Hugh Henry Brackenridge Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Hugh Henry Brackenridge (BRAK-uhn-rihj) was brought to the United States at the age of five. His family settled in western Pennsylvania, where Brackenridge grew up on the frontier. He entered Princeton University in 1768. At his graduation in 1771, he recited A Poem on the Rising Glory of America. Epic in intention, the poem is an important contribution to early nationalism. For a brief period, he was the head of an academy in Maryland. During the American Revolution, in addition to serving as a chaplain, he published two plays, designed for private performance, which praised the heroism of American troops, as well as a collection of sermons exhorting the troops to carry on bravely.

After studying law in Annapolis, Brackenridge moved to Pittsburgh in 1781. He made many contributions to the cultural life of that frontier community, and there he wrote Modern Chivalry, the book for which he is best remembered. This picaresque novel, fashioned after Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote (1605, 1615), satirizes incompetence and corruption in the workings of democratic government. By ridiculing the weaknesses of democracy, Brackenridge hoped to strengthen it.

Despite the fact that he satisfied neither side during the Whiskey Rebellion, Brackenridge was sufficiently well thought of politically to win an appointment to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in 1799. He moved to Carlisle in 1801. There he wrote Law Miscellanies, his principal contribution to legal literature, and there he died on June 25, 1816.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Chaden, Caryn. “Dress and Undress in Brackenridge’s Modern Chivalry.” Early American Literature 26, no. 1 (1991). The use of clothing as a symbol associated with the work of Jonathan Swift is discussed.

Engell, John. “Brackenridge’s Modern Chivalry.” Early American Literature 22, no. 1 (1987). Studies the humor inherent in the narrative structure.

Lenz, William E. “Confidence Games in the New Country: Hugh Henry Brackenridge’s Modern Chivalry.” Colby Library Quarterly 18, no. 2 (June, 1982). A study of the picaresque mode of fiction.

Marder, Daniel. Hugh Henry Brackenridge. New York: Twayne, 1967. A critical introduction to the author’s life and works.

Patterson, Mark R. “Representation in Brackenridge’s Modern Chivalry.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 28, no. 2 (Summer, 1986). Deals with the politics of the novel.

Reynolds, R. C. “Modern Chivalry and the American Tradition.” The McNeese Review 29 (1982-1983). Compares the satirical method of Brackenridge to that of Mark Twain.

Rice, Grantland S. “Modern Chivalry and the Resistance to Textual Authority.” American Literature: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography 67, no. 2 (June, 1995). A textual study.

Sapienza, Madeline. “Modern Chivalry” in Early American Law: H. H. Brackenridge’s Legal Thought. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1992. Examines Brackenridge’s contributions to law. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Wertheimer, Eric. “Commencement Ceremonies: History and Identity in The Rising Glory of America.” Early American Literature 29, no. 1 (1994). Another textual study.