Francis Hopkinson

Samuel Kettell, in Specimens of American Poetry (1829) 1:201-02.

JUDGE HOPKINSON, was born in Philadelphia, in 1737. He was the son of Thomas Hopkinson, an English gentleman who filled a considerable office in the government of Pennsylvania. Thomas Hopkinson was a man of respectable attainments in science, and was associated with Franklin in his experiments upon electricity. He died early in life, and left his son at the age of fourteen to the direction of a very affectionate and attentive mother, who spared no exertion in the care of his morals and education. He was sent to the college of Philadelphia, after which he devoted himself to the study and practice of law. He visited England in 1765, where he remained above two years. At the commencement of the revolution he represented the state of New Jersey in Congress, a post which gave him the distinction of affixing his signature to the Declaration of Independence. He distinguished himself very early in the contest, by his writings against the designs of the British government, and possessing great powers of humor and command of language, his pieces were extensively circulated, and contributed not a little to the support of the cause which he had embraced. His judicious selection of topics, and his skill in handling them, procured his writings a ready acceptance with all classes of people. The versatility of his powers may be attested by the readiness with which he wielded the weapons of satire, wit, or argumentation, and drew upon every department of the human faculties for materials in the warfare; now declaiming against the encroachments of Britain with the skill and eloquence of a statesman, and now framing a satirical ballad, or quaint allegory, seasoned with the accompaniment of humor and sarcasm to the popular relish. The elegance and politeness which marked his writings had a considerable effect in improving the manner of most of the publications of the day. His satire was pointed at the follies and impertinences current among those with which he was familiar, as well as against the political enormities of his country's enemies, and contributed equally to help the cause of public morals, promote good breeding in polite society, and soften the asperity of party rage.

Although drawn within the circle of politics at a period of great events, the course of his life is not marked with any remarkable vicissitude or striking incident. He held an appointment in the loan office for some years, and was afterwards made Judge of the Admiralty for the state of Pennsylvania. In 1790, he was appointed Judge of the District Court in Pennsylvania. He died on the 8th of May, 1791.

Hopkinson applied himself to the law with assiduity, and his acquirements in that branch of learning were such as to gain him a high reputation among his contemporaries. With general science too, he was well acquainted. His powers of wit and satire shine in various parts of his lighter performances, and notwithstanding the zest has in many instances evaporated by time, there are some in which the humor preserves all its original freshness. The Essay on Whitewashing is deservedly celebrated as a morceau of spirited pleasantry. His manners were the counterpart of his writings; polished, lively, and engaging, and without any stiffness or rigor, under the guidance of the strictest decorum.

His works embrace quite a miscellaneous collection, mostly of prose. They were published shortly after his death, in three volumes.