Hartford: Hudson and Goodwin, 1793. First edition. Bound to style in modern quarter calf over marbled boards with morocco label to spine. Light scattered foxing, largely concentrated at the preliminaries. Small tear to the blank inner corner of A2. Contemporary inscription to the footer of title page: "Sold in London by Chas. Delly price 1/6." Charles Delly, a UK printer and bookseller active in the 1780s, was clearly importing American titles to sell in his shop. Collates complete , 6-56. An important and scarce work, the only other copy to appear at auction came up, disbound, at Swann in 1982.
Best known as the lexicographer responsible for his American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster has been called "the father of American scholarship and education" (Mason). He was also a committed abolitionist, helping to found the Connecticut Society for the Abolition of Slavery in 1791. In the present work, Webster argues that "slavery in all its forms and varieties is repugnant to private interest and public happiness of man." Providing a brief historical view of slavery, Webster shows that across time and place, the practice of enslaving people produces the same deleterious effects. "The actual produce of a country is nearly in an exact proportion to the degree of freedom enjoyed by its inhabitants." And he uses Ireland and Connecticut as examples that illustrate "the superior productiveness of the labor of freemen who work for their own benefit." Despite these progressive views, Webster's essay is also heavily marked with the systemic racism that has undercut the momentum of many American social movements; and he problematically asserts the "laziness of slaves" in America, commenting that "the blacks are so remarkable for their inaction, their want of fore-sight and their disinclination to improvement." Unable to imagine the rich social movements that would emerge from enslaved people's descendants, Webster places the responsibility for abolition on white Americans, both for economic and moral good. "If that nation is the happiest, which with industry enjoys a full supply of the comforts and conveniences of life, then the government and those institutions which distribute and secure."
ESTC W31814. Evans 26448. (Item #3069)