FREDERICK DOUGLASS. Charles W. Chestnutt. (Beacon Biographies.) 16m0., cloth, gilt top, 160 pages, portrait. Boston: Small, Maynard & Co., 1899. 75 cents.
We have above briefly described the scope of the useful series of biographies of which this volume is one; and, elsewhere in this issue, we have quoted from the book the opinion of the author as to Frederick Douglass’ maternal ancestry.
The scope of Mr. Chestnutt’s treatment of his rich theme is thus set forth by him:
"Frederick Douglass lived so long, and played so conspicuous a part on the world's stage, that it would be impossible, in a work of the size of this, to do more than touch upon the salient features of his career, to suggest the respects in which he influenced the course of events in his lifetime, and to epitomize for the readers of another generation the judgment of his contemporaries as to his genius and his character. Douglass' fame as an orator has long been secure. His position as the champion of an oppressed race, and at the same time an example of its possibilities, was, in his own generation, as picturesque as it was unique; and his life may serve for all time as an incentive to aspiring souls who would fight the battles and win the love of mankind. The average American of to-day who sees, when his attention is called to it, and deplores, if he be a thoughtful and just man, the deep undertow of race prejudice that retards the progress of the colored people of our own generation, cannot except by reading the painful records of the past, conceive of the mental and spiritual darkness to which slavery, as the inexorable condition of its existence, condemned its victims and in a less measure, their oppressors, or of the blank wall of proscription and scorn by which free people of color were shut up in a moral and social Ghetto, the gates of which have yet not been entirely torn down.
"From this night of slavery Douglass emerged, passed through the limbo of prejudice which he encountered as a freeman, and took his Place in history. ‘As few of the world's great men have ever had so checkered and diversified a career,’ says Henry Wilson, ‘so it may at least be plausibly claimed that no man represents in himself more conflicting ideas and interests. His life is, in itself, an epic which finds few to equal it in the realms of either romance or reality.’ It was, after all, no misfortune for humanity that Frederick Douglass felt the iron hand of slavery; for his genius changed / 547 / the drawbacks of color and condition into levers by which he raised himself and his people."
"Frederick Douglass," in "Books of the Hour," Cram’s Magazine 1.5, March 1900: 546-47.