“A LAVISH VOLUME”: FIRST EDITION OF POEMS ON THE ABOLITION OF THE SLAVE TRADE, A CORNERSTONE ANTISLAVERY WORK WITH THREE EPIC POEMS AND 13 ENGRAVED PLATES, SCARCE IN CONTEMPORARY CALF
(SLAVERY—ABOLITION) MONTGOMERY, James, GRAHAME, James and BENGER, E[lizabeth]. Poems on the Abolition of the Slave Trade. London: Printed for R. Bowyer, 1809 [i.e. 1810]. Tall quarto, contemporary brown calf gilt rebacked with original spine laid down, raised bands, marbled endpapers and edges. $2900.
First edition of famed publisher and artist Bowyer’s richly illustrated volume featuring eloquent anti-slavery poems by Montgomery, Grahame and Benger, a major antislavery work issued shortly after Britain’s abolition of the slave trade, with engraved portraits of abolitionists Sharpe, Clarkson and Wilberforce, engraved allegorical title page and nine full-page engravings after paintings by artist Sir Robert Smirke, a handsome wide-margined copy in contemporary boards.
This handsomely illustrated volume features three epic poems—Montgomery's The West Indies, Grahame's Africa Delivered and Elizabeth Benger's A Poem Occasioned by the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1806. All were "commissioned by the London publisher Robert Bowyer, for inclusion in a lavish volume of antislavery poetry… timed to celebrate the abolition of the slave trade" (Basker, Amazing Grace, 612). With biographies and engraved full-page medallion portraits of leading British abolitionists Sharpe, Clarkson and Wilberforce, Poems on the Abolition of the Slave Trade is especially noted for its nine full-page engravings and the allegorical title page vignette, engraved by Scriven and Worthington after paintings by renowned artist Sir Robert Smirke, whose works were considered "gems in the art of history painting" (American Daily Advertiser). On presenting a copy to George III, Bowyer described this as a "most beautifully embellished volume of Poems (which have been written expressly for the occasion) on the Abolition of the Slave Trade" (Baptist Quarterly, 35). Poems won early critical praise as an "elegant publication on the Abolition of this traffic, and we congratulate the poets, the artist and the editor" (Monthly Review). First edition: plates dated "Dec. 1, 1809"; portraits dated "Jan 1, 1810." With engraved and letterpress title pages. With directions to the binder leaf bound in at rear. Lowndes, 1591. Goldsmiths 19923. Kress B5549. Sabin 50145. Benezit IX:656.
Occasional faint foxing, chiefly marginal. A near-fine copy, scarce and desirable in contemporary binding.