Controlling the Echoes of Empire in Charles Brockden Brown's Review Article
"An Account of Parkinson's Tour in America"
The early days of the United States of America saw travelers from Great Britain often traversing the length and breadth of the land inhabited by the world's newest nation. Many of these travelers wrote of their experiences, and American readers were often—in the British books they read—subjected to negative descriptions of themselves, their culture, and their homeland. How were these readers to defend themselves against these literary attacks emanating from London, America's cultural and intellectual center long after political independence was achieved? In March 1806, Charles Brockden Brown provided readers of his Literary Magazine, and American Register (1803-1807) with "An Account of Parkinson's Tour in America," an implicit example of how to read and control a British author whose work still carried echoes of the old imperial character and attitude.
Presenting the narrative of his travels—and travails—in the United States during the last years of the eighteenth century, Richard Parkinson's work set out "to undeceive those who have been taught to consider America, either as a place of refuge from poverty, or as a scene of speculation." Parkinson came to the United States in 1798. An acquaintance, John Sinclair, had received from George Washington an offer to let sections of his holdings in Virginia to British farmers. Figuring to make a quick fortune in cultivating "the promised land," Parkinson "pitched on a farm of twelve hundred acres, at twenty-two shillings (about five dollars) an acre of rent" (5: 220). He bought cattle, pigs, dogs, and several fine horses in England and loaded them with his family onto a ship for a twelve-week voyage across the Atlantic. After arriving in Norfolk in mid November, with substantially less livestock than he originally had, he made a difficult trip to Mount Vernon; it was "a voyage generally of eleven hours," Brown writes, "but which . . . bad luck protracted to nine days" (5: 221). Parkinson was disappointed in Washington's land but apparently settled his family and livestock there anyway. Over the next two years and more he used the farm as a base for his travels. From the beginning, American "weather, the land, roads, markets, landlord, parson, justices, servants, and neighbors," Brown writes, "all come in for a share of [Parkinson's] abuse: and so cautiously is every consolatory topic avoided, that we are at a loss how, in the midst of all sorts of calamity and vexation, he could either have paid his rent, or preserved his reason" (5: 219).
Parkinson's overly passionate grumbling becomes an easy target for ridicule, and Brown—with a light touch of such ridicule in mind—immediately draws his readers together through the use of a first-person plural point of view: "A TOUR in the United States has lately been published in Europe, written by Richard Parkinson, a practical farmer, who lately spent three years among us." The use of "us" in this opening sentence invites the magazine's American readers into an imagined community of which Parkinson is not a part; in addition to this, the first-person plural suggests that Brown is aware of his former settler colony's continuing need to develop what Bill Ashcroft and his colleagues have called "an alternative, differentiated identity" (9), an identity with which they can respond from the margins of America to the former imperial center of Great Britain. Brown's second sentence then manipulates the community of readers he has just formed as he prejudices its perception against Parkinson with the suggestion that "[i]f a native reader derives no instruction from the wisdom of this, he will at least be amused with its follies and mistakes" (5: 219). The voice of the essay—once this community of readers and its attitude towards Parkinson and his work are established—remains largely in Brown's summary, not in Parkinson's narrative. For example, by not allowing Parkinson a recital of the woes that stretched his journey from Norfolk to Mount Vernon from the usual eleven hours to a full nine days, woes that might have inspired some sympathy in readers' minds, Brown's summary presents the simple fact and then moves on, undercutting Parkinson's authority by leaving the reader to wonder at the British farmer's ineptness. Thus in contrast to the conventions of book reviewing in early American periodicals, which tend to provide long excerpts from the work under review with relatively few reviewer comments, Brown—through extensive summary, argument, counterargument, and other rhetorical ploys—wrests control of the selected portions of A Tour in America from its author.
But before dealing with the story of Parkinson's experiences in the New World, Brown deals with Parkinson himself. A Tour in America is, Brown suggests, Parkinson's playing to the English court, a distasteful practice in the eyes of an American audience: the work is "fostered, it is probable, by a willingness to court the prevailing partialities of Englishmen, and diversified by an occasional appeal to the feelings which find favour within the circle of courts" (5: 220). The clear implication is that Parkinson's animosity toward the United States is a reflection of Great Britain's; the clear suggestion is that American readers should be on their guard. Brown then calls into question not only the usefulness of the work but also the author's ability to write effectively. Parkinson's "style"—an element of composition with which Brown was always concerned in his reviews—"is as coarse and vulgar as might be expected from a mere practical farmer; talking without ceremony, and for the most part in ill humour, on every thing that befel him or came in his way during his last lease." Then, having dealt thus tersely with the author's style, Brown notes what he considers Parkinson's limited analytical abilities:
Such a man has only one mode of discussing whatever you propose to him; the method of averment and instance. He suddenly comes down with a broad, positive, blundering assertion, and backs it with "the very thing that happened to himself," or the story of his neighbor such a one, which, being fact must decide the matter. There is, indeed, always abundance of inconsistency in the statements of these lovers of plain fact; and it requires but little attention to their stories to refute them on their own ground. (5: 219)
At this point Brown briefly turns to his readers, chastising them for being too often unwilling to expend the "little attention" necessary for such simple refutations. Until readers begin to practice close reading, Brown warns, authors such as Parkinson
are absolute masters of the argument; and when they embody their conversations for public use, it is wonderful how implicitly they are followed by the multitude, always abhorrent of just theory or general principle, prone to the observation of insulated occurrences, and unwilling, through timidity, to depart from particular examples, though often beguiled by indolence into the most dangerous applications of them. (5: 219)
To "embody [. . .] conversations for public use" is, of course, to publish them, and by the early years of the nineteenth century, according to Michael Warner, American readers accepted "publication [. . .] as a condition of legitimacy" (67). The tendency in the still intellectually colonized America was to grant greater authority to publications by authors from the former imperial center than to those by native authors, and Brown seems to have understood that unthinking, unquestioning readers would allow the simple act of publication to lead them blindly into "dangerous applications" of what British authors such as Parkinson presented them with in print. So it was Brown's task as an editor to control Parkinson and guide readers' experience of this blatantly imperialist author.
Once "An Account" begins to deal with the text of A Tour in America, Parkinson's voice is allowed center stage only when the British farmer's prejudice against the United States has most obviously affected his judgment of the new nation's land and people. Within these sections—where the readers of Brown's miscellany come face to face, so to speak, with Parkinson (and, by implication, with Great Britain)—Americans find their land portrayed as barren, their laboring class as insolent and lazy, their markets as difficult to reach, their agricultural economics—from producer to consumer—as overpopulated with middle men, their weather as frightening, their "'chief teachers'"—"'Tom Paine, doctor [Joseph] Priestley, and others of the same description'"—as more cunning than educated or moral (5: 226).
In all of this, Parkinson's method of understanding and judging the land and people of the United States is through comparing them with those of England. Brown rejects this comparison as at least unfair, if not altogether invalid, and most often ascribes Parkinson's misinformation and mistakes to faulty reasoning and ulterior motives (that is, his playing to the court). The English enjoyed a land that had long been under cultivation; what parts were useful for the farmer had long been cleared and settled, and in so relatively small a country, markets were easily accessible. Parkinson's plan of "rearing prize cattle" was one whose time had not yet come in America (5: 220); had Parkinson given any thought, Brown suggests, to conditions in the United States—where land and market opportunities were too different, in general too primitive, to support the kind of speculation attempted—he would have understood both that his hopes were premature and that there could be no fair comparisons made between agricultural practices in England and America. Of the British farmer's purpose in writing—"to prove that there is no land in America worth cultivating, and no enjoyment of life to be procured"—Brown writes, "There is little ground for fearing or hoping that the land of the United States will be cleared and cultivated by British capital or industry, while their own wastes, both in Europe and America, are left under heath and forest" (5: 219). Brown thus makes it plain that Parkinson's harsh judgments ultimately mean little to American readers, and the chief benefit of reading A Tour in America then becomes that of seeing images of Americans and their homeland as they appeared reflected in British eyes.
Brown concludes that Parkinson “has confounded the qualities of the soil with the stages of cultivation and the progress of society" (5: 225). Understood in this context, Parkinson's disappointments were not simply based on physical conditions in America, and Brown does not shy away from elaborating on this for his readers:
It is very clear, from his own statements, that his opinion of the soil was mingled with his disgust at the manners and customs of the country, and that the want of those comforts to which he had been habituated in England was the chief cause of his discontent with the farms of America. [. . .] The grievances which form the theme of these volumes is the necessary consequence of the recent settlement of America, its scanty population, and limited capital. (5: 221)
"American liberty and equality" were the chief reasons Parkinson believed himself unable to find good help in carrying out his schemes. The great country gentlemen in England were the masters of their lands and the people who worked them; in America, Parkinson writes, "'[. . .] I have been obliged to clean my own boots and shoes when I have had four servants in the house. [. . .] I should term such very bad management in England; but the idea of liberty and equality [in the United States] destroys all the rights of the master, and every man does as he likes.'" No white man in America called another white man "master," and Parkinson is often confused when he is unable to distinguish who works for whom. Brown counters that this interpretation is "folly," that the confusion is not a negative result of American freedom. It is instead a situation arising from the youthful condition of the country: "[. . .] as numbers increase in America, the evil complained of will wear out; that while the government remains sufficiently strong to secure the rights of property, and the monopoly of the labouring classes continues to decrease; these, like all other dealers in articles of growing supply, will become more and more courteous to their employers" (5: 222). In the end Brown uses "employers" instead of "masters," indicating that even when America progresses to the point where working relationships are clearer to the British they will not mirror the strong master-servant division to which Parkinson and his fellow countrymen were accustomed.
Brown's strict mediation of the contact zone where Parkinson and American readers of the Literary Magazine meet allows the latter not only to see their image as it existed in the mind and press of Great Britain but also to see obvious misrepresentations addressed by a native author in a native publication. Parkinson was on the same social level in England as many of the Americans about whom he wrote, but the picture he created of them was of an uncouth people who lacked education and paid too little attention to "'divine worship'" (5: 226). They lived in a land that "'appears [. . .] to be a most proper place for the use to which it was first appropriated, namely, the reception of convicts'" (5: 224). Although Brown allows such a picture to appear in Parkinson's own words, he undermines it throughout the essay by subverting Parkinson's authority, questioning his abilities as a writer, and challenging his judgments. Readers knew that American culture—in both town and country—was not equal to British culture, and in "An Account" Brown offers no opinion on whether or not it should be. He allows America its own character—vague though it was at the time—without comparing it to the ex-mother country and suggests that it is too early for the nation to have achieved the level of cultural refinement he, his readers, and much of the transatlantic world ultimately expected.
 Although not strictly a review, this essay addresses Richard Parkinson's Experienced Farmer's Tour in America: A Tour in America in 1798, 1799, and 1800: Exhibiting Sketches of Society and Manners, and a Particular Account of the American System of Agriculture, with Its Recent Improvements, 2 vols. (London, 1805). The Literary Magazine's "Account" is unsigned, but it is probably by Brown, who, especially after the death of John Blair Linn in August 1804, wrote most items related to books. [back]
 Thus from the beginning, Parkinson does not adhere to the rules governing travel writing. As Richard Wisneski writes, "Readers and critics expected travel writers to adhere to certain conventions and forms" (4):
Writers were not to talk about themselves. . . . [They] had to describe cities and towns, the customs and manners of the people they encountered, the landscape, trade and commerce. . . . Their texts were in many ways constructs. If travel writers wanted to manipulate what they described to present their own agenda or messages to their audience, they had to do so under the confines of these constructs. (5-6) [back]
In contrast, the excerpts from Parkinson's volumes that appear in "An Account" carry complaints about how physical and social conditions in America conspired against his personal schemes to profit from agricultural speculation in the New World. His arrogance and his message that coming to America is not worth a British man's time and expense are not subtly embedded within travel literature's conventions but seem instead to be the narrative's focal points.
 In a similar essay, "Cautions Respecting Emigration to America," selected for the February 1806 number, Brown likewise prefaces the warnings from another Old World emigrant with this headnote: "The following remarks are re-published from an English work for the amusement rather than the instruction of the American reader." Like Parkinson (and similarities suggest that the "English work" may in fact be Parkinson's), the author of "Cautions" sets out to disprove the "assertion . . . that the new world holds out advantages not to be found in the old one." In this essay it is not—as it would be later in "An Emigrant in America"—largely the inexperience of the European in the New World that makes life difficult for those who would emigrate but the misconceptions of America as a place and the shortcomings of the land itself. [back]
 Given Brown's attitude in regards to Parkinson's work, it is difficult to know how far this condescension reaches in relation to the American farmer. The few purely agricultural items in the Literary Magazine carry no hint of cultural hostility towards those who worked the land in the United States. The same is not the case, however, in Brown's fiction. The fathers of Arthur Mervyn and Carwin are brutal and ignorant men. The same is true of Carwin's brother, and this description of him is typical:
His wishes never led him astray from the hay-stack and the furrow. His ideas never ranged beyond the sphere of his vision, or suggested the possibility that to-morrow could differ from to-day. He could read and write, because he had no alternative between learning the lesson prescribed to him, and punishment. He was diligent, as long as fear urged him forward, but his exertions ceased with the cessation of this motive. The limits of his acquirements consisted in signing his name, and spelling out a chapter in the bible. (1: 100)
It is likely that this poor usage of farmers in Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist and Arthur Mervyn was more to serve the literary purpose of creating a foil for the protagonist than to condemn the intellectual abilities of farmers in general. Brown's animosity towards Parkinson and his narrative, therefore, seems rooted more in that writer's pretensions to portray America in a light to please the British court than in any negative opinion of farmers in general. [back]
 For example, the English feed their livestock hay; the Americans feed theirs "blades," which "proved to be the blades and tops of Indian corn." Brown allows Parkinson to tell the story of his search for hay when he arrived in America. The tale of his discovery of the general use of blades instead of hay includes accounts of American cows eating "'the dung of a horse, as naturally as an English cow does hay'"; of the streets of Norfolk being full of thieving local livestock, "'robbing every man's cart of the blades as they come to be sold, or picking up any thing else they can find.'" Regarding this chaos, so different from the life of raising cattle in England, Parkinson writes, "'It appeared to me that a man's having land in or about that town was of no advantage to him in keeping cows, as it growed no grass; the street was the cheapest place to keep them in, and the best.'" Parkinson's voice drips with disgust at these practices, but Brown undercuts the story by closing the excerpt with an observation of his own: "It may be proper to add, however, that our author, in the sequel, found the trade of a cowfeeder a singularly profitable one; and that his horses approved exceedingly of those blades, 'which it was the practice to sell by the pound, in the same manner as tea in England'" (5: 221). [back]
Mr. Parkinson maintains that, after travelling repeatedly over the most favoured parts of the continent, and partly viewing, partly trying the soil, as an experienced farmer, he has been unable to find any which would be deemed worth the trouble of touching in England; that every appearance of poverty is to be met with in all parts of the country; that the labour required to preserve a wretched existence in America would procure the comforts of life any where else; that the nature of the climate and soil offers unsurmountable obstacles to the profitable employment of capital in agricultural speculations; and, in short, that Europeans have hitherto been more deceived in their ideas of America, than in the earliest descriptions of China. (5: 219) [back]
 "'. . . [A]mong the white men in America,'" Parkinson writes, '"they are all Mr. and sir; so that, in conversation, you cannot discover which is the master, or which is the man. It is the same with the white women; they are all madam and miss. If you call at the door of any man, and ask the servant if his master is at home, he will say, 'Master! I have no master: do you want Mr. Such-a-one?' that is, the man he serves: and if you want a man that is a white servant, the master calls him in the same manner'" (5: 222). [back]
 At the same time that foreign travelers such as Parkinson were publishing their difficulties and disappointments in America, American travelers were out and about in their new nation as well. But Brown's choice of native travel narratives for Literary Magazine readers seems to have been rather limited. Little in the way of domestic travels through the South, New England, or the western states and territories appears in the miscellany; the focus remains largely concentrated on Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, the locations—along with Connecticut—prominent in Brown's own travel experiences. [back]
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