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Freneau, Philip (1752-1832)

Philip Freneau (1752-1832)

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Jeffersonian editor and poet

Patriot. Philip Freneau was well prepared for a career as one of the most prominent literary figures in the early United States. He was born on 2 January 1752 to a wealthy New York family at the center of the cultural life of that colonial city. Freneau entered the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) at age fifteen, and there made contacts among the emerging political and cultural leaders of America, including a future president, James Madison. He also read English poetry and began to desire a career as a poet. He had his first literary success in 1771 when he coauthored with his friend Hugh Henry Brackenridge a poem titled The Rising Glory of America, capturing the spirit of a nation on the verge of independence. During the revolutionary years Freneau lived for a time in the West Indies and served aboard a privateer in the Caribbean Sea. This was a hazardous job, and it ended with him in a British prison ship in New York harbor. He wrote constantly of his experiences, developing a distinctively romantic poetic voice.

Political Writing. After the war ended Freneau settled in Philadelphia and became a leader of the citys literary circle. He edited magazines and published many poems praising the Patriots efforts, earning the title of the Poet of the American Revolution. After more travel, and a further period publishing a newspaper in New York, he returned to Philadelphia to serve under Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, who shared his democratic principles. He founded the National Gazette in October 1791, and it soon became a significant mouthpiece for the Jeffersonians. The National Gazette was much livelier than its stately rival, the Federalist Gazette of the United States. Freneau poked fun at Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton as a would-be king and worked hard to shape public opinion on republican principles. Both Hamilton and President George Washington were angry at the radical democratic opinions Freneau expressed in the paper. Washington pressured Jefferson to fire Freneau from his State Department job because of his outside activities, but Jefferson refused, standing up for Freneaus right of free expression. Jefferson wrote that no government ought to be without censors; and where the press is free, no one ever will. But even Jefferson was uneasy about Freneaus whole-hearted support of the French Revolution and of the controversial French ambassador, Edmond Genet. The National Gazette closed in October 1793, a victim of financial pressures and the disruption caused by a yellow fever epidemic. Freneau spent the rest of his life at sea or on his New Jersey farm, occasionally involved in publishing, and still writing poetry. In 1794 he wrote an almanac which sold well. Two years later he began a literary journal called the Time-Piece, but like the National Gazette, it suffered from inadequate financial backing and quickly closed. Freneau froze to death in a blizzard near Freehold, New Jersey, on 18 December 1832.

Sources

Mary Weatherspoon Bowden, Philip Freneau (Boston: Twayne, 1976);

Lewis Leary, That Rascal Freneau: A Study in Literary Failure (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1941).

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Philip Morin Freneau

Philip Morin Freneau

Philip Morin Freneau (1752-1832) was an American poet, essayist, and journalist. Remembered as the poet of the American Revolution and the father of American poetry, he was a transitional figure in American literature.

Philip Freneau's life alternated between ardent political activity and attempts to escape to the solitude he thought necessary to a poet. Born in New York on Jan. 2, 1752, he graduated from Princeton in 1771, when with Hugh Henry Brackenridge he wrote a rousing poem, The Rising Glory of America. A period of school teaching and study for the ministry followed. At the outbreak of the American Revolution, Freneau composed vitriolic satires against British invaders and Tory countrymen. But then he withdrew to the Caribbean, writing his ambitious early poems, The Beauties of Santa Cruz and The House of Night.

Returning in 1778 to his home in New Jersey, Freneau joined the local militia and sailed as a privateer. In 1780, on release from British imprisonment, he wrote the bitter poem The British Prison-Ship and the enthusiastic American Independence. The next 4 years were dedicated to patriotic prose and verse in the Freeman's Journal. In 1784 he again went to sea as master of vessels which plied between New York and Charleston. His poetry at this time was concerned with native scene and character.

Though nurtured on English poets such as Alexander Pope, Freneau strove now for an "American" idiom, producing in The Wild Honey Suckle and The Indian Burying Ground verses of quiet distinction. His first two collections were Poems (1786) and Miscellaneous Works (1788). In 1790 he returned to partisan journalism, ultimately working as editor of the outspoken National Gazette. He so earnestly opposed Federalist policies that George Washington called him "that rascal, Freneau," though Thomas Jefferson credited him with saving the country when it was galloping fast into monarchy.

In the early 1800s, after another period at sea, Freneau retired to his farm in New Jersey. Collected editions of his poetry appeared in 1795, 1809, and 1815; new poems appeared in periodicals into the 1820s. He died on Dec. 18, 1832.

The most prolific poet of his generation, Freneau produced verse uneven in quality, often marred by anger, haste, or partisanship, but sometimes exhibiting original lyric power. He anticipated such American romantic poets as William Cullen Bryant and Edgar Allan Poe. His prose is less often successful.

Further Reading

Biographical and critical studies of Freneau include Samuel E. Forman, The Political Activities of Philip Freneau (1902); Lewis Leary, That Rascal Freneau: A Study in Literary Failure (1941); Nelson F. Adkins, Philip Freneau and the Cosmic Enigma: The Religious and Philosophical Speculations of an American Poet (1949); and Jacob Axelrad, Philip Freneau, Champion of Democracy (1967). □

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Freneau, Philip

Philip Freneau (frēnō´), 1752–1832, American poet and journalist, b. New York City, grad. Princeton, 1771. During the American Revolution he served as soldier and privateer. His experiences as a prisoner of war were recorded in his poem The British Prison Ship (1781). The first professional American journalist, he was a powerful propagandist and satirist for the American Revolution and for Jeffersonian democracy. Freneau edited various papers, including the partisan National Gazette (Philadelphia, 1791–93) for Jefferson. He was usually involved in editorial quarrels, and, influential though he was, none of his papers was profitable. His political and satirical poems have value mainly for historians, but his place as the earliest important American lyric poet is secured by such poems as "The Wild Honeysuckle," "The Indian Burying Ground," and "Eutaw Springs."

See his Poems (ed. by F. L. Pattee, 3 vol., 1902–7) and Last Poems (ed. by L. Leary, 1946); biography by L. Leary (1941, repr. 1964); studies by P. M. Marsh (1968 and 1970).

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"Freneau, Philip." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved April 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/freneau-philip