1858 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Charles Brockden Brown

Charles D. Cleveland, in Compendium of American Literature (1858; 1859) 172, 177-78.



CHARLES BROCKDEN BROWN, descended from a highly respectable family, whose ancestors emigrated with William Penn, was born at Philadelphia, January 17, 1771. He early gave evidence of his studious propensities, and at the age of eleven was placed under the tuition of Mr. Robert Proud, the author of the History of Pennsylvania. Under his instruction he went over a large course of English reading, and acquired the elements of Greek and Latin, applying himself to his studies with great assiduity. But his sedentary habits began to impair his health, and be was for a time taken from his books, and made frequent excursions on feet into the country. He left Mr. Proud's school, finally, before the age of sixteen, and soon after began the study of the law. But, when the time came for him to enter upon the practice of his profession, he felt his repugnance to it increase more and more, and he determined to follow his own tastes, and to devote his life to literary pursuits.

Having formed a strong and congenial friendship with two or three gentlemen of Now York, he established, in 1798, his permanent residence in that city. The same year appeared Wieland, the first of that remarkable series of fictions which flowed with such rapid succession from his pen in that and three following years. They are of the intensely terrific school, and such as do net leave the most pleasant impressions upon the mind. The next year appeared Ormond, and seen after the first part of Arthur Mervyn; or, Memoirs of the Year 1793. This was the fatal year of the yellow fever in Philadelphia, and Brown transferred upon paper many of the scenes he himself had witnessed....

In 1800, Brown published the second part of Author Mervyn, and in 1801, Clara Howard. This year he returned to his native city, and established his residence in his brother's family. In 1803, he undertook the conduct of a periodical, entitled The Literary Magazine and Americas Register, — of which five volumes were published. During his residence in New York, he had formed an attachment to Miss Elizabeth Linn, daughter of the Rev. William Linn, D.D., of that city, and in November, 1804, they were married.

With the additional responsibilities of his new station, he pursued his literary labors with increased diligence. He projected the plan of an Annual Register, the first volume of which was published in 1806, and was continued till 1809, with great ability. At this time also he contributed many articles of a political and literary character to the "Portfolio." But his constitution, never robust, new began to give way under his sedentary habits and intense application. His friends insisted upon his giving up his literary labors for a time and taking a journey. He did so, but went only to New York, and returned still more feeble. His disorder — pulmonary consumption — made rapid advances; and on the 22d of February, 1810, he expired calmly and without a struggle.

Mr. Brown's character was one of great amiability and moral excellence, and his manners were distinguished by a gentleness and unaffected simplicity. His great colloquial powers made him a most agreeable companion; and his unwearied application is attested by the large amount of his works, the whole number of which, including his editorial labors, must be equal to twenty-four volumes, — a vast amount to be produced in the brief compass of a little more than ten years.