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Republic of Intellect

, 344 pages

8 halftones

February 2007
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Republic of Intellect

The Friendly Club of New York City and the Making of American Literature

In the 1790s, a single conversational circle—the Friendly Club—united New York City's most ambitious young writers, and in Republic of Intellect, Bryan Waterman uses an innovative blend of literary criticism and historical narrative to re-create the club's intellectual culture. The story of the Friendly Club reveals the mutually informing conditions of authorship, literary association, print culture, and production of knowledge in a specific time and place—the tumultuous, tenuous world of post-revolutionary New York City. More than any similar group in the early American republic, the Friendly Club occupied a crossroads—geographical, professional, and otherwise—of American literary and intellectual culture.

Waterman argues that the relationships among club members' novels, plays, poetry, diaries, legal writing, and medical essays lead to important first examples of a distinctively American literature and also illuminate the local, national, and transatlantic circuits of influence and information that club members called "the republic of intellect." He addresses topics ranging from political conspiracy in the gothic novels of Charles Brockden Brown to the opening of William Dunlap's Park Theatre, from early American debates on gendered conversation to the publication of the first American medical journal. Voluntary association and print culture helped these young New Yorkers, Waterman concludes, to produce a broader and more diverse post-revolutionary public sphere than scholars have yet recognized.

Bryan Waterman is an assistant professor of English at New York University.

"This book is excellent... Highly recommended for anyone interested in early American print culture, the late Enlightenment, or literary networks."

"Over the course of Waterman’s narrative, the reader is treated to charming and informative vignettes that feature many leading early American intellectuals... His affection for the Friendly Club’s endeavor makes Waterman’s book charming, vibrant, even persuasive."

"Remarkable study... The book has so much to offer and produces such a fascinating account of late eighteenth-century American cultural life."

"Meticulously researched, elegantly written... will be of lasting value to students of eighteenth-century fiction... The depth and quality of research is obvious on every page of Republic of Intellect, as is the author's love of his topic."

"Subtle, convincing book."

"The perhaps unexpected contribution of this book... is that it also has sly relevance for writing, religion, and politics in the twenty-first century... Republic of Intellect should also make its way among colleagues in our professional circles of literary criticism and history."

"I see Waterman's book as one of genuine quality and rarity, because it truly understands the vital and contradictory spaces that are generated when young men really think about the world they are to inherit."

"Groundbreaking history of the Friendly Club, the first comprehensive monograph on that organization... Waterman's discriminating readings and his insightful contextualization of texts in wider issues make Republic of Intellect a necessary study in understanding the development of early national culture."

"A truly enlightening case study of the synergy between literary and intellectual culture... Readers interested in the way literary production responds to public discourse will find this book a lucid,well-researched, and rewarding case study."

" Republic of Intellect provides us with a deeply compelling picture of one remarkable group of early national intellectuals in action. Along the way, he enriches our understanding of the relations between national and international politics, between religion and skepticism, between private conversation and public prints. And that, surely, is enough to secure Republic of Intellect a place at the top of the 'must-read' lists of American historians and literary scholars."

"Exemplary as a thoroughgoing and revisionary study of the most significant intellectual association of the early republic."

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