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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Prologue to a Comedy

By Philip Freneau (1752–1832)

[Born in New York, N. Y., 1752. Died near Freehold, N. J., 1832. With a Tribute to Washington, who was present.—The Poems of Philip Freneau. 1786.]

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.