previous next


Close upon this August followed the plague in New York. Brown was then living with Dr. Smith in Pine Street, and Smith, firm in the opinion that yellow fever could not be contagious, insisted upon taking into the house a stricken young Italian. Of the three only Brown escaped death. He thus came hand-to-hand with a hard reality, and, like other men of many dreams and few experiences, was deeply impressed by it. The effect upon his work, however, of this month of pestilence may be easily overstated. Five years before, Brown's family had left Philadelphia for a time to escape the great plague of 1793, and Brown had put memories of that visitation into The man at home, in The weekly magazine, and the earliest chapters of Arthur Mervyn, both written before his removal to New York. Curiously enough, the Dr. Stevens of the novel, by his hospitality to Mervyn, behaves much as did the Dr. Smith of reality, but invention was before fact. And when, in December, 1798, Brown wrote Ormond (1799), he not only laid his scene in Philadelphia in 1793, but he borrowed a whole chapter from The man at home. What the plague had been to Brown in 1793 it remained: a chapter in the annals of his native city, mysterious, the stuff of passion, and therefore fully congenial to his temper and ideals of art. He used it with sombre and memorable detail, as a background for mental or social ills.

It is characteristic of Brown that, while two of his notable romances recall his most vivid personal experience, all four of them wear the colours of Caleb Williams. From Godwin, Brown had his favourite subject, virtue in distress, and his favourite set of characters, a patron and a client. Perhaps he comes nearest to his master in Ormond. Constantia Dudley won the passionate regard of Shelley, to whom she was the type of virtuous humanity oppressed by evil customs. She is Brown's picture of feminine perfection, learned, self-reliant, pure, priggish. Ormond is quite clearly the child of romance and revolution, a hero who is a villain, a creature of nature who is the master of many destinies, a free will which must act as the agent of inevitable malice. All this seems pure Godwin, but it has a certain spirit of youth and ardour which Godwin lacked. In Arthur Mervyn the hero has to undergo less than the cumulative agony of Caleb Williams. for the simple reason that

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.

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 (9)
Ormond (3)
William Godwin (3)
Caleb Williams (2)
Elihu Hubbard Smith (2)
Arthur Mervyn (2)
Shelley (1)
Italian (1)
Constantia Dudley (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.
1793 AD (3)
1799 AD (1)
December, 1798 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: