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[Review of Frederick Douglass]


READERS of the SOUTHERN WORKMAN will remember Mr. Chesnutt's Conjure Woman, which was reviewed in our columns a few months ago. Another book by the same promising author, The Wife of His Youth and other Stories, recently published by Houghton, Mifflin & Co., will be noticed in our February issue.

In the present little volume, which is one of the Beacon Biographies issued by Small, Maynard & Co., Mr. Chesnutt has done good service to the public in his history of Frederick Douglass. By permission of the publishers, the excellent portrait of this great leader of the Negro race, which is the frontispiece of the little volume is reproduced as an illustration for the short sketch of Douglass by Hon. Archibald H. Grimké, printed on another page.

In this convenient little book the publishers certainly carry out their promise of furnishing "brief, readable, and authentic accounts of those Americans whose personalities have impressed themselves most deeply on the character and history of their country." In this telegraphic age, when life does not seem long enough for the work that must be done, a hundred people will read a book like one of the Beacon series, with one hundred and thirty-five pages, where only one would read a large volume of four or five hundred pages, no matter how thrilling the record might be.

Notwithstanding the limited space assigned him, Mr. Chesnutt has given us a full history of the leading events in the life of one of the most prominent figures in the long struggle for the emancipation of the Negroes in America. He tells of the birth and unhappy childhood on a Maryland plantation, of the little slave boy who was to make his mark among the great ones of his times. A rapid but graphic sketch is given of the earlier part of Douglass' career, when he tasted to the full the bitter sorrows of slavery–a dark picture only relieved by the glimpse of happy chances which enabled the slave boy to acquire the rudiments of an education in spite of hardships and obstacles. One can but think what wonderful progress the colored youth of the present day might make, if they would use the abundant opportunities given them, half as well as Douglass did his scant chances to acquire knowledge.

In a chronology, well placed in the beginning of the handy little volume, the author gives the leading events of his hero's life, commencing with his birth as a slave in Talbot Co., Md., in 1817, and ending with his death at his handsome residence near Washington in 1885. Truly it is the record of a remarkable life, recalling in its wonderful vicissitudes the story of Joseph, the Hebrew slave boy in Egypt, who rose "to be second only to the king on his throne."

The life of Frederick Douglass is of interest to every American citizen. The leading events of his career were enacted in stirring times, and he affords an admirable example of a man born in the lowest station, rising by force of his great talents and indomitable will to rank among the prominent and successful men of his time. To the colored people of our country, the history of Frederick Douglass must be ever of inestimable value. The educated among them fully appreciate what he accomplished for the race, and it is but natural and excusable if they sometimes speak of him with even extravagant admiration. Douglass had the courage, the talent, the strong will, and wonderful common sense which fitted him to be a leader of his race in the struggle for freedom, but it is doubtful whether, now that slavery is a thing of the past, he could be as useful among his people as are Booker Washington and other men of a later day who can instruct the young Negroes in the use to be made of their opportunities as free men and citizens.

Mr. Chesnutt's story of Frederick Douglass should be a text-book in the hands of colored youth. A beautiful tribute is that given by his biographer to the character of this ex-slave, to whose youth was denied almost all of the elevating and ennobling influences usually deemed indispensable. What a lesson for those who read the record–what an example for his people! "A wholesome atmosphere always surrounded him. He never used tobacco or strong liquors. He was clean of speech and pure in life."