First Edition“For I will not suppose that the dealers in slaves are born worse than other man. No; it is the fatality of this mistaken avarice, that it corrupts the milk of human kindness and turns it to gall [...] Does not slavery itself depress the mind, and extinguish all its fire, and every noble sentiment?”
EQUIANO, Olaudah. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Norwich, England: 1794. Enlarged Eighth edition; Extremely scarce in any edition from the 1790s. Frontispiece portrait. xxiv, , 360 pages. duodecimo, contemporary 1/4 calf. The Interesting Narrative is one of the earliest examples of published work by an African writer. Equiano's personal account of slavery, his journey of advancement, and his experiences as a black immigrant caused a sensation, electrifying a growing anti-slavery movement in Great Britain, Europe and the New World, and went through nine editions in Equiano’s lifetime. It helped pass the British Slave Trade Act 1807, which abolished the slave trade, and by 1792, just one year after publication, it was a best seller and had been published in Russia, Germany, Holland and the United States. Today, however, copies of Equiano’s work are extremely rare. No first editions are ever recorded going to auction. Here Equiano recounts his kidnapping in Africa at the age of ten, his service as the slave of an officer in the British Navy and the events of the Seven Years War—including eyewitness reports of the Siege of Louisbourg (1758), the Battle of Lagos (1759) and the Capture of Belle Île (1761)-- his path to education and literacy, his ten years of labor on slave ships until he was able to purchase his freedom in 1766, and his life as a leading abolitionist in England. The Interesting Narrative is one of the first primary accounts written by an African about the Slave Trade and one of the only accounts of the deadly Middle Passage from one of the enslaved. His account surprised many with the quality of its imagery, descriptions and literary style. The Interesting Narrative also established a genre, working as a 1700s precursor to such famous 19th century slave narratives as Frederick Douglass's autobiographies.
Equiano was born in the Kingdom of Benin in 1745. At the age of 11 he and his sister were both kidnapped, sold to slave traders, and shipped across the Atlantic by the infamous Middle Passage. The total number of African deaths directly attributable to the Middle Passage voyage is estimated at up to two million. The conditions were horrific, and at one point Equiano attempts to starve himself: “I now wished for the last friend, death, to relieve me; but soon, to my grief, two of the white men offered me eatables; and, on my refusing to eat, one of them held me fast by the hands, and laid me across, I think, the windlass, and tied my feet, while the other flogged me severely.” Because the Middle Passage was so fatal, and literacy was punishable by death for Africans in much of the Americas, first-hand accounts are exceptionally rare; Equiano’s is still the primary source for scholars. The Interesting Narrative is remarkable for many reasons, however. He was taught to read and write as an adolescent and purchased his freedom in 1766; He fought in the Seven Years War; In 1773 on the Royal Navy ship HMS Racehorse, he travelled to the Arctic in an expedition towards the North Pole; and eventually Equiano settled in London, where he became a leading abolitionist, lecturing in numerous cities against the slave trade. Equiano’s Interesting Narrative is a historical account that covers politics, social movements, warfare, and exploration; Scholars from both Africa and the West have studied Equiano’s life and work. Covers worn, boards and frontispiece detached and binding split along backstrip; lacking leaf b2 (subscriber list, pages xxvii-xxviii) and folding plate, minor foxing, lacking rear free endpaper. Overall in good condition, and an exceedingly scarce title.