previous next

[289] native romances and ascribed the “value of such works” to “their moral tendency.” Only by displaying characters “of soaring passions and intellectual energy,” he believed, could a novelist hope “to enchain the attention and ravish the souls of those who study and reflect.” But Brown was too good a democrat to write for geniuses alone. “A contexture of facts capable of suspending the faculties of every soul in curiosity, may be joined with depth of views into human nature and all the subtleties of reasoning.”

With these opinions, and his apprenticeship already served, Brown took up his residence in New York during the summer of 1798. In two ardent years, which were more social than any that had gone before, Brown did all his best work. The single month of August served to produce Wieland, which made a stir and is still commonly held his masterpiece. The source of its plot has been shown1 to be, in part, the actual murder of his whole family by a religious fanatic, “Mr. J — Y--,” of Tomhannock, New York, in December, 1781. To this Brown added the mysteries of spontaneous combustion and ventriloquism to make up the “contexture of facts capable of suspending the faculties of every soul in curiosity.” These were for the vulgar. The apparent scene of action is laid upon the banks of the Schuylkill; this was patriotism. But the real setting is somewhere in the feverish climate of romantic speculation, and the central interest lies in the strange, unreal creatures “of soaring passions and intellectual energy,” Wieland, crushingly impelled to crime by a mysterious voice which, however, but germinates seeds of frenzy already sleeping in his nature, and Carwin, the “biloquist,” a villain who sins, not as the old morality had it, because of wickedness, but because of the driving power of the spirit of evil which no man can resist and from which only the weak are immune. These were cases of speculative pathology which Brown had met in his morbid twilights, beings who had for him the reality he knew best, that of dream and passion. It is the fever in the climate which lends the book, in spite of awkward narrative, strained probabilities, and a premature solution, its shuddering power. Here at least Brown was absorbed in his subject; here at least he gave a profound unity of effect never equalled in his later works.

1 Van Doren, C., Early American Realism, Nation, 12 Nov., 1914.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Tomhannock, New York (New York, United States) (1)
Schuylkill (Pennsylvania, United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Charles Brockden Brown (6)
Carl Van Doren (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
November 12th, 1914 AD (1)
1798 AD (1)
December, 1781 AD (1)
August (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: