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Brackenridge, Hugh Henry (1748-1816)

Hugh Henry Brackenridge (1748-1816)

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Novelist, lawyer

Voice of the New Republic. Hugh Henry Brackenridge began his literary career as coauthor of The Rising Glory of America (1772), a poem so aptly expressing the optimism of several generations of Americans that it became the prototype for dozens of other patriotic poems, including Joel Barlows The Prospect of Peace (1778) and Timothy Dwights America (1780). Brackenridge is best known, however, for his mock-epic novel Modern Chivalry (17921815), often called the first evenhanded satire on American democracy.

Early Life. Born in Scotland, Brackenridge and his family immigrated in 1753 to Pennsylvania, where they eked out a living on a small farm in rural York County. After five years of teaching in frontier schools he enrolled at Princeton University in 1768. At graduation ceremonies in September 1771 he and his friend Philip Freneau delivered their poem The Rising Glory of America, which was published in Philadelphia the following year. After graduation Brackenridge taught school while continuing his literary pursuits. He made his revolutionary sympathies clear in two anti-British plays, The Battle of Bunkers-Hill (1776) and The Death of General Montgomery (1777). After serving as a chaplain in Gen. George Washingtons army (17771778), Brackenridge settled in Philadelphia, where he founded the United States Magazine as a vehicle for his patriotic fervor. The first issue appeared in January 1779. The failure of the magazine by the end of the same year helped to undermine his optimism about the nations potential for political and cultural achievement; yet he remained a staunch patriot.

Lawyer, Politician, and Eccentric. Temporarily abandoning literature, Brackenridge studied law, and in 1781 he established a legal practice in Pittsburgh. His success as a lawyer soon brought him into political prominence. Elected to the Pennsylvania legislature in 1786, he developed a reputation as an advocate of western frontier interests. Yet he also became known for his erratic and inconsistent behavior in political and personal matters. Stories about his disheveled and skimpy dress spread throughout his life. Someone once claimed to have seen Brackenridge riding naked in the rain with his clothes tucked under saddle. Asked to explain his behavior, he said that the storm you know, would spoil the clothes, but it couldnt spoil me. Despite such stories, Brackenridges mercurial conduct was more than a matter of personal idiosyncrasy. His inconsistencies arose from his conscious rejection of political or ideological labels. He took this outlook into his fiction, where he analyzed and examined opposing tendencies in American culture without favoring one side over the other.

Modern Chivalry. Brackenridges detached perspective is most evident in Modern Chivalry, which he began in 1788 and published in a series of volumes between 1792 and 1815. The novel is a comic account of the adventures of two fictional characters, Capt. John Farrago and his Irish servant, Teague ORegan. As he described their travels, Brackenridge offered a vivid re-creation of life on the frontier and his own commentary on postrevolutionary American society. Farrago is a gentleman who represents the deferential social order of prerevolutionary America, while the recent immigrant Teague stands for the democratic impulses that appeared to be overtaking American society. Brackenridges constant mocking of Teagues ignorance and foolishness reveals his reservations about these democratic trends. Yet he also recognized the power of the those forces and saw in them the wave of the future.

Incidents of the Insurrection. The Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 forced Brackenridge to grapple directly with these forces. Incensed by the federal excise tax on whiskey, passed in 1791, farmers in western Pennsylvania resorted to violent resistance. Brackenridge sympathized with their grievances, but he took a middle road and sought to moderate the conflict. Although he disavowed the rebels violent methods, supporters of the tax charged that Brackenridge had instigated the insurrection. To defend his actions Brackenridge provided his own firsthand account of the rebellion in Incidents of the Insurrection in Western Pennsylvania in the Year 1794 (1795).

Later Life. After successfully vindicating himself, Brackenridge continued his political and literary activities. He was appointed a judge for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1799 and finished publishing Modern Chivalry in 1815, the year before his death.

Sources

Hugh Henry Brackenridge, Modern Chivalry, edited by Lewis Leary (New Haven: College & University Press, 1965).

Emory Elliott, ed., American Writers of the Early Republic, Dictionary of Literary Biography, volume 37 (Detroit: Gale Research, 1985);

Joseph J. Ellis, After the Revolution: Profiles of Early American Culture (New York: Norton, 1979);

Daniel Marder, Hugh Henry Brackenridge (New York: Twayne, 1967).

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Hugh Henry Brackenridge

Hugh Henry Brackenridge

Hugh Henry Brackenridge (1749-1816) was an American lawyer and writer. His reputation as a writer rests almost entirely on "Modern Chivalry, " a novel in which he humorously reveals the confusion and controversy that characterized the early years of the American Republic.

Born in Scotland, Hugh Henry Brackenridge was brought by his parents to frontier Pennsylvania in 1763. Educated in country schools, at 16 he became a schoolmaster at Gunpowder Falls, Md. In 1768 he entered Princeton, where with Philip Freneau he composed The Rising Glory of America for their graduation exercises in 1771. Though teaching and the study of divinity and law occupied the next several years, he wrote A Poem on Divine Revelation on receiving his master of arts degree from Princeton in 1774 and two patriotic plays, for presentation by his students, in 1775 and 1777.

In 1776 Brackenridge became a chaplain with the Continental Army, publishing a collection of his sermons as Six Political Discourses Founded on the Scriptures (1778). In 1779 he edited the short-lived United States Magazine, which contained important early writings of Freneau and Brackenridge's serialized allegorical narrative The Cave of Vanhest. A year later he was admitted to the bar and in 1781 settled in the frontier village of Pittsburgh, where he became a prominent, often controversial, citizen, founded its first newspaper, and opened its first bookstore.

Brackenridge wrote both in prose and in verse on law, politics, and Native American affairs, including A Masque, Written at Warm Springs in Virginia (1784); "The Trial of Mamachtaga, " one of the earliest effective American short stories; an eyewitness account, Incidents of the Insurrection in Western Pennsylvania (1795); and Law Miscellanies (1814).

Modern Chivalry

Brackenridge's novel Modern Chivalry first appeared in two volumes in 1792; a third volume appeared in 1793, a fourth in 1797; new parts were issued in 1804 and 1805; the whole was expanded and revised in four volumes in 1816; a posthumous revised edition in two volumes appeared in 1819. Pretending to be "a book without a thought, or the smallest degree of sense, " Modern Chivalry recites the adventures of quixotic Captain Farrago and his servant, Teague O'Regan, as they roam the countryside, with ignorant Teague bumbling into trouble by being elected again and again to public office, tarred and feathered or jailed for political or amorous activities—a democratic bumpkin used to satirize the peculiarities of democracy. Physicians, lawyers, army veterans, strong-armed and strong-voiced politicians, mob violence, and lovesickness all submit to Brackenridge's bantering, double-edged observations. This picaresque and satirical novel owes much to Cervantes, Henry Fielding, and Laurence Sterne. In language forthright, in humor often slapstick, sometimes fiercely ironic, it anticipates later satiric examinations of democracy by James Fenimore Cooper, Herman Melville, and H.L. Mencken.

Further Reading

Excellent biographies of Brackenridge are Claude Milton Newlin, The Life and Writings of Hugh Henry Brackenridge (1932), and Daniel Marder, Hugh Henry Brackenridge (1967). A complete edition of Brackenridge's Modern Chivalry was edited by Newlin in 1937, a modernized edition of the first four volumes by Lewis Leary in 1965.

Additional Sources

Indian atrocities: narratives of the perils and sufferings of Dr. Knight and John Slover, among the Indians, during the Revolutionary War, Fairfield, Wash.: Ye Galleon Press, 1983. □

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"Hugh Henry Brackenridge." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Hugh Henry Brackenridge." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hugh-henry-brackenridge

Brackenridge, Hugh Henry

Hugh Henry Brackenridge, 1748–1816, American author and jurist, b. Scotland, grad. Princeton, 1771. He studied theology and served in the American Revolution as chaplain, but later turned to law. His early writings include two patriotic plays and some verse. In 1781 he moved to Pittsburgh, where he founded (1786) the Pittsburgh Gazette, the city's first newspaper, and helped to establish the Pittsburgh Academy (now the Univ. of Pittsburgh). A leading Pennsylvania supporter of the federal Constitution, Brackenridge later acted (1794) as a peacemaker in the Whiskey Rebellion. He was also a justice of the Pennsylvania supreme court from 1799 to his death. He is, however, best known as an author. His satirical and picaresque novel, Modern Chivalry (6 vol., 1792–1805; rev. ed., 4 vol., 1804–7), written in a vigorous style, pictures backwoods life in America. In it, the moderate democrat Brackenridge ridicules the excesses of a raw democracy. He also wrote an account of the Whiskey Rebellion and several political tracts.

See C. M. Newlin, Life and Writings of Hugh Henry Brackenridge (1932, repr. 1971); biography by D. Marder (1967).

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