Lot 212

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Rare 1st Ed.of Phillis Wheatley's "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral"

A first edition of Phillis Wheatley's "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral." By Phillis Wheatley, Negro Servant to Mr. John Wheatley, of Boston, in New England. London: Printed for A. Bell, Bookseller, Aldgate; and sold by Messrs. Cox and Berry, King Street, Boston, 1773. First edition, Stoddard's Edition 1. Octavo, v, [9]-124pp, plus a Table of Contents and a page of publisher's advertisements. With an engraved frontispiece portrait of Wheatley. The bookplate of John C. Shields (1944-2017) is present on the front pastedown. Shields was a Distinguished Professor of English at Illinois State University, widely known for his groundbreaking work on Phillis Wheatley. The volume is bound in brown leather with a single gilt-dotted rule border. The spine has six slightly raised bands and a red morocco label. The cover edges and corners are rubbed, and the front cover has a few scuff marks and spots of soiling. The rear cover has three small wormholes. Minor loss to spine, with the endbands exposed at each end. Spine joints and hinges are cracked. Pages are age-toned throughout with some scattered foxing and soiling. Worm damage to the front board, pastedown and free endpaper, frontispiece (affecting left border and a small portion of the ink well and paper in the portrait), title leaf (just touching double rule), continuing throughout the text, and then increasing in size at the end, to rear pastedown and board. Despite a few flaws, the volume is still in very good condition and it is quite uncommon to find such an edition in such a well-preserved state. This year will mark the 250th anniversary of the book's publication.

Accompanying the book is an engraving of the Right Honorable Selina, Countess Dowager of Huntingdon, Aged 83. Measuring 8" x 9.75". The portrait was drawn and engraved by Blackberd. Wheatley's book is dedicated to Selina Shirley Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon (1707'1791), a noteworthy figure in eighteenth-century English Methodism. She was an admirer and follower of evangelist John Wesley and founded her own evangelical branch in England and Sierra Leone, known as the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion. Although the two women never met, the dowager countess used her influence in the world of the arts to secure publication for Phillis Wheatley's book of poems.

Phillis Wheatley Peters, (c.?1753-1784) was an American author who is considered the first African-American author of a published book of poetry. She was kidnapped from her home in West Africa and subsequently sold into slavery at the age of seven or eight. She was bought by the Wheatley family of Boston who taught her to read and write and encouraged her poetry when they saw her talent. In 1773, during a trip to London, Wheatley met several prominent people who became her patrons and facilitated the publication of her "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral" on September 1, 1773. The book was a great success and brought her fame both in England and the American colonies, including praise from such prominent figures as George Washington. Wheatley was emancipated by the Wheatleys shortly after the publication of her book of poems, and Phillis went on to marry John Peters, a grocer. Tragically, the couple suffered the loss of all three of their children at a young age, and Phillis would die in poverty and obscurity at the age of 31.

John C. Shields was the author of several works concerning Phillis Wheatley, including "Phillis Wheatley's Poetics of Liberation" (2008) and "Phillis Wheatley and the Romantics" (2010), and was editor of "The Collected Works of Phillis Wheatley" (1988), and co-editor of "New Essays on Phillis Wheatley" (2011).

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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October 18, 2023 11:00 AM EDT
Wilton, CT, US

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