The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Philip Freneau’s General Gage’s Confession is a dialogue in heroic couplets that reveals British general and royal governor of Boston Thomas Gage seeking absolution from a Catholic friar for his sins against the cause of American independence. The poet employs his poem to ridicule Gage, who was recalled to England in 1775 for ineptitude. The arrogant Gage was responsible during his term of office for igniting the Boston Tea Party and for sending of British troops to Lexington, who fired upon American militiamen and initiated the Revolutionary War. The poem lampoons Gage as the feckless instigator of all the above troubles.

The poem’s subtitle is Being the Substance of His Excellency’s Last Conference with His Ghostly Father, Father Francis. In the first of thirteen speeches between Gage and the friar, the British general relishes his recall to England but admits to Father Francis a “burden’d conscience.” The friar assures him that his “deepest sins may all be purged away” through confession. In the next six exchanges of dialogue Gage admits that “faultless” young America never deserved his hate and asks if obeying his monarch’s wishes was a sin. After Father Francis calmly recounts some of Gage’s murderous acts against American patriots, he promises that: “A dozen masses shall discharge you clean;/ Small pains in purgatory you’ll endure,/ And hell, you know, is only for the poor.” For such absolution the...

(The entire section is 497 words.)