Status: Complete

READER RESPONSES, 1881-93 1057

AMERICAN LITERATURE. [Anon.]. London Saturday Review of Politics,
Literature, Science, and Art, 25 February 1882.

When the autobiography of Frederick Douglass was first published, it
attained a considerable and very natural popularity. Slavery was still existing,
and still excited the strong popular abhorrence with which it has always been
regarded in this country; and declamations against it appealed with even greater
force to the commoner and meaner than to the nobler and more generous qualities
and feelings of Englishmen. In the first place, the profound ignorance
which we shared with the great majority of Northern citizens enabled writers
like Mrs. Stowe and the author of The White Slave to colour their pictures as
highly as they pleased, in order to suit them to the taste of their readers, with
very little regard to the strict limits of truth and accuracy. Again, the jealousy
and resentment which the arrogance and boastfulness of the Northern populace
had excited found vent in contemptuous reproaches which made no distinction
between North and South, which thanked God that we were not like those slaveholding
Republicans who boasted with uncommonly little reason of the victories
gained over us at New Orleans and Bunker's Hill. Even those whose taste
and better knowledge were revolted by the violence of Mr. Douglass's language
felt no inclination to criticize the temper or the style of one who had every
excuse that the lack of education and the sense of bitter personal wrong could
afford. No such excuse, however, can be made for the republication of such a
work at the present moment. Republished with all its misrepresentations uncorrected,
with all its vulgar abuse unmitigated, and directed now against the conquered
and the unfortunate, it is simply an offensive libel. Those who are too
young to remember the feelings with which the elder among us watched the
American Civil War may hardly share the disgust with which we read the language
applied to the countrymen of Lee and Stonewall Jackson. For Mr.
Douglass every excuse is to he made. He is not more bitter, more vulgar, more
reckless, than Mrs. Stowe, or Sumner, or Thaddeus Stevens, or any of the
Republican leaders of the last twenty years. He learnt his style in the school of
Abolitionist fanaticism, and naturally he has not unlearned it. But that such a
work should have a prospect of popularity at the present day, that it should be
possible to ascribe to the Southern people generally, as Mr. Douglass does, the
cruelties and vices which even in the case of a few he grossly exaggerates, and
that it should pay to sell such a work at a low price, is not creditable either to
the good sense or good feeling of the Northern people, and does not augur well
for the future of the Union. It is clear that the worst passions and prejudices that
brought about the Civil War still linger in the North, and that a large proportion
of the victorious section still hate the conquered South with the insane hatred
that a certain Irish faction bears to England. American politics will never be
clearly understood or fairly interpreted by those who neglect or refuse to take
this element of Northern character and feeling into account....

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