Authors: Hugh Henry Brackenridge

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

Scottish-born American novelist.

1748

Kintyre, Scotland

June 25, 1816

Carlisle, Pennsylvania

Biography

Hugh Henry Brackenridge was born on the Kintyre peninsula in Scotland, near the village of Campbeltown, in 1748. He was brought to the United States in 1753, at the age of five. His family settled in western Pennsylvania, where Brackenridge grew up on the frontier. He entered Princeton University in 1768. At his graduation in 1771, he recited A Poem on the Rising Glory of America (published 1772), which he cowrote with classmate Philip Freneau. (Brackenridge and Freneau had, along with James Madison and others, helped cofound the American Whig Society at Princeton.) Epic in intention, the poem is an important contribution to early nationalism. For a brief period, Brackenridge was the head of an academy in Maryland. During the American Revolution, in addition to serving as a chaplain, he published two plays that praised the heroism of American troops, designed for private performance, as well as Six Political Discourses Founded on the Scripture (1778), a collection of sermons exhorting the troops to carry on bravely.

Portrait of Hugh Henry Brackenridge.

By Clayton Braun, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

After studying law in Annapolis, Brackenridge moved to Pittsburgh in 1781. He made many contributions to the cultural life of that frontier community, and it was there that he wrote Modern Chivalry (1792–97), the book for which he is best remembered. This picaresque novel, fashioned after Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote (1605, 1615), satirizes incompetence and corruption in the workings of democratic government. By ridiculing the weaknesses of democracy, Brackenridge hoped to strengthen it.

Despite the fact that he satisfied neither side during the Whiskey Rebellion, Brackenridge was sufficiently well thought of politically to win an appointment to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in 1799. He moved to Carlisle in 1801. There he wrote Law Miscellanies (1814), his principal contribution to legal literature, and there he died on June 25, 1816.

Author Works Long Fiction: Father Bombo’s Pilgrimage to Mecca, wr. 1770, pb. 1975 (with Philip Freneau) Modern Chivalry: Containing the Adventures of Captain John Farrago, and Teague O’Regan, His Servant, 1792–97 (4 volumes), 1805, 1815 Drama: The Battle of Bunkers-Hill, pb. 1776 The Death of General Montgomery at the Siege of Quebec, pb. 1777 (also known as The Death of General Montgomery, in Storming the City of Quebec) Poetry: A Poem, on the Rising Glory of America: Being an Exercise Delivered at the Public Commencement at Nassau-Hall, September 25, 1771, 1772 (with Philip Freneau) A Poem on Divine Revelation: Being an Exercise Delivered at the Public Commencement at Nassau-Hall, September 28, 1774, 1774 An Epistle to Walter Scott, 1811 Nonfiction: Six Political Discourses Founded on the Scripture, 1778 An Eulogium of the Brave Men Who Have Fallen in the Contest with Great-Britain: Delivered on Monday, July 5, 1779, 1779 Political Miscellany, 1793 Incidents of the Insurrection in the Western Parts of Pennsylvania in the Year 1794, 1795 Standard of Liberty, an Occasional Paper, ca. 1802 Gazette Publications, 1806 The Spirit of the Public Journals; or, Beauties of the American Newspapers, for 1805, 1806 Law Miscellanies, 1814 History of the Western Insurrection in Western Pennsylvania, Commonly Called the Whiskey Insurrection, 1794, 1859 Edited Text: Narrative of a Late Expedition against the Indians, with an Account of the Barbarous Execution of Col. Crawford, and the Wonderful Excape of Dr. Knight and John Slover from Captivity in 1782, 1783 Bibliography Chaden, Caryn. “Dress and Undress in Brackenridge’s Modern Chivalry.” Early American Literature, vol. 26, no. 1, 1991, pp. 55–72. Academic Search Complete, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=5409170&site=ehost-live. Accessed 11 Sept. 2017. Discusses the use of clothing as a symbol associated with the work of Jonathan Swift. Engell, John. “Brackenridge, Modern Chivalry, and American Humor.” Early American Literature, vol. 22, no. 1, 1987, pp. 43–62. Academic Search Complete, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=5411632&site=ehost-live. Accessed 11 Sept. 2017. Studies the humor inherent in the narrative structure. Lenz, William E. “Confidence Games in the New Country: Hugh Henry Brackenridge’s Modern Chivalry.” Colby Library Quarterly, vol. 18, no. 2, 1982, pp. 105–12. A study of the picaresque mode of fiction. Marder, Daniel. Hugh Henry Brackenridge. Twayne Publishers, 1967. A critical introduction to the author’s life and works. Patterson, Mark R. “Representation in Brackenridge’s Modern Chivalry.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language, vol. 28, no. 2, 1986, pp. 121–39. Deals with the politics of the novel. Reynolds, R. C. “Modern Chivalry and the American Tradition.” The McNeese Review, vol. 29, 1982–83, pp. 13–25. Compares the satirical method of Brackenridge to that of Mark Twain. Rice, Grantland S. “Modern Chivalry and the Resistance to Textual Authority.” American Literature: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography, vol. 67, no. 2, 1995, pp. 257–81. A textual study. Sapienza, Madeline. Modern Chivalry in Early American Law: H. H. Brackenridge’s Legal Thought. UP of America, 1992. Examines Brackenridge’s contributions to law. Includes bibliographical references and an index. Wertheimer, Eric. “Commencement Ceremonies: History and Identity in The Rising Glory of America, 1771 and 1786.” Early American Literature, vol. 29, no. 1, 1994, pp. 35–58. Academic Search Complete, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=9503103539&site=ehost-live. Accessed 11 Sept. 2017. Another textual study.

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