"To the University of Cambridge, in New-England"
By Phillis Wheatley

Transcription, correction, editorial commentary, and markup by Students of Marymount University, James West, Amy Ridderhof
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Sources

London : Printed for A. Bell, 1773Page images are sourced from two copies of the first edition housed in the Library of Congress.Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Humanities Text Initiative, 1999Online SGML text from the University of Michigan HTI. SGML markup edited to conform to LiC parameters, including changes to element and attribute case, ligatures, and other special html characters.

Editorial Statements

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Citation

Wheatley, Phillis. "To the University of Cambridge, in New-England". Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, Printed for A. Bell, 1773 , pp 15-16 . Literature in Context: An Open Anthology. http://anthology.lib.virginia.edu/work/Wheatley/wheatley-cambridge. Accessed: 2024-04-18T00:08:22.044Z

Linked Data: Places related to this work.

15 TO THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE,university university graphicAfter describing her own educational journey, Wheatley advises students at the University of Cambridge in New England to appreciate and "[i]mprove" (21) the privilege of their education by "shunn[ing]" (25) the "transient sweetness" (29) of sin using a variety of religious images. The University of Cambridge in New England is now known as Harvard University. According to Katherine Clay Bassard, Wheatley wrote this poem when she was about fourteen years old (41). The engraving included here is by Paul Revere and shows "A Westerly View of The Colledges in Cambridge New England" (1767), via Wikimedia Commons. - [JW] IN NEW-ENGLAND. 1WHILE an intrinsic ardorardorardorWheatley works from the premise, commonly used among early women writers and the enslaved who were restricted from intellectual pursuits like writing, that her desire to write is "intrinsic" (1) or God-given, and therefore appropriate. The word "ardor" also connotes physical desire and flame-like passion, according to the OED (n.3). - [JW] prompts to write, 2The musesmusesmusesAccording to A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, the Muses are “inspiring goddesses of song" who “presid[e] over the different kinds of poetry, and over the arts and sciences." The “invocation of the muse” to aid the poet's work is often used by neoclassical authors like those whom Wheatley has clearly read and was influenced by, including Milton and Pope. However, Hilene Flanzbaum suggests that Wheatley’s notably frequent invocation of the muse is more significant than formulaic or imitative--it is “the very means by which she usurps power for herself and claims a berth for her own thoughts, emotions and desires. And while some may claim that these functions accompany any appearance of the muse, when the muses bestow their power on a black female slave, they transport Wheatley to a domain surprisingly free of restriction and previously forbidden” (“Unprecedented Liberties” 75). - [JW] promise to assist my pen; 3'Twas not long since I left my native shore 4The land of errors, and Egyptian gloomgloom:gloomWheatley here alludes to Exodus 10:21-22, wherein the ninth plague of darkness is visited upon Egypt. This reference is also in line with contemporary Orientalist notions about Egypt and Egyptian religiosity, which was believed to be full of occult practices. Early nineteenth-century British historian and scholar Thomas Maurice explores these ideas of idolatry and superstition in Observations on the Remains of Ancient Egyptian Grandeur and Superstition. A detailed focus on the Egyptian religious practices can be found in the chapter "Strictures on the superstitious rites of the Egyptians, particularly on the Nefarious Worship paid to Beasts, Esteemed Sacred, and called in Scripture the Abominations of Egypt" (74-83). The Book of Exodus also describes the Israelites' delivery from enslavement in Egypt. - [JW] 5Father of mercy, 'twas thy gracious hand 6Brought me in safety from those dark abodes. Students, to you 'tis giv'n to scan the heights 7Above, to traverse the ethereal space, 8And mark the systems of revolving worldssystems.systemsgraphicThe sixteenth- and seventeenth-century development of the microscope and the telescope had made great scientific advancements possible, especially in astronomy; in the title page and pull-out image represented here, you can see an eighteenth-century orrery--a scientific clockwork instrument used to dramatize the motion of the planets in the solar system (via the University of Otago). Possibly an allusion to Alexander Pope's 1733-34 Essay on Man (I.23-28), Wheatley here may also be referencing contemporary scientific thought about the plurality of worlds. - [JW] 9Still more, ye sons of science ye receive 10The blissful news by messengers from heav'n, 11How Jesus' blood for your redemption flows. 12See him with hands out-stretcht upon the cross; 13Immese compassion in his bosom glows; 14He hears revilers, nor resents their scorn: 15What matchless mercy in the Son of God! 16When the whole human race by sin had fall'n, 16 17He deign'ddeigndeign According to the Oxford English Dictionary deign means "to think it worthy of oneself" or "to think fit" (n.1a). Today, it typically has a negative connotation, though it does not here. - [JW] to die that they might rise again, 18And share with him in the sublimest skies, 19Life without death, and glory without end. 20Improve your privileges while they stay, 21Ye pupils, and each hour redeem, that bears 22Or good or bad report of you to heav'n. 23Let sin, that baneful evil to the soul, 24By you be shunn'd, nor once remit your guard; 25Suppress the deadly serpent in its egg. 26Ye blooming plants of human race divine, 27An EthiopEthiopEthiop graphicAccording to the OED, the word Ethiop would have been used during Wheatley's time most often to refer to "[a] black or dark-skinned person; a black African," and only occasionally to the country of Ethiopia, specifically (n.A). Included here, via the Norwich Collection at Stanford University, is a 1666 map of Africa and the surrounding oceans, embellished with a variety of images. - [JW] tells you 'tis your greatest foe; 28Its transient sweetness turns to endless pain, 29And in immense perditionperditionperditionIn theological discussion, the word perdition means "the state of final spiritual ruin or damnation; the consignment of the unredeemed or wicked and impenitent soul to hell; the fate of those in hell; eternal death" (OED, "perdition" n.2a). In more general terms, it suggests ruin or degradation (n.1a). - [JW] sinks the soul. 17

Footnotes

_university graphicAfter describing her own educational journey, Wheatley advises students at the University of Cambridge in New England to appreciate and "[i]mprove" (21) the privilege of their education by "shunn[ing]" (25) the "transient sweetness" (29) of sin using a variety of religious images. The University of Cambridge in New England is now known as Harvard University. According to Katherine Clay Bassard, Wheatley wrote this poem when she was about fourteen years old (41). The engraving included here is by Paul Revere and shows "A Westerly View of The Colledges in Cambridge New England" (1767), via Wikimedia Commons.
_ardorWheatley works from the premise, commonly used among early women writers and the enslaved who were restricted from intellectual pursuits like writing, that her desire to write is "intrinsic" (1) or God-given, and therefore appropriate. The word "ardor" also connotes physical desire and flame-like passion, according to the OED (n.3).
_musesAccording to A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, the Muses are “inspiring goddesses of song" who “presid[e] over the different kinds of poetry, and over the arts and sciences." The “invocation of the muse” to aid the poet's work is often used by neoclassical authors like those whom Wheatley has clearly read and was influenced by, including Milton and Pope. However, Hilene Flanzbaum suggests that Wheatley’s notably frequent invocation of the muse is more significant than formulaic or imitative--it is “the very means by which she usurps power for herself and claims a berth for her own thoughts, emotions and desires. And while some may claim that these functions accompany any appearance of the muse, when the muses bestow their power on a black female slave, they transport Wheatley to a domain surprisingly free of restriction and previously forbidden” (“Unprecedented Liberties” 75).
_gloomWheatley here alludes to Exodus 10:21-22, wherein the ninth plague of darkness is visited upon Egypt. This reference is also in line with contemporary Orientalist notions about Egypt and Egyptian religiosity, which was believed to be full of occult practices. Early nineteenth-century British historian and scholar Thomas Maurice explores these ideas of idolatry and superstition in Observations on the Remains of Ancient Egyptian Grandeur and Superstition. A detailed focus on the Egyptian religious practices can be found in the chapter "Strictures on the superstitious rites of the Egyptians, particularly on the Nefarious Worship paid to Beasts, Esteemed Sacred, and called in Scripture the Abominations of Egypt" (74-83). The Book of Exodus also describes the Israelites' delivery from enslavement in Egypt.
_systemsgraphicThe sixteenth- and seventeenth-century development of the microscope and the telescope had made great scientific advancements possible, especially in astronomy; in the title page and pull-out image represented here, you can see an eighteenth-century orrery--a scientific clockwork instrument used to dramatize the motion of the planets in the solar system (via the University of Otago). Possibly an allusion to Alexander Pope's 1733-34 Essay on Man (I.23-28), Wheatley here may also be referencing contemporary scientific thought about the plurality of worlds.
_deign According to the Oxford English Dictionary deign means "to think it worthy of oneself" or "to think fit" (n.1a). Today, it typically has a negative connotation, though it does not here.
_Ethiop graphicAccording to the OED, the word Ethiop would have been used during Wheatley's time most often to refer to "[a] black or dark-skinned person; a black African," and only occasionally to the country of Ethiopia, specifically (n.A). Included here, via the Norwich Collection at Stanford University, is a 1666 map of Africa and the surrounding oceans, embellished with a variety of images.
_perditionIn theological discussion, the word perdition means "the state of final spiritual ruin or damnation; the consignment of the unredeemed or wicked and impenitent soul to hell; the fate of those in hell; eternal death" (OED, "perdition" n.2a). In more general terms, it suggests ruin or degradation (n.1a).