Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Brown, Charles Brockden
BROWN, Charles Brockden, author, b. in Philadelphia, 17 Jan., 1771; d. there, 22 Feb., 1810. His ancestors were Quakers, who came over in the ship with William Penn. Before he was ten years old he was thoroughly acquainted with geography, his favorite study, and had read every book he could obtain. From his eleventh till his sixteenth year he was at the school of Robert Proud, the historian, then a noted teacher, and studied so assiduously that he was often obliged to leave his books for a walking trip through the country. He was always physically weak, and, in a letter written just before his death, said that he never had been in perfect health for more than half an hour at a time. On leaving school, Brown took to verse-writing, and planned three epics on subjects connected with American history, but no fragments of these remain. At this time he sent to a periodical a poetical “Address to Franklin,” throughout which the editor substituted the name of Washington for that of the philosopher, without regard to the context. Brown began with very little ardor the study of law, and determined to abandon it for literature. Although this change was contrary to the wishes of his family, it was the result of careful thought. He had tested his powers as a writer by contributing to the “Columbus Magazine,” by a carefully kept diary, and by numerous essays read before a “Belles-Lettres Club,” of which he had been the leader. He was the first American to adopt literature as a profession. Soon after making this decision he visited his friend, Dr. Elihu H. Smith, of New York, and, becoming acquainted with many literary and scientific men of that city, virtually made it his residence after that time. In 1797 he wrote a work entitled “Alcuin: a Dialogue,” discussing with some boldness the topic of divorce, but it attracted little attention. Soon after this he projected a new magazine, which never appeared, and in 1798 he contributed to the “Weekly Magazine” a series of reflections on men and society, entitled “The Man at Home.” In this year he also began the publication of his novels, which are his best-known works. He had already made two abortive attempts at novel-writing. The first was never finished, and the death of his printer put a stop to the publication of the second. This was entitled “Sky Walk; or, the Man Unknown to Himself,” and portions of it were incorporated in “Edgar Huntley,” a later work. Between 1798 and 1801 he published six novels, which attained immediate success, and were the finest American fictions until the appearance of Cooper's novels. In April, 1799, Mr. Brown established, in New York, the “Monthly Magazine and American Review,” but it lasted only until the close of 1800. In 1803 he made a second attempt, issuing, in Philadelphia, the “Literary Magazine and American Register,” which continued about five years. In 1806 he began publishing semi-annually “The American Register,” the first publication of the kind in the country, and, ably edited, it was brought to a close only by his death. In person, Mr. Brown was tall, thin, and pale, had black hair, and a melancholy expression of countenance. He intensely enjoyed the society of intimate friends, but was reserved with all others. His death was caused by consumption, against which he had been struggling from early boyhood. His novels are “Wieland, or the Transformation,” an improbable though fascinating tale of a ventriloquist, who by personating a supernatural being, persuades the hero to kill his wife and children (1798; London, 1811); “Ormond, or the Secret Witness” (New York, 1799; London, 1811): “Arthur Mervyn,” containing a graphic description of Philadelphia as it was during the yellow-fever plague of 1793 (Philadelphia, 1799-1800; London, 1803); “Jane Talbot” (1801); “Edgar Huntley, or the Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker” (1799; London, 1804); and “Clara Howard” (1801), republished as “Philip Stanley” (London, 1806). These were published collectively (7 vols., Boston, 1827; new ed., 6 vols., Philadelphia, 1857). Mr. Brown also published several political pamphlets (1803-'9). including an “Address to Congress on the Utility and Justice of Restrictions on Foreign Commerce”; a translation of Volney's “Travels in the United States” (1804); a memoir of his brother-in-law, Dr. John B. Linn, prefixed to the latter's poem “Valerian” (1805); “Memoirs of Stephen Calvert,” a serial story. At the time of his death he had nearly completed a fine system of general geography, which has not been published; and he also left unfinished literary works. Several elaborate architectural drawings were made as a recreation in the midst of his literary labors. His life was unsatisfactorily written by William Dunlap (Philadelphia, 1815). A sketch of it is prefixed to the 1827 edition of his novels
(1815). One by William H. Prescott occurs in the first series of Sparks's “American Biographies” (1834; reprinted in Prescott's “Miscellanies,” 1855); a fuller sketch, by Charles Dudley Warner, will be found in his volume “Washington Irving,” in the “American Men of Letters” series (Boston, 1881); a large number of articles in the older periodicals discuss the novelist; and a new life, by E. Irenaeus Stevenson, is completed (1897), but not yet published.