'O Death, whose sceptre trembling realms obey.. '

Wheatley, Phillis. To Mr. And Mrs. ******* on the Death of their Infant Son., in The Boston Magazine for September, 1784 [p. 488]. Printed on the 'North Side of the Market', Boston by Greenleaf and Freeman in 1784, this issue notable for the first printing of 'On the Death of an Infant', by Phyllis Wheatley (1753-1784) published three months shy of her early death. 

From The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Editor Paul Lauter, William H. Robinson (Rhode Island College) and Phillip M. Richards (Colgate University): Known for her Christian verses reflecting orthodox piety, Phillis Wheatley wrote on a wide variety of topics. A kidnapped African slave child she was sold from the South Market in Boston to well-to-do Susanna Wheatley. She was raised in a pious Christian household, tutored by family members, quickly learning English, Latin, and the Bible, and she began writing in 1765, four years after arriving in Boston harbor. in 1767, when she was about thirteen or fourteen years old, Phillis Wheatley published her first verses in a Newport, Rhode Island, newspaper. By 1772 she had composed enough poems to advertise twenty-eight of them in The Boston Censor for February 29, March 14, and April 11. She hoped to publish a volume of her poems that year in Boston.

The range of her topical concerns was already evident in these twenty-eight titles. Along with poems on morality and piety, the volume offered patriotic American pieces, an epithalamium, and a short, racially self-conscious poem, “Thoughts on Being Brought from Africa to America.” Had enough subscribers for this volume come forward, it would have been printed. But advertisements brought no subscribers, for reasons in part racially motivated. Wheatley was encouraged by her doting and undaunted mistress to revise her manuscripts in preparation for a volume that Susanna Wheatley had arranged, with the prestigious cooperation of the Countess of Huntingdon, to have published in London in 1773, complete with an engraved likeness of the poet as a frontispiece. This was the first volume known to have been published by a black American, man or woman.

In the fall of 1779, she ran (six times) proposals for a projected third volume, of thirty-three poems and thirteen letters. The work was to be dedicated to Benjamin Franklin. But again, as in 1772 and 1773, these 1779 proposals were rejected by Bostonians. In the Boston Magazine for September, 1784, there would be printed a final solicitation for subscribers to this third volume, but there would be no such book in print by the time Phillis Wheatley died three months later on December 5.

As some know, sometime before October 8, 1772, a semi-circle of 18 of the most prominent New Englanders adjourned to validate or debunk her poetical stature. All men, all white men, near all Harvard grads, all slave holders, many slave traders... and.. she 'passed'. 

Still no American publisher would take her manuscript, still 6-fold and more pleas for subscription fell short, still she would be buried in an obscure grave, two babies gone before, a husband long gone, alone but for her third baby, who died with her. 

They, those that tolerated the verses of her existence while still part and parcel of the very society that weakly, scarcely allowed her own selfhood to be, wrote: 'We whose Names are under-written, do assure the World, that the poems specified in the following Page, were (as we verily believe) written by Phillis, a young Negro Girl, who was but a few Years since, brought an uncultivated Barbarian from Africa, and has ever since been, and now is, under the Disadvantage of serving as a Slave in a Family in this Town." 

She died a free woman,  just three months after her final advertisement in the September '84 Boston Magazine, in which she penned [what I am inclined to think] her own elegy to the death of an infant son, written toward a 'Mr.' and a 'Mrs.', seemingly an autobiographical verse of self-comfort. Attempts to strip her faintly won title of ‘poet’ persist. Thomas Jefferson, unsurprisingly, dismissed her as a poet, for her lack of 'animating intellect'. More surprisingly, Amiri Baraka joined in the chorus of ridicule, claiming her voice a 'far, ludicrous departure from the huge black voices.. '. Others continue to paint her as merely an Aunt Tom. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in his excellent 2003 New Yorker piece, ‘Phillis Wheatley On Trial’,  pointedly asks us to imagine a bicentennial retrial of her craft and expression.

No century yet less hostile for a young, black, small, female voice.

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