"I WOULD HAVE THE CONSTITUTION TORN TO SHREDS AND SCATTERED TO THE FOUR WINDS OF HEAVEN": VERY SCARCE FIRST REVISED AND "ENLARGED" EDITION OF PREEMINENT BLACK ABOLITIONIST WILLIAM WELLS BROWN’S NARRATIVE, 1848, ISSUED WHILE A FUGITIVE SLAVE
BROWN, William W[ells]. Narrative of William W. Brown, A Fugitive Slave. Written by Himself. Boston: Anti-Slavery Office, 1848. Octavo, original printed brown front wrapper, renewed spine and rear wrapper; pp. 144. Housed in a custom clamshell box. $8500.
Rare 1848 expanded edition of William Wells Brown's first autobiography, with engraved frontispiece portrait.
Brown, who escaped slavery in 1834, shared with Frederick Douglass a similar early history and a friendship that occasionally spiraled into rivalry. Brown's Narrative, a seminal Black autobiography and a work of profound influence, "earned him international fame… exceeded in popularity and sales only by the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845)" (Oxford Companion to African American Literature, 106). His Narrative "gave a more comprehensive portrait of slavery than Douglass', since Brown… had seen firsthand the cruelties of the slave trade in the Mississippi Valley" (Mayer, All on Fire, 389). That unique and distinctive aspect of the Narrative is foremost when he writes of witnessing slave auctions while enslaved: "Of the many features which American slavery presents, the most cruel is that of the slave-trade… [it] presents some of the most revolting and atrocious scenes… sinews, blood and nerves, of human beings, are sold with as much indifference as a farmer in the north sells a horse or sheep."
"The son of a slave mother and a white man, Brown called his master 'the man who stole me as soon as I was born'… Hired out to a succession of cruel masters," he escaped on New Year's Day, 1834 and "found work on Lake Erie steamboats running slaves to Canada. It was a literal and symbolic reversal of his life as a slave." Writing of his role in the Underground Railroad, he notes: "In the year 1842, I conveyed, from the first of May to the first of December 69 fugitives over Lake Erie to Canada." In his first major speech, delivered at an 1844 meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society, Brown declared: "I would have the Constitution torn to shreds and scattered to the four winds of heaven." Soon after publication of his Narrative, issued while a fugitive, Brown spent five years in exile. "In a speech he gave before leaving, he wittily noted that if America was the cradle of liberty, it had rocked the baby to death" (Sinha, Slave's Cause, 428-29). In Europe Brown authored numerous articles, published Three Years in Europe (1852), and was persuaded to return after American abolitionists raised funds for his freedom. He is also famed for pioneering works such as Clotel (1853), Black Man (1863), Negro in the American Rebellion (1867), and his final memoir, My Southern Home (1880).
"A universal reformer, Brown worked not only for emancipation and the removal of racial restrictions, but also for the promotion of peace and temperance. His publications, together with his reform efforts, are a substantial legacy" (ANB). This very elusive edition is the first to contain, in Brown's words, "a new preface, which includes a letter from my old master" (iv). In an 1848 letter, printed herein, Brown's slave owner Enoch Price wrote: "Brown is… a slave belonging to me," and then made a bid for reimbursement, noting he was once offered $2,000 for Brown, but said he would now take $325 in exchange for "free papers." Brown's reply rejects the proposal and states: "God made me the same as he did Enoch Price." Stated "Second Edition, Enlarged"on title page: despite the text's printed "Note," calling this a "Third Edition," this is the second edition overall, preceded by the 1847 first edition and its second printing. With "Letter from Edmund Quincy, Esq," Brown's preface dated in print, "Boston, October, 1848"; rear Appendix. Containing engraved frontispiece portrait and three full-page engraved illustrations. With fragile original printed front wrapper, original stitching.
Interior generally fresh with light scattered foxing, occasional soiling, faint dampstaining to front wrapper.