previous next

[291] Brown worked too violently to be able to organize a scheme of circumstances all bearing upon a single victim. At least in the second part of the book, the plot frays helplessly into flying ends which no memory can hold together, and the characters and “moral tendency” of a story rich in incident suffer a sad confusion. Brown was no match for Godwin in the art of calm and deliberate narrative, partly because of his vehement methods of work, partly because he lacked Godwin's finished and consistent philosophy of life. The leaven of rationalism stirs in his work, but it does not, as with Godwin, pervade the mass.

Passion, not hard conviction, gives Brown his positive qualities. He had a power in keeping up suspense which no clumsiness could destroy. In presenting the physical emotions of danger and terror he had a kind of ghoulish force. Without the deftness to get full value from his material, he had still a sharp eye for what was picturesque or dramatic. In Edgar Huntly, for which Brown was considerably indebted to the memory of Sky-Walk, he made notable use of that pioneer life which was to bulk so large in American fiction for half a century. His preface repeats his earlier plea, as “Speratus,” for native matter in native fiction. From that ideal he never swerved. The plague, Wieland's frenzy, Queen Mab in Edgar Huntly,these he had studied from the facts as he knew them. That his books are not more realistic proves merely that he was a romancer interested primarily in ideas and abstruse mental states which he saw with his eyes closed. “Sir,” he told prying John Davis, “good pens, thick paper, and ink well diluted, would facilitate my composition more than the prospect of the broadest expanse of clouds, water, or mountains rising above the clouds.” But when Brown opened his eyes he always saw Pennsylvania. His strangest supernaturalisms, too, turn out in the end to have rested on acts of nature which science can explain. It was his characters he romanticized. He saw in man a dignity which only the days of hopeful revolution can bestow, and he was thus urged to study souls with a passion which took him past the outward facts of humanity to a certain essential truth which gives him, among his contemporaries, his special virtue.

In April, 1799, Brown began to edit The Monthly magazine

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.
Pennsylvania (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)
William Godwin (3)
Edgar Huntly (2)
Speratus (1)
John Davis (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.
April, 1799 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: