unrivalled novelist is given to the public [The Novels of Charles Brockden Brown, (1827)]. Yet nearly the whole of that time Brown has been alone; for no one approached the height he rested on, till the author of the Pioneers and Pilot appeared. Like his own Clithero, he lay stretched in moody solitude, the waters of the noisy world rolling blindly on around him, and a wide chasm open between him and his fellow men. In 1815, Mr. Dunlap gave us a life of him; an ill arranged and bulky work, yet too meagre where it should be particular and full. To this, however, we are indebted for all we know of Brown's life; and we owe to it also an article on Brown, which appeared in the North American Review for 1819; an article which, we fear, has left us little to say. (p. 321)

To the speculative mind, it is a curious fact that a man like Brown should of a sudden make his appearance in a new country, in which almost every individual was taken up in the eager pursuit of riches, or the hot and noisy contests of party politics; when every man of talent, who sought out distinction, went into one of the professions; when to make literature one's main employment, was held little better than being a drone; when almost the only men who wrote with force and simplicity were some of the leaders amongst our active politicians; when a man might look over our wide and busy territory, and see only here and there some self-deluded being dabbling in a dull, shallow stream, which he fancied running clear and strong to the brim with the waters of Helicon.

Did not the fact that Brown produced such works at such a time show clearly the power of genius over circumstances, we might be inclined to attribute to his loneliness of situation something of the solitariness, mysteriousness, and gloom, which surround all he wrote. But these come not of outward things. The energies of his soul were melancholy powers, and their path lay along the dusky dwelling-places of superstition, and fear, and death, and woe. The soul of such a man takes not its character from the world, but takes out from the world what suits its nature and passes the rest by; and what more it needs, and what it cannot find abroad, it turns for inward, and finds or creates it there. “My existence,” says Brown, “is a series of thoughts, rather than of motions. Ratiocination and deduction leave my senses unemployed. The fulness of my fancy renders my eye vacant...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420011514