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Work(s) of Philip Freneau


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[Biography of Philip Freneau]

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Biography of Philip Freneau [Top]


New York City was the birthplace of Freneau, the greatest poet born in America before the Revolutionary War. He graduated at Princeton in 1771, and became a school teacher, sea captain, poet, and editor.

The Revolution broke out when he was a young man, and he was moved to write satiric poetry against the British. Tyler says that "a running commentary on his Revolutionary satires would be an almost complete commentary on the whole Revolutionary struggle; nearly every important emergency and phase of which are photographed in his keen, merciless, and often brilliant lines." In one of these satires Freneau represents Jove investigating the records of Fate:

"And first on the top of a column he read--
Of a king with a mighty soft place in his head,
Who should join in his temper the ass and the mule,
The Third of his name and by far the worst fool."

We can imagine the patriotic colonists singing as a refrain:--

"... said Jove with a smile,
Columbia shall never be ruled by an isle,"

or this:

"The face of the Lion shall then become pale,
He shall yield fifteen teeth and be sheared of his tail,"

but Freneau's satiric verse is not his best, however important it may be to historians.

His best poems are a few short lyrics, remarkable for their simplicity, sincerity, and love of nature. His lines:

"A hermit's house beside a stream
With forests planted round,"

are suggestive of the romantic school of Wordsworth and Coleridge, as is also _The Wild Honeysuckle_, which begins as follows:

"Fair flower, that dost so comely grow,
Hid in this silent, dull retreat,
Untouched thy honied blossoms blow,
Unseen thy little branches greet.

"By Nature's self in white arrayed,
She bade thee shun the vulgar eye,
And planted here the guardian shade,
And sent soft waters murmuring by."

Although Freneau's best poems are few and short, no preceding American poet had equaled them. The following will repay careful reading: The Wild Honeysuckle, The Indian Burying Ground, and To a Honey Bee.

He died in 1832, and was buried near his home at Mount Pleasant, Monmouth County, New Jersey.