Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton
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BROWN, Charles Brockden, author, born in Philadelphia, 17 January, 1771 ; died 22 February, 1810. His ancestors were Quakers, who came over in the same 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 tilt 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 his usual ardor the study of law, but 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. 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 "The Dialogue of Alcuin," 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 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); "Ormund, 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-'80 ; London, 1803); "Jane Talbot" (1801); "Edgar Huntley, or the Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker" (1801; 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 born Linn, prefixed to the latter's poem "Valerian" (1805); " Memoirs of Stephen Calvert," and edited, with a life, C. H. Wilson's "Beauties of Tom Brown." At the time of his death he had nearly completed a system of general geography, which has not been published; and he also left an unfinished work on " Rome during the Age of the Antonines," and several elaborate "architectural drawings, made as a recreation in the midst of his literary labors. His life has been written by William Dunlap (Philadelphia, 1815" also prefixed to the 1827 edition of his novels), and by William H. Prescott, in the first series of Sparks's "American Biographies" (1834 ; reprinted in Prescott's "Miscellanies," 1855); and a new life by Charles I. Stevenson, of New York, is in preparation (1886).
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