Ouâbi : or The virtues of nature. An Indian tale. In four cantos / By Philenia, a lady of Boston.

This morning I’ve been chasing down a lead to a Stainforth bookplate I found in Stoddard and Whitesell’s A Bibliographical Description of Books and Pamphlets of American Verse. Their bibliography contains a work by Sarah Wentworth Apthorp Morton (1759-1846) called Ouâbi : or The virtues of nature. An Indian tale. In four cantos / By Philenia, a lady of Boston (pseudonym). This is from the bibliography:

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It looks like they found another book at the British Library with a Stainforth bookplate, though I wish there was no question mark following the name. It makes sense that they did given the very high number of Stainforth’s books with bookplates that we have found at the BL. Here is the record permalink in the BL catalog.

Neither the long narrative poem nor its author are unknown or difficult to find (according to Worldcat), though they may be unfamiliar to those of us who specialize in British literature. Worldcat also tells me that the Brown Women Writers Project has a digital edition of this poem in their archive. The title has a substantial Wikipedia entry and the author is well-known as an 18th-c American poet. The plot sounds fantastic (from Wikipedia):

The narrative poem tells the story of a woman, Azákia, belonging to the Illinois Indian Tribe. Azákia is first introduced to the reader while a man from the rival Huron Tribe is attempting to rape her. Azákia is then rescued by a white man, Celario, which spurs a love triangle between Celario, Azákia, and her husband, Ouábi. This triangle is not only of love, but also of friendship, as Ouábi and Celario actually generate a very good friendship.

Celario lusts after Azákia, and she has feelings for him, but she knows she must stay loyal to her husband, Ouábi. The Illinois sachem allows Celario to go to war with him, to prove himself worthy of his wife, Azákia. Celario is injured in battle and sent back to the settlement with Azákia. Ultimately, Ouábi realizes that the love Celario has for Azákia is unmatched by the love he has for her. Ouábi relinquishes his “marriage” to Azákia so she and Celario can be together as was truly meant to be.

In terms of the Stainforth library, this work is evidence of its 18th-century transatlanticism. Stainforth’s catalog indicates that he collected 4 works by Morton: 3 books and a poem published in a collection:

  • “Indian War Song” in The Poetical Register
  • Beacon Hill (1790)
  • My Mind and It’s Thoughts (1823)
  • Ouâbi (1790)

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