Philip Morin Freneau (frih-NOH) was the first noteworthy American poet, both as the partisan versifier of colonial independence and as a romantic poet of the American scene. His political poems during the American Revolution, especially “The British Prison Ship,” established him as a powerful satirist, whereas his poem “The House of Night,” with its atmospheric descriptions, its whippoorwills and jack-o’-lanterns, proved his originality as the first poet to use themes from American nature. Freneau’s poems, first printed in the United States Magazine and the Freeman’s Journal, of which he was editor (1781-1784), came out in several collected editions, the most important of which were those of 1786, 1795, and 1815. The subjects of his poetry include politics, war (the American Revolution and the War of 1812), travel, philosophy, and everyday life.
Freneau was the eldest of five children. His Huguenot father was a wine merchant in New York. Little is known about Freneau’s early life, other than that he was probably educated at home before being sent to a boarding school in New York. At the age of fifteen he began preparing for college at the Penolopen, New Jersey, Latin School. In the fall of 1768 he entered the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) as a sophomore. At college he wrote numerous poems and satirical pieces and was involved in several literary activities, including the “Whig Society” (not...
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