American Sympathy

American Sympathy: Men, Friendship, and Literature in the New Nation

Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    American Sympathy
    Book Description:

    "A friend in history," Henry David Thoreau once wrote, "looks like some premature soul." And in the history of friendship in early America, Caleb Crain sees the soul of the nation's literature.In a sensitive analysis that weaves together literary criticism and historical narrative, Crain describes the strong friendships between men that supported and inspired some of America's greatest writing--the Gothic novels of Charles Brockden Brown, the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the novels of Herman Melville. He traces the genealogy of these friendships through a series of stories. A dapper English spy inspires a Quaker boy to run away from home. Three Philadelphia gentlemen conduct a romance through diaries and letters in the 1780s. Flighty teenager Charles Brockden Brown metamorphoses into a horror novelist by treating his friends as his literary guinea pigs. Emerson exchanges glances with a Harvard classmate but sacrifices his crush on the altar of literature--a decision Margaret Fuller invites him to reconsider two decades later. Throughout this engaging book, Crain demonstrates the many ways in which the struggle to commit feelings to paper informed the shape and texture of American literature.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13367-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: The Ghost of André
    (pp. 1-15)

    In Washington Irving’s tale “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” the Headless Horseman is said to be the ghost of a Hessian soldier decapitated by an American cannon during the Revolutionary War. He may, however, be no more than a virile young prankster with a cape and a pumpkin. Terror or irony: Irving leaves it for the reader to decide. In either case, the Headless Horseman corresponds to the animal part of human nature. He is a body. Irving’s antihero, the schoolteacher Ichabod Crane, has read too much Cotton Mather, and the Headless Horseman is what comes back to haunt the...

  5. 1 In the Pear Grove: The Romance of Leander, Lorenzo, and Castalio
    (pp. 16-52)

    On 1 August 1786, a Princeton undergraduate wrote of his twentyseven-year-old friend, “After recitation [I] went to Leander—he gave me a hair ribbon and I promised to sleep with him to night.”¹ More than two centuries later, it is hard to read this diary entry without either pooh-poohing or exaggerating its hint of sex. On the one hand, it might mean very little. After all, in the late eighteenth century, male friends often shared a bed, and many gentlemen were fastidious about their personal appearance. On the other hand, the entry must mean something. It does show a man...

  6. 2 The Decomposition of Charles Brockden Brown: Sympathy in Brown’s Letters
    (pp. 53-97)

    In Philadelphia in 1787, while John Mifflin was keeping his diary, a sixteen-year-old boy named Charles Brockden Brown finished his studies at Robert Proud’s Friends Latin School and was apprenticed to Alexander Wilcocks to study law. Like the Norrises and the Gibsons, the Browns were Quakers, but their status in society was lower, and their finances were often precarious. Charles’s father, Elijah Brown, had been arrested as a profiteer during the Revolutionary War and jailed for debt in 1784. The family indulged young Charles with a first-class education because they expected great things of him.¹

    Brown began his legal career...

  7. 3 The Transformation, the Self Devoted, and the Dead Recalled: Sympathy in Brown’s Fiction
    (pp. 98-147)

    Charles Brockden Brown spent the autumn of 1797 incommunicado in Philadelphia. He was writing “something in the form of a Romance.” In September, Elihu Hubbard Smith begged for details, but Brown would offer none; he would not even say whether he was reviving an old project or launching a brand-new one. Months passed, and Brown’s New York friends heard no news. On 30 November 1797, Smith mailed Brown a one-line reproach: “Charles! are you dead?”¹

    Brown finished his manuscript on the last day of 1797. For the first time, he had written a novel all the way to its conclusion....

  8. 4 The Unacknowledged Tie: Young Emerson and the Love of Men
    (pp. 148-176)

    In 1840, Alexis de Tocqueville noticed that Americans were Cartesian in all but name. “Everyone shuts himself up tightly within himself,” Tocqueville observed, “and insists upon judging the world from there.” This near solipsism was first articulated as a philosophy by Descartes, Tocqueville explained, offering the unscholarly Americans a footnote to themselves. Now, in the young United States, it appeared that social conditions had conspired to make the French philosopher’s radical skepticism practical and relevant. Thanks to the rough parity of economic and political power that obtained here, no citizen was obliged to trust any other citizen. Everyone was free...

  9. 5 Too Good to Be Believed: Emerson’s “Friendship” and the Samaritans
    (pp. 177-237)

    Two days before Christmas, 1839, Emerson found himself returning to a bundle of letters that upset and discontented him. He confessed to Margaret Fuller that rereading the bundle led to an outburst: “I have read through a second time today the entire contents of the brown paper parcel and startled my mother & my wife when I went into the dining room with the declaration that I wished to live a little while with people who love & hate, who have Muses & Furies, and in a twelvemonth I should write tragedies & romance.”¹ No doubt Ruth and Lidian Emerson...

  10. 6 The Heart Ruled Out: Melville’s Palinode
    (pp. 238-270)

    “Each man kills the thing he loves,” Oscar Wilde wrote in “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.”¹ It is easy to pardon the sentimentality. Wilde’s impulse, after all, was generous. He was forgiving all killers whose crimes were of passion—an absolution that no doubt included Wilde’s own “killer,” his lover Alfred Douglas, who in pushing Wilde into the courts may have been more concerned with spiting his father than with Wilde’s well-being. The self-pity of the line was hyperbolic, but the hyperbole is excusable, considering that Great Britain committed a much worse offense, injustice, when it jailed Wilde for his...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 271-305)
  12. Index
    (pp. 306-310)