Liberty of the Imagination: Aesthetic Theory, Literary Form, and Politics in the Early United States 9780812206197

Liberty of the Imagination reveals the powerful impact of eighteenth-century theories of the imagination on American wri

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Liberty of the Imagination: Aesthetic Theory, Literary Form, and Politics in the Early United States

Table of contents :
1. Ingenious Disquisition and Controversy
2. Poetry, Pleasure, and the Revolution
3. The Beautiful and Sublime Objects of Landscape Writing
4. Taste, Ratification, and Republican Form in The Federalist
5. The Novel, the Imagination, and Charles Brockden Brown’s Aesthetic State
6. Federalist Criticism and the Power of Genius
List of Abbreviations

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Liberty of the Imagination

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LIBERTY OF THE IMAGINATION Aesthetic Theory, Literary Form, and Politics in the Early United States


universit y of pennsylvania press phil adelphia

Copyright © 2012 University of Pennsylvania Press All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations used for purposes of review or scholarly citation, none of this book may be reproduced in any form by any means without written permission from the publisher. Published by University of Pennsylvania Press Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-4112 Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper

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A Cataloging-in-Publication record is available from the Library of Congress isbn 978-0-8122-4412-0




1. Ingenious Disquisition and Controversy


2. Poetry, Pleasure, and the Revolution


3. The Beautiful and Sublime Objects of Landscape Writing


4. Taste, Ratification, and Republican Form in The Federalist


5. The Novel, the Imagination, and Charles Brockden Brown’s Aesthetic State


6. Federalist Criticism and the Power of Genius




List of Abbreviations










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[A] little formalism turns one away from history, but . . . a lot brings one back to it. —Roland Barthes, Mythologies1

Early U.S. literary culture speaks the philosophical language of the imagination fluently and vociferously. Despite the extraordinary political demands of the day, literary texts of all kinds invoke the concepts of aesthetic theory with erudition and persistence. Poetry explores the morality of pleasure and the creative powers of the mind. Natural history writing describes the beautiful, sublime, and picturesque forms of the American landscape. Political writing apprehends the beauties of republican government through the rhetoric of taste and artistic representation. Novels portray the conflicts of the imagination and the trials of sensibility. Literary criticism debates the claims of genius and taste and the priorities of literary culture. In newspapers and magazines, commonplace books and memoirs, sermons and moral tracts, private correspondence and polite conversation—in nearly every genre and medium of expression, the rhetoric of aesthetic theory is ubiquitous and insistent. As a grammar of mental experience, it gives recognizable meaning to its various objects, be they of the mind, the heart, the people, or the state. Thus, in recounting that the new nation “offered a curious subject for philosophical contemplation,” David Humphreys, in the 1804 preface to his Poem on the Happiness of America (1786), insists on the centrality of the imagination to Revolutionary American writers: “Our minds, imperceptibly impressed with the novelty, beauty, or sublimity of surrounding objects, gave energy to the language which expressed our sensations.”2 Humphreys’s use of Joseph Addison’s aesthetic categories, first articulated in his Spectator



essays “On the Pleasures of the Imagination” (1712), registers both his debt to a British intellectual tradition and his own intellectual preparation for the experience his poem describes. But it also specifies the nature of the linguistic “energy” that connects aesthetic feeling to textual representation and literary form. “Novelty,” “beauty,” and “sublimity” are more than watchwords of literary refinement. Rather, they point to a set of key assumptions about the imagination, its literary powers, and their vital relation to the “surrounding objects” of nature, society, and politics. This book is about those assumptions and the ways in which they have shaped early American literature. Scholars in the field have paid little sustained attention to the language of aesthetic theory. Although it claims to define the very foundation of literary production and reception, many have taken it for granted as a relatively meaningless mode of formal gesture. In this way, we have made a double mistake. First, we have understood rhetoric like Humphreys’s to be merely derivative of the European literary culture in which it originated and was authoritatively used and, therefore, fundamentally foreign to the contexts of American culture. According to this view, to invoke Addison’s categories is merely to ape British literature and to impose a genteel tradition on a republican, commercially minded society. At the same time, we have understood the language of aesthetics—even when used by European writers—as an indulgent vocabulary of privilege whose rococo formulations were suspect in their own time and have since been rejected for their rhetorical abstraction and inherent exclusion. Thus, we have seen in words like Humphreys’s not argument but ornamentation, a polite performance without substance, both unworthy of critical attention and implicitly guilty of elitism. By slighting aesthetic theory as either imitative or complicit, we have deemed some of the most important theoretical ideas about art and aesthetic experience in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century American culture irrelevant to our study of that period’s literature. When we look closely at this tradition and explore the history of its development, however, a complex relation of ideas, politics, and form emerges with astonishing clarity. Liberty of the Imagination demonstrates that American writers of the Revolution and the early republic were not too busy with nation building or too ambivalent about the imagination to theorize its powers. Indeed, ideas about pleasure, fancy, association, taste, genius, beauty, and sublimity permeated literary culture. Educated Americans read about, reflected upon, discussed, and debated such ideas with remarkable frequency and intensity. They encountered them in British rhetoric text-



books, moral philosophy treatises, and literary criticism; they discussed them in college classrooms and salon conversations; they wrote critically about them in domestic magazine and newspaper essays; they invoked them in their poems, novels, and other literary productions; and they used them to frame important political debates during the colonial crisis, the Revolution, Constitutional ratification, and the advent of Jeffersonian democracy. Like Humphreys, they turned to aesthetic ideas to describe natural landscapes, art objects, social formations, and political institutions. For writers like Fisher Ames, William Bartram, Charles Brockden Brown, J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, Joseph Dennie, Timothy Dwight, Elizabeth Fergusson, Philip Freneau, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Trumbull, Mercy Otis Warren, and Phillis Wheatley, such ideas were central to the political and cultural development of the British colonies, the new American states, and the emerging nation. They offered a means of understanding, advocating, and regulating the pleasures of the imagination for a society increasingly determined to claim its share of sensibility in a transatlantic literary culture. But they also provided a means of articulating notions of liberty, equality, virtue, community, and difference during a time of political revolution and social improvisation. To speak of aesthetic theory in eighteenth-century America is necessarily anachronistic. Alexander Baumgarten’s appropriation of the word “aesthetic” in 1750 as a rubric for philosophical questions of taste had no currency in English until the nineteenth century. But it is nonetheless a useful placeholder for an otherwise diverse constellation of concepts similarly concerned with discovering truth in pleasure, emotion, and non-rational modes of knowledge. Sometimes called “philosophical criticism” or “criticism of taste,” eighteenth-century aesthetic theory relates to ideas of sensation, perception, pleasure, fancy, imagination, beauty, sublimity, the picturesque, taste, judgment, genius, criticism, belles lettres, art, eloquence, passion, emotion, sympathy, sentiment, sensibility, sensus communis, and other modes, forms, and objects of affect, epistemology, and ethics. If such ideas are bound together by their central reference to the imagination, they are also united in their common interest in connecting the mind with the world around it. They comprehend the relationship between subjects and objects, the particular and the universal, the material and the ideal, and the individual and the collective. Although they derive variously from the fields of moral philosophy, rhetoric, the fine arts, journalism, theology, political economy, and medicine, these ideas cannot be understood to exist in any symmetrical or linear



relation. Rather, they constitute an elaborate and shifting web of affiliation, attracting, opposing, and impinging on one another in both predictable and unexpected ways.3 With such diversity and range, aesthetic theory was an innovative source of explanatory power and social cohesion. It justified virtue and benevolence, imposed order on unruly nature, shored up the vulnerability of reason, gave legitimacy to forms of pleasure and desire, and raised art and literature to the highest status. By specifying the mechanics of human thought and social interaction, it also clarified the moral foundation of families, communities, nations, and empires. Theories of beauty and sublimity privileged the vagaries of private feeling but also subordinated bodily pleasures to mental ones, provided a common vocabulary of sensibility, and inspired socially binding programs of cultivation and improvement. Theories of genius celebrated the creative powers of individuals while linking them to the common capacities of the human mind. Theories of taste imposed an idea of universality on the otherwise intractable variety of pleasures and preferences, while creating a supple discourse of distinction. In these and other ways, aesthetic theory generated new conceptions of self and society whose authority was based not in coercive political power but in qualities of mind and habits of cultural practice. By elaborating the pleasures of the imagination, it both exalted the uniqueness of individual subjects and connected them to a like-minded community of perceivers.4 As a philosophical discourse, however, aesthetic theory struggled against its own premises, claims, and implications. Rhetorically, we see this in ruptures between ideas of aesthetic disinterestedness and the insistence of interested pleasure, and between lofty claims of universality and a practical tendency toward exclusivity. But philosophically, we also see it in the phenomenological gap between aesthetic subjects and aesthetic objects whose uncertain topography was the persistent dilemma of eighteenth-century theorists. In connecting beauty and sublimity with the formal qualities of objects, for example, these writers gain the moral assurance of the imagination’s universality but at the cost of the specificity of the perceiving subject. Conversely, in locating the source of beauty and sublimity in the imagination of the perceiver, they elevate the moral status of aesthetic perception and invention while leaving the imagination vulnerable to the moral hazard of its radical autonomy. For these reasons, aesthetic theory was fundamentally contradictory. Addison’s pleasures of the imagination rise above bodily sensation to denote an infinite “Faculty of the Soul,” even as he discovers their



efficacy in the regulatory logic of virtuous moderation.5 The concept of taste articulated by David Hume, Alexander Gerard, and Edmund Burke promises to unite the judgments of all sensible subjects, but this totalizing imperative renders it less capable of particularizing the pleasures of the imagination that made taste seem so necessary in the first place. The association of ideas advanced by David Hartley, Lord Kames, and Thomas Reid gives order to the processes of the imagination, but in revealing the complexity of aesthetic subjectivity it all too clearly spells out the likelihood of their disorder. In this way, aesthetic theory’s contradictory nature continually threatens to undo its syntheses and makes it a problem always in need of a solution. Yet it is precisely the problems of aesthetic theory that made it such an incisive means of thinking about the problems of American society and politics. For at its heart lies a language of liberty, a persistent expression not only of individuality, autonomy, and agency but also their necessary limits. Ideas about the imagination emphasize what Hume calls “liberty of the imagination”—the mind’s innate and vigorous capacity for creating associative chains of images and ideas—as well as the dangers of its excess, the moral need to constrain such excess, and the opposition between liberty and the power of such constraint.6 This dialectic of liberty in aesthetic theory offered American writers a rich critical vocabulary for articulating the imperatives and challenges of political liberty and, thus, for confronting the social contradictions of Revolutionary and early national culture. By invoking models of virtuous pleasure and regulated imagination, they constructed and experimented with ideal proportions of liberty and constraint. But they also interrogated such ideas as a means of comprehending the pressures of revolution, constitution-making, and nation-formation, the conflicts of class, race, and gender, and the vicissitudes of political life in a republic. Until recently, scholars have been somewhat reluctant to explore the significance of aesthetic theory in early U.S. literary culture. In the 1980s, the poststructuralist critique of aesthetics understood it as a mere prop of bourgeois hegemony and its fictions of autonomous subjecthood. Pierre Bourdieu, for example, calls the “aesthetic disposition”—the highly rarified mode of disinterested aesthetic consumption—an ideological strategy of the elite classes, the only means they have of distinguishing art from commodities in an otherwise commodified world.7 For Barbara HernnsteinSmith, too, the concept of aesthetic value is “axiological” because it defines a universal realm of value as consisting of particular values that, through the discourse of taste, are realized as universal.8 Such arguments taught a genera-



tion of scholars that critical attention to form and pleasure could only come at the expense of historical and political specificity.9 As a result, by redefining our own critical values, we lost sight of the values of earlier literary cultures. Cultural paradigms that were once the chief concerns of authors—pleasures of the imagination, judgments of taste, powers of genius—were neglected as merely decorative expressions whose relevance to literary study faded with the privilege they once both upheld and disguised. In learning to interpret the political unconscious of literary texts, we became less conscious of the aesthetic ideas in which they are so often grounded. In historicizing literary culture beyond facile claims about the power of art, we ceased to historicize the claims of art at all. Indeed, in learning to be wary of aesthetic judgments, we learned to assume an opposition between aesthetics and historicism.10 In the 1990s, however, a movement in literary studies offered to “reclaim the aesthetic,” as George Levine puts it, with a counter-critique dedicated in various ways to a historicized, politically sensitive, even progressive idea of aesthetics.11 Isobel Armstrong argues for the “uncoupling of the aesthetic and privilege” and attention to the radical potential of art and imagination.12 Likewise, Peter Brooks and Elaine Scarry insist that, despite its bourgeois history, aesthetics plays valuable roles in culture, such as enabling hermeneutic pedagogy and inspiring social justice.13 Such arguments assume not only that aesthetics is a basic human need and practice, but also that it is central to the mechanisms of democratic culture and inherently committed to ideas of openness, negotiation, interpretation, and play. If aesthetics sometimes obscures politics and power, these critics suggest, it also helps us to see how they work, how they change over time, and how they might be improved. This more capacious idea of aesthetics is, in fact, more consistent with its own contradictory nature, what Terry Eagleton calls its “radically doubleedged” commitment to both discipline and emancipation. For Eagleton, aesthetics is both an elite discourse of pleasure and a form of knowledge rooted in the body. It functions as both “an isolated enclave within which the dominant social order can find idealized refuge from its own actual values of competitiveness, exploitation, and material possessiveness” and a libratory discourse originating in a bourgeois critique of absolutist power.14 Accordingly, it implies both a flight from history and a substantive particularization of it. Its rhetoric of disinterested pleasure and hierarchical regimes of sensibility authorize political authority and social inequality, to be sure, but they also enable profound insights into the nature of political and social experience.



Since the 1990s, scholars of British literature have brought illuminating historicist perspectives to the rhetoric of eighteenth-century aesthetic theory.15 In American literary studies of the period, the aesthetic turn has moved at a slower pace, but a number of useful interventions have laid a strong critical foundation. Cultural histories of eloquence and oratory, politeness and belles lettres, sympathy and sensibility, and art and taste have affirmed the relevance of aesthetic discourse to Revolutionary and early national literature, finding its most significant expressions in oratorical performance and the sentimental novel.16 Such histories have also charted the domestication of aesthetic theory to the uses of national politics and to questions of class, race, and gender. They have demonstrated how aesthetics sought simultaneously to naturalize elite politics and give voice to marginalized political subjects, how it offered both a reprieve from the demands of democracy and an ideal of political community. In this way, they have reoriented our critical priorities toward rhetorically rich but under-examined structures of feeling and given us provocative answers to David S. Shields’s instructive prompting: “What literature would be brought to life if one studied pleasure as a mode of power?”17 Liberty of the Imagination is indebted to this work and builds on it in a number of ways. Above all, it is grounded methodologically in intellectual rather than cultural history. It recovers a world in which ideas mattered as ideas, in which writers did not merely translate them into cultural practice but understood them self-consciously as philosophical constructions and objects of debate whose significance was fundamental to wisdom and virtue. For this reason, it avoids making any general assumptions about the currency of aesthetic theory for American writers. Instead, it substantiates an analytical focus on the significance of specific theoretical categories by elaborating the breadth and depth of their reception and circulation in significant domains of print culture: college curricula, book importing and reprinting, and periodical criticism (Chapter 1). It also looks beyond single aesthetic traditions by exploring a wide array of ideas and the dynamic relations between them, for it assumes that only in the context of such relations are their meanings fully realized.18 To focus exclusively on the idea of sympathy, for example, is to ignore the closely related ideas of imagination, taste, and beauty. Critics of the early American novel who emphasize sympathy as its primary aesthetic category thus tend to confine the novel’s aesthetic concerns to social passions and the act of imagination to imagining other people. But accounting for the circulation of aesthetic ideas also demands that we look



beyond the claims of an individual aesthetic theorist or text, such as Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry or Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments. Readers and writers rarely responded to single aesthetic models; their views and representations invariably emerged from exposure to a variety of ideas, always in conversation, often competing, and sometimes incomplete or distorted. Accordingly, this book explores the ideas of an extensive range of aesthetic philosophers and critics: not only Addison, Burke, Gerard, Hartley, Hume, Kames, and Reid, but also Archibald Alison, Hugh Blair, William Gilpin, William Hogarth, Francis Hutcheson, Joshua Reynolds, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, August Wilhelm Schlegel, the Earl of Shaftesbury, Adam Smith, Dugald Stewart, and many others. It also explores the political valences of these ideas without assuming that they are definitively liberal or conservative.19 Literary scholars engaged with the politics of aesthetics have argued largely by analogy, seeing in invocations of imagination, feeling, and form corresponding ideas of political power. Alternatively, this book argues that the politics of aesthetic theory is inherent in the language of its rhetoric. Its dialectical conception of the imagination comprehends the tensions between liberty and constraint that structure aesthetic theory’s main concepts and debates. It thus sees aesthetics and politics as linked more by homology than analogy, bearing not only a structural resemblance but also an intimate and original discursive relation (Chapter 1). As a result, its analyses discover in literary texts a politics that is more nuanced than definitive, alternately liberal and conservative, democratic and elitist; but it also finds that such terms often fail to describe the complex political identifications of many authors or works. This approach allows me, for example, to explore the consensual rhetoric of The Federalist without dismissing it as a merely hegemonic project of political domination, or to read in the aesthetic practices of Brown’s Wieland family or in Dennie’s disdain for democracy not merely guilty elitism but also highly wrought idealism. By focusing on the contradictions inherent in aesthetic theory, that is, I aim to shed new light on the contradictions of early U.S. political culture. The literary significance of aesthetic theory, however, extends beyond politics and intellectual history to matters of genre and form, both of which this book foregrounds in its organization and analyses.20 It assumes that the representation of aesthetic ideas depends on the conventions of literary language and that specific literary genres tend to engage with specific aesthetic categories and express specific political concerns.21 But it also explores how the discursive tensions within and across aesthetic categories alert us to



the rhetorical patterns and formal energies of the genres in which they are represented. Ideas of pleasure in Revolutionary poetry help us to locate its divided moral, epistemological, and political priorities, while accounting for its dramatic tone and cautious meter, sudden reversals and monotonous diction (Chapter 2). The discourse of beauty and sublimity in post-Revolutionary landscape writing not only manifests its debt to theories of painting and relevance to federal land politics but also defines its dynamic perceptual logic and engenders its most poignant moments of transcendence and crisis (Chapter 3). In Constitutional-era political writing, the language of taste recapitulates the challenges of republican polity as it constructs a flexible rhetoric of political form and normative models of political judgment (Chapter 4). The novel’s engagement with theories of the imagination dramatizes late eighteenth-century philosophical conflicts of materialism and idealism, thereby illuminating its tendencies toward verbal excess and narrative incoherence, rigid determinism and unsettling indeterminacy (Chapter 5). In early nineteenth-century literary criticism, debates about genius and taste clarify the reactive politics of Federalism in a rising democratic culture but also help us to understand the tradition’s rhetoric of nostalgia, melancholy, and dispossession (Chapter 6). Thus, although it pays close attention to individual literary texts, the book’s larger goal is to define persistent patterns of formal representation within and across genres, to uncover what might be called the deep form of early U.S. writing—its dramatic peripeteia, metaphors of enslavement and liberation, figures of tragedy and transformation, and rhetorical investment in the discontinuous, chaotic, and obsessive.22 Finally, this book demonstrates not only that early U.S. literary culture was a transatlantic phenomenon but also that U.S. nation formation was utterly dependent on British (and sometimes even French, German, and Italian) intellectual materials.23 Such transnational borrowing, as Leonard Tennenhouse argues, allowed Revolutionary Americans to steer a course between independence and authority.24 The tension in aesthetic theory between such forces made it particularly suitable for use and adaptation by American writers, most of whom rarely understood their engagement with it in narrowly national terms. As the language of aesthetic pleasure ponders the relation between selfish and social passions, for example, it confronts the paradoxes of political collectivity. Ideas of beauty and sublimity vividly allegorize the tenuous balance between liberty and power. Theories of taste and genius signal conflicted visions of cultural identity. As a paradigmatic discourse of the eighteenth-century public sphere, moreover, aesthetic



theory generally subordinated national identities to affiliations of class and ideals of universality.25 To comprehend and communicate its concepts was to participate in the republic of letters and to claim membership in an elite transatlantic community of feeling. For this reason, the primary focus of my argument is less the emergence of a national culture than the ideas that produced and contested its various articulations. My analyses turn not on questions of literary nationalism but those of political power and social class, to which the language of aesthetic theory offers especially expressive answers. Although it was sometimes used to celebrate the nation, it was more often used to trace its tentative development and confront its limitations. In short, the propensity to scrutinize the meanings of nation and resist its teleologies is inherent in the language of aesthetic theory itself. Liberty of the Imagination begins with the transformation of aesthetic discourse in the late 1760s and early 1770s by ambitious undergraduates who embraced the new Scottish moral philosophy and rhetoric to recast the pleasures of the imagination as central to America’s culture of liberty. Then it explores pivotal moments in the history of aesthetic theory, literary culture, and politics along a parallel trajectory from the anxious empiricism of the colonial crisis through the emergent subjectivism that marks the rise of democratic populism in the 1820s. It concludes with a brief discussion of the aesthetics of Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Jacksonian era. But it is not a Whig history of aesthetics. By reading early American literary culture through the lens of aesthetic theory, it rejects a linear progression from republican neoclassicism to liberal romanticism. Instead it reveals an insistently dialectical narrative of cultural development, one that understands the nineteenth-century emergence of the romantic aesthetic subject and the democratic state as highly contested and contingent. Humphreys’s preface to the Poem on the Happiness of America recalls that the Revolution “presented a momentous and awful spectacle to mankind,” marked by “threatening prospects” and “distressing apprehensions” and pointing to a “doubtful” outcome. Although, nearly two decades after writing the poem, he boasts of “the establishment of a general government” and other “scenes of happiness” and looks forward to “national prosperity,” his account of its earlier history is rooted in profound uncertainty.26 That he understands the language of aesthetic theory as uniquely capable of representing such uncertainty exemplifies its rhetorical efficacy. But as the following pages seek to demonstrate, it also reminds us that effective formalism, far from turning us away from history, brings us back to its richest particularities.

Chapter 1

Ingenious Disquisition and Controversy

[T]he central idea to emerge in eighteenth-century aesthetics is that of the freedom of the imagination. —Paul Guyer, Values of Beauty1

In Federalist 37, James Madison interrupts a sustained argument in support of the federal Constitution with an elaborate aporia concerning the “difficulties inherent in the very nature of the undertaking referred to the convention.” Foremost among these difficulties was the problem of balancing national strength with local and individual rights, or as Madison puts it, “combining the requisite stability and energy” of government with the “inviolable attention due to liberty and to the republican form.”2 Such a contradictory charge rendered the Convention at Philadelphia an “arduous” and “imperfect” enterprise. But the greatest difficulty of all, Madison insists, came from the intellectual work of “fallible” men in creating, contemplating, and judging the Constitution.3 They struggled not only with the “indistinctness of the object” before them but also with the “imperfection of the organ of conception” through which they sought to understand and evaluate it, as well as the “inadequateness of the vehicle of ideas” through which they might voice their judgments.4 Although Madison assumes that such philosophical complexity could be appreciated only by those “accustomed to contemplat[ing] and discriminat[ing] objects extensive and complicated in their nature,” even such educated and experienced citizens would have to admit their uncertainty about the nature of contemplation and discrimination: “The faculties of the mind itself have never yet been distinguished and defined with satisfactory precision by all the efforts of the most acute and metaphysical philosophers. Sense, perception, judgment, desire, volition, memory,


Chapter 1

imagination are found to be separated by such delicate shades and minute gradations that their boundaries have eluded the most subtle investigations, and remain a pregnant source of ingenious disquisition and controversy.”5 In other words, he suggests, the ultimate challenge to the Constitution’s framers lies not with questions of political power but with those of the creative, discerning, Constitution-making mind. Why does Madison raise such abstract philosophical questions in the midst of an urgent political project whose purpose is significantly more specific and concrete? One aim, certainly, is rhetorical. By invoking the unwieldy ramifications of “the faculties of the mind,” he identifies those most capable of asking such weighty questions, explains their failure to derive perfect answers, and mitigates the imperfections of a Constitution drafted by judicious, self-effacing men. If “the faculties of the mind” cannot be “distinguished and defined with satisfactory precision,” then one should not expect more from the Convention’s balancing of national “stability and energy” with republican liberty.6 However, Madison’s language has a more substantive relation to the problem of power and liberty facing the Convention, for it invokes signal aspects of the transatlantic discourse of aesthetic theory, which first emerges in the early eighteenth century and gains in significance and complexity around the same time as the American colonial crisis in the 1760s. As a staple of learned print culture and polite conversation, aesthetic theory defined the possibilities and limits of the imagination, linking the sensory perception of objects to the processes of association and regimes of taste, and describing a realm of mental experience beyond the confines of reason. But by representing the imperatives of the body and mind through the disembodied abstractions of philosophy, aesthetic theory also offered to reconcile the affective experience of the individual to universal principles of thought and action. In constructing collective models of subjectivity, it concerned itself with questions of social diversity and unity, interest and disinterestedness, agency and subordination, consent and coercion. In this way, it was both a type of political discourse and something separate from politics. On the one hand, in invoking modes of perception, imagination, and judgment, Madison’s philosophical aside suggests a belief that the “difficulties” of the Convention were not so different from those of reading a poem, hearing a concert, or viewing a painting. On the other hand, the tradition it names assumes a disinterestedness and universality that make it wholly distinct from the interests of political power. Thus, Madison’s “disquisition and controversy” is less a rhetorical dodge than an illuminating gesture toward a discourse that speaks

Ingenious Disquisition and Controversy


with both compelling immediacy to and critical distance from the primary question which lay before the Convention: How much liberty should there be in a republic? If there is a touch of the satirical in Madison’s description of aesthetic theory as “ingenious”—a word he seems never to have used as unqualified praise—this only emphasizes its significance to him. For one, the tag was a commonplace. Eighteenth-century philosophers often referred to the work of their peers as “ingenious,” even as they criticized the tradition of pedantic excess upon which they hoped to improve.7 But more importantly, Madison himself was a serious and prolific intellectual for whom the word would have been appropriately descriptive. As Garry Wills notes, for someone who railed against closet theorists, Madison was thoroughly devoted to the “closet study of theoretical works.”8 Under the tutelage of John Witherspoon at Princeton, he read extensively in aesthetic theory under the rubrics of moral philosophy and rhetoric, including works on the “faculties of the mind” by Anthony Ashley Cooper, third Earl of Shaftesbury, Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, and Hume’s cousin, Lord Kames. From such works, Madison and his peers—five of whom would attend the Constitutional Convention—learned to believe that by studying the faculties of the mind they would be better prepared to improve the political institutions that conduced to liberty and social harmony.9 It is significant, however, that Madison refers to both the “disquisition” and the “controversy” of aesthetic theory. In eighteenth-century usage, the terms were often opposed. “Disquisition” implied the public, disinterested intellectual inquiry of educated, rational minds, while “controversy” suggested the private, interested, often impassioned claims of political faction.10 The “disquisition and controversy” of aesthetic theory, then, signals a field of inquiry concerning the autonomy of the individual in relation to collective forms of power and authority. It asks whether we are bound by innate ideas or if such ideas are freely constructed through the haphazard impressions of sensory experience; whether the faculties of perception and judgment are purely rational or influenced by the passions and the imagination; whether the associative powers of the imagination and genius are guided by judgment or by a more spontaneous but less reliable logic of their own; whether the sources of beauty and sublimity are perceived by cultivated, objective contemplation or by immediate, subjective response; and whether or not the ineluctable diversity of tastes is finally reconcilable to a universal standard. These questions suggest a wide range of discursive affiliations shared by aesthetic theory


Chapter 1

and early national politics. But they also reveal that such affiliations are not merely analogous or metaphorical but more properly homologous, implying a relation based on shared origins. They assume not merely that aesthetic theory borrows its language of liberty from politics but also that the liberty to act politically originates with, and is ever after conditioned by, the liberty to imagine.11 Thus, aesthetic theory is a “pregnant source” of controversy not only because it produces philosophical disagreement in itself but also because it aims to understand the problem of liberty—the very relations of self and society that produce controversy in the first place. American writers who considered the problems of aesthetic theory were sensitive to the homology of aesthetic and political liberty and ambitious in their pursuit of its implications for both the pleasures of the imagination and the forms of national polity. In aesthetic theory, they discovered a means of both defining American liberty and thinking about the problem of liberty. By invoking it, they sought not only to buttress the claims of nationhood but also to interrogate its contradictions. They aimed not merely to construct exemplary citizen-subjects but also to delineate the relationship between citizenship and subjectivity. If they sometimes saw in the language of taste, genius, beauty, and sublimity a vocabulary for discerning a distinctly American sensibility, more often they saw it as a means of distinguishing sensible from vulgar minds, assessing the political viability of aesthetic diversity, and charting the modes of perception, imagination, and judgment that seemed to make moderate liberty in a republic possible. This chapter offers an account of the rhetorical tradition of aesthetic theory by pursuing four distinct but closely related aims. It first considers the ambiguity, contestation, and insufficiency of the political discourse of liberty that informed Madison’s writing, and it argues that aesthetic theory functioned as a counter-discourse that more effectively represented liberty’s “delicate shades and minute gradations,” not as rational abstractions but as sensible experiences of the imagination. The second section describes the chief sources from which American writers discovered aesthetic theory, sketching both the roles they played in the formation of a vernacular philosophical culture and the scope of their theoretical engagements. The third section discerns in these sources a definitive interest in the contours and contradictions of liberty. In revealing liberty to be a fundamental preoccupation in the philosophical rhetoric of aesthetic theory, I describe how it signifies the complexities of politics, citizenship, and selfhood, alternately articulating ideas of expansive agency and restrictive authority. The dynamism of this

Ingenious Disquisition and Controversy


dialectic points to the final section of the chapter, which discusses the implications of aesthetic theory for our understanding of literary form. For as ideas about the imagination invoke a subjective encounter with objects, their phenomenology of perception, ideation, and judgment gives shape to the literary representations that seek to embody it. Just as aesthetic theory stages the volatile drama of political liberty, the forms of this drama can be seen in the distinctive formal volatility of Revolutionary and early national writing: its exultations of liberty, lamentations of constraint, and sudden, wrenching, often irrevocable transitions from one to the other.

Political Liberty and Aesthetic Liberty Forged in the violence of seventeenth-century political struggles, “British liberty” functioned as both a description of the nation’s constitutional and representative government and as a potent racial myth that distinguished Britons from less free and enlightened peoples. Central to its conception, however, was the idea that liberty was always bounded by and exercised within authoritative limits. It might refer to one’s citizenship, property, humanity, or even salvation, but it was typically opposed to some form of power. It watched jealously for the abuses of tyranny, but it also assumed the possibility of its own transgressions. Often opposed to the liberty of man in his natural state, British liberty was a creature of society, born of essential human freedom but sustained by a necessary adjustment to the demands of political community. Not only were its limitations rooted in law—that of God, society, nature, or reason—and thus never arbitrary, but they were also consensual, accepted as legitimate by the very persons whose freedom they limited. Such an idea thus assumed that the protection of certain rights required the disavowal of others. As John Locke writes in his Second Treatise of Civil Government (1689), the “end of Law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge Freedom . . . for where there is no Law, there is no Freedom.”12 According to this logic, British law also enforced the regressive distribution of liberty’s privileges. It thus never included African slaves sent in British ships to America, nor did it grant political rights to Indians, women, or men without property. But this is because such liberty was understood as a kind of property itself, granted only to individuals thought capable of consenting to its demands.13 In eighteenth-century America, the opposition inherent in British liberty between individual autonomy and the force of law was reflected in the tension


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between the rights-based culture of Lockean liberalism and the classical republicanism or commonwealth tradition. The former, characterized by political theorists as “negative liberty,” entailed a range of freedoms from governmental interference, and thus emphasized the liberty of the individual in his private life. The latter, typically characterized as “positive liberty,” signified the freedom to participate in representative government or the freedom of a community to govern itself, and thus understood liberty as both publicly exercised and exclusive.14 Whereas the negative liberty of private life enabled self-fulfillment away from the reach of the law, the positive liberty of citizenship derived its powers from the authority of the law. If advocates of rights-based liberty sought to direct its claims outward in response to a developing market and expanding electorate, those of republican liberty sought to preserve its exclusions and to guard against the corruptions of both luxury and democracy. In many ways, then, such divergent notions of liberty were at odds. In practice, to be sure, like the liberal and republican ideas they implied, they were thoroughly interdependent. The wealth acquired in the transactions of private life guaranteed the political rights of citizenship; and political rights gave direction to the laws that regulated commerce and informed conceptions of personhood. But as mid-century economic prosperity created a thriving mercantile class and a culture of rising expectations, this interdependence expressed itself as conflict whenever the expanding circle of political participation resisted the unequal distribution of property or the champions of virtuous citizenship monopolized the privileges of relative freedom. It was precisely this conflict that was used to justify the American rebellion against Britain by discerning in British liberty the right to reject an unjust administration of the very body of laws that granted such privileges. In the wake of the colonial crisis of the early 1770s, the idea of liberty evolved into a more broadly conceived belief in self-determination, whose meanings extended to a range of essentialist assertions and subjected all forms of hierarchy and exclusion to scrutiny. John Allen’s enormously popular Oration on the Beauties of Liberty (1773), for example, defines liberty as a basic right to “the blessings of life, trade, and happiness.”15 For Allen, liberty is inherent in “the essence of our existence” and thus is “the beauty of our being.”16 Such transcendent ideals were sometimes even expressed by women and Africans who saw in the zealous rhetoric of liberty the inconsistency of their own political marginalization. Phillis Wheatley, in a famous 1774 letter to Samson Occom, for example, insists that “in every human Breast, God

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has implanted a Principle, which we call Love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance.”17 Although Edmund Burke, in his Speech on Conciliation with the American Colonies (1775), declares that such a tradition of “abstract liberty, like other mere abstractions, is not to be found” in America, its various expressions were in fact widely represented in a host of symbolic gestures—liberty trees, poles, bells, caps, and obelisks—whose theatricalized embodiment gave socially meaningful form to an ideal of “true liberty.”18 Such gestures were largely communitarian in their construction, even as they invited a larger, if still limited, number of formerly disenfranchised individuals to share in liberty’s bounty. But they signaled the beginning of what became a radical global call for liberty, a brief but enthusiastic utopian movement in which America would function as what Thomas Paine in Common Sense calls “an Asylum for Mankind.”19 As Eric Foner writes, in Revolutionary-era rhetoric, liberty was “no longer a set of specific rights” or a “privilege to be enjoyed by a corporate body or people in specific social circumstances” but rather a “universal, open-ended entitlement.”20 This contestation of the delimited idea of British liberty had at least two related effects. The first was to heighten what Edward Countryman calls America’s “bitter dialectic” of independence and servitude.21 Gordon Wood writes that, since the 1760s, Americans facing arbitrary British rule had been “acutely nervous about their prosperity and the liberty that seemed to make it possible.”22 But by the 1770s, the least threat to an increasingly abstract idea of liberty was regularly declared to be a form of “slavery.”23 As John Adams argues in his 1775 Novanglus, “there are but two sorts of men in the world, freemen and slaves.” Because “the very definition of a freeman is one who is bound by no law to which he has not consented,” a lack of Parliamentary representation would leave Americans “the most abject sort of slaves, to the worst sort of masters.”24 Such hyperbolic language aimed to communicate the supreme value of liberty and the determination of those who held it to defend it. If it was insensitive to the reality of African slavery, it suggested the practical interdependence of liberty and slavery.25 For only a year later, Adams echoes concerns that the onset of the Revolution had “loosened the bonds of government” that kept dependents subservient and gave legitimacy to all acts of political protest by disseminating to a broader audience the theory of liberty upon which the Revolution was based.26 Implicit in Adams’s words is the problem that one’s own liberty both depended on and had to be defended against the servitude of others. There were no longer “two sorts of men in the world” but an infinite number, each vying to increase his relative wealth, status,


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and autonomy. To try to account for this division in Adam’s thinking—between determined rigidity and uncertain apprehension—is to see how the problem of liberty registered in contradictory and even ominous ways. The second effect of the Revolutionary challenge to British liberty, then, was a reaction against its assertions, a return to the discourse of constraint and an attempt to demarcate in both law and society what Isaiah Berlin calls “the permissible limits of coercion.”27 By the late 1780s, elite commentators like Adams, Madison, and others countered claims for the expansion of social and political rights with a renewed emphasis on liberty as produced only within the bounds of law, authority, and tradition. In Federalist 1, Alexander Hamilton grumbles that in anti-Constitutional writing an “enlightened zeal for the energy and efficiency of government will be stigmatized as . . . hostile to the principles of liberty,” when in fact “the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty.”28 Nearly twenty years later, Fisher Ames, in an 1805 essay called “The Dangers of American Liberty,” argues that the “known propensity of a democracy is to licentiousness, which the ambitious call, and the ignorant believe to be, liberty.”29 Such assumptions that true liberty will be utterly misrecognized by its erring advocates indicate the growing gap between partisans in their diverse understandings of liberty, its proper scope, and its relation to power.30 As these Federalist abstractions and the Revolutionary idealisms they sought to counter both suggest, however, such an ambiguous and contested discourse could not always be parsed with sufficient clarity at the level of reasoned political rhetoric. Each new claim to the meaning of true liberty further revealed the degree to which liberty itself was an elusive concept, one understood more as a matter of feeling than of rational knowledge. Although Locke holds that freedom is “grounded” in the human ability to use reason, writers like Hutcheson assume “the weakness of our reason” in making moral determinations.31 Instead, he argues, it is through the emotional responses of the “moral sense” that we discover our surest perceptions and most reliable understandings of virtue and vice. Thus, the Revolutionary rhetoric of liberty—like that of Allen or Wheatley—often abandons claims to reason, turning instead to the more persuasive grounds of feeling and imagination. Hugh Henry Brackenridge’s 1779 United States Magazine insists that the “bulk of mankind” judges “the principles of a government by our feelings”; and when J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur’s Farmer James faces the contradictions of liberty on the eve of the Revolution in Letters from an American Farmer (1782), he declares that “[s]entiment and feeling are the only guides I

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know.”32 Likewise, in 1787 Benjamin Rush holds that “The rights of mankind are simple. They require no learning to unfold them. They are better felt, than explained. Hence, in matters that relate to liberty, the mechanic and the philosopher, the farmer and the scholar, are all upon a footing.”33 For these and other writers, reason or logic alone failed to clarify the problem of liberty, and the language of emotion and imagination was often a preferred means of understanding and expressing such political ideas.34 The ambiguities of political power that reason struggled to account for, however, were—Madison’s skepticism notwithstanding—precisely the purview of aesthetic theory, which made liberty of the imagination its most salient trope. As Paul Guyer writes, “the central idea to emerge in eighteenthcentury aesthetics is that of the freedom of the imagination, and it was the attraction of this idea that provided much of the impetus behind the explosion of aesthetic theory in the period.”35 For Guyer, the work of Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, Burke, and Hume specifies the importance of the imagination’s negative freedoms from the mental constraints of reason, will, passion, and prejudice. The experience of aesthetic pleasure and judgments of taste, these writers argue, require the imagination to be unencumbered by such burdens. But Guyer also identifies the positive freedoms implied by the ability to create images and make associations, such as the “free-play” of the imagination, as described in the work of Alexander Gerard and Archibald Alison, and its capacity for “sensuous” representations of freedom in that of Joseph Addison. 36 To this list, as we shall see, we can add a range of freedoms that are repeatedly expressed in the rhetoric of aesthetic theory: negative freedoms from critical rules, standards of taste, and ideals of uniformity and symmetry; and positive freedoms characterized by originality, extravagance, and formal variety and asymmetry.37 As with political liberty, however, all such forms of aesthetic liberty are understood only in the context of their constraint. They are typically limited by the regulation of empirically derived principles, the logic of association, ideals of social harmony, or the moral necessity of moderation. The powers of the mind, that is, are enabled by the very supervisory forces that guide their movements and check their excesses. In this way, liberty of the imagination manifests the fundamental contingency of its perceptions, ideas, and judgments, and the conditions by which they are capable of representing both individual autonomy and concessions to political power.38 Such a dialectic of liberty describes the aesthetic mechanisms of politics in a liberal state, as well as their potential for contradiction, conflict, critique, and resistance. In his Critique of Judgment (1790), Immanuel Kant famously


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argues that it is in aesthetic judgments—specifically, in the harmony of the imagination and the understanding—that political subjects realize their freedom, a sense that their deepest desires and inclinations correspond to the imperatives of the social order.39 More recently, theorists have described the contradictions of aesthetic experience as central to the function of bourgeois political ideology. Terry Eagleton, for example, argues that eighteenthcentury aesthetic theory rejects the coercion of absolutism and realizes the pleasures of the imagination as a special mode of subjectivity in which the autonomous individual “bestows on itself self-referentially a law at one with its immediate experience, finding its freedom in its necessity.”40 By discovering the “universal law” in the particularity of aesthetic experience, the bourgeois subject thus becomes a kind of ideal citizen who despite the power of the state believes himself to be free because his allegiance to it has been resolved into the “spontaneous reflex” of imagination, affect, and habit.41 As Eagleton cautions, however, the aesthetic relation between freedom and power is unstable, antagonistic, and “deeply ambivalent.” The corporate demands it enforces remain at odds with its individualizing logic. If aesthetic subjectivity ideologically dupes one into “mistaking necessity for freedom and oppression for autonomy,” it also “contains within itself a genuinely utopian glimpse of a free, equal community of independent subjects.”42 That is, aesthetics both forges political unities and resists them; it simultaneously manifests the liberation of individuals and their conscription into communities of taste. Eagleton’s useful term for this paradox is “free bondage,” the “ceaseless self-undoing” of authority and autonomy that describes both aesthetic subjectivity and modern political power.43 For this reason, the rhetoric of aesthetic theory is as likely to describe conflict as consent. Madison’s concerns about its limitations arise from his awareness of its persistent intricacies and contradictions. To philosophers of the period, its universalizing definitions of perception, imagination, and judgment often seemed incapable of adequately naming the specificity of subjectivity; and attempts to resolve this problem often led to complaints of vagueness, mysticism, and specious reasoning. Yet, despite such problems, aesthetic theory’s articulation of liberty of the imagination also yielded productive visions of culture. It constructed a politics of the mind that was free rather than coerced, enlightened rather than backward; but it also sought to bring order and regularity to that politics, to invest it with the enduring authority of moral truth, and to discern in the minds of citizens an ideal of social unity. It spoke to the individual in his highest capacities as a private

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person beyond the power of the state, but it also linked the ultimate value of that privacy to a rich conception of civic virtue. While it drew rhetorical energy from liberal narratives of freedom and progress, its notions of mental potential were chastened by vigilant attention to the limits and dangers of autonomy.

Aesthetic Theory in Early National Print Culture In 1770, when John Trumbull read his Essay on the Use and Advantages of the Fine Arts at the “Public Commencement in New-Haven,” he made one of the earliest American arguments for the moral and political efficacy of aesthetic pleasure. Borrowing liberally from Kames’s Elements of Criticism (1762), he declares that the “elegant entertainments of polite literature . . . ennoble the soul, purify the passions” and add “dignity to our sentiments, delicacy and refinement to our manners.”44 But Trumbull laments that the fine arts are “too much undervalued by the public . . . neglected by the youth in our seminaries . . . considered as mere matters of trifling amusement, and despised in comparison with the more solid branches of Learning.”45 Such studies, he argues, are not affectations of wealth and pride but necessary to the cultivation of virtue. Indeed, he goes so far as to say that the experience of art and imagination is a kind of bellwether of virtue in a free society: “I appeal to all persons of judgment, whether they can rise from reading a fine Poem, viewing any masterly work of Genius, or hearing an harmonious concert of Music, without feeling an openness of heart, and an elevation of mind, without being more sensible of the dignity of human nature, and despising whatever tends to debase and degrade it.”46 There is much to be said about these prospective scenes of aesthetic experience and their purported moral effects. Although Trumbull takes for granted that his audience is familiar with a range of artistic forms, his “appeal” suggests that their relation to virtue comes as a kind of revelation of something always implicitly known but somehow never before explicitly acknowledged. His correlation of aesthetics with “openness,” “elevation,” and “dignity” suggests that we discover these ideas not in our reason but in our feelings. Yet we also hear in the corresponding threat of debasement and degradation both the specificity and urgency of the colonial conflict and the volatile stakes of moral and political action. Clearly, Trumbull wants his listeners to understand art and aesthetics as immediately relevant to the political exigencies of their historical moment. Only six months after the Boston Massacre and at the outset of the


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political crisis that would result five years later in the Revolution, he argues that aesthetic pleasure makes better citizens, that in the experience of art and imagination we become “sensible” of the true meaning of liberty.47 In the eighteenth century, the connection between liberty and the fine arts was a controversial question that preceded Trumbull’s intervention and thus informs it. The idea that liberty made aesthetic culture possible was popularized by Longinus’s On the Sublime, first translated into English by John Hall in 1652. “Liberty,” Longinus writes, “produces fine Sentiments in Men of Genius; it invigorates their Hopes, excites an honourable Emulation, and inspires an Ambition and Thirst of excelling. . . . [It is] that copious and fertile Source of all that is beautiful and of all that is great.”48 Although the idea of artistic achievement rooted in political liberty became conventional wisdom by mid-century, however, not everyone agreed with it. Anticipating Eagleton, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, for example, argues that the fine arts merely “spread garlands of flowers over the iron chains which weigh men down . . . and make them love their slavery, and turn them into what is called civilized people.”49 Other critics held the view that the fine arts could flourish only in aristocratic societies in which freedom was limited to the elite, and concentrations of wealth created both trained artists and leisured patrons. Yet most British writers followed Shaftesbury in their assumption that the cultivation of taste depends on the “open and free commerce of the world.”50 Richard Price writes that “the more free a state has been, the more have the powers of the human mind been drawn forth into action, and the greater number of brave men has it produced.”51 Hume holds that “nothing is more favorable to the rise of politeness and learning” than an unrestricted international trade in “commerce and policy.”52 For these writers, the development of Britain’s thriving public sphere of arts and letters offered ample evidence that cultivation of the fine arts demands the institutionalized freedom of expression and exchange.53 Trumbull likewise asserts that an “unconquered spirit of freedom” is a necessary condition for the advancement of the fine arts; and against Rousseau, he holds that their pleasures do not obscure the importance of liberty but rather manifest it.54 But his vision of aesthetic liberty is also specific to the colonial world he inhabits. America is particularly susceptible to the cultivation of the fine arts, he argues, not only because its citizens “very much excel in the force of natural genius” but also because here learning is “diffused through all ranks of people.” In fact, he argues, Americans may enjoy the moral benefits of the fine arts without fear of luxury or corruption because

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in “possess[ing] the middle station of life” they “avoid the sordid ignorance of peasants, and the unthinking dissipation of the great.”55 His invocation of the broad dissemination of learning and culture to a middle-class and freedom-loving people suits the essay’s dominant theme of translatio studii, the western movement of learning.56 As he traces the cyclical achievements of literature and the shifting forces of freedom from the Ancient Greece and Rome of Homer and Virgil across the early modern Britain of William Shakespeare and Jonathan Swift to America’s “fair prospect” of literary fame, he describes a society whose cultural ambitions are bound up in its “late struggles for liberty.”57 Since Trumbull concludes that “this Land hath already begun to distinguish itself in literature,” his complaint that the fine arts are currently “undervalued” and “neglected” in America is perhaps more rhetorical than descriptive.58 By 1770, as much recent scholarship demonstrates, a major cultural shift had already transformed the elite folkways of the Atlantic seaboard. After decades of commercial prosperity distributed wealth across a growing professional, merchant, and planter class, new cultures of leisure turned the attention of educated British Americans toward the pleasures of the imagination.59 As Trumbull’s Essay implies, they began importing European books and prints, attending concerts, lectures, and plays, participating in literary societies, clubs, salons, and libraries, writing poetry and essays, circulating them among their peers and publishing them in domestic newspapers and magazines. Such novel and concerted attention to aesthetic pleasure helped colonial elites to develop a sense of autonomy and cultural possibility and to internalize their claim to the full rights of British liberty, but it also sharpened their sensitivity to the circumscription of those rights. In this way, Trumbull evokes an Anglo-American literary culture that was committed to an understanding of imagination and liberty as deeply interrelated ideas.60 It not only celebrates “the prospect of our future glory” but calls for the liberating diffusion of learning that will produce such a prospect.61 It is this culture that made aesthetic theory both available and significant to late eighteenth-century Americans. The sources from which it was derived are many and varied. Different sources were available to different social groups and reading communities; and different philosophical ideas were conveyed through a range of media and genres and consumed in a range of cultural venues. To be sure, access to such sources was largely limited to the educated elite and structured along discrete regional and transatlantic lines. Thus, we can in no way attribute to them the kind of general “diffusion” of

Figure 1. “Allegorical. American Literature & Fine Arts Rewarding Patriotism & Virtue.” Port Folio, October 1815. Drawn by Gideon Fairman. Engraved by Francis Kearny. Courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

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learning of which Trumbull boasts; nor can we consider their currency as constituting a fully national conversation, for its history is a good deal more local, limited, uneven, and invariably conditioned by what Trish Loughran describes as “the decentralized nature of early American printing.”62 We can, however, learn much about the circulation of aesthetic theory by focusing on several of its most prominent vehicles—college curricula, imported and reprinted books, and domestic periodical criticism—each of which sought to make liberty of the imagination “sensible” for a rising class of citizens and writers. The main argument of Trumbull’s speech had a more direct object than America’s rising glory: the reformation of Yale College’s still largely classical curriculum. As Samuel Miller writes in his Brief Retrospect of the Eighteenth Century (1803), “Between the years 1765 and 1772, a revolution took place in the taste of the students in Yale College,” one “chiefly produced” by Trumbull and his friend, Timothy Dwight. “About this time,” Miller recounts, “the study of the Mathematics, and of the Ancient Languages, began to decline, and that of Belles Lettres to be an object of more attention than before.”63 In fact, prior to Trumbull’s matriculation, a few colleges had already begun to teach aesthetic theory under the rubrics of moral philosophy and rhetoric.64 According to Franklin E. Court, as early as 1756, the College of Philadelphia taught a Hutchesonian brand of moral philosophy emphasizing beauty and virtue, as well as courses in composition and declamation. Likewise, upon his arrival at the College of New Jersey in 1768, President Witherspoon taught the principles of aesthetics in his lectures on moral philosophy and eloquence.65 Soon after, all the leading colonial colleges began to require a moral philosophy curriculum that stressed aesthetics and to make such study the capstone of their undergraduate curriculum.66 Many also began teaching required courses in “belles lettres,” “criticism,” “rhetoric,” and “eloquence,” which offered both practical advice on how to engage the imaginations of an audience and theoretical discussions of the imagination’s relation to taste, beauty, sublimity, and other aesthetic concepts.67 The role the new curricula played in the transmission of aesthetic theory is exemplified by the case of Witherspoon. His moral philosophy course began with detailed discussions of perception, imagination, beauty and judgment, and ended with questions of law, politics, and the state, in this way assuming continuity between these fields of inquiry. In explaining the relation of Hutcheson’s theory of perception to “what is called the pleasures of the imagination,” he enumerates the “principles of beauty and gracefulness—


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order, proportion, simplicity, intricacy, uniformity, variety—especially as these principles have anything in common that is equally applicable to all the fine arts, painting, statuary, architecture, music, poetry, and oratory.”68 Likewise, his “Lectures on Eloquence” delineate ideas of taste, genius, beauty, and sublimity amidst copious technical instruction in composition and oratory, followed by a sweeping assessment of the aesthetic theories of Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, Cicero, Addison, Longinus, Burke, Gerard, and William Hogarth.69 Some historians have called Witherspoon’s approach to aesthetic theory “cautious,” noting that he disputes Hutcheson’s correlation of beauty and virtue and emphasizes political oratory and civic culture over Hugh Blair’s notion of individual genius or the private cultivation of taste.70 But because Witherspoon’s lectures reflect a deep familiarity and general agreement with the main currents of British aesthetic thought and a powerful conviction of its relevance to the education of his students, his strictures on Hutcheson and Blair must be understood less as skeptical rejections than as committed critical engagements.71 Although it is well known that Scottish moral philosophy, which generally privileged empirical experience over idealism and abstraction, had a profound influence on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American college curricula, it is less often remarked that the most popular Scottish texts in American classrooms were also those that made important contributions to aesthetic theory. Kames’s Elements, Blair’s Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (1783), Reid’s Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man (1785), James Beattie’s Elements of Moral Science (1790), and Stewart’s Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind (1792) each offered influential arguments about imagination, taste, genius, beauty, and sublimity. But it was Kames’s Elements and Blair’s Lectures that had the greatest overall impact on the American importation of aesthetic theory. Only a year after Trumbull’s 1770 Essay, his senior classmate, Dwight, inaugurated a course on rhetoric at Yale based on Kames’s Elements. Its chapters on the emotions, passions, beauty, sublimity, and taste provided many students with their first systematic exposure to aesthetic theory and its moral and political ramifications. Kames argues in the book’s dedication to King George III that the study of the fine arts is so important to the development of civic virtue that it “ought to be a fundamental object in a well-regulated government.”72 In a 1762 letter to Kames, Benjamin Franklin agreed, writing that “I am convinc’d of your Position, new as it was to me, that a good Taste in the Arts contributes to the Improvement of Morals.”73 Shortly thereafter, Franklin’s compatriots shared this view. The book

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was offered for sale in New Haven as early as 1770, and as William Charvat notes, it was reprinted in America at least nine times before 1835.74 When Dwight returned to Yale as president in 1795, however, he began teaching a new rhetoric course, this one based upon Blair’s Lectures, which Yale had adopted ten years earlier, and which taught not only figurative language, rhetorical style, and oratorical eloquence but also theories of taste, criticism, genius, beauty, and sublimity.75 Blair similarly emphasized the cultivation of taste and its moral, social, and political benefits; but with a greater emphasis on performance, his Lectures were more suitable for courses in rhetoric and eloquence than Kames’s Elements and thus achieved an even wider readership. During the last two decades of the century, Blair and Kames were widely adopted by colleges, perhaps because they most usefully distilled nearly a century’s worth of rhetorical and aesthetic inquiry. As Charvat exaggeratedly writes of the two Scots, “their names were, at one time or another, on the lips of almost every American critic” and their works “were almost household books in America.”76 The majority of eighteenth-century American households, of course, knew little of Blair or Kames, but their relative popularity represented a small but significant demand for British imports and American reprints. According to James Raven, between 1750 and 1775 the growth in English book imports increased at a rate faster than that of the colonial population.77 But as Richard Sher demonstrates, the latter end of this period also witnessed both an increased “sophistication” of the American book market and a growing “audience for learned and literary books.”78 In fact, as early as the 1760s, colonial booksellers’ lists reveal a steady flow of imported and reprinted aesthetic treatises. In 1760, for example, William Bradford of Philadelphia advertised Shaftesbury’s Characteristicks of Man, Manners, Opinions, Times (1711), Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), and Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759). In the same year, his competitor, William Dunlap, offered editions of Shaftesbury, Smith, Longinus, Hutcheson’s Inquiry Into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (1725), and Gerard’s Essay on Taste (1759). The availability of these books implied by such lists is corroborated by David Lundberg and Henry May, who demonstrate that from 1777 to 1790 imported and reprinted editions of Kames, Blair, and Smith first reached between a quarter and one half of American college and circulating libraries.79 Likewise, Janice Schimmelman’s study of American bookseller’s lists and library catalogs through 1815 documents the significant presence of editions of Burke, Shaftesbury,


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Abbé Dubos’s Critical Reflections on Poetry, Painting, and Music (1719), Hogarth’s Analysis of Beauty (1753), Francesco Algarotti’s Essay on Painting (1764), Daniel Webb’s Inquiry into the Beauties of Painting (1760), Alison’s Essay on the Principles of Taste (1790), Joshua Reynolds’s Discourses (1790), Uvedale Price’s An Essay on the Picturesque (1794), and Richard Payne Knight’s Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (1805). American demand for aesthetic theory, however, was usually not sufficient to warrant the reprinting of such texts. The high cost of producing a specialized book for a relatively small audience and the ready availability of imports left publishers wary of taking on such considerable risk. Burke’s Enquiry, for example, was widely available from booksellers and libraries, but it did not see an American edition until Samuel Bradford of Philadelphia published one in 1806. In some cases, however, American printers offered extremely popular titles in small editions aimed at regional markets. In 1792 and 1794, for example, Mathew Carey of Philadelphia published Beattie’s Elements of Moral Science; in 1793, William Young of Philadelphia reprinted Reid’s Essays and Stewart’s Elements; and in 1796, Samuel Etheridge printed the first American edition of Kames’s Elements in Boston. But the first and most impressive of these domestic productions was Blair’s Lectures, published by Robert Aitken of Philadelphia in 1784, only a year after its initial London publication. The final edition of Aitken’s career, and one issued at the close of the Revolution when the American economy was weak and consumer demand uncertain, it was an enormous success.80 Even before Carey published a second edition in 1793, the growing demand for Blair convinced Edmund Freeman of Boston in 1792 to publish an abridgement of the Lectures called Essays on Rhetoric, which focused on rhetoric and oratory but kept the initial chapters on taste, criticism, genius, sublimity, and beauty. Then, a year later, Isaiah Thomas and Ebenezer Andrews published a second abridgment with “additions and improvements,” and by 1798 two more abridged editions would appear. The multiple editions and abridgements of Blair’s Lectures suggest that demand for such texts extended beyond the college classroom into the private studies, circulating libraries, philosophical societies, and salons of the elite. They were considered relevant not only for students, lawyers, ministers, and statesmen but for all educated men and women capable of enjoying the pleasures of the imagination.81 A significant expression of this development was the library list or book recommendation, which disseminated intellectual priorities within elite coteries and connected ambitious provincial

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readers to the currents of learned culture. Perhaps the most famous list from the period appears in Jefferson’s 1771 letter to his nephew, Robert Skipworth. Skipworth’s original request was for a small list of books “suited to the capacity of a common reader who understands but little of the classicks and who has not leisure for any intricate or tedious study.” Notably, he insists they “be improving as well as amusing.”82 But Jefferson’s response, billed as a “List of Books for a Private Library,” surpasses his nephew’s modest request by delineating a full range of some of the most important texts of eighteenth-century culture.83 Under the rubric of “Criticism on the Fine Arts,” for example, he lists Kames’s Elements, Burke’s Enquiry, Hogarth’s Analysis, Smith’s Theory, and Reid’s Inquiry into the Human Mind (1764); and under “Fine Arts,” he includes Knight’s Observations, Webb’s Inquiry, and Addison and Steele’s Spectator. Whether Skipworth would have viewed such texts as “intricate or tedious study” is unclear, but similar lists, both published and unpublished, claimed sufficient authority and expertise to help shape the American canons of aesthetic theory. For example, in 1793, Thaddeus Harris, librarian of Harvard College, published a catalog of books “proper to form a social library,” which includes Kames, Blair, Hogarth, Webb, Reynolds, and Gilbert Cooper’s Letters Concerning Taste (1755). Several years later, Elihu Hubbard Smith sent a letter to his sister, Abigail, recommending “such writings as will assist you in forming just notions in morality and criticism.” His list includes, along with Kames and Blair, Stewart’s Elements and Smith’s Theory, which he called “as good as any you can procure.”84 As Harris’s catalog and Smith’s and Jefferson’s letters suggest, such recommendations signaled the distribution of aesthetic knowledge from those with more formal training to those with less and modeled the kind of diffusion of learning Trumbull saw as necessary to the development of American literary culture. Private forms of philosophical distribution like the recommendation list were produced in the same spirit as British periodicals like The Spectator, whose aim was to “bring philosophy out of the closets and libraries, schools and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables and coffeehouses.”85 In the late eighteenth century, periodicals like the Gentleman’s Magazine, the London Magazine, and the Monthly Review regularly published essays of criticism and theory inspired by Addison’s essays, thereby keeping those who could afford to purchase imported copies of them regularly apprised of European literary and philosophical developments. Domestic periodicals, however, offer a more revealing picture of the American dissemination of aesthetic theory. For one, they featured both original and


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reprinted or redacted essays on philosophical questions and circulated along local or regional lines in major urban print centers and smaller commercial towns. But they also explicitly linked the development of aesthetic culture in America to its political values. Thus, for example, Brackenridge’s United States Magazine insists that Americans “are able to cultivate the belles-lettres, even disconnected from Great Britain; and that liberty is of so noble and energetic a quality, as even from the bosom of war to call forth the powers of human genius.”86 Prior to the Revolution, colonial magazines were limited by insufficient original content and consumer demand. They were expensive to produce, difficult to sell and distribute, and thus typically short-lived.87 Most editors were also lawyers, clergyman, or printers, whose efforts were inspired less by the usually small prospect of remuneration than a belief in the idea of cultural refinement the magazines symbolized. In this way, when a magazine succeeded at all, it represented not only a fortunate combination of circumstances but also a determined expression of literary self-consciousness. In the 1740s, for example, Jeremy Gridley’s American Magazine and Historical Chronicle (1743–46), the first to survive over a year, included among its eclectic mix of news and information numerous extracts and redactions of British writings on “genius,” “beauty,” “imagination,” “passion, “pleasure,” “judgment,” and “the faculties of the mind,” as well as an “Essay on Taste” by Benjamin Franklin’s erstwhile friend and London scribbler, James Ralph. But Gridley’s magazine was anomalous, and with the exception of Joseph Greenleaf ’s short-lived Royal American Magazine (1774–75), it was not until 1783, the year of Blair’s Lectures and beginning of a new generation of postRevolutionary magazines, that essays on aesthetic theory were published with any frequency. From that year until 1790, approximately 60 significant periodical essays appeared; by 1825, there were at least 600 more.88 During the 1780s, reprinted, redacted, and original essays enthusiastically surveyed the full range of aesthetic theory’s disquisition and controversy. From its first issue, the Boston Magazine (1783–86) began reprinting extensive extracts from Blair’s Lectures, emphasizing its chapters on “taste,” “criticism,” “genius,” “sublimity,” and “beauty.” In its four-year life, the magazine also published other essays on “beauty,” “criticism,” “harmony,” and “pleasure,” as well as an excerpt from Reynolds’s Discourses on “genius and taste.” By the time of its demise, its chief successor, Mathew Carey’s Philadelphia-based Columbian Magazine (1786–90) was printing essays on “imagination,” taste,” “beauty,” “belles lettres,” and “the fine arts,” as well as

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a learned four-part “Essay on Genius” that defined the category’s “varieties and modifications.” In 1790, William Young, the Philadelphia reprinter of Reid and Stewart, purchased the magazine, enlarged it, renamed it the Universal Asylum and Columbian Magazine (1790–92), and published essays on “genius,” “taste,” “style,” “pleasure,” and “sensibility,” as well as “Of the Passions” from Beattie’s Elements and an extensive three-part extract from Smith’s Theory on the “influence of utility” on beauty. In the meantime, Josiah Meig’s New-Haven Gazette (1787–92) published multiple extracts from Blair’s Lectures, as well as Timothy Dwight’s “Friend” series, which includes two essays on “Taste” under the pseudonym of “James Littlejohn, Esq.”; and Carey’s new venture, The American Museum, or Universal Magazine (1787–92), featured such pieces as “On Beauty,” “On the Essential Qualities of Poetical Genius,” and “On the Pleasures of Reflexion,” and reprinted an extract from Hume’s “On the Delicacy of Taste and Passion.” The Postal Act of 1792, which raised the cost of magazine distribution, spelled the end of some fledgling titles, but others survived and new ones appeared in cities across the Atlantic seaboard whose engagements with aesthetic theory reached a new level of activity and critical maturity. In Boston, Isaiah Thomas’s influential Massachusetts Magazine (1789–96) expressly aimed to “gratify and excite the natural inquisitiveness of the human mind . . . rouse and strengthen the latent powers of the soul” and “improve the taste, the language and the manners of the age.”89 It did this, in part, by reprinting the chapter on taste from Reid’s Essays and “On the Beauty of Motion” from Beattie’s Elements, and by publishing such essays as “Advice to a Beginner in the Art of Criticism,” “An Oration on Genius,” and “Beneficial Effects of a Taste for the Belles Lettres.” In New York, Thomas Swords’s New-York Magazine (1790–97) published “Of the Influence of Imagination on Human Character and Happiness” from Stewart’s Elements, as well as such essays as “On Independent Genius” and “On the Power of the Passions,” some of which may have been written by members of the Friendly Club. In Philadelphia, W. T. Palmer’s Philadelphia Minerva (1795–98) turned out essays on “Beauty,” the “Sublime and Beautiful,” “Sympathy,” and “Taste”; and James Watters’s Weekly Magazine of Original Essays (1798–99) offered a witty and erudite “Fragment of a Course of Lectures on the Pleasures of Imagination.” By the first years of the new century, magazines began to offer a substantial number of original analyses and to play a larger role in shaping the transatlantic conversation. Among the more impressive of these were a

Figure 2. A young lady reading the Massachusetts Magazine, while Cupid and Minerva crown her with a laurel chaplet. Massachusetts Magazine, January 1791, frontispiece, untitled. Engraved by Samuel Hill. Courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

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review of John Blair Linn’s poem, The Powers of Genius (1802) in the Boston Monthly Anthology (1803–11), an informed meditation on “Taste” in Joseph Buckingham’s Boston Polyanthos (1805–14), and an essay “On the Cultivation of a Taste for the Beauties of Nature” from the Yale-based Literary Cabinet (1806–7). But the most sustained and influential performances were those of Joseph Dennie’s Port Folio (1801–27) and Charles Brockden Brown’s Literary Magazine (1803–7). Dennie’s magazine represented a lively and diverse literary culture, reviewing books, plays, and music with both diligence and a sense of urgency. It also took the lead in publishing essays that defined the principles of criticism and the fine arts, often framing such discussions as matters of civic virtue and national culture. Moreover, it used its self-proclaimed authority to respond directly to the most relevant aesthetic philosophers of the period, as in such essays as “Criticism on [Blair’s] Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres,” “Mr. Burke’s Principles Examined,” and “Analysis of the Treatise on the Sublime, by Longinus.” Brown’s Literary Magazine, like his Monthly Magazine (1799–1800), shared Dennie’s strong critical voice but tended to emphasize specific aesthetic categories, as in such original essays as “The Value of Beauty,” “On the Standard of Taste,” “Moral and Physical Sublimity Compared,” and “Distinctions Between the Beautiful and the Picturesque,” many of which were written by Brown himself. Demonstrating erudition and style, these essays invoked philosophical concepts and arguments in order to illuminate their complexity and often to reveal their fundamental ambiguity.90 Dennie’s and Brown’s editorial projects were short-lived but unusually active, and they inspired a host of assertive followers whose work marked a new standard of scholarship in an increasingly democratic age. In 1811, the Harvard Lyceum (1810–11) published an ambitious “Essay on Akenside’s Pleasures of Imagination,” which perceptively treats the popular poem as both a philosophical argument and a landmark of intellectual history. The following year, a multi-part essay on “The Fine Arts” in the New York Halcyon Luminary (1812–13) offered discussions of beauty, genius, sublimity, and perhaps the earliest definition of “Esthetics” in American print; and “Of Taste,” from David Graham’s Pittsburgh-based Pioneer (1812), situated Alison’s Essays within a rich genealogy of eighteenth-century aesthetic theory, including the works of “Burke, Kaims, De Alembert, Gerard, Knight, and Blair.”91 Indeed, much of this new critical energy derived from the popularity of Alison’s Essays (which had been published in London in 1790 but remained relatively unknown until Francis Jeffrey’s review in the 1811 Edinburgh Review), whose


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association-based theory of taste championed the complexity of the imagination and what he calls the “emotions of taste.” Among the most notable essays that followed was Andrews Norton’s far-reaching review in the General Repository (1812–13), which after engaging with such writers as Hogarth, Hume, Hutcheson, Hartley, Reynolds, Diderot, Addison, Stewart, and Burke embraces Alison’s claims about the diversity and interdependency of aesthetic pleasures and demonstrates how the “meaning of the word beautiful becomes thus infinitely more general than before; and of course the objects of taste are infinitely multiplied.”92 Norton’s synthetic approach to intellectual history and interest in perceptual complexity indicate the significant increase in theoretical sophistication achieved by periodical critics and readers in only three decades.

The Dialectic of Liberty The appeal of such ideas to American writers and readers can be traced in large part to their deft representations of liberty of the imagination. For example, like the political revolutions that accompanied it, eighteenthcentury aesthetic theory consistently articulates a protest against arbitrary and inflexible rules. Addison announces his essays on the “Pleasures of the Imagination” by distinguishing sharply between “Mechanical Rules” and “the very Spirit and soul of fine Writing.”93 Gerard rejects both what he calls a “scrupulous formality, often substituted for true correctness, which will allow no deviation from established rules,” as well as the critic who “examines a work by certain mechanical rules, framed without any regard to what actually pleases or displeases.”94 Kames scoffs at the idea that the classical poets “were entitled to give law to mankind; and that nothing now remains but blind obedience to their arbitrary will.”95 Such views attacked not so much the validity of classical aesthetic formulations as their tendency to inspire “blind obedience” in the scholastic modes of rationalist criticism ostensibly practiced by such French writers as Nicolas Boileau, Dominique Bouhours, and Paul de Rapin.96 To be sure, the rejection of rules was not synonymous with favoring the moderns over the ancients; Addison himself located the test of a good taste in finding pleasure in the best of both, and Aristotle remained a widely respected source of critical wisdom. Rather, British writers objected to what they saw as the sanctity and unthinking quality of such rules, and they turned to ideas of taste, genius, and the pleasures of the imagination whose meanings were defined by experience rather than laws

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of another’s making. So it is not surprising that such ideas had considerable purchase in American Revolutionary culture. According to Blair’s Lectures, extracted in the Boston Magazine, “The rules of criticism are not formed by any induction, a priori . . . [or] a train of abstract reasoning, independent of facts and observations.”97 In the same way, the Columbian Magazine holds that “whoever is, in any degree, possessed of original powers, ought not to cramp and trammel them, by servile imitation, or the rules of mechanical criticism.”98 In America, this critic insists, the mind, no less than the people, would be definitively free.99 Like the philosophical empiricism he inherited, Blair assumed that knowledge was derived from observable reality and that what gave pleasure and made art good could be determined by any rational person who took the time to discover it on his own. “Criticism is an art founded wholly on experience,” he writes in the Lectures. “It is from consulting our own imagination and heart, and from attending to the feelings of others, that any principles are formed which acquire authority in matters of taste.”100 However, by the 1780s, the rejection of arbitrary rules had become a highly conventional gesture whose main object was no longer to lambaste French criticism but to define a Whiggish, anti-aristocratic expression of liberty as inherent in aesthetic discourse. Throughout this tradition, all forms of “servility,” “slavish imitation,” and “blind,” “mechanical” pedantry are contrasted against the powerful, dynamic, and autonomous liberty of the imagination. The rejection of rules sweeps away the philosophical dogma of the past and invests the empiricism that replaces it with the spirit of liberty that would define eighteenth-century aesthetic theory’s most important claims.101 As with most revolutions, however, British aesthetics substitutes one form of power for another, rejecting arbitrary rules for those derived from experience, nature, or universal principles of the human mind. The assertion of such rules thus aims to reconstruct much of the authority the initial gesture of liberation had torn down, leaving the actual autonomy of the perceiving, creating, and judging subject an open question. Addison’s project, for example, is precisely “to lay down Rules for the acquirement” of taste;102 and Gerard holds that “the true critic deduces . . . general principles and rules” for art.103 Gerard also insists that the foundation of aesthetic pleasure is not individual but social, for “it is from the most excellent and admired performances in every art that the rules of that art ought to be, and by judicious critics always have been taken”;104 and Beattie holds that, while to “depart from a mechanical rule, may be consistent with the soundest judgment,” the


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“violation of an essential rule discovers want of sense.”105 Rejecting arbitrary rules, for these writers, does not mean rejecting rules altogether but rather discovering their truth through what Burke called a “diligent examination of our passions in our own breasts.”106 Thus, if aesthetic theorists were deeply concerned to throw off the shackles of mechanical criticism, they were equally determined to avoid the kind of relativism or subjectivism that deprived society of ordered relations and let loose the unpredictable forces of passion and desire. For example, although Kames has “taken arms to rescue modern poets from the despotism of modern critics,” he assures us that he “would not be understood to justify liberty without any reserve” or endorse an “unbounded license.”107 Such “liberty” and “license” would not only result in “faulty” art but also in alienated artists and audiences. Conversely, for Kames, when the fine arts are based on universal principles they have a “beneficial influence in society” and may even “enforce submission to government.”108 Although, as Hume writes in “Of the Standard of Taste,” “to check the sallies of imagination” would lead to “insipid” poetry, poets must nonetheless be “confined by rules of art, discovered to the author, either by genius or observation.”109 In short, art and aesthetic response, like republican government itself, demand both liberty and its constraint. This dialectic of liberty is paradigmatic for eighteenth-century aesthetic theory.110 Throughout the period, debates about aesthetic perception cast the liberating fulfillment of mental pleasures against the dissipating slavery of bodily ones. Ideas of imagination, association, and genius turn on distinctions between the autonomous, inventive, individualizing power of the mind and restrictions implied by logical relation, the rules of criticism, the standard of taste, and the values of regularity, harmony, and order. Concepts of beauty and sublimity seek to distinguish between the capacities of perceiving subjects and the attributes of aesthetic objects; as a result, beauty struggles to reconcile the disparate claims of restrictive uniformity and invigorating variety, and sublimity, those of humbling subjection and ennobling empowerment. Thus, aesthetic theory manifests a conflict-driven philosophical process of discovering ideal forms of liberty at the very origin of its expression: the imagination. Such a process may be called dialectical not only because its rhetoric is structurally oppositional but also because it is progressive in its assumptions about the refinement of taste and the liberty of the imagination. That is, despite its practical exclusiveness, as the “disquisition and controversy” of aesthetic theory develops across the long eighteenth century, its ideas of pleasure, imagination, genius, taste, beauty, and sublimity struggle to

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articulate increasingly capacious ideas of aesthetic liberty and richer conceptions of the imagining self.111 The Pleasures of the Imagination and the Association of Ideas At the heart of aesthetic theory is the question of the moral nature of pleasure, which typically conceives its stakes in terms of liberty and constraint. The Royal American Magazine warns that, while “it is essential to human nature to be delighted,” “there should boundaries be fixed beyond which limits [we] should never venture.”112 Likewise, an extract from Edward Young’s antipleasure diatribe, The Centaur, Not Fabulous (1755), reprinted serially in the American Moral and Sentimental Magazine (1797–98), holds that pleasure, in its “boundless fields of licentiousness,” exercises an “extravagant dominion” over men and societies.113 In both cases, pleasure is insistently spatial and assumed to be so powerful in its expansive tendencies as to require suppression. Such conceptions understand pleasure’s relation of aesthetic liberty and constraint as a stark moral opposition. The Boston Magazine’s excerpt from Lord Chesterfield’s Letters to His Son (1774), for example, distinguishes between “liberal and illiberal pleasures” and advocates “the elegant pleasures of a rational being” over “the brutal ones of a swine.”114 While a poem in the United States Magazine notes that “pleasure spread[s] her chearing smile,” another from the Columbian Museum warns that it “spreads her silken snares.”115 In countless texts of the period, pleasure either confirms one’s essential liberty or leads to some form of enslavement. Women, in particular, were subject to stern warnings against pleasure’s “vain amusements.” Generally believed to have both stronger passions and less control over them, women bore the double burden of being associated with the enslaving excesses of the imagination without the corresponding possibility of being liberated by it. Judith Sargent Murray’s “On the Equality of the Sexes,” published in the Massachusetts Magazine in 1790, faces this problem directly when it speaks of women’s stereotypical capacity for gossip and taste for clothes as “proofs of a creative faculty.”116 If a woman was “permitted the same instructors as her brother,” she argues, “an ample field would be opened.”117 In fact, Murray assumes that the pleasures of the intellect yield a kind of rational freedom. As she writes in the essay’s poetic prologue: “The soul unfetter’d, to no sex confin’d, / Was for the abodes of cloudless day design’d.”118 Without such “liberty for speculation,” however, the effect is the reverse. Not only does a woman’s capacity for aesthetic liberty become “a void, which the employments allotted her are by no means capable


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of filling,” but turning to “Fashion, scandal, and sometimes what is still more reprehensible,” the “liberties” she takes in such pleasures leads her only to moral enslavement.119 For Murray and other critics, whether pleasure enslaves or liberates depends fundamentally on whether it derives from the body or the mind. Although longstanding Christian moral norms designated the body as the site of sin and the mind as the site of virtue, Addison first gave this distinction significance for the pleasures of the imagination. By calling taste a “Faculty of the Soul,” he differentiates mental pleasures from “Criminal” pleasures of “Vice or Folly” and makes them not merely distinct from but also far superior to bodily ones.120 Blair clarifies what is implicit in Addison’s claim by noting that the pleasures of the mind can deter one from those of the body: “He who is so happy as to have acquired a relish for these, has always at hand an innocent and irreproachable amusement for his leisure hours, to save him from the danger of many a pernicious passion.”121 Such rhetoric distinguishes not only mental from sensual pleasures, but also sensible from sensual persons, in this way alienating the socio-economically and racially marginalized from the elite sphere of aesthetic pleasure on explicitly rational and moral grounds. Thus, Brackenridge’s United States Magazine declares, “What is man without taste, and the acquirements of genius? An OuranOutang, with the human shape, and the soul of a beast.”122 As the perceptual origin of all ideas in the mind, however, the sensations of the body could not be rejected entirely. For Blair, as for Addison, Kames, and others, aesthetic pleasures hold a “middle station between the pleasures of sense, and those of pure intellect.” So described, the pleasures of taste “refresh the mind after the toils of the intellect, and the labours of abstract study; and they gradually raise it above the attachments of sense, and prepare it for the enjoyments of virtue.”123 Blair’s emphasis on the progression from the body to the mind is fully realized in Kames’s claim that “the Author of our nature, by qualifying the human mind for a succession of enjoyments from low to high, leads it by gentle steps from the most grovelling corporeal pleasures, for which only it is fitted in the beginning of life, to those refined and sublime pleasures that are suited to its maturity.”124 For both authors, mental pleasures mark the maturation of people and societies, bodily ones their infancy.125 Thus, we can see how jeremiads against sensual pleasure, rather than rejecting aesthetics and art, actually helped to construct the rhetorical foundation that gave the pleasures of the imagination so much moral authority and made enthusiastic celebrations and critical investigations of them so com-

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mon. In the words of the Philadelphia Minerva, borrowed from the English Monthly Review, it is precisely because the “gratifications of sense reside in the lowest regions of our nature” that the pleasures of the mind may be said to “belong to the highest powers and best affections of the soul.”126 Likewise, the American Museum declares that mental pleasures “constitute some of the sweetest satisfactions of human life,” not least because they are innocent, durable, invigorating, and consoling, and require neither health nor wealth to enjoy.127 Given these assumptions, the advocacy of the pleasure of the imagination sometimes extends to more specific claims of aesthetic power and autonomy. For example, the Massachusetts Magazine argues that “[t] he man of taste and learning creates, as it were, a little world of his own, in which he exercises and improves his faculties; and he feels the most exalted satisfaction arising from things, the existence of which is scarcely known to a vulgar mind.”128 Similarly, the New-York Weekly Magazine (1795–97) calls the imagination “a quality of the soul, not only a brilliant but a happy one,” which “transports us beyond ourselves, and makes us taste future and the most distant pleasures.”129 If some accounts of aesthetic pleasure conceive it as a purely positive good, however, most call for a balance between liberty of imagination and the moral constraint it requires. As the Philadelphia Repository (1800–5) insists, “every pleasure which is pursued to excess, converts itself into a poison.”130 Again, such warnings must be understood not only for the intemperance they enjoin, but also for the moderation they endorse. For it is the distinction between excessive and moderate pleasures, like that between the pleasures of the body and of the mind, which renders pleasure not only permissible but necessary to the experience of aesthetic liberty. In one of the earliest uses of the phrase “liberty of the imagination,” Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature (1739–40) argues that impressions made by sense perceptions create “faint images” in the mind called “ideas.” Such ideas, when sufficiently vivid, can later be called up by the memory in the same order in which the impressions occurred; but the mind’s ability “to transpose and change its ideas,” to reorder and recombine them at will, is owing to the “liberty of the imagination.”131 This distinction between impressions and ideas is key; for like the turn from sensuous to mental pleasures, the progression from felt impressions to imagined ideas—what Addison calls “primary” and “secondary” pleasures—is inherently liberating. As Hume argues, in creating ideas from impressions, the imagining subject becomes free from both the order in which the impressions originally occurred and the ordered logic of nature. But this also means that one need neither possess nor even


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perceive an object to enjoy it. In this way, liberty of the imagination signified a heightened form of aesthetic potential, making all the world’s pleasures available to anyone capable of enjoying them. Without such powers, according to the Weekly Magazine, the “pleasures of man” would be “limited to mere sensation.”132 But with them, as the Literary Tablet (1803–7) declares, “the philosopher, buoyant on the wings of imagination, travels the unbounded regions of space, unfolds the mysteries of nature, [and] brings to view new worlds . . . here the mind is not fettered by systematic rules—here the fancy may rove free, and unconfined.”133 Such a conception of the imagination, though somewhat trite by the turn of the nineteenth century, recapitulates the “extravagant dominion” of pleasure with philosophical authority and transforms it from a moral problem into a space of moral possibility. The ability of the imagination to turn impressions into ideas thus directly implied its capacity for creative autonomy. For Addison, secondary pleasures assumed that the imagination turned “Ideas of visible Objects” into “agreeable Visions of Things that are either Absent or Fictitious.”134 From this basic premise, Stewart argues that it was not only independent of objective circumstances but utterly “unlimited” in its possibilities. Nature has “defects and redundancies,” he writes, “which art may sometimes, but cannot always, correct.” But the imagination can “create and annihilate; and dispose, at pleasure, her woods, her rocks, and her rivers.”135 With such liberating power at its disposal, the imagination was often referred to as the “fancy,” whose capacity for creativity and pleasure was viewed as explicitly unregulated and unpredictable.136 But Gerard takes the idea of autonomy yet one step further when he argues that the imagination receives pleasure not only from the “impulse of external objects” and the combination of secondary or complex ideas but also from “the consciousness of its own operations and dispositions” and the facility with which it perceives objects and generates ideas.137 Such liberty of the imagination not only escapes the limitations of materiality but literally exults in the independence of its own creative potential. Yet for most writers, liberty of the imagination, like political liberty, must never be completely unregulated. For the ideas that produce pleasure and pain are understood to be connected by the logic of association, which both enables and regulates them. According to Kames, associative “trains” of ideas are subject to inalterable principles of reason (of cause and effect, contiguity, resemblance, hierarchy, etc.). We see this ordering power even in our seemingly undirected thoughts. But we also see it in our response to aesthetic objects, which seeks in them a correspondence of associative order.

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“When an object is introduced by a proper connexion,” Kames writes, “we are conscious of a certain pleasure arising from that circumstance.” Thus, “Every work of art that is conformable to the natural course of our ideas, is so far agreeable and every work of art that reverses that course, is so far disagreeable.”138 Such a necessary correlation of perceiving minds and aesthetic objects, however, is not so inflexible as it might appear. For, as Kames argues, we also retain the freedom to engage with the order of ideas presented to our imaginations as we please and to acknowledge stricter or looser associations, depending on our will, our “present tone of mind,” or the strength of our “discerning faculty.” In this way, he derives two distinct types of imagining subjects: one with “accurate judgment” who ignores all “slighter relations”; the other with “wit” who entertains “a great flow of ideas.” For Kames, then, the flexible governing logic of association yields not mental enslavement but a sense of affirmation. Because “we are framed by nature to relish order and connexion,” he argues, association represents a principle of self-fulfillment, wherein the objective order of the world ratifies the spontaneous impulses of the imagination.139 For many American critics, association affirmed the extraordinary diversity of pleasures and tastes, explaining that, although some associations are “common to all mankind,” others “are confined to persons of particular pursuits and tempers.”140 But despite Kames’s confidence in the ordered independence of imaginative power, association also raised the specter of mental error and corrupted imaginations. For example, the New England Quarterly Magazine (1802) warns that “an early false association of ideas” can lead children to “absurd antipathies” and even “moral insanities.”141 Likewise, the Massachusetts Magazine reprints the popular chapter on taste from Reid’s Essays, which cautions that the corruption of one’s associations might produce “a relish for what has no real excellence,” such as a “depraved taste” for “ashes or cinders.”142 Both essays express the fear that it is paradoxically the imagination’s freedom to pursue such a vast range of ideas that might turn anyone into what Brown called “the slave of accidental associations.”143 Thus, in naming the very logic—or illogic—of ideation and judgment, association offered a theory of moderate liberty of the imagination whose potential for failure was, like republican liberty, imbedded in the source of its efficacy. Genius and Taste This conflict reflects the fact that eighteenth-century aesthetic categories in general tended to be structured in terms of oppositional forces of liberty and


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constraint. For example, Kames’s man of “wit” who entertains “a great flow of ideas” is the antithesis of the man of “accurate judgment” who ignores all “slighter relations.” The distinction between wit and judgment was made famous by Locke’s Essay, which insisted that “men who have a great deal of wit, and prompt memories, have not always the clearest judgment, or deepest reason.” In fact, Locke’s connection of wit with “the assemblage of ideas” and judgment with “separating carefully, one from another,” became a template for a host of aesthetic oppositions.144 But its most direct and significant legacy was the opposition of genius and taste. In the mid-seventeenth century, genius referred to an ability or quality in a person that fitted him for a specific task. By the mid-eighteenth century, however, it also began to signify an exceptional talent, a heightened associative capacity, or a gift for creativity and originality. Thus, Edward Young’s Conjectures on Original Composition (1759) holds that “Genius differs from a good Understanding, as a magician from a good Architect.”145 Like the rejection of mechanical rules, this idea of genius affirmed the work of imagination as not only original but also authoritative. Beattie argues that those with genius are singled out to “contrive and command” others.146 For Reynolds, genius charts new territories of art and imagination “where vulgar and trite rules have no longer any place.”147 In the same way, when the Columbian Magazine defines genius as “the capacity of producing, in any art, that which is excellent,” it names its chief merit as “striking out for itself a tract which has been untrodden before.”148 At the same time, however, such power was sometimes stigmatized as unreliable and destructive. Numerous essays, parables, and epigrams warned of the “Fate of Genius,” its tendency toward capriciousness, eccentricity, poverty, obscurity, and even madness.149 Marked, even more so than the “man of wit,” with an exceptional power of association, and given to such non-remunerative vocations as poetry and scientific speculation, the genius’s creativity, especially when uncultivated or unregulated, was often said to make him both a social failure and a social threat. As the American Museum (1787–88) counsels, quoting Henry St. John Bolingbroke, “Genius, without the improvement at least of experience, is what comets once were thought to be, a blazing meteor, irregular in his course, and dangerous in his approach; of no use to any system, and able to destroy any.”150 In the face of such ambivalence, genius was increasingly opposed to taste as paired categories in a dichotomy of aesthetic liberty and constraint. Blair, in his Lectures, protests that the two terms are often “joined together; and

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therefore, by inaccurate thinkers, confounded.” Alternatively, he insists that “they signify two quite different things.  .  .  .  Taste consists in the power of judging: Genius, in the power of executing.”151 If genius was defined as the capacity to produce excellent or original works of art, taste meant the ability to take pleasure in such works, as well as in the beautiful and sublime objects of nature and virtuous human actions. Where genius implied the unfettered exercise of the individual imagination, taste invoked its ordered universality. Some theorists argued that, while distinct powers, genius and taste operate in harmonious relation to one another. For Gerard, the chief function of genius is not execution but “invention,” which means comprehending relations between associations as well as re-assembling them. Thus, his idea of genius not only identifies similarities but like Locke’s judgment also parses differences. The “same associating power” that finds connections between ideas, he writes, also “leads us to perceive the different degrees of that connexion.”152 Moreover, Gerard argues that genius is no more unreliable than taste. Although renowned as “capricious and unaccountable,” he writes in his Essay on Genius (1774), it is actually “subject to established laws” and capable of “such regularity and correctness as is in a great measure sufficient for avoiding all improper ideas.”153 Conversely, for Gerard, just as genius shares some of the powers of taste, so does taste act in some ways like genius: “The same vigour of the associating principles which renders genius quick and comprehensive must bestow such strength on the several dependent operations of fancy which generate taste.”154 To put it in Madisonian terms, taste gives stability and energy to genius, and genius gives liberty to taste. Genius and taste thus function as a kind of bicameral legislature or republican constitution, as complimentary powers best realized in combination. Genius, Gerard writes, “needs the assistance of taste, to guide and moderate its exertions”; taste “serves as a check on mere fancy; it interposes its judgment, either approving or condemning; and rejects many things which unassisted genius would have allowed.”155 Still, since both genius and taste are active powers tending toward opposite effects, their combination risks being neither balanced nor harmonious. Gerard admits that “Genius is not always attended with taste precisely equal and proportioned,” and “taste often prevails where genius is wanting.”156 Such a disproportion might merely describe a source of the difference between critics and artists. As Blair notes, “Refined Taste forms a good critic; but Genius is farther necessary to form the poet, or the orator.”157 But the difference between genius and taste sometimes produced a specifically politicized debate over their relative merits, hierarchy,


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and relation to liberty. Thus, Blair writes that because taste enforces constraints, “Critics have been represented as the great abridgers of the native liberty of genius; as the imposers of unnatural shackles and bonds upon writers, from whose cruel persecution they must fly to the Public, and implore its protection.” But Blair also insists that genius “deserves to be considered as a higher power of the mind than Taste” because it “always imports something inventive or creative; which does not rest in mere sensibility to beauty.”158 The significance of this debate will be considered at length in Chapter 6; but here it is enough to remark that, if taste is sometimes deprecated for constraining liberty of the imagination, and genius for overindulging it, critics assume that viewing them as categories in conflict enables philosophical speculation about the possibility of aesthetic liberty within prescribed limits.159 The greatest challenge that freedom-loving, rule-breaking genius faced in its comparison with taste was to demonstrate that it obeyed some law, even if it were a law of its own making. The fact that it was liberated, rare, and original often made it difficult to conceive how its processes could be predictable and virtuous, or how its achievements could speak a common language, appeal widely, and discern truth as well as beauty. Taste, however, faced a different problem. As a giver of laws and judgments, it was sometimes associated with the rigid rules of mechanical criticism and thought to dampen the powers of genius. More often, in comparison with the cognitive categories of reason and understanding, it seemed both intangible beyond description and inadequately universal. American critics, in particular, were explicitly aware of the degree to which the discourse of taste partook of a “mysterious and incomprehensible language.”160 The South-Carolina Weekly Museum (1797) laments that “Taste is so vague a term, so indescribable, and so little ascertained, that every person has different ideas of its signification.”161 Likewise, the Halcyon Luminary writes: “So various are the conceptions which people entertain of taste, that is it impossible to define its proper signification, or to confine it within any specific bounds.”162 Such concerns about definitions and boundaries point not only to the diversity of opinions that multiple definitions of taste imply but also to the difficulty of attributing concrete substance to something as ethereal and ineffable as aesthetic judgment. One way theorists addressed this challenge was to define taste as an autonomous faculty of the imagination, free from the constraints of reason, interest, passion, and even materiality. Hutcheson argues that taste is an “internal sense,” through which pleasure in beautiful objects or virtuous acts arises in the mind just as it does with the external senses from which it is

Figure 3. “Taste under the Influence of Wisdom.” The Literary Miscellany, 1795. Engraved by James Thackara. Courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.


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metaphorically derived: immediately, necessarily, and without “Knowledge of Principles, Proportions, Causes, or of the Usefulness of the Object.”163 Although writers like Burke, Gerard, and Alison questioned whether taste is a distinct faculty or combination of emotional or cognitive responses, most continued to treat it as a discrete capacity to feel pleasure in certain objects. Thus, the Massachusetts Magazine declares, “Taste is a natural or instinctive propensity to the beautiful, elegant, and sublime, operating in a quick, exquisite, and habitual perception of sensibility of all things strikingly brilliant or intrinsically excellent.”164 Such an automatic discernment of pleasure assumes a formidable, independent, even disinterested power. Alison has such a power in mind when he describes the sensibility by which subjects respond to objects with pleasure as “freedom of the imagination,” which because it involves the free play of association is not unlike Hume’s “liberty of the imagination.” In fact, for the imagination to function “in its fullest perfection,” Alison insists, it must be “at liberty” or not preoccupied with any contrary or inhospitable feelings.165 Given this autonomy, the regulatory function of taste was believed to provide a range of public and private benefits that fostered moderate political liberty. According to British theorists and American critics, it improved morals and manners, facilitated sympathy and social harmony, controlled passions, inhibited luxury, consoled misfortune, encouraged learning, exercised the mind, and even heightened pleasure for its own sake. To cultivate a refined taste through education, criticism, and practice was therefore synonymous with becoming more fully and ideally human. Thus, declares the Columbian Magazine, “Happy is he who may be called a man of superior taste. He has reached a source of pure, innocent, and sublime pleasure.”166 The Beautiful and the Sublime Like taste and genius, beauty and sublimity were sometimes used interchangeably. The Columbian Magazine’s reference to “sublime pleasure” could mean pleasurable responses to either beautiful or wondrous objects. But after Burke’s pairing of the terms in his 1757 Philosophical Enquiry, many writers assumed that they represented contrasting forces, whose opposition provided not only a coherent structure to the varieties of aesthetic experience but also a flexible aesthetic vocabulary for the antinomies of power. Addison’s earlier definitions of beauty and sublimity or “greatness” had readily suggested such ideas. If beauty implies ease and contentment, he argues, greatness implies activity and freedom. Beauty “strikes the Mind with an

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inward Joy, and spreads a Chearfulness and Delight through all its Faculties.”167 Conversely, concerning greatness, he writes that the “Mind of Man naturally hates every thing that looks like a Restraint upon it, and is apt to fancy it self under a sort of Confinement, when the Sight is pent up in a narrow Compass.”168 Thus, while beauty “immediately diffuses a secret Satisfaction and Complacency thro’ the Imagination,” greatness produces a “pleasing astonishment” and “Amazement in the soul.”169 For Burke, however, beauty relates to ideas of pleasure, love, and sympathy, and sublimity to those of pain, terror, and self-preservation. Moreover, these ideas are specifically produced by somatic responses to objects, such that a beautiful object causes “a relaxation in the body” and a sublime one results in a “tension, contraction, or violent emotion of the nerves.”170 Not only are such responses implicitly suggestive of bodily liberty and constraint, but they are also explicitly reflective of the power relations signified by sublime and beautiful objects: “we submit to what we admire, but we love what submits to us; in one case, we are forced, in the other we are flattered into compliance.”171 Where Addison’s greatness symbolizes the self-empowerment of exceeding one’s capacities, Burke’s sublime suggests the humbling experience of reaching them. Yet both discover in aesthetic response the most fundamental oppositions of political life: pleasure and pain, love and fear, elevation and subordination, liberty and constraint. As the Juvenile Magazine (1802–3) asserts, beauty and sublimity are “the two prime features of nature, and of nature’s God,” and the “emotions they kindle are the two grand pulses of the human bosom.”172 Such oppositional pulses also structure theories of beauty, emphasizing both our delight in order, regularity, and harmony and our fascination with formal variety. Hutcheson first proposes that beauty in objects results from our perception of a relation of “uniformity amidst variety,” such that “where the Uniformity of Bodys is equal, the Beauty is as the Variety; and where the Variety is equal, the Beauty is as the Uniformity.” Although this formula led Hutcheson to make some rather dubious pronouncements—for example, he insists that the “Beauty of an equilateral triangle is less than that of the Square, which is less than that of a Pentagon”—it was influential in setting the terms of the debate about the sources of beauty because its liberal acknowledgement of difference and allowance for non-conformity implied a model of contained freedom.173 Burke specifically rejects Hutcheson’s idea that a proportion of uniformity and variety is a source of beauty because such an idea is “a creature of the understanding.”174 Instead, he argues that beauty derives from the perception of “some quality in bodies,” such as


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smallness, smoothness, and delicacy. But he also insists that beautiful objects “never continue long in the same right line. They vary their direction every moment, and they change under the eye by a deviation continually carrying on.”175 In making such a claim, Burke explicitly endorses Hogarth’s notion of the “line of beauty,” whose serpentine figure delights the imagination with its gradual variety. If Hutcheson’s liberal model privileges uniformity over variety, Hogarth’s more radical one does the reverse. Although uniformity implies fitness, he argues, it cannot “serve the purpose of pleasing the eye, merely on the score of beauty,” and too much uniformity soon fatigues the imagination. Rather, what he calls a “composed variety” avoids “confusion and deformity” but offers to stimulate the imagination with its ever-changing forms and to expand the idea of beauty to include the values of asymmetry and irregularity.176 Despite its formalism, Hutcheson’s argument assumes that beauty is an “Idea rais’d in us” rather than something inherent in the object itself. Although Reid would strenuously disagree with this notion, it inspired other theorists of beauty to emphasize the phenomenology of the imagination and its objects. Gerard, for example, assumes that, because “Facility in the conception of an object, if it be moderate, gives us pleasure,” uniformity helps the imagination to form its conception without difficulty.177 But like Hogarth, he also warns that the same uniformity, “when perfect and unmixed, is apt to pall upon the sense . . . and to sink the mind into an uneasy state of indolence.” Indeed, “Variety is necessary to enliven it” because it “gratifies the sense of novelty” and “puts the mind in action.”178 Yet, for Gerard, there are also limits to the pleasure of variety. Too much of it would leave the mind “displeased and disgusted, when it found that, after numberless efforts to conceive the object, the endless dissimilitude and perplexed composition of the parts still baffled its endeavors, and hindered it from perfecting its idea.”179 As we have seen, an underlying logic for these ideas is provided by Kames, who argues that objects please most when they correspond most closely to the associative principles of human nature. Such a harmonizing of uniformity and variety thus implies a mind that balances ease and effort and gives what Addison calls a “gentle Exercise to the Faculties.”180 In other words, the pleasure of beautiful objects derives from an ideal relation of mental liberty and constraint. Despite Reid’s objections, the concept of beauty as an idea in the mind was well received by American critics, who learned to understand beauty as characterized as much by association and sympathy as by the formal prop-

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erties of objects. Its sources thus might be found in what Kames calls the “relative beauty” of design, utility, fitness, decorum, or resemblance, criteria whose range led to increasingly diverse conceptions of beauty. In 1790, the Universal Asylum’s extract from Smith’s Theory, for example, notes that “utility is one of the principal sources of beauty” because “the fitness of any system . . . bestows a certain propriety and beauty upon the whole, and renders the very thought and contemplation of it agreeable.”181 Similarly, the Lady’s Weekly Miscellany (1806–10) rejects Hogarth’s analysis of formal beauty as “cold calculation” in favor of a more particularized and variable theory of beauty as a matter of association. Its anonymous critic asserts that beauty depends not on proportion or any “invariable” criteria but rather on the mind of the perceiver as variously influenced by custom, fashion, habit, and even accidental associations.182 Such ideas became especially popular with critics after the first American publication of Alison’s Essays in Boston by Joseph Buckminster in 1812. By linking beauty to the variable logic of sympathy and association, they assumed not only more diverse sources of beauty but more diverse kinds of perceivers. The politics implied by the variety of beauty is made even more explicit in the category of the picturesque, which by applying the principles of painting to landscape design sought to harmonize the calm of beauty with the force of sublimity. In the 1790s, American periodicals began to publish philosophical essays on the picturesque, picturesque tales of travel, and descriptions of European and American landscapes in the style of William Gilpin, which praised the “infinite variety” of nature and eschewed uniformity and elegance for the roughness of “trees, rocks, broken grounds, woods, rivers, lakes, plains, vallies, mountains, and distances.”183 Brown published three essays on the topic: “On a Taste for the Picturesque” in his 1800 Monthly Magazine and “On the Picturesque” and “Distinctions Between the Beautiful and the Picturesque” in his 1806 Literary Magazine. In the latter, he writes that the variety of objects and forms “excites and nourishes curiosity.” Unlike beauty’s suggestion of “quiet and repose,” the picturesque manifests “spirit and animation” and thus can be seen in “sudden, unexpected, and abrupt transitions, in a certain playful wildness of character, and an appearance of irregularity.”184 Such terms often took on specifically political meanings when the rejection of formality, symmetry, and order recapitulated the rejection of critical rules and stood surrogate for Whig principles of liberty. This was never more the case than in the controversial debate about the picturesque between Uvedale Price and Humphrey Repton.185 In his Essay on the Picturesque (1794), Price


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objects to the bland artificiality of Lancelot “Capability” Brown’s canonical English gardens, arguing instead that landscapes should be modeled on the natural, rough, asymmetrical forms depicted in landscape paintings. A year later, the July 1795 issue of the American Monthly Review (1795) published an agitated barrage of responses. First, a glib review of Price’s Essay rejects its claims as “so much genius” spent “unprofitably” and mocks a didactic poem on the picturesque by Richard Payne Knight, which had been published alongside it.186 Next, another review applauds John Matthews’s “A Sketch from the Landscape” (1794), a satirical poem written in response to Knight’s, lampooning its progressive aesthetics and democratic sentiments. Finally, a third review approvingly extracts one of the more evocative passages from Repton’s retaliatory Letter to Uvedale Price (1794), originally written in response to Price’s Essay: “I cannot help seeing great affinity betwixt deducing gardening from the painter’s studies of wild nature, and deducing a government from the uncontrolled opinions of man in a savage state. The neatness, simplicity, and elegance of English gardening, have acquired the approbation of the present century as the happy medium betwixt the wildness of nature and the stiffness of art; in the same manner as the English constitution is the happy medium betwixt the liberty of savages and the restraint of despotic government; and so long as we enjoy the benefit of these middle degrees betwixt extremes of each, let experiments of untried theoretical improvement be made in some other country.”187 In an era of political revolutions and new constitutions, “wild” gardens implied for Repton not merely aesthetic variety but the “uncontrolled opinions” of the masses; in the same way, the “stiffness of art” signified nothing less than “despotic government.” Thus, despite their antagonism, what Repton, Price, and the American Monthly Review critics all agree upon is what Repton calls the “great affinity” between aesthetic and political forms. In fact, like Hutcheson’s and Hogarth’s divergent views on uniformity and variety, their disagreement is really only a matter of emphasis, but their object is the same: a “happy medium” between “liberty” and “restraint.”188 Whereas the picturesque implied a liberating departure from political authority and established rule, the sublime represented unmitigated power. For Burke, as we have seen, it emphasizes ideas of pain, terror, or self-preservation, the humbling acknowledgement of insurmountable force, and a “delightful” feeling of “astonishment” whose constraining effects subordinate the powers of the perceiving subject to the object of its perception. It is a “state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of

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horror.” In perceiving any form or association of vastness, infinity, monotony, succession, privation, difficulty, or obscurity, the “mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other, nor by consequence reason on that object which employs it.”189 Thus, unlike pleasure, which “follows the will” and cannot be “forced upon us,” pain “is always inflicted by a power in some way superior.”190 For Burke, the quintessential instance of this omnipotence is God himself: “whilst we contemplate so vast an object . . . we shrink into the minuteness of our own nature, and are, in a manner, annihilated before him.”191 Of course, “in a manner” is a crucial qualifier here, since it is only at “certain distances, and with certain modifications” that the terrible can be a source of “delight” rather than pain.192 Thus, Burke’s idea of the sublime is influenced by that of John Dennis, who, paraphrasing Longinus, defines it as “an invincible Force which commits a pleasing Rape upon the very Soul.”193 In fact, the pleasure of the sublime hints at the paradox in Burke’s argument that sublime ideas of pain, terror, or self-preservation might also inspire ambition, achievement, or virtue, that feelings of “annihilation” can also lead to those of elevation and self-expansion.194 As we have seen, for Addison, magnificent objects are “Image[s] of Liberty,” and greatness inspires a kind of rising to the threat of force and fulfillment of human potential.195 Likewise, John Baillie’s Essay on the Sublime (1747) claims that its effect is “owing to the mind’s finding herself in the exercise of more enlarged powers;” and Reid holds that sublime objects require “a stretch of imagination to grasp them in our minds.”196 In the same way, for Burke, sublime objects can “raise a man in his own opinion” because “the mind [is] always claiming to itself some part of the dignity or importance of the things which it contemplates.” It does not merely struggle to comprehend such objects but identifies with them, such that it derives from otherwise humbling ideas a “sense of inward greatness.”197 If the sublime is defined by this tension between humility and ambition, however, it is far from ambivalent. Unlike the beautiful, which seeks to reconcile the opposed forces of uniformity and variety that constitute it, the sublime refuses such reconciliation. Whereas the beautiful is enhanced by formal moderation, for Burke, the sublime “in all things abhors mediocrity.”198 Blair, whose chapter on “Sublimity in Writing” was reprinted in the Boston Magazine, agrees that sublime description “admits of no mediocrity, and cannot subsist in a middle state.”199 In this way, the sublime is the very reverse of Repton’s notion of English gardens as a “middle degree betwixt


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extremes.” Whether it signifies ideas of liberty or of power, the sublime, unlike the beautiful and the picturesque, brooks no moderation and thus becomes a figure for the dangers of despotism and revolution alike.200 The Standard of Taste The political implications of a sensible world described by such diverse objects and forms were further complicated by the fact that they were perceived by a diverse population of perceivers with an infinite variety of preferences and opinions. “How Various are the Tastes of Men,” exclaims the Lady’s Weekly Miscellany in 1808, echoing many other essays like it. Just as there was no general agreement on a standard definition of taste, neither were there uniform assumptions about which specific objects and forms gave pleasure. As Blair writes, the variations of taste “have been so great and frequent, as to create a suspicion with some, of its being merely arbitrary; grounded on no foundation, ascertainable by no standard, but wholly dependant on changing fancy.”201 Alison’s Essays argues that, although associations are socially constructed and largely shared, they differ as a function of age, occupation, “habits of thought,” attention to “fashion,” and other factors, such that the diversity of taste is potentially limitless. Consequently, some American critics saw in the manifest authority of individual preferences clear evidence against a “standard of taste.” Because it emerged from and expressed the very essence of selfhood, they argued, taste not only lacked the uniformity of a standard but actively refused it. As the Columbian Magazine asserts, “what each man feels within himself is the standard of sentiment.”202 Such independence of mind is more or less a universal birthright. It “governs in the proudest castle, and presides in the lowest cottage,” writes the Halcyon Luminary, and “so fond is he of his prerogative to judge, that [not] one in a thousand is . . . willing to submit to the decision of another.”203 To do so, it seemed to many critics, was to submit to the kind of mechanical rules that aesthetic theory had so emphatically rejected. The critique of a standard of taste, however, came under attack from its most respected authorities. Gerard rejects the idea that “every man is to himself an infallible judge of beauty” as preposterous; and Hume calls the “principle of the natural equality of tastes” an “extravagant paradox” and a “palpable absurdity.”204 Their main objection is that such claims unsettled the very foundation of criticism and morals. If “there is no disputing about taste,” Kames warns, then “every man’s taste [would be] to himself an ultimate standard without appeal; and consequently . . . there is no ground of censure against anyone.”205 But by claiming the autonomy of individual tastes, the cri-

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tique of standards challenges more than the “ground of censure.” A standard was not merely a hypothetical benchmark for artists and connoisseurs but also a philosophical gesture of assurance that, beneath the fact of so much variety of opinion and diversity of associations, there existed a common faculty, sensibility, or mental process that united all perceiving subjects. Kames uses the legal language of “censure” and “appeal” precisely because he sees the democratic language deployed against a standard as threatening the very idea of political community, the possibility that individuals with different experiences and preferences might live together in harmony. The case for a standard was thus based on two premises. The first was that our most basic perceptions are fundamentally alike. As Burke argues, where the senses are concerned, the “manner of perceiving external objects is in all men the same,” and thus “the pleasures and pains which every object excites in one man, it must raise in all mankind.”206 Just as none would deny that vinegar is sour rather than sweet, he explains, so everyone would agree that it is natural to prefer the latter to the former. The second premise insists that we instinctively believe in, desire, and benefit from the human commonality that a standard implies. “It is natural for us to seek a Standard of Taste,” writes Hume, “a rule, by which the various sentiments of men may be reconciled.” Rather than resisting “the decision of another,” in fact, we seek to conform to it for our own good.207 On one level, such conformity leads to increased pleasure. As Smith argues, the “correspondence of the sentiments of others” enhances our pleasures and mitigates our sufferings.208 On another level, it is a specifically moral good. For Kames, “We are so constituted, as to conceive this common nature to be not only invariable, but also perfect or right; and consequently that individuals ought to be made conformable to it.”209 A standard, he argues, represents an ideal of culture that unites people in a human community; to reject it is to reject one’s essential humanity. The problem for a standard of taste, then, was how simultaneously to acknowledge and to moderate the autonomy implied by the individualizing power of the imagination, or as Peter Kivy writes, to “steer a safe course between out-and-out aesthetic relativism and a rigid aesthetic rationalism.”210 One means of addressing this problem was to limit the scope of universality by grounding the idea of taste in a sociology of racial and cultural difference. Most eighteenth-century writers on the subject assume that taste is the exclusive domain of what Andrew Hemingway calls “the ‘polite’ ranks of ‘polite’ nations.”211 Gerard, for example, claims not only that “Savages have a grossness both of taste and of passion, which distinguishes them from civilized


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nations,” but also that the “vulgar in every nation are distinguished by the same circumstance from the polite.”212 Other writers refer repeatedly to the “natural,” “untutored,” and “bizarre” tastes of Africans, Asians, and American Indians, often with regard to their unfamiliar forms of diet, dress, and ritualistic behavior. Such references serve to illustrate the vagaries of association, showing how ordinary differences in climate and culture can produce wildly different pleasures and preferences. One of the most widely reprinted examples of this rhetoric comes from the chapter on taste in Reid’s Essays, which attributes diversity in taste to “the force of custom, of fancy, and of casual associations.” Thus, “An Eskimaux can regale himself with a draught of whale oil, and a Canadian can feast upon a dog. A Kamtschatkadale lives upon putrid fish, and is sometimes reduced to eat the bark of trees.”213 In another popular essay, the idea of a cultivated taste is defined by its negation: “The savage American is transported with pleasure, when he hears the sound of his rude instrument formed of a gourd; certainly he would not be so, had he been accustomed to hear the strains of Handel in his forests.”214 Both arguments seek to establish norms of aesthetic experience by assuming an abstract universality whose bemused rejection of the unusual or obscure posits an extensive Euro-American community of taste.215 But they also base their claims in a politics of distinction that, by constructing the worldly sophistication of educated readers, effectively polices the boundaries between the cultivated and the uncultivated—since only those familiar with Kamtschatka and Handel can be certain of their relation to this rhetoric of exclusion. For elite American readers, that is, to wonder at the bizarre tastes of primitive peoples both masks and gives voice to a more fundamental critique of the “vulgar” tastes of the poor, illiterate, and uncultivated. This diversity of taste among classes and cultures was thus accounted for in aesthetic theory more often in terms of learned preferences than of innate traits. The cultivation of the imagination was understood to educate the taste and enhance its pleasures by forming habits of association. For most writers, a cultivated taste was conceived as theoretically within the reach of all but practically available only to a few. Thus, one critic distinguishes between the “natural taste” of “ignorant men” and a cultivated taste whose attention to “the several objects of the fine arts . . . increase[s] the pleasure of the imagination” by study and comparison.216 Essays like the Universal Asylum’s “Of the Refinements of Taste and Elegance” and “On the Means of Promoting Taste in Reading” from the Philadelphia Monthly Magazine (1799) give specific suggestions for doing precisely that. Although some critics admitted that the

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efforts of cultivation were beyond the means of ordinary people, the pure potential it celebrated was alluring in a young republic. As the Companion and Weekly Miscellany (1804–6) optimistically notes, “though the opportunities of cultivation are not equally bestowed, yet the seeds of it are sown in the breast of the peasant as well as the prince.”217 Like the Halcyon Luminary’s assumptions about the continuity between the taste of the “proudest castle” and that of the “lowest cottage,” such rhetoric appealed to the egalitarian ideas of the diffusion of knowledge and an informed citizenry; but it also implicitly reinforced aristocratic class identities while obscuring the economic and political realities upon which they were based. As political democratization, economic prosperity, and a growing culture of politeness expanded communities of taste, however, the question of diversity could not always be sufficiently resolved by recourse to distinctions of cultivation. Thus, some writers embraced more innate or elusive distinctions. Burke, for example, claims that, although the principles of taste are “entirely uniform,” still “the degree in which these principles prevail in the several individuals of mankind, is altogether as different as the principles themselves are similar.”218 More specifically, Hume writes that differences in taste were attributable to “the want of that delicacy of imagination, which is requisite to convey a sensibility of those finer emotions.”219 Such notions of “delicacy” and “degree” were more difficult to define or demonstrate than cultivation, but they indicated the heightened ability of some people to respond to objects, form associations, and enjoy mental pleasure. Superior original powers, that is, implied their superior use, and most discussions of taste describe both ideal modes of judgment and ideally disinterested judges. To perceive objects correctly requires that one be unencumbered by bodily labor and economic need and capable of suppressing private interests. Thus, correct taste is possible only for the kind of educated, independent, and naturally sensitive citizens Madison invokes in Federalist 37, or what Kames calls “men in their more perfect state.” “This consideration,” Kames writes, “bars the greater part of mankind; and of the remaining part, many by a corrupted taste are unqualified for voting. The common sense of mankind must then be confined to the few that fall not under these exceptions.”220 As Kames’s references to “common sense” and “voting” suggest, affirming the democratic universality of the imagination paradoxically enabled aesthetic theorists to realize taste as the liberating domain of the elite.221 Despite the apparent injustice of Kames’s mass disenfranchisement, however, the idea of a universal standard of taste was as much an ideal of


Chapter 1

social harmony as a rationale for exclusion. For one, its ostensible objective was to discern and represent basic principles of human nature. To seek what for Hume is “universally found to please in all countries and in all ages” was to seek a body of knowledge that both named the acme of artistic achievement and formed the “common sense” of all people regardless of their status.222 Moreover, a standard of taste was more of an abstract aspiration than a fixed set of criteria. As Blair writes, because it offers no “clear and immediate determination,” its aesthetic ideals are implicitly fluid and, like aesthetic objects, always subject to debate.223 In this way, as we shall see in Chapter 4, it assumes the long-term deliberation of culture and criticism, and the enduring freedom of artists to create artworks and critics to make judgments upon them. That is, it signals the pursuit not so much of discrete universal laws as of the conditions of lawfulness, an ongoing philosophical negotiation that put the claims of universality into dialog with those of individual subjectivity.

Literary Forms of the Dialectic To describe the history of eighteenth-century Anglo-American aesthetic theory in terms of the pursuit of an ideal of lawfulness is to suggest neither that such a history was continuous nor that it was lawful. But to understand its unevenness, we can return to Guyer’s notion of aesthetic liberty as both negatively and positively constructed. Most American writers had little difficulty reconciling negative forms of aesthetic liberty to their most cherished political principles. Freedom from arbitrary rules, servile imitation, strict uniformity, and invariable criteria in theories of beauty echoed Whig traditions of protest and ideals of republican liberty; and freedom from interest, passion, and sensuality assumed in theories of taste seemed consistent with the values of civic virtue and disinterestedness. In conceptions of positive forms of aesthetic liberty, however, we see more of a struggle with political norms. The associative liberty to connect images and ideas and the free play of imagination and emotion readily signified abstract revolutionary liberty. The creativity of genius, increasingly diverse conceptions of the beautiful, and self-realizing forms of the sublime gave controversial legitimacy to difference, innovation, and originality. In this way, the diverse expressions of liberty of the imagination reflected and even helped to shape the discourse of political liberty in a society defined not only by the post-Revolutionary expansion of democracy and burgeoning market economy but also widespread

Ingenious Disquisition and Controversy


political and social inequality and the growing institutionalization of race slavery. It expressed liberty’s complexity by giving form to its extension and limitation, enacting models of its triumph or failure, and representing the pleasures and pains of political change. Liberty of the imagination is more than a merely instrumental language of political liberty, however, and in the Revolutionary and early national literary texts that give it expression, its rhetoric is never reducible to politics. A central aim of the chapters that follow is to investigate how the aesthetic dialectic of liberty gives formal complexity to important literary genres of the period. But it may also be possible to define, independent of the conventions of specific genres, forms of the dialectic that give this literature the compelling and often contradictory characteristics that draw scholars to it in the first place. Jay Fliegelman describes some of these forms by linking the claims of eighteenth-century rhetorical theory to questions of political performance. He sees in the alternating decorum and force of Patrick Henry’s oratory, for example, a “representation in miniature of the inner dynamic of energy and its containment at the heart of the period’s still largely dominant cyclical vision of history.”224 Yet through the lens of aesthetic theory, this political “dynamic” also emerges as a philosophical one, what Fliegelman calls “a larger cultural and political effort to reconceive the ‘beautifully regular’ in terms consistent with the energies of the sublime.”225 In the same way, he argues that such varied texts as Jefferson’s description of the Natural Bridge in Notes on the State of Virginia (1785), Madison’s Federalist 10, and Gilbert Stuart’s painting, The Skater (1782), express an array of categorical oppositions—between agency and necessity, change and stasis, ambition and modesty, passion and reason, nature and art—whose rhetoric constructs a mode of political authority suitable to the “newly emerging humanitarian liberalism” of the early republic. Such texts reflect a “cultural ideal” Fliegelman calls the “dialectical union of liberty and constraint.”226 Fliegelman’s analysis, which assembles a rich archive of texts and contexts, is instructive in its persistent attention to the political nuances of aesthetic form. If its gestures to aesthetic theory are philosophically underspecified, its view of the dialectical rhetoric of early national texts is powerfully suggestive. In emphasizing the instability of American political culture, however, it tends to under-emphasize the instability of aesthetic theory. It assumes, for example, a blithely “consistent” relation between the beautiful and the sublime, and it finds only “productive” contrasts between oppositional aesthetic forces. Alternatively, I see in such texts an arrangement


Chapter 1

of aesthetic polarities whose volatility and conflict manifest psychological processes as “dramas of the mind.”227 By representing perception, ideation, and judgment as dynamic problems of liberty, they link the controversies of aesthetic theory to Revolutionary protests against British rule, post-Revolutionary assertions of democratic power and elite reactions, and the many spontaneous clashes of interests and values that marked the first decades of nationhood. In other words, such texts discover in aesthetic theory a means of representing the shape of liberty’s acute arcs and unsteady rhythms, voicing the timbre of its invitations and injunctions, and thereby registering Trumbull’s sense of “dignity” and “debasement” in all its personal immediacy and historical particularity. Among the texts that best illustrate this phenomenon is Phillis Wheatley’s lyric, “On Imagination” (1773), an expressive instance of representing liberty of the imagination in connection with the politics of slavery. In late eighteenth-century Anglo-American culture, as we have seen, slavery referred to both the physical bondage of non-whites and the economic oppression of free white British colonists; likewise, it invoked an unthinking commitment to aesthetic rules and models and an overindulgence of passions and pleasures. For Wheatley, slavery’s multiple literal and metaphorical referents allow her to articulate the ambiguities of liberty—aesthetic and political—with incisive irony. “On Imagination” dramatizes the aesthetic dialectic of liberty as a means of confronting and transcending the physical limitations of her bondage. In its representations of aesthetic experience, it manifests the cruelty of human subjection by both performing her theoretical sophistication and exploring what in “On Recollection” (1773) she called “the unbounded regions of the mind.”228 Invoking the imagination in terms of the authority of monarchy and the deferential address of an admiring royal subject, the first lines of the poem are deceptively obsequious: “THY various works, imperial queen, we see, / How bright their forms! how deck’d with pomp by thee! / Thy wond’rous acts in beauteous order stand, / And all attest how potent is thine hand.”229 By praising the grandeur of court and the absolute submission of the subaltern, Wheatley celebrates the “potent” ability of the imagination to command the rational self. Thus, the “various” range of its “works” and the brightness of their “forms” describe the infinite diversity of sensible impressions and elaborate trains of associations that await the perceiver. Likewise, the alignment of “wond’rous acts” and “beauteous order” suggests a reconciliation of the contending forces of sublimity and beauty, a world of antagonistic images

Ingenious Disquisition and Controversy


and perceptions brought under despotic control by the imagination’s queenly power. The speaker’s relation to such power, however, is complicated by the fact that it is a form of self-submission, in many ways more an affirmation of her autonomy than of her subservience. In the next quatrain, for example, she demands of the muses “my attempts befriend” and “triumph in my song,” thereby claiming both authorship of the poem and authority over its subject. Yet this gesture too is qualified by her description of the act of imagination as both an expansive articulation of self and a loss of individuality: “Now here, now there, the roving Fancy flies, / Till some lov’d object strikes her wandr’ing eyes, / Whose silken fetters all the senses bind, / And soft captivity involves the mind” (65). In replacing “Imagination” with the less conceptual and reliable “Fancy,” the speaker gives up the commanding power of the former in order to rove freely through spontaneous trains of association. The uncertain status of such imagining is fully realized in its phenomenology of perception, as the striking of the eye by “some lov’d object” initiates an internal struggle between autonomous agency and passive acceptance whose outcome is the voluptuous double metaphor of the “silken fetters” of a “soft captivity.” As these fetters “bind” and “involve” the mind, they adorn and caress as much as enslave, leaving the speaking subject quite as “deck’d with pomp” as the queen of imagination herself. If “soft captivity” hints at Wheatley’s privileged status as a literate and celebrated slave, it also resonates with the ironic structure of the poem as a whole and thus deserves further attention. Like the “silken reins” of mild government she celebrates in “To the Right Honourable Earl of Dartmouth,” it would seem to construct a conventional ideal of British liberty, a symbol of comity between the beneficent rule of monarchs and the willing consent of subjects.230 But the tension suggested by the phrase might be more complex than such a reading would indicate. For Wheatley appears to have borrowed it from Addison’s 1713 play, Cato, A Tragedy, according to Kenneth Silverman the most quoted Whig literary work in America at the time, an edition of which appeared in Boston in 1767.231 In a key line from the play, Portius, the more moderate of Cato’s sons, offers his wilder brother Marcus cautionary advice about the irresistible power of romantic love: “the strong, the brave, the virtuous, and the wise sink in the soft captivity together.” At the time of this warning, Cato and his sons are threatened by Caesar with capture and retaliation, and thus the “soft captivity” of love, when not “well tim’d,” is not only an explicit threat to a warrior’s mental readiness and marshal virtue but may also lead to actual physical captivity.232 Yet because Cato rejects


Chapter 1

imprisonment as a craven option unfit for a warrior—he commits suicide instead—the “soft captivity” of love actually threatens an ultimate selfundoing. Wheatley’s use of the phrase, then, suggests the enormous political stakes of figuring liberty of the imagination so stoically and brazenly in terms of its antithesis. It realizes the imagined “wandr’ing” of a slave as continuous with capture, oppression, and the imminent prospect of death. Wheatley’s understanding of the reflexivity of the aesthetic theory, however, draws her away from the destructive impossibility of Cato’s dilemma toward a more dialectical apprehension of the imagination’s political potential. Of course, the “soft captivity” of a person without legal freedom points to the stark hypocrisy of slavery in Revolutionary culture. Wheatley dares her readers with the discursive proximity of aesthetic liberty and physical enslavement. Insofar as the “soft captivity” of aesthetic pleasure enables liberty of imagination, it might be read as a bold expression of abstract liberty and a dangerous form of self-authorizing individualism, especially for a slave. But insofar as the poem emphasizes the imagination’s authoritative role as the “ruler” of her “subject-passions,” it functions as precisely the kind of Catolike bracketing of selfhood demanded by republican virtue. The fact that the speaker’s “silken fetters” are her own, and are so effectively managed, renders her fit for both aesthetic pleasure and acts of citizenship. In this way, her “soft captivity” further points to the form of rhetorical power that Harvard rhetoric professor John Quincy Adams called “soft compulsion,” a concept Fliegelman describes as the rhetorical persuasion that “manipulated the passionate springs of human motivation in such a way as to avoid violating human freedom.”233 Able to restrain herself, the speaker is also able to persuade and command the consent of others through aesthetic performance—which is arguably what “On Imagination” itself seeks to do. In short, Wheatley’s metaphor comprehends the full range of liberty’s claims. It suggests both radical protest and republican consensus, simultaneously registering her anomalous legal status at the margins of American culture and her rightful place in its center.234 Because the poem on imagination thus enacts its powers as it describes them, it details in elegant neoclassical diction what the speaker’s imagined aesthetic citizenship might look like. “Imagination! who can sing thy force?” she asks (66). But she cannot sing the praises of another without singing her own. Indeed, the poem defines poetic power in such spatial terms that, as the perception of objects becomes a “mental train” of images, her soft captivity is realized as unfettered mobility:

Ingenious Disquisition and Controversy


We on thy pinions can surpass the wind, And leave the rolling universe behind: From star to star the mental optics rove, Measure the skies, and range the realms above. There in one view we grasp the mighty whole, Or with new worlds amaze th’ unbounded soul. (66) Such star-roving hyperbolizes both a positive liberty of the imagination and the physical freedom Wheatley lacks as a slave, thereby suggesting what it would be like for her to leave behind the restrictions of slavery and the racist ideology that required an attestation of her poetic abilities by white elites. The “pinions” of the imagination are a technology of the mind whose use not only implies the autonomous agency of the speaker but perhaps even allegorizes Wheatley’s transatlantic travel, the London publication of Poems on Various Subjects, and her emancipation in the same year the book was published. Likewise, her “mental optics” invoke the same inventive powers of imagination she attributes to Harvard students in her poem, “To the University of Cambridge in New England” (1773). This exalted mobility and capacity for sublime vision suggest the highest forms of aesthetic perception, ideation, and judgment. To “grasp the mighty whole” is to take the comprehensive view of an object that most aesthetic theorists held as necessary to disinterested judgments of taste. To perceive “new worlds [that] amaze th’ unbounded soul” is to employ the powers of association free from all constraints. Such refined and robust capacities thus allow her to transcend both natural and political obstacles: “Though Winter frowns to Fancy’s raptur’d eyes / The fields may flourish, and gay scenes arise; / The frozen deeps may break their iron bands, / And bid their waters murmur o’er the sands” (66). As frowning “Winter” frames the possibilities of aesthetic pleasure by contrast, its threat only accentuates the creative potential of the imagination, which liberates the perceiving subject from the “iron bands” of objective reality, even slavery itself. At this moment in the poem, the contrary impulses of liberty and constraint seem to have reached an ideal balance. The benign despotism of the autonomous imagination enacts the speaker’s sovereignty “o’er the realms of thought” (67) and confirms her in the very authority to which she submits. As Wheatley’s poetic subject travels in her imagination and the distance between her political and aesthetic liberty increases, however, their strained homology finally becomes untenable, at which point she removes herself abruptly from the world she has created:


Chapter 1

But I reluctant leave the pleasing views, Which Fancy dresses to delight the Muse; Winter austere forbids me to aspire, And northern tempests damp the rising fire; They chill the tides of Fancy’s flowing sea, Cease then, my song, cease the unequal lay. (68) The speaker’s sudden expulsion from the “pleasing views” of imagination echoes the conventional gestures of self-effacement or disruptions of pastoral pleasure that mark many of the period’s poems of sensibility, as we will see in Chapter 2. In the context of slavery, however, such a denial of aesthetic liberty is more profoundly unsettling. The cold north wind—not of objective reality but racial tyranny—reminds the speaker of Wheatley’s enslavement by refusing her poetic aspiration, restricting her liberty, and calling her back from her now-illicit mental roving. Her “reluctant” act of leaving and parting salute to “delight” and the “rising fire” of imagination give full measure to the injustice of her oppression. Such an act of subjugation suggests the reverse of “soft compulsion,” not internalized consent but cruel coercion. The sudden ceasing of Wheatley’s song thus creates the pathos of the poem whose peripeteia juxtaposes the liberating power of imagination against the aching discipline of its constraint. It is precisely through this pathos, however, that the poem makes its political argument. The speaker’s removal from the “pleasing views” of imagination she has herself created functions simultaneously as punishment and remonstration. As she withdraws rhetorically, her absence and the resulting poetic artifact implicitly pronounce an identity between aesthetic pleasure and political equality, in this way anticipating Thomas Jefferson’s summary rejection of African intelligence in Notes on the State of Virginia. Wheatley calls her lay “unequal” not because her political status makes her unequal to the demands of imagination but because her capacity for aesthetic self-submission claims the rights of political self-determination that her enslavement denies. Because the poem’s reversal registers the dialectic of liberty implied by the “soft captivity” of aesthetic pleasure, it both manifests Wheatley’s awareness of the imagination’s divided commitment to creative autonomy and restrictive order and discerns—if only for a moment—an ideal form of liberty by representing its contiguity with constraint. Such reflexive rhetoric thus locates “On Imagination” within the context of eighteenth-century race slavery without ever becoming merely political.235

Ingenious Disquisition and Controversy


Likewise, Wheatley’s poem apprehends the problem of political liberty in terms of the processes of the imagination without rendering it a mere exercise in philosophical didacticism. In this way, it exemplifies the kind of textual tradition this book explores. By deploying a theoretical vocabulary that foregrounds the dialectic of liberty and the politics of aesthetic subjectivity, its most emotionally compelling, structurally significant, and formally complex moments—an ambivalent relation of power, a liberating gesture of self-expansion, and a tragic capitulation—stage dramatic conflicts in which the language of aspiration and agency confronts the forces of law and power. Such texts, as the following chapters will show, offer themselves as representations of the evolving relation between aesthetics and politics in the early United States. They document the literary reception of aesthetic theory, its changing role in American literary culture, and its impact on literary form and genre. But to their readers, they also offer themselves as aesthetic representations of American liberty, affirmations of its importance, and figurations of its complex truth. As Trumbull suggests, they invite us to feel liberty’s dignity or to be jealous of its debasement, or perhaps to feel something of both—the ironies of liberty inherent in the sensible perception of aesthetic objects and the pleasures of the imagination.

Chapter 2

Poetry, Pleasure, and the Revolution

For this is the effect and this is the beauty of [the poet’s] art: in vocal measures of syllables and sounds to express the harmony and numbers of an inward kind and represent the beauties of a human soul by proper foils and contrarieties. —Shaftesbury, Characteristicks 1

In October of 1773, just two months before the Boston Tea Party, Mercy Otis Warren, recently the author of a number of well-received poems and political satires, sent a short lyric to her friend, John Adams. “To Mr. Adams” asks the future president to distinguish between Warren’s legitimate poetic art and the passionate, fame-craving pen that “Fate urges on and bids me write in rhyme,” by articulating a series of inquires into the ambiguous moral nature of the imagination. Is the “Wild Enthusiastick Flame” of poetry really no more than a “panting” after the esteem of a “Gazing World”? Is the “Gen’rous ardour, stil’d Benevolence” merely “art, to Gratify the sense,” or does it serve to “Give imagination further scope”? Like Wheatley’s “On Imagination,” the poem invokes the faculty as “that aeiry queen, who Guides the Helm of hope”; but it also questions whether it “Holds a False Mirrour to the Dazzel’d sight.”2 It skeptically interrogates numerous aspects of imagination—passion, fancy, sympathy, and patriotic feeling—but finds no definitive answer: Is there no permanent, no steady pole, To point us on, and Guide the Wandering soul? Does prejudice, and passion, Rule Mankind. Are there no springs that actuate the Mind,

Poetry, Pleasure, and the Revolution


Whose deep Meanders, have some Nobler source, Than Vain self Love, to Guide their Winding Course?3 In lamenting that neither “the Wise precepts, of A platos school” nor a century of modern aesthetic theory gives Copernican order to the chaotic universe of the mind’s “deep Meanders” and the soul’s “Wandering,” Warren searches for a “Nobler source” of aesthetic pleasure only to find that it is inherently contradictory—a simultaneous promise of virtuous liberation and “Adamantine” mental enslavement—and that the good intentions of social benevolence too easily collapse into “vain self Love.” She not only worries that the claims of the imagination are merely slippery words and partial truths, but, echoing Madison’s doubts, she suggests that philosophical inquiry itself has been rendered useless by its paradoxes, such that “the more we search, the More we are Deceived.”4 In the early 1770s, during the intensifying conflict with Britain, such problems are of interest to both belletrists like Warren and colonial lawyers like Adams. As American resistance to the policies of Lord North’s Parliament grew, the pleasures of the imagination were burdened with an increasingly charged political context. They signaled republican protests against the moral excesses of European aristocracy and court life, colonial anxieties surrounding British taxation schemes and American non-importation of luxury goods, and the growing gap between the polite colonial elite and the less privileged majority. In such a context, Warren’s poem suggests that a world in which “appetite and Caprice Rule the Whole” leads invariably to the kind of “trampling on the Laws” that produced the colonial crisis.5 But her concerns transcend political conflict. Although she was an active proponent of the rights of British citizens in America, she insists that “if Vice Boasts, her origen the same, / With social joy and patriotic Flame,” then “prejudice, and passion” on both sides of the Atlantic threaten “the Misery, of all Mankind.” She even concludes the poem by threatening to renounce society for a hermit’s life until “Truth Eternal strikes the Wond’ring Soul.” Such a gesture of retreat functions as a symbolic form of self-effacement, a forbearance “to interupt the more” in an ongoing philosophical debate.6 Yet the poem itself is an act of “searching.” It understands the imagination as an intellectual problem, a negotiation of competing claims amenable to dialectical interrogation. Its chief aim is thus to offer what Michel Foucault calls “pleasure in the truth of pleasure, the pleasure of knowing that truth, of discovering and exposing it.”7 It expresses a com-


Chapter 2

mitment both to “Wond’ring” about the nature of pleasure and a belief that poetry is a proper vehicle for such inquiry. Although most American poems of the period are not as explicitly philosophical and ambivalent as “To Mr. Adams,” many of them engage with the problem of aesthetic pleasure in similar ways.8 Like the poetry of Mark Akenside, Alexander Pope, William Shenstone, and Thomas Gray that it often took as its model, Revolutionary poetry is consistently concerned with articulating the powers of fancy and imagination, the exaltations of sensibility and sympathy, and the virtues of beauty and sublimity. The poems of Joel Barlow, Ann Eliza Bleeker, Timothy Dwight, Elizabeth Fergusson, Hannah Griffitts, Philip Freneau, David Humphreys, Milcah Martha Moore, Annis Boudinot Stockton, Jonathan Trumbull, and others discover in these concerns many of their primary themes and often turn on the moral and phenomenological vicissitudes of aesthetic experience. However, scholars have paid little serious attention to the central role of pleasure in this tradition, emphasizing instead its sociopolitical origins and interventions. Studies of male poets of the period often consider formative political and ideological contexts, such as Calvinism, republicanism, Augustanism, and anti-Jacobinism; but most ignore the often explicit connection of aesthetic subjectivity to such contexts.9 Studies of women’s poetry generally focus on cultures of poetic practice and the politics of gender and race, but they say less about questions of imagination or poetic form; and when they explore the significance of sensibility and sympathy to this work, they avoid connecting such ideas to the broader claims of aesthetic theory that inform it.10 Although Michael Gilmore rightly notes that Revolutionary poetry has a “social identity” that “downplays subjectivity,” he ignores the fact that the idea of subjectivity—not the particularity of individual mental experience but the abstract categories of mind and imagination—is one of its essential thematic elements.11 Thus, he cites Warren’s poem, “To Fidelio, Long Absent on the Great Public Cause,” written in 1776 to her husband, James, quoting the poem’s final line, “A Patriot zeal must warm the female mind,” as expressive of Warren’s republican disinterestedness.12 But he does so without commenting on the intriguingly privatized idea of “warm” subjectivity, the complex assumptions it makes about the nature of the “female mind,” or even the relation of aesthetic subjectivity to Revolutionary politics that is arguably the poem’s main theme. In the same way, “To Mr. Adams,” read merely as a political poem, appears to be little more than metaphorical moralizing on the social problems of a faltering colonial culture. However, when we view pleasure as moral in

Poetry, Pleasure, and the Revolution


the eighteenth-century sense—as not merely ethical but also epistemological and aesthetic—then the poem becomes an expressive meditation on the fragile balance of aspiration and vulnerability that links the imaginations of individual citizens with the values of a political community. For if Warren understands the idea of imagination as a moral dilemma, she also understands it as the manifestation of a special way of thinking and knowing, the sign and end of which is aesthetic pleasure. The aim of this chapter is to illuminate such an understanding. It first considers poetry’s unique generic relation to the idea of aesthetic pleasure and the formal means by which Revolutionary poets confronted pleasure’s inherent tension between liberation and enslavement. Then, by considering pastoral, lyric, and epic poems by Fergusson, Freneau, and Dwight, respectively, it explores the cultural urgency of pleasure to poets deeply engaged in the politics of rebellion, the violence of war, and the problems of post-Revolutionary identity. It argues that, for each of these writers, the poetry of pleasure sought to represent a complex analogy between a changing social and political world and the changeable inner world of the mind.

Poetry and the Pleasures of the Imagination Throughout the Revolutionary period, learned Americans were persistently drawn to a century-old literary debate which asked, as Freneau did in his 1771 College of New Jersey graduation address, “Does Ancient Poetry Excel the Modern?” Most critics, whatever their opinions, were quick to view ancient poetry as an immediate expression of primitive passions and thus a greater source of pleasure. An excerpt from Thomas Warton’s History of English Poetry (1781) published in the Boston Magazine, for example, argues that the social structures of earlier periods were more “favourable to poetry” and more “friendly to imagery, to personification and allegory.” Modern life, Warton argues, “promotes civility by diffusing habits of uniformity, and therefore destroys peculiarities of character and situation,” and “domestic convenience” abolishes “unwieldy magnificence.” Modernity has brought “much good sense, good taste, and good criticism,” he writes, but “we have . . . parted with extravagancies that are above propriety, with incredibilities that are more acceptable than truth, and with fictions that are more valuable than reality.”13 Although Warton does not argue for a return to the past, he betrays a longing for the pleasures of a less rational and civilized world.14 In America, this longing was fueled by the popularity of James MacPher-


Chapter 2

son’s “translation” of the Poems of Ossian (1760–63), purportedly written by a third-century Gaelic bard. In 1773, Thomas Jefferson called the poems “the sources of daily pleasures” capable of evoking “the tender and sublime emotions of the mind.”15 By the 1780s, despite controversial questions about its authenticity, Ossian had inspired numerous imitators; and in 1790, Thomas Long published an edition of it in Philadelphia, and “Extracts” from Blair’s Critical Dissertation on the Poems of Ossian appeared in the Columbian Magazine. Blair’s defense of the poems shares the widely held belief that “[a]s the world advances, the understanding gains ground upon the imagination.” But it also notes the likely source of Ossian’s popularity (and its controversy), the fact that it seemed both ancient and modern: “There we find the fire and enthusiasm of the most early times, combined with an amazing degree of regularity and art.”16 A similar defense in the New-York Magazine holds that the poems combine all the marks of antiquity with the “refined magnanimity” and “tenderness and delicacy of sentiment” of modern writing. For this critic, such characteristics are the result of “a rich and glowing imagination” with which Ossian “copied nature, and painted objects as they struck and kindled his fancy.” His “lofty and sublime imagery” reflects not only his simpler, more natural world but also his capacity for sustained aesthetic engagement with its objects. He “contemplates and traces them through all the endless varieties of seasons; and they are the perpetual subjects of his images and illusions.”17 Thus, by combining ancient passion and simplicity with refinement and sensibility, Ossian’s poetry allowed critics and readers to celebrate unfettered liberty of the imagination in writing that spoke to modern cultural needs. Its popularity signaled both nostalgia for the virtuous pleasure of the ancients and a hopeful belief in its enduring literary possibility. Accordingly, when the speaker of Freneau’s “The Power of Fancy” (1770) calls himself “Vext that Ossian sings no more,” he mourns a historical loss of poetic power. But when in the following line he demands of “Fancy, to that land repair,” he looks prospectively toward its revival, both by returning to the figurative space of Ossianic pleasure and, more subtly, by suggesting that doing so might “repair” a world in which pleasure had become such a problem.18 As we saw in Chapter 1, aesthetic theory understood pleasure as both virtuous and dangerous, a perennial conflict between its own liberating potential and the morally destructive corruption that purportedly accompanied it. American writing about pleasure during the period reflects this ambivalence by emphasizing the difference between mental and bodily pleasures and wor-

Poetry, Pleasure, and the Revolution


rying about the implications of excessive pleasure. The character of the “man of pleasure,” for example, is a common negative example drawn to illustrate the depravity of gaming, drinking, and vanity.19 The Boston Magazine excerpt from Lord Chesterfield’s Letters holds that “A man of pleasure, in the vulgar acceptation of that phrase, means only a beastly drunkard, an abandoned rake, and a profligate swearer.” A notorious man of pleasure himself, Chesterfield’s argument went to the heart of pleasure’s instability. Although he warns that “pleasure is a rock which most young people split upon,” he recommends that, in order to avoid such a result, “We should be as attentive to our pleasures as to our studies.”20 Such advice went unappreciated by Americans like Warren, who in a letter to her son, Winslow, printed three months earlier in the Boston Magazine, cautions against Chesterfield’s “honey’d poison.” Although, like many literate elites, Warren had read the letters herself, she insists that they sacrifice “truth to convenience, probity to pleasure, virtue to the graces, [and] generosity, gratitude, and all the finer feelings of the soul to a momentary gratification.”21 Yet even in their disagreement, Chesterfield and Warren share a belief in the former’s distinction between “liberal and illiberal pleasures” and the imperative of moral choice.22 Examples of this imperative abound in Revolutionary writing. The Massachusetts Magazine warns, for example, that “[l]ife itself would be tiresome and insipid, if it had not its pleasures and amusements. The difficulty consists in adapting them properly.”23 Likewise, as one “mother” writes to her “daughter” in the Universal Asylum, “To be able to divest real enjoyment from the false glosses the world has put upon it, is a piece of wisdom becoming a philosopher.”24 Such injunctions to “adapt” and “divest” haunt the discourse of pleasure, persistently reminding readers that some pleasures are good and some are bad, and that virtue demands knowing the difference and choosing correctly. From its early eighteenth-century origins, aesthetic theory sought to teach this difference, enable choice, and thus give license to certain forms of pleasure and proscribe others. The idea of an innate “moral sense” comprehends a faculty whose perception of right actions and beautiful objects produces pleasure. Like the physical senses, the moral sense reveals truth by responding directly and instinctively to its perceptions. Thus, being virtuous is a matter not of voluntarily adhering to moral law but of naturally following the dictates of the imagination. Perception and pleasure do not exist apart from the moral world but within it, leaving the individual not alone in an insatiable solipsism but united with his brethren in a community of feeling. In this way, the moral sense seeks to reconcile “self-love” with what Shaftes-


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bury called sensus communis, the “sense of public weal and of the common interest, love of the community or society, natural affection, humanity, obligingness, or that sort of civility which rises from a just sense of the rights of mankind.”25 Although Thomas Hobbes famously argues that even the most apparently benevolent feelings and actions are finally motivated by rational self-interest, Shaftesbury counters that pleasure is derived from both selflove and sensus communis. Since mental pleasures are more powerful and enduring than physical ones and enjoyed primarily in contexts of sociability and sympathy, he argues, acts inspired by virtue and social feeling are inherently more pleasurable than those inspired by self-love. That is, it is in each person’s rational self-interest to pursue such social pleasures. In fact, because excessive self-love emphasizes physical pleasures and excludes those of society, it often leads not to pleasure but to pain. Accordingly, for Shaftesbury, selfish and social affections exist not so much in opposition as in a mutual and complementary relation he calls an “economy of the passions,” which operates to sustain a harmonious balance between the two.26 If such a unity of self and society was appealing to Americans, however, it nevertheless remained a source of controversy throughout the century. In “To Mr. Adams,” Warren worries about “Vain self Love” because experience proves that, in spite of Shaftesbury’s humanistic theories, self-love too often functions not as a “stimulus to Noblest aim” but as that which “Bids Nero Light the Capital in Flame” and Governor Hutchinson to “sell his Native Land.”27 According to the poem’s subtitle, as published in Poems, Dramatic and Miscellaneous (1790), it was inspired by a philosophical conversation Warren had with Adams, one “which favoured the Opinion of Fatalism; that human Action, whether good or evil, springs from the Principle of self Love, void of any real Benevolence, when traced up to its Source.”28 But Adams, a moderate who typically rejected all forms of “fatalism,” had apparently already resolved the question with help from the century’s most famous poem on the passions, Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man, which insists “That true Self-love and Social are the same.”29 In a 1768 diary entry, after pondering the morality of his private motivations, Adams bolsters his confidence with a few lines from the Essay’s final epistle on “Happiness”: “Self Love but serves the virtuous Mind to wake as the small Pebble stirs the Peacefull Lake, The Center Moved, a Circle straight succeeds, Another still and still another spreads. Friend, Parent, Neighbour, first it does embrace, Our Country next and next all human Race.”30 In this moment of doubt, Adams turns to Pope’s Essay because his words put Shaftesbury’s ideas into a reassuringly spatial

Figure 4. “Circle of the social and benevolent Affections, in their usual Gradation and with their respective Names.” Columbian Magazine, February 1789. Courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.


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form, one in which the force of self-love ripples naturally outward toward social and virtuous objects. This form, in fact, was literalized in a “Circle of the social and benevolent Affections, in their usual Gradation and with their respective Names,” a popular engraving based on Copernicus’s solar system and printed in the 1789 Columbian Magazine. For Pope, the equation of “true Self-love” and social affections gave license to certain forms of pleasure but restated the problem of choice as one of interpretation. As he writes in the Essay, in a pithy warning which served as an epigraph for a Royal American Magazine essay on the topic, “Pleasure, if wrong, or rightly understood, / Our greatest evil or our greatest good.”31 For most American poets, the source of such an understanding was the theory of taste founded in large part by Joseph Addison’s essays on the “Pleasures of the Imagination,” which made pleasure not only safe for Anglo-American culture but essential to it. As we saw in Chapter 1, in order to be conceived as liberating, the pleasures of the imagination had to be distinguished from those of the body. Addison defines taste as a “Faculty of the Soul,” whose pleasures are “not so gross as those of Sense, nor so refined as those of the Understanding.”32 While less demanding than the work of “serious Employments,” they never “suffer the Mind to sink into that Negligence and Remissness, which are apt to accompany our more sensual Delights.”33 Implicitly, then, the pleasures of the imagination distinguish the virtuous elite from the vulgar masses: “A Man of Polite Imagination, is let into a great many Pleasures that the Vulgar are not capable of receiving. . . . There are, indeed, but very few who know how to be idle and innocent, or have a Relish of any Pleasures that are not Criminal; every Diversion they take is at the Expense of some one Virtue or another, and their very first Step out of Business is into Vice or Folly.”34 Here Addison marginalizes bodily pleasures in order to make a significant call for middle-class moral reform: “A Man should endeavor, therefore, to make the Sphere of his innocent Pleasures as wide as possible, that he may retire into them with Safety, and find in them such a Satisfaction as a wise Man would not blush to take.”35 As Martha Woodmansee argues, Addison aims to educate the habits and attitudes of the “rising class of bankers, merchants, and manufacturers who had so recently achieved a modicum of the leisure enjoyed by the aristocracy that they were still in the process of developing ways to fill it.”36 By seeking to transform “Criminal” pleasures into “innocent” ones, and those of “Folly” into those of “Safety” and “Satisfaction,” he offers to reconstruct the morally dubious “man of pleasure” as the morally sound “man of Polite Imagination.”37

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For Addison, the pleasures of the imagination are definitively social: organized around general truths, cultivated through literate sociability, disinterested, and tending toward virtuous ends. His definition of a “fine Taste in Writing,” for example, implies a standard based on “the celebrated Works of Antiquity,” in which one “discerns the Beauties of an Author with Pleasure, and the Imperfections with Dislike.”38 In order to develop such a taste, Addison advises becoming conversant with “the Writings of the most Polite Authors” and gradually adopting “the same manner of Speaking and Thinking.” He also recommends “Conversing with Men of a Polite Genius,” which allows us to “enjoy other Mens Parts and Reflections as well as our own.”39 Such a community of like-minded aesthetic subjects directs and regulates the experience of pleasure and the choice of objects, but it also requires that pleasures be accessible, shareable, and independent of private interest. Addison’s primary pleasures of greatness, novelty, and beauty thus emphasize natural landscapes and works of art, the forms, colors, and motions of which they consist, and the delicate emotions they produce in those who perceive them; and his secondary pleasures derive purely from ideas in the mind, separate from the immediacy of material reality. Finally, such pleasures discover their “Final Causes” in things that make both individuals and societies virtuous and happy. Greatness reminds us of “the Supreme Author of our Being”; novelty serves to “encourage us in the Pursuit after Knowledge”; and beauty inspires sexual reproduction and makes “the whole Creation more gay and delightful.”40 Insofar as they are natural, necessary, and disinterested, then, Addison’s pleasures of the imagination mediate a harmonious relation between self-love and society. We see this mediation in his description of aesthetic perception: “It is but opening the Eye, and the Scene enters. The Colours paint themselves on the Fancy, with very little Attention of Thought or Application of Mind in the Beholder. We are struck, we know not how, with the Symmetry of any thing we see, and immediately assent to the Beauty of an Object, without enquiring into the particular Causes and Occasions of it.”41 Like the subjective self-subordination we saw dramatized in Wheatley’s “On Imagination,” the autonomy of aesthetic pleasure is reconceived as the passive submission of the “Eye” to the power of “Fancy.” The aesthetic perceiver is “struck” by forms and colors, whose impressions renders it more object than subject, more imagined than imagining. Elsewhere, Addison uses similar language to describe the experience of pleasure. When we encounter greatness, “We are flung into a pleasing Astonishment”; and in the presence of novelty, “the Mind is every


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Instant called off to something new.” Likewise, beauty “strikes the Mind with an inward Joy.”42 In each case, the mind is subjected but willing, its immediate “assent” to the power of imagination appearing to abdicate agency as the price of pleasure. But as Wheatley’s poem and Addison’s rhetoric make clear, such subjection is only a kind of performance of the mind’s aesthetic power over its objects. If “the subject actively assents to its passivity in this encounter,” Neil Saccamano writes, “this is because it knows at the same time that no hand strikes the blow, no blow literally occurs—colors only ‘paint themselves’ because nature is only figuratively or analogically an artistic agent.”43 Like the citizen who freely gives its consent to the republic that governs it, the perceiving subject, in consenting to the pleasures of the imagination, fulfills its potential by acting on its inherent liberty.44 We have seen how Addison’s primary and secondary pleasures invoke the language of liberty, but it is the latter’s capacity to transform “Ideas of visible Objects” into “agreeable Visions of Things” that best illustrate it.45 “It is in the Power of the Imagination,” Addison writes, “when it is once Stocked with particular Ideas, to enlarge, compound, and vary them at her own Pleasure.”46 Although this Lockean understanding of the association of ideas precedes Hume’s, its emphasis on the mind’s ability to process ideas readily suggests the latter’s notion of liberty of the imagination. But if secondary pleasures imply a liberty of means, they also suggest a liberty of ends, the freedom to produce “Visions” far in excess of the original ideas from which they derive. As Addison writes, “any single Circumstance of what we have formerly seen often raises up a whole Scene of Imagery, and awakens numberless Ideas that before slept in the Imagination.” Such power is then conceived as a kind of mobility that “leads us unexpectedly into Cities or Theatres, Plains or Meadows.”47 Thus, secondary pleasures produce what Addison calls the “noble extravagance of Fancy,” its ability to traverse the “whole Circle of Nature” and make “new Worlds of its own.”48 Notably, his chief example of secondary pleasures are those of poetry, whose descriptions invoke ideas that correspond either to objects previously seen or to those which “bear a resemblance, or at least some remote Analogy” to them.49 This gap between the original idea and the compounded vision gives the poet infinite access to the objects of nature, such that he is unrestrained by situation or perspective, and can even invent “Things more Great, Strange, or Beautiful than the Eye ever saw.”50 Addison’s vocabulary of aesthetic perception and ideation had a direct impact on such didactic poems as James Thomson’s The Seasons (1730), Edward Young’s Night Thoughts (1742), and Akenside’s The Pleasures of

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Imagination (1744), whose words breathed vivid and memorable life into the abstractions of theory and criticism. Although the first American edition of the latter poem was published in 1794, by the 1760s local booksellers and libraries were offering imported copies, through which readers discovered “With what attractive charms this goodly frame / Of nature touches the consenting hearts / Of mortal men.”51 Indeed, elaborating the alliance between pleasurable objects and “consenting” subjects was the poem’s main aim and perhaps the chief cause of its popularity. Not only did it illuminate Addisonian categories of greatness, novelty, and beauty in graceful, often dreamy, allegorical verse, but by describing nature as “the world’s harmonious volume,” it also invited readers into a varied empire of liberating pleasure by showing them “what high capacious powers / Lie folded up in man.”52 As an extended ode to imagination, the poem celebrated the natural world as the domain of the mind and, in what might be called “poetic kinesis,” literalized the mind’s capacity for expansion, swiftness, and pleasure by traversing its manifold scenes. But as an aesthetic argument, it also clarified the difference between primary and secondary pleasures, posited the final causes of pleasure, discerned the imagination’s relation to morals, reason, truth, emotion, passion, taste, and art, and explained the sense of ridicule and the pleasures of imitation. Such ideas, in turn, had a pervasive influence on both the formal and thematic priorities of Revolutionary American poetry. This debt is superficially expressed in the frequent invocation of Addisonian categories of pleasure as shorthand for morally viable aesthetic experience, as we saw in Humphreys’s Poem on the Happiness of America. Timothy Dwight’s Greenfield Hill (1794), for example, describes Connecticut as a place “Where beauty, novelty, and grandeur, wear / Superior charms”; and in his Conquest of Canaan (1785), the young Israelite lovers Irad and Selima “bow’d the yielding mind” to “The great, the high, the beauteous, and the new.”53 The naming of these categories signals a belief not only that pleasure could coincide with moral truth but that it might be a legible sign of that truth. As Dwight’s invocation of the “yielding mind” suggests, however, such poetry also enacts Addison’s ideas by constructing the consensual space between aesthetic objects and perceiving subjects. In some poems, this means celebrating exemplars of the mind at work. Hannah Griffitts’s 1784 elegy for Susannah Wright, for example, praises Wright’s “innate powers superior blest, / The striking sense and energy of mind.”54 The poetry of Stockton, Judith Sargent Murray, Anna Smith, and Sarah Wentworth Morton conjures a social reality in which the “lovely


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mind,” the “letter’d mind,” the “free-borne mind” and the “unfolded mind” are offered, typically as the last word in a pentameter line, as idealized manifestations of aesthetic and moral experience.55 Numerous of the reprinted and original poems in Elihu Hubbard Smith’s 1793 anthology, American Poems, reveal an explicit concern with the social and political implications of pleasure and the mind’s visual confrontation with objects.56 Yet other poems go beyond a mere description of minds to represent poetic kinesis, creating spatial models of aesthetic subjectivity that reduce all experience to the purely phenomenological. Freneau’s “Power of Fancy” traces a global sojourn in its ocular encounters with various objects. In Dwight’s Greenfield Hill “the eye is presented with an extensive and delightful prospect of the surrounding Country” through the “gaze” of “the cheerful eye.”57 In Richard Alsop’s The Charms of Fancy (1788) and Thomas Odiorne’s The Progress of Refinement (1792) fancy appears as a mobile, liberated, and liberating force, capable of transforming the world with a thought. While these poems signify a diverse range of literary practices and political investments, they share an attention to aesthetic experience that translates pleasure’s inevitable tension between self-love and sensus communis into a dialectical discourse that aims to reconcile the powers of the imagination with the demands of the social body. For Shaftesbury, such a portrayal of perceiving minds is precisely the source of poetry’s “effect and beauty.” In “vocal measures of syllables and sounds,” poetry seeks “to express the harmony and numbers of an inward kind and represent the beauties of a human soul by proper foils and contrarieties.”58 When, as readers, we are charmed by poetic descriptions and models of pleasure, sensibility, and imagination, it is their formal representations of subjectivity that most attracts us. The energy behind this “moral magic,” Shaftesbury argues, is the mind’s tendency to be a “spectator of other minds,” to perceive affections as “objects,” and to judge and take pleasure in them as we would a material object.59 These ideas eventually inspire Adam Smith’s theory of sympathy, but as the remainder of this chapter will illustrate, they also point to the significance of aesthetic experience for Revolutionary poetry, which consistently grounds its objective to please and instruct in representations of minds confronting the problem of pleasure.

Commerce, Crisis, and Pastoral Among the poetic genres most adept at embodying this problem is the pastoral, whose late eighteenth-century American strain William Dowling

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describes as representing an idealized rural society as it criticizes the excesses of urban culture and invokes the principles of civic humanism.60 More than merely espousing a republican agrarian ideal opposed to political strife and social vice, however, such poems also figure country life as a conspicuous aesthetic alternative to the morally tenuous pleasures of town and court. In Greenfield Hill, Dwight’s “Flourishing Village” is a place “where Pleasure lingers long” because its denizens reject “artificial joys” for the beauties of nature’s changing seasons, the humble privileges of liberty and competence, and the moral sentiments of religion and domesticity.61 Similarly, in Humphreys’s Poem on the Happiness of America, “homefelt bliss” is preferred to “foreign sports, / A round of pleasures, or th’ intrigue of courts.”62 The “youthful taste” of Americans is not vitiated by fashionable extravagance but “improv’d by finer arts, / Their minds embellished” by the pleasure of nature, reading, and sympathy.63 Humphreys even describes agricultural work in the language of virtuous pleasure: “Here planters find a ceaseless source of charms / In clearing fields, and adding farms to farms: / ’Tis independence prompts their daily toil, / And calls forth beauties from the desert soil: / What untry’d pleasure fills each raptur’d sense.”64 Because such bucolic “beauties” derive from soil and toil rather than luxury and idleness, their pleasures sustain republican “independence” and liberty, enabling virtuous farmers to follow the advice of General Washington and “‘Avoid the hidden snares that pleasure spreads, / To seize and chain you, in her silken threads.’ ”65 Accordingly, America offers what Humphreys calls “pleasures of a different kind, / Delights at home, more useful, more refin’d.”66 Pleasure in America, he insists, is “different,” transformed from the bane of liberty to its very symbol. Yet the danger of “hidden snares” in Humphreys’s America is integral both to the classical pastoral form and the moral transformation of pleasure it effects, functioning as what Leo Marx calls pastoral “counterforce” and Raymond Williams calls “counter-pastoral,” whose disturbance or threat of chaos, violence, or vice challenges the pastoral’s pleasures and heightens their value by contrast.67 Dwight’s “America, or a Poem on the Settlement of the British Colonies” (1780), for example, memorializes a newly settled land where “Contentment dwelt, and Pleasure smil’d, / And rough-brow’d Labour every care beguil’d,” until wars with the Pequot Indians and the French engender a persistent conflict between pleasure and suffering. After describing this contrast of pleasure with its disruption, Dwight’s authoritative trope of Addisonian spectatorship promptly abandons the scenes of suffering and surveys a future nation in which “the fair Arts unveil their lovely charms.”68

Figure 5. “Pastoral Poetry.” Massachusetts Magazine, July 1791. Engraved by Samuel Hill. Courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

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In Greenfield Hill, too, the rural pleasures of the “fascinated eye” become virtuous in “glorious contrast” with a range of destructive elements, from the moral—the “lures” of European luxury and evils of serfdom and slavery—to the physical—the Pequot War of 1637 and the burning of Fairfield by British forces in 1779. Such threats empower the poem’s final “vision,” in which an American culture of aesthetic pleasure emerges liberated, enlivened, and purified by contrary forces both internal and external. Such counter-pastoral transformations of American pleasure first appeared during the colonial crisis of the 1760s, when the competing pressures of trade, taxation, and consumption gave rise to a poetic discourse of virtuous pleasure. When Parliament passed the Townshend Acts in 1767, it not only imposed revenue-raising duties on imported staples of refined living—glass, lead, paints, paper, and tea—but also shut down the New York Assembly and organized an infrastructure of customs enforcement, all of which was perceived as a blow to colonial prosperity and a long history of self-rule. In response, pamphlets like John Dickinson’s Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania (1768) assailed the duties as an insupportable violation of American liberty, touted the virtues of “ingenuity, industry, and frugality” and called for a reinstatement of the boycotts so effectively used against the Stamp Act in 1765.69 Yet the champions of non-importation sought to redefine not merely economic relations with Britain but also colonial culture and morality. As Edmund Morgan writes, the boycotts were “positive ends in themselves,” a way of revitalizing “the Puritan ethic,” whose values of industry and frugality were ardently opposed to those of idleness and extravagance.70 Many Americans saw non-importation as an opportunity to reclaim the virtue that had been lost amidst mid-century economic growth. Across the Atlantic seaboard, committees of women renounced not only foreign tea but all forms of gentility that required the purchase of imported goods. Newspaper essayists encouraged citizens to eschew fashion and finery and pursue the pleasures of simple living. Even the Harvard College graduating class of 1768 wore homespun clothes to its commencement ceremony. As these examples suggest, in the context of non-importation, virtuous living was understood as not only a moral value but also “an essential condition of political liberty.”71 Moreover, because British taxes constrained both pleasure and liberty, nonimportation clarified the intimacy of their relation. If it promised to help Americans recover their political liberty, that is, it also offered to help them recover their aesthetic liberty by embracing the pleasures of the mind over those of the body.


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Yet the pastoral, anti-commercial impulse of non-importation rhetoric was fundamentally conflicted. Of course, the injunction to adopt a virtuous rural life was a rhetorical sleight of hand. As the legally sophisticated figure of Dickinson’s pseudonymous “Farmer” implies, the rhetoric of non-importation claimed the virtuous simplicity of those for whom commerce was more an anomalous condition of their moral lives than the foundation of a lifestyle. But in reality even rural Americans were highly dependent on transatlantic commerce, for their comforts if not for their incomes. A majority of propertied citizens had since the 1740s seen a substantial positive transformation of their ability to purchase manufactured goods and live relatively genteel lives. In the face of what historians have called the “consumer revolution,” most believed that commerce and property were a vital source of their liberty.72 The point of non-importation, after all, was to force British merchants dependent on colonial trade to pressure Parliament into repealing the hated acts, thereby restoring the free flow of trade and American access to British goods. Thus, non-importation paradoxically deployed the anti-commercial rhetoric of rural pleasure in support of the commerce upon which the colonies’ existence was based.73 Perhaps the best-known non-importation poem of the period is Griffitts’s “The Female Patriots, Addressed to the Daughters of Liberty in America” (1768), which recommends boycotting British “taxables” and cultivating domestic resources of virtuous leisure as morally superior forms of pleasure.74 An invocation of the unique political power of women afforded by the colonial crisis, the poem calls for their “negative” or rejection of imported goods as both example and inspiration to those “sons of liberty” whose commitment to non-importation and patriotic protest had yet to be realized. But it also calls for the transformation of American pleasure from a dependence on European cultures of refinement to virtuous rural independence by insisting that “Pennsylvania’s gay meadows can richly afford / To pamper our fancy or furnish our board.”75 Indeed, its central argument depends on a specific rhetoric of substitution: for British paints and dyes, “the juice of a berry”; for window glass, “polished Horn”; and for writing paper, the “Homespun” variety, “the Tongue,” or even a “scratch on a Leaf.”76 Together such substitutions aim not only “to jostle a Grenville and puzzle his schemes” and “point out their duty to Men,” but also to recast American pleasure as untainted by moral snares and therefore definitively liberating.77 To be sure, the sacrifice Griffitts calls for is both temporary and more symbolic than descriptive of actual consumer and producer responses to non-importation. But its sym-

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bolism is precisely the point. “The Female Patriots” is more a political poem than a pastoral, but its political message depends on the moral force of the pastoral world to which it gestures. Yet between elite discourses of virtuous pleasure and poetic fictions of rural life there remain questions about the universality of “Freedom” that underwrites Griffitts’s poem and the social distribution of pleasure it assumes. Whose pleasures are to be curtailed? Whose liberty is at stake? What are the limits of sacrifice? Such questions emerge with greater specificity in Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson’s 700–line poem, “The Dream” or “The Philosophical Farmer” (1768).78 Written in sympathetic response to Dickinson’s Letters, this “Rural Piece” argues for an ideal of American pleasure that not only justifies the embargo politically but also celebrates the pleasures of the imagination while adhering to principles of moderation and restraint.79 Whereas “The Female Patriots” invokes the problem of pleasure objectively, Fergusson’s poem enacts it by representing the “vision” of a virtuous imagination confronting the exigencies of non-importation and the aesthetic choices it demands. In vigorous if uneven pentameter couplets, it uses images of rural life and draws energy from the counterforce of non-importation politics to articulate an Addisonian model of aesthetic pleasure. But in doing so it confronts the particularity of the diverse social order it aims to idealize. More specifically, the poem discovers the tension between pleasure and class inherent in the pastoral mode, a tension rooted not only in disparities of wealth and aesthetic cultivation but also in conflicted attitudes about the liberty and commerce on which they depended. The dreaming speaker begins the poem by endorsing aesthetic pleasures as superior to the bodily ones rejected by non-importation: “The Mind unfettered fled her native Home, / And unimprisoned did unbounded Roam; / Burst every Barrier of her waking Care, / And launch’d unbodied thro’ the yielding Air.” Such emphatic mental liberty then provokes the appearance of “Albions Genius,” whose “angry Eye” and “haughty” claim of sovereignty serve to justify America’s resignation of British “taste” and “Elegance” and thereby further heighten the moral value of mental pleasure. To clarify this idea, the didactic figure of William Penn then emerges with a scroll, which is read by that of John Dickinson himself, who commands his listeners “To show proud Albion that you can resign / Her Manufactures; and her Trade decline: / When weighty Taxes do each Good invade / And strike at Liberty; that lovely Maid!” Penn’s litany of “Precepts” defines British pleasures as morally dangerous and enslaving, advising Americans to “Shun the softening Lure


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of British Wealth, / The fair subverter of your Country’s Health” and avoid “the train of Wants that Elegance will draw / When you are fetterd by Gay Fashions Law.” As an alternative, he encourages them to pursue domestic manufacture and “learn your Countrys own produce to prize,” noting its reserves of iron and wood and capacity for wool and linen production. But his chief directive concerns the cultivation of the pleasures of the imagination. Structuring the bulk of his advice around a Thomsonian survey of the seasons, he gives prominence to the beauty of natural and cultivated landscapes, framed by the neoclassical dictum to “Keep simple Nature in your steady Eye.” He describes how “The Happy Farmer views with honest joy, / The growth luxuriant of his late employ” and how the reading of Scripture and classical authors, as well as “Milton, and Lock, and Addison,” might diversify rural life with amusement and instruction. In this way, “The Philosophical Farmer” admonishes the virtuous to pursue “Plentys liberal Walks” without the aid of commerce and consumption: “Within himself he may each Comfort find / That can give pleasure to the human kind.” Although these images of virtuous and industrious pleasure aim to portray a free and classless society, the implicit tension they suggest between rural labor and literary culture points to the limits of Fergusson’s pastoral vision, an awareness of which she marks in a number of ways. Most revealingly, she adds a marginal note to the stanza on the pleasures of reading: “This part is meant for Gentleman farmers not peasants.” Such a crude gesture of exclusion alerts us to an additional opposition embedded within the poem’s assumptions. Whereas its Anglo-American axis divides virtuous rural farmers from urban hedonists, a more local one divides the affluent Pennsylvania and New Jersey gentry from the laboring classes whose invisibility sustains the pastoral’s idealization of rural virtue.80 From this perspective, the poem’s injunction to “let your station never be forgot” offers an implicit mandate to the less affluent. For Fergusson, this group is primarily represented by the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians whose growing numbers and spirited politics threatened the long-held leadership of Pennsylvania’s Anglican and Quaker elite. Although the poem’s stated purpose is a defense of American “Libertys,” it also warns that “Liberty is oft abusd; / And his bright Name to various ills misusd.” Thus, it seeks to distinguish the divergent forms of affect through which liberty is experienced, the “glows untainted in some worthy Breasts” from the “selfish Faction and licentious Strife” that motivate others. In fact, the poem warns that “Freedom and faction” are frequently “undistinguished to the Vulgars Sight.” Such distinctions of feelings and persons mark the

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Philosophical Farmer’s protest as both patriotic and limited, aiming to clarify that non-importation neither rejects class hierarchy nor extends beyond the scope of the taxation crisis. Dickinson’s Letters had warned that the mass pursuit of liberty might lead to licentiousness precisely because he believed many did not know the difference. But the culture of non-importation his writing inspired quickly developed what T. H. Breen calls a “radical egalitarian” element. Because the consumer revolution reached even the lowest echelons of American society, non-importation had the effect of “mobilizing ordinary men and women into associations unequivocally dedicated to the common good.”81 Although such a mobilization of citizens underwrites the success of non-importation, it also threatens to disrupt both Pennsylvania’s political status quo and the social harmony of Fergusson’s poem. Thus, when she writes in its penultimate stanza, “Far, far be Faction from your People fled / Of every Evil most that Monster dread,” she suggests that the real threat to rural American virtue is finally not tyrannical British power but native self-love. Such concerns about the destabilizing potential of liberty are also reflected in the poem’s unstable attitude toward the culture of commerce it has rejected. After having claimed the superior independence of the “Rustic Man,” it turns suddenly from its rural idealizations: “Hail noble Commerce! Pennsylvania’s boast! / Let not your Merit in my theme be lost; / Judge not I seek your Virtue to Depress, / Or with reluctance your high Worth confess.” Here, the Philosophical Farmer is aiming not merely to recuperate the virtue of commerce after the severe moral critique it has sustained but also to reconcile it to the pastoral mode. Improbably, he goes on to refigure trade with Britain in the same language of natural beauty and virtuous pleasure that defines nonimportation rhetoric’s opposition to it. Before the scourge of Parliamentary taxation, American commerce “flourished like a fragrant Flower, / The richest Triumph of some lovely Bower” until it was blasted by the “cold North-wind” of economic oppression. In the context of crisis and protest, then, the prospect of a return to commerce—despite its values of mobility, risk, and luxury—reaffirms this rural idealization: “But in some Period that is yet unborn / The lovely Flower may still your walks adorn; / Shine out Refulgent and revive to Light / And by fresh Luster every Eye invite.” Unlike Freneau’s “Wild Honey Suckle,” whose “frail duration” transpires unseen but by the poet, Fergusson’s flower of commerce aims not to distinguish natural beauty from the busy world but to connect the two. When commerce again flourishes and is reunited with the values of rural life, they promise the continuance of a culture of virtuous plea-


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sure undisturbed by politics or class conflict, upon whose beautiful objects the Addisonian eye complacently rests. If the prospective pleasure of this image obscures its unlikely construction, the poem nonetheless concludes with the Philosophical Farmer waking from his dream to a world no longer idyllic but troubled with the onset of “Gloom and darkness.” Such a counter-pastoral moment is perhaps meant to presage non-importation’s arduous political burden and potential for domestic strife. But it also betrays the poem’s broader uncertainty about the future of political liberty and aesthetic pleasure in America. Although the pastoral poetics of non-importation aims at transforming and purifying the discourse of pleasure, its merely temporary disavowal of commerce betrays the economic investments and class affiliations upon which that pleasure finally depends. Like the republican pastorals of Humphreys and Dwight, Fergusson’s assumes pleasure’s potential to elide political differences and create social harmony, but in its rhetoric of distinction and anxiety about licentiousness and faction, it also registers the contradictions of aesthetic and political liberty and the pervasiveness of class conflict, which would soon find fuller expression in revolutionary violence.82

War’s Adventurous Muse As the onset of war further interrupted the pleasures of the colonial elite, American poets sought to redeem its malignant effects as objects of the imagination. In the first year of armed conflict, the cessation of British trade constricted cultures of leisure far beyond the moralizing gestures of the earlier boycotts. After the battles of Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill and the siege of Boston, the imperatives of military and public service left many, especially women, with a disproportionate share of daily labor and sacrifice. Political conflicts between Revolutionaries and Loyalists divided communities, often replacing genteel sociability with harassment, coercion, and brutality. Yet the Revolution also inspired forms of aesthetic expression. Engraved prints commemorated military victories, patriotic ballads voiced Whig and Tory slogans, and newspaper and broadside poems praised heroism, elegized the fallen, and satirized the enemy’s foibles. While some of these productions aimed to put artistic expression into the service of an emergent American national identity, many of them also offered a means of turning the pain of violence and loss into a discourse of aesthetic pleasure.83 Republican pastorals, as we have seen, discovered a poignant counter-

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force in the terrors and suffering of war. In “To Eliza,” an anonymous lyric written in 1776 but published in the 1796 New-York Weekly Magazine, war not only defines pleasure by contrast but also provides an object for pleasurable contemplation. In the poem, Matilda commands: “Come, my Eliza, grace the sylvan scene, / Ah! Fly, and leave the careful seats of woe; / No sorrows here intrude, all calm, serene, / Our happy hours in sweet contentment flow.”84 As the poem represents war and peace in terms of geographical and affective antitheses, its pastoral utopia of “guileless pleasures” offers an attractive alternative to the “fell tyranny” of violence. The pathos of “To Eliza,” however, depends on a counter-pastoral dialog between pleasure and pain. This is not only to say that the apolitical nature of the “sylvan scene” is ideologically produced by the threat of politics without. It is also to observe that, if “furious war and devastation” mark the end of pleasure for some, they occasion the pleasures of sympathy for others. As the latter spend “happy hours in sweet contentment,” they “grow by sad comparison more blest.”85 Thus, the “sorrows” of war do indeed “intrude” on the “calm, serene” milieu of pastoral pleasure; its disruptive forces frame, enhance, and render virtuous the pleasures of rural retreat, and as a result, the imagining subject exercises aesthetic liberty even as its political liberty is curtailed. This tension between escape from war and its pleasurable contemplation is central to the early poems of Philip Freneau. His pastoral, “The American Village” (1772), for example, offers a contrast between the “ancient woes” of “Indian battles” and “Gallic foes” and the “pleasures of the rural scene”; and its epigraph from Horace’s Sixteenth Epode—“Arva, beata / Petamus arva, divites et insulas,” or “Let us seek the Fields, the happy Fields, the Islands of the Blest”—not only predicts the civil conflict to come but also suggests how to avoid its horrors.86 A similar theme appears in the historical ode, “Discovery” (1772), where against the timeless force of political domination and its violation of pastoral peace Freneau imagines seeking “some new world in some new climate plac’d, / Some gay Ta-i-ti on the watr’y waste.”87 Such images of isolation figure the other-worldliness of exotic islands and their pleasures as offering an ideal solution to the abstract evils of war. But amidst the actual danger of British occupation and violence, these images become even more charged and elaborate. In “American Liberty” (1775), the tyranny of the British blockade inspires the poetic command to: Bear me, some power, as far as winds can blow, As ships can travel, or as waves can flow,


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To some lone isle beyond the southern pole, Or lands round which pacific waters roll, There should oblivion stop the heaving sigh, There should I live at least with liberty.88 In “General Gage’s Soliloquy” (1775), too, Freneau imagines the distressed warrior, riddled with guilt for his assault on American innocence, wishing for a tropical retreat as an escape from the violence of war: “Yes—to some negro clime my course I steer, / To any country rather than be here.”89 This pattern of fantasy—the yearning rhetoric of liberty and prospective travel, tropical imagery, and indefinite grammar—raises a number of pertinent questions about Freneau’s poetry. How is the theme of travel related to that of pleasure? What kind of pleasure does such imagined escape promise in the context of revolution? How is the desire to escape related to the pleasure sought and the suffering shunned? During Freneau’s brief and intermittent career as a sailor and merchant in the West Indies between 1776 and 1779, encounters with the island landscapes and trading societies of Bermuda, St. Croix, and Jamaica literalized his conventional fantasies of pleasure and gave animation to the theme of tropical escape. In “The Beauties of Santa Cruz” (1779), written in 1776 and set against a continental milieu defined by violence and privation, the islands come to symbolize aesthetic pleasure.90 The “Account of the Island of Santa Cruz,” published alongside the poem in Brackenridge’s United States Magazine, asserts that it “affords a pleasure to the eye which is not so striking in any northern country.” The poem itself, addressed to a “shepherd” who is “[s]ick of thy northern glooms,” begins by comparing such “rigorous climes” with the “nobler” one of St. Croix and its beauties: “In happiest climate lies this envy’d isle, / Trees bloom throughout the year, flowers ever blow, / And fragrant Flora wears a lasting smile.”91 It then praises the island’s clear skies, calm waters, beautiful fish, and delicious fruit, in this way presenting a novel and sensuous poetic vocabulary that claims to surpass even the virtuous pleasures of American rural life. Although Freneau suggests that northerners with “dull minds” will not be tempted by such pleasures, he admits that “even those that have no taste to admire the beauties of nature, would at the view be forced to confess that the vales of Paradise were now displayed to the eye in their primeval beauty.”92 In many ways, then, Freneau’s St. Croix is both a liberating destination and an implicit critique of British oppression. Its peaceful retirement offers safety from the “bloody plains and iron glooms”

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of the war’s early battles and aims to keep “the sunshine of the mind” free from “death, or heart-corroding care.”93 Its Edenic language and Ossianic primitivism promise the nostalgic recuperation of innocent pleasure and aesthetic power in a chaotic modern age. Its emphasis on the perception of objects suggests that its extraordinary pleasures are not sensual but rather Addisonian pleasures of the mind. Yet to read “The Beauties of Santa Cruz” as merely a narrative of pleasurable escape from war is to misunderstand the “beauties” the poem describes and the ideas of liberty they imply. Although its call to the northern shepherd and description of communal prosperity suggest the impetus of social passions, critics have often seen in the poem’s celebration of pleasure, retreat from the duties and sacrifices of war, and tacit reliance on slave-based commercial exploitation an expression of excessive self-love, both an untimely hedonism and a failure of patriotism. On the contrary, Freneau’s “noble clime” is rife with pastoral counterforces that threaten liberty, compromise pleasure, and import the violence of the northern war into its “southern groves.” One of its fruits, the manchineal, is “deadly poison,” not unlike the “interdicted fruit in Eden’s ground”; the “wretched” slave who harvests its sugarcane offers a figure of cruel irony in this “land of love”; and “fierce hurricanes” constantly threaten the destruction of the island and its pleasures, in this way suggesting an odd continuity with the cold “north west winds” of the embattled continent.94 Thus, as in “To Eliza,” the violence that Freneau purportedly seeks to escape by going to Santa Cruz follows him there, intruding on his retirement and transforming the nature of its pleasures. Its hurricanes are accordingly described in the language of sublimity as “Nature convuls’d,” forming a stark contrast to the beauty and peace it disrupts and thus producing pleasurable “melancholy.” Likewise, the “Ethiopian swain” who “turns his wishful eyes, / To isles remote” and “pants a land of freedom and repose” is an object of pleasurable sympathy.95 His suffering is, in fact, notable largely for its effect on those who contemplate it. As Freneau writes in the “Account,” slavery “casts a shade over the native charms of the country” and “blots out the beauties of the eternal spring which Providence has there ordained to reign.”96 Critics of “The Beauties of Santa Cruz” have seen in these images a thematic conflict between imagination and politics, passion and reason, or private desire and public virtue. Sean Goudie summarizes this view when he writes that the poem is typically understood as expressing a “tense dynamic between an investment in fancy” and “postromantic rationalism.”97 But such


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assessments assume too stark an opposition between aesthetics and politics and say little about the nature of this “investment in fancy,” the structure of this “dynamic,” or even why Freneau might be compelled by it. Alternatively, I argue that the poem is best understood in the context of Freneau’s idea of aesthetic pleasure, whose expression dominates its rhetoric. That is, when we observe that the war and slavery in “The Beauties of Santa Cruz” are chiefly experienced as objects of the imagination—and as such are little different from the poisonous fruits, hurricanes, and other affectively encountered evils—we see that they function as simultaneously opposed to pleasure and susceptible to the imagination’s powers of invention and representation. In this way, the poem is more of a confrontation with counter-pastoral forces than an escape from them and structured more by an aesthetic dialectic of liberty than by mere ambivalence. Its “Beauties” are defined not by the pleasures of hedonistic abundance but by those of variety, sublimity, sympathy, and melancholy. It thus serves not to idealize or simplify pleasure and aesthetic liberty but rather to ascertain their nature, value, and limits. In Freneau’s poetry, this appetite for dynamic pleasure is often satisfied through poetic kinesis. We see this not only in the rhetoric of tropical escape but also in the roaming subjectivity of “The Power of Fancy” and “A Poem on the Rising Glory of America” (1772).98 In the latter, co-authored with Brackenridge, the divine power of the imagination, a “bright coal / Snatch’d from the altar of seraphic fire,” inspires a sweeping survey of American history and a prophecy of its “future glory.”99 When Freneau expanded the poem in 1786, he called this power “the adventurous muse,” a phrase he borrowed from Isaac Watts’s 1709 poem of the same name. For Watts, “the adventurous muse” refers to the originality of poetry that is bold in expression and restrained by neither neoclassical metrical norms nor “criticks iron chains.” But such liberty is expressed formally in images of flight, ships, and chariots speedily traversing a world of objects, perceptions, and pleasures. For Freneau, “the adventurous muse” signifies this capacity for imagined travel more than it does one for formal originality. “Rising Glory” lacks the Miltonic force of language that Watts praises, but its tentative lines of blank verse strive to realize America’s “spir’t of LIBERTY” in images of the “roving mind” and the “wand’ring genius,” whose movement mimics the globe-trotting thrust of the translatio it thematizes.100 Yet the mental engine behind such mobility finds an even more specific description in “The Power of Fancy.” Although similarly attributing the imagination’s source to “Jove’s seraphic altar,” its personification adheres more closely to the principles of Addisonian plea-

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sure. Defined by its swift and powerful capacity for creativity and incessant desire for novelty, fancy is called a “wakeful, vagrant, restless thing, / Ever wandering on the wing.”101 Its productions are described as “thoughts on reason’s scale combin’d” or combinations of impressions and ideas formed into complex ideas by the rational logic of association. As impressions, they function materially “On the surface of the brain,” but as ideas they raise “Noble fabrics” whose independence from sense “leads [them] wide and far.” Such power is understood as the associative capacity to produce “endless images of things, / Fluttering each on golden wings, / Ideal objects, such a store, / The universe could hold no more.”102 Yet again, for Freneau, this formidable and liberating power discovers a world described not only by beauty and peace but also death and suffering. Consider the poem’s comparison of the power of fancy with a sailing ship: “Canvas of the lofty mass / Could not travel half so fast— / Swifter than the eagle’s flight / Or instantaneous rays of light.” Here, the “canvas” of a ship’s sail is offered as inferior to that of fancy, whose greater mobility promises a variety of destinations, from “Norwegia’s rocky lands” and the more familiar “southern isles,” but even to “the sounding cape, / Painting death in every shape, / Where daring Anson spread the sail / Shatter’d by the stormy gale.103 The main point of these lines is fancy’s liberty, celerity, and diversity. In enumerating its potential for both exotic conception and tragic pleasure, mild tropical images shift easily to horrific naval disasters. The spreading “sail” of Admiral George Anson’s fated ship echoes the “Canvas of the lofty mast” whose speed is bested by the swiftness of fancy. Because the infamous 1741 voyage around Cape Horn to harass Spanish possessions in South America during the War of Jenkin’s Ear left most of Anson’s crew dead by drowning, disease, or starvation, his “shatter’d” sail functions as a double of the mental canvas upon which fancy paints “death in every shape.” But it is the implicit distinction between the two canvases that marks fancy’s power. Where Anson’s squadron was not fast or powerful enough to survive the rigors of the voyage, fancy is infinitely capable of painting this scene of death and quickly moving on to others.104 In 1770, as an undergraduate with Madison at the College of New Jersey, Freneau had little first-hand experience of such violence, but he knew enough about aesthetic theory to understand the pleasure even horrific images might provide. Chief among these is the pleasure inherent in imitation itself. Addison argues that “anything that is Disagreeable when look’d upon, pleases us” when represented in effective language. Because the mind


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“compares the Ideas that arise from Words, with the Ideas that arise from the Objects themselves,” even a poetic “Description of a Dung-hill is pleasing to the imagination.”105 Likewise, following Aristotle’s theory of tragedy, Addison insists that the passions of terror and pity, though “very unpleasant at all other times, are very agreeable when excited by proper Descriptions.”106 Echoing Abbé Dubos, Gerard explains this form of secondary pleasure as that of a stimulated imagination which feels itself safe from the scene of suffering. When such representations “agitate and employ the mind,” he writes, they “rouse and give scope to its greatest activity while, at the same time, our implicit knowledge that the occasion is remote or fictitious, enables the pleasure of imitation to relieve the pure torment which would attend their primary operation.”107 Burke’s idea of the sublime likewise assumes that “terror is a passion which always produces delight when it does not press too close”; but Burke also notes that “pity is a passion accompanied with pleasure, because it arises from love and social affection.” Because tragedy exercises both selfish and social passions, that is, its representations are “capable of grafting a delight on wretchedness, misery, and death itself.”108 The idea that terrible objects can be pleasurable, and sympathetic pleasures virtuous, inspires Freneau’s “The House of Night; Or, Six Hours Lodging with Death” (1779), his most vivid portrayal of the imagination’s ability to confront war, suffering, and death.109 As the poem opens, despite a pastoral landscape in “fairest vernal bloom,” the dreaming speaker sees only a gloomy midnight plain bereft of natural beauty and haunted by the howls of beasts and the crash of waves.110 Its main conceit, an extended encounter with personified Death in the last throes of his own demise, amplifies the tension between the formal liberty of imagination and the thematic constraint of mortality. But the death of Death serves another more specific purpose: to describe and impugn the carnage of war. The “buildings” in which he lies dying are described as bleak army hospitals marked by the murmuring talk of “surgery, and remedies for wounds.”111 After Death revisits the varied scenes of his work, the “comely youth” who attends him notes in the attacks of the British his continuing power to destroy: “Even now, to glut thy savage rage, I see / From eastern realms a bloody army rise.” As these and other images of war weigh on expiring Death, he finally identifies their metaphorical source by promising to “quit the world while decently I can, / And leave the business to some deputy,” whom Freneau identifies in a footnote as George III.112 The aesthetic implications of this pattern of allusion and accusation, however, are powerfully ambiguous. Although British violence has destroyed Ameri-

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can liberty and pleasure, the speaker’s “fancy” roves with autonomy and its representation of melancholic gloom or tragic sublimity aims at poetic “delight.” He is horrified by Death’s power, but his imagination aims to master its effects through sympathetic distance and lyrical description. Such is the nature of fancy, he announces at the beginning of the poem. It is a “truth experience tells” that “Poetic dreams are of a finer cast / Than those which o’er the sober brain diffus’d, / Are but a repetition of some action past.”113 Unlike mere memory, imagination is not limited by real experience, but it is also capable of deriving pleasure from even the darkest images. Thus, when the speaker finally awakes from his dream, wondering if it “portend[s his own] approaching death,” he compares fancy’s power of imagined travel “o’er wide lands and wider seas” with a final journey to “where thy Homer shrouds / His laurell’d head in some Elysian grove,” as if the latter were merely another poetic fiction and no different from the former in its transformative power.114 As Freneau’s fullest recognition of poetry’s capacity to express these complex forms of pleasure, “The House of Night” tests the liberty of imagination against the grim constraints of war by renouncing the “smiling skies” of pastoral escape in order to “draw a deeper scene replete with gloom.”115 Likewise, in “The Loyalists,” his angry philippic of the same year, being “Griev’d at the view” of “slaughter’d friends” and “fields laid waste,” he abandons tropical settings and the pastoral mode to embrace explicitly what he calls “the roughness of the Muses lay” and to write in a “bolder strain.”116 Scholars have understood such language as indicating a regretful judgment against Freneau’s self-interested physical retreat to the West Indies during the first years of the war or his self-indulgent poetic retreat to pastoral themes when political ones might have been more appropriate.117 But such views are overstated on two accounts. First, they understand the “roughness” and “deeper” or “bolder strain” of poetry as merely a metaphor for masculine virtue or political action instead of the heightened mode of aesthetic engagement and Ossianic poetic expression Freneau means it to signify, which implies not a retreat from imagination but a rigorous determination to pursue its possibilities. Second, they assume Freneau’s abrupt and facile rejection of selfish passions for social ones rather than a longstanding interest in the poetic economy of the passions. In fact, “The House of Night” reflects not a sudden departure from aesthetic pleasure but rather the culmination of a pattern extending back to “The Power of Fancy.” Like non-importation poems and republican pastorals, it assumes that the powers of the imagination are enhanced by the social urgency of politics and aroused rather than diminished


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by the counterforce of violence. It articulates an idea of aesthetic liberty realized in the crucible of conflict, expressed as adventurous poetic subjectivity, and both chastened and inspired by the dire threat of war.

The Revolutionary Mind Freneau’s initial uncertainty about the Revolution perhaps enabled his nuanced vision of war’s relation to the imagination. But most Americans felt pressed to choose sides quickly and definitively or face the judgment of fellow citizens ready to punish ambivalence. When local committees of safety interrogated suspected Loyalists, they often assumed in them not only an ideological preference for monarchy but also a tendency toward haughty self-love and a taste for corrupt, aristocratic pleasures.118 But their emigration and imprisonment, along with rampant wartime speculation and the creation of democratic state legislatures, helped to create a class of “new men” whose taste and virtue were similarly suspect and whose rapid rise to power provoked the ire of the established elite.119 Such political upheaval and social confusion led many poets to emphasize what they believed distinguished patriots from Tories and true gentlemen from upstarts: cultivated minds, capable of subordinating selfish to social passions. As the poetry of Warren, Fergusson, and Freneau suggests, the Revolution demanded the representation of virtuous minds confronting the forces of political change, discerning the pleasure necessary to Revolutionary society, and transforming that which threatened it. These ideas figure prominently in Timothy Dwight’s epic, The Conquest of Canaan (1785), which is primarily concerned with the representation of ideal minds and the rejection of those thought dangerous to an aspiring state. An elaboration of the main chapters of Joshua in eleven books of rhymed couplets, the poem recounts the Israelites’ battle with the tribes of Ai, defense of the Gibeonites, and final victory over the Canaanites. Dwight borrows most of the main characters from the Old Testament narrative—Joshua, the Israelites’ leader; Caleb, his lieutenant; and Achan, an infamous thief—but he also invents some of his own, such as Hanniel, a proud man “of princely blood,” Mina, a beautiful Gibeonite, and the Israelite lovers, Irad and Selima.120 This reconstruction of the biblical story suggests the degree to which the poem functions as a modern allegory of nation building. For example, whereas Joshua of the Old Testament is a brutal, unforgiving leader, Dwight’s version is a more compassionate, rational eighteenth-century gentleman-soldier in

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the mold of George Washington, to whom the poem is dedicated. Indeed, ever since its publication, critics have argued that the conflict between Joshua and Hanniel represents that between Washington’s fight for American independence and the loyalist claims of such writers as Jonathan Boucher and Daniel Leonard.121 However, Dwight strenuously rejected the imputation, complaining to Noah Webster that it was illogical to think “the Conquest of a country a proper event, under which to allegorize the defence of another.”122 As John P. McWilliams demonstrates, the epic poem Dwight conceived and drafted between 1771 and 1775 could hardly have been intended as an allegory of the Revolution, even if subsequent revisions aimed at embellishing its republican dimensions.123 But efforts to read Conquest as an explicitly nationalist poem make it difficult to see that it foregrounds not so much the actions of characters as their intentions, their free capacity to choose between earthly and divine pleasures. In fact, we can call the poem more an allegory of aesthetic ideas than of Revolutionary politics, for its dominant theme is neither the victorious emergence of a nation nor the grace of God in sanctioning it but rather the moral status of pleasure and the relationship between the imagination, Protestant theology, and the demands of political community. Its epic form, by portraying the clash of fated enemies and the conflicts of passion and judgment, depends not only on imagination-stirring images but images of imaginations stirred. As a figure of exemplary virtue, Joshua is not so much a character as he is an ideal type of mind, one whose virtues are realized in relation to other minds. He is introduced in the poem’s first lines as a hero “whose distant beam the human mind inspires” (21). After losing a battle with Ai, the glibtongued Hanniel mocks the Israelites’ “fetter’d minds, by folly sway’d” (29) and tries to convince “each envious mind” to return to the comforts of Egypt (25). But in reply Joshua rouses his audience by calling on them to use their imaginations: “Ye guardian powers, be near, / Enlarge their minds, and give them hearts to hear” (26). Although “a few base minds the course oppose,” he explains, “vigorous minds to freedom ardent press” (41). To be sure, the range of Dwight’s diction is notoriously narrow, but here the repeated use of “mind” signals a preeminent concern with representing subjects in the act of perception, ideation, and judgment. Importantly, Joshua’s moral firmness makes him neither ascetic nor unimaginative. On the contrary, his imagination perceives objects and constructs images at an impressive rate, while it effortlessly reconciles selfish and social passions for the benefit of the nation he rules: “So vast, so various, was the Leader’s mind, / It rov’d through every


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region, unconfin’d; / From scenes sublime, with soft transition, ran / Thro’ all the duties, all the weal, of man” (115). Dwight specifies Joshua’s ideal mind as a kind of benign Ossianic genius, whose swift powers of association are guided by a disinterested moral logic. His imagination is not so much constrained by the imperatives of sensus communis as enabled by them. His aesthetic powers are, in this way, the highest expression of his virtue. Hanniel’s “changeful” mind, conversely, is figured as the antithesis of the Addisonian “man of polite Imagination,” a kind of biblical “man of pleasure.” Although he is endowed with an equally powerful faculty, he has become allied to selfish desires and deceptions: “Heaven had form’d him with a feeling mind, / But well he knew how fair his matchless art / Could gild the latent mischiefs of his heart” (110). For this reason, Hanniel’s efforts to tempt the Israelites back to Egypt compel Joshua to distinguish between “divine” pleasures and those whose apparent innocence is compromised by the “latent mischief ” of sin: So prone the mind in error’s path to rove, T’ explore is wisdom, and ‘tis bliss to prove. Charm’d at first sight, when pleasures rise to view, Each painted scene our ventrous thoughts pursue; In airy visions, far-seen Edens rise, And isles of pleasure tempt enamor’d eyes. (34) Joshua makes it clear that “error’s path” very closely resembles the “ventrous” imagination that characterizes his own mind. As objects strike the “enamour’d” eye, they engage a process of association and invention whose “airy visions” echo his own “scenes sublime” in their aesthetic liberty. The difference between them, he suggests, concerns the need to “prove” pleasure’s foundation in morality, without which such visions signal only a false Edenic future whose pleasures are solipsistic and fleeting. Thus, as a solution to the problem of pleasure, Joshua figures aesthetic perception itself as a cultivated mode of moral discernment: “Warn’d by my voice, such hidden dangers fly, / And each gay prospect scan with searching eye” (34). The problem of “hidden dangers,” which echo Humphreys’s “hidden snares,” is explored through the character of Mina, whose native Gibeon is both a visually stunning land in which “splendors with immortal beauty shine” and a sun-worshiping culture that misattributes the divine source of such beauty (51). Rejecting the Gibeonite’s rituals as sinful, Mina puts their

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pleasures in the context of sacred history. Although in Eden “beauty thro’ all nature flow’d” (57), she tells them, ever since man’s Fall, “Fragrance and Beauty [have] clos’d their blissfull reign” (60) and temptation has become the bane of “countless millions, lur’d by Pleasure’s charms” (62). Accordingly, the problem of pleasure demands a distinction between two kinds of pleasureseeking minds. On the one hand, because the average Gibeonite is “unmindful of his nobler birth, / In vain [he] seeks pleasure from surrounding earth.” On the other hand, Mina knows that “Far different, far, the scenes by Heaven [are] design’d / To fill the wishes of the active mind” (54–55). Although in their emphasis on natural beauty and sublimity these pleasures might appear similar to the pleasures of the imagination that so often glorify the Israelites’ mission in the poem, the Gibeonites are literally unmindful of virtuous pleasure’s preparatory relation to salvation. Thus, for Dwight the difference between true and false pleasure is less a matter of specific aesthetic objects than of aesthetic attitudes. Unlike “earth’s groveling joys,” the “wishes of the active mind” are satisfied because aesthetic experience is a form of piety in which one rejects “earthly toys” for “sublimer joys.” Such wishes ultimately figure their heavenly aim as a kinetic power of association that lifts the mind out of its sinfulness and points it toward a redemptive future: “Upward with nimble flight her thoughts should soar, / And, wing’d by virtue, brighter worlds explore” (55). As we have seen, Dwight’s idea of mental discernment was informed by the aesthetic theory of Addison, Kames, and Blair; but it was also shaped by the moderate Calvinism that dominated eighteenth-century Connecticut culture. Addison largely dispenses with God’s relation to aesthetic pleasure by referring only speculatively to its final causes; and both Kames and Blair attribute the operations of the imagination to a providential benignity without specifically connecting them to Christian theology. Yet in many ways Dwight viewed their ideas as consistent with those of his grandfather, Jonathan Edwards, who held not only that imagination was the highest human faculty but also that authentic pleasures had to be distinguished from inauthentic ones. For Edwards, true pleasure was a foretaste of salvation and thus demanded heavenly rather than earthly intentions.124 But Dwight believed that the secular language of aesthetic theory could define the highest pleasures of religious experience. Thus, his 1772 Yale commencement address, “Dissertation on the History, Eloquence, and Poetry of the Bible,” argues that the sacred authors combined aesthetic liberty with literary power in order to move readers to virtue and faith: “Unencumbered by Critical manacles, they


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gave their imaginations an unlimited range, called absent objects before the sight, gave life to the whole inanimate creation, and in every period, snatched the grace which is beyond the reach of art, and which, being the genuine offspring of elevated Genius, finds the shortest passage to the human soul.”125 Because the Bible presents so many “striking” images of beauty and sublimity, Dwight insists, its effect on the imagination can lead “the earthly part of the human soul” to the great truth of Christian redemption.126 Although his allusion to Pope’s Essay on Criticism emphasizes a secular idea of aesthetics, such “grace” signals the capacity of literature to guide readers toward spiritual liberty.127 As Dwight’s “Dissertation” suggests, the reconciliation of aesthetic theory with millennial theology was perhaps his original intention for Conquest. He sought not only to use sublime and beautiful images to inspire American virtue but also to portray exemplary minds that could subordinate selfish to social passions without compromising aesthetic liberty. When he began composing the poem in 1771 at the age of nineteen, he did so with the boundless confidence of a brilliant undergraduate in the throes of political and aesthetic revolutions. But as it developed over multiple drafts, revisions, and additions, and as the political schisms of post-Revolutionary society began to erode patriotic unity, it came to express an uneasy tension between Calvinist and Enlightenment ideas of pleasure. Because the poem’s aesthetic objects figure ambiguously as a source of both divine joy and earthly deception, its attitude toward pleasure is expressed alternately as optimistic liberality and moralizing severity. The virtuous Irad and Selima, for example, celebrate “the great, the high, the beauteous, and the new” but are finally chastised for indulging in objects whose “all-pleasing ray, / Shone, but to charm, and flatter’d, to betray” (250).128 Although in Book 1 Joshua anxiously warns the Israelites to scan “each gay prospect” for moral snares, in Book 10 he offers a visionary prospect of America’s future, whose “mighty scene thy mind with awe inspires, / With beauty raptures, and with wonder fires” (268). Thus, as Dwight challenges even the most devout aesthetic subjects to discern the moral tendency of their mental pleasures, the poem emerges as torn between his inclusive assumptions about the spiritual effects of poetry and the rigorous exclusions of Calvinism. The paradigmatic opposition of Joshua and Hanniel, the censure of the Gibeonites, and the disciplining of Irad and Selima all purport to offer pleasurable moral instruction in a politically uncertain moment; but the poem finally aims to scrutinize the imagination as much as to stimulate it, in the end discovering

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only one idealized Washingtonian mind and numerous models of moral and aesthetic failure. That Dwight’s enthusiasm for aesthetic pleasure results in so much anxiety about its morality tells us much about what would soon become his bitterly skeptical view of republican liberty. As Kenneth Silverman argues, the contradictions of Conquest derive from Dwight’s inability to “decide whether the foundation of America’s greatness would be the restraints it imposed on human nature, or the restraints it broke.”129 Yet the poem also expresses the dialectical relation of such restraints and their rejection. In its introduction, for example, Dwight announces that he will seek, like Blair’s Ossian, a “medium between absolute barbarism and modern refinement” by using language that is “elevated,” “refined,” and “elegant” without the limiting forces of “design,” “ceremony,” or “fashion” (17). Although his “Dissertation” vaunts the biblical authors’ “unlimited range” of imagination, his own poem’s plodding, monotonous cadence and limited range of action and diction seem to function as formal constraints on its articulation of aesthetic liberty.130 Oddly enough, when Conquest failed to attract praise, he blamed a public too committed to the critical rules he had claimed to flout but largely followed. In one of his “Friend” essays, he warns that such criticism retards poetic originality: “Writers are fettered by it within such limits, as to prevent every genuine adventure of genius” and “readers are precluded from that diversity of pleasure rationally to be expected from the perpetually variegated rovings of imagination.”131 Such views are inconsistent with the poem’s moral sternness and formal deficiencies, but they also remind us of the seriousness of his intention in Conquest to elaborate the “adventure,” “diversity,” and “roving” that define liberty of the imagination. They suggest that the poem is shaped not merely by political or moral ambivalence but also by an abiding interest in the frictions of aesthetic liberty and constraint. Dwight’s portrayal of diverse minds in conflict anticipates the contentious post-Revolutionary politics of Constitutional ratification and the diversity of perceiving subjects it sought to comprehend. Such an idea is expressed in Fergusson’s lyric, “On the Mind’s being engrossed by one Subject” (1789), which explores the relationship of subjective desire to objective perception “[w]hen one fond object occupies the mind.”132 In the poem, Fergusson imagines a bustling society composed of a variety of citizens—the “common peasant,” the “nat’ralist,” the “lover,” the “merchant,” the “alchymist,” the “beau and belle”— for each of whom “self-love presides supreme”: “Tho’ oft we change thro’ life’s swift gliding stage, / And seek fresh objects at each varying age. / Here we are


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constant, faithful to one cause, / Our own indulgence as a centre draws.”133 Although the argument is perhaps somewhat satirical, Fergusson’s benign notion of self-love emphasizes not selfishness but the power of the imagination to reconcile subjective experience and objective reality. In the same year that Dwight’s hero, Washington, is inaugurated as the nation’s first president, she suggests that it is a commitment to our own pleasure that “presides supreme” over the nation. Her notion of self-love as a “centre” of “indulgence” invokes Pope’s scheme of concentric circles but with an emphasis not on outward emanation but inward necessity. According to such an idea, the Philosophical Farmer’s virtue is wholly compatible with commercial interests, Freneau’s egoistic escape sustains rather than threatens the Revolutionary effort, and Dwight’s “active mind” can perceive objects of beauty without divine justification. The point of Fergusson’s poem seems to be not so much to reject Shaftesburian sensus communis as to realize the experience of pleasure as both subjective and collective. It asserts precisely what Warren—for whom self-love was the source of the problem of pleasure rather than its solution— had implicitly hoped for in “To Mr. Adams”: that amidst the ever-changing objects of “life’s gliding stage” it is the expression of the imagination rather than its suppression that secures individual liberty and political order.

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The Beautiful and Sublime Objects of Landscape Writing

[A] spacious Horison is an Image of Liberty, where the Eye has Room to range abroad, to expatiate at large on the Immensity of its Views. —Joseph Addison, The Spectator 1

In late 1787, shortly after the passage of the Northwest Ordinance, New England minister and Ohio Company agent Manasseh Cutler published a pamphlet called An Explanation of the Map Which Delineates That Part of the Federal Lands, Comprehended between Pennsylvania West Line, the rivers Ohio and Scioto, and Lake Erie, which describes the newly federalized part of the Ohio Valley as a fertile paradise of forests, rivers, meadows, and “latent beauties” ready for cultivation. The pamphlet boasts of the region’s abundance of land, flourishing natural resources, and year-round access to eastern markets, as well as the Ordinance’s extension of republican government to the frontier. In support of these claims, Cutler cites such authorities as Colonel James Gordon, the Indian trader, Samuel Parsons, a director of the Ohio Company, and an unnamed “English engineer, who had explored the western country.”2 But his most compelling source comes in the form of translated “Extracts” of a sketch from J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur’s Lettres du Cultivateur Américain (1787), appended to the end of the pamphlet.3 In the sketch, Crèvecoeur, who traveled the area during his days as a surveyor in the 1760s, follows a technical description of its many virtues with a rhapsodic account of his voyage down the Ohio: This sweet and tranquil navigation appeared to me like an agreeable dream: Every moment presented to me new perspectives, which were


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incessantly diversified by the appearance of the islands, points, and the windings of the river, without intermission—changed by this singular mixture of shores more or less woody; whence the eye escaped, from time to time, to observe the great natural meadows which presented themselves, incessantly, embellished by promontories of different heights, which for a moment seemed to hide, and then gradually unfolded to the eyes of the navigator, the bays and inlets, more or less extensive, formed by the creeks and rivulets which fall into the Ohio. What majesty in the mouths of the great rivers which we passed! Their waters seemed to be as vast and as profound as those of the river upon which we floated!4 Here, Crèvecoeur makes his experience of the river synonymous with the idea of the beautiful. As the “eye of the navigator” encounters its windings, shores, meadows, promontories, and bays, these objects are characterized by the lively pleasure of variety. Like Hogarth’s “composed variety,” the river is “tranquil” but “diversified,” providing mental gratification through the gentle exercise of dynamic perception. Even the protracted, meandering second sentence reflects its serpentine form. Yet as the totality of these impressions gathers in its momentum the “majesty” of “vast” and “profound” waters, the description adds to its vocabulary of the beautiful that of the sublime. The Ohio and its tributaries may be “sweet” as “an agreeable dream,” but they are also “great” reservoirs of energy whose “profound” force signals a transformative potential that both overpowers the mind and portends the rise of a powerful nation. For as he meditates on their riparian depths, Crèvecoeur’s imagination “involuntarily leap[s] into futurity,” to a time when “those beautiful shores [are] ornamented with decent houses, covered with harvests and well cultivated fields.” He sees not only “orchards regularly laid out in squares” but an “an immense chain of plantations” and a “long succession of activity, industry, culture, and commerce,” which is “destined to become the source of force, riches, and the future glory of the United States.”5 Such a vision compounds the beautiful variety of the rivers with the uniformity of fields and farms into an idea of western settlement described by the magnitude, power, and succession of the sublime. But it also suggests that the “future glory” of the landscape is already inherent in its manifold forms, and that by means of association the aesthetic perception of these natural objects yields a national prophecy. Cutler undoubtedly intends that Crèvecoeur’s rhapsody serve important

Figure 6. “A map of the Federal Territory from the Western Boundary of Pennsylvania to the Scioto River laid down from the latest Informations and divided into Townships and fractional parts of Townships agreeably to the Ordinance of the Hon. Congress passed in May 1785.” Courtesy of the Library of Congress.


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commercial aims. If such authoritative descriptions of beautiful objects are meant to attract and reassure potential immigrants, what Cutler calls the “sublime contemplation” of a prosperous national future promises a return on their investment.6 His use of aesthetic ideas, however, is neither ornamental nor coincidental. As the river’s shifting forms delight the roving eye, it becomes a figure for liberty of the imagination that encodes the landscape with the value of autonomous action. The presence of beautiful farms amidst the sublime wilderness complements the imperial discourse of settlement by implicitly moderating liberty with constraint. The “incessant” variety of the Ohio is checked by its grandeur, just as beautiful cultivations are subordinated to sublime ideas of nature and state power. In this way, Crèvecoeur’s vision rhetorically populates the unsettled region with both virtuous citizenfarmers and its first liberty-loving aesthetic subject. Indeed, because this vision is “involuntary,” it indicates a spectator whose cultivated sensibility is capable of apprehending the pleasures of natural beauty and sublimity and one whose personal economic interests yield reflexively to the disinterestedness of national progress. Myra Jehlen would call Crèvecoeur’s description of the Ohio a “set-piece of eighteenth-century American landscape writing,” whose features conventionally include “a dazzled observer and an immense view extending to a global horizon and encompassing all the possibilities of natural beauty.”7 Among the most famous examples of these are Crèvecoeur’s physiocratic effusions in Letters from an American Farmer, John Filson’s beautiful western prospects in The Discovery, Settlement, and Present State of Kentucky (1784), Thomas Jefferson’s descriptions of the Natural Bridge and the “passage of the Patowmac through the Blue ridge” in his Notes on the State of Virginia, and William Bartram’s natural historical rhapsodies in Travels (1791). Scholars have had many useful things to say about these passages, but most have either ignored or misunderstood the rhetorical complexity of the aesthetic language they use. Perhaps because they often restrict their focus to single authors and texts, such studies tend to ignore the broader generic tradition of aesthetic landscape description and its conventions.8 But most also limit their analyses to narrow discussions of aesthetic theory, invoking a reductively “Burkean” aesthetics or focusing merely on a single aesthetic category (typically, the sublime), without considering the relevant range of ideas and influences.9 Finally, by precipitately extending the significance of an individual text from its site-specific description to a totalizing, often transhistorical ideological formation (such as an “American sublime”), scholars see this writing more as

Figure 7. “A View of the Natural Bridge in Virginia.” Columbian Magazine, September 1787. Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University. This engraving appeared alongside a “Description of the Natural Bridge, called in Virginia, Rocky Bridge,” which was extracted from an account by Baron de Turpin, a French engineer, quoted in Marquis de Chastellux’s Travels in North-America (1787).


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a scriptural articulation of national ideology than as a practical borrowing of recognizable rhetorical forms with specific political implications.10 Pamela Regis argues that to isolate aesthetic landscape descriptions from the generic context of natural history is to “impose belletristic analysis” anachronistically and thus to distort their significance.11 But there is, in fact, much to justify reading them as relatively autonomous forms of expression. As in Cutler’s use of Crèvecoeur, they were repeatedly quoted, extracted, and even plagiarized in other texts of landscape writing, in this way both expanding their circulation and shaping their literary significance.12 The most famous descriptions, like that of Jefferson’s Natural Bridge, Jonathan Carver’s prospect of St. Anthony Falls, and Peter Kalm’s sketch of Niagara Falls, became frequent objects of discussion, debate, and revision among other naturalists and travelers. Such descriptions were also regularly reprinted in newspapers and magazines as elegant expressions of America’s natural splendor.13 As the growing popularity of the picturesque led to an increasing demand for “views,” “prospects,” and “romantic descriptions,” publishers promoted their inclusion in books otherwise devoted to largely scientific or other “useful” information.14 In short, as “set-pieces,” they often circulated and were consumed independently of the texts in which they first appeared. Landscape descriptions helped to produce in readers, both American and European, an emergent sense of the United States as a nation of connected natural spaces, defining it into existence through compelling representations of its territorial possessions.15 As in Crèvecoeur’s sketch, their account of aesthetic perception is often continuous with the national history of conquest and cultivation that such perception symbolizes. Thus, many scholars have argued that these texts seek to embody American political values in the land itself. For some, the abstract power of the state is expressed through impressive geological formations, vast plains, or navigable rivers, such that, as Jehlen argues, “the ethos of liberal individualism inheres in the American continent.”16 But others scholars have emphasized the imposition of rhetorical order on a diverse land and population. According to Christopher Looby, taxonomic descriptions of flora and fauna impose rational schemes of cognition and perception on an otherwise unstable and even violent world. For Looby, such ordering rhetoric functions even in the face of incongruent facts or disordered experience, insofar as “perceptual chaos” often becomes “a figure for social anarchy.”17 That is, a world inassimilable to the sensory perceptions of the mind is a senseless one. These claims become even more cogent when we consider them in terms of aesthetic theory and its

Landscape Writing


dialectic of liberty. As we have seen, the forms of objects raise fundamental political questions about aesthetic response. While they sometimes manifest uniformity and regularity, they also offer examples of variety, asymmetry, deformity, and the terrifying forms of sublimity. For early national landscape writers, then, the fluid and dynamic forms of beauty discover in natural objects ideas of change, progress, and renewal, and those of sublimity express ideas of coercion, confusion, and crisis. In this way, they help us to understand literary representations of national expansion in relation to its specific ideological challenges. As Crèvecoeur’s sketch juxtaposes sublime wilderness and beautiful cultivation, for example, it idealizes the process of settlement in a single, coherent image, thereby striking a balance between liberty and order, while simultaneously projecting this balanced process into the national future. Such a scheme of representation undoubtedly seeks to justify the otherwise interested rhetoric of conquest and cultivation by obscuring the racial, social, and economic contradictions that shaped western settlement.18 But as we shall see, the rhetoric of beauty and sublimity often constructs sharp contrasts, sudden reversals, and figures of violence that render these contradictions visible. To appreciate the range and depth of these formal effects, however, demands a broad archival scope that looks beyond a single iconic text. Accordingly, this chapter will examine a range of landscape descriptions from the Revolution through the 1790s, emphasizing the way their rhetoric of beauty and sublimity mediates the politics of exploration and settlement. It will consider not only the well-known works of Crèvecoeur, Jefferson, Bartram, and Filson, but also those of Jeremy Belknap, Andrew Burnaby, Jonathan Carver, Gilbert Imlay, John Long, Jedidiah Morse, Thomas Pownall, Bernard Romans, John Smyth, and Isaac Weld. The chapter will begin by investigating the rhetorical origins, generic conventions, and cultural circulation of aesthetic landscape descriptions within the context of early federal land politics. Then it will explore the political significance of discourses of beauty and sublimity in relation to specific representations of natural and cultivated objects. Finally, it will discuss the construction of virtuous aesthetic spectatorship in these texts, as well as its relevance to the post-Revolutionary politics of land and liberty.19

Landscape Aesthetics and the Empire of Liberty The tradition of eighteenth-century landscape writing was made possible by a gradual transformation of the idea of wilderness and its representation.


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Explorations of Asia, Africa, and the Americas, along with the growing vogue of travel in Britain and across Europe, increasingly turned unfamiliar natural objects into familiar ones. The rise of Linnaean natural history promulgated a universal language of description and sparked a sudden demand for knowledge and specimens, especially from the New World. Innovative theories of the earth’s geological history supplanted biblical explanations and rendered formerly hostile or distasteful objects, such as mountains and chasms, into pleasing things of wonder. To be sure, older ideas of wilderness as a corrupted paradise, an inhospitable obstacle to civilization, or the inevitable object of cultivation persisted well into the nineteenth century and beyond. But by the end of the eighteenth century, many of the educated elite had come to see wild and untamed nature as an essential source of cultural value.20 Artists and writers contributed to this shift by making representations of natural landscapes central to their work. Painters like George Lambert and Thomas Gainsborough followed Salvator Rosa and Claude Lorrain in exploring the formal possibilities of landscape; poets like James Thomson and John Dyer turned landscape description into richly detailed moral verse; and travel writers like Joseph Addison and Patrick Brydone limned remarkable vistas and natural curiosities, as well the impressions they made on the travelers themselves. Each of these traditions assumed that the contemplation of a natural landscape—regardless of whether one ever painted it or described it in words—was an inherently virtuous and pleasurable endeavor, something that both gratified and cultivated the taste. This artistic view of landscape changed the meaning of the land itself and created habits of perception that shaped even the most empirical observations and representations. As John Barrell has argued, the idea of “landscape” as a pictorial representation of a prospect first emerged with sixteenth-century Dutch painting and by the eighteenth century took on the broader function of signifying the features or configuration of a “terrain.” But the latter carried with it some of the pictorial meaning of the former, leaving the idea of land as something inescapably formal and visual, both composed in the arrangement of its objects and potentially viewed with pleasure by a spectator.21 The basic principles of landscape viewing derived from those of painting. Invariably, they focused on a single view or prospect, determined by both the grouping of appropriate objects and the strategic perspective of the viewer. They emphasized the value of formal relationships balanced between distinct planes of depth and bands of contrast, as well as the viewer’s gradual discovery of these relationships. Thus, according to Barrell, the ideal landscape

Landscape Writing


was organized around the movement of the eye from the foreground to the horizon and between alternating darkness and light or variations of form and color, and it demanded objects and contours that might “smooth the transition from band to band.”22 Under the influence of painters and sketchers of landscapes, applying these structures of composition and perception eventually became an “automatic procedure” for eighteenth-century poets, travelers, natural historians, and other writers.23 Such a procedure explicitly prized the formal value of contrast and its effect on the perceiving eye, which were fundamental to painting theory in general. According to Joshua Reynolds, the “summit of excellence” in painting requires an “assemblage of contrary qualities, but mixed, in such proportions, that no one part is found to counteract the other.”24 Likewise, Francesco Algarotti’s Essay on Painting argues that contrast aims chiefly to enable the mobility of the eye, to encourage its “passing freely from one object to another” in order to “better comprehend the whole.”25 But the ultimate purpose of such liberty was to serve the eye’s inherent capacity for active and sensible perception, its tendency to respond with delight or displeasure to specific objects and forms. Thus, Charles Dufresnoy’s popular verse treatise, The Art of Painting, first translated into English in 1695, insists that “the judging eye / Demands the charms of contrariety, / In forms, in attitudes expects to trace, / Distinct inflections, and contrasted grace.”26 Likewise, William Gilpin writes in his Essay Upon Prints (1768), “No group [of objects] can be agreeable without contrast” because “sameness in attitude, action, or expression, among figures in the same group, will always disgust the eye.”27 Yet for most theorists disproportionate or excessive contrasts might result in the same negative effect. As Reynolds writes, “when it exceeds certain limits, [contrast] is as disagreeable as a violent and perpetual opposition; it gives to the senses, in their progress, a more sudden change than they can bear with pleasure.” In other words, the painter’s use of contrasts, like all forms of liberty of the imagination, demands regulation. Although “they contribute to the perfection of Art, when kept within certain bounds,” Reynolds warns, “if they are carried to excess, [they] become defects, and require correction.”28 The essential aesthetic element of contrast is variety, a constituent aspect of theories of beauty and novelty that emphasizes the needs of the perceiving eye. Through variety, Addison writes, “the Mind is every Instant called off to something new, and the Attention is not suffered to dwell long, and waste itself on any particular Object.”29 As we have seen, Hutcheson defines beauty as an ideal relation of “uniformity amidst variety”; but it is Hogarth and


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Gerard who best explain the mental mechanism behind this formula. If the senses are effectively stimulated by variety, Hogarth argues, they can easily be over-stimulated by too much of it, such that “when the eye is glutted with a succession of variety, it finds relief in a certain degree of sameness.”30 The same is true of what he calls “intricacy” or whatever formal variety “leads the eye [on] a wanton kind of chace.”31 Because “the active mind is ever bent on being employ’d,” any “arising difficulty, that for a while attends and interrupts the pursuit, gives a sort of spring to the mind, enhances the pleasure, and makes what would else be toil and labour, become sport and recreation.”32 As Gerard insists, however, such a conception must be neither so difficult that it causes the pain of excessive labor nor so easy as to allow the mind to “grow languid” or fall into a “state of indolence.” Thus, he writes, if variety were “boundless, the mind would be fatigued and pained with continual shifting from part to part, without the prospect of any end of its labour.” But a combination of variety and uniformity would, “by thus moderating the effects of one another, increase the pleasure resulting from each; giving the mind at once the opposite gratifications of facility and active exertion.”33 The eye, in this way, is a synecdoche not only for the mind but for the perceiving person himself. It demands both excitement and respite but each in moderation; it is willing to work for its pleasures but only to a point. Yet it was precisely this point that Burke and others challenged with the theory of the sublime. Its primary qualities of vastness, monotony, obscurity, and disorder require the painful labor of the eye without offering it repose; but in elevating the mind with an enlarged sense of its own capacities, they produce a kind of delight. “Vast objects occasion vast sensations,” writes John Baillie, “and vast sensations give the mind a higher idea of its own powers.”34 As sublime images provoke the eye, they command a form of submission to superior force that is itself gratifying. For Burke, as we have seen, the chief effect of the sublime is an “astonishment” that “hurries us on by an irresistible force” toward feelings of “admiration, reverence and respect.”35 In this way, the sublime offers to expand the range of the eye’s responses to great objects by both increasing its capacity and appetite for labor and manifesting its relative powerlessness. In formal terms, as we have seen, Burke understands the beautiful and the sublime as irreconcilable forces. Although he acknowledges that they are often found united, especially in natural objects or works of art, he suggests that what this yields is invariably neither beautiful nor sublime but merely “Fine.”36 The juxtaposition of beautiful and sublime objects in painting and

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landscape theory, however, was often seen as an effective means of providing the basic elements of contrast and variety. Daniel Webb’s Inquiry into the Beauties of Painting, for example, holds that “the wonderful effect” of ancient art “proceeded from an union of the beautiful, with the great and uncommon” because it combined “the whole influence of visible objects on the imagination.”37 To limit oneself to either beauty or sublimity, he suggests, would be to limit the aesthetic potential of art. In the same vein, Gilpin takes issue with Burke’s “refined reasoning” when he argues in Observations Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty (1786) that the experience of viewing landscapes demonstrates that combinations of beauty and sublimity are not mutually destructive but descriptive of the picturesque. For Gilpin, this ideal is typified by Ulleswater in England’s Lake District, whose sublime mountains “glide” into beautiful meadows, and whose “woody and rocky scenes” gradually become “smooth and fertilized.”38 “Among all the visions of this inchanting country,” Gilpin asserts, “we had seen nothing so beautifully sublime, so correctly picturesque as this.”39 Theorists of landscape thus emphasized how the full range of natural forms can satisfy the demands of the perceiving eye. Because the “prevailing character of a wood is generally grandeur,” Thomas Whatley’s Observations on Modern Gardening (1770) argues, the “principal attention therefore which it requires, is to prevent the excess of that character, to diversify the uniformity of its extent, to lighten the unwieldiness of its bulk, and to blend graces with greatness.”40 But in prose descriptions of landscape, such contrasts can also figure as abrupt physical transformations or temporal shifts. After a sudden storm atop a mountain, Gilpin’s Observations on the River Wye (1782) discovers the surprising “recompense” of “following with our eye the rear of the storm; observing through its broken skirts, a thousand beautiful effects, and half-formed images . . . till the sun breaking out, the whole resplendent landscape appeared again, with double radiance, under the leaden gloom of the retiring tempest.”41 Conversely, he claims in his “Essay on Picturesque Travel” (1792), extracted in the New-York Magazine, that there is no “greater pleasure, than when a scene of grandeur bursts unexpectedly upon the eye, accompanied with some accidental circumstance of the atmosphere, which harmonizes with it, and gives it double value.”42 In each case, the eye seeks out an enhanced relation of dissimilar objects capable of gratifying its desire for dynamic perception. Significantly, aesthetic landscape descriptions that feature man-made objects are often informed by associative as well as formal theories of beauty


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and sublimity. Foremost among these is the idea of utility as a source of beauty. Although Burke dismisses its significance, Smith, following Hume, argues that through the mechanism of sympathy objects appear beautiful because we appreciate the abstract or potential value of their utility or fitness. One need not possess a fine property or a thriving settlement to admire the benefit it might provide to others. In extracts from The Theory of Moral Sentiments that appeared in the 1790 Universal Asylum, Smith insists that this love of utility extends to “those institutions which promote the public welfare” because we “take pleasure in beholding the perfection of so beautiful and grand a system.”43 In a similar way, the idea of the “moral sublime” apprehends the power of our response to objects of great virtue. According to Blair, the moral sublime arises “from certain exertions of the human mind; from certain affections, and actions, of our fellow creatures,” especially those described by “Magnanimity, or Heroism,” in this way producing “an effect extremely similar to what is produced by the view of grand objects in nature.”44 Ideas of beautiful utility, as well shall see, are especially significant for descriptions of improved or cultivated landscapes, like Crèvecoeur’s imagined farms, villages, and towns on the shores of the Ohio. But the same descriptions can also suggest the moral sublime in their appreciation of the inherent difficulty of creating cultivated spaces out of the wilderness and the heroic patriotism of advancing western settlement and national progress. Because the several genres in which landscape descriptions appear rely to a great degree on these formal and associative assumptions about beauty and sublimity, the relationship between their instrumental and aesthetic aspects seems intuitive. For natural history, the variety demanded by beauty corresponds to the diverse world that is the natural historian’s purview; likewise, sublimity names the powerful objects and physical dangers he encounters in his pursuit of knowledge. In most travel narratives, the narrator is no mere perceiver but an active and intentional subject whose self-described curiosity leads him to seek out interesting objects. Even propagandistic texts like Cutler’s or Filson’s, which combine aspects of natural history, topography, and travel, typically depend on the rhetorical power of their aesthetic descriptions to construct their authority, attract investors and settlers, and win political support. Yet the presence of aesthetic discourse in such texts is not always harmonious. Importantly, most landscape descriptions make explicit scientific, commercial, and political claims that lack any direct relation to aesthetic experience. Many writers, such as Thomas Hutchins and Benjamin Smith Barton, eschew aesthetic language altogether, limiting their scope to

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measurement, taxonomy, and straightforward descriptions of objects and experience. Some writers specifically criticize the use of aesthetic rhetoric, while others only use it apologetically. Thus, aesthetic theory and objective description do not, as Regis argues, neutrally “coexist” in landscape writing as continuous and complementary discourses.45 Rather, such writing is often marked by an explicit conflict between the mimetic imperatives of rational knowledge and the autonomy of pleasure and emotion. Whereas beauty and sublimity register the sensible perception of natural forms, they also invoke the unreliable singularity of the individual imagination. If their claims assume the authority of experience, the force of incisive description, and the universality of application, they are rendered suspect by their egoism, subjectivism, and rhetorical extravagance.46 Thus, there is an inherent tension in landscape description between realism and romance, between the useful information the text is meant to convey and the pleasure it is meant to provide. We see this tension in reviews that often criticize such writing as a failure of rational discourse. The Massachusetts Magazine, for example, calls Bartram’s prose “rather too luxuriant and florid to merit the palm of chastity and correctness”;47 and the Universal Asylum describes his style as “very incorrect and disgustingly pompous,” noting that his “rhapsodical effusions . . . might have been omitted.”48 Even more bitterly, Samuel Ayscough’s Remarks on the Letters from an American Farmer (1783) complains that Crèvecoeur’s book was “a new species of forgery,” whose “pleasing, romantic manner . . . is calculated to work upon the passions.”49 “A simple cultivator of the earth,” Ayscough declares, “ought to have told a plain tale, without the brilliancy of imagination  .  .  .  the frothy metaphors of the rhetorician, and the distinguishing verbiage of the petty philosopher of France.”50 Resembling in many ways the anti-novel discourse of the period, these critiques see in landscape rhapsodies a rhetorical freedom that challenges both the literary conventions of nonfiction prose and the objectivity of empiricism. But the same tension appears in many landscape descriptions themselves. Textually, their rhapsodic passages are often set apart from the presentation of objective facts, offered as a sudden rhetorical flourish or conveyed in the midst of strong first-person narration or retrospective reflection.51 In this way, their appeal to aesthetic subjectivity, as opposed to taxonomic or topographic language, marks them as a distinct form of discourse. Many writers express an explicit awareness of this distinction and the criticism it often invited. Some seek to defend or excuse their aesthetic language. In his Topographical Description


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of the Western Territory (1792), Gilbert Imlay begs forgiveness for “what I know you will call a rhapsody” on the “dignity and splendour” of the Muskingum River in Ohio.52 More assertively, when Thomas Pownall’s Topographical Description of the Dominions of the United States of America (1776) describes the beautiful intricacy of Cohoes Falls in New York, he insists that “This is not Poetry but Fact, and a natural Operation.”53 Other writers more subtly recognize the instability of the genre. On the one hand, Bartram’s description of a “stately forest” of black oaks articulates his understanding of the limits of rhapsodic writing: “To keep within the bounds of truth and reality, in describing the magnitude and grandeur of these trees, would, I fear, fail of credibility.”54 On the other hand, Bernard Romans, in his Concise Natural History of East and West Florida (1775), cautions readers increasingly accustomed to aesthetic language that “No elegance of style, nor flowers of rhetoric, must be expected” from him.55 Such remarks suggest that aesthetic landscape description posed a problem of generic confusion. By abetting the incursion of poetry and romance into utilitarian genres, it was both a breach of literary form and a constituent aspect of it. But as generic expectations gradually evolved, landscape writers increasingly sought to discern a viable relation to what Jeremy Belknap’s History of New-Hampshire (1792) calls “the language of fiction and romance,” one that admitted the distinction between empiricism and rhapsody without invalidating the latter as a legitimate form of description.56 Thus, for example, a preface to the 1781 London edition of Carver’s Travels Through the Interior Parts of North America (1778) notes that, although the author is inspired by “the magnitude, the novelty, and grandeur of the objects” he sees, he is “not so far transported, as to interrupt the most scrupulous attention to the situation, as improveable for commercial and national advantages.”57 Yet if the language of imagination sometimes impugns observers thought to be too close to their objects, it is also viewed as a source of error when observers were not close enough. Travel narratives, natural histories, and topographies by Americans routinely purported to correct the errors of their European predecessors. But many did so with reference to the latter’s excessive imaginations. Morse’s American Geography (1789), for example, laments that Europeans writers on America have “suffered fancy to supply the place of facts, and thus have led their readers into errors, while they professed to aim at removing their ignorance.”58 Likewise, Belknap claims that such writers “entertain themselves and their readers, with a detail of circumstances, which have no foundation but in their own fancies.”59 Even Jefferson, responding to the famous French zoologist, George-Louis Leclerc, the Comte

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de Buffon, insists that his climatic theory of American degeneracy “cherished error” by “lending her for a moment his vivid imagination and bewitching language.”60 Such errors rooted in fancy were typically attributed to a lack of first-hand observation that no scientific authority or prestige could mitigate. As the epigraph to Romans’s Concise Natural History, borrowed from Linnaeus, explains: “Reason without experience can do nothing; being no more than the mere dreams, phantasms, and meteors of ingenious men.”61 It was, in fact, precisely the direct and unmediated response implied by aesthetic landscape descriptions that underwrote their vernacular authority. In a way, they promised to be more informative than merely scientific texts by including the authentic perceptions of someone with actual experience of the objects in question. If such language did not finally enhance objective description, it sought to utilize a rich vocabulary of sensation to convey the force of impressions on the imagination and thus to provide readers with a more comprehensive picture. Such an approach was especially significant in the typical case of ideas and objects deemed “inexpressible” or “indescribable.” As John Pope writes in A Tour Through the Southern and Western Territories (1792), “Whoever undertakes a description of the Walnut Hills, must have a fertile Imagination, be happy at landscape painting, and use Something like Romance, or he will fall infinitely short of that Eulogium which the Place so justly merits.”62 Pope’s assertion, like many of its kind, assumes that objective description is insufficient to objects of beauty and sublimity, which thus require alternative forms of representation. Despite its philosophical origins, then, aesthetic landscape description speaks as much from the ground as from the academy, and because it both dramatizes the human discovery of the wilderness and perceives it as a place especially designed for human response, it implicitly invites others to make similar journeys and observations. As explorers, naturalists, surveyors, entrepreneurs, settlers, and other travelers in the 1770s, 1780s, and 1790s turned their sights to the Ohio Valley, the Mississippi Valley, and the unsettled parts of the Carolinas and East and West Florida, they carried with them aesthetic paradigms for viewing the landscape. Yet their writing was also shaped by the discourse of national expansion. It connected its techniques of representation and vocabulary of beauty and sublimity to the wild and unknown spaces of the American West and the contested process of its settlement. In doing so, it translated the politics of expansion into a discourse on liberty of the imagination. The traditional British correlation of land and liberty, which saw the cultivation of the former as a guarantor of the latter, assumed that land was


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costly and limited, as it was even along America’s populous eastern seaboard. In the trans-Appalachian West, however, a seemingly infinite supply of uncultivated land offered the prospect of economic opportunity to all who lacked it. For propertied elites like Jefferson, it meant an unprecedented extension of republican liberty—what he called an “empire of liberty”63—and a remedy for urban crowding and moral corruption. These views cohered in the wake of the Revolution, when waves of immigrants began pouring into the Ohio Valley and Kentucky, and national leaders began developing an organized system of land sales as a means of paying off the exorbitant post-war debt, securing western borders, and strengthening the fragile republic. As land increasingly became synonymous with national potential, many came to believe, as Fredrick Jackson Turner would famously explain, that the conquest of the frontier made America free by producing citizens constrained by neither natural nor political obstacles. The rhetoric of expansion, however, often expressed as much anxiety about the uncertainty of settlement as it did a belief in its inevitability. As the population of the western territory boomed, such growth inspired eastern fears about licentiousness, disorder, and the subversion of liberty. To be sure, persistent, often violent conflicts between rival colonial land claimants, revolutionaries and Loyalists, and settlers and Indians had long made frontier life unpredictable and dangerous. But in response to such realities, urban elites developed an exaggerated ideological critique of participants in the settlement process. According to Peter Onuf, they complained that the “unrestrained privatism” of greedy speculators threatened both the equitable distribution of land and the ethos of disinterestedness essential to stable republics.64 They despaired that squatters and uncouth settlers farmed illegally on federal lands, aroused Indian resentments, flouted both law and morality, and discouraged the settlement of more virtuous immigrants. Some even worried that western lands were so fertile and isolated from eastern markets that they would encourage mere subsistence farming, thereby thwarting the economic development of the nation.65 In response to these anxieties, the official culture of western expansion was organized principally around ideas of order. The Ordinances of 1784, 1785, and 1787 federalized state land claims, provided for future statehood, instituted the surveying of townships, and guaranteed basic political and economic freedoms. As surveyors imposed rational grids on the wilderness and federal soldiers enforced private land claims, groups like Cutler’s Ohio Company promised the methodical distribution of parcels to virtuous New Englanders with a stake in national prosperity. Philip Freneau’s poem

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“On the Emigration to America and the Peopling of the Western Country” (1785) expresses these ideas when it envisions “order from confusion rise” on the “fair plains” and “rural seats” of the West.66 In this way, national leaders sought to strike a balance between extending the practices of liberty to the frontier and controlling settlement through the exercise of federal power. Whether or not aesthetic landscape description was actually responsible for encouraging western settlement, as Onuf suggests, is unclear.67 But if government action sought to impose liberal order on the land, such writing often expressed that order as an ideal. In the same way that land ordinances privileged national interests over local ones, aesthetic landscape description universalized the perceptual experience of the frontier. It implicitly encouraged regulated expansion because it privileged both the inherent liberty of the untamed wilderness and the implicit constraint of cultivation. Images of neat fields and groves amidst a backdrop of craggy peaks symbolized adherence to government policy by affirming both the individual enterprise of settlement and the virtue of rational order. The imagined prospect of a thriving town, city, or nation of farms assumed cooperation with a system that reconciled private and public interests. Of course, such writing often conceals both the genocidal dispossession of Indians and the often-violent struggle for control over settlement. Descriptions of sublime forests and rivers and beautiful farms and fields erase not only the displacement of indigenous tribes but also the resentments of aggrieved farmers suffering the effects of Indian retaliation and the fears of squatters resisting the persecutions of federal soldiers and those with more legitimate land claims. Indeed, we can assume that all such representations refer to originals that only exist as having been appropriated and defended, perhaps at the cost of many lives. As the remainder of this chapter will demonstrate, however, the politics of the western landscape is often written into the aesthetic rhetoric that describes it. In prospects of natural and cultivated beauty, we see representations of moderated liberty and national futurity. In scenes of natural and moral sublimity, we see not only images of individual empowerment and imperial ascendance but also those of resistance, revolution, and chaos. In distinctions between elite and vulgar aesthetic subjects, we see disparate political interests contending for superior perspectives.

Beautiful Prospects Landscape description that denominates a natural object as beautiful discovers a particular kind of order in the wilderness. “The Ohio is the most


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beautiful river on earth,” Jefferson announces in his Notes. “Its current gentle, waters clear, and bosom smooth and unbroken by rocks and rapids, a single instance only excepted.”68 To be sure, such an unimpeded river promises relative ease of navigation and the prospect of commerce; but the perception of the values of gentleness, clarity, and smoothness in a wild, uncultivated, potentially dangerous place is also gratifying in formal terms. Such perceptions of beautiful order are often unexpected and surprising, coming suddenly or after arduous efforts. In Filson’s Discovery, for example, it is only after enduring a “long fatiguing march, over a mountainous wilderness” and climbing to “the top of an eminence” that he “with joy and wonder, descried the beautiful landscape of Kentucke.”69 As the absolute beauty of the view is enhanced by the pleasures of discovery and contrast, Filson’s sensible perception becomes a rhapsodic judgment of taste: “Nature was here a series of wonders, and a fund of delight. Here she displayed her ingenuity and industry in a variety of flowers and fruits, beautifully coloured, elegantly shaped, and charmingly flavoured.”70 Like all commercially minded explorers, Filson and Daniel Boon have an eye for exploitable natural resources; but their descriptions of the land and its objects emphasize a pattern of providential order and aesthetic design. As Filson’s description of Kentucky suggests, however, such order was typically neither regular nor uniform. Although Jefferson sees absolute beauty in an “unbroken” river, most writers emphasize variety in American landscapes, whose harmonious formal diversity gratifies the senses and engages the imagination. For example, Carver writes that the “extremely beautiful” country around St. Anthony’s Falls “is not an uninterrupted plain, where the eye finds no relief, but composed of many gentle accents, which in the summer are covered with the finest verdure, and interspersed with little groves, that give a pleasing variety to the prospect.”71 In the same way, Pownall describes North America as having “the most picturesque Landscapes that Imagination can conceive, in a Variety of the noblest, richest Groupes of Wood, Water, and Mountains. As the Eye is lead on from Reach to Reach, at each Turning of the Courses, the Imagination is in a perpetual Alternative of curious Suspense and new Delight.”72 For both Carver and Pownall, whose descriptions, published in the 1770s, became influential models for American writers of the following two decades, the landscape is “composed” of formal elements and “Groupes,” like the paintings or gardens they resemble, and it invites the perceiving eye through its “Courses,” offering both provocation and repose along the way. These descriptions thus assume variety and novelty

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as values inherent in the American landscape, an embodied expression of freedom from the tyranny of uniformity. For many writers, as for Gilpin, the most compelling prospects are organized around combinations of beauty and sublimity. Atop the “the summit of a commanding ridge,” Filson’s Boon beholds on one side “the ample plains, the beauteous tracts below,” and on the other, “the famous river Ohio that rolled in silent dignity, marking the western boundary of Kentucke with inconceivable grandeur.”73 Belknap likewise argues that “every thing in nature, which can be supposed capable of inspiring ideas of the sublime and beautiful” may be seen at New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington. “Aged mountains, stupendous elevations, rolling clouds, impending rocks, verdant woods, crystal springs, the gentle rill, and the roaring torrent, all conspire to amaze, to soothe and to enrapture.”74 For John Smyth’s A Tour in the United States of America (1784), a view from the Carroway Mountains in North Carolina offers a “grand and delightful perspective” because while “the magnitude, wildness, and extent of the view rendered it awful, the serene smiling sky and climate inspired the most pleasing and delightful sensations.”75 In the same way, Bartram’s progress along the Altamaha River in Georgia is “rendered delightful” not only “by the sylvan elegance of the groves,” “cheerful meadows,” and “winding banks of the river,” but also by “the high projecting promontories” and other “scenes of grandeur and sublimity.”76 Such contrasts not only lead the eye through a lively composition of diverse forms but engage the whole perceiving self in a balanced relation of opposing emotions and somatic responses. As these examples indicate, beautiful prospects regularly discover variety and contrast in moving bodies of water, especially rivers. John Seelye argues that American rivers function as symbols of imperial power because of their ability to transport goods, communications, and people. But we see their formal significance most clearly in descriptions of “falls,” “cascades,” and “cataracts,” whose structures deny the possibility of navigation, thereby rendering them mere objects of the imagination. Belknap, for example, reports that the “vast and irregular heights” of Mount Washington, “being copiously replenished with water, exhibit a great variety of beautiful cascades; some of which fall in a perpendicular sheet or spout, others are winding and sloping, others spread, and form a bason in the rock, and then gush in a cataract over its edge.”77 Such images of falling, winding, gushing water mimic the movements of the curious eye in its perceptions of formal variety. As Whatley argues, “a great cascade fills us with surprise . . . the motion, the agitation,

Figure 8. “Prospect of the Paysaïck Falls in New-Jersey.” Columbian Magazine, January 1789. Courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia. Like Bartram’s description of the Georgia cascade, both Figures 8 and 9 feature spectators whose presence emphasizes the status of the waterfall as an object of aesthetic contemplation.

Figure 9. “The Cascade, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.” Port Folio, March 1809. Engraved by Cornelius Tiebout. Courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.


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the rage, the froth, and the variety of the water, are finally the objects which engage the attention.”78 This is true of what Gilpin calls “broken” as opposed to “regular” cascades, “whose projecting fragments, impeding the water, break it into pieces—dash it into foam—and give it all the spirit and agitation, which that active element is capable of receiving.”79 But such activity is best seen in the “successive fall,” in which “the water, instead of making one continued shoot, falls through a succession of different stories.” Successive falls, Gilpin writes, are particularly beautiful “where the stages are deranged; and the water seeks its way from one stage to another.”80 In this way, willfully kinetic water reflects the desiring curiosity and determined autonomy of the perceiver, whose pleasure derives from a gentle exercise of the faculties. Consider Bartram’s description of a cascade in northern Georgia, whose mazy course becomes a model of aesthetic liberty alternately encouraged and checked. In search of refreshment and shelter from the sun in a “cool shaded retreat,” the naturalist peers between “stately columns of the superb forest trees” and discovers “the unparalleled cascade of Falling Creek, rolling and leaping off the rocks,” whose successive structure and formal variety become the focus of his observation: “[T]he waters uniting below, spread a broad glittering sheet over a vast convex elevation of plain smooth rocks, and are immediately received by a spacious bason, where trembling in the centre through hurry and agitation, they gently subside, encircling the painted still verge; from whence gliding swiftly, they soon form a delightful little river, which continuing to flow more moderately, is restrained for a moment, gently undulating in a little lake: they then pass on rapidly to a high perpendicular steep of rocks, from whence these delightful waters are hurried down with irresistible rapidity. I here seated myself on the moss-clad rocks, under the shade of the spreading trees and floriferous fragrant shrubs, in full view of the cascades.”81 Characterized chiefly by its oscillation between chaos and calm, dispersal and unification, the cascade receives an artist’s attention to formal detail. Bartram describes the changing speed, direction, and expression of the water and the various shapes of the rocks that impede, receive, or channel it, in order to convey an idea of the elaborate composition they combine to form. He seems fascinated by the consecutive contrasts between water that is “trembling” in “agitation” and that which is “encircling” and “undulating,” between its “irresistible rapidity” and moderated restraint. Importantly, he also notes himself observing the scene, marking it as an object of contemplation and reproducing his structured perception as a structured description.

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Not all observers were compelled by such “agitation.” John Long’s description of Quebec’s Montmorenci Falls in his Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader (1791) praises the cascade for being “more pleasing” than “the stupendous cataract of Niagara,” for “while it produces wonder and pleasure in the highest degree, it does not strike the beholder with such tremendous ideas.”82 Many writers, however, valued and underscored such ideas, seeing in the turmoil of a cascade not merely a beautiful variety that entertains the eye but a sublimity that overwhelms it. For example, Smyth describes the James River Falls near Richmond as a “vast current of water [that] rushes down, raging with impetuosity, tumbling and dashing from rock to rock, with an astonishing roar, that is heard for many miles distance.” Because the mountains “arise abruptly on each side, and confine the river within more narrow bounds,” he writes, “the noise, violence, and impetuosity of the torrent, is not to be described. It is dreadfully tremendous and awful.”83 Although, like Gilpin and Bartram, Smyth highlights the relation of rock and water, his focus is the dramatic force of their conflict and its almost debilitating impact on the senses. In the same way, Pownall’s description of Cohoes Falls suggests that the sublime chaos of the cascade renders chaotic the perceptions of the observer: “In that Part of the Fall where the large Rock shoots forward, the Torrent as it falls into the Angle formed by it seems to lose the Property of Water; if the Eye tries to pursue it in its Fall, the Head will turn giddy; the great and ponderous Mass with which it ingulfs itself makes the Weight of it (one may almost say) visible, however it makes itself felt by keeping the whole Body of the Earth on the Banks on each Side in a continued Tremulation; after having shot down as though it would pierce to the Center, it rebounds again with astonishing Recoil in large Jets and Columns of Water to the very Height from which it fell.”84 Here, the water’s irrepressible path finds neither rest nor calm but races in response to both its own force and the immovable obstacles that redirect its course. If Bartram’s cascade figures a benign tension between liberty and constraint, Pownall’s portrays a more violent opposition. Where Bartram’s welcomes the observation of the eye, Pownall’s oppresses it with confusion. Still, despite his claim that “[t]his is not Poetry but Fact, and a natural Operation,” Pownall implicitly recognizes that there is something inherently poetic in the apparent transformation of the water’s essential property and weight, his giddiness in following its path, and the surprise of its “astonishing Recoil.” Or perhaps “natural Operation” refers not only to the mechanics of the cascade but also to their transformative effect on those


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who perceive them. Regardless, as with Bartram’s Falling Creek, the force of the cascade implicates Pownall in its powerful conflicts by discovering them in his own mind. Such figures of liberty and constraint appear even more concretely in contrasts between cultivated and wild spaces. The most typical form of this contrast figures a beautifully cultivated farm or settlement surrounded by an inhospitable backdrop of sublime nature. Crèvecoeur’s “Susquehanna” sketch, for example, insists that “no contrast in this Country can be greater & afford a more pleasing Idea” than the view from the “Summitt of y’ Menisink heights,” where “you contemplate Below fruitfull farms Smiling Fields, Noble orchards Spacious houses & barns . . . every thing around is smooth Smiling & calculated for the use of Man, whilst the surrounding Mountains which Incompass them on Every Side, present nothing but huge Masses of Rocks & Marbles, hideous Ridges on which nothing hardly Grows.”85 Formally, the orderly Menisink settlement is framed by disordered wildness. Using the second-person perspective common to picturesque description, Crèvecoeur emphasizes the stark opposition of “every thing” that is “smooth” and “Smiling” to “nothing” that is not “huge” and “hideous.” If this contrast is “pleasing” in its variety, however, it is also pleasing in its suggestion of utility. Offered as a paragon of fitness and propriety, the settlement is gratifying even to a disinterested observer by virtue of his sympathetic appreciation of its usefulness. The creation of such a prosperous settlement in such a wild and hostile place, in turning infertility into “fruitful” abundance, may also be understood as a sublime moral achievement. Indeed, the sketch’s narrator visits the area explicitly to admire the heroic progress of western settlers in domesticating the wilderness.86 For Pownall, the chief pre-Revolutionary spokesman for American imperial possibility, the sight of “rising Farms, new Fields, or flowering Orchards” in the middle of the wilderness is thus pleasing both artistically and morally: “nothing can be more delightful to the Eye, nothing go with more penetrating sensation to the Heart.”87 Likewise, Morse, perhaps Pownall’s post-Revolutionary successor, contrasts the “majestic meanders” of New England’s rivers and its “ocean of woods” to its beautiful valleys of “loaded orchards” and “extensive meadows” cultivated “by industrious husbandmen,” calling the latter a “richer though less romantic view.”88 This relation of cultivation and wildness relies on the contrast of beauty and sublimity as a means of representing the ascendance of order over disorder and privileging the aims of national expansion. As Seelye writes of Pownall’s aesthetics,

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the difference “between the beauties of an untouched wilderness and one put to the uses of commerce contains a hierarchy of values giving added license [to] the frontier process.”89 Yet such values are effectively interdependent. The sublime power of Pownall’s “Wood, Water, and Mountains” is implicitly expressed in the “rising” and “flowering” of American agriculture. In the same way, the unstoppable flow of Morse’s “great rivers” anticipates and is reproduced in the western flow of settlers beyond New England; and the “huge Masses” and “hideous Ridges” of Crèvecoeur’s Menisink bear witness to the strength and solidity of its rural improvements. The aesthetic contrast of cultivated and uncultivated spaces, that is, translates the liberating energy of the natural world into social terms, even as it projects the social momentum of settlement back onto the sublimity it has conquered. As we saw in Crèvecoeur’s description of the Ohio, this appropriated sublimity is regularly articulated in the invocations of American agricultural and commercial futurity that often accompany descriptions of views and prospects.90 When Boon first beholds “beautiful” Kentucky he calls it “lately an howling wilderness, the habitation of savages and wild beasts, become a fruitful field . . . the habitation of civilization . . . rising from obscurity to shine with splendor, equal to any other of the stars of the American hemisphere.”91 On the St. Johns River in East Florida, Bartram is likewise “greatly delighted with the pleasing prospect of civilization, and the increase of human industry, which frequently struck my view from the elevated, distant shores.”92 In each case, the visual prospect of a potentially fertile or recently cultivated landscape inspires ideas about the economic prospect of its inevitable development into the commercial engine of a powerful state. Such ideas are typically expressed as an immediate and instinctual function of the associative imagination; and like sensible responses to the objects that inspire them, they are a source of pleasure, in both the freely structured form and gratifying content of their associative trains. But they also suggest a process of transforming the forces of the natural sublime into those of the cultivated beautiful. Crèvecoeur’s “Susquehanna” sketch, for example, supposes that “an European must Take a pleasure in Seeing So great a Tract of Wilderness, [and] imperceptibly Smile, in following a great Branch of humanity shooting up all round & replenishing in the course of few years those beautifull Shores, hitherto savage and wild & Entirely uncultivated.”93 As a virtuous commercial culture emerges from wild nature, the contrast between beauty and sublimity functions across imagined time, leaving the latter diminished by progress. In a similar way, when Crèvecoeur’s Letters compares the “pleasing scenes” of rural American cultivation


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to the “musty ruins of Rome,” it invites the “reflecting traveler” to forgo “submitting to the painful and useless retrospect of revolutions, desolations, and plagues” and instead to “spring forward to the anticipated fields of future cultivation and improvement, to the future extent of those generations which are to replenish and embellish this boundless continent.”94 Although the sublime of Europe’s past was the sought-after object of the Grand Tour, Crèvecoeur argues that the beautiful objects of American futurity offer a greater moral good and more pleasing kind of tourism. Yet as national futurity becomes a beautiful object of aesthetic perception, the idea of imperial power retains some expression of the sublime that underwrites it. Settlements, towns, and cities are thus described not as merely developing but rather “shooting up” or “rising from obscurity to shine with splendor,” and bringing with their rapid growth and vast extent the sublime delight of suddenness and strength. Cutler calls Crèvecoeur’s imagined future of the Ohio valley a “sublime contemplation” both for the creative power implicit in such a transformation and the political power implicit in the emergent state. Imlay describes the “western country” as a land “with a soil so prolific, a navigation so extensive, and a security so permanent  .  .  .  that it seems this vast extent of empire is only to be equaled for its sublimity but by the object of its aggrandizement.”95 Regarding the farms of Pennsylvania, Burnaby’s Travels Through the Middle Settlements (1775) asks: “Can the mind have a greater pleasure than in contemplating the rise and progress of cities and empires? Than in perceiving a rich and opulent state arising out of a small settlement or colony?”96 In these and similar passages, the rise of commerce and the process of converting land into wealth and power become a sublime object like the wilderness spaces and natural resources from which they originate. Such rhetoric undoubtedly finds its effectiveness more in the force of its conviction than the credibility of its claims, especially during the politically precarious decades of the 1780s and 1790s, when the future of the nation was anything but certain. Yet the pleasure it celebrates derives less from imagining the future empire than from the imagined formal progression from sublime wilderness to beautiful settlement to sublime state, and from the recognition of a potential that was always inherent in the land itself.

Sublime Convulsions Perhaps the most famous juxtapositions of beauty and sublimity in early national landscape writing come from Jefferson’s descriptions of the “Natu-

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ral Bridge” and “the passage of the Patowmac through the Blue ridge” in his Notes. In the former, which Jefferson calls the “most sublime of Nature’s works,” the dizzyingly “painful” sublimity experienced from the top of the bridge is “relieved” by a beautifully “pleasing view” of the bridge, mountains, and valley from below, which he calls “delightful in the extreme.”97 In the latter, “perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature,” two powerful rivers clashing against a mountain create “wild and tremulous” feelings, but the “distant finishing which nature has given to the picture” is a “true contrast to the fore-ground,” being not only “placid and delightful” but also connected to the cultivated farms of nearby “Frederic town.”98 Both passages have received abundant critical attention, in Jefferson’s time as well as in our own, and in recent years something of an interpretive consensus has developed. As representations of natural variety and aesthetic response, many critics argue, these texts attempt to organize rhetorically the antagonistic elements of American culture and to harness the power of nature in the service of an emerging state.99 Yet while such readings are often persuasive, their chief weakness is their simultaneous self-containment and over-determination. That is, they tend both to isolate Jefferson’s descriptions from the landscape tradition of which they are a part and to discover in them a comprehensive ideology of aesthetics and nationhood of which they offer only a particular expression. Alternatively, by reading these passages back into the genre of landscape description, we see that they are less oracular utterances of political theory than evocative but conventional compositions of form and affect. Their juxtapositions of the beautiful and the sublime borrow from the similarly constructed contrasts of Jefferson’s literary predecessors and the rules of painting and landscape design with which he was familiar. Thus, our understanding of these passages is incomplete without attention to the generic conventions that precede them.100 Since my approach here emphasizes such conventions over individual authors and texts, I will refrain from offering yet another reading of these celebrated descriptions. But I invoke their continuity with similar texts in order to note a significant way in which they differ from those I have considered so far. Whereas some objects of beauty inspire ideas of agricultural or commercial futurity, those of the sublime often evoke a violent geological past. As many critics have noted, Jefferson supposes that the Natural Bridge was formed by “some great convulsion” long ago; and his view of the Potomac “hurries our senses into the opinion, that this earth has been created in time,” and that the river’s passage through the Blue Ridge was formed by the


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“disrupture and avulsion” of “the most powerful agents of nature.”101 In each case, the perception of sublimity inspires a fantasy about natural power and conflict that is both safely retrospective and effectively present to the imagination. For Jefferson, such ideas attribute to America’s landscape a dramatic history his European readers may not have anticipated. But his descriptions are also conventional examples of what Marjorie Hope Nicholson calls the “mountain rhapsody,” the historicizing response to sublime nature whose earliest examples appear in the writings of John Dennis and Shaftesbury. In “The Moralists” (1709), for example, Shaftesbury’s Philocles, observing a wilderness landscape, declares: “Here thoughtless men, seized with the newness of such objects, become thoughtful and willingly contemplate the incessant changes of this earth’s surface. They see, as in one instant, the revolutions of past ages, the fleeting forms of things and the decay even of this our globe.”102 In other words, although Jefferson’s senses might actually have been hurried, like the raging river he contemplates, into thoughts of a geological past, we can assume both that his reading prepared him for such a response and that he intended to locate his description within a recognized rhetorical tradition. As Nicholson and others have argued, this tradition emerged in response not only to the discourse of the sublime as articulated by Longinus, Dennis, Baillie, Burke, and others, but also to critical debates provoked by Thomas Burnet’s enormously popular Sacred Theory of the Earth (1684), a book Jefferson owned, which offered a scientific account of mountains, chasms, volcanoes, storms, and earthquakes that aimed to be consistent with Old Testament theology and the idea of a postdiluvian landscape ruined by human sin.103 According to Burnet, as punishment for such sin, the earth was not inundated by a miraculous deluge but rather deranged by the sudden breaking of its hard inner shell, which turned its smooth surface into a disordered one scarred by a terrifying topography and periodic terrestrial spasms. The persistent and multifaceted controversy that followed the book’s publication took up many questions beyond the main one of the biblical flood: whether mountains were created in a single moment or gradually over time; whether they were pleasing or distasteful to look at; and whether the emotions they provoked were themselves sacred or profane. As a result, Nicholson argues, generations of writers became “mountain conscious,” fascinated by the mechanisms that purportedly produced them and newly alert to the unique pleasures of viewing them.104 In this way, aesthetic theory’s notions of the disruptive emotions of sublime affect came into being alongside that of protogeology’s notion of the disruptive events of the earth’s history.105

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It is no surprise, then, that landscape writers after Burnet consistently adopted the mode of invocation Jefferson himself uses in his description of the sublimity of the Natural Bridge. Shaftesbury’s Philocles was perhaps thinking of Henry Maundrell’s influential Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem (1703), in which a scene of “rocky mountains” appears “torn and disordered, as if the Earth had here suffered some great convulsion, in which its very bowels had been turned outward” (italics added).106 Likewise, Whatley’s encounter with the craggy peaks of Middleton Dale in Observations on Modern Gardening, another book Jefferson owned, inspires the idea that it was created “by some convulsion of nature, beyond the memory of man.”107 Indeed, variations on the phrase appear throughout eighteenth-century descriptions of sublime natural objects. Morse uses them repeatedly, as when attributing the steep cliffs and deep bed of the Hudson River to “some mighty convulsion of nature”;108 and Filson assumes that a spectator of Kentucky’s “wild and horrid” cliffs is “apt to imagine that nature had formerly suffered some violent convulsion; and that these are the dismembered remains of the dreadful shock; the ruins, not of Persepolis or Palmyra, but of the world!”109 Even when Charles Thomson, in his 1787 “observations” on Jefferson’s Notes, and Isaac Weld, in his Travels through the States of North America (1799), discuss Jefferson’s description of the Potomac, they are compelled to offer their own ideas about “some violent convulsion” and “some great convulsion,” respectively.110 The uniformity of this pattern of rhetoric across over a century of invocations of the natural sublime suggests its acknowledged capacity to make efficient reference to profound ideas of religion, science, and aesthetics, while emphasizing the uncertain status and object of its speculation.111 If the dynamic order inherent in beautiful objects turns their sensible perception into speculations of a prosperous national futurity, then the unsettling disorder of sublime objects evokes the chaos of a mythical national past. Such a past not only grants to America the prestige of dramatic history as manifest in its own sublime ruins; it provides a contrasting historical context of violence against which to understand the present or posits the evolution of a convulsive land into a harmonious one. Yet the invocation of convulsive pasts also implicates the viewer in the chaotic moment of sublime perception. For one, the earliest meanings of the term “convulsion” refer to disorders of the body; when it is later applied to natural disasters, it is by a metaphorical extension that retains this somatic significance. We see this most clearly in the mechanics of sublime affect, where aesthetic responses to such terrifying events produce a convulsing of the body. In the presence


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of the sublime, Baillie writes, “the blood moves brisk, the pulse beats high”; for Burke it creates “an unnatural tension and certain violent emotions of the nerves.”112 For Jefferson, likewise, viewing the violence of the Potomac “hurries our senses,” and looking down from the Natural Bridge produces a “violent head ach.”113 Although sublime violence must be perceived at a distance, its power reverberates in the body of the perceiver, linking the force of natural forms to the force of the imagination. An even earlier metaphorical use of the term, however, denominated the disorders of the political body and thus became especially salient during the Revolutionary era. In the “Distresses of a Frontier Man” chapter of Crèvecoeur’s Letters, Farmer James describes Revolutionary America as a “convulsed and a half-dissolved” society; and a note in its 1782 edition refers to the “troubles that now convulse the American colonies.”114 But writers also borrow the speculative language of natural history to indicate the potential of post-Revolutionary political conflict. Thus, in a 1788 speech to the Maryland State Legislature, Anti-Federalist Luther Martin predicts that forming “one general government over the people of America” might lead to “some violent convulsion.”115 As these examples suggest, natural convulsions of the past, as signs of both bodily and political turmoil, bear an inescapable significance for the present. Thus, when Isaac Weld complains that Jefferson’s description of the Potomac “appears as if he had beheld the scene, not in its present state, but at the very moment when the disruption happened, and when every thing was in a state of tumult and confusion,” he points both to the dramatic quality of Jefferson’s language and its unavoidable symbolism.116 Jefferson’s excitable revolutionary mind, he seems to imply, sees signs of present chaos everywhere, even in ancient geological ruins. Jonathan Elmer calls such convulsions “inscribed symptoms” of trauma that use historical violence to represent a “fissure within the social body.”117 In this way, they might be said to register the dehumanizing violence of settlement that enforced class divisions, displaced indigenous peoples, and threatened the dissolution of the nation. But because their ideas of conflict are expressed through the discourse of the sublime, they function in potentially contradictory ways. Both humbling the astonished perceiver with ideas of insurmountable power and ennobling him with a sense of inner dignity and greatness, sublime convulsions simultaneously upset and affirm the perceptual order of the narrator and the formal order of the text. Thus, Garry Wills sees them as “symbols of dramatic conflict and loss” but also as “the remains of a prior order” and redemptive signs of a “glory not quite

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effaced even now.”118 For Richard Slotkin, too, their destructive violence finally serves to reestablish what he calls the perceiver’s “rational control over his environment.”119 According to this view, much like pastoral counterforce, convulsions imply a kind of creative destruction, a momentary obliteration of the perceiver’s autonomy that, by its resolution, transforms the energy of the sublime into a discourse of political order. Bartram’s Travels is not only organized around a series of such transformations, but it begins with one, as if to define from the outset both the uncertainty of the naturalist’s task and the scope of his pleasures. After setting out on his southern journey from Philadelphia, the “prospect of a quick and pleasant voyage” is suddenly dashed by “powerful winds, now rushing forth from their secret abodes, suddenly spread[ing] terror and devastation.”120 Struck by the significance of this transition, Bartram explicitly emphasizes its abruptness: “the wide ocean, which, a few moments past, was gentle and placid, is now thrown into disorder, and heaped into mountains, whose white curling crests seem to sweep the skies.”121 But, as in Gilpin’s Observations on the River Wye, he also takes considerable pleasure in the tempest’s aftermath: “nothing can be more sublime than the view of the encircling horizon, after the turbulent winds have taken their flight, and the lately agitated bosom of the deep has again become calm and pacific; the gentle moon is rising in dignity from the east, attended by thousands of glittering orbs; the luminous appearance of the seas at night, when all the waters seem transmuted into liquid silver  .  .  .  the amplitude and magnificence of these scenes are great indeed, and may present to the imagination, an idea of the first appearance of the earth to man at the creation.”122 As the tumultuous forces of wind, water, sound, and light become “calm and pacific,” they resolve into a landscape of composed variety that is nonetheless dazzling in its diversity. If the sublime storm disorders the senses, its passing heightens them. The narrative temporality of such a reversal is similar to the gratifying movement of the eye across the formal contrast of beauty and sublimity in a painting. And like the sublime topography that invokes the convulsions of history, the sublime ocean landscape arouses ideas of the earth’s past. Such reversals and resolutions appear throughout Bartram’s text. At times he privileges the humbling terror of the former, at times the ennobling self-affirmation of the latter. Although his minute descriptions attend to the specificity of objects and events, each follows a similar pattern of psychic dissolution and resurrection. During a thunderstorm near Georgia’s Chattahoochee river, for example, he writes: “I am instantly struck dumb, inactive


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and benumbed; at length the pulse of life begins to vibrate, the animal spirits begin to exert their powers, and I am by degrees revived.”123 He even insists on what might be called a psychological theory of reversals that locates the dynamics of sublime convulsion within the mind of the perceiving subject. After a storm on the Altamaha River, he explains: “So it is with the varied and mutable scenes of human events on the stream of life. The higher powers and affections of the soul are so blended and connected with the inferior passions, that the most painful feelings are excited in the mind when the latter are crossed . . . the well-contrived system at once becomes a chaos; every idea of happiness recedes; the splendour of glory darkens, and at length totally disappears; every pleasing object is defaced, all is deranged, and the flattering scene passes quite away.”124 Here, as objects of the material world become disordered so does the human “system” of the passions. Natural variety and climatic mutability are thus reconceived as aesthetic: not the material “stream of life” but our affective responses to them. The vicissitudes of beauty and sublimity, that is, are as much within us as without. Our feelings are not merely echoes of an objective world but forces that shape our perception of it. Bartram advises that, in the midst of such convulsions, we “wait and rely on our God, who in due time will shine forth in brightness, dissipate the envious cloud, and reveal to us how finite and circumscribed is human power, when assuming to itself independent wisdom.”125 But he also sees a providential order in the structure of sublime affect itself, which ultimately turns physical chaos and mutability into clarification and empowerment.126 Crèvecoeur’s narrators sometimes take similar pleasure in sublime objects and events. In one sketch, “A Snow Storm as It Affects the American Farmer,” he celebrates “involuntarily being struck either with awe or admiration in beholding some of the elementary conflicts,” despite the physical damage they might cause.127 In other sketches, however, he emphasizes the untimely socio-political convulsions that leave his narrators bewildered by sublimity and without any foreseeable relief. For example, after its initial chapters on the beauties of rural life, the pleasures of virtuous work, and America’s exceptional political system, Letters is transformed by Farmer James’s observation of a “contrast” in Charleston between wealthy planters and abject slaves, which leads him to an “afflicting meditation” on history as a mere record of violence and oppression. The trigger of this meditation is the “shocking spectacle” of a dying slave, starving in a suspended cage, his eyes grotesquely pecked out by birds. In the face of this suffering, James is “suddenly arrested by the power of affright and terror; my nerves were convulsed;

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I trembled; I stood motionless, involuntarily contemplating the fate of this Negro in all its dismal latitude.”128 As his associative trains of rural pleasure suddenly veer into a sympathetic paroxysm of pain, the sublime spectacle of unmitigated political power is expressed as a nervous convulsion in the spectator that overwhelms both body and mind. Notably, the feelings of “self-preservation” that Burke argues are definitive of sublime affect are echoed in the text’s stated rationale for punishing the slave, who purportedly killed an overseer. When James is told that “the laws of self-preservation rendered such executions necessary,” his aesthetic response, however sympathetic, becomes inadvertently aligned with the very system of cruelty he abhors.129 The sublime convulsions of the narrator’s body reflect the sublime power of the state, and the intransigent political conditions that yield such effects offer little prospect of resolution. We see this dilemma most clearly in “Distresses of a Frontier Man,” when, as James’s political neutrality makes him a target for the “convulsions” of Revolutionary violence, political oppression creates perceptual debility. Crèvecoeur introduces this reversal in terms of the aesthetic perception of the landscape that has defined his identity as an American: “I wish for a change of place . . .  fatigued now by so many disagreeable objects.”130 Such “fatigue” describes his response to Revolutionary political life as a disordered composition that offers the perceiver neither formal nor associative pleasure. The once-beautiful cultivations of rural America have become all too similar to the “painful and useless retrospects of revolutions, desolations, and plagues” of Europe that he disparages earlier in his narrative. His liberty of the imagination, like his political liberty, has been excessively restricted. What is now a “convulsed and a half-dissolved” society offers to his sight only “frightful precipices” that produce in him a “fever of the mind.”131 In this way, overpowered by both violent political opposition and unrelenting sublimity, he feels he has no choice but to embrace “Self-preservation” as both “the rule of Nature” and “the best rule of conduct.” In such a condition, he declares himself, like the revolutionary state that hounds him, irreversibly “convulsed.”132 Yet if Crèvecoeur’s convulsive sublimity offers no resolution, it dramatically mourns the beautiful forms ruined by its excess. In his “afflicting meditation,” for example, Farmer James laments that “some parts of the world beautifully cultivated, [are] returned again into their pristine state, the fruits of ages of industry, the toil of thousands in a short time destroyed by a few!”133 Likewise, in such sketches as “Susquehanna” and “The American Belisarius,” the sublime power of conquered nature returns even more specifically as


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devastating political upheaval in the western Pennsylvania settlements. As the social chaos of the Revolution exacerbates the already heated contest for western lands, political violence upsets the harmonious contiguity of the beautiful and the sublime: “some time ago the beautiful settlement of ——— was utterly destroyed [,] it was upwards of 100 years old, it presented to the eyes a collection of all that y’ Industry of y’ inhabitants & the fertility of [the] soyl cou’d exhibit [which was] most pleasing [,] most Inchanting; their Lands were Terminated by the shores of a beautiful River, their Houses were all elegantly built . . . their possessions were Terminated by the Steep ascent of a great chain of Mountains beyond which no Improvements ever can extend; from their bosoms their Ennemy came & laid every thing waste, many sober Industrious people were Killed & all they had was destroyed.”134 Because the destruction of one example of beautiful order amidst the sublime wilderness insists on its greater emblematic significance, Crèvecoeur is not merely reporting western atrocities during the Revolution but re-mythologizing the culture of settlement in the context of war.135 Not only are the efforts of “sober Industrious people” who created it reversed, but the beautiful river and “elegant” buildings, which once drew their formal effects and moral authority from the contrasting wasteland that surrounded them, are themselves “laid waste” or returned in a single blow to the sublime matter out of which they were created. Indeed, Crèvecoeur notes that the treacherous source of this devastation is precisely the “bosoms” of the sublime mountainous forms that gave contrasting value to the beautiful order of cultivation. In this way, his convulsions offer an implicit critique of the idealized discourse of western expansion. By realizing sublimity not as beauty’s benignly dialectical opposite but as its ultimate destroyer, his description challenges the balance of aesthetic liberty and constraint upon which such a discourse relies. In reinserting into the celebratory scene of wilderness cultivation the violence, oppression, and contingency of settlement politics, it contests the unity of a national territorial identity through the turbulent specificity of the local and turns the teleological thrust of American futurity and the empire of liberty on its head.136

American Spectators The difference between transient or redemptive convulsions and mournfully unresolved ones reminds us that landscapes do not exist independent of the specific perspectives through which they are viewed. As Robert Lawson-

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Peebles writes, landscape descriptions “encode the interests and concerns of the writer as well as the physical nature of the terrain.”137 Thus far, I have emphasized the means by which descriptions of beautiful and sublime objects and affect either promote or challenge the orderly cultivation of wild spaces and the western extension of moderate political liberty. But landscape writing also expresses assumptions about the human capacity for aesthetic sensibility that bear significance for the regulatory ideology of settlement. Such descriptions typically aim to define both the kind of people most capable of taking pleasure in aesthetic objects and the kind most capable of cultivating prosperous settlements and forwarding the goals of national expansion. Alexis de Tocqueville supposed that Americans are insensible to “the wonders of inanimate nature” and do not “see the marvelous forests surrounding them until they begin to fall beneath the ax.”138 Likewise, American landscape writers who felt and endorsed a sensibility for natural beauty and sublimity, even those with explicitly commercial aims, often sought to distinguish themselves from those who did not. Jefferson famously notes that although the prospect of the passage of the Potomac through the Blue Ridge is “worth a voyage across the Atlantic,” nevertheless at Harper’s Ferry, “as in the neighborhood of the natural bridge, [there] are people who have passed their lives within half a dozen miles, and have never been to survey” them.139 If Jefferson’s discernment of irony aims to accentuate the wonder of such natural objects, it also seeks to define a class of persons whose minds are as incurious as their lives are immobile. Aesthetic theory often justified such exclusions. Explaining the effect of individual associations on aesthetic pleasure, Alison writes that the “generality of mankind live in the world, without receiving any kind of delight from the various scenes of beauty which its order displays.  .  .  .  What to ordinary men is but common occurrence, or common scenery, to those who have [the appropriate] associations, is full of beauty.”140 Accordingly, Weld, describing a fine prospect near Chesapeake, writes that the “generality of Americans stare with astonishment at a person who can feel any delight at passing through such a country as this. To them the sight of a wheat field or a cabbage garden would convey pleasure far greater than that of the most romantic woodland views.”141 In a similar vein, Smyth describes “the elegance, beauty, and grandeur” of a scene near the Potomac as a “feast” only for “the sight and soul of those who are capable of enjoying the luxurious and sumptuous banquet.”142 To be sure, picturesque travel was and remains a class-bound activity, limited as much by its ideological assumptions as by its direct costs and the necessity of leisure. But the rhetoric of


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distinction looks beyond such material considerations, emphasizing that the grand design of nature can only be discerned through the cultivated powers of the mind. As we saw in Chapter 1, although the faculty for aesthetic pleasure was considered universal, its specific perceptions and associations were conditioned by such factors as education, custom, and virtue, in this way combining an abstract egalitarianism with a rational basis for elitism. Thus, when Imlay writes that the beauty of the Ohio “gives a cheerfulness even to sluggards,” his rhetoric of universality describes both the emotional effect of the river and his own evenhandedness, while still preserving a distinction between different classes of people.143 As the term “sluggard” suggests, such claims emphasize mental differences that stand in for social ones. The 1790 Columbian Magazine, for example, holds that the perception of “harmony and delicate proportions” can never “take place under the influence of an inharmonious mind,” in this way invoking a failure of mental equanimity that marks a person of vulgar status.144 Likewise, an essay “On the Advantage of a Taste for the General Beauties of Nature” from Thomas Percival’s Moral and Literary Dissertations (1784), reprinted in the 1797 Universal Magazine, argues that although “sensibility to beauty . . . is universally diffused through the human species,” yet “to relish with full delight, the enchanting scenes of nature, the mind must be uncorrupted by avarice, sensuality, or ambition.”145 Such qualifications explained variations in taste at the same time that they connoted the kind of perceiving subjects whose low or middling rank excluded them from the restricted domains of mental pleasure. This rhetoric of universality and exclusion sometimes found further scope in the “customs and manners” accounts of natural history and travel writing that consider the aesthetic capacities of Indians and Africans. Most texts of the period treat Indians as either continuous with the flora and fauna they describe or as members of anachronistic cultures whose existence offers a retrospective glimpse of primitive man, not unlike the way certain sublime objects invoke the geological past. In such texts, Indian imaginations are either ignored as irrelevant or slighted as lacking both inherent aesthetic ability and demonstrated cultural achievement. But some writers discover in them compelling if limited examples of aesthetic universality. Bartram argues that Indians possess a “moral sense” that “points out to them at once the dignity, propriety, and beauty of virtue.”146 Jefferson agrees that, although Indians lack “any shadow of government,” they rely on “that moral sense of right and wrong, which, like the sense of tasting and feeling, in every man makes a part

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of his nature.”147 As scholars have noted, Jefferson’s most specific praise of the Indian imagination is given to Chief Logan’s celebrated speech to Lord Dunmore, whose 1784 war on Ohio Valley Indians led to the slaughter of Logan’s family. Such oratory, Jefferson insists, compares with that of “Demosthenes and Cicero.”148 Yet despite his interest in the Logan affair, Jefferson’s stated reason for lauding his speech is not so much to argue for Indian mental equality as to confute Buffon’s claim that the “faculties of animals depend on the side of the Atlantic on which their food happens to grow, or which furnishes the elements of which they are compounded.”149 In other words, as Jefferson raises Logan to the heights of classical oratory, he simultaneously reduces him to the bestial fodder of taxonomical debate. In fact, the oratorical ability that Jefferson praises in Logan is the very same he finds so suspect in Buffon, whose renowned but faulty reasoning only “proves the power of eloquence.”150 Although fewer landscape writers considered the more controversial question of African mental abilities, those who did were similarly implicated in broader questions of imagination and taste. Despite owning slaves himself, Crèvecoeur’s James insists that Africans “are susceptible of every generous sentiment, of every useful motive of action; they are capable of receiving lights, of imbibing ideas, that would greatly alleviate the weight of their miseries.”151 But Jefferson’s infamous dismissal of African imaginations in Notes as “dull, tasteless, and anomalous” pointedly rejects such universality. Having asserted that even among “liberally educated” Africans he has never known one who “uttered a thought above the level of plain narration,” he takes on the dubious burden of censuring the most celebrated literary Africans of his day.152 He criticizes Ignatius Sancho, the self-educated intellectual and author of Letters (1782), for indulging in excessive aesthetic liberty: “his imagination is wild and extravagant, escapes incessantly from every restraint of reason and taste, and, in the course of its vagaries, leaves a tract of thought as incoherent and eccentric, as is the course of a meteor through the sky.”153 Such a critique, of course, echoes conventional eighteenth-century criticisms of genius, sensationalist fiction, and even rhapsodic and speculative natural history. It not only attributes to Sancho the same errors of mind Jefferson sees in Buffon, but it also echoes Romans’s Linnaean appraisal of European scholarly excess as the “meteors of ingenious men.” Jefferson’s rejection of the poetry of Phillis Wheatley as “beneath the dignity of criticism,” however, faults her not for an unregulated imagination but for an insufficiently powerful one, offering only the hackneyed claim, often directed at lower-class whites, that


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Africans feel with “the senses only, not the imagination.”154 Imlay rightly calls Jefferson’s assertion “puerile and inconsistent,” and to challenge it directly he reprints Wheatley’s “On Imagination” in its entirety, noting that he would be “glad to be informed what white upon this continent has written more beautiful lines.”155 As my reading of the poem in Chapter 1 suggests, Imlay’s doing so not only offers evidence against Jefferson’s appraisal of Wheatley but also gestures to the philosophical and political claims her poem makes. In other words, Imlay uses her “beautiful lines” to reveal the poet herself as both an exemplum and an advocate of moderate liberty of the imagination. Such debates about African and Indian imaginations do not concern the landscape itself; but they implicitly aim to regulate membership in the national community of taste by distinguishing between superior and inferior aesthetic subjects. Thus, they carry additional significance when we consider them in the context of western expansion and its sociology of settlement. Many texts of the period, that is, assume a powerful identity between ideal perceivers and ideal settlers, between inspiring spectacle and virtuous speculation. In fact, their rhetoric of national futurity is often explicitly predicated on the presence of worthy settlers as opposed to Indians or squatters. Bartram’s Travels assumes that the development of a “rich, populous, and delightful region” requires that it be “in possession and under the culture of industrious planters and mechanics.”156 In Letters, Crèvecoeur’s distinctions between the economic prospects of Scottish, German, and Irish immigrants are based on his idea of their capacity to internalize virtue and enjoy the mental pleasures of cultivation. In Cutler’s An Explanation, Crèvecoeur’s encounter with the beautiful and sublime forms of the Ohio both precedes and invites virtuous New England settlers. In other words, as their aesthetic vocabulary, rhapsodic tone, and formal models of liberty of the imagination project the republican imperative of regulated political liberty onto the spaces of western settlement, landscape writing interpolates subjects defined by educated minds, cultivated tastes, and moderate politics. Just as the intention to cultivate western lands often functioned as a justification for the expropriation of Indian territories, the theorized description of beautiful cultivations amidst a sublime background gave sanction to settlement as a moral process pursued by moral people. Despite this rhetoric of order and virtue, however, some western landscapes seem haunted by the potential for disorder and collapse precisely because they are inhabited by those thought to pose an obstacle to national development. If images of America’s beautiful future imply a virtuous and

Landscape Writing


prosperous peace, those of sublime convulsion can be traced to the threat of political faction, popular revolt, racial violence, and national failure. In Letters, for example, when a European immigrant puts off that “servility of disposition which poverty had taught him” and embraces America’s culture of aesthetic and political liberty, Crèvecoeur warns that he risks “passing from one extreme to the other,” from subordination to excessive egoism and dangerous licentiousness.157 For Jefferson, the “eternal monotony” of African faces implicitly presages the sublime political “convulsions” he believes would ensue if slaves were given their liberty and assimilated into white society.158 The conquest of Filson’s Kentucky is only “purchased with a vast expense of blood and treasure,” its moral value denominated by violent slaughter and the very real possibility that things might have gone the other way.159 Despite its rhetoric of resolution, that is, the discourse of convulsion expresses the idea that the sublime’s destructive power resides not only in natural objects and the perceiving mind but also in those subjects who have been excluded from the paradigms of aesthetic perception. Yet if these descriptions divulge the volatility of western expansion, the knowing, rhythmic voice of the observing narrator typically prevails over such anxiety by insisting that the contrasting visions of America are mutually constitutive, not so much actual political alternatives as two phenomenological moments in a perception of liberal progress. The beautiful appropriates the power of the sublime, turning treacherous mountains and placid groves into prophecies of national glory. The sublime echoes a destructive past or diagnoses a threatening present; then it either evolves into beautiful order or mourns its anomalous ruin. As the perceiving subject ranges across the canvas of nature from one object to another, it finds in the composition some relation of provocation and respite, agitation and calm, whose extremities are ultimately moderated by its own natural faculties and capacity for virtue. Just as the landscape text often turns abruptly from the rhetorical order of taxonomy and objective description to the generic freedom of rhapsody and back again, the curious eye constructs from its various perceptions of beauty and sublimity a representative topography of liberty and constraint, which it then projects onto, and in this way creates, the national landscape.

Chapter 4

Taste, Ratification, and Republican Form in The Federalist

Let any man, even of the coldest head and soberest industry, analyse the idea of what he calls his interest; he will find that it consists chiefly of certain images of decency, beauty and order, variously combined into one system. —Mark Akenside, The Pleasures of Imagination1

The virtuous subjects of landscape writing, like Madison’s discerning citizens, the refined rural patriots of Fergusson’s “Philosophical Farmer,” and Dwight’s virtuosic Joshua in The Conquest of Canaan, claim the rights of political leadership through the distinctions of aesthetic capacity. They assume that to take pleasure in objects of beauty and sublimity is to experience a social and moral superiority over those enslaved by bodily pleasures or numbed by insensibility. In theory, of course, all healthy and virtuous minds experienced feelings of pleasure in aesthetic objects. The imagination was understood as a universal human faculty, and its powers offered the hopeful prospect of a community of perceivers responding to a shared world in shared ways. But for this reason, aesthetic theory offered a useful means of classifying people in a republic. As it placed the moral responsibility of managing the economy of the passions on every member of the community, it designated those who managed them most effectively as their ideal representatives. The name for this meritocracy of feeling was taste. In the Constitutional writing of 1787–1788, the rhetoric of taste has more immediately political aims than it does in other genres of the period. Its language of pleasure and form provides tangible substance to abstract claims

The Federalist


about the organization of government at the critical moment of its unprecedented reinvention. Its concepts of contemplation and judgment signal the discernments of citizens and political leaders at a time when the status of each remained uncertain. Its discourse of aesthetic representation allegorizes the complex questions of political representation that dominated the ratification debates. In this way, we can add taste to what Isaac Kramnick calls the “distinguishable idioms” of Constitutional politics.2 Yet if taste reframed the issues of ratification politics, it did so in ways that conventional political discourse could not. As a vocabulary of political community, taste offered a compelling rhetorical answer to the vital problem of binding together a federation of independent states defined by distinct regional cultures, a limited history of cooperation, and long-held suspicions of centralized power. But it also served as an effective language for the negotiation of political difference. It allowed politicians and essayists to debate the idea of the proposed federal government not as a collection of abstract policy claims but as an immediately meaningful object of the imagination that put relations of liberty and power into sensible terms. In its recourse to ideas of uniformity and variety, perfection and deformity, contemplation and disinterestedness, and mimetic and aesthetic representation, taste enabled political writers to debate not only how much liberty there should be in a republic but also how to judge a political form like the Constitution and who was qualified to judge it.3 In this chapter, I explore the rhetoric of taste in The Federalist, the series of eighty-five political letters written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay in 1787–88 and addressed “To the People of the State of NewYork.”4 But rather than approaching this text as a founding national document, I view it as one whose themes, conventions, and patterns of rhetoric offer useful rubrics for discussing the aesthetics of ratification writing in general.5 The Federalist is exemplary in its construction of the United States as an aesthetic object, engagement with the language of aesthetic form, reliance on ideas of contemplation and judgment, and aesthetic approach to political representation. But this is because it participates in the larger discourse of Constitutional ratification, borrowing from and responding to a broad-based if relatively fragmented conversation about federalism and the meaning of American nationhood that consistently articulated its claims in the language of taste. Yet The Federalist is also a productive focal point because, unlike the Anti-Federalist writing with which it is often in dialog, it uses aesthetics to project an idealized public sphere and an already constituted federal union.6 Its arguments assume that private judgments of taste are convertible to public


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good by a unified nation of virtuous citizen-subjects. But it also answers AntiFederalist criticisms of such assumptions by realizing the nation as formally various and diverse, threatened by interested politics and irrational minds, and thus committed to ideas of moderate political liberty and regulated liberty of the imagination.

Republican Formalisms Recent criticism of The Federalist has linked the formal tendencies of its political rhetoric to hegemonic regimes of power. Dana D. Nelson, for example, argues that its language of “national self-sameness and unity” signals a system of exclusion that “postulate[s] a convincing, coherently bounded, and powerful fraternity of [white] men” whose idealized figuration circumscribes “local democratic practice” through the “rational distance” of its perspectives.7 Likewise, Robert A. Ferguson sees in the contributions of John Jay an aesthetic of unity that emphasizes “beauty, aspiration, simplicity, and conviction,” while eliding the disagreements surrounding the Constitution and federalism.8 Such readings help to clarify the ways in which The Federalist uses language to construct consensus in the face of widespread political diversity and division. Ferguson describes such rhetoric in terms of an aesthetic of “consensual literature,” a style of writing that posits a “superficially compliant world” in order to “forge artificial unities amidst a contentious, far-flung populace.”9 However, if this general conception of aesthetics underwrites key insights into The Federalist’s rhetorical exclusions, it does so only by reducing the complexity of the aesthetic models that inform such rhetoric. It privileges uniformity over variety, judgment over pleasure, reason over sentiment, “rational distance” over immediacy of perception, and “self-containment” over openness, deliberation, and debate.10 In fact, the rhetoric of The Federalist engages with aesthetic models that are comprehensive, dynamic, and wholly dependent upon ideas of difference and conflict. But the same is true for the politics to which such engagements give expression. An exclusive focus on “unity” supposes too stark an opposition between the political aims of Federalist and Anti-Federalists, and even between those of white male elites and “less socially and politically advantaged actors.”11 To be sure, Madison’s explicit concern in Federalist 37 with combining the “stability and energy” of government with the “inviolable attention due to liberty and to the republican form” articulates a clear tension between state power and individual rights; but it also assumes their continuity and the necessity of compromise.

The Federalist


Most Federalists did not reject republican liberty or the political authority of the people, only what they saw as their excessive manifestations; and most Anti-Federalists were not opposed to federalism, only the Constitution’s version of it. Thus, writing on both sides of the ratification question is grounded in a fundamental contradiction. It sought to imagine the nation as an integrated unit, bound by a common identity, and powerful enough to defend its borders, protect its citizens, and compel their allegiance. But it also aimed to represent the national object as fluidly organized, a collection of independent parts defined by their diversity, and a system of politics that linked citizens and states to each other and to the national government without constraining their essential rights and liberties. Both aims were pursued through the rhetoric of taste. The former aim is most clearly represented in Jay’s invocation of the nation as an aesthetic object in Federalist 2, which claims the virtue of national unity as divinely ordained and inscribed in the land, and which both Nelson and Ferguson foreground in their analyses: “It has often given me pleasure to observe that Independent America was not composed of detached and distant territories, but that one connected, fertile, wide-spreading country was the portion of our western sons of liberty. . . . With equal pleasure I have as often taken notice that Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people—a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, [and] very similar in their manners and customs.”12 As Jay’s “observation” about political organization becomes an aesthetic judgment of taste, his correlation of “one connected country” to “one united people” ignores both the lack of significant connective infrastructure (like roads and means of communication) and the history of each state’s relative autonomy, as well as the racial, class, religious, and regional differences that described post-Revolutionary society. By compounding images of sameness, each of which affirms the next, Jay endows the physical continent, the proposed federal union, the “people,” and their sentiments with the unlikely characteristic of uniformity. He extends the power of these images, moreover, through the context of aesthetic perception within which they are represented. Implicitly, his vision invokes the Hutchesonian value of uniformity as the foundation of the beautiful, and it even takes care to mention the forms of variety (regionally distinct “soils,” “productions,” “waters” and “commodities”) that are contained within in it. But the force of such rhetoric lies as much in the “pleasure” it claims as in the “rational distance”


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it assumes. When Jay declares in the next paragraph that “This country and this people seem to have been made for each other” (38), he gestures to the providential adaptation of aesthetic objects to the aesthetic capacities of the mind. The nation as an object, he suggests, is specifically pleasing to American imaginations. Not only are its beautiful forms calculated to stir the passions, but the ideas of fitness or utility they imply inspire pleasurable feelings. In fact, for Jay, the sympathetic pleasure of his reflection is doubled by that of “Providence” in arranging the unified national object in the first place. This extended community of sympathy, then, both unites all perceiving subjects in the prospect of their mutual pleasure and reinforces the idea of national union and political uniformity through the construction of sympathetic relations between citizens.13 The aesthetic language of uniformity and variety was a useful means of representing the politics of republicanism because it assumed that both, in ideal proportions, were necessary to beauty, even to the beauty of government. Whereas Jay’s emphasis on uniformity serves to imagine a unified nation, however, the rhetoric of The Federalist’s specific Constitutional arguments gives a far more significant role to variety. Madison’s celebrated Federalist 10, for example, explains the capacity of a “well-constructed Union” to “break and control the violence of faction” (77). Faction, he explains, refers to “a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community” (78).14 According to republican theory, such a disparity of interests and the liberty to pursue them led inevitably to “governments [that] are too unstable” (77). In other words, factions were the bane of free republics, especially large ones. But Madison reimagines the implications of such variety and the sources of political stability by discovering faction to support rather than to threaten republics. As he writes, “a greater variety of parties and interests” makes it less likely that some citizens will “invade the rights” of others or “act in unison” against the welfare of the state (83). Variety, that is, protects and sustains the uniformity of the state by preventing any one party or interest from causing a perilous imbalance. Because Madison’s theory of political variety dispenses with the republican reliance on disinterested virtue, it appears to contravene the norms of moral philosophy, which considered faction both a political danger and an aesthetic deformity. Hume claims that factions “subvert government, render laws impotent, and beget the fiercest animosities among men of the same nation,”15 while Hutcheson holds that, since beautiful moral

The Federalist


actions always tended toward “the Good of the Whole,” “[a]ll strict Attachments to Partys, Sects, Factions, have but an imperfect Species of Beauty.”16 Even Madison’s Federalist 37 links the history of political faction to “the most dark and degrading pictures” of humanity (231). Yet his representation of faction as variety in relation to uniformity assumes the perspective not of the interested partisan but of the disinterested observer. By conceiving the negative moral valence of faction in formal terms, he makes it less an intractable political problem than a benignly aesthetic one. Thus, if disinterestedness is abandoned in Federalist 10 as a matter of political theory, it is implicitly reconstituted in the taste of the virtuous citizen-subject. We see the aesthetic rhetoric of variety more explicitly in Federalist 47, where Madison defends the Constitution against the Anti-Federalist charge that it fails to meet Montesquieu’s requirement of the “separation of powers,” which was widely believed to preserve the integrity of each branch of government and discourage tyrannical combinations. According to the “more respectable adversaries to the Constitution,” Madison writes, its system of checks and balances violates the “political maxim that the legislative, executive, and judiciary departments ought to be separate and distinct.” For these critics, the branches of government are “distributed and blended in such a manner as at once to destroy all symmetry and beauty of form, and to expose some of the essential parts of the edifice to the danger of being crushed by the disproportionate weight of other parts” (301). By invoking the popular idea of government as a political “edifice” whose utility is determined by the nature of its structure, this critique assumes that architectural “beauty of form” derives from the uniformity of a building’s “symmetry,” and that such uniformity, because it will allow the government to stand and endure, is a “precaution in favor of liberty” (301). Madison’s rebuttal, however, rejects both the argument and its premise. He counters that the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, by having “partial agency” in or “control over” each other, strengthen rather than weaken the constitutional edifice. Such distribution and blending of branches, he argues, do not invite tyranny but rather guard against it by checking abuses of power, just as they do in most of the state constitutions and in the British Constitution that was Montesquieu’s model. Madison’s rhetoric here is tactically shrewd but also misleading. In refuting the ostensible charge, he implicitly claims for the Constitution not “all symmetry and beauty of form” but more modern and empirical aesthetic principles that reject symmetry as the main attribute of beauty. Burke insists that symmetry and proportion are “mathematical ideas” that appeal to


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reason and so are not “the true measures of beauty.”17 For Hogarth, “it is a constant rule of composition in painting to avoid regularity” because “when the mind has once been satisfied,” it demands variety. Thus, painters usually depict a symmetrical building at an angle or break its “disagreeable” uniformity by placing some object before it.18 To be sure, most aesthetic theorists admit that uniformity can be pleasing, especially when it contributes to ideas of fitness and propriety. For Hutcheson, a square pedestal may not be intrinsically beautiful, but it suggests the idea of stability better than others that are more so.19 But as Hogarth argues, although uniformity in statuary can serve to remove any appearance of “the possibility of falling,” still “when any such purposes can be as well effected by more irregular parts, the eye is always better pleased on the account of variety.”20 Symmetry might imply stability, that is, but it does so at the expense of superior beauty and liberty of the imagination. The specifically aesthetic language Madison imputes to his critics, however, is entirely of his own invention. In general, Anti-Federalist claims about the “separation of powers” say little about the proposed government’s “beauty of form.” According to the “Address of the Minority of the Pennsylvania Convention,” for example, the Constitution’s system of checks and balances is a “dangerous and improper mixture” that would “destroy the independency and purity” of the separate branches of government.21 Likewise, the “Federal Farmer” merely calls them “improperly blended.”22 Implicitly, then, Madison imposes the aesthetics of architecture on this crucial “objection” to the Constitution in order to reframe the argument. By figuring the proposed federal system in terms not of oppressive uniformity but of liberal variety, he suggests that it is based on principles of human nature rather than outmoded theories or rationalist prescriptions. Such a system is a superior “precaution in favor of liberty” because it is a superior model of aesthetic liberty. The Federalist’s rhetorical privileging of variety over uniformity and symmetry extends to the politics of the Constitutional Convention, where it describes its adversaries as laboring under grave aesthetic and political misunderstandings. In Federalist 37, for example, Madison again depicts his Anti-Federalist critics as rationalist absolutists for whom, despite the great “variety of interests” contending for power, formal symmetry is the sine qua non of ideal governments: “Would it be wonderful if, under the pressure of all these difficulties, the convention should have been forced into some deviations from that artificial structure and regular symmetry which an abstract view of the subject might lead an ingenious theorist to bestow on a Constitution planned in his closet or in his imagination?” (230). Because, for Madison,

Figure 10. “Behold! a Fabric now to Freedom rear’d, / Approv’d by friends, and ev’n by Foes rever’d, / Where JUSTICE, too, and Peace, by us ador’d, / Shall heal each wrong, and keep unsheath’d the sword, / Approach then, Concord, fair Columbia’s Son: / And faithful Clio, write that ‘WE ARE ONE.’” Columbian Magazine, 1788, frontispiece. Engraved by James Trenchard. Courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia. The image of the federal edifice is both interrupted by the figure of the cherub and represented at an angle in order to relieve the perceiving eye from the sameness of its symmetry.


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the work of the Convention was a “struggle [that] could be terminated only by compromise” (229–230), a Constitution based on “artificial structure and regular symmetry” suggests a distinction between the real world of political variety and an utterly ideal world. A government of “forced” symmetries could not represent the various interests of a diverse and free nation. Such an idea implicitly rejects empiricism for conjecture or tradition, and the debates of the Convention for the speculations of the “closet.” As an “abstract view” of politics, its origins are not perceptual but conceptual. Although Madison’s disparagement of the “ingenious theorist” echoes his skepticism about the “ingenious disquisition and controversy” of aesthetic theory, here he claims superior philosophical sophistication. He assumes that the practical politics of variety and asymmetry is not mysteriously “wonderful” but the expected result of a natural process of human deliberation. His implicit target, however, is not so much rationalist political theory as it is the political radicalism that endorsed what Elbridge Gerry at the Convention pointedly rejected as “the levilling spirit.”23 That is, artificial political symmetry implies artificial political equality, a refashioning of government based on a refashioning of society.24 Thus, by positing symmetry as extreme idealism, Madison both affirms the asymmetrical Constitution as the result of a realistic process of truth-finding and justifies the economic inequality that, as he claims in Federalist 10, is the greatest source of faction. By embracing political variety, he rejects the erroneous notion of “Theoretic politicians” that with a “perfect equality in their political rights, they [mankind] would at the same time be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.” Such a uniform and symmetrical nation is the unattainable ideal of democracy, whose pursuit inevitably begets “turbulence and contention” (81). For Madison, such an ideal is impossible to achieve and dangerous to seek.25 Writers on both sides of the ratification debate invoked the idea of perfection. They would have been familiar with—and many were no doubt suspicious of—the Enlightenment notion of perfectibilité, the steady progress and ultimate perfection of humankind. The influence of writers like Hobbes, Hume, and Bernard Mandeville, and the legacy of Puritan theology created in them a relatively pessimistic view of what Madison called in Federalist 37 “the infirmities and depravities of the human character” (231).26 With these assumptions in mind, Federalists repeatedly blamed their opponents for expecting perfection in the proposed government. A perfect plan, they argued, could never come from imperfect framers representing such diverse

The Federalist


interests. As Benjamin Franklin insists in his speech to the Convention: “when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected?”27 Of course, such imputed idealism was another Federalist ruse. In fact, Anti-Federalists avoided using perfection as a Constitutional criterion, and some explicitly rejected such descriptions of their aims. Robert Yates’s “Brutus,” for example, argues that one must not “expect a perfect form of government, any more than to meet with perfection in man.”28 But the charge of perfectionism, like the imputed value of symmetry, again linked Anti-Federalists with an unpopular species of radical philosophy. It sought to turn their legitimate criticisms of the Constitution into evidence of their unreasonableness.29 The significance of this anti-perfectionist rhetoric is further clarified by considering its relation to taste. Since Plato and Aristotle, formal perfection had often been held as the standard of art and beauty. But in the eighteenth century, the idea faced at least two major objections. First, according to Burke, “Perfection [is] not the Cause of Beauty” because like uniformity and symmetry it appeals to the reason rather than the senses. Thus, although “we ought to love perfection,” he notes, we are often attracted more by imperfection, such as “beauty in distress.”30 Second, as Hume acknowledges, given the weakness of our organs of perception, formal perfection is simply too difficult to discern, and we thus “judge of objects more from comparison than from their real and intrinsic merit.”31 Likewise, Adam Smith writes that when a critic examines a work of art “by an idea of perfection . . . he can see nothing in it but faults and imperfections.” But when he considers “the rank which it ought to hold among other works of the same kind,” it may “appear to deserve the highest applause, upon account of its approaching much nearer to perfection than the greater part of those works which can be brought into competition with it.”32 The strict standard of perfection, for Smith, not only leads to negative judgments, it inhibits effective ones; whereas a comparative approach enables judgments across a range of similar objects “brought into competition.”33 Although such critiques did not reject the ideal of perfection outright, they did render it an elusive abstraction that was ultimately less relevant to authentic judgments of taste. Accordingly, if Federalists rejected the standard of perfection, they nonetheless boasted of the relative virtue of their proposed system, whose stated aim, after all, was to “form a more perfect union”—that is, closer to perfec-


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tion than the current government. Madison’s comparison of the Constitution with the Articles of Confederation in Federalist 38, for example, implicitly derives from Hume’s and Smith’s comparatism: “It is not necessary that the former should be perfect: it is sufficient that the latter is more imperfect” (237). In the same way, Franklin’s announcement that he is “astonished” that the Constitution comes as “near to perfection as it does” assumes its hypothetical comparison with similar constitutions.34 Indeed, using nearly the same language, James Wilson’s 1787 speech to the Pennsylvania State Legislature in support of the Constitution argues that “anything nearer to perfection could not have been accomplished,” and insists that his “admiration” of it “can only be equaled by [his] astonishment, in beholding so perfect a system formed from such heterogenous [sic] materials.”35 Such rhetoric trades the ideal of perfection for more sensible, practical approximations of it. By emphasizing “admiration” and “astonishment” as responses to the Constitution’s near perfection, it also adds to the language of beauty that of the moral sublime. In this way, it replaces a merely “theoretic” concept of taste with a more persuasive empirical one, bringing the Constitution into the realm of legitimate aesthetic judgment, while placing its opponents outside of that realm. In The Federalist, ideas of variety, asymmetry, and relative perfection construct the Constitution as an object of taste, to be judged through the perception of its formal elements and their interrelations. The object of such rhetoric is something both more and less than what Madison calls “republican form,” which is guaranteed to each state by Article Four of the Constitution. In Federalist 39, Madison defines it as the kind of government that “derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people, and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure for a limited period, or during good behavior” (241). Although he argues that the Constitution is “in the most rigid sense, conformable” to such a definition (242), he also believes that, because history has consistently shown that republics breed instability, any effective republic required certain structural additions—a strong executive, checks on legislative power, etc.—that would give it “stability and energy.” The main rhetorical burden of The Federalist is to justify these additions. In many ways, then, its language of aesthetic form helps to revise the received idea of republican form by making it both more stable and more energetic. Its logic of uniformity amidst variety describes a harmonious system of varied and independent parts. Its rhetoric of aesthetic perception constructs a diverse nation of individual states and citizens bound together by the consensus of taste. That this approach is implicitly intended

The Federalist


from the outset is suggested in Federalist 1, when Hamilton declares that the idea of “the utility” of a federal union is “deeply engraved on the hearts of the great body of the people in every State, and one which, it may be imagined, has no adversaries” (36). Here, the image of the “engraved” heart suggests that the idea of a unified nation, like the beauty of an object, is discovered by the individual citizen through the immediacy of aesthetic pleasure, in his own experience rather than in any external principle or mode of coercion.36 Hamilton’s figure of metonymy thus stages the model of taste on which the Federalist’s aesthetic rhetoric is based. It represents the federal union as an object of pleasurable perception, but it also resolves the definitive republican conflict between the interests of the individual and those of the collective by uniting them. In this way, the subjective perceptions and private interests of the citizen are both recognized by and subsumed under the public aims of the state; and the public aims of the state are realized as subjective and private, as the exercise of personal liberty. If it “may be imagined” that such a union “has no adversaries,” that is, it is because its citizens have been implicitly united through their perceptions of republican form.

Constitutional Chimeras and Disinterested Judgments The attribution of ideals of symmetry and perfection to Anti-Federalists is part of The Federalist’s broad strategy of representing opposition to the Constitution as irrational or illusory. It consistently equates such opposition with radical political fantasy. As Hamilton writes in Federalist 6: “Have we not already seen enough of the fallacy and extravagance of those idle theories which have amused us with promises of an exemption from the imperfections, the weaknesses, and the evils incident to society in every shape? Is it not time to awake from the deceitful dream of a golden age and to adopt as a practical maxim for the direction of our political conduct that we, as well as the other inhabitants of the globe, are yet remote from the happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue?” (59). Such tough-minded realism is specifically aimed at the unlikely prospect of a lasting peace between states under the Articles of Confederation. Only a federal union, Hamilton suggests, can bring order to the kind of disruptive politics of interest that inspired Shays’s rebellion in western Massachusetts earlier that year. To think otherwise is to indulge in “Utopian speculations” (54). But if the rhetoric of unregulated imagination purports to characterize the radicalism of Anti-


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Federalists, this reflects a more general tendency in the ratification debates to describe one’s opponents’ criticisms as specifically “imaginary.” Madison’s Federalist 14, for example, assumes that a “prevailing prejudice” in Anti-Federalists leads to their perception of “imaginary difficulties” (100). Implicitly responding to such a charge, Benjamin Workman insists he does “not write with a view to excite jealousies, and exhibit imaginary evils.”37 The use of the term is even understood to have a history in American political rhetoric. As a Federalist writer for the Pennsylvania Gazetteer complains, “the tories said our grievances were all imaginary in the year 1776—the antifederalists say the same of the defects of our present governments, and of the universal distress and complaints of the people.”38 The imputed fault-finding of such gloomy imaginations, like the radical dreams of idealistic ones, implicitly renders the writers who indulge them unreliable voices in the ratification debate.39 In The Federalist, the aim of such rhetoric is not to disparage the imagination itself, however, but to accuse Anti-Federalists of having failed to regulate its powers. When, in Federalist 8, for example, Hamilton assumes that objections to the Constitution come from the “airy phantoms that flit before  .  .  .  distempered imaginations” (71), he strongly echoes Hutcheson’s definition of taste as distinct from “the airy Dreams of an inflam’d Imagination, which a wise Man should despise.”40 To make sound political judgments, Hamilton suggests, demands a cultivated and regulated taste. Rather than assuming an anti-aesthetic attitude, he distinguishes between excessive imagination and true aesthetic pleasure. Thus, in Federalist 29, he writes: “In reading many of the publications against the Constitution, a man is apt to imagine that he is perusing some ill-written tale or romance, which, instead of natural and agreeable images, exhibits to the mind nothing but frightful and distorting shapes—‘Gorgons, Hydras, and Chimeras dire;’ discoloring and disfiguring whatever it represents, and transforming everything it touches into a monster” (186). This scene of reading illuminates The Federalist’s investment in the distinctions of taste. The juxtaposition of the Constitution and “some ill-written tale or romance” posits a hypothetical citizen torn between divergent textual traditions and class-bound reading communities, one whose expectation of rational political discourse has been unwittingly denied in favor of trivial and sensational fiction. Hamilton thus links AntiFederalist writers to a culture of cheap literary commodities, figuring them not as civic-minded gentlemen but as interested writers for hire. Indeed, his quotation from Milton’s famous description of hell in Book 2 of Paradise Lost suggests an implicit contrast between such hacks and the celebrated author

The Federalist


and defender of British liberty. But the difference between the perception of “natural and agreeable images” and that of “frightful and distorting shapes” also denotes the opposition of aesthetic pleasure and irrationality.41 Unlike Milton, whose monsters appropriately haunt his poetic picture of the underworld, the writers of Anti-Federalist “tales” are charged with a form of misrepresentation that not only manifests their faulty judgments of the Constitution but identifies them as incapable of judgment altogether. Hamilton’s invocation of Milton’s monsters points to a significant rhetorical pattern in Constitutional writing. The word “chimerical” is used throughout the ratification debates to refer to unrealistic, injudicious, or otherwise incorrect political ideas or objectives.42 In Federalist 85, for example, Hamilton calls the purported Anti-Federalist desire for perfection in the Constitution a “chimerical pursuit” (523); in turn, Anti-Federalist Melancton Smith describes as “visionary and chimerical” Hamilton’s claim that without a strong union the states would “attack” each other.43 Derived from the “Chimera,” a mythological creature made up of parts of different animals—in Homer’s Iliad, the Chimera possesses the body of a lioness, a snake’s head for a tail, and a goat rising out of its back—the “chimerical” expresses ideas of extravagant authorial creativity or those utterly removed from reality or nature. As a production of the imagination, it exemplifies both the mind’s associative power to recombine distinct ideas into original conceptions, as well as the abuse, error, or potential illogic and deformity connected with such a power. The term finds one of its earliest political usages in Richard Steele’s 1709 Tatler, which writes of the newly appointed governor of New York as capable of distinguishing “between Chimaerical and Practical Politicks.”44 By 1794, the Southwark Theater of Philadelphia produced a British farce by Sarah Marriott called “The Chimera; or, Effusions of Fancy,” which satirizes the foolish ideas of young people blinded by pleasure and old people blinded by power. As the creation of undisciplined imaginations, chimerical ideas were understood to threaten the stability of both nations and families.45 As characters in literature, chimeras might be either horrific or pleasing. For Addison, novelty can “bestow charms on a Monster, and makes even the Imperfections of Nature please us” with their novelty and variety.46 As objects of our own invention, however, monsters often signaled the corruption of the imagination. “When the brain is hurt by any Accident, or the Mind disordered by Dreams or Sickness,” Addison explains, “the Fancy is overrun with wild dismal Ideas, and terrified with a thousand hideous Monsters of its own framing.”47 Accordingly, the rhetoric of Constitutional monsters


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impugned both the imagination and the taste, for it criticized the creation of monstrous political ideas, and it ridiculed the irrational perception of political monstrosities that did not actually exist. Federalists often use such language to reject the unusual form and administrative awkwardness of the Articles of Confederation. For example, Hamilton complains in Federalist 15 that Anti-Federalists “cherish with blind devotion the political monster of an imperium in imperio” (108); and Madison in Federalist 44 describes the current government as a “monster, in which the head was under the direction of the members” (287). But Anti-Federalists invoke the same language to describe the inordinate power and hybrid nature of the Constitution. Mercy Otis Warren condemns it as a “many-headed monster; of such motley mixture, that its enemies cannot trace a feature of Democratick or Republican extract”;48 and Benjamin Workman, who promised not to “exhibit imaginary evils,” goes on to call the proposed federal system a “monster, this Colossus of despotism.”49 These criticisms impute an unchecked liberty of the imagination in the creation of the political system at issue or a dangerous tolerance for such forms of extravagance. As Hamilton’s Federalist 29 suggests, however, the criticism of political monstrosity was itself subject to another, coming largely from Federalists, that such excess and distortion lay not in systems of government but in the outrageous imaginations of those who wrongly judge and falsely represent them to others. Thus, in Federalist 33, Hamilton writes that the Constitution’s proposed federal powers of taxation and treaty have been “held up to the people in all the exaggerated colours of misrepresentation . . . as the hideous monster whose devouring jaws would spare neither sex nor age, nor high nor low, nor sacred nor profane” (201–2). Hamilton’s humorous hyperbole charges his opponents not only with the malicious abuse of rhetoric but also with corrupted tastes that take pleasure in deformity and irrational association. Although he trades Anti-Federalist exaggerations for his own, his ridicule claims a more legitimate kind of representation and a superior capacity for judgments of taste. The rhetoric of “imaginary evils,” “chimerical” ideas, and Constitutional “monsters” sought to construct the contending parties as incapable of both political and aesthetic disinterestedness.50 By the mid-eighteenth century, disinterestedness was such a central concept in British philosophy that it was generally considered the prerequisite to any thought of a serious nature. It assumed a social class whose power and wealth lifted it above material need. But it also responded to the ethical impulse of the Enlightenment to pursue knowledge and progress in the public sphere. When

The Federalist


Madison and Hamilton invoke political disinterestedness in The Federalist, they refer to concepts of “virtue” and “rectitude” and a government led by financially independent gentlemen. Although most such men derived their independence from specific economic interests, from farming and trading to speculation in western lands, their status implied the moral capacity to distinguish such interests from those of the res publica. But The Federalist also articulates an idea of the kinds of citizens who were thought incapable of separating public and private affairs. In Federalist 10, for example, Madison warns of “men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs” who will only “betray the interests of the people” (82). As Gordon Wood has argued, Madison’s sense of such a class of men was shaped by his four-year tenure in the Virginia Assembly, where he “found out what democracy in America might mean.”51 The schemes he derides in Federalist 10—“A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project” (84)—were to his mind the common business of the state legislatures. This perception of corruption, incompetence, and parochial self-interest left him believing not only in the need for a federal Constitution, but also in the imperative of disinterestedness in all public deliberations.52 Shaftesbury was the first aesthetic theorist to use the idea of disinterestedness with regard to taste. Rejecting Hobbes’s celebration of private interest, he describes aesthetic perception in terms of a lack of self-concern, emphasizing pleasure in the order and harmony of the world for its own sake. To enjoy the disinterested pleasures of taste, Shaftesbury writes, we must “place ourselves in that unbiased state in which we are fittest to pronounce.”53 Likewise, Hutcheson distinguishes aesthetic appreciation from mere desire: “Our Sense of Beauty from Objects, by which they are constituted good to us, is very distinct from our Desire of them when they are thus constituted.”54 But Hume argues even more precisely that authentic aesthetic judgment demands a “perfect serenity of mind, a recollection of thought, a due attention to the object.” To achieve such an ideal state, the critic “must preserve his mind free from all prejudice, and allow nothing to enter into his consideration, but the very object which is submitted to his examination.”55 If this rarefied perspective seems like an onerous requirement for the experience of pleasure, this is because its logic is specifically regulatory.56 It claims to bring the full powers of the imagination to bear on the judgment of an object without any of the limitations, distractions, or distortions that might inhibit them.57 Supporters of the Constitution promoted such an elite mode of judgment


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as a means of both censuring monstrous ideas and constructing political consensus. In Federalist 8, for example, where Hamilton admonishes the “prudent and honest man of whatever party” to make “serious and mature consideration” of the virtues of a federal union, he specifies what this kind of judgment should entail: “If such men will make a firm and solemn pause, and meditate dispassionately on the importance of this interesting idea; if they will contemplate it in all its attitudes, and trace it to all its consequences, they will not hesitate to part with trivial objections to a Constitution, the rejection of which would in all probability put a final period to the Union” (71). In championing the Constitution, Hamilton promotes the idea of disinterested judgment by insisting on its moral significance and enumerating its various stages and modes of perception and association. He describes the intricate judgment of Hume, which demands an exclusive attention to the object and its qualities, “surveyed in different lights with attention and deliberation.”58 He assumes that such attention will result in a universally favorable judgment by dispensing with the “trivial objections” based on particular interests. He even risks disturbing his description of calm contemplation and judgment with the provocative final clause about the heady implications of failure. Such criticisms of the Constitution, he suggests, threaten the viability of the union not only because they endanger the ratification process but also because they point to the tragic possibility of failing to build political consensus around universal criteria.59 Taste promised to make such a consensus possible because it invited one into an identity that was paradoxically grounded in both self-fashioning and self-effacement, subordinating the supreme dictates of the imagination to socially shared values. In fact, Hamilton may have borrowed his notion of Constitutional contemplation and the dangerous distraction of “trivial objections” from a 1787 pamphlet by Noah Webster, which offers the more direct analogy of an explicitly aesthetic judgment: “A painter, after executing a masterly piece, requested every spectator to draw a pencil over the part that did not please him; but to his surprise, he soon found the whole piece defaced. Let every man examine the most perfect building by his own taste, and like some microscopic critics, condemn the whole for small deviations from the rules of architecture, and not a part of the best constructed fabric would escape. But let any man take a comprehensive view of the whole, and he will be pleased with the general beauty and proportions, and admire the structure.”60 For Webster, judging the Constitution demands the same disinterested perception as judging art. Both assume a “spectator” observing from a distance,

The Federalist


and both require a serious attention to the object, a lack of self-interest, and liberty of the imagination to discern its virtues. By a “comprehensive view of the whole,” Webster means one that comprehends all its elements in relation without privileging one over another.61 Like Madison, who in Federalist 58 insists that objections to the Constitution come from “a partial view of the subject, or from a jealousy which discolors and disfigures every object which is beheld” (356), Webster assumes that such a “microscopic” focus derives from perception that is destructively biased and limited. Such dogmatic partiality is perhaps inspired by a commitment to symmetry or perfection and indicative of a slavish attachment to abstract concepts and mechanical rules. Thus, like Hamilton, Webster figures a citizen facing a choice between interested judgments based on “his own taste” and disinterested ones based on an idea of “general beauty and proportions,” the kind of criteria esteemed by people in general. By shifting his analogy from a “masterly” painting to a “most perfect building,” he then links it to its referent in the architectural edifice of the state, thereby both realizing the Constitution as having achieved a standard of relative perfection and enacting the hypothetical citizen’s pleasurable assent to its beauty.62 The community of taste such assent implies is by definition not identical with the nation’s citizens as a whole. Webster’s invocations of “every man” and “any man” gesture to the ostensible universality of taste, but his analogy assumes that judgments of the Constitution, like those of art, must finally be resolved to a standard. A standard of taste assumes the possibility of common aesthetic principles, even as it explains the diversity of tastes as a function of variations in the fitness of aesthetic faculties, degrees of cultivation, or racial and cultural difference. But it also assumes that most people lack both liberty from private interests and liberty of the imagination. Only those possessed of sensibility, experience, and disinterestedness, writes Hume, are sufficiently able to realize the full potential of their imaginations and, therefore, “qualified to give judgment.”63 Kames’s idea of “men in their more perfect state” similarly excludes those with a “corrupted taste” and concludes that the “common sense of mankind” is “confined to the few.” Thus, the standard of taste provides a discursive template for the distinctions of elite political judgment. Hamilton, writing as “Caesar” in 1787, asserts: “The mass of the people of America . . . cannot judge with any degree of precision concerning the fitness of this New Constitution.”64 Even when Madison, in Federalist 37, admits the inevitable limits of “human sagacity” when it comes to judging the “institutions of man,” his “candor” aims at identifying the most discerning judges


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possible (228). To be sure, such implicit pretensions to mental and political superiority did not go unanswered. Throughout the ratification debates, Anti-Federalist critics highlighted the elitism of Federalist claims. William Findley, for example, in reply to Wilson’s Philadelphia speech, mockingly imputes to him both a “spirit of high aristocracy” and a belief that only “men of sublime minds . . . born of a different race from the rest of the sons of men” were suitable to take “the reins of earthly government.”65 In some ways, Findley was not far off the mark. Yet it was precisely the Federalist assumption of the basic mental similarity of all Americans that grounded their elite claim to representativeness. That is, they saw themselves not as “born of a different race” but as “men in their more perfect state.” If their rhetorical challenge in the ratification debates was to represent a version of republican form that understood the variety of post-Revolutionary political reality in terms of uniformity, their political challenge was to advocate a theory of representation that would express the vaunted universality of human values through a restricted number of ideal representatives.

Publius and the Problem of Representation Both before and after the Revolution, political representation was a widely contested question, particularly in Britain, where radical Whigs earlier in the century had challenged the constitutional theory of virtual representation, through which Parliament indirectly represented the “commons” of the entire nation. Such representation, they claimed, was a mere abstraction; the represented will of the people never assured the pursuit of their interests or implied the possibility of their intervention. In the same way, as Bernard Bailyn has demonstrated, American colonists, who had traditionally instructed local representatives on questions of government policy, refused to believe that their interests were represented in Parliament.66 As a result, when they considered the nature and function of representation for their own governments, they insisted on a less mediated distance between constituents and their representatives. But what kind of mediation and how much distance were among the most difficult questions faced by the Convention. None caused more disagreement and frustration, and most delegates understood that resolving these questions effectively was their most important responsibility. Anti-Federalist Edmund Randolph warns that “if a fair representation of the people be not secured, the injustice of the Govt. will shake it to its foundations.”67 Wilson, his opponent on many other matters, concurs: “A

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vice in the Representation, like an error in the first concoction, must be followed by disease, convulsions, and finally death itself.”68 As they debated the purpose of representation, the frequency of popular elections, and the size and shape of the federal legislature, they struggled—even within their own alliances—to find consensus. The question of African slaves created perhaps the most persistent and passionate disagreement, but it was in many ways emblematic of the debate and its outcome. While the final determination to let one slave represent three-fifths of a citizen was morally incoherent, like most of the Convention’s provisions on representation it was a compromise, reflecting the reality that, under most state laws, slaves were both human beings and property. The Constitution’s scheme of representation, based on a periodically elected bicameral legislature of citizens, was also a compromise. As Madison insists in Federalist 55, because it derives from the “genius of the people of America” (344), it reflects both a “certain portion of esteem and confidence” in their social passions and a “certain degree of circumspection and distrust” concerning their selfish ones (346). The idea of “genius” here refers not to heightened imaginative ability but the essential spirit of a political community. But it implies an economy of the passions in which private and public interests are in tension with each other. Madison assumes that through representation such a tension would be transformed and channeled into what in Federalist 10 he calls a “public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people.” This process would “refine and enlarge the public views by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens.” As the selfish passions of the people are filtered through the judgments of its representatives, such a voice would become “more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves” (82).69 In this way, as Wilson insists, political power would “flow from the people at large.”70 But as Gouverneur Morris argues, it would also flow through representatives whose ideas were “enlarged to the true interests of men.”71 As this rhetoric suggests, Madison’s ideal representative is indeed an abstraction: he is literally drawn out of his city, town, or village and sent to Congress, where he becomes one “whose enlightened views and virtuous sentiments render [him] superior to local prejudices and to schemes of injustice” (83–84). Such representation was never intended to be actually universal or to extend beyond white male freeholders. But the Federalists saw it as a viable middle ground between direct democracy and the virtual representation of the British Constitution.72 Anti-Federalists, however, objected not only to the Federalist’s plan of


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political representation, but also to the representational logic of their arguments. At the New York ratifying convention of 1788, Melancton Smith argues that the meaning of representation is both simple and self-evident: “The idea that naturally suggests itself to our minds, when we speak of representatives, is that they resemble those they represent.” Thus, “they should be a true picture of the people; possess the knowledge of their circumstances and their wants; sympathize in all their distresses, and be disposed to seek their true interests.”73 Smith’s invocation of natural language implicitly rejects Federalist abstractions. Like the intimate connection between words and their meanings, the connection between representatives and their constituents should be immediate and straightforward.74 His notion of a “true picture” likewise demands a greater degree of intimate knowledge and sympathy with constituents than the Constitution prescribes. Robert Yates makes a similar argument for rigorous resemblance when he claims that “a representation of the people of America, if it be a true one, must be like the people.” To augment his point, he constructs a scene of perception and judgment in which “a person, who is a stranger to the country” is “able to form a just idea of their character, by knowing that of their representatives.” The mimetic logic of such representation is, he insists, obvious and natural. Representatives “are the sign—the people are the thing signified.”75 For both writers, the idea of imitative correspondence is used to reject any mode of representation not defined by strict likeness as a form of distortion.76 Smith’s and Yates’s understanding of representation is founded on the principle that imitation, as a major source of secondary pleasures, is the basis of good artistic representation. As Gerard writes, imitation and resemblance stimulate comparison, engage association, and, in “discovering the original by the copy,” provoke a “gentle exertion of the mind” that leaves us feeling conscious of our own “discernment and sagacity” and admiring of the “skill and ingenuity” of imitators.77 Such pleasures, Burke argues, are fundamental not only to the experience of art but also to human experience in general. They “operate pretty uniformly upon all men, because they operate by principles in nature.” Even “the most ignorant and barbarous nations have frequently excelled in similitudes, comparisons, metaphors, and allegories.” Thus, for Burke, the tendency to copy objects and actions “is one of the strongest links of society.”78 At least since Plotinus, however, it was also widely held that art could be revelatory without being imitative. For one, what was to be copied might itself be imperfect and therefore want improvement. As John Dryden writes in De Arte Graphica, artists ought not merely imitate nature

The Federalist


but “endeavor to correct and amend” it.79 Moreover, excessively realistic or exact imitations risked failing to engage the imagination or to express profound ideas. Reynolds admonishes painters that “Nature herself is not to be too closely copied.” A “mere copier of nature,” he argues, “can never produce any thing great; can never raise and enlarge the conceptions, or warm the heart of the spectator.”80 Although Reynolds encouraged his students to copy the great masters, he also advised them to avoid “the servility of plagiarism” and to pursue instead a form of moderate imitation that was “a perpetual exercise of the mind, a continual invention.”81 The most aesthetically effective kinds of representations, he suggests, might stray somewhat from their originals. Indeed, as Kames argues, differences between originals and copies can even be a source of surprise that pleases the imagination. The gratification of our curiosity, he writes, “lies in discovering differences among things where resemblance prevails, and resemblances where difference prevails.”82 Such claims about what constitutes good artistic representation suggest that Anti-Federalist arguments about imitative political representation are not as self-evidently persuasive as they might appear to be. Because “servile” imitations tend to restrain liberty of the imagination, and less strictly imitative representations tend to express or inspire it, the former are thought to offer spectators less pleasure and fewer “enlarged” conceptions than the latter. But what does this distinction say about the difference between imitative and abstract forms of political representation? F. R. Ankersmit provides a useful way of understanding such divergent ideas. What he calls the “mimetic” mode assumes that “the representation of the people should reflect the people represented as accurately as possible.” Conversely, the “aesthetic” mode assumes that the “absence of identity of the representative and the person represented, is as unavoidable in political representation as the unavoidable difference between a painted portrait and the person portrayed.”83 For Ankersmit, the problem of political representation is “concerned with the question of when and under what circumstances governments  .  .  .  are a reflection of the mind of the people.”84 But he notes that understanding precisely what “the people” think at any given time is practically impossible. Thus, “whether a state represents its people is a question of taste, of a feeling on the part of those represented, just as is the question of whether a work of art represents reality properly.”85 The quality or correctness of a representation, that is, is always a matter of judgment rather than objective fact. Although mimetic representation, as in art, assumes the knowability of the thing represented, in politics reality is not given until it is represented.


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But aesthetic representation by definition assumes a debate on the nature of its referent “in the indeterminate and interpretable character of the ‘reality’ that is to be represented.” Thus, Ankersmit argues, in politics as opposed to art, “we can only talk about representation when there is a difference—and not an identity—between the representative and the person represented.”86 The Federalist theory of representation anticipates Ankersmit’s argument in a number of ways. First, it understands the idea of the “public voice” as a necessary fiction, one central to the republican tradition but a fiction nonetheless. To consider and define the nature of the popular will was among the chief aims of the Convention, but the challenge of doing so was often made apparent in its debates. As Wilson remarks, “with regard to the sentiments of the people . . . it [is] difficult to know precisely what they are.”87 Second, Federalists assume that the quality of political representations under the Constitution will be debated and judged through the mechanism of periodic popular elections. In fact, The Federalist repeatedly assures its critics that through such elections citizens will have the opportunity to reject poor representatives in favor of potentially better ones. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Federalist representation locates the legitimacy of power and the effectiveness of governance in the difference between representatives and those they represent. Madison argues in Federalist 10 that the relative size of an electoral district determines the ability of the representative to balance sympathy with his constituents and a disinterested view of federal politics. “By enlarging too much the number of electors,” he writes, “you render the representative too little acquainted with all their local circumstances and lesser interests; as by reducing it too much, you render him unduly attached to these, and too little fit to comprehend and pursue great and national objects” (83). That is, with too many constituents, representatives will lose all sympathetic connection with their interests; with too few, they will merely imitate those feelings and interests and leave no room for “enlarged conceptions.” Neither, Madison suggests, would result in a good representation. The Federalist’s investment in an aesthetic mode of political representation helps explain why its defense of the Constitution is offered in such consistently aesthetic and formal terms. Calling for judgments not on the correctness of representations but on their quality, it asks citizens to consider political forms in terms of their proportion of uniformity and variety or to judge the relation of liberty and constraint they embody. Is the idea of a unified federal government formed from a diverse collection of states pleasing? Does the “stability and energy” of the Constitution’s system of

The Federalist


checks and balances compensate for what it lacks in “beauty of form”? As the product of such a variety of opinions and interests, is the Constitution itself justified in its deviations from “regular symmetry”? How does its relative perfection compare with other similar political objects? Although such questions cannot have a single correct answer or yield what Blair calls the “clear and immediate determination” that necessarily eludes the standard of taste, they assume that the Constitution should be judged—over time and by many judges—not as a guarantee of a precise modicum of political liberty but rather as an aesthetic representation of liberty whose specificity emerges only provisionally in the act of judgment. It is no surprise, then, that The Federalist presents its pseudonymous author “Publius” as an example of a citizen capable of translating individual judgments into disinterested public advocacy of the Constitution. According to Plutarch, Publius or Publicola (friend of the people) was comparable to Solon in his greatness as a founder and leader of the Roman republic. He stands for the people but also for a more virtuous incarnation of them. He is, in effect, Madison’s paradigmatic enlightened statesman, able not only to transcend private interest himself but also to symbolically collectivize political difference in the name of the public good. Like other pseudonyms of the ratification debate—Brutus, Caesar, Cato, etc.—much of this symbolic force comes from the salience of Roman history in eighteenth-century America and its capacity to invoke powerful republics. But The Federalist also belongs to modern literary traditions. As a political letter, it is an instrument of nominally private expression that carries its sentiments into the public with the authority of the personal. Publius’s letters are judgments of political taste made public and offered to the judgments of others through their printed circulation. Thus, when Hamilton’s declares in Federalist 1 that his “motivations must remain in the depository of [his] own breast,” he locates the foundation of his arguments in the private realm of feeling, even as he explains that such “arguments will be open to all and may be judged of by all” (36). In this way, Publius’s judgments derive their authority not merely from the disembodied abstraction of public print but also from the rhetorical power to articulate private feelings as if they were consistent with a universal standard.88 The Federalist’s blueprint for a republican state is thus emphatically deliberative. The judgments of the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention manifest what Hamilton in Federalist 1 calls “government from reflection and choice” (33). But they also seek to inaugurate a national culture of judgment, one that will define not only the ratification process but also the


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legislative work of representative government and the popular election of representatives. Because such a culture invests its political security in the minds of its representative citizens, it assumes the political freedom to create and judge representational forms. Hamilton indirectly expresses this idea in the final paper of the series, Federalist 85, when he defends against attempts to amend the Constitution prior to ratification. Quoting from Hume’s essay on “The Rise of the Arts and Sciences,” he writes: “To balance a large state or society . . . on general laws, is a work of so great difficulty that no human genius, however comprehensive, is able, by the mere dint of reason and reflection, to effect it. The judgments of many must unite in the work; Experience must guide their labor; Time must bring it to perfection; And the Feeling of inconveniences must correct the mistakes which they inevitably fall into in their first trials and experiments” (526). There is no need to change the Constitution, he argues, because it calls into being a system of representational government that will “correct” and improve itself over time. It does not rely on Webster’s idea of the “comprehensive” judgment of a single “human genius” but rather on the “judgments of many.” Hamilton’s sense of the “difficulty” of creating such a system echoes Madison’s rhetoric of uncertainty in Federalist 37, but it also expresses the conviction that the process of approaching political “perfection” in a republic is, like realizing a standard of taste, a compound function of “experience,” “time,” and “feeling.” Just as Hume’s essay argues that a “free state” is necessary to the development of the arts and sciences,” Hamilton assumes that sufficient criticism and debate will ultimately lead to a favorable view of the Constitution, a stable and energetic republican state, and a coherent standard of political taste.89 Yet throughout The Federalist this culture of judgment and the enlightened political progress it promises are consistently contrasted against ideas of aesthetic failure and corresponding images of national failure.90 Hamilton invokes Hume’s “judicious reflections” explicitly in order to caution citizens “against hazarding anarchy, civil war, a perpetual alienation of the States from each other, and perhaps the military despotism of a victorious demagogue” (527). Such provocative rhetoric argues that without vigorous regulation, the judgments of citizens and their representatives might be dangerously corrupted and perverted, just as without the guidance and protections of the Constitution, the U.S. might fall victim to European enemies or civil strife. In this way, The Federalist’s melodramatic dichotomy of virtuous order and vicious chaos reflects Madison’s own ambivalence about human nature, defined both by “esteem and confidence” and by “circumspection

The Federalist


and distrust.” On the one hand, its language of aesthetic form optimistically invokes the beauty and pleasure of political harmony as it strives to contain the diverse of minds of a varied republic; on the other hand, its language of irrationality cynically describes an entire class of citizens as both incapable of disinterested judgment and liable to the perception of imaginary evils and monstrous ideas. Thus, rather than fostering the political union it advocated, such rhetoric ultimately amplified political conflict. It not only set the terms for the more vociferous partisan discord of the 1790s, but it also pointed toward conflicted dramas of the imagination that were more fully realized in the fictional forms of the novel.91

Chapter 5

The Novel, the Imagination, and Charles Brockden Brown’s Aesthetic State

Imagination in a poet is a faculty so wild and lawless, that like an high-ranging spaniel, it must have clogs tied to it, lest it outrun the judgment. —John Dryden, Dedication, The Rival Ladies1

On the eve of the series of disasters that will destroy her peace, pleasure, and sanity, Clara, the narrator of Brown’s novel, Wieland (1798), prepares to hear her brother, Theodore, recite a tragic tale just arrived from Germany and written by a promising novice Saxon poet: “The exploits of Zisca, the Bohemian hero, were woven into a dramatic series and connection. According to German custom, it was minute and diffuse, and dictated by an adventurous and lawless fancy. It was a chain of audacious acts, and unheard-of disasters. The moated fortress, and the thicket; the ambush and the battle; and the conflict of headlong passions, were pourtrayed in wild numbers, and with terrific energy.”2 This elegant but ominous scene would seem to project the two distinct modes of imagination articulated in the rhetoric of The Federalist: legitimate aesthetic pleasure and reckless irrationality. On the one hand, like the recitation of Cicero, singing of ballads, and playing of violin and harpsichord that were the typical “occupations and amusements” of the Wieland circle, the tale is an example of literary refinement that defines the cultivated tastes of Brown’s characters.3 Although his German poet suggests the gothic sensibility of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe or Friedrich Schiller, the story itself is of no significance; any that represented genteel reading and stirred the delicate passions of educated Americans like the Wielands would have sufficed. On the other hand, the story’s content and form prefigure both

Charles Brockden Brown


the catastrophic events and the frenzied narrative style of the story Clara tells. The “dramatic series and connection” of the hero’s exploits and his “chain of audacious acts” represent a fantastical plot barely held together by the “adventurous and lawless fancy” of its narrator, an associative imagination whose train of ideas is as “wild” as the “headlong passions” it seeks to represent. In this way, the Wielands’ final exercise of aesthetic pleasure and sociability, one culminating “six years of uninterrupted happiness,” stands as a representation of the broad spectrum of aesthetic experience conceivable in Brown’s post-Revolutionary world.4 It indicates as much the possibility of mental liberation as it does mental enslavement. The passage is thus an important clue to understanding how the multiple aesthetic registers in Brown’s fiction reveal both the complexity and coherence of his diverse representations of the imagination. Critics of Wieland have long read the violence at the end of the novel as an indictment of the aesthetic pleasures at the beginning. A. Carl Bredahl refers to the “evil” energies of the imagination in Brown’s novels; and James R. Russo finds it to be consistently figured as illicit and pathological.5 Likewise, Michael Davitt Bell sees them as a source of “terror” and “deception” reflecting a “fear or distrust of art.”6 However, Brown emphasizes not merely the dangers of the imagination but rather the wide and often contradictory range of its sources and effects. The distinction is crucial. His fiction deals with licentious and corrupted imaginations but also aesthetic education, disinterested pleasure, original invention, and philosophical inquiry. Its principal themes concern the imagination’s mutable status as both the source of irrationality and the faculty through which art and pleasure find their moral ends. The imagination in Brown’s novels is the site of fanatical delusion and deceptive error, to be sure, but also correct judgment, rational speculation, patriotic sympathy, moral beauty, and transformative sublimity. This multivalence derives in large part from an ambiguity at the heart of the idea of the imagination. As we have seen, eighteenth-century notions of pleasure, beauty, sublimity, genius, and taste were each rooted in ideas of materiality, conceptualized as either embodied, structured mental perceptions or discrete, predictable physiological effects. Although aesthetic theory subordinated sensual to mental pleasures, it also connected the source of pleasure to the physical body’s sensible responses to material objects. But at the same time aesthetic pleasure was viewed as an ethereal, intangible force, independent of materiality, resistant to definition, and sometimes incapable of explanation. The imagination and genius were understood as


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godlike powers of invention, and taste was both praised and criticized as a mysterious and undefinable form of knowledge. Thus, the chief problem in the theory of the imagination is not so much a distinction between the real and the ideal as a confusion of them: between perceived things and imagined ideas. Its is persistently troubled by an ambivalence about understanding the image in the mind as a perception, impression, or material fact subject to the laws of empirical science—what Jean-Paul Sartre called a “naïve metaphysics of the image”—and as a transcendent act of consciousness beyond the constraints of body and world.7 Although a critic for Brown’s Literary Magazine assumes that a disciplined poetic genius must “distinguish between things and conceptions,” aesthetic theory’s ideas of perception, ideation, and judgment nevertheless struggle to negotiate the difference between the liberating claims of the mind with the limiting claims of matter.8 If such a struggle signals the philosophical shortcomings of aesthetic theory, however, it is also a source of the linguistic and narrative richness of Brown’s novels. For we see the effects of the imagination’s confusion of objects and ideas in what may be the chief formal characteristics of his fiction: the evanescence of its narrative reality and the substantiality of its characters’ thoughts and feelings. Because its depictions of the social networks and physical topographies of late eighteenth-century life are saturated with aesthetic subjectivity, they are revealed to be both permeable and impermanent, unmoored from the laws of nature and subject to disruption and revision. Conversely, the meditations and utterances of his characters often invoke the structured logic of association and causality and betray the somatic origins of pleasure and pain, such that ideas and thoughts take on the narrative efficacy of material objects and physical actions. Thus, for Brown, the confusion of ideal and material conceptions of the imagination underwrites the correlation between the “chain of audacious acts” described in his plots and the “adventurous and lawless fancy” of the narrators that relate them. Such confusion means that when his characters employ their imaginations, they simultaneously experience both unfettered agency and unsparing discipline. As they aspire to aesthetic heights, they are inevitably checked by the forces of physical nature. As they pursue the pleasures of art and sociability, they face the threat of mental and moral chaos. In other words, the contradictions inherent in the idea of the imagination render Brown’s novels a particularly effective means of dramatizing the contingencies of aesthetic liberty and constraint. For Brown, the novel’s moral purpose is defined by the diverse represen-

Charles Brockden Brown


tations of imagination that constitute its primary themes and plots. Its explicit purview is the didactic exploration of human “passions,” “motives,” and their causes and effects. In representing the variety of aesthetic experience for the moral improvement of his readers, Brown’s novels navigate the economy of selfish and social passions and explore the viability of sensus communis in the post-Revolutionary United States. Thus, in this chapter, I propose an approach to Brown’s fiction that takes a comprehensive view of his engagements with the idea of the imagination. I not only consider how the disordered imagination threatens the integrity of characters and communities, but I also recover Brown’s interest in the moral and philosophical efficacy of aesthetic pleasure, reexamine the sources and significance of his novels’ narrative confusion, and explore his investment in the continuities between the disordered and the transformative imagination. In the midst of the frenetic political, social, economic, and philosophical climate of the 1790s, Brown finds the idea of the imagination to be highly ambiguous. But he also assumes the novel’s ability to comprehend the complexities of aesthetic experience and to pursue their implications for moral life in America. That is, by elaborating the practical and theoretical problems of liberty of the imagination, Brown’s novels represent a culture that, like the work of the novice Saxon poet, is both vulnerable to tragic dissolution but full of creative potential.9

The Novel and the Imagination in the 1790s In the decade in which Brown began writing novels, the politics of liberty became even more volatile than it had been during the Revolution. The ratification of the Constitution gave rise to a fragile national polity that was immediately shaken by a torrent of foreign and domestic conflicts. If spectacles of violent radicalism like the French Revolution fueled widespread suspicion about all forms of individualism and innovation, acts of national expediency, like the 1794 Jay Treaty and the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts, turned this suspicion on the politics of Federalist elites. At the same time, while events like the 1794 Whiskey Insurrection in western Pennsylvania suggested the continuing possibility of popular resistance to constituted authority, they also emboldened the new government to direct its powers against the political ambitions of marginalized citizens and middling upstarts. Such crises left many Americans not only stunned by the sudden emergence of overt, often vituperative forms of partisanship but also newly skeptical of claims of republican disinterestedness. They confirmed political instability as a


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permanent condition of American life and gave an explicit ideological cast to economic, social, and sectional divisions.10 Yet beneath the tumult of national politics were social shifts more directly relevant to the novel’s concerns. Foremost among these were changing configurations of wealth, sociability, and immigration. As postwar economic recovery restored transatlantic commerce, vast fortunes were acquired in shipping, trade, and finance, while an increasing reliance on markets led to the persistent threat of downward mobility. As the practices of aesthetic education and values of politeness began to spread beyond the elite classes, they both expanded American communities of taste and further demarcated their divisions and exclusions. Waves of Irish, German, and French immigrants fueled economic development but exacerbated political, class, and racial tensions. By the end of the eighteenth century, such changes undoubtedly enhanced the practical liberty of many white Americans, giving them unprecedented access to political power and social pleasure. But they also began to reorganize society in ways that made Jay’s tidy vision of national unity look like a fatuous dream and gave ominous specificity to Madison’s abstract notion of political diversity.11 The novel responds to America’s new political and social reality by representing its contradictions, contestations, and transformations in ways that mark a significant shift in the vernacular discourse of aesthetic theory. Unlike Revolutionary poetry, the novel locates notions of perception, ideation, and judgment not only in the time- and space-collapsing spheres of association but also in the concreteness of modern social life and the charged interactions of diverse, often contrary, minds. But it also conceives the hectic social scene not merely in terms of virtuous or vicious aesthetic subjects but rather with an assumption of their mental complexity, variability, and ambiguity. If political writing distinguishes between disinterested and monstrous judgments, novels often refuse such stark binaries. Whereas landscape description neatly opposes cultivated aesthetic subjects to brutish or corrupted ones, novels insist on the continuities of mind and body and the multiplicity of taste. In this way, the novel also makes aesthetic theory relevant to a class of people previously ignored or disparaged by its elitism and exclusions. Fictional plots portray not only the ostensibly virtuous minds of the disinterested white male oligarchy but also those of women, the young, the morally suspect, the racially marked, and the poor. Indeed, the novel brings into contact and complicity those whose regimes of aesthetic pleasure and taste promise to sustain, direct, and improve social collectives and those whose eccentric genius, selfish passions, irrational associations, and mistaken judg-

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ments are thought to threaten their existence. In doing so, it complicates the categories of aesthetic theory, dramatizes their structural instability, and evaluates their moral and social efficacy. It is well known that anti-novel critics, both British and American, ferociously attacked the genre, emphasizing the heightened passions produced by its realistic form, the moral dangers of its purportedly unrealistic and immoral content, and even the leisure or idleness demanded by the act of novel-reading itself. Yet the moral critique of novels has often been misread as what Terence Martin calls “a case against the very idea of fiction . . . based ultimately on a mistrust of the imagination.”12 On the contrary, such critiques were typically grounded not in anti-aesthetic attitudes but in normative theoretical assumptions about aesthetic experience. Rather than condemning novels as works of imagination, they sought to censure their unregulated aesthetic engagements and effects. The Universal Asylum, for example, argues that “Novels not only pollute the imaginations of young women, but likewise give them false ideas of life, which too often make them act improperly.”13 At least two ideas are implicit in this critic’s argument. First, it assumes that novels are defined exclusively by images of unruly passion and narratives of illusion, excess, and seduction. In such books, “love is the only theme,” rendered through the “wit and invention of a luxuriant fancy” by authors who “take pleasure in making their characters act beyond nature.”14 Novels, that is, transcend the aesthetic boundaries of virtue and propriety. Second, through the corruption of mental association, the immoral nature of novels leads unavoidably to the immoral actions of readers. Their extravagantly “warm representations,” especially when consumed in the unregulated “privacy of retirement,” result in “exciting desires,” “leaving impure traces on the memory” and leading minds “into a wrong train of thinking.”15 Antinovel criticism thus figures novels and novel readers as promulgating “false ideas” instead of true ones, erroneous instead of correct associations and judgments, and selfish rather than social passions. Like Hamilton’s censure of Anti-Federalists, it deems both texts and their readers chimerical but assumes legitimate aesthetic alternatives. Cathy Davidson, following Martin, attributes the intellectual energy behind such criticism to the influence of Scottish Common Sense philosophy, which tended to reject metaphysical idealism for psychological realism.16 Yet two of the most popular Scots in America—Kames and Blair—advocated the moral efficacy of fiction on precisely this basis. In opposition to such thinkers as Hume and George Berkeley, Kames insists that “the objects of our external


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senses really exist in the way and manner we perceive.” But he also argues that the “ideal presence” of a compellingly written fictional narrative engages our emotions and makes us a spectator to events as powerfully as does the “real presence” of objective experience.17 As in a “waking dream,” the mind does not distinguish imaginary from actual sensations. Thus, so long as the images are “lively and accurate,” “it makes no difference whether the subject be a fable or a true history.”18 In fact, because their power to effect our emotions “depends on the vivacity of the ideas they raise,” Kames writes, “fable is generally more successful than history.”19 Whereas the latter tends to provoke a mere reflection on the facts, fiction is more persuasive than history because its representations are perceived by the mind as more real. In the context of Common Sense philosophy, then, Kames’s argument simultaneously affirms the truth of objective experience and declares fiction particularly well suited to representing it. By raising the passions, fiction educates our morality and trains us in habits of sympathy: its influence “strengthens the bond of society, and attracts individuals from their private system to perform acts of generosity and benevolence.”20 For these reasons, writes Blair, novels “furnish one of the best channels for conveying instruction, for painting human life and manners, for showing the errors into which we are betrayed by our passions, [and] for rendering virtue amiable and vice odious.”21 He praises the works of Defoe, Fielding, and especially Richardson—“the most moral of all our Novel writers”—for taking “a strong hold of the imagination” while offering “very useful instruction.” Although Blair distinguishes such novels from more “trivial performances” that “tend to dissipation and idleness,” his point is not that the latter are necessarily immoral but that they are “insipid” and thus can neither raise nor instruct the passions.22 If novels were vulnerable to criticism on moral grounds, their morality was defended on aesthetic grounds.23 Novels did not “pollute” the imagination, Kames and Blair argue, but engaged its highest powers. The “wit and invention of a luxuriant fancy” was not the source of their immorality but precisely what they required to be morally effective. Brown’s theory of fiction was consistent with these ideas in a number of ways. Above all, he saw novels as models of conduct, whose aesthetically compelling images and narratives commanded the sympathy of readers and encouraged moral action. As he writes in the Preface to Arthur Mervyn, “he who pourtrays examples of disinterestedness and intrepidity, confers on virtue the notoriety and homage that are due to it, and rouses in the spectators, the spirit of salutary emulation.”24 Like Kames, Brown believes that the novel made virtue appeal-

Charles Brockden Brown


ing because it turned readers into sympathetic “spectators” of moral action. Through imitations of social life, the novelist “rouses” the imagination, in this way both giving pleasure and creating positive associations. Brown called practitioners of this kind of writing “moral painters,” who, as he writes in the Preface to Wieland, “exhibit their subject in its most instructive and memorable forms.”25 In his most significant meditation on the theory of fiction, “Walstein’s School of History” (1799), he explains that to “illuminate the understanding, to charm curiosity, and sway the passions, required that events should be copiously displayed and artfully linked, that motives should be vividly depicted, and scenes made to pass before the eye.”26 The most effective fictions, that is, are those experienced by the reader as real. “Artfully linked” events in a literary narrative have the capacity to illuminate, charm, and sway because they resemble and conform to the associative processes of the mind. To say that “scenes pass before the eye” in fiction is to invoke the imagination’s ability to turn a series of words into one of images and ideas. Such a process enables the fictional historian to “inspire, at once, curiosity and belief, to fasten the attention, and thrill the heart.”27 Brown thus shares Kames’s view that the power of fictional history to imitate reality gives it an advantage over true history. In “The Difference Between History and Romance” (1800), he argues that fiction is superior to history because it portrays not only certainties but also probabilities. Fiction does not disavow the truth but aims to extend its scope.28 As Davidson and others have noted, many novels of the period claim to be “based on truth” or grounded in actual historical facts.29 But this rhetoric represents more a nod to novel readers and anti-novel critics than a commitment to factual authenticity. In the Preface to Wieland, Brown asserts that even a slight foundation in historical certainties gives the novelist license to pursue a host of probabilities: “If history furnishes one parallel fact, it is a sufficient vindication for the Writer.”30 In fact, most early American novels pursue not historical but moral truth. They seek not only to affect the passions, that is, but also to represent them, often in minute detail. The explicit objective of Brown’s fiction, as he writes in the Preface to Arthur Mervyn, is not merely to describe characters and events but to display “the influence of human passions and motives.”31 If his novels’ capacity to explore the probable extends their range of plots and themes, their focus on passions and motives extends this range even further to include the diverse forms and subtleties of emotion and feeling. They portray not only aesthetic and moral ideals or harmonious combinations of selfish and social passions but also the aberrations and ambiguities


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of mental experience. This is not to say that Brown’s novels have a morally neutral view of the imagination but rather that they assume the moral value of anatomizing its many manifestations. Brown refers to such passions and motives as the “springs of action,” which for Hutcheson signified the psychological origins of human behavior. In his Inquiry, he writes that “the Author of Nature has . . . made Virtue a lovely Form, to excite our pursuit of it; and has given us strong Affections to be the Springs of each virtuous Action.” Such springs are the aesthetic basis of the moral sense, the feelings of pleasure or pain that function, independent of the understanding, as “quick and powerful Instructions” to the will.32 The materiality implied by “springs,” however, suggested for some writers that they might be more than metaphors for immaterial forces but actually have a physical existence. Samuel Strutt’s Philosophical Enquiry into the Physical Springs of Human Action, and the Immediate Cause of Thinking (1732), for example, argues that, because all action arises from the contact of one body on another, human actions must be the effect of the material actions of the brain. For Strutt, the springs of action refer as much to biological as to moral origins and thus suggest that our thoughts and desires have an essentially physical nature. His notion of a structured, mechanistic, and potentially material foundation for passions and motives is a key intellectual context for understanding Brown’s oft-quoted Preface to Edgar Huntly (1799), in which he elaborates their significance for the American novel: “America has opened new views to the naturalist and the politician, but has seldom furnished themes to the moral painter. That new springs of action, and new motives to curiosity should operate; that the field of investigation, opened to us by our own country, should differ essentially from those which exist in Europe, may be readily conceived.” Whether or not Brown’s American exceptionalism describes original relations of society and literature, he argues that the “sources of amusement to the fancy and instruction to the heart, that are peculiar to ourselves” represent a “numerous and inexhaustible” range of aesthetic possibilities, ranging from mimetic pleasure to moral sentiment. But Brown implies that among these sources is the somnambulism of Huntly and the Irishman, Clithero Edny. His description of it as “one of the most common and most wonderful diseases or affections of the human frame” points to his understanding of the categorical intimacy of aesthetic pleasure and psychological disorder.33 His blurring of mental anomalies with the pleasures of “fancy” suggests that the “springs of action” be investigated as novelistic themes not only because they are original to

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American life but also because they represent the essential fluidity between the body and the mind. This continuity of imagination and mental disease reflects the twin poles of understanding that informed the theory of the imagination in the eighteenth century. Asking “whether the Power of Imagining Things strongly proceeds from any greater Perfection of the Soul, or from any nicer Texture of the Brain,” Joseph Addison summarizes the full range of conceptions that were available to Brown—from the lofty claims of romantic Platonism to the speculations of philosophical materialism.34 Advocates of the transcendent imagination, from Shaftesbury to Rousseau, explicitly rejected mechanistic theories of the mind and assumed that ideas were not only distinct from objects but divinely inspired expressions of innate morality and essential liberty. As a middle ground between idealism and materialism, empirical theories of the imagination affirmed its uniquely creative power and freedom from the logical order of reality, but their emphasis on the translation of sensory perceptions into imagined ideas betrayed the objective origins of thought. Indeed, empiricism’s material metaphors and implied notions of structure and divisibility readily suggested that the mind itself might have physical properties and that its ideas might be objects themselves, both material in substance and capable of actions and effects. For materialists like Strutt and David Hartley, such an idea meant that the mind’s perceptions, ideas, and judgments both existed as part of the physical world and were directly involved in creating and transforming it. Thus, Brown had access to multiple, contradictory ways of thinking about the imagination. He could see it as a supreme spiritual faculty or a complex physiological organ; but most often he saw it as something in between.35 Brown’s youthful writings, strongly influenced by his reading of Rousseau, often give an extreme expression of the former view. His first significant publication, a monologue called “The Rhapsodist” (1789), is narrated by one who “follows the dictates of [his] own inclination, into whatever seeming error, or absurdity, it might chance to lead [him].”36 Modeled on Rousseau’s Reveries of a Solitary Walker (1782), the wandering Rhapsodist is neither interested in “the commerce of the world” nor “compelled by the necessities belonging to his nature” because his imagination purports not to interact with earthly things.37 Likewise, many of Brown’s early letters construct a persona committed to a romantic mode of imaginative liberty that ostentatiously rejects material realities and social norms. In a 1792 letter to Joseph Bringhurst, he boasts of his intention to do little more than “mingle, with capricious


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eagerness and copiousness, the stream of Sentiment and fancy  .  .  .  [and] amuse my amiable correspondent with the air built Structures of a wild, undisciplined, intractable imagination.”38 Brown understood, however, that such an ideas, while personally compelling, had important limitations. First and foremost, they did not provide an effective means of living in the world. Because they assumed that thoughts were ultimately disconnected from objective experience, they left one particularly vulnerable to bouts of mental confusion.39 After suffering a “black moment of despair” and a “paroxism of frenzy,” for example, the Rhapsodist’s imagination becomes so “ungovernable” that he “frequently mistook the scene which was passing before [him] for the lively representation of a dream.”40 Although aesthetic theory privileged mental over sensual pleasures, such an assumption could be taken too far. Second, any purely spiritual idea of the imagination contradicted the progressive views of such thinkers as Nicholas de Condorcet and the Baron d’Holbach, whose challenge to the rigid distinctions of Cartesian dualism first impressed Brown in the early 1790s.41 Echoing Joseph Priestley’s Disquisitions Concerning Matter and Spirit (1792), he wrote in his journal around this time that “Mind and matter are the two grand divisions of science, but . . . in this life mind perhaps can never be considered in any other way than in conjunction with matter.”42 Finally, the infinite liberty of the transcendent imagination, while highly suitable for poetry, could not help Brown write the rational fictions that would make his reputation. If the Rhapsodist avoids “the commerce of the world” and “the necessities belonging to his nature,” the writer of novels is concerned with little else. By contrast, the associative imagination not only offered the moderate constraint of structure and logic, but its direct connection to objects and actions made it a more effective basis for representing social reality. Among the writers who first provoked Brown’s novelistic ambitions was Hartley, whose theory of association in Observations on Man (1749) seemed to confirm Strutt’s hypothesis by giving physiological form to psychological experience. Like Hume, Hartley argues that sensory impressions produce images and ideas that become linked, separated, and reassembled into trains of association. But he differs from Hume in proposing that the material source of perceptions implies the material nature of thoughts. Because “Sensations are conveyed to the Mind, by the Efficiency of corporeal Causes,” he writes, “the Powers of generating Ideas, and raising them by Association, must also arise from corporeal Causes.”43 Explicitly borrowing from Newton, he explains that the vibrations of a “white medullary substance” in the brain and nerves

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are the ultimate source of all ideas in the mind. Accordingly, combinations of vibrations “coalesce” into complex ideas; and whereas moderate vibrations produce feelings of pleasure, immoderate ones produce those of pain. For Brown, who like many readers probably came to Hartley’s work through Priestley’s 1775 abridgment, such ideas expressed a new confidence in the understanding of human thought. Thus, he notes that Constantia Dudley, the heroine of Ormond (1799), was educated not as a “musician or pencilist” but as a student in “the school of Newton and Hartley,” whose work taught her about the “structure and power of the senses” and “the principles and progress of human society.”44 But Hartley’s physiological theory of association also rendered the ideas of the mind more available to the descriptions of the moral painter. It provided fictional characters with a tangible language for the depiction of thoughts and feelings, while it imbued the mental springs of action with the same narrative significance as physical action. What was implicit in Hartley’s theory of association became explicit in the medical discourse of the imagination, which saw in its materiality the capacity to affect the body. For Hermann Boerhaave, the modernizing Dutch physician, the power of the imagination to influence the actions of the body was a function of sympathy. According to Boerhaave’s Academical Lectures (1707), extracted in the American Universal Magazine, one often “becomes healthy or sick from the dominion of the passion[s]” simply by witnessing and sympathizing with the apparent health or sickness of another. For Boerhaave, this “remarkable mutability of man” is not limited to the weak or particularly sensitive. Rather, he argues that the power of sympathy is so fundamental to the “structure of the body” that even “the most consistent man is subject to all sorts of mutability, if his string be touched.” In fact, if “the same string which is struck in a madman, should be struck in another, both would be equally mad.”45 Brown likely came to know of Boerhaave through his friend, John Davidson, a medical student. In an early letter to Davidson, Brown wrote encouragingly: “Go on my friend—perseverance shall level every obstacle before thee, and genius and Industry shall unite to place thee by the side of Borehaave [sic] and of [his disciple, Albrecht von] Haller.”46 But Brown also learned from fellow Friendly Club members and physicians, Elihu Hubbard Smith and Samuel Mitchell, to admire the “medical eloquence” for which Boerhaave was famous. Thus, in “The Rhapsodist,” his discussion of “cacoëthes scribendi, or itch of writing” as a “delirium of fancy, or ‘mania’” invokes “the spirit of the eloquent professor of Leyden.”47 Yet what perhaps made Boerhaave’s ideas most appealing to Brown the future


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novelist was their notion of the sympathetic imagination as a form of mental contagion. Where Hartley’s association merely links the mind with the body, Boerhaave understands it as capable of acting on other bodies as well. Thus, emotions like joy, sadness, and fear are not merely felt or expressed but take on an agency of their own, potentially circulating between individuals and across whole communities. Not unlike the yellow fever plague that terrorized Philadelphia in 1793, they become powerful forces that both inhabit characters and shape their social interactions; and like invisible microbes, their unpredictable effects serve to explore and test the moral integrity of those they touch. For Brown, this “mutability of man” was perhaps most persuasively elaborated in Erasmus Darwin’s Zoonomia, or the Laws of Organic Life (1794), which serves as his stated source for Theodore Wieland’s “mania mutabilis.” Darwin rejects the explicit mechanism of Boerhaave, insisting that mind and matter were distinct substances. In fact, he defines mental disease as an erroneous confusion of mind and matter: “mania” is a tendency to mistake “imaginations for realities” or affective “sensations” for physical “irritations.”48 Darwin’s understanding of such confusion, however, tends to conflate psychological anomalies with ordinary emotions. His survey of maladies not only includes such “diseases of association” as “sympathetic tears” and “trembling from anger” but also categorizes mania and sleepwalking along with more benign psychological conditions like “pity,” “sentimental love,” and “reverie.”49 Brown and his medical friends were avid readers of Zoonomia. Elihu Hubbard Smith, who helped to publish Volume One in New York in 1796, calls it “the best system of practice ever published”; but he also insists that “the prism of Darwin illuminated & beautified the dazzling reflection” of previous medical knowledge “with the primitive radiance of reason, & the rainbow hues of fancy.”50 Likewise, Brown took both a satirical and a serious attitude toward Darwin’s innovative classifications. In “The Man at Home” (1798), a fictional letter series, he regards the idea that love is a disease as “absurd,” suggesting that, “if it were true, the world may, at present, be regarded as one vast hospital.”51 But he also grants that when “carried to a morbid excess” love “cannot be denied to be a dangerous disease” and then offers several of his own, probably fictional case histories of “eratomania.”52 Thus, it appears that what most intrigued Brown about Darwin’s theory was its notion of the continuity between the pleasures and diseases of the imagination, the susceptibility of ordinary people to mental confusion, and the dramatic forms such confusion might take.

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Indeed, the medical discourse of the imagination and its theories of psychic disease were a significant source of popular narrative. The renown of Zoonomia was in large part based on its fascinating case studies of mental illness.53 Equally notable was De Viribus Imaginationis, an early seventeenth-century treatise by physician Thomas Feyens, which made a sudden reappearance in eighteenth-century miscellanies and magazines with its marvelous histories of “the force of imagination,” such as the story of a man who, believing himself too large to pass through a door, was forced through it by his physician and immediately died of imaginary agony.54 But American magazines also reprinted narratives evincing the “Power of Imagination” that were local in origin, like that of Elijah Barnes of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, who after mistakenly putting on his son’s smaller jacket became convinced he had been bitten by a rattlesnake and “swelled from the effects of the poison.”55 Some of the most widely circulated narratives derived from Isaac Disraeli’s Curiosities of Literature (1793), a fashionable, often extracted miscellany that offered tales collected from such works as Michel de Montaigne’s “Of the Power of the Imagination” (1574) and Nicolas Malebranche’s De la recherche de la vérité (1674). In one, a delirious fever patient is cured by “swimming” in an imaginary lake; and in another, a woman, after indulging her desire of “seeing a criminal broken on the wheel,” gives birth to a physically deformed child.56 What might appear to be merely sensational tales, however, were simultaneously understood as contributions to a vernacular scientific discourse. Upon reading Disraeli, for example, Smith noted in his journal the intention of dedicating “some future pages of this work & some future portion of my time, to the recollection, & insertion of . . . curious incidents in life, which have fallen under my own observation.”57 Force of imagination narratives, that is, sought to explain as well as to titillate the imagination. Although Brown’s fictional uses of psychic aberrations are well known, a less noticed example from Ormond helps to put the others in the context of the force of imagination genre. Excited by the “electrical effect” of sympathy for the French émigré Monrose family, Baxter, the husband of Constantia’s laundress, pays a midnight visit to their neighbors’ house, where he witnesses Ursula Monrose burying her father, whom he wrongly assumes has died of yellow fever. Struck by the intensity of this scene, Baxter immediately shows fever symptoms himself and dies the following week, in what Brown notes “may be quoted as an example of the force of imagination.”58 The point of this “example” for the novel, however, is anything but clear. In Constantia’s case, the story specifically claims to relate “circumstances [that] were nearly


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parallel” to her own; but although it becomes a “theme of ardent meditation,” such reflection produces only “unsatisfactory conjecture.”59 Brown briefly explains that Baxter’s panic had “probably” brought on the disease whose infection had taken place prior to this scene, but between this plausible explanation and the uncanny possibility of a death by sympathy there remains considerable uncertainty. Did sympathy actually cause the disease itself, or did it merely delude and agitate a man already infected? Is the tale meant to warn against excessive sympathy, or does it describe what can happen to even the most “consistent” person under the right circumstances? Again, the avowed purpose of force of imagination narratives was to be instructive as well as pleasurable. But they were repeatedly “quoted” in novels and reprinted in magazines and miscellanies precisely because their lack of any clear epistemological or moral status offered the pleasure of ambiguity.60

Impressions, Education, Pleasure The materialist implications of the imagination are at the heart of the theme of education in Brown’s novels, which like most of the period are a site of cultural debate about which models of pedagogy are most suitable for a republic.61 Ideas about education are important for the development of his characters and plots, but their chief narrative significance reflects a broader impulse to understand social and psychological experience in terms of the influences that shape it. For example, in Edgar Huntly, Edgar asks about the madness of Clithero: “Was it of no use to superintend his childhood, to select his instructors and examples?”62 Although Clithero’s insane “prepossessions” are said to be “the fruits of his earliest education, fostered and matured by the observation and experience of his whole life,” it is unclear if this refers to the “rudiments of knowledge” he learned from his humble Irish parents or his more extensive but socially ambiguous tutoring in the home of the wealthy Mrs. Lorimer.63 Thus, if Brown’s casual attribution of madness to early education remains a mystery, it represents a conventional anxiety about the uncertainties of educational psychology. Jay Fliegelman argues that late eighteenth-century Americans rejected the older tradition of scholastic education, which taught by precepts and authority, for the modern Lockean pedagogy based on sensationalistic principles and rendered by means of example and emulation.64 Such ideas were especially appealing to a rising commercial class that was free from the formalities of aristocratic life but determined to reproduce its economic and social success in its children. One of the effects

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of this change, however, was a new fear of bad examples. According to the principles of association, good examples would beget good ideas and actions, and bad would beget bad. As Holbach warns in Good Sense, or Natural Ideas (1772), “The brain of man, especially in infancy, is like soft wax, fit to receive every impression that is made upon it.”65 The young imagination, understood as especially vulnerable to “accidental” impressions, thus had to be both exposed to the most wholesome impressions and protected from the most sinister. Whether good impressions might be stronger than bad, or vice versa, however, and how long either might last, were questions whose lack of a definitive answer threatened to turn the moral order of Lockean sensationalism into nightmarish disorder. For whatever the malignant impressions Clithero received in his early years, and wherever and however he received them, Edgar assumes they spelled his doom from that very moment. Brown examines the mysterious nature of early impressions most thoroughly in Wieland. The religious mania of the elder Wieland is attributed to his accidentally encountering a work of French Camissard theology, at which point “the craving which had haunted him was now supplied with an object.”66 A generation later, the education of his children, Theodore and Clara, which occurred by “accident more than design,” taught them “most branches of useful knowledge,” including philosophy, literature, and music, but left them to be guided by “casual impressions,” none of which prepared them for the deceptions of Francis Carwin.67 However, as with Clithero, the moral tendency of these impressions is anything but clear. At the outset of the novel, Clara insists that her narrative “will exemplify the force of early impressions, and show the immeasurable evils that flow from an erroneous or imperfect discipline.”68 Still, we never learn whether these “early impressions” refer to those affecting the elder Wieland or his two children.69 Nor are we able to distinguish between the force of early impressions and that of later ones. Clara’s encounters with the manipulations of Carwin’s voice make “a deep impression on [her] fancy,” in this way perhaps altering her associations and capacity for judgment and changing the course of her life.70 But the relation of this impression to those of her “accidental” education is unspecified. Finally, not all early and forceful impressions are permanent in Wieland. As she attempts to understand Carwin’s enigmatic character, Clara asks, “What could have obliterated the impressions of his youth, and made him abjure his religion and his country?”71 Writing from Montpelier at the end of the novel, “a thousand leagues from my native soil, in full possession of life and of health, and not destitute of happiness,” Clara offers one answer


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to her question: “Such is man. Time will obliterate the deepest impressions.”72 But her overcoming of the force of early impressions, like Carwin’s, comes as a result not only of time but also of new impressions: “A swift succession of new objects, and the exclusion of every thing calculated to remind me of my loss, was the only method of cure.”73 If this resolution seems unpersuasive, it is because Clara’s new-found tranquility ultimately rests on the same unpredictable logic of impressions that led to her tragedy in the first place, her happiness being restored as arbitrarily and indefinitely as it was destroyed. So if Brown is making a point in Wieland about “the force of early impressions,” it is one that undermines the very terms with which it is made. Impressions imply the guarantee of material permanence, but they can be effaced or superceded over time. One must avoid “an erroneous or imperfect discipline,” but doing so promises no protection from accidental impressions and unknown influences. For Brown, this profound uncertainty has particular application to the problem of a specifically aesthetic education. In Ormond, for example, his aim appears to be a simple object lesson in the dangers of devoting oneself exclusively to the pleasures of art. At the outset of the novel, Stephen Dudley, a European-educated American artist and “disciple of the schools of Florence and Vicenza,” is forced by economic hardship to enter business, where he finds he loathes the “unvaried” work of a merchant because it leaves his “faculties . . . at a stand” and does not “exalt and harmonize the feelings.”74 After becoming wealthy, he abdicates his mercantile responsibilities to a scheming apprentice who robs him and leaves his family destitute. In poverty, Dudley’s artistic mind renders him virtually helpless and so vulnerable to his passions that during the ensuing yellow fever plague, as “his imagination marked him out for the next victim,” he verges on madness.75 In this way, Brown makes it clear that Dudley’s “education had entailed upon him many errors,” suggesting that the cost of preferring art to business in a commercial society is feebleness and suffering. By contrast, Dudley’s daughter Constantia “yielded nothing to caprice or passion.”76 As if foreseeing the ill effects of his own aesthetic education, he taught her “Tacitus and Milton” instead of “Petrarcha and Racine,” philosophy and science rather than music and drawing, that she might be “not alluring and voluptuous, but eloquent and wise.”77 With grace in wealth and fortitude in poverty, Constantia seems a paragon of practical republican virtue. What prevents Ormond from being a flat morality tale, however, is the way Brown undoes this neat correspondence of aesthetics and moral weakness. Constantia may be a good republican daughter, but she is as committed

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to the pleasures of the imagination as any heroine who freely indulges her passion for miniature portraits, ballad singing, and lute music. In good times and bad, Constantia’s pleasure and taste are invoked as often as ideas are painted, passions felt, and fancies thronged. Thus, when Brown introduces Ormond, the novel’s eponymous epicurean, his good taste, expansive charms, and bold ideas temporarily shake Constantia’s virtuous resolve. As she falls in love with an unknown man who keeps a mistress, opposes marriage, and insists that “the enjoyments of music and landscape were of a much higher order” than love, it is finally her powerful attraction to Ormond, as well as her lack of religious principles—the only “defect in her character [that] she owed to her father’s system of education”—that leave Constantia’s virtue so vulnerable.78 Sophia Courtland, the novel’s narrator, thus admits—with the gentle censure of a best friend—that, like everyone, Constantia is not “totally uninfluenced by sinister and selfish motives.”79 But it is less Constantia’s selfish passions than her socially oriented philosophical idealism, born of her Newtonian and Hartleian education, that makes her susceptible to Ormond. As a theorizing heroine whose opinions were “mutable, inasmuch as the progress of her understanding was incessant,” Constantia confounds distinctions between stolid virtue and dangerous radicalism and ceases to be the novel’s impenetrable moral rock.80 We cannot know whether speculative philosophy and lack of religious training or the dangerous impressions of Ormond’s influence are to blame for her vulnerability, but it is this less-constant Constantia who helps to frame the other ambiguous pedagogies of the novel. On the one hand, Helena Cleves, Ormond’s beautiful paramour, is an imaginative artist, trained in music and voice, but one whose “presence produced a trance of the senses rather than an illumination of the soul” and for whom “the heights of eloquence and poetry” were unattainable.81 These shortcomings are so sorely lamented by both Ormond and Constantia that it is finally unclear if Helena’s limited aesthetic powers are perceived as any more or less contemptible than the moral failing of her adultery. On the other hand, if Constantia pities Helena for the taste and mental pleasure she lacks, she admires Martinette, Ormond’s secret sister, for that which she enjoys. Martinette received a “classical and mathematical” education not unlike Constantia’s, but one whose augmentation by languages, politics, history, travel, and conversation with great writers makes her a revolutionary intellectual and citizen of the world, and leaves Constantia feeling “humiliation from comparing her own slender acquirements.”82 Yet Martinette’s education also enamors Constantia of a


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radical brand of cosmopolitanism that brings her even closer to Ormond’s atheistic worldliness and further from the early impressions of her practical instruction. Indeed, Ormond’s education remains an even greater problem for Constantia, for although she is dazzled by his refined taste and elevated ideals, and becomes his increasingly intimate partner in their “canvassing of theories,” she is never exactly sure about “the school, in which Ormond was probably instructed.”83 Brown describes his cultivated aesthetic sensibility and Godwinian tenets of sincerity and perfectibility early in the novel, but only in a later chapter does he hint at a military and diplomatic history and membership in the Bavarian Illuminati, the secret eighteenth-century European society of “schemers and reasoners, who aimed at the new-modelling of the world.”84 In shrouding Ormond’s origins, education, beliefs, and plans in doubtful mystery, and in conflating his aesthetics with his politics, Brown disguises both his true moral character and the troubling degree to which it may be consistent with Constantia’s disinterested benevolence and “love of excellence.” Before he becomes a would-be rapist and crazed killer, that is, his only real crime is a philosophical ambiguity that hits too close to home. These examples suggest that Brown’s apparent association of aesthetic pleasure with feebleness, wantonness, political radicalism, insanity, and murder must be understood in context. For beauty, art, and imagination are as important to his most virtuous characters as to his most vicious, and they are most dubious in his most dubious characters. In Arthur Mervyn (1799–1800), for example, Arthur admits to Doctor Stevens that “he lived merely for the sake of pleasure,” the species of which he “scarcely knew how to describe,” but which suggests the aimless reading and romantic wandering that produce habits of rash curiosity and faulty judgment.85 But faced with the challenges of fraud, poverty, and disease, Arthur’s hedonism is gradually subordinated to the demands of virtue and his recklessness reformed by the pursuit of more refined pleasures through the auspices of a wealthy wife. Yet even the most socially illegitimate uses of the imagination, such as Carwin’s “biloquism,” have their mitigating circumstances. In The Memoirs of Carwin (1803–5), Brown explains that young Carwin’s passionate literary yearnings faced insurmountable opposition from his penurious and narrow-minded father. Prohibited from pursuing the study of poetry, Carwin satisfies his aesthetic needs through the baser pursuit of ventriloquism. Brown’s unfinished novel thus offers an originary moment that explains Carwin’s vice as the unintentional perversion of legitimate creativity.86 But if corrupted imaginations can be reformed or excused, then what

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is the moral status of aesthetic pleasure in Brown’s novels? Consider again the example of Clara Wieland, whose paternal grandfather was known for “the fruitfulness of his invention” and “the soundness of his taste,” and whose home at Mettingen is, according to Carwin, where “all the muses and humanities had taken refuge.”87 Despite her passion for poetry, music, landscape, and polite conversation, Clara, like Constantia, is an “economist of pleasure” for whom “self-denial, seasonably exercised, is one means of enhancing our gratifications.”88 It is because of this highly disciplined aesthetic attitude and refusal of sensual pleasures that Clara’s first encounter with Carwin’s melodious voice is both so powerful and so dangerous. “I cannot pretend to communicate the impression that was made upon me by these accents,” she confesses, “or to depict the degree in which force and sweetness were blended in them. They were articulated with a distinctness that was unexampled in my experience. But this was not all. The voice was not only mellifluent and clear, but the emphasis was so just, and the modulation so empassioned, that it seemed as if an heart of stone could not fail of being moved by it. It imparted to me an emotion altogether involuntary and incontroulable.”89 Although the impressions made by Carwin’s voice, we soon discover, are finally stronger than those of the education and experience that have produced her aesthetic sensibility, Clara’s description of it is precisely in the language of beauty, aesthetic pleasure, and disinterested judgment. Emphasizing both formal contrasts and her powerful emotional response to them, it not only claims that others hearing the same sounds would feel the same pleasure, but it also suggests that her pleasure is enhanced by the knowledge that it is shared. Which is to say that the exact moment when Clara is most susceptible to the impressions of Carwin’s voice is also when she is least aware of any danger and most confident in the benign fellowship of the world around her. Although it is cruelly punished, her experience of pleasure and sympathy is entirely virtuous. Before her judgment turns to erotic fascination and she becomes the victim of deceit and confusion, that is, her imagination is both at liberty and harmoniously reconciled to a universal community of taste. Thus, Clara’s encounter with Carwin’s voice suggests that Brown’s characters experience the possibilities of the imagination in highly contingent ways. This is why his most conspicuous tools of aesthetic culture—voices, pens, manuscripts, books, portraits, and musical instruments—are multivalent, often mobile tokens of both virtue and vice, pleasure and deception. In his Memoirs of Stephen Calvert (1799–1800), the novels of Mademoiselle Scuderi


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are apparently virtuous reading for upright Louisa, but in the hands of romantic Felix, they purport to fashion “an ignominious life, and a shameful end.”90 In Arthur Mervyn, depending on the context, books are sources of pleasure and improvement, “cold and lifeless instructors,” deceptive hiding places, and even sexualized expressions of moral guilt.91 In Ormond, Constantia’s beloved miniature portrait of her friend, Sophia, and Dudley’s prized lute possess both intrinsic and symbolic value, which appears to diminish when, pawned to pay back rent, they become mere articles of economic exchange. Yet both objects reappear in the novel to function as mediations of sympathy between virtuous and refined women. The portrait is initially sold for its frame to a goldsmith, then to a young libertine who fraudulently claims the love of its subject, but it finally leads Constantia to a boarding house where she discovers Sophia playing on a harpsichord. Similarly, the lute reemerges when Constantia most needs a “companion fitted to partake in all her sympathies,” thereby introducing her to Martinette, who first purchases it from the pawnbroker, then returns it at Constantia’s request, then accepts it once again, both women enjoying with each exchange the priceless pleasures of music and sentiment in an otherwise relentlessly market-driven society.92

Association, Causality, Narrative The general fluency of Brown’s characters in the principles of association allows them to express their pleasures with philosophical clarity, explain their ideas with logical coherence, and struggle confidently in the face of conflict and change. In Ormond, for example, Constantia does “not form her resolutions in haste” but trusts to the moral guide of association to determine things rightly: “Every thing is progressive in the human mind. When there is leisure to reflect, ideas will succeed each other in a long train, before the ultimate point be gained.”93 Likewise, with a self-assurance bordering on bravado, Arthur Mervyn insists that a highly associative nature distinguishes him from others: “My existence is a series of thoughts rather than of motions. Ratiocination and deduction leave my senses unemployed. The fulness of my fancy renders my eye vacant and inactive. Sensations do not proceed and suggest, but follow and are secondary to the acts of my mind.”94 In both cases, the language of association gestures to the mental autonomy of the character that uses it. By invoking the construction of their thoughts, they claim the ability to manage and direct ideas independent of the objects and impressions that created them.

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But their confidence in such liberty of the imagination does not go untested. Arthur’s assertions echo the romantic rhetoric of Brown’s early letters in their characterization of him as one who imagines himself free from physical sensations. The equation of his “existence” with his “thoughts” erases his body and shows him to be so disconnected from sensible things and actions that he seems to be propelled through the landscape of his narrative more by his own unique train of ideas than by responding to the immediate world around him. Arthur’s boasting thus points to the limits of the transcendent imagination in fiction. For in Brown’s novels, trains of ideas often follow rather than precede sensations. Like springs of action, they are metaphorical units of ideation too close to the impressions that produce them to elude their material origins. Thus, when sick with yellow fever and exhausted from swimming across the Schuylkill, Arthur’s “acts of the mind” do not liberate him but leave him debilitated by mental confusion: “The transactions of the last three days, resembled the monstrous creations of delirium. They were painted with vivid hues on my memory; but so rapid and incongruous were these transitions that I almost denied belief to their reality. They exercised a bewildering and stupifying influence on my mind, from which the meditations of an hour were scarcely sufficient to relieve me.”95 The events of the material world have impinged on Arthur’s associative freedom. As in “The Rhapsodist,” his experience of objective reality becomes like the “lively representation of a dream.” Struggling to follow a “rapid and incongruous” train of ideas regulated by a chimerical logic, he is not disconnected from the sensible world but unable to distinguish between his thoughts and reality. Physical “transactions” have merged with mental “transitions,” conflating a series of events with a series of ideas. For Arthur, the contradictions inherent in the idea of the imagination yield both a mind and a narrative characterized by what Clara Wieland calls “ambiguities, abruptnesses, and dark transitions.”96 In an influential essay on Wieland, Mark Seltzer explores the merging of idea and action in Brown’s fiction, arguing that Clara’s obsessive tendency to explain herself and her circumstances registers a narrative need for causal connections. As her causal language becomes the narrative event itself, he argues, it elides the difference between “exterior events” and “internal states.”97 Seltzer’s analysis persuasively explains the formal idiosyncrasies of Clara’s narrative. But it too vaguely attributes their impetus to Brown’s “hesitation and uncertainty” about the production of novels. 98 Although theories of association certainly foreground the logical connection of ideas and events, the urgency of Clara’s


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narrative suggests a problem that is as much metaphysical as epistemological. Whereas Seltzer cites Tzvetan Todorov to describe the “fantastic” causality of Wieland, a more appropriate source is William Godwin’s Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793), extracts of which Brown read in the New-York Magazine. Influenced by association theory himself, Godwin’s chief premise is that “human affairs, through every link of the great chain of necessity, are admirably harmonised and adapted to each other.99 His “principle of necessary causality,” which posits the systematic connection of all human events, even extends to the processes of the mind: “The theory of the human mind is properly, like the theory of every other series of events with which we are acquainted, a system of mechanism . . . a regular succession of phenomena without any uncertainty of event, so that every consequent requires a specific antecedent.”100 Godwin’s idea of necessary causality thus lays the groundwork for his radical politics by assuming that the mind’s rational discovery of truth would ultimately yield social perfection. Although Brown was fascinated by causality, and at least for a time caught up in the late-century vogue of utilitarian utopianism, he was also troubled by its implicit contradiction between determinism and liberty. If necessary causality regulated both history and the ideas of the mind toward the perfectibility of man, it seemed to do so according to an unswerving moral law that subordinated the freedom of individual thought and action to the greatest good.101 When Brown describes Ormond’s vision of the world as “a series of events, connected by an undesigning and inscrutable necessity,” he expresses a dangerously deterministic view of history in which individuals, in spite of their efforts, play no part other than that which is assigned to them.102 But Clara’s need for causal connections, like Arthur’s fusing of physical transactions and mental transitions, indicates a less polemical, more experimental engagement with the terms of necessary causality. It reflects not only Brown’s desire for a world whose disparate elements are “admirably harmonised and adapted to each other” but also his uncertainty about the moral viability of such a world. Accordingly, Brown’s novels use the language of causality and association both to explain the mind’s processes and to explore the effects of its errors. In Edgar Huntly, for example, after Clithero accidentally murders Arthur Wiatte, the beloved but evil brother of Mrs. Lorimer, instead of feeling relieved by the demise of a villain, he determines that “in the long catalogue of contingencies” his fatal encounter with Wiatte was the work of some “unconscious necessity.” Clithero’s belief in its inevitability then effects a singular transformation of the processes of association in his mind: “Previous

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to [Wiatte’s death] I was calm, considerate, and self-collected. I marked the way that I was going. Passing objects were observed. If I adverted to the series of my own reflections, my attention was not seized and fastened by them. I could disengage myself at pleasure, and could pass, without difficulty, from attention to the world within, to the contemplation of that without. Now my liberty was at an end. I was fettered, confounded, smitten with an excess of thoughts, and laid prostrate with wonder.”103 Prior to his conviction of necessary causality, Clithero’s mind is marked by the highest form of liberty. His easy negotiation of internal and external worlds seems not only as effective as Constantia’s but even suggests the idealized perceptual freedom from objects of which Arthur Mervyn boasts. But after an “excess of thoughts” disrupts and distorts his associative logic, Clithero’s imagination is “confounded” and “fettered” beyond his control. As his “Conjecture” about Wiatte “deepened into certainty,” and his “fancy began to be infected with the errors of [his] understanding,” the necessary causality of events impels a runaway train of associations.104 By an extraordinary set of compound overdeterminations, Clithero concludes that his murder of Wiatte was somehow both intentional and a measure of his ingratitude toward his patroness, Mrs. Lorimer; that, given the unusual consanguinity of the siblings, she will now die also; and that, to save her the pain of discovering her brother’s death, he is morally obligated to kill her himself. Clithero’s associative madness, however, is also symptomatic of the less definable mental condition that informs the novel as a whole. Although Edgar declares that Clithero’s corrupted train of ideas and irrational conclusions represent “a deplorable infatuation,” he mirrors Clithero’s belief in causality when he describes such errors as “the necessary result of a series of ideas mutually linked and connected.”105 In fact, after Edgar hears the sad tale of Clithero’s life, he begins to mimic sympathetically his chaotic associative trains. Trapped in a cave somewhere in the rugged wilds of Pennsylvania, Edgar suffers a “species of delirium” as if “in a wakeful dream,” while “images of the past occurred in capricious combinations, and vivid hues.”106 As he tries to narrate such events retrospectively, too, he complains that “One image runs into another, [and] sensations succeed in so rapid a train” that he can only offer a “glimpse of the truth.”107 Of course, Edgar imitates not only Clithero’s associative chaos but also his sleepwalking, which may be seen as a metaphorical manifestation of the confusion of physical and mental causality. That is, sleepwalking represents the simultaneous and indistinguishable trains of ideas and events that are driven by an unconscious (if not “undesigning and inscrutable”) necessity, or an abandoning


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of mental liberty to the fetters of associative “delirium.”108 By the end of the novel, this confusion has wreaked such general havoc that, as Sarsefield, Mrs. Lorimer’s exiled lover, surveys the wake of destruction caused by Clithero’s madness, and implicitly by both Edgar’s errors and his own, he declares that “[c]onsciousness itself is the malady; the pest; of which he only is cured who ceases to think.”109 It is certainly reasonable to read such language as reflecting Brown’s pessimism about the capacities of the mind. But such a reading might be challenged on at least two counts. For one, according to Brown, novels by definition represent characters struggling against disorder. As he explains in “Walstein,” their chief aim is to explore the morality of social crisis or to produce a “model of right conduct” by “exhibiting a virtuous being in opposite conditions.”110 Despite the explanatory rhetoric of early impressions, the corrupted trains of association that plague Clara, Arthur, Clithero, and Edgar are circumstantial, set into motion by extraordinary events. Each is, in Boerhaave’s terms “consistent” but “subject to all sorts of mutability, if his string be touched.” Moreover, the ability they have to narrate their own struggles is the mark of a powerful mental faculty rather than a corrupted one. Although Brown’s narrators often possess disordered minds and are highly conscious of their limitations, their capacity to recount complex trains of events and ideas, even those that are themselves irrational or destructive, suggests not only an ordered but an ordering imagination. In a probably fictional 1793 letter to “Susan Godolphin,” Brown explains this procedure in explicitly Godwinian terms: “It is the province of Imagination to descend from causes to effects: to trace a particular series of Consequences to an unlimited extent, and to paint them not merely as possible but real.”111 But even after Brown had given up reading Godwin and writing novels, he applied this faith in imagination and causality to history. As he writes in the 1807 American Register: “Political transactions are connected together in so long and various a chain, that a relater of contemporary events is frequently obliged to carry his narration somewhat backward, in order to make himself intelligible.  .  .  .  An active imagination is apt to carry us very far backward . . . and he may be said to be imperfectly acquainted with the last link, who has not attentively scrutinized the very first in the series, however remote it may be.”112 For Brown, then, if the imagination is susceptible to the kind of corruption that threatens societies, it also remains critical to understanding them. For his narrators, it represents not only irrational forces but also “intelligible” and “active” ones. If their minds are sometimes confused or flawed, they are also capable of telling

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compelling stories by producing images, ideas, and events that are “copiously displayed and artfully linked.”

Transitions, Transformations, Revolutions So far in this chapter, I have argued that Brown’s understanding of the imagination is troubled by a theoretical contradiction concerning the ontological status of the image. As a transcendent act of the mind, the image signals the potentially infinite autonomy of the imagining subject, but as an object in the mind, its implicit structure or materiality limits this autonomy by either directing (or misdirecting) the mind’s train of thoughts or confounding it with the matter it conceives. Accordingly, I have described Brown’s representations of impressions, pleasure, and association as epistemologically and morally ambiguous or indeterminate. In some cases, they appear to enable a character’s ability to think and act freely, to confront adversity, or to tell a story, and in others they seem to render such experiences profoundly chaotic. It would be more accurate, however, to say that Brown’s novels represent the imagination’s dialectical drama of liberty and constraint. Pleasures of the mind often ennoble before they deceive; trains of association and judgments of taste typically affirm before they confuse; and Brown’s narrative lens focuses less on the result of these changes than on the changes themselves. Wieland explores not only Clara’s stepwise degeneration from an independent aesthete to a traumatized victim but also her difficult reconstitution as the narrator of her family’s tragedy. Likewise, Edgar Huntly examines not only the frenzied nocturnal trials of sympathetic sleepwalkers but also their rational diurnal attempts at confession and self-examination. Brown’s representations of the imagination, that is, are portraits not of fixed mental types but of the mind at work. In the early 1790s, as he was embarking on his writing career, Brown took seriously Godwin’s belief that “man is in a state of perpetual mutation,” that material forms, minds, and social institutions grew either better or worse but were always subject to continual change.113 Parroting Godwin, his letter to “Susan Godolphin” explains: “The whole universe is in constant flux or perpetual mutation . . . in this endless progress, the same atom of matter may pass through every possible Combination, the whole circle of possibilities may be exhausted, and perhaps the same coincidents & combinations frequently repeated.” According to this premise, “every possible modification of human society and of individual mind may, at some period or other be


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called into being.”114 For Brown this notion of transformation is more than a philosophical abstraction; it applies to imagination and literary creation. Although material or social “modifications” might at some point appear as logical effects of discernible causes, they might also be “called into being” by an author. Thus, he concludes, the “sublime visions of imagination may do more than scale the past or anticipate the future.”115 That is, they are also capable of conceiving and representing utterly new and thoroughly transformed worlds. Such visions are “sublime” because they both unsettle and empower their creators. But as the literary tableau of the moral painter, their combinations of all forms of mind and matter are not a cause of social anxiety but an object of creative exhilaration. To be sure, this speculative view seems more befitting of the romantic Brown of “The Rhapsodist.” But, again, he did not abandon it as he matured. In his 1804 essay, “The Distinction Between Poetry and Prose,” he enumerates the transformative powers of the imagination: “By the aid of memory, and the power of association, to give birth to imaginary beings, to transfer the powers of one being to another, to people any part of the universe with new forms, to call up spectres from the deep, to bring down divinities from heaven, and even to bestow personal existence on abstract ideas; these wonders fancy can perform.”116 The imagination, Brown suggests, is itself an engine of transformation; its ability to recombine images and ideas means that its productions are often visions of elaborately altered worlds. Although Bredahl asserts that in Brown’s writing “the rational mind . . . sees transformation only in negative terms,” a broader view of his conceptions of material, aesthetic, and social change suggests that it can take on multiple moral valences.117 As we have seen, Brown often invokes the transformative power of imagination in terms of what he calls “transitions.” Arthur Mervyn’s “rapid and incongruous transitions” and Clara Wieland’s “ambiguities, abruptnesses, and dark transitions” signify unexpected mental and narrative shifts that function as symptoms of a distorted logic of association and reflect a chaotic material or social reality. Yet as signs of imaginative change, transitions also invoke the miraculous metamorphoses of myth and fiction with which Brown’s characters are apt to compare and confuse their own experiences in ways that are less clearly negative.118 Consider two prominent examples. When Arthur contemplates his abrupt change in social status—from a penniless rustic to a well-dressed guest in Thomas Welbeck’s mansion—he asserts: “I have read of transitions effected by magic: I have read of palaces and deserts which were subject to the domination of spells: Poets may sport

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with their power, but I am certain that no transition was ever conceived more marvelous and more beyond the reach of foresight, than that which I had just experienced. Heaths vexed by a midnight storm may be changed into an hall of choral nymphs and regal banqueting; forest glades may give sudden place to colonnades and carnivals. . . . These miracles are contemptible when compared with that which placed me under this roof and gave me to partake in this audience.”119 Arthur claims not that his transition is literally miraculous—it can be explained by the circumstances he has narrated—only that it seems impossible and is entirely unexpected. His hyperbole thus offers evidence of his inexperience and naïveté. If such things ever happened before, his words suggest, he has never heard of them. But he has read of “magic” and “spells,” and, like a poet, his explanation aims precisely to “sport with their power.”120 In fact, the comparative forms of imaginative transition he cites figure trajectories of upward mobility—from inauspicious or uncultivated spaces to scenes of pleasure and magnificence—that mimic his own. The fact that he soon discovers this transition to be, like Welbeck’s wealth, an illusion suggests that it is, like magic and spells, a false promise of liberty and not to be trusted. But his protestation of innocence also seems to mask both a belief in the miraculous power of transitions and a determination to become something other than what he is. Although he claims it could not be foreseen, his transition presages the substantial affluence that will later come with marriage. If Arthur cannot turn stormy heaths into banquet halls, that is, he can learn how to transform his life for the better. In Edgar Huntly, the rhetoric of magical transitions is less metaphorical, serving not to rationalize the unexpected but to explain the inexplicable. Having survived a series of violent and mysterious ordeals, Edgar discovers in a neighbor’s house a packet letters that had unaccountably disappeared and declares: “Few, perhaps, among mankind have undergone vicissitudes of peril and wonder equal to mine. The miracles of poetry, the transitions of enchantment, are beggarly and mean compared with those which I had experienced: Passage into new forms, overleaping the bars of time and space, reversal of the laws of inanimate and intelligent existence had been mine to perform and to witness.”121 Edgar’s shock at discovering the letters provokes his reference to a pattern of inexplicable events, each of which has baffled his thoughts and constrained his actions. Although the novel finally clarifies these “vicissitudes of peril and wonder” as matters of fact, for Edgar they are understandable only in the interpretive framework of fiction. If he denigrates the transitions of literature as inferior to those of his own experience, this


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only serves to exalt the idea of transition itself. That is, Edgar’s transitions have traumatized him, but they have also opened his eyes to modes of existence beyond his ken: a world unencumbered by “laws” and “bars,” in which bodies are not fixed but fluid. Thus, if the narration of such unexampled prodigies subjects him to the discipline of Sarsefield’s rational critique, it also exemplifies his belief in the liberating power of transitions. For not unlike the “abrupt transitions” Brown admired in picturesque landscapes, Edgar’s transitions produce not only the constraints of “peril and wonder” but also a form of aesthetic liberty, such that we do not finally know if, in comparing them to the transitions of poetry, he is complaining or boasting.122 Brown’s preferred word for the “passage into new forms” is, of course, “transformation,” which in Wieland’s ominous subtitle immediately suggests Theodore Wieland’s psychological fall from devoted father and pious classicist to homicidal lunatic. While there is perhaps little redeemable in this unequivocally tragic transformation, it is, like Edgar’s transitions, nevertheless indefinite about the status of its origins and effects. According to the novel’s Preface, Theodore’s “delusion” is a matter of science and medical fact, “extraordinary and rare” perhaps but not “miraculous.” In support of this claim, Brown appeals to “Physicians and to men conversant with the latent springs and occasional perversions of the human mind,” as well as to an “authentic case, remarkably similar,” which many scholars have supposed to be that of James Yeats, the New York farmer who murdered his family under a “religious delusion.”123 Later in the novel, Clara’s physician uncle, Thomas Cambridge, authoritatively confirms this diagnosis of “sudden madness,” but suggests that, in fact, it is not at all rare: “many cases, equally remarkable, have occurred. . . . They are all reducible to one class, and are not more difficult of explication and cure than most affections of our frame.”124 Cambridge’s reference to “class” is specifically taxonomical, for here Brown adds a clarifying footnote: “Mania Mutabilis. See Darwin’s Zoonomia, vol. ii. Class III. 1. 2. where similar cases are stated.”125 As we have seen, such a diagnosis discovers a defect of the senses or a tendency to mistake affective “sensations” for physical “irritations.” But the notion of sensory dysfunction also pervades the novel’s amateur explanations of Theodore’s transformation. Henry Pleyel assumes that his friend’s first encounter with mysterious voices is caused by “a deception of the senses.” Clara agrees, warning that it “argued a diseased condition of his frame, which might show itself hereafter in more dangerous symptoms.”126 After committing the gruesome murders of his wife and children, escaping from prison in pursuit of his sister, and then hearing Carwin’s

Charles Brockden Brown


confession of “contrivance,” Theodore, too, admits that “If I erred, it was not my judgment that deceived me, but my senses.”127 Somewhere in the circuits of his mind, they all want to believe, something in the process by which sense perceptions are converted into ideas went terribly wrong. But is Theodore’s condition the result of the brain’s perceptual failure or of a spiritual power that disregards the laws of nature? Is his imagination weighed down by diseased materiality, or does it transcend earthly objects? Despite her uncle’s wisdom and her own judgment, Clara is never quite certain “whether Wieland was a maniac, a faithful servant of his God, the victim of hellish illusions, or the dupe of human imposture.”128 Theodore, too, is unsteady in his conviction of the origins of his transformation. According to his courtroom allocution, he deems the murder of his wife “a moment of triumph,” one in which he “successfully subdued the stubbornness of human passions” and “soared above frailty.”129 During his moment of divine communication, his “contemplations soared above earth and its inhabitants,” after which he is “dazzled” by a “luminous and glowing” light and sees the “lineaments” of God.130 But even these expressions of confidence in the mind’s transcendence are subject to reversals into materiality, as when, after recognizing the wife he has just murdered, “the breadth of heaven that sustained me was withdrawn, and I sunk into mere man.”131 His transformation thus reflects the problem of the imagination itself. Whether the voice he hears is the effect of spiritually derived forces or physically produced and sensible sounds remains as uncertain as whether his madness is an enigmatic condition of the mind or an empirically discernible disease of the brain. With Wieland, then, Brown makes a contribution to the literary tradition of “force of imagination” narratives. But he also figures psychological transformation as a nonlinear process marked by the vicissitudes of conviction and confusion, liberty and constraint. In fact, in Wieland’s final use of the word, “transformation” signifies the opposite of its previous meanings. When disabused by Carwin of his belief in the divine order to kill his family, Theodore is “transformed at once into the man of sorrows!” As he is “restored to the perception of truth” and takes his own life, his last and most significant transformation is from irrationality to reason.132 Most of the rhetoric of psychological transformation in Wieland, of course, concerns Clara, whose mental self-description and progressive confusion dominate her narration and exemplify its depiction of the passions at work. The process of Clara’s transformation is protracted, varying, and diffuse, but it can be schematized in terms of two pivotal moments in the


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novel. After her first encounter with Carwin’s voice, she begins to question her otherwise strong judgment and disciplined imagination. In the face of “perplexity and doubt,” she supposes her readers will “believe that calamity has subverted my reason, and that I am amusing you with the chimeras of my brain, instead of facts that have really happened.”133 Later, toward the end of the novel, after hearing her uncle’s diagnosis of Theodore’s mania, she asks the daunting question: “Was I not likewise transformed from rational and human into a creature of nameless and fearless attributes?”134 In the first moment, Clara’s confusion suggests the possibility of mental disorder, in which the representation of logically organized images and ideas is replaced by monstrously recombined ones. In the second, she describes herself as the chimera she predicted she was becoming, as if the confused ideas produced by her mind have distorted both her mental identity and her physical body. Her transformation is thus, like her brother’s, marked by a confusion between the fantastical and the real, the spiritual and the corporeal. Yet Clara retains the power to illustrate in detail both the chimeras of her brain and the chimera she is becoming. Her narrative is rich in its representation of malleable perceptions and shifting feelings and frequently embellished with the dramatic reversals in which the transactions of Wieland’s plot frame the corresponding transitions of her mind. A brief survey of such passages demonstrates this tendency: “The storm that tore up our happiness, and changed into dreariness and desert the blooming scene of our existence, is lulled into grim repose”; “but alas! This and every other scheme of felicity and honor, were doomed to sudden blast and hopeless extermination”; “All unaware, and in a manner which I had no power to explain, I was pushed from my immovable and lofty station, and cast upon a sea of troubles”; “Thus fallen into ruins was the gay fabric I had reared! Thus had my golden vision melted into air!”; “All happiness and dignity must henceforth be banished from the house and name of Wieland.”135 Clara’s language of affective peripeteia may represent what Christopher Looby calls “post-revolutionary nostalgia,” a conservative reaction to the “epistemological and linguistic undoing” of the status quo that gives value and order to otherwise degraded social conditions.136 The dramatic pairings of antitheses and Shakespearean figures of loss and despair testify to the depth of Clara’s disempowerment even as they invoke authoritative modes of suffering. But like Wheatley’s abrupt expulsion from the “pleasing views” of imagination and Crèvecoeur’s sublime convulsions, they also plot the arc of transformation, giving sensible form to the fragile proximity of aesthetic liberty and constraint.

Charles Brockden Brown


Despite or perhaps even because of its tendency toward violent disruption, transformation for Brown is at the heart of imaginative work and therefore potentially constructive and liberating. This idea is suggested by what may be the most mysterious of all transformations in his fiction, Felix’s anticipated but never realized “revolution” of the heart in the unfinished Stephen Calvert. At the conclusion of a plot driven largely by the callow youth’s chronic inability to judge the beauty and virtue of two very different women and his habit of making wildly capricious decisions based on incomplete information (both the ostensible effect of a “speculative education”), his reputation for duplicity is suddenly repaired by the discovery of a long-lost identical twin brother. This impending reunion has seemed to some critics the hasty error of returning to the gothic theme of divided selfhood in a narrative that had largely become a rational fiction.137 But Felix’s anticipation of this moment of recognition may in fact be an apt conclusion to a crisis of imagination that has troubled him from the beginning. Left alone to contemplate the news, he declares, in the final lines of the novel: “My heart throbbed as if I were on the eve of some fatal revolution. The suddenness of this occurrence, the meeting with a brother so long severed from my side, and whose mode of birth made him, in some sort, an essential part of myself, seemed like passage into a new state of being.”138 To be sure, in the late 1790s, with the excesses of the Reign of Terror still in the minds of many Americans, the idea of a “fatal revolution” invokes the violent tendencies of radical thought and action. For Brown, in particular, it might echo the pro-Revolutionary violence committed against the Philadelphia Quaker community—including his own father—during the early years of the American Revolution.139 Moreover, while little is known about Felix’s brother, he is suspected of being morally bankrupt, the kind of figure whose appearance might undo an already unstable young man. If this revolution is invoked as potentially fatal, however, this may be because it also promises to kill off the old Felix and give birth to a new, perhaps better one. His heart seems to beat sympathetically at the possibility of being reunited not only with a brother but with a lost part of himself. His “passage into a new state of being” recalls Edgar Huntly’s magical “passage into new forms” and evokes a transition equally oblique but just as potentially liberating. In a world that for Felix is “eternally producing what, to our precipitate judgment, are prodigies, anomalies, monsters,” the image of himself reunited with his brother suggests the possibility of an aesthetic integrity that has long eluded him.140 In fact, we have a small clue to the passage’s significance in one of Brown’s 1792 letters to Bringhurst, which concludes by admitting


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that a disciplined exertion of his otherwise immature creative powers would require a “very great and unexpected revolution in my heart.”141 Seven years later, at the height of Brown’s literary productivity, it is certainly plausible that the revolution of the heart he imagines for Felix might similarly be the fulfillment rather than the obliteration of his mental life. While it is true that Felix’s narrative is cut short and left to puzzle readers with the significance of a revolution that does not occur, its effect is to leave him facing a moment of self-transformation whose indeterminacy says as much about the possibility of a new state of being as it does the stability of a political state.142

The Aesthetic State Brown’s critics have often read in his theme of psychological transformation a reflection on the political volatility of the United States in the 1790s, what Fliegelman calls a correlation between “the fallibility of the human mind and  .  .  .  democracy itself.”143 After all, most of Brown’s fictional communities similarly suffer the disruption or destruction that afflicts the minds of their inhabitants. Wieland’s rural Mettingen is finally obliterated by violence, death, and fire; Edgar Huntly’s picturesque Pennsylvania woods are traumatized by merciless warfare between Indians and settlers; and the Philadelphia of Arthur Meryvn and Ormond is the anarchic scene of disease, disorder, and immorality. Any simple equation of mental upheaval and political failure, however, is a limited reading of the “broad historical transformation” Fliegelman describes as the post-Revolutionary social context for Brown’s work: “the shift from a world that assumed stable forms and fixed relations between appearance and reality and between man and society to a world sensitive to shifting values, deceptive appearances, mixed motives.”144 To be sure, Brown wrote in a time of intense ideological conflict, social change, and speculative philosophy, which recast and revalued conventional beliefs and perspectives. If his writing is “sensitive” to such conflicts, however, it is also sensible of them, interested in illustrating their manifestations and implications, which may be why Brown’s politics are so notoriously difficulty to pin down. His novels represent not only healthy communities succumbing to contagion and corruption, but also helpless ones struggling to be effective, and violated ones cooperating in the restoration of order and liberty. They depict less the ends than the means of social transformation. If Brown’s representations of imagination fail to predict the breakdown of a corrupt or fragile society, they sometimes even register its relative strength

Charles Brockden Brown


and integrity. The pursuit of aesthetic education and pleasure in Wieland, Ormond, and Stephen Calvert bears witness to the crucial role of the imagination in the moral and social reformation of Anglo-American culture. The language of association and sympathy in Edgar Huntly and Arthur Mervyn serves to comprehend the faculties of perception, ideation, and judgment and to reconcile the passions and motives of the individual to moral norms and political imperatives. Such an optimistic correlation of the power of aesthetics to shape politics certainly had philosophical currency during the period of Brown’s career as a novelist. In his On the Aesthetic Education of Man (1794), Schiller argues that “the aesthetic state” is the culmination of a collective struggle at the end of which each individual “emancipates himself ” from the “dominion of nature” through the aesthetic sense.145 According to Schiller, such individuals are initially enslaved by sensualism and appetite, but through the cultivation of the pleasures of the imagination they bridge the gap between sensible perception and abstract reason. As a result, they translate their aesthetic liberty into harmonious social relations and a political state in which allegiance to the law is a matter not of coercion but of an internalized, pleasurable sense of duty. Although Brown had no direct experience with Schiller’s version of Kantian idealism, his novels often represent the mental struggle articulated in it: perceiving subjects enslaved by the “dominion of nature” but devoted to the pleasures of imagination, the cultivation of which they hope will realize their essential liberty. If Brown’s tragic plots and characters seem to reflect his skepticism about the possibility of such liberty, it is because they represent works in progress, not achieved aesthetic states but developing ones. Schiller, too, was unsure such that the aesthetic state could ever really exist, except in “the finely tuned soul.”146 But this is precisely why Brown’s fiction is finally less interested in political states than in aesthetic states of mind.147 In Wieland, for example, Clara’s description of the French and Indian War as a favorite topic of conversation at Mettingen figures as an expression of an ideal relation between the imagination and the political world: “The sound of war had been heard, but it was at such a distance as to enhance our enjoyment by affording objects of comparison. The Indians were repulsed on the one side, and Canada was conquered on the other. Revolutions and battles, however calamitous to those who occupied the scene, contributed in some sort to our happiness, by agitating our minds with curiosity, and furnishing causes of patriotic exultation.”148 Critics have read in this passage evidence that the Wielands do not participate directly in any social reality but


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the egoistic and exclusive utopia they have created, which, when interrupted by politics and difference in the form of Carwin, necessarily collapses. But this was far from Brown’s intention. For one, Clara implicitly acknowledges the significance of the war as an event that would forever alter the boundaries and culture of the British Empire. Hardly oblivious to global politics, the Wielands are deeply interested in them. Moreover, although their geographic “distance” from the war keeps them safe from its sublime violence, they remain attuned to its “Revolutions and battles” as sympathetic spectators. As in the poem, “To Eliza,” contemplating one’s nation at war signals not escapism but sensus communis. It serves to “enhance” the Wielands’s pleasures by provoking “comparisons” between their situation and “those who occupied the scene,” just as the “agitating” of their minds echoes its “calamitous” violence. In this way, their “patriotic exultation” binds them emotionally not only to the Pennsylvanians serving in militia troops but also to British regulars, fellow colonials, and all other subjects of the Empire. According to Shaftesbury, such a “love of country” is a virtuous response to the “confederating charm” of war and is “of all human affections, the noblest and most becoming human nature.”149 For Brown, then, the “patriotic” feelings of the Wielands represent not selfish but social passions. The fact that their aesthetic culture is followed not by the realization of Schiller’s aesthetic state but by the calamity of Carwin’s deceptions and Wieland’s madness makes it not morally culpable but all the more tragic. Brown’s aim is not to undermine Clara’s claims to sympathy and disinterestedness but rather to extend the range of passions represented in the novel: from the most dubious and destructive to the “noblest and most becoming human nature.” The ideal of the aesthetic state thus invites us to rethink the status of the “lawless” imagination in Brown’s novels. Carwin’s illicit deceptions, of course, destroy the Wieland’s lives; but the “adventurous and lawless fancy” of Clara’s novice Saxon poet is meant to be a source of aesthetic pleasure and an object of sociability. The “lawless mirth” enjoyed by Clara’s friends, too, is described in terms of an invigorating “diversity” that is “variegated but not tarnished or disordered.” For, as she admits, like the effect of the French and Indian War on their imaginations, “some agitation and concussion is requisite to the due exercise of human understanding.”150 In other novels, the lawless imagination is both a venial moral flaw and a virtuous condition of self-transformation. It propels Arthur Mervyn into social confusion but allows him to negotiate successfully the contradictions of a disease-ridden society. Edgar Huntly’s “ungovernable curiosity” leads him into great danger but allows him to

Charles Brockden Brown


expose to public view a complex web of private affairs. Felix Calvert’s “lawless and wild” enthusiasm precipitates his bad judgments but finally shows itself neither worse nor less credible than the nominally lawful world against which he struggles. The rhetoric of the lawless imagination in Brown’s novels thus expresses both a desire for ideal social relations in a political state and anxiety about their viability. Of course, the fact that many of Brown’s irrational protagonists are finally forced to leave their native country certainly suggests that, insofar as the abandoning of one’s homeland is a sentence meted out for aesthetic lawlessness, the punitive logic of the Alien and Sedition Acts prevailed. Clara leaves Pennsylvania for France; Constantia finally settles in England; Clithero flees Ireland to America; and Felix runs away temporarily to Europe and then permanently to the frontier wilderness of Michigan, thereby “interposing deserts between me and the haunts of mankind.”151 But if extravagant imaginations imply having forsaken sensus communis, and if their lawlessness exposes those who possess them to a political discipline that separates them from their communities, this may be only a reminder of the gaps that remain between reason and nature, mind and matter, and imagination and reality at the end of the eighteenth century. At the moment when their ideas and judgments cease to agree with those around them, they remove, albeit not entirely by choice, to a place more suitable. That Clara, Constantia, and Felix ultimately find literal peace of mind suggests that to leave one’s nation is not merely to be deported but to seek another, more adequate world elsewhere.

Chapter 6

Federalist Criticism and the Power of Genius

Diligence and acquired abilities may assist or improve genius: but a fine imagination alone can produce it. —Alexander Gerard, Essay on Taste 1

At the end of the eighteenth century, Fisher Ames of Massachusetts retired from a distinguished career as an orator and statesman to shore up the failing Federalist cause by publishing essays of political criticism concerning the democratic excess he saw threatening the nation. Although subject to fainting spells and frail from the lingering tuberculosis that would finally kill him in 1808, he wrote tirelessly to warn of the unruly passions of the demos and to promote a republican vision of liberty that was wholly distinct from a democratic one.2 The people “can have no liberty,” Ames insists in “The Mire of a Democracy” (1805), “without many strong and obnoxious restraints upon their power.”3 But when Ames considers the matter of “literary genius” in American culture in an essay entitled “American Literature,” he strikes a rather odd pose for such a thoroughgoing advocate of conservative Federalism. In the essay, he departs from more conventional critics who bemoan the nation’s lack of aesthetic achievement, arguing instead that genius is an omnipresent and timeless force, and that the circumstances of American society have only rendered it inactive and invisible: “[Genius] is a spark of elemental fire that is unquenchable. . . . It is to the intellectual world what the electric fluid is to nature, diffused everywhere, yet almost everywhere hidden, capable by its own mysterious laws of action and by the very breath of applause . . . of producing effects that appear to transcend all power, except that of some supernatural agent riding in the whirlwind.”4 Untroubled by



the metaphorical proximity of the material and the ideal, Ames locates the “electric fluid” of genius both in the immediacy of intelligible experience and beyond the knowable world. His language is influenced by that of critics like William Hazlitt, who calls genius a “pervading and elastic energy,” and theorists like Gerard, for whom “the fire of genius, like a divine impulse, raises the mind above itself, and by the natural influence of imagination actuates it as if it were supernaturally inspired.”5 But it is most remarkable for its lack of moderation or qualification. Few Americans besides Brown had written so freely and profoundly about the power of the imagination. Certainly, no Federalist had ever defended the excitation of the passions so completely and without compunction. What is the impetus for this invocation of the transcendent imagination in the context of conservative political critique? What does it mean that, as Ames assails the passionate excesses of democracy, he appears to be indulging in the same “propensity to enthusiasm” that he fears might be the ruin of the nation?6 Ames’s early nineteenth-century Federalism found itself increasingly dispossessed of its political leadership. In 1804, Jefferson improved on his relatively narrow 1800 presidential victory by carrying nearly every state; and Madison easily succeeded him in 1808 and won again in 1812. The final grasp at power was the failed 1814 Hartford Convention, where New England Federalists belatedly protested the war against Britain and prepared to secede from the Union.7 But more than their actual political losses, Federalists mourned the demise of their ideological leadership and the traditional, civic-minded, rank-ordered society it implied. They saw that the demand for universal white male suffrage, unregulated expansion into the West, emergent belief in the social palliative of commerce, and rapidly growing literary culture had all begun to alter the spirit, as well as the substance, of the republic. And they responded to these changes with dramatic, often reactionary, moral protests.8 In “American Literature,” Ames laments that “the rabble” of America’s cities had become a “standing army of ambition,” motivated only by money and vice.9 Although for Federalists of the Hamiltonian mold, an expanding economy was a sign of national progress and strength, conservatives like Ames feared that when passion finds an object in wealth and trade, rather than honor and virtue, a culture of regulated liberty turns into one defined by unmitigated licentiousness. Thus, by championing liberty of the imagination, he was obliged to distinguish the selfish passions of the masses from more socially binding and distinction-preserving forms of aesthetic experience. It was largely in order to elaborate this difference that he and other


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Federalists turned to criticism as the ground on which to do battle with the rising tide of democracy, commerce, and modernity.10 In eighteenth-century Anglo-American culture, criticism referred to an evolving complex of practical assessments and theoretical paradigms. It was both a public literary genre and an act of aesthetic judgment reserved for the private sphere of conversation. What Kames called the art of “rational criticism” implied the application of aesthetic theory to cultural forms, especially the fine arts.11 But as criticism increasingly became a matter of popular journalism, the convergence of public print and theory not only yielded further debate about the nature of aesthetic experience, it also transformed the debate. In this chapter, I argue that the nineteenth-century idea of the imagination that we associate with writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson emerges out of an earlier aesthetic protest against democratic politic power. As a growing number of magazines, critics, and readers produced an increasingly national discussion on the nature of genius and taste, aesthetics gradually became not only distinct from the realm of politics but opposed to it. Earlier eighteenthcentury critics had understood aesthetic subjectivism as dangerously individualistic and factious. But Federalists responded to the rise of democratic politics and commercial culture by articulating the transformative power of the imagination as the only viable response to the threat of an increasingly unwieldy and powerful public. In critical essays and literary reviews, their celebration of the liberating power of genius and rejection of the rigid and mediocre culture of taste enhanced the discourses of distinction that fortified the elite classes amidst the perceived onslaught of social change, but it also yielded an implicit social critique of democracy whose claims seemed to lie beyond the particularity of politics.12

Criticism, Genius, and Taste Prior to the Revolution, American magazine content was largely defined by eclecticism, but while Addisonian-style essays on manners, morals, and politics were an important staple, literary criticism and reviews were rare.13 Toward the end of the century, however, this changed dramatically. Monthlies like the Columbian Magazine and the New-York Magazine made criticism central to their identities, regularly printing both original essays and extracts from the most important British works soon after their original publication. Inspired by Addison, Kames, Blair, and others, Americans founded magazines or sought them out as venues for encouraging the new works of litera-



ture produced at home and opining on those from abroad. By 1800, most magazines featured original critical essays on the imagination and the fine arts, as well as literary and dramatic reviews. But they also began to reflect on the significance of criticism itself. They discussed the status of “modern criticism,” wrote histories of criticism, offered definitions of “true criticism,” and both attacked and defended criticism as an institution.14 Although American criticism was modeled on that of popular eighteenth-century magazines from London and Edinburgh, the impetus for its sudden growth comes less from a nationalist concern with cultural provinciality than from a need to comprehend the nation’s own political and social developments. Of course, American critics routinely copied the styles of Addison and Jeffrey and sometimes offered to compare Dwight and Freneau with Milton and Pope, but overall they were concerned less with assessing the status of the United States in the republic of letters than with assessing its status as a republic. As scholars have demonstrated, the critical impulse itself was a fundamental element of early American public culture. Jay Fliegelman argues that “the centrality of private judgment to Protestant republicanism made criticism not merely an emergent professional activity but the essence and science of one’s moral and social existence.”15 According to Michael Warner, the rise in literacy rates and the growing number of colonial printing presses in the eighteenth century yielded a public print discourse described by a “principle of supervision,” the critical imperative to monitor and judge the actions and power of the state.16 But literary criticism was also significant because it was a classical concern and therefore considered to be an important aspect of civilized culture and an ancient tradition uniquely relevant to modern state building. Learned Americans knew that authors from Aristotle to Horace took seriously the connection between excellence in art and its moral effect on societies. As the Town and Country Magazine explains, when such “wise and thinking men, the subtle investigators of principles and causes, observed the wonderful effects [ancient poetry] had upon the human mind, they were prompted to inquire whence this should proceed.”17 The history of modern literary criticism played a central and illuminating role in the development of the eighteenth-century public sphere. According to Jürgen Habermas, as the forces of literary production shifted from patrons to publishers, and as larger reading publics wielded new authority in literary markets, criticism gradually became the province of the citizen rather than the aristocrat. When social power was transferred from the court to the salon, club, and coffeehouse, rational subject-hood rather than social


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privilege became the main principle of participation in political and literary discourse. With no other authority beyond that which they claimed as educated men, professional critics emerged to check the power of an aristocratic elite and shape a public taste.18 In principle, the rational-critical assumptions of the public sphere disarmed and temporarily dissolved class differences. As Terry Eagleton argues, its force lay not in its oppositionality but in what he calls its “consensual character,” a commitment both to “cultivating the mercantile class and uplifting the profligate aristocracy.”19 If what was rational about the republic of letters subsumed political conflict through its rhetorical universality, however, then what was critical about it rearticulated conflict and preserved its political spirit. As Peter Hohendahl writes, “criticism opens itself to debate, it attempts to convince, it invites contradiction.”20 Indeed, the ostensibly egalitarian institution of criticism soon found itself in explicit conflict with the mobilizing, increasingly literate groups that were implicitly barred from participating. As a result, criticism developed as a function of its own contradictoriness: as it struggled against absolutism, it consolidated its authority; as it regulated the elite, it excluded the masses. Thus, when Pope, in his Essay on Criticism, defines it as judging art according to the universal rules of nature, he not only allows for the “lucky license” of poetic genius that without consulting nature’s rules might “snatch a grace beyond the reach of art,” but he also enumerates the dangers of “pedantry,” “partiality,” “singularity,” and “envy”—in short, the sins of the “impertinent critic.”21 Such doubts about the abuses of criticism extended back to the anti-pedantry discourse of the seventeenth century, but they were enhanced by the increasing number of magazines and readers and the changing role of the critic. As established writers competed with Grub Street to satisfy the appetites of a burgeoning audience for criticism, the economic terms of literary production upset the social conditions of the early periodical press. The critic who formerly secured his authority and reputation with an educated elite on the basis of his status as an anonymous rational subject and man of taste now struggled to maintain a relationship with a growing reading public less apt to approve his judgments or sustain his credibility. To an increasingly heterogeneous readership, Pope’s rules of universal nature appeared increasingly less universal, and appeals to their authority only abetted the growing breach between critics and readers. Since its first appearance in American periodicals, literary criticism assumed the burden of such inherited pressures but faced homegrown ones as well. Following Blair’s maxim that “the rules of criticism are . . . founded



wholly on experience” and therefore subject to the dictates not of tradition but of common sense, American writers questioned the validity of established critical principles and the authority of established critics.22 But they looked to criticism itself as the most appropriate site of cultural negotiation. Not only did criticism claim to supervise state politics and examine the “principles and causes” of things, but anxious about its own capacity for abuse, it also turned its aim on itself. In 1789, the Massachusetts Magazine’s “Advice to a Beginner in the Art of Criticism” emphasizes both the important social function of the “elegant pursuit of criticism” and its inherent vulnerability to excessively “subtle and far-fetched refinements.” The substance of the advice is dull—the author suggests a “plain and simple style” and recommends praise instead of blame—but its ambivalence reflects a distinct apprehension about the dangers of “illiberal criticism.”23 Another author complains that “there is in the generality of mankind a strange propensity to censure rather than commend everything that passes under their notice.”24 Others critics warn that excessive praise or censure would, in the context of populist political values and a thriving market culture, diminish the legitimacy of criticism while simultaneously extending its purview. In fact, as the number of periodicals and readers grew, the demand for criticism increased along with the perceived threat of its displaced and expanding authority, and the belief that such critical tyranny might be a function and unavoidable effect of a democratic society.25 The dynamics of this double-sided uneasiness are complex, for they are both anti-populist and anti-professional. The majority of magazines during the early national period had Federalist or Federalist-sympathizing editors and contributors, and the swarms of “illiberal critics” said to be both usurping and destroying criticism were undoubtedly far fewer in number than was claimed. Such a fantasy of cultural corruption appears to derive more from anxiety about widening access to print culture and the powerful literary authority it bestowed. For example, the 1783 Boston Magazine complains: “Everyone that can just distinguish his twenty-four letters sets up for a judge of [polite writing].” The resulting decay of critical standards, for this critic, now means that a “superior genius, though he seems to kindle a wide horizon of light all about him, and is admired by the understanding part of mankind, yet he must expect to be the occasion of a great many absurdities, with which the unknowing and the envious will strive to satyrize him.”26 When in 1813 Joseph Buckingham’s Polyanthos teases its readers with a list of critical “rules” advocating persistent fault finding, a unanimous point of view, and other self-serving rhetorical tactics, it parodies such a misapplication of


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critical principles.27 Likewise, in 1820, a critic at the New Haven Microscope satirically boasts of having “uniformly condemned every modern, and particularly every vernacular, literary production,” then complains that such efforts have rendered him and other critics the object of persecution by their unlettered brethren: “every witling who can read a page in the Testament is exclaiming against these ‘pests of society.’ ”28 Not only was everyone a critic, everyone was a critic of criticism. This simultaneous attack on and defense of criticism was waged largely in terms of genius—the power of invention—and taste—the power to judge and take pleasure in the beautiful. As we saw in Chapter 1, for much of the eighteenth century genius occupied a precarious place between the optimism of Enlightenment progress and the stigma of unreliability. It signified both an exceptional capacity to create and combine associations and a tendency toward eccentricity and error. But despite the persistence of this ambivalence, by the end of the century genius had begun to acquire much of the force and legitimacy we hear expressed by Ames. Philosophically, this shift came about largely through a critical emphasis on the universality of genius’s effects. If such exceptional ability was rare and unpredictable, the content of its productions was not. It not only appealed widely but inspired familiar emotions and conveyed recognizable truths. If genius makes its own rules, Reynolds insists, the “excellencies” it produces by those rules invariably discover a common humanity. Genius marks out some individuals as unique, that is, but its power to create art makes them paradoxically representative.29 This revised idea of genius was promoted and augmented by the protest against illiberal criticism. Some writers supposed that genius necessarily rejected critical rules as a function of its liberated nature. According to the Columbian Magazine, “it is the prerogative and the spirit of an original [genius], to disregard [such rules], and surveying nature as his only mistress, to unveil a new region of her charms, and bid the world admire them.”30 But others worried that the narrowness of criticism was not so easily transcended by genius and, in fact, was powerful enough to obscure and dampen its efforts. “When, oh when, shall the winter of criticism be passed and the springtide of passion return!” demands the Monthly Anthology’s review of John Blair Linn’s didactic poem, The Powers of Genius (1802). “We have striven to be faultless, and neglected to be natural; criticism is satisfied, but sensibility frozen.”31 Indeed, at the heart of genius’s conflict with criticism lies an assumption about the doubtful relevance of the very idea of correctness to literary genius. Charles Brockden Brown’s Literary Magazine, for example,



chastises those who would “put their mark of scorn on every eccentricity of him who lives in that high temperament, in which alone works of genius can be produced.”32 What matters to genius, Brown insists, is not precision or regularity but imaginative power: “To be in constant terror of exceeding the cold bounds of propriety, to be perpetually on the watch against any transient extravagance of mind, is not to be a poet.”33 The transvaluation of genius witnessed a similar shift in the meaning and status of taste. For much of the eighteenth century, taste had been considered superior to genius because it represented an independent moral faculty of the mind, a reliable source of virtuous pleasure, and a universal human bond. But as philosophers struggled with the pressing problems of standards and subjectivism, and as access to the pleasures of the imagination and the institution of criticism widened beyond the realm of the elite, its legitimacy was increasingly open to challenge. In recognizing the associative complexity inherent in the formation of habits and preferences, Alison’s Essays gave renewed force to the theory of taste; but in acknowledging a diversity of tastes across different class and status groups, it also unsettled the logic of privilege that buttressed its tenuous authority. As a result, taste was increasingly impugned as an excessive constraint on liberty of the imagination. “The principles of taste are fastidious and unbending,” writes a critic for the New York Mirror, “and when they have once taken possession of the mind, to the exclusion of more active principles, they unfit it for successful literary exertion.”34 To be sure, many critics continued to rely on taste’s inherent exclusions as a means of regulating the distribution of cultural capital. But by the early nineteenth century, English writers like Hazlitt, William Wordsworth, and Samuel Coleridge rejected taste outright as a rigid canon of mere rules and instead advocated a new idea of genius: not merely the associative power to combine impressions and ideas but an a priori organic principle of thought and, for those who possessed it, a higher order of being. After 1800, disheartened Federalist critics readily identified Jeffersonians and radical republicans with what they saw as the suspect idea of taste and its corollary practice of illiberal criticism. In their essays, magazines, and literary societies, they linked a rapidly changing commercial society to a democratized literary culture whose claims to distinction were as empty as they were corrupt. Alternatively, they lauded the electrical force of genius as a superior theory of imagination and art. In Federalist criticism, the errors and excesses of genius were refigured as a benign consequence of the unconstrained power of imagination in a culture otherwise dominated by caviling,


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ignorant, and illegitimate rule makers. Such an idea of genius no longer signaled the lawlessness of individual expression because that lawlessness had been ideologically appropriated by the hegemony of democratic politics. Rather, genius now demarcated a world of heightened aesthetic capacity and enduring moral truth outside of politics and beyond the influence of illiberal criticism and the deracinated regimes of taste. Thus, in touting the claims of genius over those of taste, Federalist critics distinguished cultivated elites from the unlettered masses by identifying a transcendent realm of experience only a very few could understand or appreciate. If taste was increasingly ubiquitous, they proclaimed, true genius was definitively rare, and its productions could be easily differentiated from the base commodities of an expanding literary culture. The Federalists’ idea of genius, however, did more than construct the aesthetic as a cultural refuge from a politics they no longer controlled. As it challenged the universal aesthetics of taste, it constructed a more politically effective universality. For this new conception of genius was both universal and restricted. It appealed to democratic values by proclaiming the creative potential inherent in every person, cultivated or not, while muting such radicalism in an abstract vision of aesthetic humanism and a cultural reality of elitist exclusion. As an electrical force, it was potentially everywhere and in everyone, but its expression was limited to those Emerson in “Self-Reliance” (1841) would call the great men in whose work ordinary men recognize their “own rejected thoughts.”35 As the remainder of this chapter demonstrates, the politics of Federalist criticism took multiple forms, including Ames’s cultural analysis in “American Literature,” Joseph Dennie’s performance of critical print personality in his Port Folio, and debates about Wordsworth’s genius in the North American Review. Like Ossianic and pastoral poetry, such writing is nostalgic for an idealized cultural past and distrustful of a rational and commercial cultural present. Like landscape and political writing, it insists on a moral dichotomy of aesthetic subjects and devotes its energies to constructing distinctions between the virtuous and the vicious, the refined and the vulgar, the liberal and the illiberal. And like the novel, it turns these distinctions into dramatically emplotted conflicts. But more than other genres, criticism stands at a sufficient distance from the aesthetic theory it considers to tell its history, supervise its developments, and shape its cultural impact. Although Federalist criticism finally did little to halt the rise of democratic politics and commercial culture, its investment in the power of genius helped to define the dominant aesthetic ideas of nineteenth-century American literary culture.



Democracy and “American Literature” Ames begins “American Literature” with a deceptively simple and familiar assertion: “Few speculative subjects have exercised the passions more or the judgment less, than the inquiry, what rank our country is to maintain in the world for genius and literary attainments.”36 Such remarks about the chaotic superfluity of critical voices are typical of the period’s many essays on aesthetic theory, but scruples about the “passions” and “judgment” of American critics suggest a specific political subtext. As Ames appears to announce the subject of his essay—the claims of American literary nationalism—he invokes a noisy throng of illiberal critics, “eloquent and loud,” and marked by an excess of passion and a failure of judgment (22). In doing so, he indicates that it is not literary achievement but class politics that will be his focus, that in debating the merits of American literature, these squabbling critics have missed the larger issue. Any consideration of genius in the United States, he suggests, must first untangle the vexed relationship between genius and the democratic culture that gives political legitimacy to the passions of the individual. Ames’s chief argument is not only that America’s codified political equality, obsession with commerce, and lack of a culture of virtuous emulation combined to inhibit the visible expression of genius. More paradoxically, he concludes that it is the inevitable fate of the republic that the very conditions that render genius invisible will, through the licentiousness of human passions, one day transform it into precisely the kind of turbulent, luxuryridden, undemocratic society that encourages powerful imaginations and artistic excellence. It is not passion itself, however, that produces such a morally ambivalent result but rather its sources and objects. Ames admits that all “masses and societies of men are governed by their passions” (27). Indeed, he looks to ancient Greece for an example of a particular mode of passion that, unlike that of America, yielded genius and great literature. He discovers in the Greeks not the universal rules of art but the rudimentary cultural conditions that render such art possible. It was not the “republican liberty” (25) of Greece that produced the literary eminence of the classical authors, he insists, but rather the bellicose and heroic nature of its post-democratic despotism, which engendered an immediacy of aesthetic experience, a culture of artistic fame, and an internal political unity that together resulted in “literary excellence” (22). Not only did “this universal state of turbulence and danger  .  .  .  greatly extend the dominion of the imagination,” but it did so


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through an excitation of the passions. With “ardent love and enthusiasm,” a Greek poet wrote in order to “rouse or command the feelings of men,” and “[his] strains were received with equal rapture and reverence as the effusions of an immediate inspiration” (29–30). His ultimate objective was “inflam[ing] the imagination” and “reaching the hearts and kindling the fervid enthusiasm of the multitude” (31–32, italics added). I emphasize the language of aroused passions Ames attributes to the Greeks because it is strikingly similar to that which he and other Federalists use to describe what they viewed as the frenzied, lawless, self-serving passions of the democratic masses. For these writers, any expression of the “enthusiasm of the multitude” connoted a socially dangerous politics. However, if Ames’s critique of America’s commercial culture bemoans the advent of modern passions, it also mourns the loss of ancient ones: “Commerce has supplanted war, as the passion of the multitude; and the arts have divided and contracted the objects of pursuit. Societies are no longer under the power of single passions that once flashed enthusiasm through them all at once like electricity. Now the propensities of mankind balance and neutralize each other, and, of course, narrow the range in which poetry used to move” (32). Ames’s assessment depends on a kind of Ossianic poetic nostalgia. While ancient war and strife yielded a unified culture, “commerce” has produced a more rational, regulated, and thus less “electric” one. If passion now drives commerce, it does so in a way that creates prosperity and stability but not emulation or poetry. Such a society, under any other circumstances, would perhaps be preferable for most Federalists anxious about what they saw as the rampant greed and corruption of post-Revolutionary capitalism. As Michael Warner notes, Ames’s claim that “the propensities of mankind balance and neutralize each other” echoes the language of Federalist 10 and its vision of a self-regulating diversity of passionate factions.37 But while earlier Federalists might have admired such a system, it is a measure of how much Ames’s defeated and regretful early nineteenth-century Federalism has changed from its Constitution-era origins that he sees the neutralization of the passions as lamentable. If Ames thus deplores the lack of what he dreads and dreads the prevalence of what he so longingly misses, it is not surprising that the images he deploys to distinguish genius from the conditions that inhibit it are structurally similar. The United States, marked by high literacy rates but “no pretensions to literary fame,” is characterized by both a diffusion of knowledge—“There is no scarcity of spelling-book makers, and authors of twelve-cent pamphlets”



(24)—and a diffusion of passion, “divided and contracted” by commerce and the rationalization of social life. But genius, we recall, is also characterized by an “electrical fluid” that is “diffused everywhere, yet almost everywhere hidden.” It may appear odd that Ames chooses the modern phenomenon of electricity as a metaphor for the genius that can find no expression in modern America; Franklin’s popularizing experiments with electricity—and the letters and print discourse surrounding them—were themselves definitive examples of the Enlightenment diffusion of knowledge in the name of science and commerce. However, Ames’s metaphor emphasizes not rational discovery or public edification but reason-defying mysticism. In subordinating literacy to liberty of the imagination, he advocates the rule-breaking power of genius at the same time that democracy and commerce are rewriting the rules of American culture. Although literacy in and of itself might have appealed to Ames’s republican sensibilities, when its diffusion makes “literary excellence” impossible, he revises the political specificity of genius to express the power of imagination as a bulwark against democratic political power.38 For Ames, then, the ascent of genius implies the degradation of taste. If America’s spelling-book and pamphlet culture has yet to produce great literature, it has produced literacy in abundance. But the fact that “a greater proportion of our citizens have had instruction in schools than can be found in any European state” is irrelevant to the question of genius. It matters not “how many can see, when the sun shines, but what geniuses have arisen among us, like the sun and stars to shed life and splendor on our hemisphere” (23). Ames even associates those merely conversant in the great works of genius with the common literacy and commercial interests he deplores: “We have many writers who have read, and who have the sense to understand, what others have written. But a right perception of the genius of others is not genius; it is a sort of business talent, and will not be wanting where there is much occasion for its exercise” (24). Criticism, in Ames’s view, administrates and profits from, but does not create, literary culture. Like the work of a clerk, it can be learned by anyone and is itself a labor commodity whose value is determined by the marketplace. Thus, when such writing is not the output of illiberal critics, it is rationalized and privatized by a bloated culture industry in which “literary curiosity suffers oftener from repletion than from hunger” and poetry suffers merely “a cold perusal in a closet, or a still colder confinement unread, in a bookseller’s shop” rather than becoming “the companion of the brave and the great” (30–31). In such a mediocre culture of taste founded on diffused passion, Ames


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argues, there exists no “excitement to genius” (36). Without suitable objects for its talent or hope of inspiring the virtuous “enthusiasm of the multitude,” he argues, genius cannot but remain invisible. But in the stunning conclusion of “American Literature,” he also asserts that the selfish passions underlying America’s democratic culture will one day, like Greece, succumb to luxury and tyranny and produce the politically untenable aristocratic culture of genius Ames both admires and abhors: “With the augmentation of wealth, there will be an increase of the numbers who may choose a literary leisure. Literary curiosity will become one of the new appetites of the nation; and as luxury advances, no appetite will be denied. After some ages, we shall have many poor and a few rich, many grossly ignorant, a considerable number learned, and a few eminently learned. Nature, never prodigal of her gifts, will produce some men of genius, who will be admired and imitated” (37). Such an ambivalent cultural jeremiad answers the question inherent in the essay’s first sentence—concerning American literary eminence—by predicting the rise of a thriving national literary culture in the mid-nineteenth century. But this achievement, for Ames, will come only with a “catastrophe of our public liberty” (37). Although his views conspicuously contradict those of Shaftesbury, Price, Hume, and Trumbull, that the arts and sciences are both compatible with and entirely dependent upon political liberty, he is not vaunting the power of genius in spite of its high political cost. But neither is he suggesting that the “literary leisure” necessary to the productions of genius is a social danger to be scrupulously avoided. In fact, Ames is not offering moral guidance to the nation so much as describing what he sees as its inevitable trajectory. Because the only two political possibilities he can imagine for America’s future—“complete, unmixed democracy,” on the one hand, and “great inequalities between the very rich and the very poor,” on the other (36–37)—are equally unacceptable, his deadpan vision of genius in American culture is excruciatingly ironic, prophesying an aesthetic revolution that signals both the fulfillment and the destruction of the nation’s promise.39

Genius in the Marketplace To realize the “literary leisure” Ames found lacking in America was the aim of Dennie’s Port Folio, the weekly magazine he edited from 1801 to 1812 in Philadelphia, whose literary, dramatic, and musical reviews, aesthetic and cultural criticism, travel and biographical sketches, and original letters and poetry brought an unprecedented richness and sophistication to American



periodical culture. Unlike Ames, Dennie understood that genius in the new century was necessarily implicated in the market for literature and criticism. As a professional critic with a paying audience of readers, he was less apt to view it as antithetical to commercial enterprise and wealth. “Literary industry, usefully employed, has a sort of draught upon the bank of opulence,” he explains in the Port Folio’s 1801 prospectus, which is submitted not only to “Men of Letters” and “Men of Liberality” but also “Men of Affluence.”40 Still, the magazine combined its diverse literary fare with sharp political commentary aimed at attacking what Dennie saw in the Jefferson administration and the American public at large as a diminished sense of civic virtue and the misguided impulses of Jacobinism. “Warned by ‘the waywardness of the time,’ ” the Port Folio thus promises “to promote the dissemination of the true, and the beautiful” and to “combat revolutionary doctrine.”41 But because Dennie also seeks to distinguish his magazine from the democratic culture of criticism it opposes, he announces in colorful, footnote-littered prose that, as its editor, he “will not publish an impartial paper. . . . He will not strive to please the populace.  .  .  .  He will not labour to confound the moral, social, and political system. . . . He will not calumniate Talents and Authority . . . whether of Genius or Wealth.”42 Such a negative self-definition condemns the ostensibly radical practices of illiberal critics and the “populace” that supports them. Its arch, defensive, and at times self-righteous mode of address is implicitly meant to put off those he calls “fanatics” and “the lower classes of our motley vulgar,” as well as to flatter the “liberal Few” whom he expects will support the magazine.43 The Port Folio is often openly hostile toward Jeffersonian democracy and its political reforms. But if its specifically literary essays—such as reviews and biographies of conservative writers like Burke, Oliver Goldsmith, and Thomas Moore—appear to be political polemic thinly veiled by aesthetic interest, this is, in fact, an indication that their rhetorical force is aesthetic rather than political. Consider an 1801 essay attacking Jefferson not on his policies or political philosophy but on his prose style.44 The anonymous correspondent calls the Declaration of Independence a text “void of that elegance and perspicuity, by which it ought to have been distinguished.” Holding that the “expression is as inaccurate as the conception was indistinct,” this critic attacks with exhaustive tediousness Jefferson’s style and diction, which he claims substitutes florid excess and vague generalization for conciseness and clarity.45 The essay is a parody both of the “self-evident” assumptions behind Jefferson’s democratic politics and of illiberal criticism. It claims to have


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been written by one whose judgment is “most subtle and discriminating” and whose taste is “delicate and correct” and “illuminated by Genius,” and its declared purpose is to “guard young persons against the improper use of words, [and] the ungrammatical construction of phrases.”46 But its satire is nevertheless founded on a belief that the principles of criticism might afford a more immediate access to truth than a usurped and perverted political discourse. That is, in taking aim at both a national text upon which “lofty encomiums” have been “lately lavished” and the dominant political culture that it represents, the critic’s playful strictures assume that a literary critique might achieve what a political one could not.47 The rhetorical volatility of this satirical mode, however, becomes clear when, in the following issue, another correspondent asserts that the first critic “evinced nothing, but a captious disposition, eager to cavil, on the most frivolous pretences” and slighted the more substantive matters of the “unity,” “strength,” or “harmony” of Jefferson’s prose.48 Like the “microscopic critics” that Webster and Hamilton saw threatening the ratification of the Constitution, he complains, this one sought to besmirch a founding document with “trivial objections.” But like his antagonist in what the editor calls a “war of words,” the second critic then proceeds to refute the claims of the first with equal tediousness and absurdity, pedantically citing Addison, Blair, and Samuel Johnson as authorities.49 We can thus assume that this second author is not a legitimate defender of Jefferson and his prose but rather Dennie or another Port Folio contributor in disguise. Tellingly, a prefatory note admits that “the Editor is no neutral in literary disquisitions, particularly those, which appertain to the class of Criticism,” and he derides the author of the response as lacking “gentle courtesy.”50 Yet regardless of its actual source, the second essay, no less than the first, suggests the ambiguously self-reflexive generic context in which all critical claims were themselves rendered vulnerable to criticism as criticism.51 Did the first essayist’s satire of illiberal criticism accentuate or diminish his condemnation of Jefferson’s prose? Was the second author understood to have dispatched the anti-Jeffersonian claims of the first, or did his own critical excess and silliness leave such claims intact? Does Dennie’s editorializing serve to mock illiberal criticism or countenance it when its target is a powerful democratic icon like Jefferson? However we answer these questions, this exchange and others that followed in subsequent issues of the Port Folio make it clear that literary criticism could be as partisan as explicitly political rhetoric.52 In other instances, the Port Folio is more direct in its attack on the institu-



tion of criticism and the outrages of illiberal critics. Because it generally preferred British to American authors, democratic writers often accused Dennie of harboring a bigoted “prejudice against the Literature of his country.”53 William Duane of the pro-Jefferson Philadelphia Aurora called Dennie’s magazine “the Portable Foolery” and denounced him as a national traitor.54 In turn, Dennie and his contributors viewed critics of Duane’s ilk as an ignorant, unsanctioned legislature of commercial culture whose judgments exemplified the increasing arbitrariness and oppression of criticism. In 1805, for example, the Port Folio’s “Samuel Saunter” complains that “there are some men, who are strangely unwilling to acknowledge the excellence of others, and who, fancying that every beam of glory that plays around another’s brow, casts a shadow upon their own.” Such a “spirit of intolerance” suggests not only the “malignant, soul-gnawing passion of envy” but also an immoderate exercise of inappropriately granted rights.55 Mad with the power of judgment but completely lacking in the power to judge, these critics were mere caricatures of criticism in the same way that illiterate republicans merely mocked the citizen’s right to representative government. For Dennie, criticism required the highest level of education, a cultivated genius, and a profound understanding of classical and modern literature. But what he claimed to see in American criticism was not only an absence of such qualifications but a refusal of their most basic assumptions. This attitude is sardonically conveyed in a Boston Repertory essay that the Port Folio reprinted in 1805: “Criticism has been generally supposed to require more taste and judgment, than most branches of learning, and to be correct, only when founded on the deep knowledge and elaborate examination of the politest authors both ancient and modern. But so lavish, in her prodigality, has Nature been to the distinguished inhabitants of this enlightened country, that they are critics from the very cradle, by the mere force of native genius, without the assistance of learning.”56 Such a biting satire ridicules a range of democratic beliefs taken to an untenable extreme. In dispensing with the requirement of aesthetic cultivation, the author lampoons claims of America’s universal literacy and “native genius.” In describing wit and learning as a birthright assumed rather than talents achieved through diligence, he criticizes what he sees as the overheated Jeffersonian ideology of economic and social freedom. Indeed, he goes on to observe that, given the democracy of American criticism, “Any claim to superiority in the art of criticism by individuals, would be resented as aristocratical usurpation, and inconsistent with the sacred rights of liberty and equality.”57 Such a comic exaggeration


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of republican rhetoric thus aims to censure what for Dennie was a distorted view of the ideals of the Revolution and a culture that was replacing authentic “taste and judgment” with the random gestures of an increasingly empty tradition. Criticism had become less than a “business talent”; now it required no talent at all. For Dennie, as for Ames, the growing influence of populist critics and declining quality of criticism implied the meaninglessness of the idea of taste and the urgency of that of genius. In his first year at the Port Folio, he clarified the problem when he announced the publication of Linn’s The Powers of Genius with an extract from the poem entitled “Taste and Genius Distinguished,” in which Linn defends genius against its unfair reputation for “moon-struck frenzy” and lambastes rigidly Aristotelian critics as “a race of imitating fools.” Taste, in Linn’s formulation, derives merely from the appropriated beauty and sublimity of works of genius: “Taste takes from genius a reflected ray / As Cynthia brightens from the source of day.” But more significantly, unlike genius, it is hampered by its allegiance to mechanical criticism: “Taste is confin’d to rules, it moves in chains, / Genius those fetters and those rules disdains.”58 For several issues, various critics debated the niceties of Linn’s argument, many insisting that, if genius violates the rules of criticism, it adheres to those of nature; but the general tone had been set. By 1809, the Port Folio had long understood the relationship between genius and taste as a truism: “The sun of Genius seldom breaks forth with resplendent lustre in the high heaven of invention, but some untimely cloud of carping calumny, or critical clamor, rises to darken its disk, and intercept its glories from the eyes of an admiring world.”59 Taste had come to reflect the limited worldview of illiberal critics, and genius a freer power, unconstrained by fallible rules and interested men. Dennie’s concept of genius should thus be seen not merely as the opposite of taste but rather as produced or transformed by such an opposition. The “sun of genius” was, as in Ames’s notion, still electric and powerful, but it had become oppressed by narrowed ideas of taste and criticism. As a result, its expression in the Port Folio would henceforth be associated with melodramatic tropes of neglect, abuse, and perpetual striving. One Port Folio critic, for example, figures the alienation of genius as an effect of literary dispossession when he recalls the “dim eclipse” of worthy neoclassical poets by “the envy of those vulgar souls which wait with malignant gaze to triumph in the fall of Genius.”60 Where earlier critics sternly warned of the “fate of genius” to suffer poverty and obscurity, this critic now holds that it “has ever excited the com-



passion of mankind” and “has a just claim to their pity.”61 Similarly, Port Folio contributor James Elliot—who like many Federalist critics was partial to the solar metaphor—figures genius as defined by both oppression and heroic overcoming: “Genius, like the sun, may be tinged with spots, and shaded by a passing cloud . . . but the orb of mind, like the luminary of day, will, in the end, disperse the clouds, with which it is enveloped, and beam with added lustre.”62 Such melancholy affect belongs to genius because it is thought to be unappreciated in a modern rational and commercial world. But not unlike the counter-pastoral effect of violence on pleasure or the beneficial effect of “agitation” on the imagination, its “added luster” is the enhancement of its value in relation to the forces that oppose it. Dennie’s emotions of alienated protest were fully integrated into the Port Folio in the form of his critical personae, such as the magazine’s editor, “Oliver Oldschool, Esq.,” an “old bachelor” who enjoys “the pursuits of a self-sequestered man,” and the “Lay Preacher,” whose “temperament of sensibility” and “nerves of a valetudinarean” left him “with an ardent thirst for knowledge” but a “mind often clouded with care, and depressed by dejection.”63 Such personae borrow from older British literary models of genteel anonymity, melancholia, and bachelorhood. But like those models, their articulation of disinterestedness and marginalization is a nuanced social performance intended more to shape a literary culture than to withdraw from it. This contradiction becomes most apparent when Dennie announces in the 1809 prospectus that the magazine would no longer attend to controversy—“the squabbles in the State, and polemical brawls in the Church”—but would instead focus solely on topics “of a scientific, a literary, an amusing, or a fashionable character.”64 Such a conspicuous abandonment of the political might suggest that the Port Folio had achieved its final retreat into the misanthropic valetudinarianism of the literary bachelor. In the same year as his political abdication, however, Dennie gave up ownership of the magazine to a group of investors, promised “a new dress” and “an improved plan” that might help it more ably compete with British journals, and dropped the Oldschool pseudonym in favor of the unmediated “Jos. Dennie, Esq.”65 As a profit-making commercial enterprise in a competitive print culture no longer formally allied to gentlemanly anonymity, the Port Folio thus ceased to reflect the traditional values that had shaped its origins but in practice became more able to diffuse its ideological and aesthetic message. Dennie’s oppositional investment in the power of genius still made the imagination a weapon against democratic culture, but now it prepared


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that culture to comprehend an elite idea of the imagination that could nonetheless contain multitudes.66

Wordsworth at the North American Review The ascension of genius over taste had important implications for the literary review—increasingly central to American magazine criticism after 1800—and found a focal point in the reception of the poetry of William Wordsworth. The Port Folio warmly praised Wordsworth in 1801 for his material and emotional immediacy, calling him a “genuine poet, who judiciously employs the language of simplicity” and thus has “recalled erring readers from ‘sounds to things, from fancy to the heart.’ ”67 Then, in a curt 1809 reconsideration, it accuses him of having a “false and affected taste” and names him “foremost of those English bards, who have mistaken silliness for simplicity.” The Port Folio now complains of Wordsworth’s common diction—“the language of children and clowns”—and an egoism that asks his readers to “wade through the mire of the moods of his own mind.”68 When Lyrical Ballads was reprinted in 1802 in Philadelphia, it received relatively little attention; when it was noticed at all, it was the object of ridicule and parody. Fourteen years later, in 1816, however, young Federalist critics at the North American Review—a full generation younger and more religiously liberal than fellow Harvard graduate Fisher Ames—began championing the book, its language, and its ideas. By 1824, after a new edition of Poetical Works was published in Boston, these and other critics declared—with rapturous celebration and in a radically new idiom that marked the transformation of criticism in America—that Wordsworth was the greatest living poet.69 The North American Review grew directly out of the Federalist literary tradition of Ames and Dennie. In 1815, after the Monthly Anthology—to which Ames had been a contributor—had ceased publication, Anthology Society member William Tudor founded the new magazine, which would be dedicated to original scholarly essays on ancient and modern literature, philology, and literary history, and which was shaped by the new German theory of criticism.70 According to August Wilhelm Schlegel, the free and organic genius of poetry could hardly be appreciated by a rigidly conceived taste; likewise, taste could only find a fit and pleasing object in the poetry of a powerful genius.71 In fact, Schlegel suggests that authentic genius and taste are really not so very different after all. The same “sense of the beautiful” that “calls the fine arts into existence,” he emphasizes, also “accounts for the satis-



faction which arises from the contemplation of them.”72 Thus, “true criticism” is not “fettered by the conventions of education” or the “despotism of taste” but requires a “flexibility” and “universality of mind,” a form of disinterestedness that is not passively unbiased but actively and generously adaptable to the “peculiarities” and “internal excellence” of the artwork.73 Such a demanding mode of critical judgment was not within the purview of mere reason and could only come from the critic’s own creative imagination. To use William Charvat’s terms, under the influence of Schlegel, American criticism became increasingly less “judicial” and more “appreciative,” and critics at the North American led the way.74 Edward Tyrell Channing’s 1816 essay, “On Models in Literature,” was the first major critical statement in the magazine along these lines, one whose explicit and methodical attack on the standard of taste and unrestrained endorsement of literary genius created the framework that other North American critics would follow. Like Dennie and Ames, Channing offers a broad critique of illiberal criticism, alternately assailing superficiality and correctness, dogmatic realism and fastidious formalism. It is clearly with Wordsworth in mind that he denounces those who have “no concern with the depths of the heart” and “laugh at foolish simplicity, till they cannot discern the real, which is very often in the neighbourhood.”75 Such a shallow critical practice, Channing believes, assumes a theory of taste whose rigidity and “interference” necessarily discourages the efforts of genius: “We may differ in our tastes as much as we please. It is a way to encourage all sorts of mind, and bring to light every thing fitted for poetry. But we must get out of the bad habit of dictating to great minds . . . to tell such men that they must give their days and nights to any models, ancient or modern, is to destroy the whole worth and character of genius.”76 Unlike Ames and Dennie, however, Channing understands men of genius not as an alienated minority struggling against the ignorance of unlettered critics but as bold and determined artists. His populist critique of standards and his liberal invitation to aesthetic diversity sit comfortably next to an otherwise elite notion of genius because both are based on the assumption that what makes great minds great is their privileged access to a common humanity: “They write from the heart, and we know them every where.” Channing’s genius demands “solitude” but is less neglected than neglectful, speaking “with freedom and infant fearlessness, as if . . . alone in the world.”77 Such genius, that is, discovers its universality in its autonomous liberty of the imagination. Channing follows Schlegel in his focus on aesthetic variety, but his


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understanding of the diversity of tastes also suggests the influence of Alison. As far as our external senses are concerned, Alison insists, all perceiving subjects respond to aesthetic objects in exactly the same way. What differs across different subjects is both the “state of our imaginations” and their complex and unique trains of associations, such that the emotions of taste they produce can be as variable as people themselves.78 Alison thus rejects the idea of a standard of taste and accounts for individual preferences while preserving a shared idea of the pleasures of the imagination. According to Monroe Beardsley, Alison’s theory “represents an abandonment of the persistent attempt to discover a neat formula for the perceptual conditions of beauty, and opens up the possibility of an indefinite range of beauties.”79 By both complicating the older tradition of taste with the authority of association and shoring it up with a comprehensive view of the mind as infinitely creative, it thus suggests an idea of criticism that is not only appreciative but richly imaginative. Accordingly, talented and open-minded critics could appreciate the work of even the most unconventional artists. Richard Henry Dana’s enthusiastic 1819 North American essay on Hazlitt’s Lectures on the English Poets (1818), for example, censures the rule-bound poetry of Pope’s neoclassicism and the rationalist critical tradition that scorns the visionary associations of Wordsworth. But it also celebrates the virtue of a “wide taste,” the universal beauty of ordinary poetic subjects and language, and the uniquely transformative power of Wordsworth’s poetry. In what is among the earliest cogent defenses of romanticism by an American writer, Dana explains: It may at first seem strange that the poetical interest should be so deep, where there is so slight a departure from plain experience. It is the change wrought in ourselves that gives it. It is we and the pleasures, the business and desires of life that have been a delusion; we are made to feel a serious concern in what we find in [Wordsworth], and reality itself becomes idle and unimportant. He brings right thoughts and pure wishes into our minds and hearts, clears our dim imaginations, and the poetry of our being becomes its truth. He has formed another creation, but it is one within ourselves—the mountains and valleys, the rivers and plains are the same, and so are the trees and the smaller plants, they are no greener, nor are the clouds passing over them any brighter than before. To our eyes they are the same as when we saw them yesterday; but a new sense is in our hearts, new and delightful relations have grown out from them, running over the



earth and twisting themselves about every little thing upon it that has life, and connecting its being with our own. A moral sense is given to all things; and the materials of the earth which seemed made only for homely uses, become the teachers of our minds and ministers of good to our hearts. Here the love of beauty is made religion, and what we had falsely esteemed the indulgence of idle imaginations, is found to have higher and more serious purposes, than the staid affairs of life.80 Such ideas assume not only a distinctly new kind of poetry and poet, but also a new kind of critic and a new relation between the world, the imagination, and representation. Writing in the same year as the Unitarian controversy, during which William Ellery Channing—Edward’s brother—rejected the original sin of Calvinism and declared that virtue has its foundation in man’s moral nature, Dana attributes sacredness to the imaginative experience of the ordinary. Although Ames had implicitly disparaged the business and desires of life, Dana explicitly calls poetry the “profounder and more serious” concern. But his main inspiration is Wordsworth. His description of nature seen through the imagination suggests the spiritual connection in “Tintern Abbey” between the revisited scene of “the tall rock, / The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood” and the “Abundant recompense” such images yielded “in the mind of man.”81 In this way, Dana describes the imagination as neither egoistic nor otherworldly but signifying “new and delightful relations” between mind and nature in the same way that Emerson, seventeen years later in Nature, would describe the “ray of relation” that connects the “me” of subjectivity to the “not me” of the natural world.82 That is, he extends genius’s extraordinary capacity for processing individual associations to include a sense of the underlying association between mind and nature. It is significant, however, that Dana’s claim for romantic poetry relies on the recognition of an error or “illusion.” This recognition not only recapitulates the critical history of the period as a transition from parochial moralism to enlightened spiritualism but also figures such enlightenment as an epiphany, a sudden reversal concerning the true nature of poetry and the imagination. According to another North American critic, Francis Greenwood, in his 1824 review of Wordsworth, such an error defines the critical reception of the poet himself. “If we have unworthily neglected this original and admirable poet,” Greenwood begins apologetically, “we have but followed the example of our countrymen, and done our part toward the general wrong, which his merits have suffered.”83 Though American publishers regularly reprint a host


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of less imaginative poets, “he, who has done more than any living writer to restore to poetry the language of feeling, nature, and truth, remains unread, unsought for, and almost unknown.”84 Elaine Scarry argues that a central aspect of aesthetic experience is just such an error, “the sudden recognition that something from which the attribution of beauty had been withheld deserved all along to be so denominated.”85 For Scarry, in discovering beauty we find in the particular our previously false understanding of the general. Thus, by redeeming this “neglected” genius from obscurity, Greenwood’s judgment of taste aims to right a multiple “wrong,” one committed not only against Wordsworth’s “merits” but also against the Ossianic language of poetry he reclaims. Like Dana’s recognition of the spiritual power of common poetic language, it both testifies to the neglected beauty of Wordsworth’s poetry and changes the terms of its critical reception. Greenwood’s praise of Wordsworth in the explicit context of a previous error of judgment, however, also signals the beginning of the poet’s canonization in American criticism by articulating simultaneously his aesthetic universality and his limited appeal. The “principal causes” of Wordsworth’s neglect, Greenwood argues, consist of three distinct errors: the inability of common readers to appreciate him; an unjust reception by British critics; and Wordsworth’s own poetic “defects.”86 The first error results from the poet’s extraordinary “depth of feeling, which common hearts cannot fathom, and that ‘heaven of invention,’ to which common minds cannot ascend.” If his ordinary language is intelligible to “ordinary apprehensions,” its spiritual power is not.87 Scarry insists that being wrong in our estimation of the beautiful finally leads us to an enhanced awareness of “justice” because it “intensifies the pressure we feel to repair existing injuries.”88 But justice, because it discriminates, redistributes, and pronounces sentence, is a tool of marking difference as much as ensuring equality. Thus, the distinction between serious literature and that erroneously enjoyed by the world at large is central to the North American’s defense of Wordsworth’s genius and the poetic culture it implied.89 “If poetry of this kind has peculiar beauties,” Dana notes, “it is but a small class of society that can see or feel them.” The rest will “give the name of mysticism to what they were not born to understand.”90 Likewise, Greenwood writes, the fact that such readers have “no sympathy with his grand abstractions, his poetical dreams . . . will probably prevent him, at least for a long time to come, from being received into general favor.”91 If such definitive notions of the critical limitations of mass reading audiences offer to explain Wordsworth’s lack of broad popularity, then, they also seek to perpetuate it.



By constructing his universal power as beyond the reach of ordinary readers, they aim to bestow upon him sufficient cultural capital to ensure his elite critical fame in opposition to middling literary tastes.92 In the second error, the Edinburgh Review’s ridicule of Wordsworth as a “puling nursery rhymester,” Greenwood’s critique seeks a similar effect by distinguishing between censorious critics of taste and romantic defenders of genius: “We remember perfectly well the blighting influence, which their reviews exerted in this country on his poetical name. It shrunk away like an early flower from a relentless wind, till none knew that it had a being, except the few who were not to be shaken from their admiration of it by heartless ridicule, and who did not prize it the less because the sun of public favor shone not on it, and it was a shaded and slighted thing.”93 The metaphor of “blighting” echoes the Port Folio’s rhetoric of oppressed genius as it contrasts the “illiberality and unfairness” of critics against a steadfast minority of admirers whose elite status is the production of rectified error.94 The “early flower” of Wordsworth’s name is thus dramatically consigned, like Freneau’s “Wild Honey Suckle” or Wordsworth’s solitary “Lucy Gray,” to undeserved neglect, until the knowing and unshaken “few” succeed in returning it to the “sun of public favor.” For Greenwood, Wordsworth’s benighted critics could not see the difference between “grand abstractions” and “poetics dreams,” on the one hand, and “intrinsic obscurity and nonsense,” on the other.95 But in ungenerously emphasizing his excesses and faults, they also failed to understand that genius’s powerful originality and freedom from the strictures of taste necessarily imply the potential for error. Indeed, like the Monthly Anthology and Literary Magazine critics before him, Greenwood argues that Wordsworth’s errors are the expected by-product of genius: “In the simplicity of his heart, it pours out all its meditations, and of course they will not all be of equal moment.” Thus, Greenwood suggests, it seems likely that we are “gainers at last by this unrestricted freedom of expression,” that “many of his highest imaginations” are the result of “this profuse and careless creation,” and that if “we could check his prodigality,” we would “miss the bounty.”96 Error and extravagance, that is, signal not the failure of genius but the conditions under which it produces its finest work. For this reason, the third error Greenwood attributes to Wordsworth’s neglect—the poet’s own “striking defects”—discovers in his excessively common images and overly passionate musings not vulgar mistakes but vigorous superfluity. Chief among these defects is “the extreme to which he carries his system or theory with regard to the offices and language of poetry.” If the


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poet “talks too much,” it is because, in accordance with the theory of association, he “follows out his trains of thought through all their branches, and to their remotest points.”97 Although he “gravely uses many words and phrases, to which custom has annexed low and comic associations,” he is “right in believing that the feelings, imaginations, reasonings, occupations, and habits of those in humble life are proper subjects for poetry.”98 Thus, the ultimate effect of Wordsworth’s errors of excess is the poet’s approval by those readers who can discern theory from practice and his rejection by those who cannot. By identifying an aesthetic universality that erases class distinctions even as it preserves them, Greenwood clarifies the terms by which Wordsworth’s acceptance affirms an elite view of literary culture in an increasingly democratic society: “We have one common nature . . . original passions, feelings, and capacities, which are common to all men . . . and we must all be affected by true and lively descriptions of these immutable passions and sensations whether the subject of them be the peasant or the lord.”99 Such an implied reconciliation of social differences through the representation of universal images finally emphasizes the diversity of poetic “subjects” over the political diversity of readers. Greenwood celebrates the “bond of human fellowship and brotherhood,” but he assumes that, as a principle of poetic expression, it has little relevance beyond “the cultivated classes of society.”100 If Wordsworth has restored passion to poetry, and the North American Review has reclaimed Wordsworth’s reputation as a universal genius, such a work of aesthetic justice, of reversing errors, remains the purview of the few. Like the institution of criticism itself, then, the idea of genius registers the paradox at the heart of aesthetic theory: a radical liberty of the imagination and a cultural politics of exclusion. It is perhaps due to the force of this paradox that the tradition of Federalist criticism failed to inspire in its political enemies a significant literary rival. Having appropriated and universalized the politics of liberty implied by genius, Federalist critics offered their readers a compelling and authoritative idea of the imagination, while insulating themselves to a large degree from the republican critique of elitism. In spite of this temporary success, to be sure, their claims had little real efficacy as weapons of national politics. As the Federalist party sank into irrelevance, Ames’s shrill moralizing fell on increasingly deaf ears. Although Dennie’s reactionary wit commanded a substantial audience, the Port Folio thrived only after it dropped its narrowly partisan focus. By the time the critics at the North American Review took up the cause of Wordsworth and romantic poetry, their tepid Federalism had more in common with the moderate



politics of commercial republicanism than with the conservative ideals of their predecessors. While the political aims of Federalist criticism went unfulfilled, however, its literary aims had a significant effect on nineteenth-century literary culture. William Dowling notes that Federalist literary aesthetics, although repressed by the progressive imperatives of literary scholarship, continued to be heard in the work of such writers as Washington Irving, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry James.101 But literary Federalism did more than survive in genteel opposition to democratic culture. Rather it was also transformed by and absorbed into that culture. Dennie’s Port Folio thrived long after his death in 1812, providing an influential model of commercial success for the growing institution of American criticism. The North American Review went on to become one of the most admired literary journals of the century, articulating a moderate voice that combined elitism and aestheticism with social responsibility and traditionalism.102 Thus, if Federalist criticism embraced liberty of the imagination against democratic political ideals, its valorization of individual aesthetic agency and rejection of the tyranny of taste spoke to the increasingly dominant free-market ethos of nineteenth-century culture. Although it sometimes demonized the broad dissemination of learning that John Trumbull had celebrated two generations earlier, it also promulgated democratic ideas of poetic beauty, diverse forms of aesthetic pleasure, and a rejection of literary correctness that affirmed such a culture. Despite its elitism, its dramatic performance of genius as eclipsed by criticism, neglected by society, and isolated from economics and politics—even while fully implicated in these realms—made possible the idea of the imagination as a superior form of reality and the literary artist as its chief interpreter. In other words, within the contradictions of Federalist criticism lay the terms of their own transcendence and an inchoate expression of the culture of romanticism that would begin to speak with greater conviction only a decade later.103


The word aesthetic is difficult of definition, because it is the watchword of a whole revolution in criticism . . . we use it, to designate . . . that phase of human progress which subordinates the individual to the general, that he may reappear on a higher plane of individuality. —Elizabeth Peabody, Aesthetic Papers 1

A decade after the North American Review embraced Wordsworth, the eighteenth-century categories of imagination, beauty, sublimity, genius, and taste continued to inspire many American writers. The Scottish texts of Blair, Kames, Alison, Stewart, Reid, and others were read, taught, and understood as definitive by scholars and critics for much of the nineteenth century. Some older aesthetic claims, too, lingered, particularly concerning the materiality of the imagination, the excesses of genius, and the elusiveness of taste. In fact, nineteenth-century magazines often reprinted popular eighteenth-century essays, such as those on the “force of imagination” and the “fate of genius.” But by the 1830s, the rhetoric of aesthetics had changed in significant ways. As literary reviews and moral narratives predominated over philosophical criticism, it grew more descriptive than analytical, more affirming than polemical, and less burdened by the anxiety and political controversy that once characterized it. Despite its somewhat diminished appeal to a wider and less homogeneous reading audience, it had become part of the public lexicon of literary culture, such that its terms could be used with some expectation of consensus. As a result, its dialectic of liberty was less pronounced and therefore less relevant. Undoubtedly, the need to regulate the imagination continued to be felt by many writers. The conservative



tendency that Charvat sees in criticism of the period remained dominant. But concern about the imagination’s tendency toward rebellion, immorality, skepticism, obscurity, or egoism was less pressing for those trained in the tradition of Federalist criticism and susceptible to the influence of British and German romanticism, for whom any constraint on the imagination was thought to be a graver moral threat than its potential for excess. Writers like Emerson grew impatient with the rigidity of the empiricism inherited from their eighteenth-century teachers. The critique of Lockean sensationalism by German idealism, imported into American culture through Coleridge and Thomas Carlyle, rendered the older language of perception, imagination, and judgment ungainly and schematic. The dichotomy of taste and genius no longer offered an adequate account of the imagination’s profound structure. The formalism of beauty and sublimity failed to describe the complexity and moral nature of their pleasures and reduced their experience and expression to prescriptive clichés. The logic of association seemed to represent the infinite powers of the imagination as coldly mechanistic. In short, for a growing number of writers, the radical tradition founded by Shaftesbury, Addison, and Hutcheson came to be understood as little different from the rational, rule-driven aesthetics against which it had rebelled over a century earlier. But another explanation for the fading significance of empiricist aesthetic theory may lie in changes in the nineteenth-century discourse of political liberty. Writers and critics had less need to use aesthetic theory to comprehend the problem of liberty because, in many ways, they saw liberty as less of a problem. After the War of 1812, the rise of pro-market, pro-federal republicans moderated the partisanship of the 1790s, and Americans increasingly turned their attention to expansion, industrialization, revival, and reform. As they did so, they sought to resolve the tension between liberty and power that had defined Revolutionary politics. According to Harry L. Watson, Jacksonian democracy “liberate[d] ordinary white men from many of the deferential constraints of eighteenth-century political culture,” but it also “tended to channel popular democratic energies in conservative directions, giving recognition to popular feelings while blunting their potentially disruptive consequences.”2 Out of this compromise emerged a consensual and self-congratulatory idea of what Michael Kammen calls “ordered liberty.”3 As a reconciliation of the fundamental antitheses of republican government, ordered liberty was viewed not as an abstract aspiration but as a concrete achievement, seen in the growth of political enfranchisement, national infrastructure, and economic opportunity, and widely touted as stable, virtuous,



and wholly unique among nations. As John Quincy Adams, championing the new national culture of improvement, announced in an address to Congress in 1825, “Liberty is power.”4 Of course, the rhetoric of ordered liberty was ambiguous. It said little about whose liberty was intended and in what ways it was ordered or by whom. As Kammen notes, it often took the form of “extravagant” assertions “invoked without clarification, claimed but not explained.”5 Moreover, by conspicuously ignoring increasingly urgent questions of racial inequality, it continued to understand liberty as exclusive, even if the institutionalization of white supremacy made it seem, at least to many whites, all the more universal. But for these reasons, ordered liberty articulated an attractive negotiation between the rising ideology of individualism and the powers of a rising state in whose name the individual was supposed to discover his freedom.6 As I suggested in Chapter 6, the rejection of empiricist aesthetics also parallels and responds to the early nineteenth-century Unitarian rejection of theological formalism. As writers objected to miracles, the holy trinity, and the divinity of Christ, many also turned away from the largely secular claims of faculty psychology and embraced the imagination as a mystical and divine source of truth. Extending Kames’s notion that art improves morality, they came to believe that the imagination was not only a means for good but also an ideal expression of religious spirit.7 For example, writing in the 1826 Christian Examiner William Channing, like Dana before him, holds that the best poetry “has the same tendency and aim with Christianity; that is, to spiritualize our nature.” Indeed, he insists that “the fictions of genius are often the vehicles of the sublimest verities, and its flashes often open new regions of thought, and throw new light on the mysteries of our being.”8 Likewise, Sampson Reed’s influential “Oration on Genius” (1821) explicitly dismisses Locke when he posits a direct relation between aesthetic experience and divinity, asking: If “the love of God creates the scenery of nature, must not he whose mind is most open to this love be most sensible of natural beauties?”9 Reed’s idea of the imagination did assume qualifications of disinterestedness and sensibility inherited from Shaftesbury and Hume; but having offered such assurances, it gave art and artists the imprimatur of religion: “When the heart is purified from all selfish and worldly affections, then may genius find its seat in the church.”10 Such genius, endowed with moral power and legitimacy, had little need for the regulatory regimes of taste. Like most educated writers of his generation, Emerson was trained in neoclassical and Scottish aesthetics.11 But his essays nevertheless reflect these new



attitudes and circumstances by rejecting the ideas of the eighteenth century for more active and fluid modes of perception, ideation, and judgment.12 We see this explicitly in a conception of beauty that transcends formal description and emphasizes a mystical connection between nature and spirit. As he writes in “The Poet” (1844), “It is a proof of the shallowness of the doctrine of beauty as it lies in the minds of our amateurs, that men seem to have lost the perception of the instant dependence of form upon soul.”13 Older theories of the beautiful turning on ideas of uniformity, variety, smallness, or intricacy certainly assumed, as Addison did, that the imagination was a “faculty of the soul.” But such accounts generally terminated in the body or the emotions, which were understood as signs of moral virtue but highly mediated ones. In Nature, alternatively, Emerson clarifies that beauty is more than a delightful “perception of natural forms” (14) or “the mark God sets upon virtue” (16) but also an “object of the intellect” which “searches out the absolute order of things as they stand in the mind of God” (18). Beauty, in this way, “is a finer charm than skill in surfaces, in outlines, or rules of art can ever teach” (435). Rather, it is “one expression of the universe” and little different from truth itself (19). Like John Keats, Emerson insists that “The true philosopher and the true poet are one, and a beauty, which is truth, and a truth, which is beauty, is the aim of both” (36). For this reason, his ideas of beauty and sublimity are less opposites than synonyms. Divested of their formalism, they become twin signs of the Swedenborgian law of correspondence that connects the world to the spirit, as when, in Nature, the evening stars are “envoys of beauty” that suggest “the perpetual presence of the sublime” (9). Thus liberated from sensationalism, formalism, and moral uncertainty, such a notion of beauty is inconsistent with a narrowly regulatory or professional idea of taste. Although taste is not a particularly important term for Emerson—in Nature he describes it merely as the “love of beauty” (18)—he routinely expresses his frustration with what he sees as a superficial approach to criticism. In “The Poet,” he rebukes those who are “esteemed umpires of taste,” have “some knowledge of admired pictures or sculptures” and understand only the “rules and particulars” of the fine arts but are “selfish and sensual” and lack “beautiful souls.” Because they have no “accurate adjustment between the spirit and the organ” (447), their pleasure illuminates nothing beyond its immediate object, and their criticism is “infested with a cant of materialism” (449). But Emerson’s critique here goes further than the Federalist critique of taste. For it is another version of the argument he makes in “The American Scholar,” whose mythical account of man’s “degenerate”



metamorphosis from “Man Thinking” into a “mere thinker” epitomizes his larger project of intellectual reform (54). Rather than following the sacredness of art to its divine source, he argues, a “grievous mischief ” tempts critics to invest its power in objects and artists and to fall back on “accepted dogmas” (57). Here Emerson suggests that true taste is, in fact, not so different from genius. “Man Thinking” comprehends both judgment and wit, discernment and creativity, indeed the “highest functions of human nature.” The scholar, the poet, the genius—all are names for he who, in either art or criticism, seeks “to cheer, to raise, and to guide men by showing them facts amidst appearances” (63). Despite its numerous synonyms, genius is a crucial concept for Emerson, one that represents the most powerful form of subjectivity. He elaborates this idea in an otherwise conventional romantic distinction between genius and talent. In “The Poet,” for example, he distinguishes between “men of poetical talents” and “the true poet,” between “men of talents who sing” and “the children of music.” Whereas talent merely performs and amuses, “the value of genius to us is in the veracity of its report. Talent may frolic and juggle; genius realizes and adds” (450–51). Like the Federalist distinction between genius and taste, that between genius and talent undoubtedly responds to the growing number of non-elite workers in the burgeoning culture industry of the 1830s and 1840s. But in exalting genius above talent, Emerson also means to expand its scope and significance. Genius, he writes, is “a very high sort of seeing, which does not come by study, but by the intellect being where and what it sees, by sharing the path, or circuit of things through forms, and so making them translucid to others” (459). More than an extraordinary capacity for creativity, genius not only discovers what Dana understood as the poetic relations between the imagination and nature but also occupies and illuminates those relations.14 It virtually pierces the objects of its gaze, in this way collapsing the Lockean distance between thing and thought and ridding liberty of the imagination of its dilatory language of impressions and associations. As he writes in Nature, genius understands that “a spiritual life has been imparted to nature; that the solid seeming block of matter has been pervaded and dissolved by a thought; that this feeble human being has penetrated the vast masses of nature with an informing soul, and recognized itself in their harmony, that is, seized their law” (36–37). Such a radical identity of a mind with its objects renders the “materialism” of even the greatest talent meek and inept by comparison. For Emerson, then, genius is more uninhibited and active in the world



than it was for his Federalist predecessors. In his journal of 1838, he declares that “Genius is a character of illimitable freedom.”15 Because it understands nature and the mind as intimately correspondent, it literally knows no bounds and is never subject to the reversals of moral regulation. Its powers are necessarily extravagant: “The poet knows that he speaks adequately  .  .  .  only when he speaks somewhat wildly” (459). We see this in the lavishness of Emerson’s metaphors, the eccentricity of his associations, and the sinuous structure of his essays. Such expressions of genius would have alarmed eighteenth-century critics as dangerously subjective; indeed, they continued to do so in Emerson’s day. Thus, he acknowledges that genius will not always be recognized for what it is and must, like Wordsworth, “pass for a fool and a churl for a long season” (467).16 As the famous dictum from “Self-Reliance” explains: “To be great is to be misunderstood” (265). But for Emerson genius uncovers truth and offers hope: “The poets are thus liberating gods. . . . They are free, and they make free” (462). More like the genius of Edward Channing and Dana than that of Ames and Dennie, it is neither a “recluse” nor a “valetudinarian” (59), and its imagination provides no “asylum from the evils of life” (439). Because genius takes the world as its purview, it must be of the world and is realized only in the sphere of vigorous action: “Without it, thought can never ripen into truth” (60). Although genius is “self-relying and self-directed” and “defer[s] never to the popular cry,” it is nevertheless “the world’s eye” and “the world’s heart” (63–64). In this way, Emerson’s genius is wholly representative. He takes seriously the eighteenth-century idea that it articulates a common humanity but is expressed only in a few great minds. But he celebrates both truths and seeks to connect them, understanding them not as a convenient abstraction but as a promise and a provocation. The genius of Young, Gerard, and Reynolds, by comparison, was cautious about the relationship of great to common minds. Emerson is far more explicit. In “The Poet,” he admits that, although everyone has the inherent potential for genius, most never realize it: “we need an interpreter” because “the great majority of men seem to be minors” who cannot speak for themselves. The poet thus speaks for us: “the poet is representative. He stands among partial men for the complete man, and apprises us not of his wealth, but of the commonwealth” (448). If Emerson’s idea of genius assumes a radical identity of the mind with its objects, it also assumes a radical identity of the mind with other minds. As he writes in “SelfReliance,” genius requires one to “believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men” (259). He thus figures genius in language



that echoes the populist rhetoric of democratic political representation in the mid-nineteenth century. Like the “Representative Men” he would celebrate in his lectures of 1850, the genius is “not only representative, but participant. Like can only be known by like. The reason why he knows about them is that he is of them.” The terms of such representation far surpass those in which Madison in The Federalist figures the virtuous political representative. For they simultaneously claim an accurate reflection of the people and a virtuous refinement of them. That is, they are aesthetic without ceasing to be mimetic. Indeed, they reverse Kames’s disenfranchisement of those common minds who are “unqualified for voting” by insisting that in matters of genius, as in democratic politics, it is “the constituency [that] determines the vote of the representative” (619). In extending genius’s infinite liberty of the imagination to all humanity, even as he confines its expression to the gifted few, Emerson’s aesthetics is expressive of the politics of its historical moment. On the one hand, its capacious ideas of freedom, independence, and self-reliance—inherent in the mind and available to all through self-culture—are consistent with the grandiose exceptionalist rhetoric of Jacksonian democracy. On the other hand, such ideas nevertheless emerge only within a context of social distinction and collective power. Like the eighteenth-century theorists and Federalist critics before him, his account of the imagination distinguishes the types of minds who lack its powers—not only the “partial men” and the “selfish and sensual” but also, implicitly, women and non-whites—from “the highest minds of the world” (447). Moreover, as critics have recently observed, Emerson’s promise of freedom entails a submission to higher laws—of nature, spirit, over-soul, etc.—that entomb the individual in a communal identity from which it cannot escape.17 By transcending rather than confronting the conflict between liberty and power, Emerson—like Quincy Adams—apotheosizes the former while redefining it in terms of the latter. In doing so, he manifests the antebellum era’s growing complicity between the aesthetic autonomy of citizen-subjects and the ever-expanding, market-driven regimes of state power. As the opaque abstraction of Elizabeth Peabody’s definition of “aesthetic” suggests, in such a state the constituency determines the vote of the representative more in theory than in practice. As this brief account of Emerson’s aesthetics suggests, it represents both a sharp break from and an evolution of the eighteenth-century tradition that precedes it. His rejection of a materialist criticism embraces a radically new conception of form but recalls the empiricist rejection of rules and the



Federalist rejection of taste. His idea of genius solidifies its relation both to a common humanity and an elite culture of distinction in ways that extend mid-eighteenth-century reformulations. By understanding aesthetic pleasure as an expression of divine spirit, he augments more than refutes the moral basis of Addison’s pleasures of the imagination. Such continuities reveal an American romanticism that is far more indebted to the ideas and forms of earlier decades, and perhaps more bound up in their contradictions, than we are accustomed to acknowledging. But they also give us a view of eighteenth-century writers as far more engaged with the problems and materials that would sustain nineteenth-century literary culture. Emerson’s aesthetics invites us to look forward to the growth of a national literature, but it also challenges us to look backward to a less certain world of ideas and politics, to writers doing the volatile work of culture, and, in the imagination’s conflicts, impasses, and reversals, to expressive moments in the uneven making of the early United States.

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Introduction 1. Barthes, Mythologies, 112. 2. Humphreys, Works, 24. 3. For Peter De Bolla, aesthetic theory is a “discursive network, containing a number of discrete discourses, which change unevenly and at different rates, sometimes with regard to neighboring contextual discourses, and sometimes oblivious to them.” Discourse, 28. 4. For classic surveys of eighteenth-century British aesthetic theory, see Walter Jackson Bate, Classic to Romantic; M. H. Abrams, Mirror and the Lamp; Walter J. Hipple, Jr., Beautiful, Sublime, and Picturesque; Monroe C. Beardsley, Aesthetics, 166–208; and James Engell, Creative Imagination. 5. Addison and Steele, Spectator, 538. 6. Hume, Treatise, 57. 7. Bourdieu, Distinction, 3. 8. Hernnstein-Smith, Contingencies of Value. Like Hernnstein-Smith, Tony Bennett argues that “the existence of a distinctive aesthetic faculty is always ultimately sustained, but entirely intradiscursively, by the projection of a set of conditions in which the subject of value can be represented as universal.” Outside Literature, 151. 9. The emphasis Bourdieu and Hernnstein-Smith place on standards of taste and aesthetic dispositions as the enticing but ultimately inadequate logic of the discourse of aesthetic universality suggests the limits of their critique, which concerns not the nature of aesthetic experience but its categorization as specifically, autonomously, and exclusively aesthetic. Bourdieu, for example, in exposing abstract disinterestedness as actual interest, equates aesthetic disposition with aesthetic pleasure, thereby dismissing the latter as merely the pleasure of “distinction.” But to deconstruct the aesthetic disposition as the false sign of a distinctive mode of experience is not to invalidate the distinctiveness of the experience itself. As John Guillory persuasively argues, the complicity of aesthetic experience with an ideology of elitism does not necessarily compromise it because “the specificity of aesthetic experience is not contingent upon its ‘purity.’ ” Cultural Capital, 336. 10. See Richard Strier, “How Formalism.” 11. George Levine, Aesthetics and Ideology.


Notes to Pages 6–9

12. Armstrong, Radical Aesthetic, 4. See also Michael P. Clark, who discusses the “dialectical relation between [art]work and world that confounds simplistic distinctions between these two realms.” Revenge, 10. 13. Brooks, “Aesthetics and Ideology”; Scarry, On Beauty. 14. Eagleton, Ideology, 9. 15. See, for example, Eagleton, Ideology; Ronald Paulson, Beautiful, Novel, and Strange; Andrew Hemingway, “‘Sociology’ of Taste”; Neil Saccamano, “Sublime Force”; David Marshall, Frame of Art; Denise Gigante, Taste. 16. See, for example, Jay Fliegelman, Declaring Independence; Sandra Gustafson, Eloquence is Power; David S. Shields, Civil Tongues; Christopher Grasso, Speaking Aristocracy; Julia Stern, Plight of Feeling; Elizabeth Barnes, States of Sympathy; Bruce Burgett, Sentimental Bodies; and Julie Ellison, Cato’s Tears. For more recent studies, see Nicole Eustace, Passion is the Gale; Sarah Knott, Sensibility and American Revolution; and Eric Slauter, State as Work of Art. 17. David S. Shields, “Rehistoricizing,” 549. 18. As Hipple writes, “there is in all aesthetic phenomena . . . an interaction of subject and object . . . which makes it impossible to define either variable independently of the other.” Thus, “taste cannot be discussed in abstraction from the nature of beauty.” Beautiful, Sublime, 3–4. 19. As Russ Castronovo and Christopher Castiglia write in their introduction to a recent special issue of American Literature, “there is nothing fundamentally predictable about the interiorities or collectivities produced by aesthetics,” which is finally dependent on the “institutional and disciplinary frameworks” in which it is articulated. “‘Hive of Subtlety,’ ” 429. George Levine concurs: “the aesthetic leads neither to left or right” but is “politically unaffiliated, and can be put to use for any politics.” Aesthetics and Ideology, 18. 20. On the “new formalism” in British literary studies, see Susan Wolfson, “Reading for Form”; W. J. T. Mitchell, “Commitment to Form”; and Marjorie Levinson, “New Formalism?” On formalism and aesthetics in early American literary studies, see Sam Otter, “Aesthetics.” 21. Following recent genre theory, this study assumes that genre represents fluid social processes rather than fixed categories. See, for example, John Frow, Genre; and Frederic Jameson, Political Unconscious. 22. Robert Ferguson similarly notes that tensions “between assurance and uncertainty, plan and chaos, imposition and effacement, gladness and gloom are central to Revolutionary and early national writings.” “‘We Hold These Truths,’ ” 3. 23. A considerable body of scholarship has explored transatlantic literary culture in eighteenth-century America. For recent studies, see Paul Giles, Transatlantic Insurrections; David S. Shields, Civil Tongues; Ellison, Cato’s Tears; Leonard Tennenhouse, Importance; Eustace, Passion is the Gale; Knott, Sensibility; and Laura Doyle, Freedom’s Empire. 24. Tennenhouse, Importance.

Notes to Pages 10–15


25. Jürgen Habermas emphasizes the origins of aesthetic criticism as central to the rise of the public sphere. See Structural Transformation, 39–42. 26. Humphreys, Works, 23–24. Chapter 1 1. Guyer, Values of Beauty, 5. 2. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, Federalist Papers, 226. 3. Ibid., 226–27. 4. Ibid., 229. 5. Ibid., 227. 6. Madison’s reference to the “faculties of the mind” in Federalist 37 echoes his assumption in Federalist 10 that it is “diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate,” and that the “protection of these faculties is the first object of government.” Ibid., 78. On “faculty psychology” in The Federalist, see Daniel W. Howe, “Political Psychology.” 7. Consider two examples: Dugald Stewart calls Edmund Burke the “ingenious inquirer” into “the Origins of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful” before disagreeing with him on the question of the relation between sublime language and abstract expression. Elements, 263. Likewise, Adam Smith calls David Hume an “ingenious and agreeable philosopher” before rejecting his ideas about the beauty of “utility.” Theory, 257. 8. Wills, Explaining America, 13. 9. In a 1772 letter, Madison commends his friend William Bradford for choosing to study moral philosophy, which he calls “of the most universal benefit to men of sense and taste in every post and . . . of great use to youth in settling the principles and refining the Judgment as well as in enlarging Knowledge & correcting the imagination.” Madison, Writings, 4. 10. Robert Aitken’s 1775 Pennsylvania Magazine, for example, promises to print essays on “politics and religion as objects of philosophical disquisition, but excluding controversy in both.” “Proposals,” 22. Notably, a Pennsylvania Magazine correspondent suggests that to publish “disquisition” but “exclude controversy” would be impossible. See “To the Publisher of the Magazine,” 566–69. 11. For an example of the shared origins of aesthetics and politics in moral philosophy, see Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan (1651), which begins its account of the modern political state with a discussion of the imagination and the processes of association. 12. Locke, Two Treatises of Government, 306. 13. My understanding of political liberty in Revolutionary America is indebted to an extensive historiography. For conceptions of liberty during the colonial crisis understood in opposition to the power of the monarchy and Parliament, see Bernard Bailyn, Ideological Origins, 55–93; and Gordon Wood, Creation, 18–28. For overviews of the changing meaning of liberty from the mid-eighteenth century through the Revolution and the 1780s, including its shifting limitations and exclusions, see Michal Jan Rozbicki, Culture and Liberty; Eric Foner, Story of American Freedom; Edward Countryman, “‘Se-


Notes to Pages 16–19

cure the Blessings”; John Phillip Reid, Concept of Liberty; and Michael Kammen, Spheres of Liberty. 14. The distinction between negative and positive liberty has been widely taken up in political theory, notably by Isaiah Berlin, who defines negative liberty as “the degree to which no man or body of men interferes with my activity” and positive liberty as related to “the wish on the part of the individual to be his own master.” Liberty, 169, 178. In the American context, however, scholarly accounts of liberty have typically been more descriptive than theoretical. See Kammen, Spheres of Liberty, 11; and Foner, Story of American Freedom, xiv. 15. John Allen, Oration, 314. 16. Ibid., 323. 17. Wheatley, Complete Writings, 153. 18. Burke, Works, 3:253. For a detailed account of the material culture of liberty and freedom in the early national period, see David Hackett Fischer, Liberty and Freedom. 19. Paine, Common Sense, 47. 20. Foner, Story of American Freedom, 15. On the democratizing effects of the Revolution, see Gordon Wood, Radicalism, 229–369; and “Democratization.” On the revolutionizing of “liberty,” see Bailyn, Ideological Origins, 230–319; and Countryman, “Secure the Blessings,” 132–35. 21. Countryman, “Secure the Blessings,” 125. 22. Wood, Radicalism, 169. 23. According to Bailyn, the republican idea of slavery meant “the inability to maintain one’s just property in material things and abstract rights . . . which a proper constitution guaranteed a free people.” Ideological Origins, 233. On the political rhetoric of slavery, see also John Reid, Concept of Liberty, 91–97; and Edmund S. Morgan, “Slavery and Freedom.” 24. Adams, Political Writings, 40. 25. On the continuities of liberty and slavery in eighteenth-century America, see David Waldstreicher, Runaway America. 26. Adams and Abigail Adams, Letters, 155. 27. Berlin, Liberty, 168. 28. Hamilton, Madison, and Jay, Federalist Papers, 35. 29. Ames, Works, 126. 30. On the conservative response to revolutionary liberty, see Countryman, “Secure the Blessings,” 136–40; Wood, Creation, 471–518; and Rozbicki, Culture and Liberty, 163–222. 31. Locke, Two Treatises, 309; Hutcheson, Inquiry, 9. Hume famously calls reason the “slave of the passions.” Treatise, 462. 32. Brackenridge, “Maxims,” 18; Crèvecoeur, Letters, 204. 33. Quoted in Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty, 21. 34. As Nicole Eustace writes, “For American Revolutionaries, connections between emotional sensitivity and natural liberty could not have been clearer.” Passion, 386. On

Notes to Pages 19–22


the “interior turn” of liberty in early modern England, see Doyle, Freedom’s Empire, 43–48. 35. Guyer, Values of Beauty, 5. Guyer’s choice of the word “freedom” over “liberty” appears to be arbitrary, but my use of the latter is not. According to Fischer, liberty refers “to ideas of independence, separation, and autonomy for individuals,” and freedom, to “rights of belonging and full membership in a community of free people.” Liberty and Freedom, 10. Together they suggest the kinds of tensions between individuality and collectivity that are inherent in aesthetic theory. But for my purposes, liberty does so more suggestively because, in emphasizing individuals over communities, it discovers more apt connections between politics and aesthetic subjectivity. 36. Guyer, Values of Beauty, 25. 37. Berlin defines “positive” political liberty not only as active participation in politics but also as the lack of “internal” constraints (e.g., freedom from passion or selfinterest) that makes such participation possible. But such a definition would render structurally “positive” the modes of aesthetic liberty I am calling “negative.” Thus, for purposes of distinguishing between a negative aesthetic liberty from internal constraints and a positive aesthetic liberty to imagine, my analysis relies on the more general definition. 38. Following Jacques Rancière, Elizabeth Maddock Dillon argues that a similar dialectic can be seen in the aesthetics of German idealism. She writes that the “force of the aesthetic lies in the very dialectic between a resistance to constraint (autonomy) and a metapolitical claim for the reforming force of the aesthetic (heteronomy).” “Sentimental Aesthetics,” 516. 39. Kant describes such judgments in terms of what he calls “subjectively universal validity.” Critique of Judgment, 100. On Kant’s concept of the harmony of the faculties, see Guyer, Values of Beauty, 77–109. 40. Eagleton, Ideology, 20. 41. Ibid., 24. 42. Ibid., 27. 43. Ibid., 56. 44. Trumbull, Essay, 4. 45. Ibid., 3. 46. Ibid., 4–5. 47. Most studies of Trumbull pay scant, even derogatory attention to the Essay. Alexander Cowie dismisses it as an “academic exercise.” John Trumbull, 59. Leon Howard calls it “merely a polite exhibition of the author’s erudition in English literature.” Connecticut Wits, 45. For an alternative reading, see Grasso, Speaking Aristocracy, 288–91. 48. Longinus, On the Sublime, 103–4. 49. Rousseau, Discourse, 5. 50. Shaftesbury, Characteristicks, 405. 51. Richard Price, Observations, 8. 52. Hume, Essays, 119.


Notes to Pages 22–26

53. On the eighteenth-century British discourse of “liberty and the arts,” see Michael Meehan, Liberty and Poetics, especially 79–96. In the 1780s and 1790s, American periodicals begin to take on the burden of these contending arguments. See, for example, “How the Fine Arts May be Usefully Applied in America” and “The Fine Arts” [1796]. 54. Trumbull, Essay, 5. 55. Ibid., 12. 56. On the eighteenth-century American resonance of translatio studii, see Tennenhouse, Importance, 15–27. 57. Trumbull, Essay, 12. This is not to suggest that Trumbull’s speech foreshadows an American literary nationalism or even that it sustains its fragile notion of American exceptionalism. Notably, its claims of cultural distinction assume no future of political independence, and its intellectual sources and models are, of course, British. For a similar address advocating the fine arts in the midst of the colonial crisis, see John Wheelock’s 1774 Essay on the Beauties and Excellencies of Painting, Music, and Poetry. Over two decades later, Joseph Perkins’s 1797 Harvard commencement address likewise aims to “mark the peculiar operation of liberty on mental exertion and improvement” and “to exhibit a few of the beneficial effects resulting from the liberal encouragement of genius in a well constituted republic.” Oration, 7. 58. Trumbull, Essay, 12. 59. See Kenneth Silverman, Cultural History; Richard Bushman, Refinement of America; and David S. Shields, Civil Tongues. On the “social world of polite letters” in Trumbull’s pre-Revolutionary Connecticut, see Grasso, Speaking, 288–99. 60. The production and consumption of print, in particular, was widely thought to be a sign of American liberty. See David D. Hall, “Learned Culture,” 416. 61. Trumbull, Essay, 13. 62. Loughran, Republic in Print, 46–47. 63. Samuel Miller, Brief Retrospect, 375. 64. Because eighteenth-century colleges often did not keep records of curricula, specific evidence of which authors, texts, and ideas were taught at which institutions is typically scarce. For the best accounts, see Franklin E. Court, Scottish Connection, 1–34; and David W. Robson, Educating Republicans, 57–102. 65. Court, Scottish Connection, 22–23, 29. 66. Robson demonstrates that such changes parallel the rapid politicization at such schools as Harvard, Yale, and the College of New Jersey during the onset of the Revolutionary crisis. Educating Republicans, 70–93. 67. Mary Kelley argues that “the practices of sensibility were taught in the nation’s earliest [female] academies,” many of which were founded in the late eighteenth century. Learning to Stand, 18. Such schools, however, did not begin to teach moral philosophy and rhetoric formally until the 1830s. Ibid., 89–92. 68. Witherspoon, Selected Writings, 160. 69. In the student notebooks that transcribe Witherspoon’s lectures verbatim,

Notes to Pages 26–30


housed at Princeton University’s Firestone Library, the “Lectures on Eloquence” are variously entitled lectures on “Rhetoric,” “Oratory,” and “Criticism.” 70. See Douglas Sloan, Scottish Enlightenment, 124; and Thomas P. Miller, “John Witherspoon,” 400. 71. See Sloan, Scottish Enlightenment, 125; and Engell, Creative Imagination, 191–92. For accounts of Witherspoon as a lecturer, see Sloan, 117–34; and Court, Scottish Connection, 31–33. 72. Kames, Elements, v. 73. Franklin, Papers, 10:147. 74. Charvat, Origins, 30. 75. Gregory P. Clark, “Timothy Dwight,” 150. 76. Charvat, Origins, 29–30. Tennenhouse argues that American readers embraced Scottish moral philosophy because it offered a “means by which one could acquire English culture without living in England,” and thus a “model of English identity that was completely transportable.” Importance, 36. 77. Raven, “Importation,” 183. 78. Sher, Enlightenment, 531–32. 79. Lundberg and May’s “The Enlightened Reader in America” has been recently challenged for its limitations. Mark G. Spencer criticizes its limited focus on seven Scottish authors and neglect of Hume. See David Hume, 12–16; and Richard Sher notes that the Scottish influence in America appears well before 1777. Enlightenment, 594–95. Nevertheless, its representation of the relative pervasiveness of aesthetic theory in late eighteenth-century American intellectual culture remains persuasive. 80. According to Sher, not only did Aitken succeed in transforming the original 1783 two-volume London edition into a single quarto volume that was cheap enough to compete with British and Irish imports, but its gilt red morocco binding made it “one of the most beautiful books made in eighteenth-century America.” Enlightenment, 539. 81. According to David S. Shields, this extension of their relevance is of signal importance: “The emergence of criticism in literary conversation outside of schools marked the maturation of a public literary culture.” “Eighteenth-Century Literary Culture,” 453. 82. Jefferson, Papers, 75. 83. Ibid., 76. 84. Elihu Hubbard Smith, Diary, 141. 85. Addison and Steele, Spectator, 10. 86. Brackenridge, “Preface,” 3. 87. According to Frank Luther Mott, although forty-five magazines were launched before 1794, they lasted an average of only eighteen months. American Magazines, 21. 88. These estimates, based on extensive reading in the American Periodical Series archives, are intended to be descriptive rather than definitive. I use the term “significant” to refer to those essays that are specifically and substantively engaged with the philosophical discourse of aesthetic theory and offer themselves as a contribution to


Notes to Pages 31–36

this discourse. Notably, histories of eighteenth-century American magazines pay little attention to their essays on aesthetic theory. For standard histories, see Mott, American Magazines and Lyon N. Richardson, Early American Magazines. 89. “On the Utility,” 7. 90. Studies of Dennie and Brown as writer-editors have little to say about their deep knowledge and substantive engagement with aesthetic theory. William Dowling confines his attention to Dennie’s classicism, Augustan literary preferences, and Federalist politics; and Michael Cody’s work on the Literary Magazine limits its discussion of Brown’s aesthetic interests to his “Remarks on Reading” and two essays on the “Fine Arts” in the Literary Magazine. See Dowling, Literary Federalism, 113–26; and Cody, Charles Brockden Brown. 91. “The Fine Arts” [1812], 316; “Of Taste,” 203. 92. Norton, “Alison on Taste,” 205. 93. Addison and Steele, Spectator, 530. 94. Gerard, Taste, 132, 244. 95. Kames, Elements, xiv. 96. Alexander Pope’s Essay on Criticism calls France a place where “critic-learning flourish’d most”, contrasting it to “we, brave Britons” who “foreign laws despis’d.” Major Works, 3. As Samuel Kliger notes, such a passage “compels us to revise the antiquated notion of Pope as a rigid neo-classicist.” “Whig Aesthetics,” 145. 97. Blair, “On Criticism and Genius,” 57. 98. “Essay on Genius,” 347. 99. Monroe Beardsley describes the British tradition of empirical aesthetics as an attempt to “free criticism itself from its own shackles of unexamined, or insufficiently examined, aesthetic theory.” Aesthetics, 167. But Walter Jackson Bate notes that early British followers of the French rationalists believed that the French writers were not blindly following classical rules but using reason to interpret them. Classic to Romantic, 32. 100. Blair, Lectures, 21, 18. 101. Kliger argues that in eighteenth-century British writings on architecture and landscape gardening there is a persistent association “between Whig principles of popular government and the freedom from neo-classical restraints.” “Whig Aesthetics,” 135. 102. Addison and Steele, Spectator, 529. 103. Gerard, Taste, 249. 104. Ibid. 105. Beattie, Elements, 187. 106. Burke, Enquiry, 51. 107. Kames, Elements, 416. See Charvat, Origins, 42. 108. Kames, Elements, v. 109. Hume, Essays, 231. 110. I borrow the term from Robert Ferguson, who uses it in a different context to name “two main competing sources” of the idea of liberty in eighteenth-century Amer-

Notes to Pages 37–40


ica: one rooted in “the American idea of law,” the other in “new world Protestantism.” See Reading the Early Republic, 52. Although I use it here as a succinct description of rhetorical patterns in Anglo-American aesthetic theory, I do not claim it to be exclusive to either aesthetics or Anglo-American culture. In an age whose most important ideas were organized by contrasts, dialectics of liberty and constraint were no doubt operative in a range of social, political, and philosophical discourses. 111. Engell describes the eighteenth-century idea of the imagination as a tradition that could “in its dialectic, synthesize soul and body; it could unite man’s spirits and affections with the concrete reality of nature” and thus “solve the dilemma of dualism.” Creative Imagination, 7. But such a description of aesthetic theory understates the degree to which its claims were irreconcilably conflicted. 112. “On Pleasure” [1775], 184. 113. Young, “Thoughts on Pleasure,” 406. 114. Chesterfield, “Pleasure,” 484. 115. “The Seat of Pleasure,” 475; “On Pleasure” [1793], 64. 116. Murray, Selected Writings, 5. 117. Ibid., 6. 118. Ibid., 4. 119. Ibid., 5–6. On the relationship between female pleasure and “nerves,” see G. J. Barker-Benfield, Culture of Sensibility, 23–36. 120. Addison and Steele, Spectator, 538–39. 121. Blair, Lectures, 8. 122. Brackenridge, “Preface,” 3. 123. Blair, Lectures, 8. 124. Kames, Elements, xi. For Kames, it is precisely because the pleasures of sight and hearing are, unlike those of touch, smell, and taste, correctly assumed to originate in the mind, that they are “conceived to be more refined and spiritual” and have greater “dignity and elevation.” Ibid., ix–x. 125. Gigante argues that nineteenth-century British writers like Shelley, Keats, and Wordsworth returned to the discourse of bodily appetites in order to contest the Romantic “transcendence of history by aesthetics.” Taste, 3. For eighteenth-century American writers, however, the distinction between pleasures of the body and those of the mind provided a necessary moral permission structure for the interrogation of aesthetic experience. 126. “Pleasures, Sensual and Spiritual,” 132. 127. “On the Pleasures of Reflexion,” 153. 128. “On the Pleasures of a Well Cultivated Mind,” 31. 129. “On Imagination,” 84. 130. “On Intemperate Pleasure,” 332. 131. Hume, Treatise, 57. 132. “Fragment of a Course,” 200. 133. “On the Imagination,” 78–79.


Notes to Pages 40–43

134. Addison and Steele, Spectator, 535–37. 135. Stewart, Elements, 257. 136. For most of the eighteenth century, “imagination” and “fancy” were used either interchangeably or with only the slight difference that fancy was somewhat freer and less reliable, powerful, and comprehensive than imagination. Addison himself used the two terms “promiscuously.” Addison and Steele, Spectator, 536. For eighteenth-century discussions of the distinction, see Beattie, Dissertations, 104; and Stewart, Elements, 151– 52. On the history of the distinction, see Engell, Creative Imagination, 172–83. 137. Gerard, Taste, 3. 138. Kames, Elements, 4–5. 139. Ibid., 2–4. For a comprehensive discussion of the association of ideas, see Martin Kallich, Association of Ideas. Bate argues that association and its “emphasis on the particular” is fundamental to the reaction against aesthetic rationalism’s privileging of the universal. Classic to Romantic, 110. But association’s popularity seems to have derived as much from its logical character as from its tendency toward subjectivism. As Engell suggests, “the progress of associationism can be seen as the drama of empiricists seeking to widen their horizons, to include more of the complexities of experience, yet always to explain these complexities and nuances by as simple and empirical a principle as possible.” Creative Imagination, 68. 140. “Fragment of a Course,” 202. 141. “Necessity of Regulating,” 119. 142. Thomas Reid, “Essay on Taste,” 342. For Reid, such aberrations were exceptions that proved the rule of the intrinsic value of objects. Thus, if the popularity of this passage expressed an American cultural concern about associative error, it simultaneously expressed confidence in the objectivity of value. 143. Brown, “On the Standard of Taste,” 294. 144. Locke, Essay, 153. Among these oppositions is Kames’s distinction between “synthetic” and “analytic” modes of reasoning. See Elements, 4. 145. Young, Conjectures, 26. 146. Beattie, Dissertations, 114. 147. Reynolds, Discourses, 97. 148. “Essay on Genius,” 177. 149. One such essay, widely reprinted well into the nineteenth century, warns that “many a wise head and many a worthy heart, are doomed to live in misery and die in obscurity and want” and presents a list of famous but ill-fated geniuses: “Plautus turned a mill, Terrence was a slave, Boethius died in jail.” See “Fate of Genius.” 150. “Genius, History, and Experience,” 273. The metaphor of the genius as a meteor may have originated with Pope’s Essay on Man, which describes a man lacking reason and driven by self-love as one who must “meteor-like, flame lawless through the void, / Destroying others, by himself destroyed.” Pope, Major Works, 282. 151. Blair, Lectures, 23. 152. Gerard, Taste, 164.

Notes to Pages 43–49


153. Gerard, Genius, 70. 154. Gerard, Taste, 167. 155. Ibid., 166–67. 156. Ibid., 167, 169. 157. Blair, Lectures, 23. 158. Ibid., 22–23. 159. Kant significantly narrows the gap between taste and genius but maintains their distinction in surprisingly conventional ways: “Taste . . . is the discipline of genius; it clips its wings, it makes it cultured and polished.” Critique of Judgment, 63. 160. “On Genius and Taste,” 169. 161. “Taste” [1797], 9. 162. “Taste” [1812], 334. 163. Hutcheson, Inquiry, 25. On Hutcheson’s “internal sense” of taste, see Peter Kivy, Seventh Sense, 44–62. 164. “Pleasures of Taste and Elegance,” 562. 165. Alison, Essays, 19, 20. 166. “General Reflections,” 82. 167. Addison and Steele, Spectator, 542. 168. Ibid., 540–41. 169. Ibid., 542, 540. 170. Burke, Enquiry, 178, 162. 171. Ibid., 147. 172. “On the Grandeur,” 180. Although Charvat claims that “[t]he word ‘sublime’ was constantly in the mouths” of early nineteenth-century critics, its circulation in eighteenth-century America was a good deal more limited. Charvat, Origins, 46. Despite the relative popularity of Burke’s Enquiry, it was typically used more in terms of religious experience and biblical scripture than crashing rivers and natural bridges, and it was rarely the main focus of periodical essays; beauty was a significantly more popular topic. 173. Hutcheson, Inquiry, 28–29. 174. Burke, Enquiry, 129. 175. Ibid., 148–49. 176. Hogarth, Analysis, 28. Ronald Paulson discusses the democratic potential of formal variety in Beautiful, Novel, and Strange. 177. Gerard, Taste, 29. 178. Ibid., 31. Addison defines novelty, which with “greatness” and “beauty” is one of the three categories of taste described in his Spectator essays, as “whatever is new or uncommon.” He writes: “it fills the Soul with an agreeable Surprise, gratifies its Curiosity, and gives it an Idea of which it was not before possest.” Ibid., 541. On the aesthetics of novelty,” see Paulson, Beautiful, Novel, and Strange, 48–75. 179. Gerard, Taste, 33. 180. Addison and Steele, Spectator, 539. 181. Adam Smith, “Influence of Utility,” 161.


Notes to Pages 49–52

182. “Of Beauty,” 261. 183. Gilpin, Three Essays, 42. 184. Brown, “Distinctions,” 439–40. 185. For a concise summary of the Price-Repton debates, see Hipple, Beautiful, Sublime, and Picturesque, 238–46. 186. “Essay on the Picturesque,” 233. 187. “Letter to Uvedale Price,” 239. 188. Although the debate continued in subsequent issues of the American Monthly Review, it did not print Price’s reply to Repton on the question of liberty: “That the English constitution is the happy medium between the liberty of savages, and the restraint of despotic government, I do not merely acknowledge, I feel it with pride and exultation; but that pride and exultation would sink into shame and despondency, should that parallel you have made, ever become just: should the freedom, energy, and variety of our minds, give place to tameness and monotony—should our opinions be prescribed to us, and, like our places, be moulded into one form.” Uvedale Price, Letter, 92–93. 189. Burke, Enquiry, 101. 190. Ibid., 108. 191. Ibid., 111. 192. Ibid., 86. 193. Dennis, Grounds of Criticism, 79. 194. Andrew Ashfield and Peter De Bolla describe this tension in Burke’s sublime in temporal terms as two “pulsations.” First, “the conscious mind relinquishes its power over the world it perceives,” then “in a secondary pulsation, this experience of opening up or of being overcome leads to an intensification of self-presence and a corresponding re-assertion of the power of the subject over the object.” Sublime, 128. 195. Addison and Steele, Spectator, 542. 196. Baillie, Essay, 11; Thomas Reid, Essays, 772. Beattie is so committed to the notion of sublime agency that he mistakenly argues that the word is “derived from supra and limus; and so denotes literally the circumstance of being raised above the slime, the mud, or the mould, of this world.” Dissertations, 606. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., the word comes from the Latin sublimis, a combination of sub (up to) and limen (lintel, or the top of a door), and thus “set or raised aloft, high up.” 197. Burke, Enquiry, 96. 198. Ibid., 121. 199. Blair, “Sublimity in Writing,” 418. 200. In his later Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), Burke’s idea of sublime agency would become problematically expressed in the “enterprising talents” of French radicals. Ashfield and De Bolla, Sublime, 265. 201. Blair, Lectures, 15. 202. “Truth and Taste,” 682. This brief extract from Hume’s Essay Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751) misleadingly expresses Hume’s sense of the conventional argument against a standard.

Notes to Pages 52–59


203. “Taste” [1812], 334. 204. Gerard, Taste, 207; Hume, Essays, 231. 205. Kames, Elements, 448. 206. Burke, Enquiry, 65. 207. Hume, Essays, 229. 208. Adam Smith, Theory, 11. 209. Kames, Elements, 450. 210. Kivy, Seventh Sense, 251. 211. Hemingway, “ ‘Sociology’ of Taste,” 15. 212. Gerard, Taste, 188. 213. Thomas Reid, “Essay on Taste,” 343. 214. “General Reflections,” 80. 215. Tony C. Brown argues that “eighteenth-century aesthetic tracts are widely punctuated by exotic figures” because aesthetics finds its “necessary conditions of enunciation to be global.” As a “European way of talking about the modern self,” it is “inconceivable without reference to Indian princes and tattooed New Zealanders.” “Joseph Addison,” 171. 216. “Pleasures of Taste” [1801], 34. 217. “Taste,” [1805] 122. See also Paul Allen’s Oration on the Principles of Taste (1800), which opposes “critics, who hold that Taste is only to be acquired by the writings of literary men.” Oration, 5. 218. Burke, Enquiry, 74. 219. Hume, Essays, 234. 220. Kames, Elements, 453–54. 221. As Bourdieu aptly writes, “Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier.” Distinction, 6. 222. Hume, Essays, 231. 223. Blair, Lectures, 18. 224. Fliegelman, Declaring, 103–4. 225. Ibid., 101. 226. Ibid., 151. 227. Janet Todd, Sensibility, 25. The metaphor of the mind’s processes as a drama is not a recent development. As Hume writes, “The mind is a kind of theatre, where several perceptions successively make their appearance; pass, re-pass, glide away, and mingle in an infinite variety of postures and situations.” Treatise, 301. 228. Wheatley, Collected Works, 62. For a discussion of Wheatley’s sources of aesthetic theory, see John C. Shields, Phillis Wheatley. On Wheatley’s politics, see Catherine Adams and Elizabeth H. Pleck, Love of Freedom. 229. Wheatley, Collected Works, 65. All further citations of “On Imagination” in this chapter are made parenthetically in the text. 230. Although Shields suggests that Wheatley borrows “silken fetters” from Akenside’s The Pleasures of Imagination, the phrase appears well before 1744, notably in a


Notes to Pages 59–68

poem published immediately adjacent to Addison’s first Spectator essay “On the Pleasures of the Imagination.” See Phillis Wheatley, 50. 231. See Silverman, Cultural History, 82–83. 232. Addison, Cato, 55. 233. Fliegelman, Declaring, 37; see Quincy Adams, Memoirs, 3:442. 234. Peter Coviello sees a similar implication in Wheatley’s “To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth,” whose rhetoric of “the love of freedom” he calls “a defense of the black citizen’s very capacity for virtuous republican citizenship.” “Agonizing Affection,” 445. 235. For a discussion of Wheatley and the aesthetics and politics of imitation, see Slauter, State as Work of Art, 179–95. Chapter 2 1. Shaftesbury, Characteristicks, 63. 2. Warren, Papers of John Adams, 1:354–55. 3. Ibid., 354. 4. Ibid., 355. 5. Ibid. 6. Ibid., 356. 7. Foucault, History of Sexuality, 71. 8. For other philosophical poems skeptical of the nature of aesthetic pleasure, see Milcah Martha Moore’s “Social Love” and Hannah Griffitts’s “The Enquiry” in Moore, Book, 239–40, 262–64. 9. Notable exceptions include Christopher Grasso, who explores ideas of taste in Trumbull and Dwight; and John P. McWilliams, who locates Dwight’s work in an intellectual context that emphasizes the rhetoric and poetics of Kames and Blair. See Grasso, Speaking Aristocracy, 285–385; and McWilliams, American Epic, 42–63, 67–85. 10. For an important exception, see Ellison, Cato’s Tears. 11. Gilmore, “Literature,” 591. 12. Ibid., 697. 13. Warton, “Observations,” 52. 14. Another typical example of this rhetoric holds that “the present age has produced critics and philosophers in abundance, but no poets . . . for this plain reason, that as soon as men begin to philosophize, they become less fit for works of imagination.” “Thoughts on Poetical Composition,” 352. For an overview of the debate on the ancients and moderns in America, see A. Owen Aldridge, “Concept of Ancients and Moderns,” 99–118. 15. Jefferson, to Charles MacPherson, Papers, 1:96. 16. Blair, “Extracts,” 179. 17. “Criticism on Ossian’s Poems,” 497–98. 18. Freneau, Poems, 25.

Notes to Pages 69–74


19. For examples of this rhetoric, see “Man of Pleasure,” 337; and “Description of a Man of Pleasure,” 48–51. 20. Chesterfield, “Pleasure,” 483–84. 21. Mercy Otis Warren, “A Letter,” 326. On Warren’s response to Chesterfield and the history of the letter’s reprinting, see Edmund Hayes, “Mercy Otis Warren,” 616–21. 22. Chesterfield, “Pleasure,” 483. Such an imperative exemplifies what Foucault calls the “negative relation” of pleasure and power, which refers not to the wholesale “repression” of pleasure but an insistence on limitations, rules, and regimes of qualification and categorization. History of Sexuality, 83. 23. “Reflections on Pleasure,” 239. 24. “On a True Taste,” 352. 25. Shaftesbury, Characteristicks, 48. 26. Ibid., 198. On Shaftesbury’s idea of selfish and social passions, see Lawrence Klein, Shaftesbury, 54–69. 27. Warren, Papers of John Adams, 355. 28. Warren, Poems, 195. In an 1807 letter to Adams, Warren recalls that in this conversation, which took place “at the Plymouth fireside,” she heard him “assert that self-love was the sole principle of human action.” Given Adams’s other writing on the subject, however, the assertion was more likely a speculation. Warren and Adams, Correspondence, 480. 29. Pope, Major Works, 309. Tennenhouse calls the Essay on Man “the most popular poem in America” and notes that at least 160 editions of it were published between 1747 and 1850. Importance, 36–37. For a discussion of its impact on mid-eighteenth-century American culture and debates about self-love, see Eustace, Passion, 17–59. 30. Adams, Diary, 377. 31. Pope, Major Works, 184. See “On Pleasure” [1775], 183. 32. Addison and Steele, Spectator, 537. 33. Ibid., 539. 34. Ibid., 538–39. 35. Ibid., 539. 36. Woodmansee, Author, Art, and Market, 87. 37. Addison and Steele, Spectator, 538. 38. Ibid., 528. 39. Ibid., 529. 40. Ibid., 545–46. 41. Ibid., 538. 42. Ibid., 540, 541, 542. 43. Saccamano, “Sublime Force,” 87–88. 44. Shaun Irlam identifies in Addison’s essays a “recurring vocabulary of license and restraint, liberty and confinement.” Elations, 104. For example, although Addison’s discussion of “greatness” emphasizes that the “Mind of Man hates anything that looks


Notes to Pages 74–80

like a Restraint upon it,” he also suggests that the restraint experienced by a “Man in a Dungeon” might be productive of images “more beautiful than can be found in the whole Compass of Nature.” Thus, Irlam writes, the Addisonian imagination depends “on a condition of restraint or confinement . . . to facilitate its operations.” Ibid., 105, 107. 45. Addison and Steele, Spectator, 537 46. Ibid., 559. 47. Ibid., 562. 48. Ibid., 572–73. 49. Ibid., 558. 50. Ibid., 569. 51. Akenside, Pleasures of Imagination, 15. 52. Ibid., 15, 20. 53. Dwight, Major Poems, 392, 78. 54. Pattie Cowell, Women Poets, 67. 55. These examples come, respectively, from Stockton’s “To Laura” (1766), Murray’s “Lines Occasioned by the Death of an Infant” (1790), Smith’s “Elegy to the Memory of the American Volunteers” (1775), and Morton’s “To Mr. Stuart.” They reflect a broader tendency to invoke the “mind” in seventeenth- and eighteen-century British poetry. On British poetry of sensibility, see Jerome McGann, Poetics of Sensibility. 56. See, for example, John Trumbull’s “Elegy on the Times,” “Ambition: An Elegy,” and “The Speech of Proteus to Aristaeus”; Timothy Dwight’s “Columbia” and “The Seasons Moralized”; William Livingston’s “Philosophical Solitude”; and Richard Alsop’s “An Elegy.” 57. Dwight, Major Poems, 371. 58. Shaftesbury, Characteristicks, 63. 59. Ibid., 172. 60. Dowling uses the term “Connecticut georgic” to describe the poetic invocation of simplicity, piety, and moral critique as a “Virgilian ideal of the early republic.” Poetry and Ideology, 15. 61. Dwight, Major Poems, 399. 62. Humphreys, Works, 36. 63. Ibid., 37. 64. Ibid., 38–39. 65. Ibid., 28. 66. Ibid., 37. 67. Marx, Machine in the Garden, 25; Williams, Country and the City, 23. 68. Dwight, Major Poems, 5, 10. 69. Dickinson, Letters, 35. On the colonial resistance to the Acts, see Pauline Maier, From Resistance, 113–23; and T. H. Breen, “Narrative” and Marketplace, 235–293. 70. Edmund Morgan, “Puritan Ethic,” 8. 71. Ibid., 9–10. 72. See Breen, Marketplace. Breen notably argues that “the simple life had come to

Notes to Pages 80–86


be associated with a dull, savage existence,” and Americans of this period “would have regarded calls to restore an earlier, largely subsistence economy sheer lunacy.” “Narrative,” 485. 73. In Dickinson’s Philadelphia, merchants were notably ambivalent about nonimportation and divided by commitments to defending their political liberty and maintaining their commercial way of life. As Thomas Doerflinger observes, although most believed that parliamentary taxation of Americans was unconstitutional, a favorable commercial outlook tended to moderate their attitudes toward the Revolutionary crisis. See Vigorous Spirit, 196. 74. On literary responses to the Townshend Acts, see Silverman, Cultural History, 110–18; and Breen, “Narrative,” 254–89. 75. Moore, Book, 172. 76. Ibid. 77. Ibid. 78. Although David S. Shields calls the poem “the most extraordinary single work of political belles lettres by a British American woman,” it remains unpublished and has yet to receive serious critical attention. “British-American,” 338. 79. According to Anne M. Ousterhout, Fergusson’s father, in giving her a copy of Dickinson’s Letters, “told her to ‘atend to the arguments there made use of, as they containd points very serious’ . . . [and] said that ‘evry woman was capable to take in their force and that he much aprovd.’ ” Most Learned Woman, 133. 80. Timothy Sweet argues that the republican pastoral’s expression of “agrariancapitalist ideology” often reflected an opposition between wealthy planters, whose idealization of rural life naturalized their relation to the market, and backwoods farmers, whose difficult, debt-ridden lives provided a convenient object of anti-market critique. “American Pastoralism,” 59. On the English pastoral’s “identifications” with a “mystified agrarian capitalist order,” see Raymond Williams, Country and the City, 39. 81. Breen, “Narrative,” 487–88. 82. Although Fergusson’s ideas of American economic independence were realized by the Revolution, so were her fears of excessive liberty and faction. During the war, as she writes in one of the poem’s notes dated 1790, her husband, a Loyalist, was “exild in Consequence of the Independency”; and in 1778, Graeme Park was confiscated as a result of his conviction for treason. On Fergusson’s difficulties during the war, see Ousterhout, Most Learned Woman. 83. On the aesthetic culture of the Revolution, see Silverman, Cultural History. 84. “To Eliza,” 31. 85. Ibid. 86. Freneau, American Village, 1. The Sixteenth Epode concerns Rome’s self-destruction by civil war. See Horace, Odes and Epodes, 411. 87. Freneau, Poems, 63. 88. Freneau, American Liberty, 9. 89. Freneau, Poems, 71.


Notes to Pages 86–90

90. The first published version, containing 53 quatrains of iambic pentameter lines of alternating rhyme, appeared in the 1779 United States Magazine. The 1786 version in Poems was expanded to 108 quatrains. 91. Freneau, “Account of the Island,” 81, 84. 92. Ibid., 82. 93. Ibid., 87. 94. Ibid., 88. As we saw in both Wheatley’s “On Imagination” and Fergusson’s “The Philosophical Farmer,” the image of the cold north wind is a conventional metaphor of oppression and disruption. Whereas northern winds represent the varied forces of Anglo-American political power, however, southern winds may offer an expression of West Indian slavery. Both “The Beauties of Santa Cruz” and the “Account” that precedes it move seamlessly between descriptions of slavery and hurricanes, both of which produce “melancholy” effects on their observers. 95. Ibid., 83, 87. 96. Ibid., 83. I do not mean to diminish Freneau’s critique of slavery here, only to emphasize that his conception of it is utterly bound up in aesthetic perception. In the “Account,” for example, he calls it a “disagreeable circumstance” and represents the pain of slavery specifically as the pain of its perception by free but sympathetic whites like himself. “A description of the slavery they [“the negroes”] endure would be too irksome and unpleasant to me,” he writes. Amidst all the beauties of the island, it “leaves me melancholy and disconsolate, convinced that there is no pleasure in this world without its share of pain.” Ibid. For a discussion of Freneau’s poetics of the “ruined island,” see Robert Lawson-Peebles, Landscape, 109–22. 97. Goudie, Creole America, 117. For example, Emory Elliott describes this tension as “the conscious conflict between the poet’s desire for escape from the turmoil of politics and society and the moral imperative of the poetic vocation.” Revolutionary Writers, 139. 98. “The Power of Fancy” first appeared in Poems (1786), where its composition is dated as 1770. In Freneau’s 1795 Poems Written Between the years 1768 and 1794, it was divided into two separate poems, “Ode to Fancy” and “Fancy’s Ramble.” “A Poem on the Rising Glory of America” was first read at College of New Jersey commencement in 1771 and published in 1772; an altered and expanded version appeared in the 1786 Poems. 99. Freneau and Brackenridge, Rising Glory, 20. 100. Ibid., 3, 7, 9. 101. Freneau, Poems, 23. 102. Ibid., 23, 25, 27. 103. Ibid., 25. 104. Several accounts of Anson’s voyage appeared in the 1760s, including W. H. Dilworth’s Lord Anson’s Voyage Round the World, which was printed in Boston in 1760 by Benjamin Franklin’s nephew, Benjamin Mecom. 105. Addison and Steele, Spectator, 566–67. 106. Ibid., 567. 107. Gerard, Taste, 51.

Notes to Pages 90–96


108. Burke, Enquiry, 92, 91. 109. “The House of Night” was written in 1775, revised and first published in the United States Magazine in 1779, and then again revised and expanded for Poems (1786). Lewis Leary calls the 1779 version “the finest poem written and published by an American during the time of our Revolution, and probably the finest written and published in English anywhere during those years.” That Rascal Freneau, 160. Critics have identified its chief models as Edward Young’s Night Thoughts (1742–45) and James Hervey’s Contemplations and Meditations (1746–47), both of which were reprinted in Philadelphia during the Revolution and read by Freneau. 110. Freneau, “House of Night,” 355. 111. Ibid., 356. 112. Ibid., 359–60. 113. Ibid., 356. 114. Ibid., 363–64. 115. Ibid., 355. 116. Freneau, “The Loyalists,” 315. 117. Leary, for example, calls “The Loyalists” “Freneau’s apology to himself for his earlier failure to take an active part in the Revolutionary struggle.” That Rascal Freneau, 78. 118. Consider John Adams’s aspersions against Thomas Hutchinson, which held that “the mazy windings of Hutchinson’s heart and the serpentine wiles of this head” were largely to blame for the Revolution. Quoted in Bernard Bailyn, Ordeal, 2. As Gordon Wood notes, as many as half a million people, or about twenty percent of white Americans, are estimated to have been Loyalists, many of whom were “well-to-do gentry operating at the pinnacles of power and patronage.” Radicalism, 176. 119. In 1779, James Warren complained: “fellows who would have cleaned my shoes five years ago, have amassed fortunes, and are riding in chariots.” Quoted in Wood, Radicalism, 177. 120. Dwight, Major Poems, 25. All further citations of The Conquest of Canaan in this chapter are made parenthetically in the text. 121. See Kenneth Silverman, Timothy Dwight, 34–37. 122. Quoted in Theodore Zunder, “Noah Webster,” 200. 123. John McWilliams notes that Dwight was well aware of critical strictures advanced by Addison, Kames, and Blair against basing epics on recent historical events and combining epic with allegory. See American Epic, 43–45. 124. On Edwards’s aesthetics, see Roland Delattre, Beauty and Sensibility. 125. Dwight, Major Poems, 546. 126. Ibid., 547. 127. On Dwight’s belief in the moral efficacy of poetry, see Dowling, Poetry and Ideology, 14–31; and Grasso, Speaking Aristocracy, 330–31. 128. Narrated in Books III and V, this subplot is described by most critics as merely “romantic” or “biographical,” a sort of sentimental wedding gift to Mary Woolsey,


Notes to Pages 97–104

whom Dwight married in 1777. Silverman calls it a “fatal irrelevance” and details the grossly illogical interruptions that are the effects of its insertion. Timothy Dwight, 24. As I argue, however, Dwight uses the didacticism of a cautionary tale to dramatize the moral complexity of aesthetic pleasure. 129. Silverman, Timothy Dwight, 40. 130. McWilliams diagnoses the formal challenges of Conquest succinctly: “The closed couplet, admirably suited to antithesis and irony, was now to serve as the medium for extended panegyric. The sublimity of Miltonic blank verse was to be applied to wholly human and earthly actions without incongruity or bombast.” American Epic, 42. 131. Dwight, “The Friend,” 73. 132. Fergusson, “On the Mind’s being engross’d,” 438. 133. Ibid. Chapter 3 1. Addison and Steele, Spectator, 541. 2. Cutler, Explanation, 17. 3. The first edition of Lettres, published in two volumes, appeared in Paris in 1784. The “Extracts” come from the “Quatorzième Lettre: Esquisse du Fleuve Ohyo & du pays de Kentuckey” in the third volume of the expanded 1787 edition. The sketch was translated and reprinted in several U.S. newspapers in 1787, including the Pennsylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser, the [South Carolina] Columbian Herald, and the Salem Mercury, one of which was probably Cutler’s source. 4. Cutler, Explanation, 23. 5. Ibid. 6. Ibid., 21. 7. Jehlen, “Literature of Colonization,” 127. 8. Although this is particularly true of author-focused journal articles, even booklength studies tend to privilege the iconic aesthetic descriptions of canonical writers over questions of genre and convention. Important exceptions include excellent books by Thomas Hallock and John Seelye, whose analyses identify thematic and rhetorical patterns across a range of authors and texts. See Hallock, Fallen Tree; and Seelye, Beautiful Machine. 9. Pamela Regis, for example, relies almost entirely on Burke’s Enquiry to explain how philosophical ideas of beauty and sublimity informed early American natural history writing. See Describing. 10. For example, Matthew Frankel argues that “sublime experience provided Jefferson with an available cognitive template capable of allaying, if not resolving, anxieties about emergent nationalism, the new contractual citizenship, and the unfolding crisis in political representation.” “‘Nature’s Nation’ Revisited,” 697. Although the critical tradition of reading of Jefferson’s descriptions as political oracles was perhaps inaugurated by Garry Wills’s virtuoso analyses, Wills himself argues that they were, in fact, highly conventional and “mandatory on the traveler or diarist.” Inventing, 260.

Notes to Pages 104–106


11. Regis, Describing, xiii. 12. Among the best-known examples of this tendency is Jedidiah Morse’s American Geography, which borrows extensively from Carver, Hutchins, Jefferson, Filson, and others. 13. Jefferson’s descriptions, for example, received extensive commentary by such contemporary writers as Charles Thomson, Isaac Weld, and the Marquis de Chastellux and were reprinted in periodicals across the Atlantic seaboard well into the nineteenth century, from the New Hampshire Sentinel to the Charleston City Gazette. 14. The title page of John Smyth’s Tour of the United States, for example, promises “A Description of the Indian Nations, the general Face of the Country, Mountains, Forests, Rivers, and the most beautiful, grand, and picturesque Views throughout that vast Continent.” 15. Hallock claims that “Postrevolutionary culture demanded viable stories of place, bases for claiming the land,” and a means of constructing a “national subject over the interior” and asserting a “federal presence over the border regions.” Fallen Tree, 6. For other versions of this argument, see Roderick Nash, Wilderness; Lawson-Peebles, Landscape; and Regis, Describing. Alternatively, Martin Brückner argues that natural history promoted “an overdetermined local and antinational sense of identity.” Geographic Revolution, 143. 16. Jehlen, American Incarnation, 43. 17. Looby, “Constitution of Nature,” 257. 18. Notably, the national prophecy in Crèvecoeur’s sketch of the Ohio claims that “it will be so much the more glorious, as [the land] will be legally acquired of the ancient proprietors, and will not exact a single drop of blood.” Cutler, Explanation, 23. 19. By including both British and American writers working both before and after the Revolution, I mean to examine a broad but coherent transatlantic tradition that does not necessarily depend on the specificity of national identity. A mid-century imperialist like Carver undoubtedly brings different expectations to his experience of American landscapes than either a post-Revolutionary nationalist like Morse or a dispossessed Loyalist like Smyth. But for these writers such distinctions are less important than their shared commitment to a rhetorical paradigm that links aesthetic perception to the idea of western expansion. However, for the same reason, my analysis does not include such important West Indian texts as Peter Long’s History of Jamaica (1774) and William Beckford’s A Descriptive Account of the Island of Jamaica  (1790), whose assumptions about the relation of aesthetics to landscape and land politics are markedly different. For useful discussions of aesthetic representation in these texts, see Jill Casid, Sowing Empire. 20. On the early modern transformation of the idea of wilderness, see especially Nash, Wilderness, 8–66; and Marjorie Nicholson, Mountain Gloom. On the rise of a “planetary consciousness” in the eighteenth century, see Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes, 15–36. 21. Barrell, Idea of Landscape, 2.


Notes to Pages 107–112

22. Ibid., 11. 23. Ibid., 43. 24. Reynolds, Discourses, 79. 25. Algarotti, Essay, 106. 26. Dufresnoy, Art of Painting, 17. 27. Gilpin, Essay Upon Prints, 11. 28. Reynolds, Discourses, 146–47. 29. Addison and Steele, Spectator, 541. 30. Hogarth, Analysis, 27. 31. Ibid., 33. 32. Ibid., 32. 33. Gerard, Taste, 33. 34. Baillie, Essay, 89. 35. Burke, Enquiry, 101. 36. Ibid., 183. 37. Webb, Inquiry, 36. 38. Gilpin, Observations Relative, 51. 39. Ibid., 52. On the importance of contrasts in Burke and Gilpin, see Lawson-Peebles, Landscape, 147. 40. Whatley, Observations, 35. 41. Gilpin, River Wye, 112. 42. Gilpin, “Picturesque Travel,” 737. 43. Adam Smith, Theory, 265–66. On the eighteenth-century debate about the relationship of utility and beauty, see Guyer, Values of Beauty, 110–28. 44. Blair, Lectures, 28. 45. Regis, Describing, 67. 46. Pratt similarly argues that “sentimentality both challenges and complements the emergent authority of objectivist science.” Imperial Eyes, 73. 47. “Monthly Review,” 686. 48. “Impartial Review,” 267. 49. Ayscough, Remarks, 3, 6. 50. Ibid., 9–10. For a discussion of Ayscough’s critique, see Ralph Bauer, Cultural Geography, 200–201. 51. In general, the amount of aesthetic language in landscape writing corresponds to how much narrative, as opposed to mere observation and description, it uses. This is perhaps both because aesthetic experience implies the temporality of perception and because its description demands an individualized narrative voice. 52. Imlay, Topographical, 40. 53. Pownall, Topographical, 36. 54. Bartram, Travels, 56. 55. Romans, Concise History, 4. 56. Belknap, History, 48.

Notes to Pages 112–122


57. Carver, Travels, 8. 58. Morse, American Geography, v. 59. Belknap, History, 50. 60. Jefferson, Notes, 64. 61. Romans, Concise History, 1. 62. John Pope, Tour, 28. 63. Jefferson to George Rogers Clark, December 25, 1780, in Jefferson, Papers, 237–38. 64. Onuf, Statehood, 32. 65. On the politics of western settlement during the Revolutionary era, see Onuf, Statehood; Eric Hindraker, Elusive Empires; and Alan Taylor, “Land and Liberty.” Taylor argues that “natives, white settlers, and their national elites” had a “differing concept of freedom, each of which depended on possession of western land.” Ibid., 81. 66. Freneau, Poems, 379. 67. Onuf, Statehood, 25–26. 68. Jefferson, Notes, 10. 69. Filson, Discovery, 8. 70. Ibid., 52. 71. Carver, Travels, 69. 72. Pownall, Topographical, 31. 73. Filson, Discovery, 55. 74. Belknap, History, 39. 75. Smyth, Tour, 222. 76. Bartram, Travels, 64–65. 77. Belknap, History, 39. 78. Whatley, Observations, 72. 79. Gilpin, Observations Relative, 117. 80. Ibid., 118. 81. Bartram, Travels, 277–78. 82. Long, Voyages, 3. 83. Smyth, Tour, 30, 33. 84. Pownall, Topographical, 35–36. 85. Crèvecoeur, More Letters, 169. References to “Susquehanna” and others of Crèvecoeur’s English-language sketches not included in 1782 version of Letters are from Dennis Moore’s edition, which replicates the original manuscript notebooks. Wherever necessary for clarity and convenience, I have omitted Crèvecoeur’s emendations and Moore’s editorial marks. 86. Not all landscape writers appreciated cultivated prospects, especially those lacking ideological investments in western expansion. Although Gilpin prefers views untouched by “the hand of art,” if its appearance is unavoidable, he insists on its formal effectiveness. Thus, he might admit “pasturage,” which has an “agreeable surface” and, grazing cattle, which “add great variety, and animation to the scene.” River Wye, 44. 87. Pownall, Topographical, 31.


Notes to Pages 122–127

88. Morse, American Geography, 140. 89. Seelye, Beautiful Machine, 55. 90. Thomas M. Allen argues that it was the anti-republican implications of western expansion that inspired a discourse of national futurity as a form of ideological displacement: “it was precisely America’s lack of territorial integrity at inception . . . that produced the appeal of the elusive temporal horizon of national wholeness.” Republic in Time, 22. 91. Filson, Discovery, 50. 92. Bartram, Travels, 85. 93. Crèvecoeur, More Letters, 164. 94. Crèvecoeur, Letters, 43. 95. Imlay, Topographical, 97. 96. Burnaby, Travels, 45. 97. Jefferson, Notes, 24–25. 98. Ibid., 19. 99. For examples of this line of argument, see Frankel, “Nature’s Nation”; and Harold Hellenbrand, “Roads to Happiness.” 100. Because Jefferson’s description of the Natural Bridge was extracted in the 1787 Columbian Magazine, it should be considered in the same generic context as other landscape descriptions published in this magazine, such as David Rittenhouse’s “Description of Ohiopyle Falls,” which appeared in February of that year. 101. Jefferson, Notes, 24, 19. 102. Shaftesbury, Characteristicks, 316. 103. For discussions of Burnet’s influence on Jefferson, see Lawson-Peebles, Landscape, 178–79; and Wills, Inventing, 263–67. 104. Nicholson, Mountain Gloom, 253. 105. Lawson-Peebles, for example, notes that Burke’s Enquiry appeared only two years after the Lisbon earthquake of 1775, “when earthquake-fever was at its height” Landscape, 146. 106. Maundrell, Journey, 78. 107. Whatley, Observations, 74. 108. Morse, American Geography, 245. 109. Filson, Discovery, 58. 110. Jefferson, Notes, 197; Weld, Travels, 162. Thomson goes on to imagine other possible scenarios of geological history: “While ruminating on these subjects, I have often been hurried away by fancy, and led to imagine, that what is now the bay of Mexico, was once a champaign country. . . . But these are only the visions of fancy.” Jefferson, Notes, 199. 111. Notably, Imlay argues against the theory of terrestrial convulsions and the spontaneous geological violence they imply when he claims that the world “is subject to change only from the gradual wear which the operations of the elements necessarily produce, and which is so insensible as to require us to contemplate the immensity of

Notes to Pages 128–132


time and space to comprehend a cause for the alterations we discover.” Topographical, 4–5. 112. Baillie, Sublime, 13; Burke, Enquiry, 163. 113. Jefferson, Notes, 25. 114. Crèvecoeur, Letters, 201. 115. Martin, “Federal Convention,” 384. 116. Weld, Travels, 178. 117. Elmer, “Archive,” 13. 118. Wills, Inventing, 266. 119. Slotkin, Regeneration, 293. 120. Bartram, Travels, 29. 121. Ibid. 122. Ibid., 30. 123. Ibid., 311. 124. Ibid., 66–67. 125. Ibid., 67. 126. Emphasizing Bartram’s reliance on the rhetoric of Linnaean taxonomy, Looby argues that such “occasional ritual moments of perceptual disorientation” are “quickly followed by the restoration of conceptual security, which is an affirmation of the social structure to which the concepts belong.” “Constitution of Nature,” 264. 127. Crèvecoeur, More Letters, 142. 128. Crèvecoeur, Letters, 178. 129. Ibid., 179. 130. Ibid., 200. 131. Ibid., 201. 132. Ibid., 206, 209. Christine Holbo writes that Letter 12 is “caught in a dialectical tension between the beautiful and the sublime, between philosophy and madness, liberty and imprisonment: a dialectical tension in which the differences between these opposed possibilities dissolve, and yet in which a middle-ground is always just out of reach.” “Imagination,” 52. 133. Crèvecoeur, Letters, 173. 134. Crèvecoeur, More Letters, 328. 135. Crèvecoeur notes that effective sublime description depends, however ironically, on an accessible scale. As he writes in “American Belisarius,” “when [the] object of contemplation is too extensive, our divided and wearied faculties receive Impressions proportionably feeble.” Thus, “when we descend from the destruction of an extensive Government or Nation to that of several individuals, to that of a once opulent happy virtuous family, there we pause, for it is more analogous to our own situation.” More Letters, 215. 136. Ed White persuasively argues that Letters should not be understood independently of Lettres and the English-language sketches collected in More Letters. He suggests that scholars pursue a “mode of reading [them] in which contradictions and


Notes to Pages 133–139

tensions are accentuated, in which each sketch is to be read against the others, resisting the artificial syntheses of the essayist or the historian.” “Crèvecoeur in Wyoming,” 397. 137. Lawson-Peebles, Landscape, 6. 138. De Tocqueville, Democracy, 485. 139. Jefferson, Notes, 21–22. 140. Alison, Essays, 52. 141. Weld, Travels, 43. 142. Smyth, Tour, 146. 143. Imlay, Topographical, 48. 144. “True Beauty,” 87. 145. “On the Advantage,” 82. 146. Bartram, Travels, 45–46. 147. Jefferson, Notes, 93. 148. Ibid., 62. 149. Ibid., 63. 150. Ibid., 275. 151. Crèvecoeur, Letters, 171. 152. Jefferson, Notes, 139–40. 153. Ibid., 140. 154. Ibid. 155. Imlay, Topographical, 194, 198. Notably, Imlay follows this rejoinder with the same claim Jefferson uses regarding both Sancho and Buffon: that he has “ridiculously suffered his imagination to be carried away.” Ibid., 201. 156. Bartram, Travels, 199. 157. Crèvecoeur, Letters, 83. 158. Jefferson, Notes, 138. 159. Filson, Discovery, 81. Chapter 4 1. Akenside, Pleasures, 102. 2. According to Isaac Kramnick, “Reading the framers and the critics of the Constitution, one discerns the languages of republicanism, of Lockean liberalism, of workethic Protestantism, and of state-centered theories of power and sovereignty.” In a note, he suggests several other possible “idioms of politics in the discourse of 1787,” including “the ‘moral sentiment’ schools of the Scottish Enlightenment.” “‘Great National,’ ” 4. 3. Eric Slauter similarly argues that taste, because it “represented a central problem for the successful integration of individuals into communal life,” plays a significant rhetorical role in Constitutional discourse. State as Work of Art, 87. But Slauter emphasizes what he calls “Constitutional taste”—the notion that different forms of government are suitable to different kinds of peoples and cultures—over philosophical ideas of perception, imagination, and judgment.

Notes to Pages 139–146


4. The first edition of the collected essays, published in New York City in 1788, reveals Publius to be a “Citizen of New York” but is addressed to “the People of America.” 5. On the limited circulation of The Federalist, see Loughran, Republic, 118–22. On its limited appeal and relevance, see Albert Furtwangler, Authority, 21–23. 6. I use the terms “Federalist” and “Anti-Federalist” with caution in order to indicate supporters and critics of the Constitution, respectively. As Saul Cornell demonstrates, the ratification debates “began as a many-sided conversation, a free-for-all. Only after ratification, during the 1790s, did the public debate take shape as a dialogue between distinctive Federalist and Anti-Federalist positions.” Other Founders, 19. Importantly, pro-Constitutional “Federalists” of the 1780s are not to be confused with the political party of the 1790s and early nineteenth century, whose organization and reactionary politics were distinct from those of the ratification era. 7. Nelson, National Manhood, 34, 38, 40. 8. Ferguson, Reading the Early Republic, 157. 9. Ferguson, “American Enlightenment,” 354, 352. 10. Nelson, National Manhood, 39. 11. Ibid., 33. 12. Hamilton, Madison and Jay, Federalist, 38. All further citations of The Federalist in this chapter are made parenthetically in the text. 13. As Adam Smith writes, “The orderly and flourishing state of society is agreeable to [man], and he takes delight in contemplating it.” Theory, 127. 14. So understood, faction springs from the domination of the selfish over the social passions. As Madison writes in Federalist 10: “As long as the connection subsists between [man’s] reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other.” Federalist, 78. 15. Hume, Essays, 55. 16. Hutcheson, Inquiry, 126. Hutcheson stipulates that interested actions might be considered beautiful “when the Good of the Whole requires a stricter Attachment to a Part, as in natural Affection, or Virtuous friendships; or when some Parts are so eminently useful to the Whole, that even universal Benevolence would determine with special Care and Affection to study their Interests.” Ibid., 127. 17. Burke, Enquiry, 137. 18. Hogarth, Analysis, 29. 19. Hutcheson, Inquiry, 45. 20. Hogarth, Analysis, 30. 21. “Address,” 101. 22. “Federal Farmer,” 201. 23. Madison, Notes, 39. 24. Scarry argues that symmetry, which is present to the senses, reminds us of our desire for, and thus calls forth, political equality, which is not. See On Beauty, 109. 25. At the Convention, Hamilton argued more bluntly that “inequality would exist


Notes to Pages 146–150

as long as liberty existed, and it would unavoidably result from that very liberty itself.” Madison, Notes, 196. On the “plebeian radicalism” of Anti-federalism, see Cornell, Other Founders, 99–120. 26. On enlightenment ideas of perfectibility and its origins in the Christian tradition, see John Passmore, Perfectibility. 27. Madison, Notes, 653. 28. Yates, “Brutus,” 317. 29. In 1787, Charles Brockden Brown asserts that “the idea of a perfect commonwealth is not the same extravagant thing in education as in politics.” Although he admits “that dreams of absolute perfection, can be realized only in another world,” he also insists that “success in every pursuit will be commensurate to the ideas of perfection which we entertain concerning that pursuit.” Quoted in William Dunlap, Life, 23–24. A year later, Mercy Otis Warren explicitly rejects the Federalist argument that “no form of government of human construction can be perfect” as “the soft language of insinuation.” Observations, 15. 30. Burke, Enquiry, 144. Hutcheson writes that “imperfect” characters in dramatic poetry give us “more lively Ideas” than perfect ones because we see in them “the Contrasts of Inclinations, and the Struggles between the Passions of Self-Love and those of Honour and Virtue, which we often feel in our own Breasts.” In great writers, this “imperfection in character” can even become a “Perfection of Beauty.” Inquiry, 43. 31. Hume, Treatise, 343. Garry Wills has established the influence of Hume on The Federalist, but his analysis is largely limited to political and moral theory and does not consider Hume’s writings on beauty, taste, and the imagination. See Explaining. 32. Adam Smith, Theory, 30. 33. Smith notes that there may be a “considerable degree of virtue in those actions which fall short of the most perfect propriety; because they may still approach nearer to perfection than could well be expected upon occasions in which it was so extremely difficult to attain it.” Ibid., 29. 34. Madison, Notes, 653. 35. Wilson, “Wilson’s Speech,” 66. 36. Although the trope of the engraved law of the heart was widely used in the eighteenth century, Hamilton may have borrowed this version of it from Rousseau, whose Social Contract emphasizes the importance of public opinion as that form of law which is “engraved in neither marble nor brass, but in the hearts of the citizens; it forms the true constitution of the state; it renews its vigor every day, and when other laws become obsolete or ineffective, it restores or replaces them; it keeps the people in the spirit of its institutions, and gradually substitutes the force of habit for that of authority.” Social Contract, 47. For Terry Eagleton’s reading of Rousseau’s idea of the engraved heart, see Ideology, 20. 37. Workman, “Philadelphiensis,” 494. 38. “Southwark,” 50.

Notes to Pages 150–154


39. On The Federalist’s tendency to claim the irrationality of Anti-Federalist critics, see Loughran, Republic, 124–31. 40. Hutcheson, Inquiry, 76. 41. The language of Miltonic monstrosity seems to have had particular currency during periods of political revolution. During the American Revolution, for example, the Virginia Gazette uses the language of “Gorgons, Hydras, and Chimeras dire” to ridicule Loyalists’ dissemination of the “terrifying ideas” of republican government. Quoted in Wood, Creation 97–98. Likewise, Burke, in his Letter to a Noble Lord (1796), writes: “The revolution harpies of France, sprung from night and hell, or from that chaotic anarchy, which generates equivocally ‘all monstrous, all prodigious things.’ ” Quoted in Ashfield and De Bolla, Sublime, 293. 42. Madison records seven uses in his Notes on the Convention. In The Federalist, the word appears eight times, five by Hamilton (in Nos. 11, 26, 60, and 85) and three by Madison (in Nos. 43, 44, and 46). 43. Melancton Smith, “Address,” 98. 44. Steele, Tatler, 478. 45. On the history of monsters as products of the imagination, see Marie-Hélène Huet, Monstrous Imagination. 46. Addison and Steele, Spectator, 541. 47. Ibid., 579. 48. Warren, “Columbian Patriot,” 289. 49. Workman, “Philadelphiensis,” 495. 50. At the New York Convention, Melancton Smith rejects the use of extreme images of utopianism and monstrosity by drawing from the Book of Daniel: “We may on one side compare the scheme advocated by our opponents to golden images, with feet part of iron and part of clay; and on the other, to a beast dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly, having great iron teeth, which devours, breaks in pieces, and stamps the residue with his feet.” Such rhetoric “may be entertaining,” he admits, “but it is of little service to the discovery of truth.” “Speeches,” 44. 51. Wood, “Interest,” 74. 52. On the republican ideal of disinterestedness, see Wood, “Interest”; and Creation, 68–70. 53. Shaftesbury, Characteristicks, 251. 54. Hutcheson, Inquiry, 26. 55. Hume, Essays, 232, 239. 56. Hogarth was skeptical of the idea, sardonically suggesting that “the very worst painters sit as the most profound judges” of painting “on account of their disinterestedness.” Analysis, 19. 57. For the origins of aesthetic disinterestedness, see Kivy, “Recent Scholarship,” 626–42. 58. Hume, Essays, 237–38.


Notes to Pages 154–159

59. Federalist claims to disinterestedness were not always persuasive. As Frederick Dolan demonstrates, Anti-Federalists persistently focused on the interestedness of Federalist politics, and their critique of its rhetoric was typified by a “preoccupation with the implication of the subject in the utterance of political judgment.” Allegories, 38. Albert Furtwangler, Authority, 62–69, explores the relevance of the Federalist rhetoric of “candour” as freedom from mental bias. 60. Webster, “Citizen of America,” 161. 61. In “Of the Standard of Taste,” Hume writes that the ideal critic will discern in artworks “a mutual relation and correspondence of parts” and “comprehend all these parts, and compare them with each other, in order to perceive the consistence and uniformity of the whole.” Essays, 240. 62. Slauter’s extensive reading of Webster’s analogies argues that the significance of a “comprehensive view” also reflects the fact that the Constitution “could only be ratified or rejected as a whole.” Slauter, State as Work of Art, 117. 63. Hume, Essays, 241. 64. Hamilton, “Caesar,” 288. 65. Findley, “Letter,” 95. 66. On the history of republican ideas of representation, see Bailyn, Ideological Origins. On the shift from representation based on virtue to one based on interests, see J. R. Pole, Political Representation. For a useful discussion of political representation as a matter of either “standing for” or “acting for” others, see Hanna Pitkin, Concept of Representation. 67. Madison, Notes, 268. 68. Ibid., 295. 69. Kramnick describes the debate about representation in terms of the Anti-Federalist idea of a “mirror” and the Federalist idea of a “filter.” “Great National,” 14. 70. Madison, Notes, 82. 71. Ibid., 241. Notably, Hume’s “Of the Standard of Taste” distinguishes between “men of the most confined knowledge” and “those who can enlarge their view.” Essays, 226. 72. Madison admits that, although he “was an advocate for the policy of refining the popular appointments by successive filtrations, [he] thought it might be pushed too far.” Notes, 40. 73. Smith and Alexander Hamilton, “Melancton Smith,” 759. 74. For a broad discussion of the significance of natural language in early national culture, see Fliegelman, Declaring. 75. Yates, “Brutus,” 320. 76. For a discussion of ratification and the discourse of mimesis in the visual arts, see Slauter, State as Work of Art, 123–48. 77. Gerard, Taste, 47. 78. Burke, Enquiry, 69, 70, 95. 79. Dryden, Works, 20:40.

Notes to Pages 159–167


80. Reynolds, Discourses, 41. 81. Ibid., 107. 82. Kames, Elements, 120. 83. Ankersmit, Aesthetic Politics, 28. 84. Ibid., 25. 85. Ibid., 23. 86. Ibid., 47, 46. 87. Madison, Notes, 125. 88. Michael Warner argues that Publius exemplifies the ideal of disembodied civic virtue implicit in republican print ideology. Letters, 113. But Trish Loughran counters that Publius’s formal anonymity in some cases signaled not civic virtue but untrustworthiness and in others was undone by “local knowledge” about authorship and interests. Republic, 135. 89. Hamilton might as well have quoted Hume’s “Of the Standard of Taste,” which supposes that, through the pronouncements of “qualified” judges, the best works and artists “are sure, after a little time, to gain public applause, which they maintain for ever. . . . And though prejudices may prevail for a time, they . . . yield at last to the force of nature and just sentiment.” Essays, 242–43. 90. This tendency in The Federalist to emphasize political difference argues against what Nelson calls the “de-politicizing logic of U.S. Constitutional nationalism.” “Conster/Nation,” 575. 91. Michael P. Kramer observes that The Federalist is as much a “fictional response” to the early national conflict between “truth, clarity, and virtue” and “falsehood, ambiguity, and faction” as is “Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland or Hugh Henry Brackenridge’s Modern Chivalry.” Imagining Language, 135. Chapter 5 1. Dryden, Works, 8:101. 2. Brown, Wieland, 78. All references to Brown’s novels and Alcuin indicate Kent State University’s Novels and Related Works of Charles Brockden Brown, Bicentennial Edition. 3. Ibid., 23. 4. Ibid., 26. 5. Bredahl, “Transformation,” 177; Russo, “‘Chimeras.’ ” See also Maurice Bennett, “Brown’s Ambivalence.” 6. Bell, “‘Double-Tongued Deceiver,’ ” 145. Since the 1980s, Brown criticism has had surprisingly little to say about his representations of the imagination. For two recent exceptions, see Ezra Tawil, “‘New Forms”; and Anthony Galluzzo, “Aesthetics of Terror.” 7. Sartre, Imagination, 4. 8. R. S., “On Poetry and Genius, 246. 9. Brown is certainly not the only novelist of post-Revolutionary America whose work engages with aesthetic theory. But because he was both among the period’s most


Notes to Pages 168–173

prolific novelists and one of its most avid and erudite critics of aesthetic theory, his fiction invites a focused analysis. 10. For studies of the period that emphasize the conflict of parties and the transformation of politics, see Stanley Elkins and Eric McKittrick, Age of Federalism; Steven Watts, Republic Reborn; Richard Buel, Jr., Securing the Revolution; and Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty. 11. On the political and commercial culture of the period, see Joyce Appleby, Capitalism. Stephen Shapiro has recently argued that the commercial relations of mid-Atlantic “re-export culture” is a more central context than that of U.S. nationhood for understanding Brown’s fiction. See Culture and Commerce. 12. Terence Martin, Instructed Vision, 57. 13. “Character and Effects,” 225. 14. Ibid. 15. Ibid. 16. Davidson, Revolution, 49. 17. Kames, Elements, 34–35. 18. Ibid., 35–36. 19. Ibid., 37. 20. Ibid., 38–39. On Kames, “ideal presence” and the novel, see Patricia Spacks, Desire and Truth, 46–48; and David Marshall, Frame of Art, 48–54. 21. Blair, Lectures, 421. 22. Ibid., 423–24. 23. Karen Weyler agrees that anti-novel discourse has been “over-emphasized” by scholars but argues that it was both often “directed specifically toward foreign imports” and articulated by periodicals that were themselves dependent on fictional content. Intricate Relations, 6–7. 24. Brown, Arthur Mervyn, 3. 25. Brown, Wieland, 3. 26. Brown, Literary, 33. 27. Ibid., 37. 28. For discussions of Brown’s understanding of the relation between history and fiction, see Mark Kamrath, Historicism; and Amanda Emerson, “Early American Novel.” 29. Davidson, Revolution, 40. 30. Brown, Wieland, 3. 31. Brown, Arthur Mervyn, 3. 32. Hutcheson, Inquiry, 9. 33. Brown, Edgar Huntly, 3. 34. Addison and Steele, Spectator, 563. 35. On Rousseau’s romanticism, see David Lay Williams, Platonic Enlightenment. For a survey of philosophical materialism in eighteenth-century Britain, see John Yolton, Thinking Matter. 36. Brown, Rhapsodist, 16.

Notes to Pages 173–179


37. Ibid., 7. 38. Brown, Letters, 50. 39. Caleb Crain argues that Brown’s friend, Elihu Hubbard Smith, grew impatient with the unreliability and melodramatic tone of such romantic rhetoric, calling it evidence of a “diseased apprehension.” American Sympathy, 89–90. 40. Brown, Rhapsodist, 16. 41. On Brown’s interest in French materialism, see W. M. Verhoeven, “‘Blissful Period,’ ” 22–24. 42. Quoted in Dunlap, Life, 18. 43. Hartley, Observations, 72. 44. Brown, Ormond, 33. 45. “On the Great and Extensive Powers,” 175–76. 46. Brown, Letters, 16. 47. Brown, Rhapsodist, 23–24. 48. Darwin, Zoonomia, 356. 49. Ibid., 317–18. 50. Smith, Diary, 346, 76. 51. Brown, Rhapsodist, 87. 52. Ibid., 89. 53. For example, Darwin’s case of the parsimonious man who is cursed by a poor woman for refusing her a few sticks from his yard to keep her warm and then becomes cold himself is famously the source of Wordsworth’s 1798 poem, “Goody Blake and Harry Gill.” 54. “Of the Eccentricities,” 325–26. 55. “On the Power of Imagination,” 79. This popular anecdote appeared in at least thirty-eight different American magazines and newspapers between 1785 and 1815. 56. Disraeli, “Imaginations,” 536. The physical effect of maternal imaginations on childbirth was a persistent subject of speculation in the early American periodical press. On the early modern discourse of the anomalous maternal imagination, see Huet, Monstrous Imagination. 57. Smith, Diary, 67. 58. Brown, Ormond, 71. 59. Ibid., 72. 60. Verhoeven, “Gothic Logic,” makes a similar argument by linking the psychological anomalies in Brown’s fiction to early modern “providence tales.” 61. As Davidson observes, “virtually every American novel written before 1820” includes a discussion of education. Revolution, 66. 62. Brown, Edgar Huntly, 92. 63. Ibid., 110. 64. For Brown’s engagement with Lockean ideas, see Fliegelman, Prodigals, 237–40. 65. Holbach, Good Sense, 25. 66. Brown, Wieland, 8.


Notes to Pages 179–186

67. Ibid., 20, 22. 68. Ibid., 5. 69. Christopher Looby notes that Clara’s early impressions concerning her father’s religious mania and spontaneous combustion were the effect of second-hand accounts rather than first-hand experience. Voicing America, 153. 70. Brown, Wieland, 59. 71. Ibid., 69. 72. Ibid., 234. 73. Ibid., 235. 74. Brown, Ormond, 6–7, 265. 75. Ibid., 58. 76. Ibid., 27, 21. 77. Ibid., 33. 78. Ibid., 160, 179. 79. Ibid., 180. 80. Ibid. On female education in Ormond, see Bryan Waterman, Republic, 116–23. 81. Brown, Ormond, 120, 128. 82. Ibid., 191. 83. Ibid., 263. 84. Ibid., 252. On the Illuminati scare in early national culture, see Waterman, Republic, 71–76; and Robert Levine, Conspiracy, 17–24. 85. Brown, Arthur Mervyn, 10. The first nine chapters of the novel appeared in the Weekly Magazine alongside “Fragment of a Course of Lectures on the Pleasures of the Imagination.” 86. Brown’s depiction of Carwin echoes magazine essays of the period that warn of having aesthetic talents and inclinations but no means of cultivating them. See, for example, “On Sensibility of Mind,” 332–33. 87. Brown, Wieland, 7, 211. 88. Ibid., 22. 89. Ibid., 52. 90. Brown, Stephen Calvert, 192. 91. Brown, Arthur Mervyn, 293. 92. Brown, Ormond, 186. 93. Ibid., 146–147. 94. Brown, Arthur Mervyn, 265. 95. Ibid., 116. 96. Brown, Wieland, 147. 97. Seltzer, “Saying,” 84. 98. Ibid., 90. 99. Godwin, Enquiry, 190. 100. Ibid., 294. 101. Godwin anticipates this dilemma, albeit unconvincingly, arguing that necessity

Notes to Pages 186–193


does not negate virtue but inspires it: “Nothing could be more unreasonable than that the sentiment of necessity should produce in me a spirit of neutrality and indifference. The more certain is the connection between effects and causes, the more chearfulness should I feel in yielding to painful and laborious employments.” Ibid., 172. 102. Brown, Ormond, 180. 103. Brown, Edgar Huntly, 74. 104. Ibid., 78. 105. Ibid., 91. 106. Ibid., 161. 107. Ibid., 159. 108. From this perspective, however, Clithero’s and Edgar’s problem technically derives not from a lack of freedom but from too much of it. Darwin refers to “somnambulismus” not as a “disease of association” but one of “volition,” in which, despite appearances to the contrary, the sleepwalker’s body and “ideas of the mind” are “obedient to the will.” Sleepwalking, for Darwin, “arises from excess of volition, and not from a suspension of it.” Zoonomia, 336–37. 109. Brown, Edgar Huntly, 277. 110. Brown, Literary, 33. 111. Brown, Letters, 209. 112. Brown, “Annals,” 1. 113. Godwin, Enquiry, 128. 114. Brown, Letters, 211. 115. Ibid. 116. Brown, Literary, 139. 117. Bredahl, “Transformation,” 190. 118. In eighteenth-century parlance, “transitions” also refer to the associative shifting of attention from one idea to the next in thought or conversation. In genteel circles like that of the Wielands, refined transitions in conversation were cultivated and admired; hence Pleyel’s compliment to Clara: “I marked the transitions of your discourse, the felicities of your expression.” Wieland, 121. 119. Brown, Arthur Mervyn, 53–54. 120. Ibid., 53. 121. Brown, Edgar Huntly, 239. 122. Ezra Tawil argues persuasively that Edgar’s comparison of his unprecedented experience to “the transitions of enchantment” is part of a larger rhetorical pattern of claiming the literary novelty of Edgar Huntly itself. “‘New Forms,’ ” 109. 123. Brown, Wieland, 3, “Introduction,” xi. 124. Ibid., 177, 179. 125. Ibid., 179. 126. Ibid., 34, 35. 127. Ibid., 224. 128. Ibid., 187.


Notes to Pages 193–200

129. Ibid., 172. 130. Ibid., 166–67. 131. Ibid., 173. 132. Ibid., 230. 133. Ibid., 65. 134. Ibid., 179–80. 135. Ibid., 5–6, 48, 69, 81, 151. 136. Looby, Voicing America, 177. 137. See Robert D. Arner’s “Historical Essay” for Stephen Calvert, 307–8. 138. Brown, Stephen Calvert, 272. 139. Peter Kafer usefully documents the anti-Quaker violence suffered by the Elijah Brown family, but his claim that such violence is directly expressed in the violent “revolutions” represented in Brown’s novels is unpersuasive. See Brown’s Revolution. 140. Brown, Stephen Calvert, 245. 141. Brown, Letters, 175. 142. Brown’s clipped finish leaves us wondering about the status of this “revolution,” but it also refers us back to Felix’s ultimate exile to the sylvan banks of Lake Michigan, where he shores up his failing judgment long enough to tell his tale. Given that Brown notes at the end of Stephen Calvert that he has planned four sequels, Felix’s exile thus signals both an escape from culture and the impetus for the production of cultural forms. 143. Fliegelman, “Introduction,” x–xi. 144. Ibid., xii. 145. Schiller, Aesthetic Education, 171. 146. Ibid., 219. 147. Brown’s feminist dialog, Alcuin (1798), written less than a year before Wieland, includes his most fully realized portrait of the aesthetic state Schiller describes. When Alcuin, a young, romantic schoolteacher, is invited to the progressive Philadelphia salon of Mrs. Carter, he presents her with a vision of culture whose essential equality is symbolized by universal access to aesthetic pleasure: “conversations, books, instruments, specimens of the productions of art and nature . . . it is the genius of our system to create, multiply, and place within the reach of all.” Alcuin, 46. 148. Brown, Wieland, 26. 149. Shaftesbury, Characteristicks, 52, 399. 150. Brown, Wieland, 23. 151. Brown, Stephen Calvert, 72. Chapter 6 1. Gerard, Taste, 165. 2. Winfred E. Bernhard’s standard biography of Ames focuses almost entirely on his life as a Federalist politician and relates little concerning his literary endeavors. See Fisher Ames.

Notes to Pages 200–205


3. Ames, Works, 5. 4. Ibid., 26–27. 5. Hazlitt, Collected Works, 153; Gerard, Genius, 69. On the relation between aesthetics and electricity in nineteenth-century American literature, see Paul Gilmore, Aesthetic Materialism. 6. Ames, Works, 26. Because “American Literature” does not seem to have appeared in print until Works was published posthumously in 1809, the actual date of composition is unknown. It was most likely written between 1801 and 1805, when Ames produced the majority of his most incisive and most pessimistic essays, and those with similar themes and examples point to the latter end of that period as the most likely. Samuel Morison dates the essay from 1804 to 1806 based on “internal evidence.” “Squire Ames,” 9. 7. Importantly, Federalists continued to hold on to crucial threads of non-representative power. For example, Marbury v. Madison (1803) made the Democratic legislative agenda subject to Federalist judges, such that until 1835 the Marshall court continued to bolster property rights and chip away at state sovereignty. For studies of early nineteenth-century national politics, see Watts, Republic Reborn; Buel, Securing the Revolution; and Wood, Empire of Liberty. 8. On the cultural expression of Federalist politics, see William Dowling, Literary Federalism; Linda Kerber, Federalist; Marshall Foletta, Coming to Terms; Lewis Simpson, “Federalism”; and Gordon Wood, “Democratization.” 9. Ames, Works, 37. 10. Dowling argues that Federalist writers, inspired by republican virtue and the Augustan tradition, created a separate world of the literary imagination as a refuge from the degraded conditions of American society. See Literary Federalism. 11. Kames, Elements, 11. 12. Simpson similarly argues that Federalist literary critics saw “an analogy between the threat of democracy to political order and the danger of democracy to the organization and control of literature.” “Federalism,” 253. 13. On magazines of the early national period, see Mott, American Magazines; and Edgar Neal, History and Bibliography. For a more recent treatment, see John Tebbel, Magazine in America. 14. On the eighteenth-century idea of “true criticism,” see Lawrence Lipking, Ordering, 86–105. 15. Fliegelman, Declaring, 116. 16. Warner, Letters, 41. 17. “Origin of Criticism,” 610. 18. See Habermas, Structural Transformation. 19. Eagleton, Function of Criticism, 11. 20. Hohendahl, Institution of Criticism, 52. See also Douglas Lane Patey, “Institution of Criticism.” 21. Pope, Major Works, 23, 18. 22. Blair, Lectures, 25.


Notes to Pages 205–213

23. “Advice to a Beginner,” 112. 24. “Thoughts Upon Illiberal Criticism,” 214–15. 25. On the Federalist response to early nineteenth-century expansion of literary markets, see Matthew Pethers, “‘Rage for Book-Making’”; and Edward Cahill, “Other Panic of 1819.” 26. “Criticism on Nonsense,” 8. 27. “New Art of Criticism,” 251. 28. “Relish of Good Criticism,” 49–54. 29. On genius and universality, see Guyer, Values of Beauty, 242–62. 30. “Essay on Genius,” 179. 31. “The Powers of Genius,” 531–32. 32. Brown, “Desultory Observations,” 294. 33. Ibid., 296. Yet if, like Gerard, Brown assumed that the powers of genius were innate, he also insisted that their authentic expression required a disciplined cultivation. In another Literary Magazine essay, “Remarks on Reading,” he distinguishes the “numerous class of readers of taste, who only prefer a book to the odd trick at whist” from those who assume that ideas are “labours” and must be approached with “an art of combination, and an exertion of the reasoning powers, which form no mean operation of the mind.” Literary Essays, 166. In yet another, he argues that cultivation rather than “natural powers” is the true source of genius: “Every man of common organization has the power of becoming a man of genius, if to this he add a solitary devotion to his art, and a vehement passion for glory.” For Brown, whose editorial work charged him with championing literary genius, an investment in the laborious “acquisitions of art” also required him to police its borders. “What Is Literary Genius?” 249. 34. “Taste and Genius,” 68. 35. Emerson, Essays, 259. 36. Ames, Works, 22. All further citations of “American Literature” in this chapter are made parenthetically in the text. 37. Warner, Letters, 146. 38. Raymond Williams’s summary of this development in the context of British romanticism is apt: “the free play of genius found it increasingly difficult to consort with the free play of the market, and the difficulty was not solved, but cushioned, by an idealization.” Culture and Society, 47. 39. As Warner writes, “Ames does not call for a national culture. He dreads the social conditions of its possibility.” Letters, 148. 40. Dennie, Prospectus, 1–2. 41. Ibid. 42. Ibid. Dennie’s claim in the prospectus that the Port Folio “will not strive to please the populace” runs conspicuously counter to Charvat’s judgment that “it was the very essence of the average criticism of [the early nineteenth century] that it subjected literature to the ideals and limitations of the reader.” Origins, 23.

Notes to Pages 213–217


43. Dennie, Prospectus, 1–2. In his Dictionary, Samuel Johnson defines “liberal” as “not mean; not low in birth; not low in mind,” which thus implies both social and intellectual rank, as well as the graciousness and civic orientation that would have attended it. Dictionary, 234. 44. “Criticism,” 98. Although some of the essays in the Port Folio are attributable to such well-known authors as Charles Brockden Brown, John Quincy Adams, and Royall Tyler, most remain unidentified. Elihu Hall, a later editor of the magazine, suggests that Dennie wrote comparatively few essays and confined his labor to editorial selection. On the problem of attribution, see Harold Ellis, Joseph Dennie, 158–63; and Randolph Randall, “Authors.” For a more recent discussion of Port Folio contributors, see Catherine Kaplan, Men of Letters, 140–46. 45. “Criticism,” 98. 46. Ibid. 47. Ibid. 48. “For the Port Folio” [1801], 107. 49. Ibid. 50. Ibid. 51. Such rhetorical and ideological inconsistencies are common in the parodies of the Port Folio, which strives less for ideological purity than the ironies of critical performance. For this reason, as Laura Rigal notes, it fails “at most forms of productive self-representation.” American Manufactory, 121. Kaplan argues that “Transatlantic arguments over sensibility shaped the Port Folio more profoundly than arguments over policy.” Men of Letters, 150. 52. In subsequent issues, critics offered similarly censorious close readings of Jefferson’s 1801 inaugural speech, his 1801 letter “To the New Haven Merchants,” and his 1785 Notes on the State of Virginia. For discussions of satirical attacks on Jefferson’s writing, see Kerber, Federalists. 53. “Columbiad,” 432. 54. Quoted in Ellis, Joseph Dennie, 179. 55. “American Lounger,” 1. 56. “Caravansary,” 58. 57. Ibid. 58. Linn, “Taste and Genius Distinguished,” 31. 59. “Of Criticism,” 513. 60. Ibid., 513–14. 61. “For the Port Folio” [1807], 83. 62. Elliot, “Rural Wanderer,” 121. For the attribution of Elliot, see Randall, “Authors,” 394. 63. Dennie, Prospectus, 3; “The Lay Preacher,” 49. 64. Dennie, “Prospectus” [1809], 9. 65. Ibid., 3.


Notes to Pages 218–222

66. Dowling examines the “paradox” of the Port Folio’s accepting “modern print culture as the most fundamental condition of its own existence.” Literary Federalism, 72. On the 1809 remodeling of the Port Folio, see Kaplan, Men of Letters, 218–30. 67. “Selected Poetry,” 408. 68. “Wordsworth’s Poems,” 256–58. The Port Folio critic refers to the section of Volume II of the 1807 Poems, in Two Volumes entitled “Moods of My Own Mind.” On the reception of Wordsworth at the Port Folio, see Mary Ann Schofield, “Wordsworth.” 69. In the same year, two other major magazines, the Atlantic Magazine and the United States Literary Gazette offered similarly belated praise to Wordsworth. For a history of literary criticism at the North American Review, see Foletta, Coming to Terms. On Wordsworth in early American culture, see Annabel Newton, Wordsworth in Early American Criticism; Lance Newman, “Wordsworth”; and Charvat, Origins, 71–76. 70. On the history of the Anthology Society, see Simpson, “Federalism”; and Kaplan, Men of Letters, 185–94. 71. On the influence of Schlegel on American critics, see Charvat, Origins, 61–71. 72. Schlegel, Course of Lectures, 17. Well into the twentieth century, the reconciliation of genius and taste was considered among the greatest achievements of aesthetic theory. See Irving Babbit, “Genius and Taste.” 73. Schlegel, Course of Lectures, 18. 74. Charvat, Origins, 3. Charvat calls the work of Richard Henry Dana, Willard Phillips, and William Cullen Bryant after 1817 “the best and most liberal of the period” but also “too liberal to be representative.” Ibid., 174. But the many exceptions to critical conservatism he cites demonstrate that it was hardly anomalous. 75. Channing, “On Models in Literature,” 202. 76. Ibid., 203. 77. Ibid., 204. 78. Alison, Essays, 20. 79. Beardsley, Aesthetics, 204. 80. Dana, “Hazlitt’s Lectures,” 319. 81. Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads, 118–19. 82. Emerson, Essays, 21. 83. Greenwood, “Wordsworth’s Poems,” 356. 84. Ibid. 85. Scarry, Beauty, 14. 86. Greenwood, “Wordsworth’s Poems,” 356. 87. Ibid. 88. Scarry, Beauty, 57. 89. While I accept Scarry’s argument that people often experience beauty as the recognition of an prior error, I question the ultimate source of what she calls the “quickening” of the heart we feel in the presence of beauty that tells us we are somehow closer to truth. In the case of Greenwood, the recognition of Wordsworth’s poetic beauty is so emphatically relative to the continuing error of unenlightened readers that it is difficult

Notes to Pages 222–229


not to see social distinction playing as important a role as the desire for justice in the production of aesthetic pleasure. 90. Dana, “Hazlitt’s Lectures,” 320. 91. Greenwood, “Wordsworth’s Poems,” 357. 92. On the North American critics’ divided commitment to a “moralizing, nationbuilding, implicitly popular literature” and “the artist and the work of true genius,” see Foletta, 114–22. 93. Greenwood, “Wordsworth’s Poems,” 360. 94. Ibid., 362. 95. Ibid., 356. 96. Ibid., 359–60. 97. Ibid., 357, 359. 98. Ibid., 357–58. 99. Ibid., 362–63. 100. Ibid., 363. 101. Dowling, Literary Federalism, 87. 102. See Foletta, Coming to Terms, 14. 103. Williams’s account of the emergence of British romanticism is descriptive of the American context as well: “What was laid down as a defensive reaction became in the course of a century a most important positive principle, which in its full implications was deeply and generally humane.” Culture and Society, 40. Conclusion 1. Peabody, “Word ‘Aesthetic,’ ” 374. 2. Watson, Liberty and Power, 13. 3. Kammen, Spheres of Liberty, 6. 4. Quoted in ibid., 83. 5. Ibid., 89. 6. On the politics of liberty in the Jacksonian era, see Watson, Liberty and Power, 42– 72; Kammen, Spheres of Liberty, 65–101; Foner, American Freedom, 47–68. For broader political, economic, and social overviews, see Charles Sellers, Market Revolution; Daniel Feller, Jacksonian Promise; and Lawrence Frederick Kohl, Politics of Individualism. 7. See Lawrence I. Buell, “Unitarian Aesthetics.” 8. Channing, Works, 393. 9. Reed, “Oration on Genius,” 62. Reed’s oration was delivered as an M.A. address at Harvard in 1821, after which it circulated widely in manuscript until being published in Peabody’s Aesthetic Papers in 1849. Perry Miller calls it “the first admonitory indictment of formalism in the liberal church.” “Emersonian Genius,” 49. 10. Reed, “Oration on Genius,” 63. 11. See Sheldon W. Leibman, “Emerson’s Early Poetics”; and Roger Thompson, “‘Habit of Heat.’ ” 12. The literature on Emerson’s idea of the imagination is vast. For useful discus-


Notes to Pages 229–232

sions, see Vivian C. Hopkins, Spires of Form; Miller, “Emersonian Genius”; Richard Poirier, Renewal of Literature; Leon Chai, Romantic Foundations; and Rochelle Johnson, Passions for Nature. 13. Emerson, Essays and Lectures, 447. All further citations of Essays and Lectures in this chapter can be found parenthetically in the text. 14. Here, Emerson’s genius differs significantly from eighteenth-century versions in that it is less inventive than revelatory. As Myra Jehlen notes, “Genius does not create . . . but reveal[s] to us unknown dimensions.” American Incarnation, 84. 15. Emerson, Journals, 4:421. 16. Emerson himself was for many years ambivalent about Wordsworth. As late as 1832, he wrote: “I never read Wordsworth without chagrin. A man of such great power & ambition . . . to fail so meanly in every attempt. A genius that hath epilepsy, a deranged archangel.” Journals, 2:534. 17. See, for example, Christopher Newfield, Emerson Effect. More recently, Theo Davis argues that Emerson’s representation of individual experience as abstractly typical and universal reflects his debt to such Scottish writers as Kames and Alison. See Formalism, Experience. For Poirier, however, Emerson has a strong “sense of [genius’s] elusiveness.” Renewal of Literature, 69.


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Adams, John, 17–18, 64–66, 70, 251 n.28, 255 n.118 Adams, John Quincy, 60, 228, 232, 250 n.233, 275 n.44 Addison, Joseph, 8, 26, 29, 38, 81–82, 95, 99, 106, 203, 214; on the beautiful and the great, 46-47; influence on poetry, 74–76; Cato, A Tragedy, 59–60; on the pleasures of imitation, 89–90; on secondary pleasures, 39-40, 74; Spectator essays “On the Pleasures of the Imagination,” 1–2, 19, 48, 72–75, 173, 229, 233, 246 n.136, 249–50 n.230; on taste, 34–35; on variety and novelty, 107, 151, 247 n.178 aesthetic education: in America, 23, 168; in novels, 165, 180, 197 aesthetic theory: circulation in college curricula of, 25–26; circulation in imported books of, 26–29; circulation in magazines of, 29–34, 243-44 n.88; circulation in reprinted books of, 28; definition of, 3-4, 12–13, 33, 237 n.3; dialectic of liberty in, 4–5, 34–37, 56–58, 226, 248 n.188, 251–52 n.44; and historicism, 6; in Jacksonian America, 226–38; and literary genres, 1, 8–9, 57, 111, 138, 168–69, 208, 224; and literary scholarship, 2, 5–7, 66, 102, 238 nn.15, 16, 20; and politics, 8, 10, 12–15, 19–22, 56–57, 238 n.19; poststructuralist critique of, 2, 5–6; and the regulation of pleasure, 69–74; rejection of “mechanical rules” in, 34–36, 52; rhetoric of social

distinction in, 39, 54–56, 72, 115, 133–34, 138, 216; transnational nature of, 9–10. See also association of ideas; beautiful; genius; imagination; picturesque; sublime; standard of taste; taste African intelligence, 62, 134–37 Aitken, Robert, 28, 239 n.10, 243 n.80 Akenside, Mark, 74–75, 138, 249–50 n.230 Algarotti, Francesco, 28, 107 Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, 167, 199 Alison, Archibald, 8, 28, 33, 226; and “emotions of taste,” 33–34, 52, 133, 207, 220; on “freedom of the imagination,” 19, 46; ideas of, disseminated in America, 28, 33–34, 49, 207, 226; influence on Federalist criticism of, 220 Allen, John, 16 Alsop, Richard, 76, 252 n.56 American Revolution, 3, 10; aesthetic response to, 84–88, 90–92, 253 n.83; effects on idea of liberty, 17–18; politics of, 92–93, 114, 132, 216, 253 nn.82–83; violence of, 84–88, 90–92, 131–32, 195, 272 n.139 “The American Scholar.” See Emerson, Ralph Waldo Ames, Fisher, 3, 218, 272 n.2; “American Literature,” 200–201, 208–12, 273 n.6; on the dangers of democracy, 18, 200–201, 210–12; on genius, 200–201, 206, 209–12; on passion, 209–10; on taste, 211–12. See also Federalist literary criticism



Ankersmit, F. R., 159–60 Anson, George, 89, 254 n.104 Anthology Society, 218, 276 n.70 Anti-Federalists, 128, 139-41, 143-44, 147, 149–52, 156–57, 159, 263 n.6, 266 n.59. See also constitutional writing architecture, aesthetics of, 26, 144, 154, 244 n.101 Aristotle, 34, 90, 147, 203 Armstrong, Isobel, 6 Arthur Mervyn. See novels of Charles Brockden Brown Articles of Confederation, 148-49, 152 association of ideas, the: and the body, 174–76; corruption of, 41, 153, 178–79; and diversity of taste, 41, 52–55, 133–34, 220; and genius, 43, 206, 221; liberty of the imagination in the rhetoric of, 3941, 46; and the novel, 168–71, 184–85; regulation of, 40-41; and secondary pleasures, 40, 74; wit and judgment, relation to, 41-42. See also aesthetic theory; beautiful; genius; pleasure; sublime; taste asymmetry: in the Constitution, 146, 148; in landscapes, 50, 105; principle of, 19, 48 Baillie, John, 51, 108, 126, 128 Barlow, Joel, 66 Barthes, Roland, 1 Barton, Benjamin Smith, 110 Bartram, William, 3, 102, 105; and beautiful and sublime landscapes, 117, 120–23; and Indian morality, 134; and mental transformations, 129–30; prose style of, 111–12; and virtue of western settlers, 136 Baumgarten, Alexander, 3 Beattie, James, 26, 28, 31, 35, 42, 246 n.136, 247 n.196 “The Beauties of Santa Cruz.” See Freneau, Philip beautiful, the: associative theories of, 48-49; and error, 222–23, 276–77 n.89; formalist theories of, 47-48; in

landscape writing, 100–102, 107–9, 116–20, 122–25, 129, 131–32; liberty of the imagination in the rhetoric of, 46-48; relation to the picturesque, 49; relation to the sublime, 46-47. See also sublime Belknap, Jeremy, 105, 112, 117 Bell, Michael Davitt, 165 belles lettres, 3, 7, 25, 30, 253 n.78 Berlin, Isaiah, 18, 240 n.14, 241 n.37 Blair, Hugh, 8, 95, 202, 214; on criticism, 35, 204–5; ideas of, disseminated in America, 26–31, 169, 226, 243 n.80; on novels, 169–70; on Ossian, 68, 97; on the sublime, 51; on taste, 35, 38, 51, 56, 161; on taste and genius, 42-44 Bleeker, Ann Eliza, 66 Boerhaave, Hermann, 175–76 Boileau, Nicholas, 34 Bollingbroke, Henry St. John, 42 books on aesthetic theory: imported, 26–29; recommendation lists, 28–29; reprinted, 28 Boston Massacre, 21 Boucher, Jonathan, 93 Bouhours, Dominique, 34 Brackenridge, Hugh Henry, 18, 30, 38, 88 Bradford, Samuel, 28 Bradford, William, 27, 239 n.9 Bredahl, A. Carl, 165, 190 Breen, T. H., 83, 252 n.69, 252–53 n.72, 253 n.74 Brooks, Peter, 6 Brown, Charles Brockden: Alcuin, 272 n.147; on the continuity of imagination and mental disease, 172–73, 176, 188, 269 n.60; “Difference Between History and Romance,” 171; “Distinction Between Poetry and Prose,” 190; as editor of the Literary Magazine, 33; as editor of the Monthly Magazine, 33; on genius, 166, 207, 274 n.33; and idealist theories of the imagination, 173–74, 268 n.35; “The Man at Home,”

Index 176; and materialist theories of the imagination, 172–78, 268 n.35, 269 n.41; “The Rhapsodist,” 173–75, 185, 190; on the picturesque, 49; on political utopias, 264 n.29, 272 n.147; and the theory of fiction, 167, 170–72, 268 n.28; “Walstein’s School of History,” 171, 188. See also novels of Charles Brockden Brown Burke, Edmund, 8, 19, 213, 239 n.7, 265 n.41; ideas of, disseminated in America, 26–29, 33–34; on imitation, 158; on liberty, 17; on the sublime and the beautiful, 47-48, 50–51, 90, 108–9, 110, 126, 128, 131, 143, 147; on taste, 5, 36, 46, 53, 55 Burnaby, Andrew, 105, 124 Burnet, Thomas, 126–27, 260 n.103 Calvinism, 66, 95–96, 221 Carey, Mathew, 28, 30–31 Carlyle, Thomas, 227 Carver, Jonathan, 104–5, 112, 116, 257 n.12 cascades. See waterfalls Cato, A Tragedy. See Addison, Joseph Channing, Edward Tyrell, 219 Channing, William Ellery, 221, 228 Charvat, William, 27, 219, 227, 244 n.107, 247 n.172, 274 n.42, 276 nn.69, 71, 74 Chesterfield, Philip Stanhope, Lord, 37, 69 chimeras, 150–52, 194 “Circle of the Social and Benevolent Affections” (Columbian Magazine), 71 citizenship, 14–16, 60, 67, 250 n.234 class conflict: post-Revolutionary era, 153, 162–63, 167–69, 202, 209, 213, 224; Revolutionary era, 82–84, 92, 133–34 Coleridge, Samuel, 207, 227 college curricula: and aesthetic theory, 25–27; changes in, 25, 242 nn.64, 66, 67, 242-43 n.69. See also eloquence; moral philosophy College of New Jersey, 25, 67, 241 n.66 College of Philadelphia, 25


Colonial crisis, 16, 22, 65, 79 commerce: and colonial prosperity, 23, 80, 252–53 nn.72, 73; Federalist views on, 201–2, 207–9, 210–11, 213, 215, 217, 225; in landscape writing, 101–2, 112, 116, 123, 133; and non-importation, 80–84; and the novel, 173, 178, 180; and the pastoral mode, 79–84. See also nonimportation Conquest of Canaan. See Dwight, Timothy Constitution, U.S., 11–12, 140-41, 14344, 146-48, 154–58, 162; political representation in, 157–58, 160–61; republican form of, 148-49 Constitutional Convention, 11–13, 146-47, 156–57, 160 constitutional writing: The Federalist as exemplary of, 139-40; idioms of, 139; and “imaginary” or irrational politics, 150–51, 265 n.39; and political representation, 156–60, 266 nn.69, 72; rhetoric of aesthetic judgment in, 154– 56; rhetoric of “chimeras” in, 151–52, 265 nn.41-42; rhetoric of perfection in, 146-48; and the separation of powers, 144; and taste, 138-40, 262 n.3. See also Anti-Federalists; Constitution, U.S.; Federalist, The Cooper, Gilbert, 29 counter-pastoral, 77, 79, 81, 84–85, 87–88, 92, 129, 217. See also pastoral mode; poetry Countryman, Edward, 17, 239 n.13, 240 nn.20, 30 Court, Franklin E., 25, 242 n.64 Crèvecoeur, J. Hector St. John de, 3, 194; Explanation of the Map (Cutler), 99–100, 102, 104, 105, 123, 256 n.3, 257 n.18; Letters from an American Farmer, 18, 102, 128, 130–31, 135–37, 261 n.132, 261–62 n.136; Lettres du Cultivateur Américain, 99, 256 n.3, 261–62 n.136; prose style of, 111; “Susquehanna,” 122–24, 131–32



criticism: criticism of, 204–6, 215–16; definition of, 202–3, 219–20, 273 n.14; Federalist investment in, 201–2, 207–8, 224; German theory of, 218; history of, 202-4; “illiberal,” 205–9, 211, 213–16, 219, 223; “mechanical” rules in, 34–36, 42, 44, 52, 155, 216; transvaluation of genius and taste in, 206–8, 211, 216, 219. See also Federalist literary criticism criticism of taste. See aesthetic theory Cutler, Manasseh, 99–100, 102, 104, 110, 114, 124, 136, 256 n.3 Dana, Richard Henry, 220–22, 228, 230–31, 276 n.74 Darwin, Erasmus, 176, 192, 271 n.108 Davidson, Cathy, 169, 171, 269 n.61 Davidson, John, 175 De Buffon, George-Louis Leclerc, Comte, 113, 135 De Condorcet, Nicholas de, 174 De Rapin, Paul, 34 De Tocqueville, Alexis, 133 democracy: Federalist views on the dangers of, 16, 18, 196, 200–202, 211–15; ideals of, 146; post-Revolutionary growth of, 3, 56, 153, 227. See also class conflict; post-Revolutionary politics Dennie, Joseph: critical personae of, 215, 217; on democracy, 213–14, 216; on genius and taste, 213, 215–17; and the Port Folio, 33, 208, 212–18, 224. See also Federalist literary criticism; Port Folio, The Dennis, John, 51, 126 dialectic of liberty: in aesthetic theory, 5, 34–56, 226, 248 n.188, 251–52 n.44; definition of, 5, 36–37, 241 n.38, 244-45 n.110, 245 n.111; literary representations of, 57–58, 62–63, 88, 105, 189. See also aesthetic theory; liberty of the imagination Dickinson, John, 79–81, 83 Diderot, Denis, 34 diffusion of knowledge. See literacy

disinterestedness: in intellectual inquiry, 13, 152–53; in politics, 56, 66, 114, 142, 153, 161, 167, 265 n.52, 266 n.59; and taste, 4–6, 46, 55, 61, 73, 143, 154–55, 183, 219, 237 n.9, 265 nn.56–57. See also taste Disraeli, Isaac, 177 Dowling, William, 76, 225, 244 n.90, 252 n.60, 255 n.127, 273 nn.8, 10, 276 n.66 Dryden, John, 158, 164 Duane, William, 215 Dubos, Abbé (Jean-Baptiste), 28 Dufresnoy, Charles, 107 Dunlap, William, 27 Dwight, Timothy, 3, 66–67, 250 n.9; “America,” 77; and college curricula, 25–27; Conquest of Canaan, 75, 92–98, 138, 255–56 n.128, 256 n.130; “Dissertation on the History, Eloquence, and Poetry of the Bible,” 95–96; “Friend” essay series (as James Littlejohn), 31, 97; Greenfield Hill, 75– 77, 79, 84; on the morality of aesthetic pleasure, 95–97; 255 n.127 Eagleton, Terry, 6, 20, 204, 238 n.15, 264 n.36 Edgar Huntly. See novels of Charles Brockden Brown Edwards, Jonathan, 95 Elements of Criticism. See Kames, Lord (Henry Home) Elliot, James, 217 Elmer, Jonathan, 128 eloquence, 3, 7, 25–27; relation to aesthetic theory, 25–26, 57, 137, 242-43 n.69. See also college curricula Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 10, 202; aesthetic education of, 227–28; on the beautiful and the sublime, 229; on genius, 230–33, 278 n.14; Nature, 221, 229; “The Poet,” 229–32; political significance of the aesthetics of, 232; “Self-Reliance,” 208, 231–32; on taste, 229–30; on Wordsworth, 278 n.16

Index Essay on the Use and Advantages of the Fine Arts. See Trumbull, Jonathan Etheridge, Samuel, 28 faction: aesthetics of, 142-43; and freedom, 82–84, 253 n.82; in politics, 13, 137, 142, 146 fancy, relation to imagination, 246 n.136. See also imagination federal land policy, rhetoric of order in, 114 Federalist, The: aesthetics of architecture in, 143-46; aesthetics of faction in, 142-43; culture of judgment in, 161–62; Federalist 1, 18, 149, 161; Federalist 2, 141-42; Federalist 6, 149; Federalist 8, 150, 154; Federalist 10, 57, 143, 146, 153, 157, 160; Federalist 14, 150; Federalist 15, 152; Federalist 29, 150, 152; Federalist 33, 152; Federalist 37, 11–14, 55, 140, 143-44, 146, 155–56, 162; Federalist 38, 148; Federalist 39, 148; Federalist 44, 152; Federalist 47, 143; Federalist 55, 157; Federalist 58, 155; Federalist 85, 151, 162; political representation in, 157, 160–61; Publius as author of, 161, 263 n.4, 267 n.88; rhetoric of “chimeras” in, 150–52; rhetoric of disinterestedness in, 152–56; rhetoric of “imaginary” or irrational politics in, 149–51, 265 n.39; rhetoric of perfection in, 146-49; rhetoric of republican form in, 148-49; rhetoric of taste in, 138-42, 148–56, 159–61, 163; rhetoric of uniformity and variety in, 141-46, 148-49; on the separation of powers, 143-44. See also constitutional writing; Hamilton, Alexander; Jay, John; Madison, James Federalist literary criticism, 201–2, 207–8, 224, 227, 273 nn.10, 12; influence on later American writers, 224–25, 227, 232–33 Federalist party, 200–201, 224, 263 n.6 “The Female Patriots.” See Griffitts, Hannah


Ferguson, Robert A., 140-41, 238 n.22, 244-45 n.110 Fergusson, Elizabeth Graeme, 3, 66–67, 92, 253 n.82; “On the Mind’s being Engross’d by one Subject,” 97–98; “The Philosophical Farmer,” 81–84, 138, 253 n.78, 254 n.94 Feyens, Thomas, 177 Filson, John, 102, 105, 110, 116–17, 127, 137 Findley, William, 156 fine arts, 21–24, 26, 36, 212, 229, 242 n.53 Fliegelman, Jay, 57, 178, 196, 203, 238 n.16, 266 n.74, 269 n.64 Foner, Eric, 17, 239 n.13, 240 n.14, 277 n.6 “force of imagination” narratives, 177–78, 193, 226, 269 nn.53, 55–56 Foucault, Michel, 65, 251 n.22 Franklin, Benjamin, 26, 147-48, 211 freedom. See liberty Freeman, Edmund, 28 Freneau, Philip, 3, 66–68, 92, 98, 203; attitudes toward American Revolution of, 87–88, 92, 255 n.109; “Beauties of Santa Cruz,” 86–88, 254 nn.94, 96; “House of Night,” 90–92, 255 n.109; “On the Emigration to America,” 114–15; pastoral poetry of, 85–86; and the pleasure of terrible objects, 89–91; “Poem on the Rising Glory of America,” 88, 254 n.98; “Power of Fancy,” 76, 88–89; and slavery, 254 nn.94, 96, 98; “Wild Honey Suckle,” 83, 223 Friendly Club of New York, 31, 175 genius: debated in criticism, 9, 200–202, 206–12, 216–24; definition of 4, 42, 221, 230–31; electric power of, 200–201, 211, 273 n.5; elitism inherent in, 201–202, 207–8, 222–24, 232, 274 n.38; Emerson’s theory of, 230–33; extravagance of, 42, 56, 206–7, 223–24, 230–31, 246 nn.149–50; liberty of the imagination in the rhetoric of, 42-44, 230–31; relation



genius: debated in criticism, (cont’d ) to taste, 42-44, 206–8, 211, 216, 219, 229, 247 n.159, 276 n.72; romantic idea of, 207, 228, 230–33, 277 n.103; universality of, 4, 206, 208, 219, 222–24, 231–32, 274 n.29. See also association of ideas; imagination; taste genre. See literary form George III, King, 26, 90 Gerard, Alexander, 5, 8, 19; on aesthetic variety, 108; on criticism, 34–35; on genius and taste, 43, 46, 200–201, 231; ideas of, disseminated in America, 26–27, 33; on secondary pleasures, 19, 40, 48, 90, 158; on the standard of taste, 52–53 Gerry, Elbridge, 146 Gilmore, Michael, 66 Gilpin, William, 8, 49, 107, 109, 117, 120–21, 129, 259 n.86 Godwin, Williams, 182, 186, 188–89, 270–72 n.101 Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 164 Goudie, Sean, 87 Gray, Thomas, 66 Greenfield Hill. See Dwight, Timothy Greenwood, Francis, 221–24 Griffitts, Hannah, 66, 75, 80–81, 250 n.8 Guyer, Paul, 11, 19, 56, 239 n.1, 241 n.39, 258 n.43, 274 n.29 Habermas, Jürgen, 203, 239 n.25 Hall, John, 22 Haller, Albrecht von, 175 Hamilton, Alexander, 139; and censure of Anti-Federalists, 18, 149–52, 169, 214; and disinterestedness, 153–55; on inequality, 263–64 n.25; on judgment, 161–62, 267 n.89; on the value of a federal union, 149. See also Federalist, The Harris, Thaddeus, 29 Hartley, David, 5, 8, 34, 173–76 Harvard College, 79

Hawthorne, Nathaniel, 225 Hazlitt, William, 201, 207, 220 Hemingway, Andrew, 53, 238 n.15 Henry, Patrick, 57 Hernnstein-Smith, Barbara, 5, 237 n.9 history, and the novel, 170–72 Hobbes, Thomas, 70, 146, 153, 239 n.11 Hogarth, William, 8, 26, 28–29, 34; on the beautiful, 48–50, 100, 107–8, 144; on disinterestedness, 265 n.56; ideas of, disseminated in America, 26, 28–29, 34. See also uniformity, aesthetic; variety, aesthetic Hohendahl, Peter, 293 d’Holbach, the Baron, 174, 179 homology, of aesthetic and political liberty, 8, 14, 61, 239 n.11 “The House of Night.” See Freneau, Philip Hume, David, 8, 13, 19, 146, 169, 239 n.7; on faction, 142; on the fine arts, 22, 162, 212; ideas of, disseminated in America, 31, 34; and “liberty of the imagination,” 39-40, 46, 74, 174; on perfection, 14748; on reason, 240 n.31; on sympathy, 110; on taste, 36, 52–53, 55–56, 153–55, 228, 248 n.202, 249 n.227, 266 nn.61, 71, 267 n.89 Humphreys, David, 1–3, 10, 66, 75, 77, 84, 94 Hutcheson, Francis, 8, 13, 19, 172, 227; on the beautiful, 47-48, 50, 107, 141, 144; on faction, 143, 263 n.16; ideas of, disseminated in America, 25–27, 34; on perfection, 264 n.30; on reason, 18; on taste, 44, 150, 153. See also uniformity, aesthetic; variety, aesthetic Hutchins, Thomas, 110, 257 n.12 Hutchinson, Thomas, 70, 255 n.118 “illiberal criticism,” 205–9, 211, 213–16, 219, 223. See criticism imagination: Calvinist views on, 95–96; cultivation of, 54; and fancy, 246 n.136; force of, 177–78; idealist theories of,

Index 173–74; materialist theories of, 172–77; medical discourse of, 175–76; and mental disease, 165–66, 172–73; and the novel, 167–72; pleasures of the, 37-41, 72–74; and political liberty, 14, 18–21; relation of objects and ideas in theories of, 165–66, 189. See also association; dialectic of liberty; genius; liberty of the imagination; pleasure; taste imitation: pleasures of, 75, 89–91, 158–59; relation to political representation, 159–60; “slavish,” in art, 35, 56, 250 n.235 Imlay, Gilbert, 105, 112, 124, 134, 260–61 n.111, 262 n.155 Irving, Washington, 225 James, Henry, 225 Jay, John, 139-42, 168. See also Federalist, The Jay Treaty of 1794, 167 Jefferson, Thomas, 3, 105; on Africans, 62, 135–37; and the Comte de Buffon, 112– 13; conventional rhetoric of, 125–27; and the “empire of liberty,” 114; on Indians, 134–35; letter to Robert Skipworth, 29; on the Natural Bridge of Virginia, 57, 102, 104, 124–25, 260 n.100; Notes on the State of Virginia, 57, 62, 102, 116, 125, 127, 135, 257 n.13, 262 n.155; as object of Federalist satire, 213–14; on Ossian, 68; on the “passage of the Patowmac through the Blue ridge,” 125–26, 128, 133; presidential victory of, 201 Jehlen, Myra, 102, 104, 278 n.14 Joshua, Old Testament story of, 92 judgment: aesthetic (see taste); Locke on, 42-43; political, 11–13, 148–63 Kalm, Peter, 104 Kames, Lord (Henry Home), 5, 8, 13; and aesthetic empiricism, 34, 36; on the association of ideas, 40-42, 48; on criticism, 202; ideas of, disseminated in America, 21, 26–29, 95, 226; on


imitation, 159; on the morality of the fine arts, 21, 228, 245 n.124, 246 n.144; on novels, 169–71; on “relative beauty,” 49, 110; on taste, 38, 42, 53, 55, 155, 232 Kammen, Michael, 227–28, 240 nn.13–14, 277 n.6 Kant, Immanuel, 19–20, 241 n.39, 247 n.159 Keats, John, 229 Kivy, Peter, 53, 247 n.163, 265 n.57 Knight, Richard Payne, 28–29, 33, 50 Kramnick, Isaac, 139, 262 n.2, 266 n.69 landscape viewing, 106–9 landscape writing: and aesthetics, 100–102, 104–5, 110–13; Africans and Indians in, 134–36; the beautiful in, 100–102, 107–10, 116–20, 122–25, 129, 131–32; bodies of water in, 117–22; conflict between realism and romance in, 110–13; contrasts between the beautiful and the sublime in, 105, 108–9, 117, 129–32, 258 n.39; contrasts between cultivated and wild spaces in, 115, 122–25; genres of, 110; imagination in authors of, 110–13, 135, 262 n.155; influence of painting on, 106–7, 109; mental transformation in, 129–32; the moral sublime in, 109–10, 122; origins of, 105–6; the picturesque in, 104, 109, 116, 122, 133; representations of virtuous settlers in, 102, 132–33, 136–37; rhetoric of “convulsion” in, 125–32, 137; “setpieces” in, 99–104; social distinction in, 133–37; the sublime in, 100–102, 108–9, 112, 121–32; visions of geological past inspired by sublime objects in, 125–29; visions of national futurity inspired by beautiful objects in, 100, 123–25, 260 n.90; and western expansion 113–15, 136–37 Lawson-Peebles, Robert, 132, 254 n.96, 257 n.15, 258 n.39, 260 nn.103, 105 Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres. See Blair, Hugh



Leonard, Daniel, 93 Letters from an American Farmer. See Crèvecoeur, J. Hector St. John de Levine, George, 6, 238 n.19 liberalism, 15–16, 19, 21, 57, 104, 115, 262 n.2 liberty: abuse of, 17–18, 82–83; ambiguities of, 17–19; American ideas of, 15–19, 239 n.13, 240 nn.20, 30; British, 15–18, 23, 59, 151; distinguished from freedom, 241 n.35; experienced through the imagination, 18–19; and the fine arts, 22–23, 212, 242 n.53; in Jacksonian America, 227–28; positive and negative conceptions of, 16, 240 n.14, 241 n.37 liberty of the imagination: definition of, 5, 19, 39-40; literary representations of, 57–58; positive and negative conceptions of, 19, 56, 61. See also dialectic of liberty Linn, John Blair, 33, 206, 216 literacy: in America, 22, 203; Federalist views on, 210–11, 215–16 literary form, 2, 6, 8–9, 56–58, 62–63, 76, 110–12, 138–39, 168–69, 208, 238 n.21. See also constitutional writing; criticism; landscape writing; novels; poetry Literary Magazine (Brown), 33, 49, 166, 206, 223, 244 n.90, 274 n.33 literary nationalism, U.S., 10, 203, 209, 242 n.57 Locke, John: on freedom, 15–16, 18; on judgment and wit, 42-43; and pedagogy, 178; and sensationalism, 178, 227–28, 230 Long, John, 105, 121 Longinus, Dionysius, 22, 26–27, 33, 51, 126 Looby, Christopher, 104, 194, 261 n.126, 270 n.69 Loughran, Trish, 25, 242 n.62, 263 n.5, 265 n.39, 267 n.88

Lundberg, David and Henry May, 27, 243 n.79 Lyrical Ballads. See Wordsworth, William Madison, James, 3, 139; on the Articles of Confederation, 152; and censure of Anti-Federalists, 150, 155, 265 n.42; education of, 13, 89–90, 239 n.9; on faction, 142-43, 153, 168, 263 n.14; on the “faculties of the mind,” 11–14, 19–20, 239 n.6; on human depravity, 146; on liberty, 14, 18; on perfection, 148; on political representation, 157, 160–61, 232; on popular government, 148, 266 n.72; presidency of, 201; and the rhetoric of aesthetic form, 143-46. See also Federalist, The magazines: American, 30–34, 273 n.13; British, 29, 39, 203, 223 Malebranche, Nicolas, 177 Mandeville, Bernard, 146 Marriott, Sarah, 151 Martin, Luther, 128 Marx, Leo, 77 Maundrell, Henry, 127 McWilliams, John P., 93, 250 n.9, 255 n.123, 256 n.130 Memoirs of Stephen Calvert. See novels of Charles Brockden Brown Miller, Samuel, 25 Milton, John, 82, 151, 203 Mitchell, Samuel, 175 Montaigne, Michel de, 177 Monthly Magazine (Brown), 33, 49 Moore, Milcah Martha, 66, 250 n.8 moral philosophy, 3, 10, 13, 25–26, 142, 169–70, 239 n.9, 243 n.76; influence on nineteenth-century American writers, 226, 228 moral sense, 18, 69, 172, 221 moral sublime. See sublime Morgan, Edmund, 79, 240 n.23 Morse, Jedidiah, 105, 112, 122–23, 127, 257 n.12

Index Morton, Sarah Wentworth, 75–76, 252 n.55 Murray, Judith Sargent, 37–38, 75, 252 n.55 narrative reversal, 9, 62, 105, 129–32, 187, 191, 193–94, 221, 233 Natural Bridge of Virginia, 57, 102–04, 125, 127–28, 122, 260 n.100 natural history. See landscape writing Nature. See Emerson, Ralph Waldo Nelson, Dana D., 140-41, 267 n.90 newspapers, 1, 23, 104, 256 n.3, 269, n.55 Nicholson, Marjorie Hope, 126, 257 n.20 non-importation: pastoral rhetoric of, 80–84, 253 n.80; politics of, 79–80, 83. See also commerce North American Review: critical reception of Wordsworth in, 108, 218–24; history of, 218; rhetoric of neglected genius in, 221–24; and romantic aesthetics, 218–21, 276 n.74, 277 n.92. See also Channing, Edward Tyrell; Dana, Richard Henry; Greenwood, Francis Northwest Ordinance of 1787, 99 Norton, Andrews, 34 Notes on the State of Virginia. See Jefferson, Thomas novels: criticism of, 169, 268 n.23; moral purpose of, 166–67, 169–72; relation to aesthetics, 166, 168–72, 174; and Scottish Common Sense philosophy, 169–72 novels of Charles Brockden Brown: aesthetic education in, 180–82; aesthetic pleasure in, 182–84; and the aesthetic state, 196–98; Arthur Mervyn, 170–71, 182, 184–85, 190; Edgar Huntly, 172, 178, 186–89, 191–92; “force of imagination” narratives in, 177–78, 193; interpreting the politics of, 8, 196; language of Lockean impressions in, 178–80; the lawless imagination in, 165, 198–99; Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist, 182; Memoirs of Stephen Calvert, 183–84, 195–96,


272 n.142; mental disease in, 177–78, 187, 192–94; narration in, 166, 185, 188–89, 193–94; narrative reversals in, 191, 193–94; Ormond, 175, 177, 180, 184, 186; patriotic imagination in, 197–98; rhetoric of association in, 184–87; rhetoric of causality in, 185–89; rhetoric of transformation in, 185, 189–96; “springs of action” in, 172–73; Wieland, 164, 171, 176, 179, 183, 185–86, 189–90, 192–94. See also Brown, Charles Brockden novelty: Addison’s concept of, 2, 73, 75, 107, 151, 247 n.178; relation to variety, 48, 107 Occom, Samsom, 16 Odiorne, Thomas, 76 Ohio Company, 99, 114 Ohio Valley, 99, 113–14, 124, 135 “On Imagination.” See Wheatley, Phillis “On Models in Literature.” See Channing, Edward Tyrell “On the Mind’s being engrossed by one Subject.” See Fergusson, Elizabeth Graeme Onuf, Peter, 114–15, 259 n.65 oratory. See eloquence Ormond. See novels of Charles Brockden Brown Paine, Thomas, 17 painting, theory of, 9, 49, 106–9, 125, 144 Parsons, Samuel, 99 passions: ancient, 67–68, 109–10; economy of the, 9, 70–72, 90–92, 96, 130, 138, 251 n.26; and the novel, 167–72; selfish, 38, 56, 65, 147, 168–69, 169; social, 7, 157, 198; of women, 37. See also self-love; sensus communis pastoral counterforce. See counter-pastoral pastoral mode: in non-importation writing, 79–84; in poetry, 62, 76–85, 87–88, 90–91, 208



patriotism, 64–65, 83–84, 87, 110, 197–98. See also sensus communis Peabody, Elizabeth, 226, 232 Penn, William, 81 periodicals. See magazines peripeteia. See narrative reversal philosophical criticism. See aesthetic theory “The Philosophical Farmer.” See Fergusson, Elizabeth Graeme picturesque: controversy over, 50, 248 nn.185, 188; definition of, 49–50; in landscape writing, 104, 109, 116, 122, 133; liberty of the imagination in the rhetoric of, 49–50; relation to the beautiful and the sublime, 49–50. See also beautiful; landscape viewing; sublime pleasure: aesthetic, compared with sensual, 38–39, 68–69, 79, 81, 245 n.125; aesthetic theory’s regulation of, 69–74; autonomy of, 39, 73; Chesterfield on, 69; Foucault on, 65, 251 n.22; liberty of the imagination in the rhetoric of, 37–39, 68–69, 73–74; man of, 69, 72; morality of, 21–22, 26, 37–39, 68–73, 81–82, 92–98; moral transvaluation of, 68, 76–84; phenomenology of, 39-40, 73–73, 249 n.227; and poetry, 66–67, 74–79, 80–82, 84–98; secondary, 39-40, 73–75, 90, 158; terrible objects giving, 89–90, 151–52; and women, 37–38. See also association of ideas; beauty; imagination; taste Pleasures of Imagination, The. See Akenside, Mark “Pleasures of the Imagination, On the.” See Addison, Joseph Poem on the Happiness of America. See Humphreys, David “Poem on the Rising Glory of America.” See Freneau, Philip Poems of Ossian. See MacPherson, James “The Poet.” See Emerson, Ralph Waldo

poetic kinesis, 75–76, 88, 95. See also liberty of the imagination; poetry poetic meter, 9, 88. See also poetry poetry: and aesthetic pleasure, 66–67, 74–79, 80–82, 84–98; ancient compared with modern, 67–68; epic, 92–97, 255 n.123; Ossianic, 67–68, 87, 91, 94, 208, 210, 222; pastoral, 62, 76–85, 87–88, 90–91, 208, 217, 253; Shaftesbury, on the “moral magic” of, 76 political representation: aesthetic and mimetic forms of, 158–60; AntiFederalist arguments concerning, 157–59; in Britain, 156–57; in the Constitution, 157; in The Federalist, 157, 160–61; as a question for Constitutional Convention, 156–57 Pope, Alexander, 66, 203, 220; Essay on Criticism, 96, 204, 244 n.96; Essay on Man, 70–72, 98, 246 n.150, 251 n.29 Pope, John, 113 Port Folio, The, 33, 208; contributors to, 275 n.44; criticism of Jefferson in, 213–14; and Dennie, 212–17; idea of genius in, 215–17; “illiberal” criticism in, 213–16; prospectus for, 213; reorganization of, 217; reviews of Wordsworth in, 218. See also Federalist literary criticism post-Revolutionary politics: and Constitutional ratification, 138–63; and erosion of patriotic unity, 96–97; and Federalism, 201, 207–8, 273 nn.7–8; and Jacksonian democracy, 227–28, 277 n.6; in the 1790s, 167–68, 268 nn.10–11; and western expansion, 114–15 Postal Act of 1792, 31 “The Power of Fancy.” See Freneau, Philip Pownall, Thomas, 105, 112, 116, 121–23 Price, Richard, 22, 212 Price, Uvedale, 28, 49–50, 248 n.188 Priestley, Joseph, 174–75 Ralph, James, 30 Raven, James, 27

Index Reed, Sampson, 228 Regis, Pamela, 104, 111, 256 n.9, 257 n.15 Reid, Thomas, 5, 8, 26, 29, 226; ideas of, disseminated in America, 26, 28–29, 31, 41, 54, 226; objectivism of, 48, 246 n.142; on the sublime, 51; on taste, 54 republicanism: commercial, 225; in government, 1, 9, 16, 36, 43, 99, 142, 148, 157, 227, 266 n.66; and liberty, 12, 41, 56, 97, 114, 136, 141, 200, 209; and virtue, 60, 167, 180, 224, 273 n.10. See also political representation Reynolds, Joshua, 8, 28–30, 34; on contrast in painting, 107; ideas of, disseminated in America, 28–29, 30, 34; on imitation, 159; on genius, 42, 206, 231 rhetoric. See eloquence Romans, Bernard, 105, 112–13, 135 romanticism: and aesthetic theory, 207, 223, 226–33; Dana’s defense of, 220–21; eighteenth-century aesthetics, continuities with, 232–33; eighteenthcentury aesthetics, rejection by, 227, 232; and Emerson, 202, 228–33; and Federalist criticism, 225, 232–33; and Jacksonian democracy, 227–38; politics of, 231–32, 274 n.38, 277 n.103 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 22, 173, 264 n.36, 268 n.35 Rush, Benjamin, 19 Russo, James R., 165 Saccamano, Neil, 74, 238 n.15 Sancho, Ignatius, 135, 262 n.155 Sartre, Jean-Paul, 166 Scarry, Elaine, 6, 222, 263 n.24, 276–77 n.89 Schiller, Friedrich, 164, 197–98, 272 n.47 Schimmelman, Janice, 27 Schlegel, August Wilhelm, 8; on genius and taste, 218–19; influence on Federalist literary criticism, 218–19 Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, 82–83 Seelye, John, 117, 122, 256 n.8 self-love: effect on perception, 97–98;


excessive, 65, 83, 87, 92, 246, 251 n.28, 263 n.14; reconciled with social passions, 69–70, 72–73, 76, 264 n.30, 251 n.26. See also passions; sensus communis “Self-Reliance.” See Emerson, Ralph Waldo sensibility. See imagination; pleasure sensus communis, 3, 70, 76, 94, 98, 167, 198–99 Shaftesbury, Earl of (Anthony Ashley Cooper), 8, 13, 19, 64, 126, 173, 227–28; on disinterestedness, 153; ideas of, disseminated in America, 26–27; on liberty and the fine arts, 22; on patriotism, 198; on poetry, 64, 76; on sensus communis, 70 Shakespeare, William, 23 Shenstone, William, 66 Sher, Richard, 27, 243 nn.79–80 Shields, David S., 7, 238 nn.16, 23, 242 n.59, 243 n.81, 253 n.78 Silverman, Kenneth, 59, 97, 242 n.59, 253 n.74, 255–56 n.128 Skipworth, Robert, 29 slavery: African, 15, 17, 57–62, 87–88, 130–31, 135, 137, 157, 254 nn.94, 96; to critical rules and imitation, 34–35, 58, 155; of the passions, 36–38, 58–59, 65, 81, 138, 165, 197; political and economic, 17, 22, 58, 79, 240 n.23 Slotkin, Richard, 129 Smith, Adam: on the beauty of utility, 49, 110, 239 n.7, 263 n.13; ideas of, disseminated in America, 27, 29, 31; on perfection, 147-48, 264 n.33; on sympathy in taste, 53 Smith, Anna, 75 Smith, Elihu Hubbard, 29, 76, 175–76, 243, 269 n.39 Smith, Melancton, 151, 158 Smyth, John, 105, 117, 121, 133, 257 n.14 “springs of action,” 172–73, 185, 192. See also imagination; moral philosophy Stamp Act of 1765, 79



standard of taste: critiques of, 52; contradictions inherent in, 53–56; defenses of 52–53; definition of; 52, 56. See also taste Steele, Richard, 29, 151 Stewart, Dugald, 8, 239 n.7, 245 n.136; ideas of, disseminated in America, 26, 28–29, 31, 34, 226; on secondary pleasures, 40 Stockton, Annis Boudinot, 66, 75, 252 n.55 Strutt, Samuel, 172–74 sublime, the: definition of, 46-47, 50–52, 248 nn.194, 196, 200; in landscape writing, 100–102, 108–9, 112, 121–32; liberty of the imagination in the rhetoric of, 46-47, 50–52; moral, 109–10; and physical pain, 47, 125, 130–31; relation to the beautiful, 46-47; relation to self-preservation, 50. See also beautiful “Susquehanna.” See Crèvecoeur, J. Hector St. John de Swedenborg, Emanuel, 229 Swift, Jonathan, 23 symmetry: in the Constitution, 143, 146-47, 149, 161; in painting, 144; principle of, 19, 49, 73, 155, 263 n.24. See also asymmetry sympathy: and the beautiful, 47-49, 88, 110, 122; and mental disease, 175–78; and the novel, 7, 170–71; pleasure of, 70, 76, 85, 87, 90, 142; and political representation, 158, 160; and taste, 46 taste: Alison’s theory of, 34, 207, 220; communities of, 20, 54–55; and Constitutional writing, 9, 138–39, 148–50, 152–56, 159–62; critique of, 9, 44, 202, 206–8, 211–12, 216, 219–20; cultivation of, 22, 26, 54–55; definition of, 5, 43, 229; and disinterestedness, 19, 44-46, 153; diversity of, 41, 52–54; and genius, 42-44, 206–8, 211, 216, 219, 230, 247 n.159, 276 n.72; innate power of, 55; liberty of the imagination in the rhetoric of, 42-46; man of, 39, 72; and

primitive or vulgar subjects, 53–54, 249 n.215; romantic rejection of, 211, 229–30; and social distinction, 53–56; and universality, 53–56, 111, 115, 134–35, 138, 155–56, 161, 183, 208, 237 nn.8–9. See also association of ideas, genius; pleasure; standard of taste Tennenhouse, Leonard, 9, 238 nn.23–24, 242 n.56, 243 n.76, 252 n.29 Thomas, Isaiah, 28, 31 Thomson, Charles, 127, 257 n.13, 260 n.110 Thomson, James, 74, 106 Thoreau, Henry David, 226 Todorov, Tzvetan, 186 “To Eliza,” 85, 87, 198 Townshend Acts of 1767, 79, 253 n.74 transatlanticism in American literary studies, 9, 238 n.23 translatio studii, 23, 88, 242 n.56 Travels of William Bartram. See Bartram, William travel writing. See landscape writing Trumbull, Jonathan, 3, 66, 250 n.9; on the diffusion of learning in America, 29, 225; Essay on the Use and Advantages of the Fine Arts, 21–22, 25–26, 58, 63, 241 n.47, 242 nn.57, 59; on liberty and the fine arts, 22–23, 212 Tudor, William, 218 Turner, Fredrick Jackson, 114 uniformity, aesthetic: in Constitutional writing, 139-45, 156, 160; in landscape writing, 100, 105, 107; principle of, 19, 26, 36, 47–51, 56, 107–8, 143-44, 147-48, 229. See also variety, aesthetic Unitarian Christianity, 221, 228 variety, aesthetic: in Constitutional writing, 139-48, 156, 160–61; in landscape writing, 100, 102, 105, 117, 120–22, 129; principle of, 19, 26, 36, 47– 51, 56, 88, 107–9, 143-44, 147-48, 151–52, 229, 247 n.176. See also uniformity, aesthetic

Index Warner, Michael, 210, 267 n.88, 274 n.39 Warren, Mercy Otis, 3, 64–67, 69–70, 92, 98, 152, 251 n.28, 264 n.29 Warton, Thomas, 67 Washington, George, 77, 93, 98 waterfalls, as figures of aesthetic liberty and constraint, 117–122. See also landscape description Watson, Harry L., 227, 277 n.6 Watts, Isaac, 88 Webb, Daniel, 28–29, 109 Webster, Noah, 93, 154–55, 162, 214 Weld, Isaac, 105, 127–28, 133, 257 n.13 western expansion, U.S.: politics of, 99, 113–15, 136–37, 259 n.65; violence of, 114–15, 131–32 Whatley, Thomas, 109, 117, 127 Wheatley, Phillis, 3, 16, 18; “On Imagination,” 58–64, 73–74, 136, 249 nn.228, 230, 250 n.234, 254 n.94; “To the Right Honourable Earl of Dartmouth,” 59; “To the University of Cambridge in New England,” 61 Whiskey Insurrection of 1794, 167 Wieland. See novels of Charles Brockden Brown


Williams, Raymond, 77, 253 n.80, 274 n.38, 277 n.103 Wills, Garry, 13, 128, 256 n.10, 264 n.31 Wilson, James, 148, 156–57, 160 Witherspoon, John, 13, 25–26, 242-43 n.69 women: imaginations of, 37–38; and liberty, 16–17; and novels, 168–69; and war, 84 Wood, Gordon, 17, 153, 239 n.13, 240 nn.20, 30, 255 n.118, 265 n.52, 273 nn.7–8 Woodmansee, Martha, 72 Wordsworth, William: critical reception of, 208, 218–24, 226, 231, 276 nn.68–69; Edinburgh Review’s rejection of, 223; elite appeal of, 222–224; Lyrical Ballads, 218; on taste, 207, 245; universal appeal of, 220–21 Workman, Benjamin, 150, 152 Wright, Susannah, 75 Yale College, 25–27, 33, 95, 242 Yates, Robert (“Brutus”), 147, 158 Yeats, James, 192 yellow fever epidemic of 1793, 176, 180 Young, Edward, 37, 42, 74, 231 Young, William, 28, 31

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This book owes many debts to the people and institutions that helped bring it into being. In the Fordham English Department, my colleagues in early American literature, Lenny Cassuto, Maria Farland, and Glenn Hendler, shared their wise counsel, learning, and collegiality. I also enjoyed the support of many other Fordham colleagues, including Eva Badowska, Doron Ben-Atar, John Bugg, Daniel Contreras, Elaine Crane, Arnaldo Cruz-Malave, Heather Dubrow, Mary Erler, Richard Giannone, Moshe Gold, Connie Hassett, Eve Keller, Julie Kim, Nicola Pitchford, Stuart Sherman, and Asif Siddiqi. Working with such talented and generous people has motivated my research and made sharing it a pleasure. In the final stages of my research, I relied on a Fordham University Faculty Fellowship and two summer research grants. Although most of my archival work was done through invaluable electronic databases, it nevertheless benefited from a range of resources at the American Antiquarian Society, the Princeton University Firestone Library, and the Library Company of Philadelphia, whose staff, especially Jim Green and Connie King, provided both hospitality and good ideas. At the 2006 National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar on “The Aesthetics of the Scottish Enlightenment and Beyond” at St. Andrews University, Paul Guyer, Rachel Zuckert, and others offered me a rigorous education in the works of Hutcheson, Hume, Gerard, and Alison and the pleasures of single malt scotch. I received the most substantive and consistent support, however, from fellow early Americanists, whose liberality continues to make ours an exceptionally humane community of scholars. Chris Looby inspired, encouraged, and assisted me again and again. Jennifer Baker generously read the entire manuscript and helped me to make my argument more relevant and incisive. In its early stages, Myra Jehlen, Meredith McGill, and Michael Warner gave formative advice. Along the way, Michael Drexler, Duncan Faherty, Drew Newman, Sian Silyn Roberts, Ezra Tawil, Bryan Waterman, and Ed White



offered guidance, suggestions, enthusiasm, and sociability. At conferences, seminars, and elsewhere, I enjoyed the support and insights of Martin Brückner, Chris Castiglia, Andy Doolen, Jay Fliegelman, Phil Gould, Bob Hudspeth, Susan Imbarrato, Peter Kivy, Ed Larkin, Antonio López, Michael McKeon, Richard E. Miller, Meredith Neuman, Nancy Ruttenburg, David Shields, and other members of the Charles Brockden Brown Society and the Society of Early Americanists. At the University of Pennsylvania Press, I am very grateful to Jerry Singerman, for his interest, advice, and support. The two readers of the manuscript, Elizabeth Maddock Dillon and Len Tennenhouse, offered thoughtful comments and suggestions that made the book better than it might have been. Portions of it appeared previously in different form in several venues, and I thank the publishers for their permission to reprint them here. A version of Chapter 1 appeared as “Liberty of the Imagination in Revolutionary America,” in American Literature’s Aesthetic Dimensions (Columbia University Press, 2012). A version of Chapter 5 appeared as “An Adventurous and Lawless Fancy: Charles Brockden Brown’s Aesthetic State,” in Early American Literature 36, no. 1 (2001): 31–70. A version of Chapter 6 appeared as “Federalist Criticism and the Fate of Genius,” in American Literature 76, no. 4 (2004): 687–717. Thanks also to the editors and anonymous reviewers whose comments and criticisms helped me to sharpen my arguments and enhance the overall research project. A handful of other people helped to shape this book in larger and smaller ways. For their enduring camaraderie, intellectual and otherwise, I am especially grateful to Nancy Dodd, Bill Foley, Mark Konkel, Ed Sien, and Andy Tuck. But I owe most of all and more than I can ever say to Mark Jude Poirier, whose love, endless patience, commitment to writing, and startling wit have been as important to me as anything. This book is dedicated to him.