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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Orestes Augustus Brownson (1803–1876)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
ORESTES BROWNSON, in his time, was a figure of striking originality and influence in American literature and American political, philosophical, and religious discussion. His career was an exceptional one; for he was connected with some of the most important contemporaneous movements of thought, and passed through several distinct phases: Presbyterianism, Universalism, Socialism—of a mild and benevolent kind, not to be confused with the later fiery and destructive socialism of “the Reds”; afterward sympathizing somewhat with the aims and tendencies of the New England Transcendentalists; a close intellectual associate of Ralph Waldo Emerson; then the apostle of a “new Christianity”—finally becoming a Roman Catholic.  1
  Coming of old Connecticut stock on his father’s side, he was born in Vermont, September 16th, 1803; and, notwithstanding that he was brought up in poverty on a farm with small opportunity for education, contrived in later years to make himself a thorough scholar in various directions, mastering several languages, acquiring a wide knowledge of history, reading deeply in philosophy, and developing marked originality in setting forth new philosophical views. His bent in childhood was strongly religious; and he even believed, at that period of his life, that he held long conversations with the sacred personages of Holy Scripture. Yet while in manhood he devoted many years and much of his energy to preaching, his character was aggressive and his tone controversial, he however revealed many traits of real gentleness and humility, and the mixture of rugged strength and tenderness in his character and his work won him a large following in whatever position he took.  2
  He performed the remarkable feat, when the support of American letters was slight, of founding and conducting almost single-handed, from 1838 to 1843, his famous Quarterly Review, which was a power in the land. He started it again in 1844 as ‘Brownson’s Quarterly Review,’ and resumed it thirty years later in still a third series. He died in 1876 at Detroit, much of his active career having been passed in Boston, and some of his later years at Seton Hall, New Jersey.  3
  His various changes of belief have often been taken as an index of vacillation; but a simple and candid study of his writings shows that such changes were merely the normal progress of an intensely earnest and sincere mind, which never hesitated to avow its honest convictions nor to admit its errors. This is the quality which gives Brownson his vitality as a mind and an author; and he will be found to be consistent with conscience throughout.  4
  His writings are forceful, eloquent, and lucid in style, with a Websterian massiveness that does not detract from their charm. They fill twenty volumes, divided into groups of essays on Civilization, Controversy, Religion, Philosophy, Scientific Theories, and Popular Literature, which cover a great and fascinating variety of topics in detail. Brownson was an intense and patriotic American, and his national quality comes out strongly in his extended treatise ‘The American Republic’ (1865). The best known of his other works is a candid, vigorous, and engaging autobiography entitled ‘The Convert’ (1853).  5
 
 
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