Freneau, Philip

Philip Morin Freneau[1] (January 2, 1752 – December 18, 1832) was an American poet, nationalist, polemicist, sea captain and newspaper editor sometimes called the “Poet of the American Revolution”. Through his newspaper, the National Gazette, he was a strong critic of George Washington.

Following his graduation, he tried his hand at teaching, but quickly gave it up. He also pursued a further study of theology, but gave this up as well after about two years. As the Revolutionary War approached in 1775, Freneau wrote a number of anti-British pieces. However, by 1776, Freneau left America for the West Indies, where he would spend time writing about the beauty of nature. In 1778, Freneau returned to America, and rejoined the patriotic cause. Freneau eventually became a crew member on a revolutionary privateer, and was captured in this capacity. He was held on a British prison ship for about six weeks. This unpleasant experience (in which he almost died), detailed in his work The British Prison Ship, would precipitate many more patriotic and anti-British writings throughout the revolution and after.[4] For this, he was named “The Poet of the American Revolution”.

In 1790 Freneau married Eleanor Forman, and became an assistant editor of the New York Daily Advertiser. Soon after, Madison and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson worked to get Freneau to move to Philadelphia in order to edit a partisan newspaper that would counter the Federalist newspaper The Gazette of the United States. Jefferson was criticized for hiring Freneau as a translator in the State Department, even though he spoke no foreign languages except French, in which Jefferson was already fluent. Freneau accepted this undemanding position, which left free time to head the Democratic-Republican newspaper Jefferson and Madison envisioned.

This partisan newspaper, The National Gazette, provided a vehicle for Jefferson, Madison, and others to promote criticism of the rival Federalists. The Gazette took particular aim at the policies promoted by Alexander Hamilton, and like other papers of the day, would not hesitate to shade into personal attacks, including President George Washington during his second term. Owing to The Gazette’s frequent attacks on his administration and himself, Washington took a particular dislike to Freneau.

The Following are Poems by Philip Freneau:


THAT a silly old fellow, much noted of yore,
And known by the name of John, earl of Dunmore,
Has again ventured over to visit your shore.

The reason of this he begs leave to explain-
In England they said you were conquered and slain,
(But the devil take him that believes them again)

So, hearing that most of you rebels were dead,
That some had submitted, and others had fled,
I mustered my tories, myself at their head,

And over we scudded, our hearts full of glee,
As merry as ever poor devils could be,
Our ancient dominion, Virginia, to see;

Our shoe-boys, and tars, and the very cook’s mate
Already conceived he possessed an estate,
And the tories no longer were cursing their fate.

Myself, the Don Quixote, and each of the crew,
Like Sancho, had islands and empires in view-
They were captains and knights, and the devil knows who:

But now, to our sorrow, disgrace, and surprise,
No longer deceived by the Father of Lies,*
We hear with our ears, and we see with our eyes:-

I have therefore to make you a modest request
(And I’m sure in my mind it will be for the best),
Admit me again to your mansions of rest.

There are Eden, and Martin, and Franklin and Tryon,
All waiting to see you submit to the Lion,
And may wait till the devil is king of Mount Sion:-

Though a brute and a dunce, like the rest of the clan,
I can govern as well as most Englishmen can;
And if I’m a drunkard, I still am a man.

I missed it somehow in comparing my notes,
Or six years ago I had joined with your votes;
Not aided the negroes in cutting your throats.

Although with so many hard names I was branded,
I hope you’ll believe (as you will if you’re candid),
That I only performed what my master commanded.

Give me lands, and dice, and you still may be free;
Let who will be master, we sha’n’t disagree;
If King or if Congress- no matter to me.

I hope you will send me an answer straightway,
For ’tis plain that at Charleston we cannot long stay-
And your humble petitioner ever shall pray.
CHARLESTON, 6 Jan., 1782.

*The Printer of the Royal Gazette.

The End


Eutaw Springs

AT Eutaw Springs the valiant died:
Their limbs with dust are covered o’er;
Weep on, ye springs, your tearful tide;
How many heroes are no more

If in this wreck of ruin, they
Can yet be thought to claim a tear,
O smite thy gentle breast, and say
The friends of freedom slumber here!

Thou, who shalt trace this bloody plain,
If goodness rules thy generous breast,
Sigh for the wasted rural reign;
Sigh for the shepherds sunk to rest!

Stranger, their humble groves adorn;
You too may fall, and ask a tear:
‘Tis not the beauty of the morn
That proves the evening shall be clear.

They saw their injured country’s woe,
The flaming town, the wasted field;
Then rushed to meet the insulting foe;
They took the spear-but left the shield.

Led by thy conquering standards, Greene,
The Britons they compelled to fly:
None distant viewed the fatal plain,
None grieved in such a cause to die-

But, like the Parthian, famed of old,
Who, flying, still their arrows threw,
These routed Britons, full as bold,
Retreated, and retreating slew.

Now rest in peace, our patriot band;
Though far from nature’s limits thrown,
We trust they find a happier land,
A brighter Phoebus of their own.

On Barney’s Victory Over the Ship “General Monk”

O’ER the waste of waters cruising,
Long the General Monk had reigned;
All subduing, all reducing,
None her lawless rage restrained:
Many a brave and hearty fellow,
Yielding to this war-like foe,
When her guns began to bellow
Struck his humbled colors low.

But, grown bold with long successes,
Leaving the wide watery way,
She, a stranger to distresses,
Came to cruise within Cape May:
“Now we soon (said Captain Rogers)
Shall their men of commerce meet;
In our hold we’ll have them lodgers,
We shall capture half their fleet.

“Lo! I see their van appearing-
Back our top-sails to the mast!
They toward us full are steering
With a gentle western blast:
a list of all their cargoes,
All their guns, and all their men:
I am sure these modern Argo’s
Can’t escape us one in ten:

“Yonder comes the Charming Sally
Sailing with the General Greene-
First we’ll fight the Hyder Ally,
Taking her is taking them:
She intends to give us battle,
Bearing down with all her sail-
Now, boys, let our cannon rattle!
To take her we cannot fail.

“Our eighteen guns, each a nine-pounder,
Soon shall terrify this foe;
We shall maul her, we shall wound her,
Bringing rebel colors low.”
While he thus anticipated
Conquests that he could not gain,
He in the Cape May channel waited
For the ship that caused his pain.

Captain Barney then preparing,
Thus addressed his gallant crew:
Now, brave lads, be bold and daring,
Let your hearts be firm and true;
This is a proud English cruiser,
Roving up and down the main,
We must fight her-must reduce her,
Though our decks be strewed with slain.

“Let who will be the survivor,
We must conquer or must die,
We must take her up the river,
Whate’er comes of you or I:
Though she shows most formidable
With her eighteen pointed nines,
And her quarters clad in sable,
Let us bank her proud designs.

With four nine-pounders and twelve sixes,
We will face that daring band;
Let no dangers damp your courage,
Nothing can the brave withstand.
Fighting for your country’s honor,
Now to gallant deeds aspire;
Helmsman, bear us down upon her,
Gunner, give the word to fire!”

Then yard-arm and yard-arm meeting,
Straight began the dismal fray,
Cannon mouths, each other greeting,
Belched their smoky flames away;
Soon the langrage, grape and chain-shot,
That from Barney’s cannons flew,
Swept the Monk, and cleared each round-top,
Killed and wounded half her crew.

Captain Rogers strove to rally
His men from their quarters fled,
While the roaring Hyder Ally
Covered o’er his decks with dead.
When from their tops their dead men tumbled,
And the streams of blood did flow,
Then their proudest hopes were humbled
By their brave inferior foe.

All aghast, and all confounded,
They beheld their champions fall,
And their captain, sorely wounded,
Bade them quick for quarter call.
Then the Monk’s proud flag descended,
And her cannon ceased to roar;
By her crew no more defended,
She confessed the contest o’er.

Come, brave boys, and fill your glasses,
You have humbled one proud foe,
No brave action this surpasses,
Fame shall tell the nations so.
Thus be Britain’s woes completed,
Thus abridged her cruel reign,
Till she ever, thus defeated,
Yields the sceptre of the main.

On A Travelling Speculator

ON scent of game, from town to town he flew,
soldier’s curse pursued him on his way;
Care in his eye, and anguish on his brow,
He seemed a sea-hawk watching for his prey.

With soothing words the widow’s mite he gained, I’ve
With piercing glance watched misery’s dark abode,
Filched paper scraps while yet a scrap remained,
Bought where he must, and cheated where he could.

Vast loads amassed of scrip, and who knows what;
Potosi’s wealth seemed lodged within his clutch.-
But wealth has wings (he knew) and instant bought
The prancing steed, gay harness, and gilt coach.

One Sunday morn, to church we saw him ride
In glittering state-alack! and who but he-
The following week, with Madam at his side,
To routs they drove-and drank Imperial tea!

In cards and fun the livelong day they spent,
With songs and smut prolonged the midnight feast,
If plays were had, to plays they constant went,
Where Madam’s top-knot rose a foot at least.

Three weeks, and more, thus passed in airs of state,
The fourth beheld the mighty bubble fail,-
And he, who countless millions owned so late,
Stopped short-and closed his triumphs in a jail.

The Indian Burying Ground

IN spite of all the learned have said,
I still my old opinion keep;
The posture that we give the dead
Points out the soul’s eternal sleep.

Not so the ancients of these lands;-
The Indian, when from life released,
Again is seated with his friends,
And shares again the joyous feast.

His imaged birds, and painted bowl,
And venison, for a journey dressed,
Bespeak the nature of the soul,
Activity, that wants no rest.

His bow for action ready bent,
And arrows, with a head of stone,
Can only mean that life is spent,
And not the old ideas gone.

Thou, stranger, that shalt come this way,
No fraud upon the dead commit,-
Observe the swelling turf, and say,
They do not lie, but here they sit.

Here still a lofty rock remains,
On which the curious eye may trace
(Now wasted half by wearing rains)
The fancies of a ruder race.

Here still an aged elm aspires,
Beneath whose far projecting shade
(And which the shepherd still admires)
The children of the forest played.

There oft a restless Indian queen
(Pale Shebah with her braided hair),
And many a barbarous form is seen
To chide the man that lingers there.

By midnight moons, o’er moistening dews,
In habit for the chase arrayed,
The hunter still the deer pursues,
The hunter and the deer-a shade!

And long shall timorous Fancy see
The painted chief, and pointed spear,
And Reason’s self shall bow the knee
To shadows and delusions here.

The Wild Honeysuckle

FAIR flower, that dost so comely grow,
Hid in this silent, dull retreat,
Untouched thy honied blossoms blow,
Unseen thy little branches greet:
No roving foot shall crush thee here,
No busy hand provoke a tear.

By Nature’s self in white arrayed,
She bade thee shun the vulgar eye,
And planted here the guardian shade,
And sent soft waters murmuring by;
Thus quietly thy summer goes,
Thy days declining to repose.

Smit with those charms, that must decay,
I grieve to see your future doom;
They died-nor were those flowers more gay,
The flowers that did in Eden bloom;
Unpitying frosts, and Autumn’s power,
Shall leave no vestige of this flower.

From morning suns and evening dews
At first thy little being came;
If nothing once, you nothing lose,
For when you die you are the same;
The space between is but an hour,
The frail duration of a flower.


The Parting Glass

THE man that joins in life’s career
And hopes to find some comfort here,
To rise above this earthly mass,-
The only way’s to drink his glass.

But, still, on this uncertain stage,
Where hopes and fears the soul engage,
And while, amid the joyous band,
Unheeded flows the measured sand,
Forget not as the moments pass,
That time shall bring the parting glass!

In spite of all the mirth I’ve heard,
This is the glass I always feared,
The glass that would the rest destroy,
The farewell cup, the close of joy!

With you, whom reason taught to think,
I could, for ages, sit and drink:
But with the fool, the sot, the ass,
I haste to take the parting glass.

The luckless wight, that still delays
His draught of joys to future days,
Delays too long – for then, alas!
Old age steps up, and-breaks the glass!

The nymph, who boasts no borrowed charms,
Whose sprightly wit my fancy warms;
What though she tends this country inn,
And mixes wine, and deals out gin?
With such a kind, obliging lass,
I sigh to take the parting glass.

With him, who always talks of gain
(Dull Momus, of the plodding train),
The wretch, who thrives by others’ woes,
And carries grief where’er he goes:-
With people of this knavish class
The first is still my parting glass.

With those that drink before they dine,
With him that apes the grunting swine,
Who fills his page with low abuse,
And strives to act the gabbling goose
Turned out by fate to feed on grass-
Boy, give me quick, the parting glass.

The man, whose friendship is sincere,
Who knows no guilt, and feels no fear;-
It would require a heart of brass
With him to take the parting glass.

With him who quaffs his pot of ale,
Who holds to all an even scale;
Who hates a knave, in each disguise,
And fears him not-whate’er his size-
With him, well pleased my days to pass,
May heaven forbid the Parting Glass!

On The Ruins of a Country Inn

WHERE now these mingled ruins lie
A temple once to Bacchus rose,
Beneath whose roof, aspiring high,
Full many a guest forgot his woes.

No more this dome, by tempests torn,
Affords a social safe retreat;
But ravens here, with eye forlorn,
And clustering bats henceforth will meet.

The Priestess of this ruined shrine,
Unable to survive the stroke,
Presents no more the ruddy wine,
Her glasses gone, her china broke.

The friendly Host, whose social hand
Accosted strangers at the door,
Has left at length his wonted stand,
And greets the weary guest no more.

Old creeping Time, that brings decay,
Might yet have spared these mouldering walls,
Alike beneath whose potent sway
A temple or a tavern falls.

Is this the place where mirth and joy,
Coy nymphs, and sprightly lads were found?
Indeed! no more the nymphs are coy,
No more the flowing bowls go round.

Is this the place where festive song
Deceived the wintry hours away?
No more the swains the tune prolong,
No more the maidens join the lay:

Is this the place where Nancy slept
In downy beds of blue and green?-
Dame Nature here no vigils kept,
No cold unfeeling guards were seen.

‘Tis gone!-and Nancy tempts no more;
Deep, unrelenting silence reigns;
Of all that pleased, that charmed before,
The tottering chimney scarce remains.

Ye tyrant winds, whose ruffian blast
Through doors and windows blew too strong,
And all the roof to ruin cast,-
The roof that sheltered us so long,-

Your wrath appeased, I pray be kind
If Mopsus should the dome renew,
That we again may quaff his wine,
Again collect our jovial crew.

To a Honey Bee

THOU, born to sip the lake or spring,
Or quaff the waters of the stream,
Why hither come on vagrant wing?
Does Bacchus tempting seem,-
Did he for you this glass prepare?
Will I admit you to a share?

Did storms harass or foes perplex,
Did wasps or king-birds bring dismay-
Did wars distress, or labors vex,
Or did you miss your way?
A better seat you could not take
Than on the margin of this lake,

Welcome!- I hail you to my glass:
All welcome, here, you find;
Here, let the cloud of trouble pass,
Here, be all care resigned.
This fluid never fails to please,
And drown the griefs of men or bees.

What forced you here we cannot know,
And you will scarcely tell,
But cheery we would have you go
And bid a glad farewell:
On lighter wings we bid you fly,
Your dart will now all foes defy.

Yet take not, oh! too deep a drink,
And in this ocean die;
Here bigger bees than you might sink,
Even bees full six feet high.
Like Pharaoh, then, you would be said
To perish in a sea of red.

Do as you please, your will is mine;
Enjoy it without fear,
And your grave will be this glass of wine,
Your epitaph-a tear-
Go, take your seat in Charon’s boat;
We’ll tell the hive, you died afloat.

Death’s Epitaph

DEATH in this tomb his weary bones hath laid,
Sick of dominion o’er the human kind-
Behold what devastations he hath made,
Survey the millions by his arm confined.

Six thousand years has sovereign sway been
None, but myself, can real glory claim;
Great Regent of the world I reigned alone,
And princes trembled when my mandate came.

Vast and unmatched throughout the world my fame
Takes place of gods, and asks no mortal date-
No; by myself, and by the heavens, I swear,
Not Alexander’s name is half so great.

Nor swords nor darts my prowess could withstand,
All quit their arms, and bowed to my decree,
Even mighty Julius died beneath my hand,
For slaves and C’sars were the same to me!

Traveller, would’st thou his noblest trophies seek,
Search in no narrow spot obscure for those;
The sea profound, the surface of all land,
Is moulded with the myriads of his foes.

The End


WARS, bloody wars, and hostile Britain’s rage
Have banished long the pleasures of the stage;
From the gay painted scene compelled to part
(Forgot the melting language of the heart),
Constrained to shun the bold theatric show,
To act long tragedies of real woe,
Heroes, once more attend the comic muse;
Forget our failings, and our faults excuse.
In that fine language is our fable drest
Which still unrivalled reigns o’er all the rest;
Of foreign courts the study and the pride,
Who to know this abandon all beside;
Bold, though polite, and ever sure to please,
Correct with grace, and elegant with ease,
Soft from the lips its easy accents roll,
Formed to delight and captivate the soul:
In this Eugenia tells her easy lay,
The brilliant work of courtly Beaumarchais:
In this Racine, Voltaire, and Boileau sung,
The noblest poets in the noblest tongue.
If the soft story in our play expressed
Can give a moment’s pleasure to your breast,
To you, Great Sir! we must be proud to say
That moment’s pleasure shall our pains repay.
Returned from conquest and from glorious toils,
From armies captured and unnumbered spoils;
Ere yet again, with generous France allied,
You rush to battle, humbling British pride;
While arts of peace your kind protection share,
O let the Muses claim an equal care.
You bade us first our future greatness see,
Inspired by you, we languished to be free;
Even here where Freedom lately sat distrest
See, a new Athens rising in the west!
Fair science blooms where tyrants reigned before,
Red war reluctant leaves our ravaged shore-
Illustrious hero, may you live to see
These new republics powerful, great, and free;
Peace, heaven-born peace, o’er spacious regions spread,
While discord, sinking, veils her ghastly head.


The End