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Parthia, a tragedy written by Thomas Godfrey, a young American author, was performed at the Southwark Theatre, Philadelphia. Hugh H. Brackenridge in 1776 wrote a play called The Battle of Bunker Hill. He was then a school-teacher, and the play was presented by his pupils. Afterward he became a judge of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The first American play to be produced by a professional company was The Contrast, a comedy of American life compared to English. It was written by Royall Tyler and performed in New York, April 16, 1787.
14. Philip Freneau (1752-1832) was born in New York City and educated at Princeton. During the Revolution he was captured by the British and spent some time on a prison ship. He wrote much that is of slight literary worth, but a few lyrics that reveal the true poet, as, for instance, The Wild Honeysuckle and On a Honey Bee Drinking from a Glass of Wine, both of which are given below.
THE WILD HONEYSUCKLE
Hid in this silent, dull retreat,
No roving foot shall crush thee here,
By Nature's self in white arrayed,
She bade thee shun the vulgar eye,
Thus quietly thy summer goes,
Smit with those charms, that must decay,
I grieve to see your future doom;
The flowers that did in Eden bloom;
Unpitying frosts and Autumn's power,
From morning suns and evening dews
At first thy little being came;
die you are the same; The space between is but an hour, The frail duration of a flower.
ON A HONEY BEE DRINKING FROM A GLASS OF WINE AND
Did storms harass or foes perplex,
Welcome !—I hail you to my glass:
What forced you here we cannot know,
On lighter wings we bid you fly,
Yet take not, oh! too deep to drink,
Do as you please, your will is mine;
15. Charles Brockden Brown (1771-1810) was born in Philadelphia but spent most of his life in New York. He made literature the business of his life; in fact, he was the first American to adopt letters as a profession. His first story, Wieland, was immediately successful. There is a touch of both realism and weirdness in his tales. Embedded in his long rambling romances are many short stories, but he lacked the genius to crystallize them into artistic form.
THE YELLOW FEVER IN PHILADELPHIA
(From Arthur Merwyn) In proportion as I drew near the city, the tokens of its calamitous condition became more apparent. Every farmhouse was filled with supernumerary tenants, fugitives from home, and haunting the skirts of the road, eager to detain every passenger with inquiries after news. The passengers were numerous; for the tide of emigration was by no means exhausted. Some were on foot, bearing in their countenances the tokens of their recent terror, and filled with mournful reflections on the forlornness of their state. Few had secured to themselves an asylum; some were without the means of paying for victuals or lodgings
for the coming night; others, who were not thus destitute, yet knew not whither to apply for entertainment, every house being already overstocked with inhabitants, or barring its inhospitable doors at their approach.
Between these and the fugitives whom curiosity had led to the road, dialogues frequently took place, to which I was suffered to listen. From every mouth the tale of sorrow was repeated with new aggravations. Pictures of their own distress, or of that of their neighbors, were exhibited in all the hues which imagination can annex to pestilence and poverty. . . . My frequent pauses to listen to the narratives of travellers contributed ... to procrastination. The sun had nearly set before I reached the precincts of the city. I pursued the track which I had formerly taken, and entered High Street after nightfall.
Instead of equipages and a throng of passengers, the voice of levity and glee, which I had formerly observed, and which the mildness of the season would, at other times, have produced, I found nothing but a dreary solitude.
The market place, and each side of this magnificent avenue, were illuminated, as before, by lamps; but between the verge of Schuylkill and the heart of the city I met not more than a dozen figures; and these were ghost-like, wrapped in cloaks, from behind which they cast upon me glances of wonder and suspicion, and as I approached, changed their course, to avoid touching me. Their clothes were sprinkled with vinegar and their nostrils defended from contagion by some powerful perfume.
I cast a look upon the houses, which I recollected to have formerly been, at this hour, brilliant with lights, resounding with lively voices, and thronged with busy faces. Now they were closed, above and below; dark, and without tokens of being inhabited. From the upper windows of some, à gleam sometimes fell upon the pavement I was traversing, and showed that their tenants had not fled, but were secluded or disabled.
These tokens were new, and awakened all my panics. Death seemed to hover over this scene, and I dreaded that the floating pestilence had already lighted on my frame.
I had scarcely overcome these tremors, when I approached a house, the door of which was opened, and before which stood a vehicle, which I presently recognized to be a hearse.
The driver was seated on it. I stood still to mark his visage, and to observe the course which he proposed to take. Presently a coffin, borne by two men, issued from the house. The driver was a negro; but his companions were white. Their features were marked by ferocious indifference to danger or pity. One of them, as he assisted in thrusting the coffin into the cavity provided for it, said, ... “It wasn't the fever that ailed him, but the sight of the girl and her mother on the floor ... it wasn't right to put him in his coffin before the breath was fairly gone. I thought the last look he gave me told me to stay a few minutes."
“Pshaw! He could not live" [said the other). “The sooner dead the better for him; as well as for us. mark how he eyed us when we carried away his wife and daughter? I never cried in my life, since I was kneehigh, but curse me, if I ever felt in better tune for the business than just then. Hey !” continued he, looking up, and observing me standing a few paces distant, and listening to their discourse; “what's wanted? Anybody dead?”
I stayed not to answer or parley, but hurried forward. My joints trembled, and cold drops stood on my forehead. I was ashamed of my own infirmity; and, by vigorous efforts of my reason, regained some degree of composure. The evening had now advanced, and it behooved me to procure accommodation at some of the inns. . . .
I proceeded, in a considerable degree at random. At length I reached a spacious building in Fourth Street, which the sign-post showed me to be an inn. I knocked loudly and often at the door. At length a female opened the window of the second story, and, in a tone of peevishness, demanded what I wanted. I told her that I wanted lodging.
“Go hunt for it somewhere else," said she; "you'll find none here.” I began to expostulate; but she shut the window with quickness and left me to my own reflections.