In 1761, a young girl arrived in Boston on a slave ship, sold to the Wheatley family, and given the name Phillis Wheatley. Struck by Phillis’ extraordinary precociousness, the Wheatleys provided her with an education that was unusual for a woman of the time and astonishing for a slave. After studying English and classical literature, geography, the Bible, and Latin, Phillis published her first poem in 1767 at the age of 14, winning much public attention and considerable fame. When Boston publishers who doubted its authenticity rejected an initial collection of her poetry, Wheatley sailed to London in 1773 and found a publisher there for Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.
This volume collects both Wheatley’s letters and her poetry: hymns, elegies, translations, philosophical poems, tales, and epyllions–including a poignant plea to the Earl of Dartmouth urging freedom for America and comparing the country’s condition to her own. With her contemplative elegies and her use of the poetic imagination to escape an unsatisfactory world, Wheatley anticipated the Romantic Movement of the following century. The appendices to this edition include poems of Wheatley’s contemporary African-American poets: Lucy Terry, Jupiter Harmon, and Francis Williams.
For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
“Vincent Carretta’s edition of the works of Phillis Wheatley is the definitive collection of her work. Expertly edited, it is a masterpiece of textual scholarship. Every scholar and student seeking to understand Wheatley’s life and work will want to obtain this book.” –Henry Louis Gates
Introduction by Vincent Carretta
Suggestions for Further Reading
A Note on Money
Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral
Copy of a LETTER sent by the Author’s Master to the Publisher.
To the PUBLICK.
To the University of CAMBRIDGE, in NEW-ENGLAND.
To the KING’S Most Excellent Majesty. 1768.
On being brought from AFRICA to AMERICA.
On the Death of the Rev. Dr. SEWELL. 1769.
On the Death of the Rev. Mr. GEORGE WHITEFIELD. 1770.
On the Death of a young Lady of Five Years of Age.
On the Death of a young Gentleman.
To a Lady on the Death of her Husband.
GOLIATH of GATH.
Thoughts on the WORKS of PROVIDENCE.
To a Lady on the Death of Three Relations.
To a Clergyman on the Death of his Lady.
An HYMN to the MORNING.
An HYMN to the EVENING.
Isaiah lxiii. 1-8.
A Funeral POEM on the Death of C.E. an Infant of Twelve Months.
To Captain H-D, of the 65th Regiment.
To the Right Honourable WILLIAM, Earl of DARTMOUTH, His Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for North-America, &c.
ODE to NEPTUNE. On Mrs. W-‘s Voyage to England.
To a LADY on her coming to North-America with her Son, for the Recovery of her Health.
To a LADY on her remarkable Preservation in an Hurricane in North-Carolina.
To a LADY and her Children, on the Death of her Son and their Brother.
To a GENTLEMAN and LADY, on the Death of the Lady’s Brother and Sister, and a Child of the Name Avis, aged one Year.
On the Death of Dr. SAMUEL MARSHALL. 1771.
To a GENTLEMAN on his Voyage to Great-Britain for the Recovery of his Health.
To the Rev. Dr. THOMAS AMORY on reading his Sermons on DAILY DEVOTION, in which that Duty is recommended and assisted.
On the Death of J.C. an Infant.
An HYMN to HUMANITY. To S.P.G. Esq;
To the Honourable T.H. Esq; on the Death of his Daughter.
NIOBE in Distress for her children slain by APOLLO, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book VI. and from a view of the Painting of Mr. Richard Wilson.
To S.M. a young African Painter, on seeing his Works.
To His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor, on the Death of his Lady. March 24, 1773.
A Farewel to AMERICA. To Mrs. S.W.
A REBUS, by I.B.
An ANSWER to the Rebus, by the Author of these POEMS.
Extant Poems Not Published in Poems on Various Subjects
An Address to the Atheist.
An Address to the Deist – 1767 -
On Messrs Hussey and Coffin.
To the Hon.ble Commodore Hood on his Pardoning a Deserter
On the Death of Mr. Snider Murder’d by Richardson
An ELEGY, To Miss. Mary Moorhead, on the DEATH of her Father, The Rev. Mr. JOHN MOORHEAD.
[To a Gentleman of the Navy.]
The Answer [By the Gentleman of the Navy.]
Philis’s [sic] Reply to the Answer in our last by the Gentleman in the Navy.
To His Excellency General Washington.
On the Capture of General Lee
On the Death of General Wooster
To Mr. and Mrs.-, on the Death of their Infant Son
An Elegy Sacred to the Memory of the Rev’d Samuel Cooper, D.D.
AN ELEGY, SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF THAT GREAT DIVINE, THE REVEREND AND LEARNED DR. SAMUEL COOPER.
LIBERTY AND PEACE, A POEM.
An ELEGY on Leaving-.
Variants of Poems Published in Poems on Various Subjects
To the University of Cambridge, wrote in 1767-
To The King’s Most Excellent Majesty on his Repealing the American Stamp Act
On the Decease of the Revd Doctr Sewall [variant 1].
On the Death of the rev’d Dr. Sewell [variant 2].
On the Decease of the Rev’d Doctr Sewall, 1769. [variant 3].-
AN ELEGIAC POEM, On the DEATH of that celebrated Divine, and eminent Servant of JESUS CHRIST, the late Reverend, and pious GEORGE WHITEFIELD, Chaplain to the Right Honourable the Countess of Huntingdon, &c &c. [variant 1].
An Ode of VERSES On the much-lamented Death of the REV. MR. GEORGE WHITEFIELD, Late Chaplain to the Countess of Huntingdon [variant 2].
To Mrs. Leonard, on the Death of her Husband.
On the Death of Dr. Samuel Marshall [variant 1].
On the Death of Doctor SAMUEL MARSHALL. [variant 2]
RECOLLECTION. To Miss A- M-.
To the Rev. Mr. Pitkin, on the DEATH of his LADY.
A POEM ON THE DEATH OF CHARLES ELIOT, AGED 12 MONTHS [variant 1]
A Poem the death of Charles Eliot aged 12 months. [variant 2]
TO THE RIGHT HONL. WILLIAM LEGGE, EARL OF DARTMOUTH [variant 1]
TO THE RIGHT HONL WILLIAM LEGGE, EARL OF DARTMOUTH [variant 2]
To the Hon’ble Thomas Hubbard, Esq; On the Death of Mrs. Thankfull Leonard.
To the Empire of America, Beneath the Western Hemisphere. Farewell to America. To Mrs. S.W. [variant 1]
FAREWELL TO AMERICA [variant 2]
To the Countess of Huntingdon (October 25, 1770).
To Abigail May? (November or December 1771).
To John Thornton (April 21, 1772).
To Arbour Tanner (May 19, 1772).
To Arbour Tanner (July 19, 1772).
To the Earl of Dartmouth (October 10, 1772).
To the Countess of Huntingdon (June 27, 1773).
To the Countess of Huntingdon (July 17, 1773).
To David Worcester (October 18, 1773).
To Obour Tanner (October 30, 1773).
To John Thornton (December 1, 1773).
To the Reverend Samuel Hopkins (February 9, 1774).
To Samson Occom (February 11, 1774).
To Obour Tanner (March 21, 1774).
To John Thornton (March 29, 1774).
To Obour Tanner (May 6, 1774).
To the Reverend Samuel Hopkins (May 6, 1774).
To John Thornton (October 30, 1774).
To George Washington (October 26, 1775).
To Obour Tanner (May 29, 1778).
To Mary Wooster (July 15, 1778).
To Obour Tanner (May 10, 1779).
To the Countess of Huntingdon (October 25, 1770).
To the Earl of Dartmouth (June 3, 1773).
Proposals for Volumes of Poetry
Proposal for Printing by Subscription (February 29, 1772).
Proposals (April 16, 1773)
Proposals (October 30, 1779).
Wheatley’s Final Proposal (September 1784).
Appendix A: Possible Wheatley variant of “Hymn to Humanity”; Possible new Phillis Wheatley poem, “The Voice of Freedom”
Appendix B: Lucy Terry Prince: Bars Fight.
Appendix C: Jupiter Hammon: AN Evening THOUGHT. SALVATION BY CHRIST, WITH PENETENTIAL CRIES.; AN ADDRESS to Miss PHILLIS WHEATLY [sic]; “A Poem for Children with Thoughts on Death”; A DIALOGUE ENTITLEDD the KIND MASTER and DUTIFUL SERVANT.
Appendix D: Francis Williams: An ODE.