Born in New York City, 1752; died near Monmouth, New Jersey,
1832. The earliest of American poets to display a lyric gift
capable of sustained exercise, Philip Freneau left a body of
poetic work important for its formative influence upon his immediate
successors and notable in itself, when considered from the period
which produced it. Freneau's work was chiefly done prior to the
Romantic Movement in England, before lyric poetry had received
the great impetus and liberation which came with that movement
and before poetic form had been released from its classic restraints.
There was no poetic school in America, no master to emulate,
no atmosphere to stimulate a young poet. Freneau was a pioneer,
and one is surprised at the fresh note which still gives a modern
touch to some of his lyrics. His personal life was active and
adventurous and spanned the great period of the Revolutionary
War, the War of 1812, and other events of moment in American
history. For several years Freneau followed the sea, making voyages
to the West Indies and other ports, often in command of merchant
vessels. In 1780 his ship was captured and all on board were
taken prisoners. Freneau has recorded the adventure in a poem
of four cantos, "The British Prison Ship." After leaving
sea life Freneau became a journalist.
This biographical note is reprinted
from The Little Book of American Poets: 1787-1900. Ed.
Jessie B. Rittenhouse. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1915.