Life and Works of Phillis Wheatley: Containing Her Complete Poetical Works, Numerous Letters, and a Complete Biography of this Famous Poet of a Century and a Half Ago

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Mnemosyne Publishing Company, 1970 - Biography & Autobiography - 112 pages
Presents the life and works of the eighteenth-century poet

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Life of Phillis Wheatley
Phillis Wheatleys Correspondence
Title Page First Edition Phillis Wheatleys Poems

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About the author (1970)

Seized in Senegal/Gambia, West Africa by slave traders, Phillis Wheatley arrived in Boston when she was about seven years old. Purchased as a domestic in 1761, by Susanna and John Wheatley, Phillis Wheatley was frail and asthmatic. Perhaps because of her delicate constitution, she was excused from the most tiring aspects of her domestic duties. Instead, she was taught to read and write and was instructed in the Bible and the classics. Before she was thirteen, Wheatley was writing poetry that gained quick and widespread acclaim; in 1770 she published her first poem---"An Elegiac Poem on the Death of that Celebrated Divine, and Eminent Servant of Jesus Christ, the Reverend and Learned George Whitefield"---a work that touched on the terrible conditions of her own Atlantic crossing. By 1772 Phillis Wheatley had compiled a collection of verse. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of John and Susanna Wheatley, no publisher within the colonies was willing to print literature written by an African. Nonetheless, the Wheatleys persisted in their search, and through the intervention of Benjamin Franklin and various British sympathizers, including the abolitionist Earl of Dartmouth, they succeeded in finding a publisher for the work. Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral was printed in London in 1772; it is the first collection of poetry written by an African American to be published. Three months before Susanna Wheatley died in 1774 she manumitted (freed) Phillis Wheatley. But with Susanna's death, the Wheatley family disintegrated, and Phillis Wheatley suffered from severe financial difficulties during the Revolutionary War. Despite the voiced misgivings of her friends, Phillis Wheatley married John Peters in 1778. Their marriage was troubled by penury and sickness; in 1784, John Peters was confined to jail because of debt. Wheatley bore three children. Of these, two died in infancy and the third outlived her mother by only a few days. Desperate for assistance, Wheatley worked as a charwoman and maid. Destitute, sick, and alone, Phillis Wheatley died in 1784; she was barely thirty. Wheatley wrote approximately 145 poems, including the 64-line work "Liberty and Peace," published as a pamphlet under the name of Phillis Peters. Criticized during the early part of this century for not more openly addressing the theme of slavery, Wheatley's work combines Christian imagery and classical typology with an undeniably elegiac tone. Recent scholarship suggests that her Biblical allusions and metaphors demonstrate an antipathy to slavery and that her elegant and educated verse served to undermine colonial institutions of power.

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