ABSTRACT

E uropean, and particularly British, writers dominated theAmerican literary landscape at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Not only were the Europeans able to draw on established tradi-

tions, they also spoke to a much larger audience, and in the absence of a

copyright agreement their books could be published in the new United States

as cheaply as any local productions and, much to the advantage of the pub-

lisher, without payment to the European author. The American readership

was small and, apart from the few urban centres of Boston, New York and

Philadelphia, both scattered and agricultural. Booksellers acted as publish-

ers and frequently ran small lending libraries. A fair proportion of the popu-

lation was illiterate, many were foreign born, and most were busily engaged

in finding a livelihood. To make matters worse a widespread prejudice in

religious and community leaders held that reading fiction and poetry

tended, if not to deprave entirely, at least to encourage wrong principles

and inhibit forceful action. Young people in particular were thought to be

at risk of moral damage and of being led into a dangerous fantasy life by

the suggestions of romances and the then popular form of the gothic. So

at this point a life as a professional author was unfeasible and attempted

by very few.