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28 remembering the past Chapter Two “Domestic History” and the Republican Novel In the history of man there is this great and evident distinction. He is either a solitary, a domestic, or a political being. It is domestic history that pleases me beyond all others. So far as the characters of men are influenced by political events, political history is interesting, but it is not for me always to so abstract my attention from the personages and fix them as events, always to consider men, no otherwise than collectively to employ my attention only in the consideration of general events flowing from general causes. The formal character of individuals, their visages, their dress, their accent[,] their language[,] their habits, manners and opinions; their personal behaviors I am desirous of knowing. Life and Manners, I must repeat is my favorite science. These are the materials of conversation. These the objects of universal curiosity. —Charles Brockden Brown to Joseph Bringhurst, July 29, 1793 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 [h]istory” and the history of the Protestant reformation, refer specifically to “Hume” and his “History of England,” suggesting that even as a young boy, Brown was familiar with Hume’s History of England at least in part.1 Likewise, in a page from one of his notebooks, Brown comments on the “Dying expressions of General Harrison” as recounted in “Hume’s History of England.”2 However, it is in a verse manuscript like “Aretas,” composed in 1787, when Brown was sixteen years old, that one gets a more complete glimpse of his thinking about “sensibility” and history. In this poem, which Brown’s father transcribed , Brown’s speaker espouses “Truth o’er Satires rank’rous pen” and desires that “Candour” shall be an “impartial guide” as he sings the “virtues” of his friend Aretas.3 Such sentiments in turn lend themselves to “contemplation” in nature 28 Kamrath text.indb 28 3/2/10 1:26:01 PM “Domestic History” and the Republican Novel 29 and eventually “pleasures of the mind,” pleasures that are by “Education Taste refin’d” and manifest themselves in the form of “Instruction from historic page” and the “search . . . [of] records of a distant age.” In this respect, the poem gestures toward a sensibility or concept of history that is romantic yet modern in orientation and sees the reading of history as an aesthetic experience and vehicle for moral and intellectual improvement. It shows that Brown’s reflections on the purpose of history are consistent with his Quaker upbringing and lifelong pursuit of truth and integrity and the emerging ideology of leading intellectuals such as Dr. Benjamin Rush, who urged after the Revolution: “Above all . . . let our youth be instructed in the history of the ancient republics, and the progress of liberty and tyranny in the different states of Europe.”4 However, if, as a youth of sixteen, Brown saw the “historic page” as something he could consume more for pleasure than instruction, such a view becomes qualified throughout the late 1790s, especially when he began to write novels and to understand their potential to operate as agents of political and social change.5 By the mid-1790s, Brown understood “domestic history” to mean “the formal character of individuals”—“their visages, their dress, their accent[,] their language[,] their habits , manners and opinions”—and “political history” to refer to “general events” and “general causes.” His attempt, for instance, in a letter to Joseph Bringhurst in 1793 to distinguish “domestic history” from “political history” signals a distinct shift in his thinking about historical representation and society, a change that offers insight into the construction of his novels and their handling of historical materials. That is, to the extent, then, that Brown sought to gain readers, he variously depicted scenes of domesticity in his novels, sometimes in sentimental or conventional ways, and sometimes not. Although Brown may have registered in his early writings an awareness of an emerging romantic and even republican ideology, it is not entirely clear if he completely disassociated himself from lingering neoclassical arguments for elevating poetic or fictional discourse over that of historians. His novels, for instance, variously register use of historical settings and modes of representation ; his historical sketches blend historical realism with utopian fiction; and when, toward the end of his...


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