Library Blog

The first - not necessarily best - American novel

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

We were intrigued by this recent article in LitHub about the first American novel ever published. On January 21, 1789, William Hill Brown published The Power of Sympathy, or, The Triumph of  Nature: Founded in Truth, which LitHub summarizes as "the classic story of boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, boy and girl find out they’re siblings on their wedding day, girl promptly dies of  consumption, boy eventually shoots himself while clutching a copy of The Sorrows of Young Werther to his breast. You know the tale." Whoa. 

We just had to check to see if we have it in our collection. And of course we do! Our 1789 edition is part of the Hammond Collection, which we received in 1868 from 19th century merchant John Hammond. But we know that we had a copy of the book earlier than that, because our City Readers database reveals that the 2 volumes of the novel circulated 77 times between 1790 and 1804 to 46 different men, including DeWitt Clinton (interestingly, it was not checked out to any women, although there were at least 57 women readers in our circulation ledgers at that time.)

For those of you just dying to read it, we do have another copy in the circulating collection. Check it out and decide for yourself whether it "fell far short of greatness."

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