Philip Freneau Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In what ways does Philip Freneau’s poetry reveal his admiration for British poetical achievements?

By what techniques does Freneau attempt to translate his patriotic fervor into poetry? How successful is he in this effort?

What are the objects of Freneau’s satire? What satirical techniques does he chiefly employ?

What structural devices are found in the poem “On Mr. Paine’s Rights of Man”?

Compare Freneau’s practice of adding philosophical reflection to his nature poems with the same tendency in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poetry.

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

ph_0111201212-Freneau.jpg Philip Freneau. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Philip Freneau (frih-NOH) is best remembered today for his poems. In his own time, however, such was hardly the case. Freneau’s contemporaries knew him best for his satirical, sometimes vituperative essays. Freneau first used his satirical skills as a prose writer in Father Bombo’s Pilgrimage to Mecca (1770), which he wrote with Hugh Henry Brackenridge while the two were undergraduate classmates at Princeton (then College of New Jersey). In the introduction to the 1975 edition of the book, Michael D. Bell argues convincingly that this brief volume, more than half of which is by Freneau, is the first American novel.

After the outbreak of the American Revolution, Freneau put his satirical pen to work for American independence by contributing prose (and some poetry) to Brackenridge’s United States Magazine in 1779. During 1781 and 1782, he helped Francis Bailey publish Freeman’s Journal, a liberal and, of course, anti-British newspaper. During 1790 and 1791, he edited the Daily Advertiser in New York. Freneau’s next publishing venture is what some would consider his most famous; others would call it his most notorious. From October of 1791 until October of 1793, he edited The National Gazette in Philadelphia, which was at that time the center of the national government. In this newspaper, Freneau supported Jeffersonian politics and opposed the Federalist position of John Fenno’s United States Gazette, which operated under the financial control of Alexander Hamilton, the principal voice of Federalism.

Following Thomas Jefferson’s temporary withdrawal from politics, which concurred with loss of financial support for The National Gazette, Freneau returned to his New Jersey estate and set up a press of his own. There he published almanacs; yet another newspaper, The Jersey Chronicle; and another collection of his poetry (1795). In 1797, he and his expanding family relocated in New York, where Freneau began one more newspaper, The Time Piece and Literary Companion (March, 1797, to March, 1798). In his later years, he made contributions to such other newspapers as Charleston’s City Gazette (1788-1790, and also 1800-1801), the Philadelphia Aurora (1799-1800), the New-York Weekly Museum (1816), and Trenton’s True American (1821-1824).


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Philip Freneau’s contribution to the development of American satirical journalism is considerable. In The Political Activities of Philip Freneau (1902), Samuel E. Forman presents a scholarly discussion of Freneau’s role in the political arena of the early American republic. While serving as secretary of state, Jefferson declared that Freneau’s National Gazette “has saved our constitution, which was galloping fast into monarchy” (The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, edited by Paul L. Ford, 1892). In his “Tomo Cheeki, the Creek Indian,” a series of essays written for the Jersey Chronicle and printed on his own press at Mt. Pleasant, New Jersey, Freneau celebrated the unsullied national life of the American Indian, which contrasted sharply with the corrupted, unnatural life of whites transplanted from Europe. He also used his newspapers to condemn slavery and to advance temperance (not abstinence, but control).

Freneau’s major contribution to American letters, however, is his poetry. He has been called the poet of the American Revolution, the first American poet of any real significance, the founder of American poetry, and the first herald of Romanticism in America. None of these titles is entirely correct. Although he styled himself poet of the Revolution by publishing a collection of his poems in 1809 as Poems Written and Published During the American Revolutionary War (two-thirds of the poems in...

(The entire section is 594 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Andrews, William D. “Philip Freneau and Francis Hopkinson.” In American Literature, 1764-1789: The Revolutionary Years, edited by Everett Emerson. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1977. The writings of Freneau and Hopkinson are examined as expressions of the political events of the time, particularly the war for independence. Freneau’s bitter invective is contrasted with Hopkinson’s witty urbanity, and Freneau’s dedication to poetry as art is contrasted with Hopkinson’s view of poetry as a hobby. Includes suggested readings and index.

Elliott, Emory. “Philip Freneau: Poetry of Social Commitment.” In Revolutionary Writers: Literature and Authority in The New Republic, 1725-1810. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982. Examines Freneau as a poet-teacher of morality. His changing directions are understood as moves to strengthen power of instruction through poetic forms. Several poems are analyzed to illustrate Freneau’s faith in poetry as social commitment. Includes notes, select bibliography, and index.

Leary, Lewis. “Philip Freneau.” In Major Writers of Early American Literature, edited by Everett Emerson. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1972. Asserts that from early political verse to flights of fancy, Freneau was caught between destructive forces. After the Revolutionary War, his talents were...

(The entire section is 518 words.)