London: Printed for D. Henry at St. John's Gate, May 1773. First edition. The first appearance of a defense of the work of Phillis Wheatley, on page 226. Disbound with spine reinforced. Collates , -256: lacking the folding plate of the canal plan, else complete.
Kidnapped from Gambia and brought to slavery in the American colonies, Phillis Wheatley rose to prominance as a poet. Purchased by the Wheatley family at the age of 7, she quickly stood out for her apt and creative mind; "soon she was immersed in the Bible, astronomy, geography, history, British literature, and the Greek and Latin classics," being educated in a similar manner to the family's two children (Poetry Foundation). This classical humanistic education prepared Wheatley for authorship, and she began writing a collection of poetry and sought subscribers for their publication. "When the colonists were apparently unwilling to support literature by an African, she and the Wheatleys turned in frustration to London for a publisher" and were able to secure funding from "a wealthy supporter of evangelical and abolitionist causes" (Poetry Foundation). On her arrival in London, Wheatley was hailed by dignataries, scholars, and activists who anxiously awaited the release of Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773), which would become the first volume of poetry published by an African American in modern times. A master of iambic pentameter, Wheatley's work was rich in Biblical and classical references. For this reason, some more narrow minded critics initially called her authorship into question. The present work, which appeared that same year in London's The Gentleman's Magazine, provides a rigid defense of Wheatley's authentic talent. In addition to providing some biographical information on her purchase by the Wheatleys, the piece documents John Wheatley's attestation that "as to her writing, her own curiosity led her to it; and this she learned in so short a time." The author encourages readers to purchase the volume for themselves and judge its contents. He also provides an activist incentive: "She now is under the disadvantage of serving as a slave in a family in Boston. It is hoped (though it is not so expressed), that the profits of this publication will, in the first place, be applied toward purchasing her freedom." Wheatley's fame only continued to grow, but she did not gain her freedom through purchase. Rather, she was manumitted after the death of her mistress a year later; and she faced an uncertain future as a freewoman in colonial America, turning to several of her English friends for advice and assistance on supporting herself and her work. Near Fine (Item #2723)