1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Charles Brockden Brown

Walter Scott, 1824; in Samuel Griswold Goodrich, Recollections of a Lifetime (1857) 2:203-04.



"Mr. Cooper is a man of genius," said Lockhart: "no one can deny that; but it seems to me that Brockden Brown was the most remarkable writer of fiction that America has produced. There is a similarity in his style to that of the Radclife school, and in the tone of mind to Godwin's Caleb Williams; but in his machinery, he is highly original. In his display of the darker passions, he surpasses all his models."

"That may be true," said Sir Walter, "but it is neither a wholesome nor a popular species of literature. It is almost wholly ideal; it is not in nature; it is in fact contrary to it. Its scenes, incidents, characters, do not represent life: they are alien to common experience. They do not appeal to a wide circle of sympathy in the hearts of mankind. The chief emotion that it excites is terror or wonder. The suggestive manner of treating every subject, aims at keeping the mind constantly on the rack of uncertainty. This trick of art was long ago exhausted. Brown had wonderful powers, as many of his descriptions show; but I think he was led astray by falling under the influence of bad examples, prevalent at his time. Had he written his own thoughts, he would have been, perhaps, immortal: in writing those of others, his fame was of course ephemeral."