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THE SUPERNATURALIST.

CHARLES BROCKDEN BROWN.

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The memoirs of distinguished men suggest to the philosopher the idea of a natural history of the human mind; so like the laws of instinct is the process of development in each species of character. The influence of climate, education, and political and social institutions, do not apparently modify the essential identity of genius. There is always a certain similarity in its experience, and a moral verisimilitude in its life; and the imprisoned poet of Ferrara, the domesticated bard of Olney, and the solitary cultivator of imaginative literature in America, as they are revealed to us in their familiar letters, and the anecdotes preserved of their habits and feelings, are distinguished by the same general characteristics. Thus, with each, life began in vague but ardent dreams, intensity of personal consciousness, and indications of ability which induced those in authority to assign them the law as a career; in each case, their gentle and earnest spirits revolted from its technical drudgery and tergiversation. They alike were beset by Giant Despair in the form of bitter self-distrust and profound melancholy; and equally owed their temporary emancipation to mental activity and the indulgence of the affections. Love and fame contended for the empire of their hearts, and finally achieved a kind of mutual victory, and established a holy truce. Their difference in renown is indeed great, but aspiration, insight, and the love of beauty, dwelt in each of their souls, and found unequal but powerful expression. The contest with

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fortune, the unswerving assertion of individuality of purpose, the life of the mind and the loyalty of the heart, distinguish these widely-severed beings, as they do the nobility of nature in all times and places.

It is an affecting reminiscence to look back half a century upon the enthusiastic American litterateur, delving at his selfimposed tasks alone, in the midst of a community absorbed in the pursuit of material well-being; throwing off his books with scarcely a breath of popularity to cheer his labor, and finding in the vocation for which his mind was adapted a satisfaction that required not the spur of laudation to prompt habits of industry. We perceive in his writings germs, which, under more cherishing influences, would have expanded into glorious fruits, scintillations of an eclipsed dawn, breathings of a premature spring, the pledge and the promise, as well as the partial realization, of original intellectual achievement.

Charles Brockden Brown was the first American who manifested a decided literary genius in a form which has survived with anything like vital interest. · His native fondness and capacity for literature is not only shown by his voluntary adoption of its pursuit at a time and in a country offering no inducement to such a career, but they are still more evident from the unpropitious social circumstances and local influences amid which he was born and bred. He was the son of a member of the Society of Friends in Philadelphia -- a class distinguished, indeed, for moral worth, but equally remarkable for the absence of a sense of the beautiful, and a repudiation of the graces of life and the inspiration of sentiment, except that of a strictly religious kind.

It is obvious that Brockden Brown could have found little that was favorable to literary aspirations in his early years. Calm, prescriptive, and monotonous, was the environment of his infancy, except that it richly yielded the gentle and sweet ministries of domestic ties and youthful companionship. Sustained by these, he seems to have fallen back upon his individuality with the singleness of purpose characteristic of genius. He was a devoted student; and mental application soon made inroads upon his delicate constitution. By the counsel of his teacher, he acquired the habit of making long pedestrian excursions; and in alter

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nating between books and walks his youth was passed. His ramblings, however, were usually without a companion; and thus, in the solitude of nature, he was led to commune deeply with his own heart, indulge in fanciful reveries, and accustom himself to watch the action of the outward world upon his consciousness: He also became, from the same causes, abstracted in his habits of mind; and when the exigencies of practical life roused him from tasteful studies and romantic dreams to grapple with the perplexities and arid details of the law, he recoiled from the profession with the ardent feelings of a youth accustomed only to the agreeable fields of literature. He, however, persevered, and found consolation in the rhetorical exercises of a debating club, and those branches of the study, commenced at sixteen, that gave scope to his ingenuity and philosophical taste. To the disappointment of his friends, however, when admitted to the bar, he abandoned the idea of practice in disgust. Conscious, perhaps, of inconsistency and waywardness, yet tenacious of his obligation to follow the instinctive direction of his mind, the inactivity and hopeless prospect incident to such an entire change in his plan of life occasioned, for a while, the most painful depression of spirits.

Both his talents and sensibilities demanded a sphere, and their unemployed energy preyed upon his health and conscience. He sought relief in change of scene, and visited many parts of his own and the neighboring states. Under a calm exterior and an apparent indifference of mood, he at this time suffered the most acute and despairing chagrin. His kindred and companions disapproved of his course, and vainly remonstrated with him; and thus he not only failed to please those he loved, but was thoroughly dissatisfied with himself. In 1793 he visited New York, in order to unite with two fellow-students, between whom and himself there existed a strong attachment. With them he formed a pleasant home; and soon joined the Friendly Club, of which Dunlap, Dr. Mitchell, Bleecker, Kent, and other choice spirits of the metropolis, were active members. In their society his literary tastes revived, and his mental energies expanded. Sympathy quickened his confidence in his own resources, and he regained his cheerfulness and activity of spirit.

Wieland” was published in 1798. It was the first work in

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the department of imaginative literature of native origin, possessing indisputable tokens of genius, which appeared in the United States. Its author died on the twenty-second of February, 1810, having just completed his thirty-ninth year. His subsequent fictions were unequal both to each other and to the first; but all contain traits of reflective power and invention that enlist the sympathies of the intellectual reader. They constitute, however, but a modicum of his literary labor. When he commenced authorship the discussions incident to the French Revolution were rife; and his active mind soon became excited on the subject of politics and social philosophy. His first published work — if we except occasional contributions to periodicals --- was a Dialogue on the Rights of Woman, said to have been unsuccessful, though ingenious ; then followed the Memoirs of Carwin — the basis of his fictitious compositions and fame in that branch ; but in the mean time, throughout his brief career, he was incessantly engaged in some kind of literary toil; editing the old American Monthly, the first American Review, the original Literary Magazine, and the American Register; compiling an elaborate geography; preparing architectural drawings; investigating various subjects; corresponding, translating Volney's work on the United States, and writing a series of political pamphlets. Although many of the questions thus treated have lost their significance and interest, the knowledge, logic, good sense, and general ability, manifest in the political writings of Brockden Brown, are thought by some, not incompetent judges, to be as remarkable, in view of the period and circumstances, as his novels. It is certain that the two exhibit a rare combination of practical and imaginative capacity; and evince a mind disciplined and prolific as well as versatile. IIe could reason comprehensively and acutely on affairs as well as on emotion; and discuss the interests of commerce and government with as clear and full intelligence as the mysteries of love, remorse, and superstition. But it requires the consummate literary art of a Burke and a Godwin to preserve the carelessly-strewn jewels of such a mind in enduring caskets.

So deficient, indeed, in constructive design and unity of purpose, are his writings, that, with the exception of his essays and other argumentative papers, they resemble the sketches that litter an artist's studio more than elaborate and finished works. His fictions might aptly be designated as studies in Romance. He left many fragmentary narratives, scenes and dialogues - some founded upon history, some upon observation, and others apparently the result of an inventive mood. At one time he had no less than five novels commenced, sketched out, or partially written. Architecture, geography, politics, and belles lettres, by turns, occupied his attention.

There is often in his letters a curious, detail; and he possessed the art of making the recital of trifles interesting ; while the logician and grave practical thinker, as well as the sincere and ardent patriot, are revealed by his spirited treatment of public questions. “ Wieland" was the most powerful story that had appeared in the country; and the American Register, projected and commenced by Brown, was the most useful and appropriate literary undertaking of its day. Like most gifted men, he won and retained affections with ease; he was the idol of the domestic circle, and loyal as well as magnanimous in friendship; he stood manfully by his comrades during the fearful ravages of the yellow fever; and his letters, while they aim to elicit the inmost experience and outward fortunes of those he loves, are remarkably self-forgetful. He lived wholly in his mind and affections ; from a child devoted to books and maps, and, as a man, congratulating himself upon that fragility of body that destined him to meditative pursuits. Reading, clubs, pedestrianism, journalizing, and earnest reflection, were the means of his culture and development. Like the author of the "Seasons," he was silent in mixed companies, but alert and expressive under genial mental excitement. An Utopian, he indulged in the most sanguine visions of the amelioration of society; a deep reasoner, he argued a question of law or government with subtlety and force; a devotee of truth, he ardently sought and carefully recorded facts; a wild dreamer, he gave the utmost scope to his fancy and the most intense exercise to his imagination; careless as to his appearance, unmethodical in affairs, intent upon the contemplative rather than the observant use of his faculties, he yet could summon all his powers at the call of love, duty, or taste, and bring them into efficient action. He describes his sensations at the first sight of

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