BROWN

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BROWN, Charles Brockden, greatly distinguished as a novelist, and the editor of various periodical works, was born in the city of Philadelphia, in 1771. He was remarkable in his childhood for his attachment to books, and, at the age of 16, after having received a liberal education, had already formed plans of extensive literary works. The profession of which he made choice was the law. He was apprenticed to an eminent member of the Philadelphia bar, but, during the term intended for preparatory legal study, was, in fact, principally occupied with literary pursuits; and, when the time approached for his admission into the courts, he renounced, altogether, the legal career from constitutional timidity, and an invincible dislike to the scenes which courts present. His friends remonstrated and reasoned in vain. The youth desired only retirement and the employments of a student and an author. The delicacy of his frame, moreover, incapacitated him for the bustle of business and all athletic amusements. During frequent visits to New York, he became intimate with a literary club, who fostered his devotion to letters, and increased his eagerness to be conspicuous as a writer. He kept minute journals, indited essays and dissertations, and cultivated, with unremitting assiduity, the arts of composition.The first novel which he wrote was entitled Sky Walk. It was never published, owing to the death of the printer, who had undertaken to issue it at his own risk. Parts of it were afterwards incorporated in the productions by which B. became so advantageously known to his country and Great Britain. The first of these was the novel called Wieland, which appeared in 1798. It soon acquired the reputation of a powerful and original romance. The next published, in the following year, was Ormond, or the Secret Witness, which had neither the success nor the merit of the other, but still exhibits uncommon powers of invention and description. At this time, B. had begun no less than five novels, two of whichArthur Mervyn and Edgar Huntleywere completed and sent forth almost immediately. In Arthur Mervyn, the ravages of the yellow fever, which the author had witnessed in JSew York and Philadelphia, are painted with terrific truth. All these compositions abound both with excellences and faults, and bear a character of originality In 1801, he published another novel Clara Howardless open to exception, but also less deserving of praise. Its form is different from that of the others, being epistolary. The last of his novels was Jane Talbot, originally published in London, in 1804. It is deficient in interest, and, indeed, in all respects, inferior to its predecessors. In April, 1799, B. published the first number of the Monthly Magazine and American Review. This work he continued with great industry and ability until the end of the year 180G. He wrote abundantly for it. Circumstances compelled him to relinquish it; but, in 1805, he commenced another journal, with the title of the Literary Magazine and American Register; and, in this undertaking, he persevered for five years. His prolific pen gave birth to three large political pamphlets in the same interval. Their respective titles are, an Address to the Government of the U. States on the Cession of Louisiana to the French, and on the late Breach of Treaty by the Spaniards; the British Treaty; and an Address to the Congress of the U. States on the Utility and Justice of Restrictions on Foreign Commerce, with Reflections on Foreign Trade in general, and the future Prospects of America. In 1804, B. married Miss Linn, a sister of the amiable and popular poet, the reverend doctor John Blair Linn. The match proved eminently happy. In 1806, he entered upon a new work, a semiannual American Register, five volumes of which he lived to complete and publish. It is now and must long be consulted as a valuable body of annals.We have al ready mentioned the delicacy of B.'s con stitution. It had a tendency to consumption of the lungs, which his sedentary and studious habits unfortunately aggravated. In 1809, it was discovered that his lungs were seriously affected, and he then consented to travel for the recovery of his health. The remedy, however, was applied too late. In November of that year, after an excursion into the states of New Jersey and New York, he betook himself to his chamber, as he thought, for a few days; but his confinement lasted until February, and ended only with his life. He expired on the 22d of that month, at the age of 39. Among his manuscripts, an unfinished system of geography was found, to which his friends have ascribed rare merit. He was widely and critically conversant with geography and history, and, therefore, particularly qualified to produce a superior system of this kind. His knowledge of the French language is evinced in his accurate translation of Volney's Travels in the U. States.B. was a man of romantic temper, benevolent heart, pregnant invention, extensive attainments and prodigious industry. His colloquial powers were considerable, but rarely indulged in mixed society. He was reserved, but not unsocial. He could be taxed with no excess, save that of application. His moral character has no stain. He was one of the gentlest of human beings. In person, he was of the middle size, and bore the marks of a valetudinarian and literary devotee.The writings of B. were admired and current during his life. Even his novels, however, fell, after his death, into comparative oblivion at home, and remained so until they began, not long since, to be read and praised in England. An edition of them in 6 vols. 8vo. was printed in Boston in 1828. Their leading traits are, a rich and correct diction, variety of incident, vivid scenes of joy and sorrow, a minute developement and strong display of emotion, and a powerful use of wonderful phenomena in the physical faculties and habits of man. Almost all is new and strange in his machineiy and situations; but he deals too much in the horrible and criminal. Extravagant and consummate depravity actuates too many of his characters. His scenes may rivet attention, and his plots excite the keenest curiosity ; yet they pain the heart beyond the privilege of fiction, and leave in the imagination only a crowd of terrific phantasms. None of his novels can be said to possess unity in the details, or to be finished in the general design and execution. These merits were incompatible with the extreme rapidity of his workmanship, and the number of distinct performances in which his fancy and pen were engaged at the same time.