Portrait of Charles Brockden Brown by his friend William Dunlap, 1806. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. 

Mirrors of the Age: Literary Representations and the Making of an American Public, 1794-1810

Notes and resources for a paper prepared for delivery at "From the Mayflower to Silicon Valley: Tools and Traditions in American Intellectual History," the 2016 conference of the Society for U.S. Intellectual History. The paper was part of Panel 10: Literary Intellectuals as Public Intellectuals: From the Friendly Club to Greenwich Village to the "Female’"School of Deconstruction (with Patrick Redding and Gregory Jones-Katz, and Catherine O'Donnell as chair and commentator). Note: Unfortunately, the panel had to be canceled. This webpage companion is available temporarily for the convenience of conference attendees and other interested parties.

On This Page:

Locations  |  Characters  |  Scenes and Manners in Print  |  Primary Sources  |  Secondary Sources


Major Locations


Selected Characters

British Writers:

Friendly Club Members:


Scenes and Manners in Print

  Figure: Appearances of "Scenes and Manners" or "Manners and Scenes" in Print, 1785-1849

Figure: Appearances of "Scenes and Manners" or "Manners and Scenes" in Print, 1785-1849

For a full table of appearances in English-language print between the 1790s and 1840s, with notes on sources, see this project page.


Selected Primary Sources

William Godwin:

  • "Essay of History and Romance," 1797, in Political and Philosophical Writings of William Godwin: Educational and Literary Writings, ed. Pamela Clemit, vol. V (London: William Pickering, 1993). A plaintext transcript is available online.
Recommends the study of individuals as "an object of the highest importance," and not only the study of their public actions. When encountering a particularly great person, "I am not contented to observe such a man upon the public stage, I would follow him into his closet. I would see the friend and the father of a family, as well as the patriot," and "I should rejoice to have, or to be enabled to make, if that were possible, a journal of his ordinary and minutest actions." Because of the limitations of surviving records, this implies "the noblest and most excellent species of history" is "historical romance"—"a composition in which, with a scanty substratum of facts and dates, the writer interweaves a number of happy, ingenious and instructive inventions, blending them into one continuous and indiscernible mass."

Charles Brockden Brown:

  • "Plan of a New Work Entitled The American Register." New York Evening Post (Jan. 14, 1807), 4. Pictured right (click to enlarge) thanks to scans available here.
Prospectus. Refers to the American Register as "a complete mirror of the age," reflecting not only "those matters which may be considered as wholly of a national or public nature," but also "all those memorable events which happen in private life, but which are justly thought deserving of public curiosity" because they "reflect a strong light upon the actual condition of society and manners."

Selected Secondary Sources

History, Fiction, and/or Representation in Print:

(Note also the following accessible discussion of Brown, Godwin, and their contemporaries' debates over the truth-telling value of fiction)

William Godwin:

The Friendly Club:

Charles Brockden Brown: