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William Hill Brown, Research Paper Example

Pages: 37

Words: 10307

Research Paper

Establishing the Perspective

William Hill Brown is believed to have been America’s first novelist. His novel, The Power of Sympathy, is that rarest of things, an incest romance. This unusual novel presents itself as something quite like a morality play: the story of how two young people fall in love and then, discover, to their horror, that they are half-siblings because the young man’s father was unfaithful and had an affair. The young woman, Harriot, pines away and dies, while the young man, Harrington, despairs and takes his own life.

Morality play it may appear to be on the surface, but The Power of Sympathy has hidden depths and proves to be much more complex than it would appear on first glance. For one thing, there is Brown’s treatment of Nature: Nature is seen as both beautiful and majestic, the work of its Author (God, in Deist form), and as something far more ambivalent, even cruel. Nature can be beautiful and sinister in equal measure, a remarkable sentiment indeed.

And for a morality play, The Power of Sympathy spends an inordinate amount of time undermining the very morality it is ‘supposed’ to be defending. Time and time again Brown sets up a character as the self-proclaimed repository of wisdom and font of morality, only to knock them down ignominiously. Human nature, in Brown’s vision, is replete with follies and foibles of all kinds. Humans are thoroughly flawed creatures, no matter how much we may attempt to delude ourselves to the contrary.

If moralistic pedantry gets short shrift in the novel, so too does cheap sentiment. Those who indulge in it are shown to be shallow, superficial, and fundamentally just as unconcerned with the wellbeing of others as are the sermonizers. If this vision of human nature holds little by way of optimism, it is at least brutally honest: for Brown, honesty is essential, because the truth matters. Delusions must be rejected. The true power of sympathy can only be seen through actual caring for other people.

All in all, Brown’s writings, both The Power of Sympathy and another novel, Ira and Isabella, as well as poems and essays, prove to be sustained engagements with society. Brown urges “moderate” reading in lieu of uncritical reading. This proves to be an entire philosophy for education, even for life, as Brown urges his readers to take care in reading, that they not become unduly attached to ideas, or careless in what they absorb. Only by practicing cautious, critical thinking can people hope to become wise, happy and fulfilled—and this is easily Brown’s greatest gift to his readers.


Brown’s novel The Power of Sympathy: or, The Triumph of Nature contains the best clues from his writing regarding his views on nature. Although Brown’s writings seem in many ways to be more concerned with human nature, nonetheless they are not without significant insights into how Brown interpreted and understood nature. In fact, his tragic tale of unintended incest and the death of lovers contains plenty of portrayals of nature. As one author notes, like Goethe’s Werther Brown’s The Power of Sympathy: or, The Triumph of Nature “threatens to turn into a study of the ambiguity of Nature… it studies the strange, sometimes fatal attractions which move us beyond the power of will to resist or reason to control.”[1]

Still, nature is relatively benevolent in the first part of the novel. Nature is seen as beautiful, as peaceful, and as a realm of great enjoyment. The character Mrs. Holmes writes: “’Nature is everywhere liberal in dispensing her beauties and her variety—and I pity those who look round and declare they see neither.’”[2] This positive, romantic view of nature carries into the second part of the book as well. Here the overtones of Deism become apparent, particularly with the character Harrington, one of the two lovers. For Harrington, in true Deist form, God is the “’Author of Nature’”, and this is conceived of as a praiseworthy thing. And crucially, nature includes not just mountains, trees, rivers, and the like, but also human beings. Human beings and our emotions are part of nature; thus, God, as the Author of Nature, is also the author of the human heart. “’From thee… floweth this tide of affection and SYMPATHY!’” Harrington exultantly proclaims.[3]

Harrington is particularly susceptible to Nature, by his own admission in fact. “I was always susceptible of touches of nature,” he says.[4] For Harrington, these touches are a relatively positive thing early on: they give him his profound sense of humanity, his sensibilities towards others. Harrington’s is a kind of Deist Christianity: in Nature, he sees the hand of God, to which he attributes his sentiments of compassion and regard for authors. He addresses and praises the Author of Nature in quite biblical language, saying: “thou whose tender care extendeth to the least of thy creation, and whose eye is not inattentive even though a sparrow fall to the ground.”[5]

So far, well and good. But this, of course, is a novel about an incestuous relationship. Harriot, the girl Harrington has fallen for, is his sister, and she has fallen for him. The fact that they are brother and sister is of two-fold significance in the story: not only does it make their union impossible, it is also the cause of their yearning for each other in the first place. It is “’the link of Nature’” that has drawn them to each other. Thus, Nature has a darker side: nature can be not just indifferent, but more than a little duplicitous, even sinister. Harrington and Harriot are drawn to each other and become lovers, but are driven to death from despair (her) and suicide (him) when they learn of the nature of their relationship.[6]

But is Nature really to blame, in any respect, for their demise? Yes, for the “triumph of nature” alluded to in the subtitle is actually of two parts. Mr. Harrington euphemistically refers to his son, the younger Harrington, as having “loved” Harriot, the elder Mr. Harrington’s daughter, an act he refers to in terms of the two completing “the triumph of nature.” Nature, then, triumphs in the union of these two siblings (technically half-siblings, though still well within the prohibited degree). Nature ‘triumphs’ again when the two die. In fact, Harrington himself (the younger Harrington) is referred to as “’the dupe of Nature’”—and since God is the “Author of Nature”, the book, in effect, is tantamount to blasphemy.[7]

Nature, then, is found to be an exceedingly powerful force. Nature, and the inexorable, tragic love that it inspires between Harriot and Harrington, proves stronger than reason. In fact, it is Harriot who supplies the argument, in the form of a rhetorical question, that leads to them consummating their feelings towards each other: “’Shall we strive to oppose the link of nature that draws us to each other?’”[8] Harriot’s death leaves Harrington utterly shuttered. Again, Nature is at play: Nature was responsible for the feelings that drew them together, and now that she has died he is distraught, and does not desire to continue living. The elder Harrington has a vision of his son in hell due to having committed suicide, but the younger Harrington has come to the conviction that he will instead ascend to heaven, where he will be reunited with his beloved Harriot.[9] In the final analysis, then, is Nature (or God) cruel for what the two lovers have been through, or ultimately benevolent in some greater sense? Perhaps Brown intended a certain amount of ambiguity on this score.

This rather complex and often ambiguous portrayal of nature offers both commonalities and disparities with Rousseau’s views. For one thing, Rousseau viewed nature as fundamentally good. It was human beings and society, he maintained, who had become corrupted. What we needed to do was to return to the state of nature, to our primeval innocence.[10] The contrast with Brown is rather obvious: for Brown, Nature, and the Author of Nature by implication, are much more ambiguous in their purposes. Nature can be a good thing, promoting feelings of affection and sympathy for others, and Nature can be cruel in drawing together in such a manner two people who cannot be together.

Human Nature

Regarding human nature, William Hill Brown seems to have had a strong interest in human follies and foibles. The Power of Sympathy has been much maligned, on charges of pedantry, didacticism, and sententiousness, charges which in fact do hold something of the weight of truth. However, this does not, of necessity, mean that the sentiments expressed by his more sanctimonious and sermonizing characters are necessarily shared by Brown himself. In a reconsideration of the work, Davidson argues that in fact, Brown presents these long-winded moralists, and then humorously cuts them down. More precisely, Brown undermines his moralists, like Worthy and Mrs. Holmes, by showing the shortcomings of their advice, often seen in their own failure to practice what they preach and live up to it. Another favorite tactic is to contrast the advice proffered by the moralist in question with the situation at hand, in a way that demonstrates the utter inadequacy of it.[11]

Worthy is a particularly good case in point. In his letters to Harrington, Worthy poses himself as a kind of tutelary sage, a moral guardian, offering many defenses of his own lofty and sweeping values. Worthy is long on platitudes and lofty, vague defenses of ‘morality’, but very short on practical advice. He avers, consistently, that his principles can be applied to any situation, but his failure to be specific gives the game away: Worthy’s principles are so vague, lofty, and ill-defined that they say very little, if anything at all, about what Harrington or anyone else should do in a specific situation. Case in point: when Harrington is faced with his various thorny moral dilemmas vis-à-vis the situation with Harriot, Worthy waffles as usual. Demurring from giving any practical advice, he tells his friend that he “need only ‘weigh matters maturely’ and employ a ‘right judgment,’” thereby enabling him to gain a newer, better, happier perspective on his current situation.[12]

Worthy’s advice is in fact quite worthless, and here one has to wonder if Brown was not having just a little too much fun with his choice of names. Brown positively cuts Worthy down at the knees from the very first: Worthy writes of how he has seen “’many juvenile heroes’” during his life, which he describes as “’my pilgrimage of two and twenty years.’”[13]Brown is intending to depict Worthy as a pretentious and vain youth, who foolishly and egotistically imagines himself to be possessed of some superior wisdom. Worthy represents, in many ways, vain egotism and pretentiousness: he is full of himself, convinced of his own ability to help others if they would only just adopt his principles, and patently aloof. Rather than offer Harrington heart-to-heart advice and moral and emotional support, Worthy offers him so many lofty platitudes, and in the offering succeeds in stroking his own ego.[14]

“’Let your mind be employed, and time will wear out these gloomy ideas,’” Worthy sermonizes to Harrington, after the latter returns to thoughts of suicide out of his grief at Harriot’s death. This quote, perhaps more than any other, embodies what is so very wrong with Worthy, so wrong as to be quite odious and loathsome: he is an unfeeling moralist, pig-headed and egotistical, devoid of all compassion. As unlikable and sententious as he is, Worthy stands as a symbol, in many ways, of precisely this kind of behavior in humanity. Brown seems to be telling his readers that this is a particularly dysfunctional and unhelpful response to the human condition. But it is also clear, of course, that Worthy is quite rooted in human nature, specifically in its foibles: he makes much of morality and principles, but at the expense of actually being truly moral and helping others, particularly his own supposed friend, Harrington.[15]

Another, somewhat similar, character in the novel is Mrs. Holmes. Like Worthy, she is a moralist, specifically one concerned with upholding the virtues of chastity and clean reading. In the first letter she pens to Myra, Mrs. Holmes attempts to establish her moralistic credentials. In fact, she goes so far as to describe herself as wise and relatively non-judgmental: “superior to the ‘tumult of the town’ and distinct from the ‘misjudging race’ whose misjudgments are guided by their own ‘conduct and prejudices.’”[16] However, Mrs. Holmes undermines these lofty claims in her very next letter to Myra. She cannot be the wise, discerning, and lofty moralist she claims to be, not if she is willing to condemn, at length, both Mrs. Bourn and her daughter. Worse, she does so for absolutely petty, inane reasons: she is jealous of Mrs. Bourn’s advancement in society, and launches into an unsubstantiated and ridiculous screed against Mrs. Bourn, and attacks on her daughter. Mrs. Bourn is too eager to please; her daughter’s appearance/dress/manner could be better, and so it goes.[17]

Mrs. Holmes, then, is not so virtuous as she would have others believe. In fact, she is quite judgmental and sanctimonious, which means she is also a hypocrite, given the claims she makes about her own virtue. Here again Brown seems to be taking a considerable crack at the self-proclaimed moralists: Brown seems to be saying, in effect, that those who loudly acclaim their virtues, the supposed better angels of human nature, are often quite remiss.[18] This, of course, points the reader towards a more profound truth: if it is not virtuous to loudly proclaim one’s adherence to virtue, while engaging in hypocrisy and judging or otherwise failing to help other people, then of what does virtue consist? How is it to be measured? The subtext is quite unmistakable: deeds matter more than proclaimed adherence to creeds. The very people who most often presume to instruct others are often themselves in need of instruction.

A third moralist in the story is likewise undermined, beginning with the second letter sent by Mrs. Holmes. Mrs. Holmes invokes her father-in-law, Reverend Holmes, on a subject that exercised many in the 18th century: novel reading and the education of women. Reverend Holmes, as it turns out, is another sermonizer, and he delivers a long-winded philosophical monologue wherein he “expounds at considerable length certain theories on what constitutes a proper education for young ladies,” a topic which is, of course, the ostensible subject for the entire book. Reverend Holmes becomes the mouthpiece for both the defenders of novel reading in Brown’s own time, as well as the more conventional caution that “young women not trust all they read.”[19]

Reverend Holmes then gives a very long monologue, appended as a footnote, telling a moralistic tale to caution young women against believing all they read. He concludes with a piece of spectacularly sententious advice to young women on the subject of reading satire: “’…that whenever she [the female reader] discovers a satire, ridiculing or recriminating the follies or crimes of mankind, that she look into her own heart, and compare the strictures on the conduct of others with her own feelings.’”[20] This exhaustive (and exhausting) sermonizing, however, is undercut promptly thereafter, for it turns out that Reverend Holmes has been delivering this advice in a social setting, in front of an audience that includes Mrs. Bourn and her daughter. Happily, those in attendance have more sense and less tolerance for hearing Reverend Holmes propound the virtues of his ideas, and the crowd dwindles. His intended targets, Mrs. Bourn and her daughter, stop listening to him and start reading books.[21]

Tedious though the whole episode may be, it is surely to Brown’s credit that he is not presenting such pretentious sermonizing as praiseworthy, but rather as quite absurd. Much like Worthy, Reverend Holmes is enamored with his own speechmaking: he doesn’t really care about aiding other people. Thus, Brown effectively shows the three most objectionable moralists in his novel as fatuous and pretentious. He seems determined to underscore how much of this side of human nature is vain, shallow, and self-serving.[22] Brown clearly recognizes the degree to which self-serving tendencies run in human nature, and how often some people will try to dress them up with moralistic sermonizing.

Thus far this analysis has concerned itself with William Hill Brown’s The Power of Sympathy. But to be sure, he wrote other works as well. His play The Better Sort: Or the Girl of Spirit, though a much more light-hearted work than The Power of Sympathy, covers some similar ground. His character Mrs. Sententious is a social climber, vain, petty, and shallow. Her aspiration is to make connections with “the better sort,” as per the title, gainsaying their favor by entertaining them. Her husband Mr. Sententious, however, does not approve, not least because she is attempting to play out of her league in lieu of self-improvement. In other words, she is hoping to join the ‘in’ crowd without learning the refinements she will need to mingle with them, the very refinements that would facilitate her social success.[23]

For example, in one instance Mrs. Sententious says “’What fools them is!’” Her husband, of course, points out the painfully obvious: she really does need to study grammar. Mrs. Sententious, not to be dissuaded, demurs: “’The bettermost genii don’t place the ton in mere words—it is in actions… the actions of high life and grandeur too… that distinguish the better sort from the canal.”[24]But alas, she has fallen into malapropism, and her husband loses his patience as he points out that the word she meant was not canal but canaille. Vulgar (in the classical sense) and frivolous, Mrs. Sententious is hopelessly out of her league, and refuses to be corrected or change course in the least.[25]

But what, it may be asked, of the scene related by Harrington in The Power of Sympathy? He recounts the story of how he conversed with a slave woman who carried herself with remarkable dignity: “She had something in her air superior to those of her situation—a fire that the damps of slavery had not extinguished.”[26] He asks her the cause of a scar on her shoulder, and she tells him, without shame, that she had been whipped some years before. Her child had broken a glass tumbler by mistake; fearing for her child, she trembled, and was seized upon as guilty. She took the whipping, thus protecting her son from a horrifying punishment. Harrington praises her with rather flowery language, wishing her blessings: “’All thy labors will become easy—all thy burdens light, and the yoke of slavery will never gall thy neck.’”[27]

Merely saying these words stirs something in Harrington: he feels exalted, uplifted, that he has communed with this slave woman in some way. “I felt my heart glow with the feelings of exquisite delight, as I anticipated the happy time when the sighs of the slave shall no longer expire in the air of freedom.”[28] These flowery platitudes notwithstanding, there is something remarkably shallow about the whole thing. Harrington’s attitude seems not so far removed from today’s armchair activists. He is, in effect, a ‘sentimental tourist’: he takes pleasure and satisfaction in the marvelous sentiments that the exchange has afforded him, not that it is likely to produce any deeper reflection or even concern for the wellbeing of this woman and her child, and so many others like them. Indeed, they are not the issue: what counts for Harrington with regard to that situation was the marvelous and sweet sensibilities that it evoked in him.[29] This is why he can hear a story from a slave woman about being glad that she was able to take a terrible beating in the place of her ten-year-old son, and respond with such thoughts as: “What delightful sensations are those in which the heart is interested! …Hail Sensibility! Sweetener of the joys of life!”[30]

By now a certain very powerful theme has become evident: William Hill Brown does not have a rosy, optimistic view of human nature. He seems to view human nature as quite tragic: human beings are creatures beset either with hopeless passions and a zest for life, balanced by a certain naïveté and experiences of bitter disappointment and sorrow, or else they are pretentious, egotistical, sanctimonious, and generally full of themselves. William Hill Brown, it would seem, is an author who is committed to brutal honesty in his assessment of human nature. And yet, he is also capable of dry humor: there is the quality of a wry grin about his portrayals of long-winded, sanctimonious moralists, so often undone by themselves.

William Hill Brown’s views of human nature stand very much at odds with Rousseau’s. In Brown there is no hint of the uncorrupted state of human nature. Yes, humans and our passions are a part of nature, but Brown does not seem to share Rousseau’s vision of a prelapsarian state of nature, lost due to human error. Where the two are more in agreement is with regard to the corrupt and selfish tendencies of human beings, often fueled by self-interest.[31] However, there is less of a historical narrative with Brown, who seems far more concerned with human foibles in the here and now, and his is a view of human nature that speaks to no fall, no descent from an Edenic state: human beings, Brown seems to be implying, get into plenty of trouble on our own without invoking a departure from some idyllic state.


To write a novel in Brown’s day was to plunge headfirst into the politics of society. By the middle of the 18th century, novels had taken the Western literary world by storm, touching off a firestorm of controversy about their merits. There are unmistakable parallels with successive modern controversies about ‘controversial’ musicians and types of music, from Elvis to heavy metal music: there was a raging debate over whether novels were a suitable thing with which to occupy oneself. Owing both to the character of Western societies at the time, and the fact that novels were so popular with female readers, this controversy had a profoundly gendered dimension.[32]

Writing in the early Republic, not long after the Revolutionary War, Brown had to know that if he was successful, a large part of his readership would be female. And for women in that place and time, “reading novels was profoundly subversive.”[33] For women in particular, reading novels offered a kind of interior sphere in which they could better explore who they were and where they stood in society.[34] All of this is profoundly important to understand if one is to understand what Brown’s work can tell us about his views on society, as will shortly become manifestly apparent.

In fact, many of Brown’s works touch on themes of character, virtue, the dangers of seduction, and the search for happiness. For example, his short story “Harriot, Or, the Domestick Reconciliation,” touches on many of the same themes as The Power of Sympathy. This story takes the form of a cautionary tale about sexual seduction, like The Power of Sympathy, and also like the novel, sexual seduction is depicted as a threat to domestic happiness. His series of fourteen essays, “The REFORMER,” picked up many of the same themes again. A good example is the March 1789 installment, which “warned young women to avoid slander and scandal mongering.”[35] As seen, sentiment and didacticism are important themes as well—and so are the ways in which Brown clearly seeks to subversively undermine them.

Thus, merely by working in the medium of the novel, Brown was plunging headfirst into a major social debate. No matter what he wrote, he would have to navigate the cultural minefield. In an age with a much greater appetite for open moralizing than our own, William Hill Brown wrote about deeply moral themes. However, he did so in a way that, while not without its faults, undermined the privileged claims associated with many of these narratives. The highly moralistic characters of The Power of Sympathy are also some of the most tedious and least likeable.

And much to his credit, Brown does infuse some of his own values into the novel in a way that does not come off as heavy handed. In fact, the very heavy-handedness of characters like Worthy, like Mrs. Holmes, and like Reverend Holmes, all serve to cast Brown’s own, far more subtle treatment of his values in a much better light. Brown criticizes the egotistical, the vain, and the proud: he makes them appear ridiculous, and they are constantly undercutting themselves.

And ‘subversive’ may well be the best way to describe Brown’s The Power of Sympathy. As an ‘incest romance,’ one based on real-life events no less, it combines the sensationalism of sex with the sentimentality of family. The combination is, by its very nature, dramatic, volatile, and therefore compelling. By presenting it as a kind of morality play, as Brown does, it carries at least the appearance of didacticism.[36] But as seen, Brown goes to great lengths to set up no less than three moralists in the novel, only to reveal them as sanctimonious pedants. What better indication that this is, in fact, the entire point? Yes, the novel is intended to be dramatic, and it is intended to subvert expectations: that is its purpose.

In fact, such is Davidson’s thesis: the novel is not nearly as moralistic as it might appear, indicating a deeper design. There is a literary evolution contained in its pages, and even if Brown is less than subtle at times, even if his word-craft sometimes leaves something to be desired, he does point towards a great design. As seen, Brown does go to great lengths to critique moralist pedantry. He also undermines the reliance on sentiment. When the ladies, having tired of Reverend Holmes’s truly tiresome lecture, proclaim that “’Sentiment is out of date,’” none other than Worthy steps to its defense. In doing so, however, he undercuts himself: he defends sentiment using the language of sentiment. Dropping his usual affectations, his mantle of pretentiousness, Worthy becomes “a parodic version of a ‘man of feeling.’” As with Reverend Holmes, Worthy’s sermonizing drives the crowd away.[37]

Indeed, as Scheiding explained, many reviewers of the novel were rather disappointed by The Power of Sympathy, for a decidedly interesting reason: they felt that it did not make the moral explicit enough, and left the reader to ascertain it! Other reviewers thought that the titlepage and the preface were so didactic that the book did not follow logically from the title. The lack of coherence and the lack of closure in this novel have consistently stymied reviewers and students alike. However, the very fact that this novel has so consistently stymied people may hold important clues to Brown’s views on society.[38]

It is this self-defeating behavior on the part of the moralists that so consistently shows Brown’s views on human nature and on society. If human nature is riddled with foibles and follies, then society is the stage upon which those foibles and follies are displayed. And just like vain Mrs. Sententious, the less discerning, less intelligent, and more stuck-up will always be on hand to endorse foibles and follies, and codify them as social behavior. Mrs. Sententious looks ridiculous to the discerning reader, just as she does to the people around her.

The discerning reader may wonder, and think upon how far this analogy might stretch. Mrs. Sententious cares only about advancing her station; she irrationally persists with her foolish tilting at windmills, long past all reason. To what degree does society consist of precisely this behavior, only refined and (usually) better hidden than the case of Mrs. Sententious? To what degree do people in general try to take the easy road, cutting corners, when it comes to something that they desire, but are not well equipped to pursue? By using humor, then, Brown is able to reframe how one looks at society, and therefore invite us to ask deeper questions about what it means, and thus what we plan to do about it.

What Brown created, Scheiding argues, is an “open text”: the mere fact that it violates reader expectations is exactly the point. The text is a kind of experimental laboratory, wherein Brown exposes the reader to different ways of viewing the world. In the process, he challenges the hegemony of standards in society: for Scheiding, the standards he particularly challenges are those of historiography, religion, and moral philosophy. And since as seen, the novel is not really didactic, this points toward a much greater exercise: Brown is essentially taking the reader on a journey to see “how morals and truth come into existence.”[39]

The genesis of morals and truth is often thought of in lofty, philosophical terms, or religious terms of epiphany. For Brown, however, their origins are much more prosaic, as is their maintenance. Brown sees the question in terms of moral narratives which (generally) seem to serve some social and/or psychological purpose. Though The Power of Sympathy is in some sense a cautionary tale, it is also an exploration of the origins of cautionary tales, parables, and other moralized narratives.

‘Pay heed to the stories people tell about themselves, others, and the world,’ one can almost hear Brown say. ‘People can be hypocrites, liars, vain, or just plain wrong.’ There is a kind of thoughtful, reflective wisdom in Brown, and it can only be found by reading carefully, in order to glean meaning from the subtext. In so doing, one discovers that far from a pedant or sermonizer, Brown is simply a thoughtful man trying to ask important questions—a man who wants to encourage and invite others to do the same.

Brown’s wry sense of humor shines through in his posthumously published Ira and Isabella (1807). This novel is interesting, precisely because in it, Brown first retells the story of The Power of Sympathy—and then inverts it. Orphaned, Ira and Isabella fall very much in love, much like Harriot and Harrington. However, they discover, much to their horror, that they are brother and sister. But here, where Harrington and Harriot fell into despair and died (her), or committed suicide (him, thereafter), Ira and Isabella choose a different path. Instead of falling into despair, they soberly resign themselves to living without each other. Life, they decide, will go on: no matter how saddened they are by what has happened, they are able and willing to go on and make different lives for themselves than the life they had hoped to fashion together.[40]

However, fate intervenes, for Ira and Isabella, it transpires, are not actually brother and sister after all. Overjoyed, they are finally able to marry, and the novel ends happily. Though perhaps a bit clumsy and contrived, this tale is not without a certain redeeming sense of humor, with all of its many twists and turns.[41] It arguably has important ramifications, too, for how Brown viewed society: where Harriot and Harrington had despaired and died, in a fashion not dissimilar from Romeo and Juliet, Ira and Isabella made, in essence, the right call—and had a second chance for happiness.

The subtext is clear: there is too much irrationality, haste, and impetuousness in society, and giving way to strong emotion over reason is the cause. Reason, Brown seems to suggest, is the key to getting our priorities straight. For one thing, it may lead us to the important conclusion that perhaps, just maybe, we are spending too much time worrying about our neighbor’s affairs rather than tending to our own. Or, perhaps we are too inclined to be vain and puffed up about ourselves. Here, reason can and should take us down a peg or three. Brown’s moralists, one again must note, are singularly lacking in humility or grace of any kind. Rather than a ‘tragic flaw’, they seem possessed of ‘tragic character’. Reason, listening to feedback, and a commitment to self-examination are, rather self-evidently, the way to avoid being the unhelpful sermonizer no one wants to listen to.

Indeed, Millner notices that these concerns are manifest in how Brown treats of the act of reading itself. In keeping with many of the concerns of the period, when advances in printing were propelling an explosion of the printed word, Brown displays a great deal of concern for how people read: an important endeavor, reading should be done carefully, with caution, not hastily. This again touches on the character of the period: a very common concern in the society of Brown’s time was of young people, especially young women, being led astray in some way (generally with respect to moral character) by what they were reading. The solution, of course, was to read carefully, and this underscored, for Brown, the importance of “’judgment,’ ‘knowledge,’ and ‘reflection.’”[42]

A good example of this from The Power of Sympathy is Mr. Holmes’s fear, apparently shared by Brown himself, about the precipitous explosion of the printed word in the new United States during the closing decades of the eighteenth century. The subject of the fear was not particular books, or particular kinds of books, but rather of immoderation in reading. But what does “immoderate reading” look like? The answer shows Brown’s own concerns for society: reading that is “immoderate” may be “desultory” or repetitive; it may also be reading, and then becoming too attached to the ideas one seizes upon in one’s reading material. In the words of Mr. Holmes: “’By immoderate reading we hoard up opinions and become insensibly attached to them.’”[43]

Immoderate reading, in other words, is reading without using one’s head. It is reading, either the same kind of thing repetitively, or else picking up ideas as a magpie might shiny objects, and then becoming obsessively attached to them. In today’s digital age, these concerns seem strangely modern. Here again, Brown shows his essentially thoughtful approach: these reading practices are insensible and lead people into error. The truth matters, and so does reflection. Following the advice of the Delphic Oracle to Socrates, Brown clearly believes that the unexamined life is not worth living. A lack of moderation and common sense in reading is a problem precisely because it undermines this.[44]

But it might well be asked whether this is really such a big problem. Why does Brown care if society falls prey to this sort of ‘immoderate reading’? Why does it really matter? One might well say, Very well and good, immoderate reading is not for you—but some people seem to enjoy it. Why not simply let them and have done with? Does it really matter if others do not do as we do?

Brown is very clear that yes, in fact it does matter. The reason one simply cannot walk away and have done with, at least as a writer who has set himself to observing the human condition, is that immoderate reading in turn leads to larger problems. These problems are, again, stunningly modern: “desiring too much, feeling too intensely, being undisciplined and irrational, being too close to ideas, and having no clearly delineated self with respect to one’s reading.”[45] This could easily be a suitably descriptive criticism of contemporary society in the age of the internet and consumer culture.

What, then, is Brown’s solution? Moderate reading, by which Brown means thoughtful, reflective, insightful reading: instead of simply guzzling information, the reader should endeavor to thoroughly, methodically penetrate the contents of the book at length. By engaging with the text in such a thoughtful, insightful manner, the reader can improve their own abilities of self-reflection. By so doing, they become an active agent, not merely a passive recipient of content. This in turn enables them to be a critical thinker, able to discern true from false, well-reasoned and moderate from poorly-reasoned and immoderate, and the importance of not becoming unduly attached to opinions, which should after all be prepared to sustain critical analysis and examination.

Here again Brown’s essentially thoughtful approach shines: he is commenting upon society and offering, not just critique, but real solutions for improvement. The problem with being swept away with one’s reading is that one is unable to navigate the enormous deluge of content to which one has subjected one’s self. By maintaining a little more distance and engaging in the kind of critical analysis Brown suggests, the reader learns far more and is prepared to examine it in a much more discerning manner.

Brown has another suggestion for moderate reading, another remedy for the problems of being deluged with too much content and not engaging with it: conversation. The reader who will treat books as company, of a sort, will be prepared to actually engage with them in a conversational manner. Such a reader will be persuaded by a good argument, just as they will be enamored of a good story, while (hopefully) avoiding the pitfalls of bad argumentation and sub-par stories. Moreover, one can have conversation not only with books, but also with people: one can talk, with one’s friends, about what one is reading. This has a great deal of social value, and it can also provide one with many new insights, new perspectives, new ways of seeing books that one might not have thought of on one’s own.

How, then, do Brown’s views on society compare with Rousseau’s? Unlike Rousseau, Brown does not see society as the means by which people are corrupted. Brown’s concerns were largely about how people chose to corrupt themselves, by being vain, prideful, sanctimonious, or simply immoderate in their reading. With Brown, the dominant theme is that society is essentially what people make it, and the individual has the responsibility for choosing who they want to be, and how they will actually engage with society. Society is riddled with human imperfections, but it also contains opportunity. And sometimes, as seen, Brown even found humor in how society carried on.

The Social Contract

There is arguably, in Brown, a certain tacit respect for the social contract. For all that The Power of Sympathy does subvert expectations, it is still, in the final analysis, an unquestionably tragic tale: a young woman is seduced by a young man; they later find out that they are half-siblings, driving her to death from despair and him to suicide in despair at her death. It is a grim plot indeed, and—notably—it comes about as a violation of the social contract. In fact, it is the first of three novels which were released in the same period, all dealing with the themes of a heroine being seduced, falling from virtue, and generally dying—usually while giving birth to an illegitimate child (though not in the case of Brown’s novel). The other two such novels are Charlotte Temple (1791/4) by Susanna Rowson, and The Coquette (1797) by Hannah Webster Foster.[46]

All three of these novels have plots that seem, at first glance, to support the status quo: all three feature heroines who fell tragically and then died. This, surely, constitutes at least a tacit acknowledgement of the social contract as a necessity, something with positive virtues. And yet… Henderson observes that all three of these novels are set up to encourage the reader to mourn a ‘fallen woman’. In other words, all three have as their end, their purpose, holding up the death of a fallen woman as something that should be mourned, something that is tragic. Something, even, that is not simply reducible to the funeral sermon.[47]

For after all, and to Henderson’s point, what is the funeral sermon, if not the final act of the social contract? The deceased is buried in their plot of earth, their corpse enclosed in a coffin, and earth is shoveled on top. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and the last socially-prescribed duty to the deceased is for the clergyman to give the sermon. But no appropriate eulogy can really capture the life of a ‘sinful’ or ‘fallen’ woman. Thus, Brown’s novel is most subversive where it touches upon the social contract.[48]

The way in which Brown consistently cuts down his moralists, like Worthy, is again further evidence of how he really feels about the social contract. Worthy undercuts himself, Worthy even earns Harrington’s scorn for his sermons when he tries to convince Harrington that he should not try to seduce Harriot. In effect, The Power of Sympathy and the other novels that followed in its wake stood as alternatives to the funeral sermon: what Brown and his successors were suggesting was that the social contract, with all of its accompanying morality, was inadequate as it stood. It needed to be rewritten.[49]

And that brings us solidly back to the question of how to read. If proper, moderate reading is reading that enables conversations with one’s books and with one’s friends, then does not moderate reading of thoughtful novels have an important place to play in rewriting the social contract? In The Power of Sympathy, Brown gives us an alternative to the funeral sermon, because the funeral sermon is inadequate for the case he describes. Reading and thoughtfully discussing his novel, and others like it, is the way to realize that the social contract may need to be rewritten and updated for the realities of the day.[50]

Novels, then, have ramifications for the public sphere. They are a part of how people should go about learning new ideas, testing them, and then engaging with them through exchange. Novels need to be opened up to the public sphere, and the public sphere needs to be opened up to novels.[51] By so doing, one can see—what, exactly? What does a fallen woman have anything to do with all of this?

The answer, of course, is absolutely everything. Remember that “reflection,” “judgment,” and “value” are seminal values where Brown is concerned. Now, the conventional narrative, the funeral sermon, is inadequate when it comes to a fallen woman because it must inevitably do one thing or another: it must either dishonestly and disingenuously eulogize her, lying at least by omission of her ‘opprobrious’ deeds, or else it must take them into account and (in effect) censure her as a woman of poor character. Why is this inadequate? That is precisely what Brown wants his readers to ask.

Might there be a better way to commemorate a fallen woman? Might her life, including even an honest accounting of her faults, be something to remember and to mourn the loss of? By challenging assumptions, Brown hopes to show his readership that the answer is Yes, because human beings are, in essence, all worthwhile and all fallen. One is not hard-pressed to see the adaptation of certain conventional Christian ideas here, with the crucial rejection of moralistic judgment. Brown is saying that honesty is important, honesty without moral censure. Moral censure is as bloviating and inane as any other kind of sermonizing.

Brown doubtless chose, not only a fallen woman but a couple who undertook an incestuous romance, precisely because it was so far beyond the pale of what was acceptable in the society of his time. Brown does not tell us not to ‘judge’ in some sense: rather, he urges us to reflect critically and thoughtfully, understand what is of value (perhaps the lives that were lost? The tragedy of a love that could not be fulfilled?), and judge the situation accordingly. Moralistic censure is cheap. Thoughtful, reflective analysis, with the power to be truly sympathetic to the people one is analyzing in such a manner, is positively priceless.

If the social contract is in great need of rewriting and revision, however, it is not beyond redemption. Indeed, such is the purpose of Brown’s project: to provide pointers, seeds of discussion, from which social change can come. If Brown primarily seems to fixate upon the foibles and shortcomings of human nature and the societies people create, this can be seen as a service of a kind, for he always points toward some means of rectification. Moderate reading is a case in point, but so too is the logical alternative to the two great sins of The Power of Sympathy: didactic moralizing, and cheap sentiment-tourism.

After all, what is the logical alternative to didacticism, if not actual sympathy and compassion for another person? If Worthy had spent half the time trying to understand Harrington and his situation that he did piously sermonizing, he would probably have worked wonders for Harrington. He might well have saved Harrington’s life, or even both Harrington and Harriot. True sympathy does not consist of sermonizing, nor is it found in cheap sentimentalism, such as the type in which Harrington indulges. True sympathy entails actually caring about others, and to the degree that individuals actually do this, the social contract will be better as a result.

There is a playful humor surrounding Ira and Isabella, a humor which casts much light on Brown’s more wry, irreverent views on the social contract. The cause of the protagonists’ unhappiness is the revelation that Isabella “is the illegitimate daughter of Ira’s father,” much as Harriot was the illegitimate daughter of Harrington’s.[52] The cause of their joy, however, comes when they learn that Ira, too, is illegitimate: the man he thought was his father, the man who is actually Isabella’s father, is not his father at all! In Fiedler’s memorable words, “and bastards both, they are blissfully united.”[53]

In the final analysis, it might well be questioned whether Brown’s concerns are with the ‘social contract’ as such, or rather with the conduct of individuals. The conduct of individuals is center stage in all of his works. The high society types whom Mrs. Sententious tries to impress are often pretentious, but this is arguably depicted as a consequence of who they are and the fact that they have, by associating with each other, reinforced such tendencies. Mrs. Sententious herself is vain, shallow, and not particularly bright—again, Brown pokes fun at the social contract, but also highlights the responsibility of the individual.

Perhaps it might best be said that Brown’s philosophy is that every individual should make of themselves what they can, by being thoughtful and committing to the use of reason and good judgment. By so doing, individuals can improve themselves and improve those around them. Instead of following the crowd and endorsing the kinds of stupidity that can indeed proliferate in crowds, individuals should be thoughtful, reflective, and willing to break with the crowd when needed.

At the same time, Brown clearly believes in contributing to society. Perhaps this is the most profound social contact-specific message he offers: part of his program for being a thoughtful individual is public discourse, public engagement. By engaging others, the individual can improve themselves in ways that they would not be able to do on their own. And they can do the same for others, thereby leading to an overall enrichment. Such a process of dialog, of interchange of ideas, is absolutely essential if society is to be improved. In the end, this is the way to rewrite, revise, and refashion the social contract as needed.

Brown’s views certainly offer a number of points of comparison with Rousseau’s. Both authors believed in improving upon the social contract for a richer and more productive future. And, too, both emphasized the importance of being a critical and thoughtful thinker, rejecting information saturation and vain, shallow, empty materialism. This is certainly an important point of comparison between them: just as Brown criticized vain, shallow, petty, and materialistic tendencies, so did Rousseau. In fact, Rousseau saw them as the cause and symptom of essentially everything that was wrong with civilization. Thus, both were engaged in projects designed in some way to improve society through critical analysis, reflection, and engagement with ideas, both on one’s own and with others.

However, the similarities largely break down from there. Rousseau critiqued the hierarchical nature of the European societies he saw all around him, contrasting them with the idea of the ‘Noble Savage’. To Rousseau’s mind, what was wrong with society was civilization, civilization built by envy and longing for things. For Europeans to overcome this, they needed to return to the supposed idyll of the ‘state of nature’, which Rousseau believed (erroneously) could be found in so-called ‘primitive’ non-Western cultures of the time.[54]


Brown’s views on education are essentially discernible from his views on reading. Just as reading without using one’s head is the uneducated way to read, so using one’s head in reading is the educated way. Rather than a grandiloquent pronunciation on the virtues of a particular pedagogy, Brown encourages his readers to be, in effect, their own teachers. By reading in a moderate fashion, Brown is telling us, one can acquire the best education of all, because one will be a real agent.

The problem with immoderate reading, recall, is that it does not really allow one to engage with the text. One simply absorbs as much as one is able to. One consequence of this is often over-saturation: people who read immoderately, Brown believed, simply do not absorb it all. Again, the parallel to the data-saturated internet of today is a telling one. To really learn, in other words, one must not bite off more than one can chew.

The other major tendency of immoderate reading that comes in for a fair bit of criticism from Brown is the tendency to become too attached to opinions. Here again the problem is not using one’s head. One who becomes attached to opinions is not thinking rationally and clearly. Those opinions could very easily be incomplete, very easily be wrong. In fact, Brown would encourage us to see, people who have a strong vested interest in convincing us of their opinions no matter what are usually wrong in some regard. People with an emotional stake, people who believe such-and-such and want to make sure everyone else believes it too, these are people one should listen to only with extreme caution.

Again, this returns to the way in which Brown so consistently undermines his moralists and pedants. The very people who are the most full of themselves and sure they are right are so often very, very wrong. Realizing this is a crucial part of one’s education. After all, how else is one supposed to differentiate right from wrong, morally speaking, and good arguments from bad, speaking in terms of debate and argumentation?

Education, then, must be the province of the individual in a certain sense. Brown’s educational philosophy has a heavy emphasis on individual responsibility. It is up to the individual to exercise good sense and think critically. ‘Schooling’ and ‘education’ are clearly two very different things in Brown’s worldview. ‘Schooling’ is immoderate reading, reading without assimilating the information and having a good conversation with it. ‘Education’ is how one actually learns.

But of course, Brown’s educational philosophy is also very supportive of the idea of good conversation. The individual should try to converse with others in order to glean their perspectives. This is generally a good idea all around. For one thing, if a book is of any depth whatsoever, it beggars belief that any individual will find absolutely every single point of merit, or come to every crucial insight, that might be had from it. From this alone it is of much profit to engage with others, to have conversations by way of a sort of collective education, as it were.

A crucial component of any education is the question of what it is all for. Simple: for Brown, the point is to live better and more thoughtfully. Immoderate reading, as previously discussed and established, leads to a preoccupation with material things. Consumerism, Brown is saying, can take over one’s life—even in the 18th century. Another thing that immoderate reading can do is encourage feelings that are too intense. People become too impassioned and opinionated about a certain subject, and then they lose all sense of perspective. They are also often very difficult to convince that they might be wrong.

Going beyond specific points to be made and specific insights to be had, then, such conversation is also of great benefit because it helps people to keep their minds active and limber. This in turn can help them to think critically about other ‘texts’: societal ideas about moral and licentious conduct, for example, and, perhaps, how to interpret the life of someone who displays the latter. Critical engagement with texts enables people to become good at self-reflection as well as reflection on texts. By doing all this, one can come to a much better understanding of one’s self, other people, and the world in which one lives.

Overall, Brown’s ideas on education have some parallels with Rousseau’s ideas about comprehensive education and self-reflection. Indeed, the two thinkers would have found much common ground to agree on, in that neither endorsed an educational system designed to uphold the status quo, or conventional attitudes. Unconventional freethinkers both, Rousseau and Brown thought of education very much in terms of self-improvement.

American Character Identity

Brown was, beyond doubt, a Yankee. Indeed, there is something very American about his outlook: his commitment to critical thought, while not particularly American per se, is nevertheless a clear sign of individualism, an important American cultural value. In his rejection of conventional authority structures, Brown harks back to a fine tradition of thinkers of the American Enlightenment, and stands quite solidly in a literary and cultural tradition of the early Republic. Having won its independence, the new United States was taking on a distinct national identity, and although it would take time for a commitment to many of the old traditions to be replaced by an embrace of new ideas in American society, Brown’s critical engagement with society and the social contract certainly stands in the emergent vein of those new ideas.[55]

During his lifetime, Brown’s main claim to fame was the publication of “Yankee Song,” a decidedly popular poem. The poem was published in the year 1788, as a celebration of Brown’s own state of Massachusetts ratifying the Federal Constitution. The title itself is a reference to “Yankee Doodle,” and the poem itself incorporates the popular refrain. Brown’s patriotic credentials were quite well established with this poem, and it proved very popular indeed over the course of the nineteenth century. For Brown, then, the new United States was something to be celebrated: a country founded on a bold idea of freedom, with a Constitution that enshrined the ideals of the Enlightenment.[56]

Perhaps it is somewhat inevitable that Brown would be an ardent patriot in his own right. A believer in critical thinking, questioning conventional assumptions, and rejecting both moralistic pedantry and cheap sentiment, Brown was well suited to America. His very subversion of readers’ expectations in his novel stands as further attestation of his essential American-ness. Indeed, there is something inextricably American about a man who would write an incest romance as a way of subverting moralistic expectations, and encouraging people to take a second look at ‘fallen’ women.

Outgoing Perspective

Whatever the shortcomings of his work, Brown is a surprisingly insightful author. His works come across, superficially at least, as extremely moralistic. Looking somewhat closer, one can see that Brown consistently ridicules those who need it: the people who most put on airs are invariably found to be the most ridiculous. If this can be a little obvious and unsubtle at times, Brown nonetheless deserves credit for the way in which he so cleverly undercuts his pompous pedants.

There is a strong sense of real morality in Brown’s work, a tremendous humanity that shines through the tales of tragic love lost. In The Power of Sympathy, Brown is engaged in an experiment, an experiment for the sake of—and in the name of—humanity. He aims to show that human beings are far more complex and ambiguous creatures than we like to think, especially when it comes to those ‘certain cases’ that are easy to marginalize. Brown boldly shows that the funeral sermon is inadequate to do justice to the life of a ‘fallen woman’, because it cannot honestly capture the dimensions of the human heart. Something else is needed, some other way of answering the question, asked at the end of every life, What is it all for?, and Brown gives us his answer.

There is also a wry sense of humor in Brown’s work. There is something quite funny in how profoundly pathetic his moralists are made to look at times. Human foibles and hypocrisy are put on display, but not in a vicious or condescending way. Brown attempts to use a bit of wry humor to encourage his readers to critically examine not only his work, but the broader society in which they live. This is easily the greatest legacy he has left: his surprising thoughtfulness.


Brown, William H. The Power of Sympathy. Lawrence, KS:, 2011.

Cmiel, Kenneth. Democratic Eloquence: The Fight over Popular Speech in Nineteenth-Century America. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1990.

Cooper, Laurence. Rousseau, Nature, and the Problem of the Good Life. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University, 1999.

Davidson, Cathy N. “The Power of Sympathy Reconsidered: William Hill Brown as Literary Craftsman.” Early American Literature 10, no. 1. (1975): 14-29. DOI: 10.2307-25070704

Dill, Elizabeth “That Damned Mob of Scribbling Siblings: The American Romance as Anti-Novel in The  Power of Sympathy and Pierre.” American Literature: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography 80, no. 4. (2008): 707-738. DOI: 10.1215/00029831-2008-036

ENotes. “William Hill Brown 1765-1793.”,

Fiedler, Leslie A. Love and Death in the American Novel, 1960. Champaign, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 2003.

Haberman, Robb K. Periodical Publics: Magazines and Literary Networks in Post-Revolutionary America. Ann Arbor, MI: ProQuest LLC, 2009.

Henderson, Desirée. Grief and Genre in American Literature, 1790-1870. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2011.

Kennedy, Michael V., and William G. Shade, eds. The World Turned Upside-down: The State of Eighteenth-Century American Studies at the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century. Danvers, MA: Rosemont Publishing & Printing Corp., 2001.

LaFreniere, Gilbert F. The Decline of Nature: Environmental History and the Western Worldview. Palo Alto, CA: Academica Press, LLC, 2008.

Martin, Terence “William Hill Brown’s Ira and Isabella.” The New England Quarterly 32, no. 2. (1959): 238-242.

Millner, Michael. Fever Reading: Affect and Reading Badly in the Early American Public Sphere. Lebanon, NH: University of New Hampshire Press, 2012.

Orwin, Clifford and Nathan Turcov, eds. The Legacy of Rousseau. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Scheiding, Oliver. “Towards a Theory of Aesthetic Effect: William Hill Brown’s The Power of Sympathy.” Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities,

Soni, Vivasvan “The Tragedies of Sentimentalism: Privatizing Happiness in the Eighteenth Century.” In Individualism: The Cultural Logic of Modernity, ed. Zubin Meer. 139-164. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2011.

[1] Leslie A. Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel, 1960 (Champaign, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 2003), 122-123.

[2] Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel, 123.

[3] Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel, 123.

[4] William H. Brown, The Power of Sympathy (Lawrence, KS:, 2011), 51.

[5] Brown, The Power of Sympathy, 51-52.

[6] Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel, 122-123.

[7] Brown, The Power of Sympathy, 65; Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel, 123.

[8] Qtd. in Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel, 123.

[9] Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel, 123.

[10] Gilbert F. LaFreniere, The Decline of Nature: Environmental History and the Western Worldview (Palo Alto, CA: Academica Press, LLC, 2008), 185-187.

[11] Cathy N. Davidson, “The Power of Sympathy Reconsidered: William Hill Brown as Literary Craftsman,” Early American Literature 10, no. 1 (1975): 14-15. DOI: 10.2307-25070704

[12] Davidson, “The Power of Sympathy Reconsidered,” 15.

[13] Qtd. in Davidson, “The Power of Sympathy Reconsidered,” 15, emph. added.

[14] Davidson, “The Power of Sympathy Reconsidered,” 15.

[15] Davidson, “The Power of Sympathy Reconsidered,” 15.

[16] Davidson, “The Power of Sympathy Reconsidered,” 16.

[17] Davidson, “The Power of Sympathy Reconsidered,” 16.

[18] Davidson, “The Power of Sympathy Reconsidered,” 16.

[19] Davidson, “The Power of Sympathy Reconsidered,” 17.

[20] Qtd. in Davidson, “The Power of Sympathy Reconsidered,” 17.

[21] Davidson, “The Power of Sympathy Reconsidered,” 17.

[22] Davidson, “The Power of Sympathy Reconsidered,” 18.

[23] Kenneth Cmiel, Democratic Eloquence: The Fight over Popular Speech in Nineteenth-Century America (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1990), 42.

[24] Cmiel, Democratic Eloquence, 42.

[25] Cmiel, Democratic Eloquence, 42.

[26] Brown, The Power of Sympathy, 51.

[27] Brown, The Power of Sympathy, 51.

[28] Brown, The Power of Sympathy, 51.

[29] Vivasvan Soni, “The Tragedies of Sentimentalism: Privatizing Happiness in the Eighteenth Century,” in Individualism: The Cultural Logic of Modernity, ed. Zubin Meer (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2011), 150.

[30] Brown, The Power of Sympathy, 51.

[31] Laurence Cooper, Rousseau, Nature, and the Problem of the Good Life (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University, 1999), 120-123; 130-133; 151-155.

[32] Michael V. Kennedy and William G. Shade, eds., The World Turned Upside-down: The State of Eighteenth-Century American Studies at the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century (Danvers, MA: Rosemont Publishing & Printing Corp., 2001), 177.

[33] Kennedy and Shade, The World Turned Upside-down, 177.

[34] Kennedy and Shade, The World Turned Upside-down, 177.

[35] Robb K. Haberman, Periodical Publics: Magazines and Literary Networks in Post-Revolutionary America (Ann Arbor, MI: ProQuest LLC, 2009), 166.

[36] Elizabeth Dill, “That Damned Mob of Scribbling Siblings: The American Romance as Anti-Novel in The Power of Sympathy and Pierre,” American Literature: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography 80, no. 4 (2008): 708. DOI: 10.1215/00029831-2008-036.

[37] Davidson, “The Power of Sympathy Reconsidered,” 18.

[38] Oliver Scheiding, “Towards a Theory of Aesthetic Effect: William Hill Brown’s The Power of Sympathy,” Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities,

[39] Scheiding, “Towards a Theory of Aesthetic Effect.”

[40] Terence Martin, “William Hill Brown’s Ira and Isabella,” The New England Quarterly 32, no. 2 (1959): 238.

[41] Martin, “William Hill Brown’s Ira and Isabella,” 238-242.

[42] Michael Millner, Fever Reading: Affect and Reading Badly in the Early American Public Sphere (Lebanon, NH: University of New Hampshire Press, 2012), n.p.

[43] Qtd. in Millner, Fever Reading.

[44] Millner, Fever Reading.

[45] Millner, Fever Reading.

[46] Desirée Henderson, Grief and Genre in American Literature, 1790-1870 (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2011), 32-33.

[47] Henderson, Grief and Genre in American Literature, 32-33.

[48] Henderson, Grief and Genre in American Literature, 32-33.

[49] Henderson, Grief and Genre in American Literature, 32-33.

[50] Millner, Fever Reading.

[51] Millner, Fever Reading.

[52] Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel, 125.

[53] Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel, 125.

[54] Clifford Orwin and Nathan Turcov, eds., The Legacy of Rousseau (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 100.

[55] eNotes, “William Hill Brown 1765-1793,”,

[56] eNotes, “William Hill Brown 1765-1793,”

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