The Historicism of Charles Brockden Brown
Radical History and the Early Republic
Publication Year: 2010
A new perspective on the cultural politics of Charles Brockden Brown
The novels of Charles Brockden Brown, the most accomplished literary figure in early America, redefined the gothic genre and helped shape some of America’s greatest writers, including Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. However, little has been said about the latter years of Brown’s career. While his early novels are celebrated for their innovative and experimental style, Brown’s later historical narratives are often dismissed as uninteresting, and Brown himself has been accused of having become “a stodgy conservative.”
Through a re-examination of these neglected historical writings, Mark L. Kamrath takes a fresh look at Brown’s later career and his role in the cultural politics of the early national period. This interdisciplinary study uses transatlantic historical contexts and recent narrative discourse to unveil Brown’s philosophic inquires into the filiopietistic tradition of historiography and increasingly imperialistic notion of American exceptionalism. It recovers a forgotten debate—and radical position—about the nature of historical truth and representation and opens up for contemporary discussion what it means to write about the past.
Published by: The Kent State University Press
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I wish to thank Professor Sydney J. Krause, general editor of The Novels and Related Works of Charles Brockden Brown, for introducing me in the early 1990s to Brown’s historical writing, and being a source of scholarly support for so many years. I also want to express my gratitude to Institute for Bibliography and Editing at Kent State University, Special Collections at Bowdoin College Library, the Clifton Waller-Barrett Collection at the University of Virginia, the American Antiquarian...
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After publishing his fourth volume of the American Register on May 20, 1809, Charles Brockden Brown struggled amid exhaustion and growing illness to produce his last volume, which concentrated on the impact of the Embargo, congressional debates, the Constitution, and what he called the “motives of human conduct.” 1 It was published in December 1809. On November 10 of that year, Brown...
Chapter 1: European and Colonial Traditions
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If Brown, as his contemporaries assert, had a capacity for “fancy” and “imagination” yet “patiently enquired . . . read, reflected, examined and compared, opposing facts and arguments,” it is worth investigating what exactly such traits meant in Brown’s time and how they relate to the idea that he “seemed more to write in the style of an historian of past ages, than the recorder of those passing occurrences...
Chapter 2: “Domestic History” and the Republican Novel
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Some of Brown’s earliest reflections on history and history writing may be found in his journal or notebook entries. Loose, mutilated page manuscripts like “Sample of Liberty of Conscience 1783,” which remark on the need to “unfold the page of history” and the history of the Protestant reformation, refer specifically to “Hume” and his “History of England,” suggesting that even as a young boy, Brown...
Chapter 3: Historical Representation in the Monthly Magazine and American Review and the Literary Magazine and American Register
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In The Open Boundary of History and Fiction: A Critical Approach to the French Enlightenment, Suzanne Gearhart remarks that the relationship between history and fiction is “not peripheral but rather the central question in the philosophy of history of that age.” She argues that while differences have metamorphosed into “a modern opposition between history and literature,” it was common in the...
Chapter 4: The Historical Sketches—and “A Government, Ecclesiastical and Civil"...
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Although not published in his lifetime, Brown’s “Sketches of a History of Carsol” and “Sketches of a History of the Carrils and Ormes”—some nine, maybe ten, fragments of historical fiction over 100,000 words that detail the history of an English family from ancient times to Brown’s own—qualify, like Madison’s and Jefferson’s writings, as an exercise in secular liberalism and freethinking.1 An objective correlative to the era’s turbulent political climate, Brown’s historical sketches imaginatively...
Chapter 5: Empire and the “Annals of Europe”
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If Brown’s historical sketches and various periodical reviews, philosophical essays, and extracts prepared him for the practical aspects of history writing, his serial publication of the “Annals of Europe and America” in the American Register; or, General Repository of History, Politics, and Science (1807–09) was a natural extension of his theoretical forays into history. His coverage of the Napoleonic...
Chapter 6: American Exceptionalism and the “Annals of America”
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In his landmark study The Radicalism of the American Revolution (1993), historian Gordon S. Wood writes that Americans typically have thought of the American Revolution as a conservative, almost nonviolent affair that was concerned primarily, if not exclusively, with political inequities and constitutional rights; if the revolution is measured by the number of people killed and the level of misery and...
Chapter 7: Constitutional Limits—and “Liberalism”
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Daniel Edwards Kennedy observes that Benjamin Pollard’s review in the Boston Ordeal, was a “puzzling mixture of censure and praise probably due to the political rancour” of the day.1 The review was of a Federalist or conservative orientation and “praised the intentions of Brown but found that when he departed from being a chronicler he drew conclusions that were not only dangerous but ‘lapses of correctness and deviations from authority,’ especially in the study of the affair of the...
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On January 9, 2006, the cover of Newsweek read, “How Much Power Should They Have?” and made allusion to the “imperial presidency” of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and their consolidation of military, economic, and political resources after September 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center was destroyed by Islamic militants headed by Osama bin Laden. The resultant debates over the second Iraq war have focused on the second Bush administration’s use—or misuse—of intelligence...
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Page Count: 352
Illustrations: (To view these images, please refer to print version)
Publication Year: 2010