| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
Sarah Wentworth Morton
Born into Boston “aristocracy,” the daughter of two affluent
merchant families, Sarah Apthorp had an unusually extensive education and began
writing poetry at an early age. In 1781, she married Perez Morton, a young
Boston lawyer and noted patriot, and moved into the Apthorp mansion on State
Street, where the couple lived until moving to Dorchester in 1791. The Mortons’
home became a gathering place for Boston literati, who encouraged Sarah
Morton’s literary efforts. Until 1788, she circulated her work among friends,
thereafter publishing in magazines under the pen name Philenia Constantia. In
1790, she brought out a book-length poem, Ouâbi: or the Virtues of Nature.
An Indian Tale in Four Cantos, a tale of interracial romance on the
Illinois frontier that used native materials in an epic form.
As Morton’s literary
career flourished, her personal life deteriorated. In 1788, an affair between
her husband and her sister Frances, who had borne him a child, became public,
and family censure drove Frances to commit suicide. Novelist William Hill Brown
used the scandal as the basis for his novel The Power of Sympathy
(1789). Reconciled with her husband, Morton soon lost a son who lived only a
few hours; two of her other five children died prematurely. The only other book
Morton published was a collection of poems and “fragments” entitled My Mind
and Its Thoughts (1823). Dominated by themes of sorrow, betrayal, and
resignation, this volume also contains an essay denouncing Mary
Wollstonecraft’s “pernicious precepts, and still more pernicious practice,”
although Morton also recognized the necessity that women submit to what she
called “the dictatorship of men.” She took a firm stand against slavery; her
poem “The African Chief” was widely reprinted in the nineteenth century.
In the Heath Anthology
from Ouâbi: or the Virtues of Nature. An Indian Tale in Four Cantos [Canto One]
The African Chief
Stanzas to a Husband Recently United
[n.b., First published 1981]
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