1773 PHILLIS WHEATLEY. One of the Very First Instances of Wheatley in Print. Very Rare!
1773 PHILLIS WHEATLEY. One of the Very First Instances of Wheatley in Print. Very Rare!
1773 PHILLIS WHEATLEY. One of the Very First Instances of Wheatley in Print. Very Rare!
1773 PHILLIS WHEATLEY. One of the Very First Instances of Wheatley in Print. Very Rare!
1773 PHILLIS WHEATLEY. One of the Very First Instances of Wheatley in Print. Very Rare!

1773 PHILLIS WHEATLEY. One of the Very First Instances of Wheatley in Print. Very Rare!

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An exceptionally scarce review of Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects, published in 1773. This was the first work by a black American ever published. The present includes a startlingly dismissive review and then a year-of-first-print, first periodical appearance of her Hymn to the Morning [p.456].  

We have seen the entire year, which contains no additional Phillis Wheatley material, sold for over $3,500.00

Phillis Wheatley, delicately called a "negro servant," was in fact a slave. She was also one of the most important poets of the 18th century in America. Educated by her owner, John Wheatley, Phillis was the abolitionists’ icon and proof that blacks were fully human; were feeling, creatives, artists, and intellectuals. Her story in many ways contained the seeds of the early American anti-slavery movement. 

Wheatley was seized from Senegal/Gambia, West Africa, when she was just seven years old. She was transported to the Boston docks with a shipment of “refugee” slaves, who because of age or physical frailty were unsuited for rigorous labor in the West Indian and Southern colonies. In August 1761, “in want of a domestic,” Susanna Wheatley, wife of prominent Boston tailor John Wheatley, purchased her. She was described as “a slender, frail female child.” The captain of the slave ship was willing to sell her cheaply because he believed that the waif was terminally ill, and he wanted to gain at least a small profit before she died.

After discovering the young girl's curiosity and aptitude, the Wheatleys, though not excusing Phillis entirely from her domestic duties, taught her to read and write. Wheatley indicated later in life that, despite this exposure, rich and unusual for an American slave, she still longed for the intellectual challenge of a more academic atmosphere.

She began writing poems almost immediately. The Wheatley's attempted to find her a publisher, to no avail. It was finally her elegy of the Great Awakening evangelist, George Whitefield that brought her national renown. Published as a broadside and a pamphlet in Boston, Newport, and Philadelphia, the poem was published with Ebenezer Pemberton’s funeral sermon for Whitefield in London in 1771.

By the time she was 18, Wheatley had gathered a collection of 28 poems for which she, with the help of Mrs. Wheatley, ran advertisements for subscribers in Boston newspapers in February 1772. When the colonists were apparently unwilling to support literature by an African, she and the Wheatleys turned in frustration to London for a publisher. Wheatley had forwarded the Whitefield poem to Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon, to whom Whitefield had been chaplain. A wealthy supporter of evangelical and abolitionist causes, the countess instructed bookseller Archibald Bell to begin correspondence with Wheatley in preparation for the book. That book was the one reviewed here, Poems on Various Subjects

Wheatley proved a vigorous, innovative poet. She applied biblical symbolism to evangelize and to comment on slavery. For instance, On Being Brought from Africa to America,  the best-known Wheatley poem, chides the Great Awakening audience to remember that Africans must be included in the Christian stream: “Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain, /May be refin’d and join th’ angelic train.” She believed in America, but also believed America could be better. She was the first to applaud this nation as glorious “Columbia” and that in a letter to no less than the first president of the United States, George Washington, with whom she had corresponded and whom she was later privileged to meet. Her love of virgin America as well as her religious fervor is further suggested by the names of those colonial leaders who signed the attestation that appeared in some copies of Poems on Various Subjects to authenticate and support her work: Thomas Hutchinson, governor of Massachusetts; John Hancock; Andrew Oliver, lieutenant governor; James Bowdoin; and Reverend Mather Byles. Another fervent Wheatley supporter was Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Wheatley was manumitted some three months before Mrs. Wheatley died on March 3, 1774. 

The present is one the very first instances of Wheatley in print. An important addition for the institutional or personal collection.

THE LONDON MAGAZINE: Or, GENTLEMAN'S Monthly Intelligencer. For SEPTEMBER, 1773. pp.417-468 [complete].


V. Poems on various Subjects, religious and moral. By Phillis Wheatley, Negro Servant to Mr. Wheatley, of Boston in New England, 8vo. 2s. 6d. A. Bell.

These poems display no astonishing power of genius; but when we consider them as the productions of a young untutored African, who wrote them after six months casual study of the  English language and of writing, we cannot suppress our admiration of talents so vigorous and lively. We are the more surprised too, as we find her verses interspersed with the poetical names of the ancients, which she has in every instance used with strict propriety. As our readers may be curious enough to wish for a specimen of this Afric Muse's poetry, we subjoin the following.

Hymn to the Morning. 

ATTEND my lays, ye ever-honour'd nine
Assist my labours; and my strains refine;
In smoothest numbres pour the notes along, 
For bright Aurora now demands my song.
Aurora hail, and all the thousand dyes
Which deck thy progress thro' the vaulted skies!

The morn awakes, and wide extends her rays,
On every leaf the gentle Zephyr plays;
Harmonious lays the feather'd race resume,
Dart the bright eye, and shake the painted plume.
Ye shady groves, your verdant gloom display. 

To shield your poet from the burning day: 
Calliope, awake the sacred lyre,
While thy fair sisters fan the pleasing fire:
The bow'ry, the gales, the variegated skies,
In all their pleasure in my bosom rise.
See in the east th' illustrious king of day!

His rising radiance drives the shades away - 
But oh! I feel his fervid beams too strong. 
And, scarce begun, concludeth th' abortive song.

Textually complete as issued, removed from an earlier sammelband with remains of binding on spine; slightly shaken; shaved a bit tight to foredge as shown on title only. Remaining text all centered appropriately. Engraved Plate "No. V. of Pictures found in the Ruins of Herculaneum" is absent and Engraved Plate "Number XXIII of New Music" is defective. The final Engraved Plate, "An Uncommon Bird from Malacca" is present and in good condition with some toning and a small closed tear at margin. A few dog-ears and some handling as shown.