“The Man at Home” Series (1789)

Spring 2020 – Just Teach One, no. 17
Text prepared by Duncan Faherty (Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center) and Ed White (Tulane University)

View PDF


From Weekly Magazine, Feb. 10, 1798The following text is a series of periodical sketches published by Charles Brockden Brown in early 1798. Because of the series’ discussion of isolation and epidemic, we have quickly pulled together the following transcription for use as universities in many parts of the world end face-to-face instruction and shift to “social isolation.” We hope to have a fully-annotated and introduced edition prepared for the fall semester. The following transcription was prepared by Ed White and Michael Drexler (Bucknell) for a “Roundtable on the Canon” at the Sixth Biennial Conference of the Charles Brockden Brown Society, held at Technische Universität Dresden in October, 2008. The original text was at that time generously provided by the Charles Brockden Brown Electronic Archive and Scholarly Edition, and the CBBEASE has allowed us to present the text again. A scholarly edition of the text will appear in 2021 in volume 2 of Collected Writings of CBB (Bucknell UP), The Monthly Magazine and Other Writings, 1789-1802, edited by Matthew Pethers, Leonard Von Morze, and Hilary Emmett. Further information about the CBB edition project can be found at https://brockdenbrown.cah.ucf.edu/ .

Suggestions for Further Readings

We offer here a short list of related readings, and given the temporary closure of many university libraries’ stacks, have provided links to electronic copies.

Alan Axelrod’s Charles Brockden Brown: An American Tale (1983) suggests that the narrator of “The Man at Home” may be “border[ing] on insanity” (109); the text also demonstrates that “one’s life is no longer one’s own,” in a complex society, but is “contingent upon the actions of others” (143). Axelrod also insists that the fever epidemic must be read metaphorically, noting for instance that the narrator is “infected” by another’s debts (157). See on Google books.

Steven Watts, in 1994’s The Romance of Real Life, described the pieces as a “critique of a society on the make” (65), and reflective of Brown’s concern with economic matters (66). The pieces themselves, according to Watts, were part “fiction, part essay,” with a characteristically “rambling plot” (66). See on Google books.

In the essay “Fictional Feeling: Philosophy, Cognitive Science, and the American Gothic,” James Dawes situated “The Man at Home” among Brown’s experimental explorations of the link between the physiological, the affective, and the cognitive. In this context, the Baxter story in particular suggested the problem of how events exert physiological force, even if unreal, because we believe those events are real (453). Dawes moves quickly to what he finds the more interesting problem articulated in Arthur Mervyn, in which things in which we actively do not believe also exert physiological force or influence. See Dawes, “Fictional Feeling: Philosophy, Cognitive Science, and the American Gothic.” American Literature, 76.3 (2004), 437-466.

In their introduction to their edition of Arthur Mervyn; or, Memoirs of the Year 1793, Philip Barnard & Stephen Shapiro provide deeply researched historical, biographical, and contextual CBB’s “Man at Home” 2 information about Brown’s life and career. In particular they detail how, “Brown’s interrelated fever narratives, all from 1798– 1799,” (including “The Man at Home” series and the novels Arthur Mervyn and Ormond) draw on his 1798 experience of living though a yellow fever epidemic. Barnard and Shapiro have made this introduction freely accessible and it can be found here.

Finally, in one of the few pieces of scholarship to exclusively consider “The Man at Home,” Joseph J. Letter argues that the series should be considered as “a performative vehicle,” one in which Brown “articulates an alternate space-time, one that gradually reveals links between present and past” (711). For Letter, the series exemplifies the “theory of historical fiction that Brown would later distinguish as ‘romance,’ and equally important, suggests a relation between writer and reader that demands imaginative engagement as a prelude to collective action” (711). See Letter, “Charles Brockden Brown’s Lazaretto Chronotope Series: Secret History and ‘The Man at Home.’” Early American Literature, 50.3 (2015), 711–735.