Hugh Henry Brackenridge

Hugh Henry Brackenridge (1749-1816) was an American lawyer and writer. His reputation as a writer rests almost entirely on "Modern Chivalry, " a novel in which he humorously reveals the confusion and controversy that characterized the early years of the American Republic.

Born in Scotland, Hugh Henry Brackenridge was brought by his parents to frontier Pennsylvania in 1763. Educated in country schools, at 16 he became a schoolmaster at Gunpowder Falls, Md. In 1768 he entered Princeton, where with Philip Freneau he composed The Rising Glory of America for their graduation exercises in 1771. Though teaching and the study of divinity and law occupied the next several years, he wrote A Poem on Divine Revelation on receiving his master of arts degree from Princeton in 1774 and two patriotic plays, for presentation by his students, in 1775 and 1777.

In 1776 Brackenridge became a chaplain with the Continental Army, publishing a collection of his sermons as Six Political Discourses Founded on the Scriptures (1778). In 1779 he edited the short-lived United States Magazine, which contained important early writings of Freneau and Brackenridge's serialized allegorical narrative The Cave of Vanhest. A year later he was admitted to the bar and in 1781 settled in the frontier village of Pittsburgh, where he became a prominent, often controversial, citizen, founded its first newspaper, and opened its first bookstore.

Brackenridge wrote both in prose and in verse on law, politics, and Native American affairs, including A Masque, Written at Warm Springs in Virginia (1784); "The Trial of Mamachtaga, " one of the earliest effective American short stories; an eyewitness account, Incidents of the Insurrection in Western Pennsylvania (1795); and Law Miscellanies (1814).


Modern Chivalry

Brackenridge's novel Modern Chivalry first appeared in two volumes in 1792; a third volume appeared in 1793, a fourth in 1797; new parts were issued in 1804 and 1805; the whole was expanded and revised in four volumes in 1816; a posthumous revised edition in two volumes appeared in 1819. Pretending to be "a book without a thought, or the smallest degree of sense, " Modern Chivalry recites the adventures of quixotic Captain Farrago and his servant, Teague O'Regan, as they roam the countryside, with ignorant Teague bumbling into trouble by being elected again and again to public office, tarred and feathered or jailed for political or amorous activities—a democratic bumpkin used to satirize the peculiarities of democracy. Physicians, lawyers, army veterans, strong-armed and strong-voiced politicians, mob violence, and lovesickness all submit to Brackenridge's bantering, double-edged observations. This picaresque and satirical novel owes much to Cervantes, Henry Fielding, and Laurence Sterne. In language forthright, in humor often slapstick, sometimes fiercely ironic, it anticipates later satiric examinations of democracy by James Fenimore Cooper, Herman Melville, and H.L. Mencken.


Further Reading on Hugh Henry Brackenridge

Excellent biographies of Brackenridge are Claude Milton Newlin, The Life and Writings of Hugh Henry Brackenridge (1932), and Daniel Marder, Hugh Henry Brackenridge (1967). A complete edition of Brackenridge's Modern Chivalry was edited by Newlin in 1937, a modernized edition of the first four volumes by Lewis Leary in 1965.

Additional Biography Sources

Indian atrocities: narratives of the perils and sufferings of Dr. Knight and John Slover, among the Indians, during the Revolutionary War, Fairfield, Wash.: Ye Galleon Press, 1983.