"AN UNPARALLELED INFLUENCE, PERHAPS THE GREATEST SINGLE INFLUENCE, IN THE STRUGGLE FOR HUMAN FREEDOM IN THE 18TH CENTURY": IMPORTANT 1760 EDITION OF PIONEERING QUAKER ABOLITIONIST BENEZET'S FIRST MAJOR WORK
(BENEZET, Anthony). Observations on the Inslaving, importing and purchasing of Negroes. Germantown: Christopher Sower, 1760. Slim octavo (measures 4-1/2 by 7-1/2 inches), period-style full sprinkled sheep gilt, red morocco spine label; pp.16. $3800.
Second edition of one of the earliest and most influential anti-slavery works by Benezet—"universally recognized by the leaders of the 18th-century antislavery movement as its founder"—containing an Introduction and a moral fable by Fénelon, neither present in the previous year's rarely found first edition.
Anthony Benezet "was pivotal in one of the greatest moral victories of humankind and justice… an unparalleled influence, perhaps the greatest single influence, in the struggle for human freedom in the 18th century" (Brendlinger, To Be Silent, 1). Born in France and raised in England, "Benezet came to Philadelphia as an 18-year-old, joined the Quakers, and became one of the most influential antislavery writers and activists in American history… For 20 years he also educated black children in his home, persuading the Quakers to open a school for them in 1770" (American Antislavery Beginnings). He "transformed early Quaker antislavery sentiment into a broad-based transatlantic movement… and in doing so became universally recognized by the leaders of the 18th-century antislavery movement as its founder" (Jackson, Let This Voice Be Heard, 1). In Observations, "Benezet broached the argument that slavery was contrary to the laws of man" and, in his own words, "destructive of the Welfare of human Society" The impact of this groundbreaking work is evident not only in its profound influence on the emerging anti-slavery movement, but also on its title page, which carries "the verse that would become the motto of abolitionists on both sides of the Atlantic: 'Is not this the Fast that I have chosen, to loose the Bands of Wickedness, to undo the heavy Burden, to let the Oppressed go free, and that ye break every Yoke' (Isaiah 58:6)" (Coffey, Exodus and Liberation, 87).
In his life and writings Benezet became "the most determined, prolific, and successful advocate of the Negro's rights in the American colonies… single-mindedly he worked to make the Quakers and Philadelphians into an effective core of anti-slavery sentiment" (Wolf, Negro History
19). Of the presses established by the German population in Pennsylvania, one of the most important was the Germantown press founded by Christopher Sauer [alt
. Sower, Saur]. The elder Sauer "printed the first Bible in the European language to appear in America… He vied with Benjamin Franklin for the German book market in the British colonies." At his death in 1758 his son Christopher (using the surname spelling of Sower) carried on his father's work and published this pioneering anti-slavery work (Wolf, Germantown
, 95). Widely considered his first major work, Observations
is preceded by Benezet's draft of a three-page 1754 Epistle of Caution and Advice concerning the Buying and Keeping of Slaves
: "approved and published by the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting… Quakers maintained strict control over members who wanted to publish… In 1759 Benezet appears to have gotten permission and a subsidy from the Philadelphia Overseers to reprint a 1758 Epistle from the (London) Yearly Meeting [herein]." The rare first edition of Observations
, printed the previous year by Sower… contained an excerpt from Law's Second Part of the Spirit of Prayer
(London, 1750). This key second edition features an Introduction—not present in the first edition—and substitutes Law's excerpt with "a moral fable, The Uncertainty of a Death-Bed Repentance
… which Sower also published separately in the same year" (Crosby, Complete Antislavery Writings
1, 238). Uncertainty of a Death-Bed Repentance
attributed to François Fénelon. Two states of Observations
title page found, one with the title ending in "1758," another ending in "1748" (this copy): no priority established. Sabin 4676. Evans 8542. ESTC W28713. Hildeburn 1658.
Text with light scattered foxing and edgewear.