The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.
§ 6. Alcuin; Arthur Meruyn
The spirit of Godwin stirred eagerly in Brown during the early days of his freedom. Toward the end of 1797 he bore witness by writing Alcuin, a dialogue on the rights of women which took its first principles from Mary Wollstonecraft and Godwin. On the last day of December he says he finished a romance which appears to have been Sky-Walk, the manuscript of which was lost before it could be published. Early in 1798 he became a contributor to the new Philadelphia Weekly Magazine, which contains, among the fragments which always mark Brown’s trail, the first two parts of Alcuin, called The Rights of Women, and nine chapters of Arthur Mervyn. He announced Sky-Walk 17 March, 1798, in a letter to the Weekly Magazine signed “Speratus.” In this earliest public statement of his ideals of fiction Brown spoke of the need of native romances and ascribed the “value of such works” to “their moral tendency.” Only by displaying characters “of soaring passions and intellectural energy,” he beleved, could a novelist hope “to enchain the attention and ravish the souls of those who study and reflect.” But Brown was too good a democrat to write for geniuses alone. “A contexture of facts capable of suspending the faculties of every soul in curiosity, may be joined with depth of views into human nature and all the subtleties of reasoning.”