FRENEAU, the popular political versifier of the days of the Revolution, the newspaper advocate of the republican party afterwards, and a true poet in his best moments, was born in New York, in Frankfort street, Jan. 2, 1752, of a family which had emigrated from France on the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. His ancestors had been among the founders of the St. Esprit Church, in Pine street, New York. The house from which his grandfather was buried, was formerly pointed out in Hanover square. In 1771, we find Philip Freneau a graduate of the College of New Jersey, in the same class with Madison, the future President, with whom he was on terms of close intimacy, and associated with Brackenridge in the composition and delivery of a Commencement poem on the Rising glory of America, Freneau's portion of which is included in two of the editions of his writings. It is animated and vigorous in description and sentiment. A line in his picture of a supposed settlement of the western continent by a stray ship of the Carthaginians, is poetic:—
In the course of long revolving years
A numerous progeny from these arose,
And spread throughout the coasts — those whom we call
Brazilians, Mexicans, Peruvians rich,
The tribes of Chili, Patagon, and those
Who till the shores of Amazon's long stream.
There is a pleasing sketch of rural life in this production, with other proof that though a youthful poem, it contained something more than the required declamation for the hour.
We next hear of Freneau as a victim in the fortunes of the Revolution. He was taken prisoner by the British, and condemned to the barbarities of the prison-ship at New York, a treatment which he did not forget in his Cantos from a Prison-Ship. These are dated in 1780, and celebrate his capture on the coast of Delaware, in a vessel, gallantly described, in which he was sailing to St. Eustatia, by a British frigate, which carried him to New York. Here he speedily made the intimate acquaintanceship of the Scorpion, moored on the Hudson, whose "mountain stream" sent no cooling breath to the victims in their ghastly dungeons.
O'er distant streams appears the dewy green,
And leafy trees on mountain tops are seen,
But they no groves nor grassy mountains tread,
Mark'd for a longer journey to the dead.
On the opposite side of the island was stationed the Hunter hospital ship, "a slaughter-house, yet hospital in name," where a Hessian doctor, remarkable for his stupidity, visited the fever-stricken prisoners.
Some with his pills he sent to Plato's reign,
And some he blister'd with his flies of Spain; . . .
On our lost comrades built his future fame,
And scatter'd fate where'er his footsteps came.
When the merciful angel death came, the prisoners were buried on the shore, and the poet invokes the tenderness of posterity for their graves; an appeal not now out of place, when "sapient trouble-tombs" would remove the fine monument erecting in memory of these things on Broadway, in the grave-yard of Trinity, where others of these unfortunates he buried.
When to your arms these fatal islands fall
(For first, or last, they must be conquer'd all),
Americans! to rites sepulchral just,
With gentlest footstep press this kindred dust,
And o'er the tombs, if tombs can then be found,
Place the green turf, and plant the myrtle round.
Some of Freneau's poems, according to the title page of the octavo edition, which he printed at Monmouth, N.J., were written as early as 1768, when he was in his seventeenth year. The Poetical History of the Prophet Jonah, written with propriety and spirit, and the humorous tale of The Village Merchant, bear that date. At what time and in what way Freneau escaped from the prison-ship, we are not informed; but we may gather some of his subsequent movements from the dates of his poems and essays.
His prose sketches, The Philosopher of the Forest, were first printed in the Freeman's Journal of Philadelphia, in November, 1781.
In 1782, he pens at Philadelphia A Discourse on Esquires, with a short Narrative of his Honor the President of the Debtors' Club, one of his prose essays. In 1784, we have Lines Written at Port Royal, in the Island of Jamaica, and the next year some verses, The Departure, in which he takes leave of the Hudson for a sea voyage, from which we may infer that he had already some pretensions to the title of Captain, by which he was generally known in his later days. His Journey from Philadelphia to New York by way of Burlington and South Amboy, written in verse, shows an intimate acquaintance with nautical slang. His New Year's Verses, written for the Carriers of the Columbian Herald, are dated Charleston, Jan., 1786. At one time Philip Freneau commanded a vessel sailing out of that port.
The first edition of Freneau's poems was in Philadelphia in 1786, The Poems of Philip Freneau, written chiefly during the late War. It is very neatly printed, in a single duodecimo volume. In 1788, a second volume followed, The Miscellaneous Works of Mr. Philip Freneau, containing his Essays and Additional Poems, Philadelphia, printed by Francis Bailey, at Yorick's Head, in Market street, a neat duodecimo volume of 429 pages, with an advertisement from the printer: — "The following essays and poems, selected from some printed and manuscript papers of Mr. Freneau, are now presented to the public of the United States, in hopes they will prove at least equally acceptable with his volume of poems published last year. Some few of the pieces in this volume have heretofore appeared in American newspapers; but through a fatality not unusually attending publications of that kind, are now, perhaps, forgotten; and, at any time, may possibly never have been seen, or attended to, but by very few." This is the only volume of Freneau's writings, in book form, which contains any of his prose compositions. It was published, as usual in those days even for small duodecimo volumes, by subscription. De Witt Clinton takes a copy in New York, and John Pintard subscribes for two. Some of Freneau's best pieces are in this volume: — The Pictures of Columbus, The Indian Student, The Indian Burying Ground, The Man of Ninety, and that delicate little poem May to April.
The prose essays are pleasant papers. They are at once simple and elegant in style, independent in thought, playful and humorous. They were for the most part written with the signature of Robert Slender, whom the author took the liberty of burying, that he might publish his manuscripts. The Advice to Authors, with which they open, is, with its playful irony, a fresh, manly essay. These miscellaneous essays are all clever productions. They are grouped in several little collections, Tracts and Essays on Several Subjects, by Mr. Slender; Essays, Tales, and Poems, by Mr. Slender; The Philosopher of the Forest. They embrace the usual repertory of the essayist, in description, apologue, gentle satire. One of these time-honored inventions consecrated by Voltaire and Goldsmith, it; an account of the Voyage of Timberootabo-cede, an Otaheite Indian, who visits foreign countries at the command of his sovereign, and reports on their absurdities on his return. A paragraph will show its spirit, a corrective for hasty observation, which may still he of service to ethnologists: — "During the time of eating, we were encircled by a number of black people of both sexes, who had green branches in their hands, which we at first supposed were emblematical of peace and friendship, but, as we soon after discovered, were only meant to brush away the flies from our victuals."
The third publication of Freneau's writings was made by himself at his press at Monmouth, New Jersey, in 1795, and is much the most complete collection. It is an octavo volume of four hundred and fifty-six pages, and contains nearly three hundred articles in verse, in most of the popular forms of composition, of description, tale, satire, song, and epigram.
The next edition of the Poems, a revision of the whole, was issued by subscription, in two volumes, in Philadelphia, in 1809. This contained two translations from Ovid and Lucretius.
An author's advertisement appeals to the public on patriotic grounds. The collection has been mostly restricted to Poems that arose from the incidents of the American revolutionary contest, down to the date of 1793. These were intended, in part, to expose to vice and treason, their own hideous deformity; to depict virtue, honour, and patriotism in their native beauty. To his countrymen, the real Patriotic Americans, the Revolutionary Republicans, and the rising generation who are attached to their sentiments and principles, the writer hopes this collection will not prove unacceptable. In 1815, a fifth publication appeared, from the press of Longworth of New York, in two duodecimo volumes, A Collection of Poems, on American Affairs, and a variety of other subjects, chiefly Moral and Political; written between the year 1797 and the present time. The title-page appeals to the war feeling of the period.
Then England come! — a sense of wrong requires
To meet with thirteen stare your thousand fires:
Through these stern times the conflict to maintain,
Or drown them, with your commerce, in the main.
The contents show that Freneau had lost nothing of his national ardor with age. He is still sensitive to the feelings of the times, and celebrates most passing themes, from the death of a Russian Empress to the rebuilding of Nassau Hall, and the city encroachments on the Hudson River. The military events of the war are his special care, as he devotes himself to the denunciation of the foe and the encouragement of his countrymen, frequently mingling with his higher themes the humorous incidents of the camp.
A large portion of Freneau's occupations must be looked for in his employments upon the press.
In 1791, Freneau edited the National Gazette, in Philadelphia, a journal supported in opposition to Fenno's Gazette, under the alleged influence of Hamilton. At the same time, Jefferson, then Secretary of State, gave him a post in his office, of translating clerk. Hamilton did not relish the attacks of Freneau in his paper, which he described as "intemperately devoted to the abuse of the government, and all the conspicuous actors in it, except the Secretary of State and his coadjutors, who were the constant theme of its panegyric," and commented strongly upon the impropriety of Jefferson's official support of the editor, in a series of political assaults, signed An American, and contributed to the Gazette of the United States, in August, 1792. The articles are published in the Hamilton Correspondence. From these it appears that "Mr. Freneau, before he came to Philadelphia to conduct the National Gazette, was employed by Childs & Sprague, printers of the Daily Advertiser in New York, in the capacity of editor or superintendant," and that the first number of the National Gazette appeared under his direction Oct. 31, 1791. The New York Daily Advertiser of Oct. 26 had the announcement: "We hear from Philadelphia that the Hon. Thomas Jefferson, Esq., Secretary of State for the United States, has appointed Captain Philip Freneau interpreter of the French language for the Department of State." On these facts, and some hearsay evidence, which failed to be substantiated, Hamilton made his charge upon Jefferson of controlling the paper, and using the patronage of his office for the support of its editor. Jefferson, in a letter to Washington, dated Sept. 9, 1792, disposes of this matter. While the government, says he, was at New York, he was appealed to on behalf of Freneau, to know if there was any place within his department to which he could be appointed. There was no vacancy, but when the removal to Philadelphia took place, Mr. Pintard, the translating clerk, did not choose to follow, so Freneau succeeded him, with a salary of two hundred and fifty dollars per annum. As for the connexion with the paper, Jefferson said he gave Freneau the preference for the office "as a man of genius," as he had recommended Rittenhouse, Barlow, and others, to Washington; that he was anxious that the material parts of the Leyden Gazette should be republished; and as Freneau's newspaper arrangements offered facilities for the publication, he gave them to him; that he had procured subscriptions for his paper, and in advance, but that he had never written or dictated, or been instrumental in furnishing a line for the journal.
On occasion of the great entertainment given to Genet, in Philadelphia, in 1793, after his mutilated reception by the President, citizen Freneau was present, and was requested to translate the French ode written by Duponceau, the singing of which was one of the items of this extraordinary festivity. Freneau was a great advocate of France through this period, and annoyed Washington by his assaults on the administration. There was "that rascal Freneau," said he, "sent him three of his papers every day, as if he would become the distributor of them, an act in which he could see nothing but an impudent design to insult him."
A series of Probationary Odes, by Jonathan Pindar, Esq., a cousin of Peter's, and candidate for the post of Poet Laureat, published in the Gazette for 1798, were probably written by Freneau. Adams, Knox, Hamilton, and others, are satirized, and there are seven stanzas of advice "to a truly Great Man," George Washington, touching the establishment of banks.
TO A TRULY GREAT MAN.
Justum et tenacem propositi virum." — Hor.
George, on thy virtues often have I dwelt;
And still the theme is grateful to mine ear;
Thy gold let chemists ten times over melt,
From dross and base alloy they'll find it clear.
Yet thou'rt a man — although, perhaps, the first;
But man at best is but a being frail;
And since with error human nature's curst,
I marvel not that thou shouldst sometimes fail.
That thou hast long and nobly served the state,
The nation owns, and freely gives thee thanks:
But Sir! — whatever speculators prate,
She gave thee not the power to establish BANKS.
No doubt thou thought'st it was a phenix nest,
Which Congress were so busy to build up:
But there a crocodile had fixed his rest,
And snapped the nation's bowels at a sup.
The greedy monster is not yet half cloyed,
Nor will be, whilst a leg or arm remains;
Those parts the last of all should be destroyed;
The next delicious morsel is her brains.
I trust thou'st seen the monster by this time,
And hast prepared thy knife to cut his throat.
His scales are so damned hard, that in thy prime,
'Twould take thee twenty years to make it out,
God grant thee life to do it: — Fare thee well!
Another time examine well the nest;
Though of Arabia's Spices it should smell
It may produce some foul internal pest.
These were the verses on John Adams:—
TO A WOULD-BE GREAT MAN.
Jonathan defendeth the GREAT DEFENDER; magnifieth and exalteth his works; and confesseth his own littleness of understanding.
"Certat tergeminis tollere honoribus." — Hor.
Daddy Vice, Daddy Vice,
One may see in a trice
The drift of your fine publication;
As sure as a gun,
The thing was just done,
To secure you — a pretty HIGH station.
Defences you call
To knock down our wall,
And batter the STATES to the ground, air;
So thick were your shot,
And so hellish fire-hot,
They've scarce a whole bone to be found, sir—
When you tell us of kings,
And such pretty things,
Good mercy! how brilliant your page is!
So bright in each line I vow now you'll shine
Like — a glow-worm to all future ages.
When you handle your balance,
So vast are your talents,
Like Atlas your wonderful strength is;
You know every state
To a barley-corn weight,
For your steel-yard the continent length is.
On Davila's page
Your discourses so sage
Democratical numsculls bepuzzle,
With arguments tough
As white leather or buff,
The republican BULL-DOGS to muzzle.
'Tis labor in vain,
Your senses to strain
Our brains any longer to muddle;
Like Colossus you stride
O'er our noddles so wide,
We look up like FROGS IN A PUDDLE.
The Gazette was published till the conclusion of a second volume and the second year, October 26, 1793.
Freneau had a genius for newspapers. At his own press at Mount Pleasant, near Middletown Point, May 2, 1795, "and of American Independence xix.," as he adds, he published the first number of his Jersey Chronicle, on eight small quarto pages of the precise size of seven inches by eight. His address "to the Public" is, as usual, very neat, — commencing with a motto from Horace, in reference to his rural press — "Inter sylvas Academi quaerere verum," and this announcement of the design: — "the editor in the publication of this paper proposes, among other objects, to present his readers with a complete history of the foreign and domestic events of the times, together with such essays, remarks and observations as shall tend to illustrate the politics, or mark the general character of the age and country in which we live." The paper is dated "Mount-Pleasant, near Middletown Point: — printed by P. Freneau — by whom Advertisements, Hand Bills, &c., are done at the shortest notice, and on the most reasonable terms." With the third number it grew in dimensions, and extended to a third column in width. To the foreign affairs and "American advices" were added the essays entitled Tomo Cheeki and an occasional poem — the Republican Genius of Europe, the Rival Suitors for America. Apropos to the national anniversary of 1795 at Monmouth, he publishes one of the English songs of the day, this
HYMN TO LIBERTY.
God save the rights of man!
Give us a heart to scan
Blessings so dear:
Let them be spread around
Wherever man is found,
And with a welcome sound Ravish each ear.
See, from the universe
Darkness and clouds disperse,
Reason and truth appear,
Freedom advances near,
Monarchs, with terror, hear—
See how they quake.
Long have we felt the stroke,
Long have we bore the yoke,
Sluggish and tame:
But now the lion roars
And a loud note he pours,
Spreading to distant shores
Godlike and great the strife,
Life will, indeed, be life
When we prevail.
Death, in so just a cause,
Crown us with loud applause
And from tyrannic laws
Bid us — ALL HAIL!
O'er the Germanic powers
Big indignation lours
Ready to fall—
Let the rude savage host
Of their long numbers boast,
Freedom's almighty trust
Laughs at them all!
Fame, let thy trumpet sound—
Tell all the world around
Frenchmen are free!
Tell ribbons, crowns and stars,
Kings, traitors, troops and ware,
Plans, councils, plots and jars,
About the same time he announces the edition of his poems of 1795, which he published at the same press. With the fifty-second number at the close of the year, April 30, 1796, Freneau winds up the paper with a notice "to subscribers" stating that in number one of the Jersey Chronicle the Editor announced his intention of extending the publication beyond the first year, provided the attempt should in the meantime be suitably encouraged and found practicable. But the necessary number of subscribers having not yet appeared, scarcely to defray the expenses of the undertaking, notwithstanding the very low rate (it was published at twelve shillings per annum) at which it has been offered, the editor with some regret declines a further prosecution of his plan at this time. He embraces the present opportunity to return his sincere thanks to such persons in this and the neighboring counties m have favored him with their subscriptions; and have also by their punctuality in complying with the terms originally proposed, thus far enabled him to issue a free, independent and republican paper.
It is from some such printing-office as that which sent forth his Jersey Chronicle, that we may fancy Freneau inditing his poem of the Country Printer, a purely American description of the village and associations of the place: the arrival of the old-time coach, the odd farrago of the editor's page, the office itself:
Here lie the types, in curious order rang'd,
Ready alike to imprint your prose or verse;
Read speak, their order only chang'd,
Creek-Indian lingo, Dutch or Highland Erse;
These types have printed Erskine's Gospel Treat,
Tom Durfey's songs, and Bunyan's works, complete:
and the editor himself, — with something more than a suggestion of Philip Freneau. The change from the State House to Saratoga in the last stanza which we quote is a powerful thrust of satire.
He, in his time, the patriot of his town,
With press and pen attack'd the royal side,
Did what he could to pull their Lion down,
Clipp'd at his beard, and twitched his sacred hide,
Mimick'd his roarings, trod upon big toes,
Pelted young whelps, and tweak'd the old one's nose.
Rous'd by his page, at church or court-house read,
From depths of woods the willing rustics ran,
Now a priest, and now some deacon led,
With clubs and spits to guard the rights of man;
Lads from the spade, the pick-axe, or the plough
Marching afar to fight Burgoyne or Howe.
Where are they now? — the Village asks with grief,
What were their toils, their conquests, or their gains?
Perhaps, they near some State-House beg relief,
Perhaps, they sleep on Saratoga's plains;
Doom'd not to live, their country to reproach
For seven-years' pay transferred to Mammon's coach.
Freneau was probably at all times busy, more or less, with the newspapers. His next important venture of this kind was of a literary character at New York.
The first number of his Time-Piece and Literary Companion was issued at New York, March 13, 1797. It was printed three times a week — on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, in a neat folio form, paged, at the price of thirty shillings, New York currency, per annum. Its editor seems to have formed a partnership in the printing business, for the purpose of its publication. "In order," he says, "to render this work the more interesting and acceptable to the public at large, in regard to neatness and elegance of mechanical execution, the subscriber informs all who have or may favor him with their names, that he has associated himself as a partner in the typographical line of business with Mr. Alexander Menut, of that profession, some time since front Canada, and who is become, and means to continue, a citizen of the United States." The proposals signed by Freneau announce the new paper as "intended for the diffusion of useful as well as ornamental knowledge, news, and liberal amusement in general," and its editor pledges himself to use his best endeavors to render the Time-Piece and Literary Companion, "a work of merit, and as far as his exertions or abilities will permit, worthy the patronage of the public." The Promise was well fulfilled during the year or more of Freneau's editorship. Sept. 15, 1797, with the beginning of the second volume, the name of M. L. Davis appears associated with Freneau as the publisher, when the notice of the printer's partnership with Menut is dropped. Freneau and Davis appear at the head of the paper till No. 81, March 21, 1798, when the publishers are changed to M. L. Davis & Co.; and with No. 118, June 15, 1798, R. Saunders appears for the proprietors. Saunders disappears with No. 128, July 9 of the same year, and the paper is published for the proprietors at 25 Maiden Lane, at least till No. 150, Aug. 30, 1798, where the file closes in the rare volume preserved in the New York Historical Society. The evidence of Freneau's ability had departed from its columns some time before. For a long time, however, it was admirably sustained by Freneau, whose tact at administering to the tastes of the public was shown in the skill of the selection and the general elegance of the material. There were news of the day carefully digested, biographies, correspondence, anecdotes, and occasional poems "ad libitum."
In the second number he commences a translation of the travels of M. Abbe Robin, "Chaplain in Count Rochambeau's army, giving a general account of the progress of the French army from Rhode Island, the place of their landing, to Yorktown in Virginia; and of some other occurrences." This, we are told, he had made fourteen years before; but as a small edition was printed off, the work is now in the hands of very few. Freneau also republishes his series of Tomo Cheeki, the Creek Indian in Philadelphia, with this preliminary notice: "A number of eccentric writings under this title, and to the amount of a considerable volume, are in the hands of the editor of the Time-Piece, said to be translated from one of the Indian languages of this country. They were transmitted to him inure than two years ago, and a few numbers published in a gazette, edited by him in a neighboring state; but discontinued with that paper. If the lucubrations of a rude aboriginal of America shall appear to afford any gratification to the generality of our readers, the whole will be occasionally offered to the public through the medium of the Time-Piece." The politics were republican for both sides of the water. If Freneau was hard pressed by an adversary, he could always bring is muse to his aid as in this sharp hit at Cobbett, in the paper of Sept. 13, 1797, in reply to "a despicable mess of scurrility in one of Porcupine's Gazettes of last week, in which he mentions he was plagued with the Time-Piece for several months," coupled with the explanation that the Time-Piece had at first been sent to Porcupine, according to editorial custom, "till finding the hoggishness of the fellow, in not consenting to an exchange, the transmission was discontinued."
From Penn's famous city what hosts have departed,
The streets and the houses are nearly deserted,
But still there remain
Two Vipers, that's plain,
Who soon, it is thought, yellow flag will display;
Old Porcupine preaching,
And Fenno beseeching
Some dung-cart to wheel him away.
Philadelphians, we're sorry you suffer by fevers,
Or Buffer such scullions to be your deceivers;
Will Pitt's noisy whelp
With his red foxy scalp
Whom the kennels of London spew'd out in a fright,
Has sculk'd over here
To snuffle and sneer,
Like a puppy to snap, or a bull-dog to bite.
If cut from the gallows, or kick'd from the post,
Such fellows as these are of England the boast,
But Columbia's disgrace!
Begone from that place
That was dignified once by a Franklin and Penn,
But infested by you
And your damnable crew
Will soon be deserted by all honest men.
Captain Freneau, having concluded his active political career and his voyages to Madeira and the West Indies, passed his latter days in New Jersey, occasionally visiting New York, where he saw his friends in the democratic ranks of the day.
Of his associations at this time we have a pleasing reminiscence in the following original sketch, kindly written in answer to our inquiries on the subject, by Dr. John W. Francis of New York.
"To the young, the ingenuous, and the inquiring the City of New York, some thirty or forty years ago, presented an interest which we in vain look for at the present day; and consequently excited emotions of patriotism and induced historical research, by the accidental associations inherent in the very character of the personages and occurrences of those remoter times. Our metropolis at that period was enriched by the sojourn or temporary presence of a large number of those renowned individuals who had labored in the service of the revolutionary struggle, and who in council and in the field had secured the triumphs of those principles so early espoused by the 'Sons of Liberty.' The state at large had been extensively the area of warfare; the deliberations arising out of the adoption of the Constitution for the Union, the master spirits engaged in that responsible trust, all awakened deep interest in New York. Much of what was then speculative, discussion has since become historical fact; and the sires of those great actions, who presented themselves at every corner of the streets, and in the social circles, now sleep the sleep ordained to mortality. The national ballads and songs of colonial strife, which were enriched with additional charms by the vocal displays of the very actors of those scenes, may occasionally be recognised in the Metrical Miscellany, or printed in the Songster's Museum; but the echo of applauding admirers which was consequent upon the melodist's strains is not now to be heard. Even the great Hamilton might have been joined in such a confederacy; and I have listened to Gates, of Saratoga, in similar efforts. In short our city abounded with the heroes of revolutionary fame, citizens, and natives of remote parts of the Union; add to all these the scores of old Tories, and the multitudes of the once disaffected, who had escaped the trials of the revolutionary contest by the ingenuity of self-interest, and the sagacious use of their fiscal resources, and we have at least one view of the diversified population of those incipient days of the American Republic.
"It was natural that a participator in the occurrences of those times of trial consumed in the war of Independence, who was all eye-witness to many of the hardest impositions of that eventful period; who had, moreover, borne a notable share of its sufferings, who had felt the horrors of the Jersey prison-ship, and had become intimate with that glorious band of warriors and statesmen, should desire in after times, when the fruits of peace were secured, to renew the associations of past events, recount the tale of patriotism, and find consolation in the retrospect by converse among kindred spirits.
"Phillip Freneau was eminently a character who would not heedlessly let pass such opportunities, and we accordingly find him, when not engrossed with other avocations, constantly associated with those who gratified his most cherished sympathies in his often repeated visits to New York. The various editions of his poetical writings bear testimony to his continued ardor as a cultivator of the patriotic muse, and if we examine the productions of the periodical press we must be satisfied that he was comparatively indifferent to fame in his selection, as many of his best products are to be found elsewhere than in his collections. An unpretending popular weekly contains his beautiful address to the Isle of Madeira; and in his poem on the Carolinas he gives utterance to his emotions oil revisiting the scenes of his earlier days with the warmth and tenderness of an enthusiast.
"It is chiefly by the several dates of his numerous productions that we are enabled to trace his diversified employments and sojourns. As a marine captain, he was employed for many years subsequent to the publication of his large octavo selection of 1795 until about the war of 1812.
"Freneau was widely known to a large circle of our most prominent and patriotic New Yorkers. His native city, with all his wanderings, was ever uppermost in his mind and in his affections. While in the employment of Jefferson, as a translator of languages in the department of state, upon the organization of Congress, with Washington at its head, he had the gratification of witnessing the progress of improvement, and might have enjoyed increased facilities had he not enlisted with an in discreet zeal as an advocate of the radical doctrines of the day. Freneau was, nevertheless, esteemed a true patriot; and his private worth, his courteous manner, and his general bearing won admiration with all parties. His pen was more acrimonious than his heart. He was tolerant, frank in expression, and not deficient ill geniality. He was highly cultivated in classical knowledge, abounding in anecdotes of the revolutionary crisis, and extensively acquainted with prominent characters.
"It were easy to record a long list of eminent citizens who ever gave him a cordial welcome. He was received with the warmest greetings by the old soldier, Governor George Clinton. He, also, in the intimacy of kindred feeling, found an agreeable pastime with the learned Provoost, the first regularly consecrated Bishop of the American Protestant Episcopate, who himself had shouldered a musket in the Revolution, and hence was sometimes called the fighting bishop. They were allied by classical tastes, a love of natural science, and ardor in the cause of liberty. With Gates he compared the achievements of Monmouth with those at Saratoga. With Col. Fish he reviewed the capture of Yorktown; with Dr. Mitchill he rehearsed, from his own sad experience, the physical sufferings and various diseases of the incarcerated patriots of the Jersey prison-ship; and descanted on Italian poetry and the piscatory eclogues of Sannazarius. He, doubtless, furnished Dr. Benjamin Dewitt with data for his funeral discourse on the remains of the 11,500 American martyrs. With Pintard he could laud Horace and talk largely of Paul Jones. With Major Fairlie he discussed the tactics and chivalry of Baron Steuben. With Sylvanus Miller he compared notes on the political clubs of 1795-1810. He shared Paine's visions of an ideal democracy. With Dewitt Clinton and Cadwallader D. Colden he debated the projects of internal improvement and artificial navigation, based on the famous precedent of the Languedoc canal.
"I had, when very young, read the poetry of Freneau, and as we instinctively become attached to the writers who first captivate our imaginations, it was with much zest that I formed a personal acquaintance with the revolutionary bard. He was at that time about seventy-six years old, when he first introduced himself to me in my library. I gave him an earnest welcome. He was somewhat below the ordinary height; in person thin yet muscular, with a firm step, though a little inclined to stoop; his countenance wore traces of care, yet lightened with intelligence as he spoke; he was mild in enunciation, neither rapid nor slow, but clear, distinct, and emphatic. His forehead was rather beyond the medium elevation, his eyes a dark grey, occupying a socket deeper than common; his hair must have once been beautiful, it was now thinned and of an iron grey. He was free of all ambitious displays; his habitual expression was pensive. His dress might have passed for that of a farmer. New York, the city of his birth, was his most interesting theme; his collegiate career with Madison, next. His story of many of his occasional poems was quite romantic. As he had at command types and a printing-press, when an incident of moment in the Revolution occurred, he would retire for composition, or find shelter under the shade of some tree, indite his lyrics, repair to the press, set up his types, and issue his productions. There was no difficulty in versification with him. I told him what I had heard Jeffrey, the Scotch Reviewer, say of his writings, that the time would arrive when his poetry, like that of Hudibras, would command a commentator like Gray. On some of the occasions when Freneau honored me with a visit, we had within our circle one of my earliest friends, that rare Knickerbocker, Gulian C. Verplanck. I need not add that the charm of my interview with the bard was heightened by the rich funds of antiquarian lore possessed by the latter.
"It is remarkable how tenaciously Freneau preserved the acquisitions of his early classical studies, notwithstanding he had for many years, in the after portion of his life, been occupied in pursuits so entirely alien to books. There is no portrait of the patriot Freneau; he always firmly declined the painter's art, and would brook no 'counterfeit presentment.'"
Some time after the conclusion of the war of 1812, a number of Freneau's MS. poems, of which he had many, were consumed by fire, in the destruction of his house at Mount Pleasant.
That he was not indifferent to his reputation, the several collections of his writings prove, and we learn from the venerable engraver on wood, Alexander Anderson, that Freneau once applied to him to calculate the cost of an illustrated volume of the poems, which he found too great for his purse.
Freneau died Dec. 18, 1832. The circumstances of his death were thus announced in the Monmouth (New Jersey) Inquirer: — "Mr. Freneau was in the village, and started, towards evening, to go home, about two miles. In attempting to go across he appears to have got lost and mired in a bog meadow, where his lifeless corpse was discovered yesterday morning. Captain Freneau was a staunch Whig in the time of the Revolution, a good soldier, and a warm patriot. The productions of his pen animated his countrymen in the darkest days of '76, and the effusions of his muse cheered the desponding soldier as he fought the battles of freedom."
The house which Freneau occupied at the time of his death is still standing. It is about a mile from Freehold. The house in which he lived before he came to Freehold, and the old tavern in which he and his club of friends met, are also in existence at Middletown Point.
To this account of Freneau, we are enabled to add a notice of his brother, who was settled in South Carolina, at Charleston, from the pen of Dr. Joseph Johnson, of that city.
"Peter Freneau was a younger brother of Captain Philip Freneau. They were natives of New Jersey; but the first of their ancestors who came to this part of the world, was called De Fresneau, and settled in Connecticut, after effecting his escape from the persecutions against the Huguenots in France. In this province De Fresneau became the proprietor of a copper mine, but being restrained by the Colonial Regulations from smelting the ore, he shipped a load of it to England, calculating on profitable returns. In these expectations he was disappointed; the vessel was captured by a French cruiser; the adventure proved a total loss, and De Fresneau was so much reduced that he could no longer work the mine. By some means not well understood, this property came into the possession of the State of Connecticut, and became the site of their Penitentiary. The excavations that had been made for copper ore served extremely well for the safe keeping of their convicts.
"After completing his education, Mr. Freneau came to South Carolina, and soon attracted general and favorable notice from those best qualified for judging. He was elected Secretary of State, and embraced the opportunity thus afforded for securing to himself and Francis Bremar, the Surveyor-General, grants for various tracts of land then vacant. About the year 1795, he became the editor and proprietor of the City Gazette, a daily paper advocating the Democratic opinions then prevailing in the South. He was associated with Paine, an experienced printer, who took charge of that department, and the whole work was so well conducted, that it Boon secured the patronage of the state and city governments. On the election of Mr. Jefferson to the Presidency, in 1801, it also obtained that of the general government. Mr. Freneau was particularly well qualified for the office of editor to such a paper. He was indefatigable in his studies and collections of matter, his style of writing was clear, comprehensive, and decided in advancing his own opinions, but always liberal and just to those who thought otherwise. Besides a due knowledge of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, he had acquired so much of the French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian languages, as enabled him to read, select, and translate from such publications, what other papers could not procure, and rendered the circulation of his the more extensive; but he could not converse in either of those languages.
"When Mr. Paine left the concern, the paper began to decline, and Mr. Freneau unfortunately engaged in some commercial adventures, that distracted his usual attention to the office. He became involved in a variety of ways, and in 1810 sold out his whole interest in the City Gazette.
"In person Mr. Freneau was tall, but so well-proportioned, that it was not remarked. His features bore so strong a resemblance to those of Charles James Fox, the celebrated English statesman, that all were struck with the likeness who had ever seen Mr. Fox, or compared his likeness with Freneau.
"When Mr. Freneau parted with his interest in the City Gazette, he endeavored to arrange his intricate accounts and money concerns, but did not succeed; he was still disappointed and harassed. He then anxiously sought for retirement, and having the lease of a saw-mill and cottage at Pinckney's Ferry, he was tempted to visit them early in October, 1813, before the autumnal frosts had cleared the atmosphere of malaria. He returned in good spirits, and apparently in good health, but was attacked in a few days with the bilious remittent, resulting from malaria, and died on the fifth day of the disease, in the fifty-seventh year of his age.
"Mr. Freneau was never married, he left no relative except his brother Philip, and died insolvent."
The poems of Philip Freneau represent his times, the war of wit and verse no less than of sword and stratagem of the Revolution; and he superadds to this material a humorous, homely simplicity peculiarly his own, in which he paints the life of village rustics, with their local manners fresh about them, of days when tavern delights were to be freely spoken of, before temperance societies and Maine laws were thought of; when men went to prison at the summons of inexorable creditors, and when Connecticut deacons rushed out of meeting to arrest and waylay the passing Sunday traveller. When these humors of the day were exhausted, and the impulses of patriotism were gratified in song, when he had paid his respects to Rivington and Hugh Gaine, he solaced himself with higher themes, in the version of an ode of Horace, a visionary meditation on the antiquities of America, or a sentimental effusion on the loves of Sappho. These show the fine tact and delicate handling of Freneau, who deserves much more consideration in this respect from critics than he has ever received. A writer from whom the fastidious Campbell, in his best day, thought it worth while to borrow an entire line, is worth looking into. It is from his Indian Burying Ground, the last image of that fine visionary stanza:—
By midnight moons, o'er moistening dews,
In vestments for the chase array'd,
The hunter still the deer pursues,
The hunter and the deer — a shade.
Campbell has given the line a rich setting in the "lovelorn fantasy" of O'Conor's Child:—
Bright as the bow that spans the storm.
In Erin's yellow vesture clad,
A son of light — a lovely form,
He comes and makes her glad;
Now on the grass-green turf he sits,
His tassel'd horn beside him laid;
Now o'er the hills in chace he flits,
The hunter and the deer a shade.
There is also a line of Sir Walter Scott which has its prototype in Freneau. In the introduction to the third canto of Marmion, in the apostrophe to the Duke of Brunswick, we read—
Lamented chief! — not thine the power
To save in that presumptuous hour
When Prussia hurried to the field,
And snatch'd the spear but left the shield.
In Freneau's poem on the heroes of Eutaw, we have this stanza:—
They saw their injur'd country's woe;
The flaming town, the wasted field;
Then rushed to meet the insulting foe;
They took the spear — but left the shield.
An anecdote, which the late Henry Brevoort was accustomed to relate of his visit to Scott, affords assurance that the poet was really indebted to Freneau, and that he would not, on a proper occasion, have hesitated to acknowledge it. Mr. Brevoort was asked by Scott respecting the authorship of certain verses on the battle of Eutaw, which he had seen in a magazine, and had by heart, and which he knew were American. He was told that they were by Freneau, when he remarked, the poem is as fine a thing as there is of the kind in the language. Scott also praised one of the Indian poems.
We might add to these instances, that in 1790, Freneau, in his poetical correspondence between Nanny the Philadelphia House-Keeper, and Nabby her friend in New York, upon the subject of the removal of Congress to the former city, had hit upon some of the peculiar pleasantry of Moore's Epistles in verse of the present century.
Freneau surprises us often by his neatness of execution and skill in versification. He handles a triple rhymed stanza in the octosyllabic measure particularly well. His appreciation of nature is tender and sympathetic, one of the pure springs which fed the more boisterous current of his humor when he came out among men to deal with quackery, pretence, and injustice. But what is perhaps most worthy of notice in Freneau is his originality, the instinct with which his genius marked out a path for itself in those days when most writers were leaning upon the old foreign school of Pope and Darwin. He was not afraid of home things and incidents. Dealing with facts and realities, and the life around him, wherever he was, his writings have still all interest where the vague expressions of other poets are forgotten. His poems may be little read now — they are so rare that we have tasked the resources of booksellers, and put friendship to the proof, to draw together the several editions to prepare this article — but they will be surely revived and cherished among the historic and poetic literature of the land. The tree which plants its roots most firmly in the present, will survive the longest with posterity. The genius which has no local habitation for its muse, no personality or relation to time and place to-day (and how much poetry is there thrown upon the public which it is impossible to locate), will be, in sporting language, nowhere to-morrow.
It is a little remarkable that four of the most original writers whom the country has produced have received the least attention from critics and magazinists — Francis Hopkinson, John Trumbull, Brackenridge, and Freneau. In the very few notices to be met with of the last, he is for the most part mentioned in an apologetic tone — as if he were a mere writer of doggrel, low in taste and poor in expression. Even an admirer, who compliments him in verse, has something of this:—
Let Freneau live though Flattery's baleful tongue
Too early tuned his youthful lyre to Song,
And ripe old age, in ill-directed zeal,
Has made an enervated last appeal:
His song could fire the sailor on the wave,
Raise up the coward, — animate the brave,
While wit and satire cast their darts around,
And fools and cowards tremble at the sound.
Although Ambition never soar'd to claim
The meed of polished verse, or classic fame,
And caustic critics honour, but condemn,
A strain of feeling, but a style too tame.
Let the old Bard, whose patriot voice has fann'd
The fire of Freedom that redeemed our land,
Live on the scroll with kindred names that swell
The page of history, where their honours dwell;
With full applause, in honour to his age,
Dismiss the veteran poet from the stage,
Crown his last exit with distinguished praise,
And kindly hide his baldness with his bays.
How his contemporaries could sometimes appreciate him, is shown in an epistle in Col. Parks's volume of Horatian translations, and other poems, published at Philadelphia in 1786. In the rarity of these tributes, it is worth quoting:
TO MR. PHILIP FRENEAU, ON HIS VOLUME OF EXCELLENT POEMS, PRINTED BY MR. BAILEY.
Difficile est satiram non scribere" — JUV.
Tho' I know not your person, I well know your merit,
Your satires admire — your muse of true spirit;
Who reads them must smile at poetical story,
Except the k—g's printer, or some such like tory;
Sir William, Sir Harry, and would-be Sir John,
Cornwallis, the Devil, those bucks of the ton;
Black Dunmore and Wallace with sun-setting-nose,
Who Steals hogs and sheep, secure-under the Rose.
But a fig for the anger of such petty rogues,
To the devil we pitch them without shoes or brogues!
Pythag'ras' choice scheme my belief now controuls,
I sign to his creed — transmigration of souls;
Euphorbas's shield he no doubt did employ,
And bravely let blood on the plains of old Troy:
The Souls of great Marlbro' and warlike Eugene
Conspicuous in Washington's glory are seen:
Sage Plato beams wisdom from Franklin's rich brain,
And sky-taught Sir Isaac is seen here again.
But Hugh when he migrates may daily be found
Cracking bones in a kitchen in form of a hound;
When his compeer shall die — while no Christian shall weep him,
Old Pluto, below, for a devil will keep him;
Unless he's sent up on some hasty dispatch,
The Whigs to abuse, and more falsehoods to hatch.
Those red-jerkin'd fops, whom your muse I've heard sing,
From Hounslow's bold heroes successively spring;
From Tyburn they tumble as supple as panders,
Then migrate straightway into knights and commanders.
But you, worthy poet, whose soul-cutting pen
In gall paints the crimes of all time-serving men,
The fiend of corruption, the wretch of an hour,
The star-garter'd villain, the scoundrel in pow'r;
From souls far unlike may announce your ascension,
The patriot all-worthy, above bribe or pension,
The martyr who suffer'd for liberty's sake
Grim dungeons, more horrid than hell's bitter lake:
Your name to bright honour, the spirits shall lift,
That glow'd in the bosoms of Churchill and Swift.
And when you are number'd, alas! I with the dead
Your works by true wits will forever be read,
Who, pointing the finger, shall pensively show
The lines that were written, alas! by Freneau.
Philadelphia, June 8, 1786.
It is not to be denied, however, that Freneau was sometimes careless. He lived and thought with improvidence. His jests are sometimes misdirected; and his verses are unequal in execution. Yet it is not too much to predict that through the genuine nature of some of his productions, and the historic incidents of others, all that he wrote will yet be called for, and find favor in numerous popular editions.