1856 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Godfrey

George and Evert Duyckinck, in Cyclopedia of American Literature (1856; 1875) 1:205-06.



THOMAS GODFREY was born in the city of Philadelphia, in the year 1736. His father, a glazier by trade, was an accomplished mathematician, and the inventor of the quadrant, commonly known as Hadley's Quadrant. He died a few years after the birth of his son, who, after receiving "a common education in his mother tongue," was apprenticed to a watch-maker by his relatives. The pursuit was one contrary to his inclinations, which were bent on the study of painting, but he remained at the trade until 1758, when he obtained a lieutenant's commission in the Pennsylvania forces raised in that year for the expedition against Fort Du Quesne. On the disbanding of the troops he removed to Carolina, to accept a situation as a factor, which had been offered to him. Here he remained three years, during which he wrote his tragedy of The Prince of Parthia. He sent the manuscript on to a friend in Philadelphia, to be offered to the American company performing in that city in 1759, but it was never produced. On the death of his employer he returned to his native city, and, no opening offering there, sailed as a supercargo to the island of New Providence, returning from thence to North Carolina, where a few weeks after his arrival, by exposure to the sun on horseback, an exercise to which he was unaccustomed, he contracted a fever which put an end to his life after a week's illness, on the third of August, 1763.

Godfrey, in addition to his tragedy, wrote a poem of five hundred lines, entitled, The Court of Fancy, modelled on Chaucer's House of Fame, a number of short poems on subjects of the day, a few pastorals in the style then in vogue, and a modernized version of a portion of Chaucer's Assembly of Fowles. Most of these appeared during his lifetime in the American Magazine, published in Philadelphia, from which a portion were copied with commendatory remarks in the London Monthly Review. His poetical writings were published in Philadelphia in 1767, with a biographical preface by N. Evans, in which he "bespeaks the candour of the public in behalf of the collection, as the first of the kind which the Province has produced." The volume also contains an anonymous critical analysis of the poems, written by Dr. William Smith. The whole work forms a quarto volume of 224 pages.

The Prince of Parthia was the first dramatic work written in America. It possesses much merit, with many marks of hasty composition, and want of mental maturity. The plot is drawn from an ancient story, and is well developed, though the fifth act presents the usual excess of bloodshed common to tragedies by youthful authors. The opening scene, descriptive of the triumphant return of the youthful hero, Arsaces, from a successful war, is one of the best in the play, but shows, like many subsequent passages, that the young dramatist had read Shakespeare.