« PrejšnjaNaprej »
than tuneful of patriotic ballads, songs, and doggerel satires, to all of which at this distance the sounds of the combatants' fife and drum seems a fitting accompaniment. One poet there was, however, who may justly be awarded that title on account of the occasional lyrics which are in pleasing contrast with the verses of his contemporaries; some of which are characterized by a grace and tenderness as well as by a skilful versification that gives them a peculiar charm. Freneau wrote for a purpose, and that purpose accomplished he was satisfied; had he striven to be or become a poet in the best sense of the word, he might have become one, but he used his gift as a means to an end, occasionally solacing his moments of freedom from care by using his pen for his pleasure, but this was seldom." 1
"He depicts land and naval fights with much animation and gay coloring; and being himself a son of old Neptune, he is never at a loss for appropriate circumstances and expressive diction when the scene lies at sea. His martial and political ballads are free from bombast and affectation, and often have an arch simplicity in their manner that renders them very poignant and striking. If the ballads and songs of Dibdin have cheered the spirits and incited the valor of the British Tars, the strains of Freneau, in like manner, are calculated to impart patriotic impulses to the hearts of his countrymen, and their effect in this way should be taken as a test of their merit. Many of his compositions relating to persons and things now forgotten are no longer interesting, but he evinced more genius and more enthusiasm than any other poet whose powers were called into action during the great struggle for liberty, and was the most distinguished poet of our revolutionary period.
"It is not to be forgotten, however, that Freneau
1 Centennial Journals, 188.
had other claims to attention as a poet, than his literary association with the events of the Revolution. He was essentially of a poetic mood, and had many traits of rare excellence in the divine art. His mind was warmed into admiration at the beauties of landscape; his conceptions were imaginative; visionary scenes swarmed before his imagination; and the same susceptibility of mind which led him to invest with interest the fading fortunes of the Indian, and Nature's prodigality in the luxurious scenery of the tropics, made him keenly appreciative of the humble ways and manners of his race. The practical Captain Freneau combined humor with fancy, and his Muse, laying aside what Milton termed 'her singing robes,' could wear with ease the garments of every-day life. The common, once familiar incidents and manners of his time will be found pleasantly reflected in many a quaint picture in his poems."1
"The poems of Philip Freneau," if we may be allowed here to repeat our estimate of his powers from a sketch written some years ago, "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 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 humours of the day were exhausted, and the impulses of patriotism were gratified in song, when he had paid his respects to Rivington and Hugh Gaines, he solaced himself with remoter themes: in the version of an ode of Horace, a visionary
1 Giulian C. Verplanck, in Analectic Magazine.
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 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 Freneau's "Indian Burying-Ground," the last image of that fine visionary stanza:
"By midnight moons, o'er moistening dews,
The hunter and the deer a shade.'
"Campbell has given this line a rich setting in 'O'Conner's Child':
"Now on the grass-green turf he sits,
"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
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;
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 as
surance that the poet was really indebted to Freneau, and that he would not, on a proper occasion, have hesitated to acknowledge the obligation. 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 (Scott) 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.
"Freneau surprises us often by his neatness of execution and skill in versification. He handles a triplerhymed 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 humour 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 languidly leaning upon the old foreign school of Pope and Dryden. 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 an interest where the vague expressions of other poets are forgotten. It is not to be denied, however, that Freneau was sometimes careless. He thought and wrote 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 favour in numerous editions." 1
"Freneau's originality was very marked. He fol
1 Cyclopædia of American Literature. The remainder of this chapter is taken from Mr. Edward Delancey's address to the Huguenot Society.
lowed not in the steps of Dryden, nor any other of the poets of the Augustan age; nor, like his contemporaries Trumbull and Barlow, in those of Young and Pope. Not only did he not follow classic example, but he struck out a style of his own. Free, clear, and expressive, he cast aside the trammels of the stately verse in which his predecessors and contemporaries delighted, and wrote just as he seems to have felt, and in whatever way he deemed most appropriate to his subject. Although careless in his rhymes at times, he was, nevertheless, always effective.
"So long was his life that he wrote some of his finest poems after the advent of that brilliant galaxy of poets who burst forth in the early part of this nineteenth century. But not a trace of Moore, Southey, Campbell, Rogers, Scott, Wordsworth, or Byron, is to be found in the last two small volumes of his poems which he gave to the world in 1815.
"Freneau's prose writings were of two kinds: brief essays on many subjects, after the manner of the Spectator and the Tatler; and travels and reports of an imaginary character, related and made to their kings by an inhabitant of Otaheite and a Creek Indian, after their return from civilized lands, after the example of Voltaire. To these may be added his political disquisitions and translations from French historical writers. The best of the former were written over the pen-name of 'Robert Slender.' All are pleasing, witty, humorous, easy and agreeable, and show great and close power of observation. His political writings, action, and opinions are a most interesting theme, but they would require a full essay to be adequately presented. The ardor of his nature and the firmness of his opinions, with the vigor and terseness of his style, made him an adversary to be feared.
"During the period of his sea life is to be ascribed