restricted access Chapter 4: The Historical Sketches—and “A Government, Ecclesiastical and Civil"...
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Chapter Four The Historical Sketches—and “A Government, Ecclesiastical and Civil” If Religion be not within cognizance of Civil Government, how can its legal establishment be said to be necessary to Civil Government? What influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of Civil authority; in many instances they have seen the upholding of thrones of political tyranny; in no instances have they been seen the guardians of the liberty of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not. —James Madison, “A Memorial and Remonstrance, presented to the General Assembly of the State of Virginia” (1785) 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 replicate the problem of authority—its meaning and implementation—in modern society. In doing so, they bridge his earlier novels and his later “Annals of Europe and America” by using family or “domestic history” to simulate, and as a means of understanding, tensions between ecclesiastical and civil power and the various forms of resistance to institutional and individual oppression. That is, just as Brown made inquiries into “domestic history,” or families, in his novels, so he used historical fiction to take up James Madison’s question “What influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society?” and the period’s struggle to understand relations between religious and civil authority at 109 Kamrath text.indb 109 3/2/10 1:26:21 PM 110 historiography and the “art of the historian” the state and federal levels and the limits of individual liberty. In this respect, the sketches clarify our understanding about the tensions between sectarian beliefs and secular thought and the roles of reason, deism, and a freethinking movement, headed by Thomas Paine, Elihu Palmer, and others, in understanding the religious and political suppositions of the early national period. And in using the history and family to work through a position on religious authority and civil government, and even a position on religion in family terms, Brown’s historical fiction illuminates sociopolitical tensions during the Adams and Jeffersonian period—tensions about the boundaries between civil and religious authority that Brown was deeply interested in and that are still with us today. Also, in drawing from the historically self-conscious, antipatriarchal elements of Brown’s novels—and the philosophical inquiries of his periodical reviews and essays—and pointing to the politically ironic aspects of his later history writing, “Sketches of a History of Carsol” and “Sketches of a History of the Carrils and Ormes” serve as a unique transition between his earlier fiction writing and his later “Annals of Europe and America” in both content and form. The sketches not only address the domestic histories of families and their ecclesiastical ties to power over centuries but also foreshadow Brown’s method of writing history both as a representation of the past and also as means of later remediating the present . As a historiographical move, in other words, between his earlier novel writing and self-reflexive use of memory and the increasingly heteroglossic nature of later historical annals, Brown’s historical sketches, like his periodical publications, enabled him to develop his historicism and a specifically ironic posture toward history and the institutional authority structures that shape it. Thus, the sketches provide a pivotal workbench upon which Brown could liberally and imaginatively pursue his interest in “domestic history” and inquire, at the same time, more closely into the ways familial structures inform religious and political ones and vice versa. The political stance that emerges in the sketches, especially as it concerns Brown’s Quaker heritage and the boundaries between “a government, ecclesiastical and civil,” positions Brown alongside Madison, Jefferson , and other freethinking intellectuals in the separation of church and state debates of the 1800s and has a direct bearing later in Brown’s career on his historical writing about the Napoleonic wars, despotism, and his...


Subject Headings

  • Historicism in literature
  • United States -- In literature
  • Brown, Charles Brockden, 1771-1810 -- Knowledge -- History.
  • History in literature.
  • Brown, Charles Brockden, -- 1771-1810 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • United States -- History -- Philosophy.
  • Brown, Charles Brockden, 1771-1810 -- Knowledge -- United States.
  • Literature and history -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
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