London: Printed for D. Henry at St. John's Gate, . First edition. Rebound in cloth with morocco and gilt label to spine, measuring approximately 220 x 130mm. Some gentle rubbing and shelfwear to extremities and spine label. Internally in clean and pleasing condition, with bookplate of Gray's Inn Library to front pastedown. Paper repair to lower quarter of the title page with no loss to text; some separation of text block up to page 4, but holding firm in binding . Collates , 655, [17, index]: complete including the scarce folding plate for the General Plan of Navigable Canals plus the remaining 25 plates. Containing the first appearance of Some Account of Phillis, A Learned Negro Girl (page 226)--a defense of Phillis Wheatley's education and poetic skills--as well as a very early appearance of Wheatley's own poem On Recollection (page 456). The present is the only copy of The Gentleman's Magazine on the market to contain both pieces.
Kidnapped from Gambia and brought to slavery in the American colonies, Phillis Wheatley rose to prominence 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 dignitaries, 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. Some Account of Phillis, 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.
Later in this same volume is a very early and rare appearance of Wheatley's own poem On Recollection, which first appeared in 1772 in The London Magazine before being reworked and being published in polished form in 1773 in Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. This is the third publication of the poem, on page 456, and it is a work that has been noted as ahead of its time. "Wheatley was among the first innovators of sentimentality with this poem, and it is precisely because of the politics of race which promotes such an innovation...Wheatley discovered the advantages, in the task of overcoming oppression, of constructing a sentimental poem that is genuinely intersubjective rather than subjective. What an examination of On Recollection shows us is that the Romantic, expressivist aesthetic she participates in, allegedly so spontaneous, can be seen as much more rhetorically manipulative" (Finch). Near Fine (Item #3846)