The Poems of Phillis Wheatley

By Julian D. Mason Jr.; Phillis Wheatley | Go to book overview

On the Reputation of Phillis Wheatley, Poet

For several obvious reasons, there has been a continuing, periodically emerging interest in Phillis Wheatley and her works since their first publication. Some indication of this interest can be seen in information given in the notes in this volume, in the Introduction to it, and in "A Note on the Text" (particularly concerning republication of her works). Although there now is Robinson's book-length biobibliographical survey of Phillis Wheatley over the decades, it seems appropriate still to include in the new edition of this volume a by no means exhaustive essay, but a selective, although representative, quick survey of some of the highlights of her reception and continuing reputation over the decades, particularly those of the nineteenth century. This survey will enable the reader of this volume to know something of the pattern of her reputation since the 1770s, especially as many of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century critiques still are not easy for the average reader to know of or to obtain--much less to see in relation to each other (though Robinson's Critical Essays does include a good sampling of them).

A special type of interest in Wheatley is early reflected in the note that usually appeared with her 1770 poem on Whitefield, pointing out that she was a "Servant Girl, of 17 years of Age . . . but 9 Years in this Country from Africa"; and though they were never of the very best quality, her poems soon were good enough to arouse the suspicions of those who did not know her. Therefore, a note to the public appears in the front of her 1773 volume to assure the reader that these are indeed the works of the Wheatleys' slave Phillis. This note was signed by eighteen of "the most respectable Characters in Boston, that none might have the least Ground for disputing." The eighteen include the governor and lieutenant governor, seven ministers, and John Wheatley. By the time of her death in 1784 at the age of thirty-one, she was spoken of as talented, celebrated, and a poet.

Among the early tributes to Phillis Wheatley was the second known poem

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The Poems of Phillis Wheatley
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations xi
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • On the Reputation of Phillis Wheatley, Poet 23
  • A Note on the Text 35
  • Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral 41
  • Preface 45
  • Other Poems and Variants of Poems 113
  • Letters and Proposals 181
  • A Selected List of Works for Further Reference (From Works Referred To, and from Other Works) 217
  • Index 223
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