Charles Brockden Brown Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207064-Brown_C.jpg Charles Brockden Brown Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Charles Brockden Brown is given credit for being the first American to earn a living as a professional author, although he did so for only a few years of his life. He was born into a Philadelphia Quaker family, and even as a youngster he read voluminously. Because of his constant reading, he earned a reputation as a scholar and genius in Philadelphia. Early in life, too, he began to write, planning three epic poems on explorers Christopher Columbus, Francisco Pizarro, and Hernán Cortés, all notably American rather than European themes. His first published work, “The Rhapsodist” (1789), a glorification of the romantic rebel, appeared in The Columbian Magazine, a Philadelphia publication.

Despite his literary bent, Brown’s family insisted that he study law in 1787, but in 1793 he announced that he would henceforth be a professional writer. After several visits to New York, Brown took up residence in that city, where he found, especially in the Friendly Society, the stimulation he needed as a writer. Brown was an ardent admirer of the British radical William Godwin, who was also a novelist, and Brown’s writing reflects that enthusiasm, as in Alcuin: A Dialogue, which is really a treatise on the rights of women, though it uses elements of fiction to carry the message. Following that work, Brown turned to writing fiction that can be called novels, but in which he hoped to teach as well as entertain. Writing at a furious rate, he wrote and published six novels within four years. Wieland, which many regard as his best work, is based on an actual murder case in...

(The entire section is 657 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Born on January 17, 1771, Charles Brockden Brown was the fifth son of Elijah Brown and Mary Armitt Brown. Named for a relative who was a well-known Philadelphia official, Brown grew up in an intellectual Quaker family where the works of contemporary radicals such as Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft were read, even though they were unacceptable by society’s norms. Brown’s health was never good; his parents tended to protect him from an active boy’s life and to encourage his reading. When he was eleven, he began his formal education at the Friends’ Latin School in Philadelphia under Robert Proud, a renowned teacher and scholar who later wrote The History of Pennsylvania (1797). Proud encouraged Brown to strengthen his constitution by taking walks in the country, similar to those Edgar Huntly takes with Sarsefield in Edgar Huntly. After five or six years in Latin School, Brown began the study of law under Alexander Willcocks (variously spelled), a prominent Philadelphia lawyer. Although he studied law for five or six years, until 1792 or 1793, he never practiced.

During Brown’s years studying law, he taught himself French and increasingly leaned toward literary work. He became a member of the Belles Lettres Club, which met to discuss current literary and intellectual topics. In 1789, he published his first work, “The Rhapsodist,” in the Columbian Magazine. In 1790, he met and became friends with Elihu Hubbard Smith of Litchfield, Connecticut, a...

(The entire section is 611 words.)