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Review of My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass

FROM Editorial Notes—Literature, Putnam's Monthly Magazine, November 1855, 547.


—A third biography before us furnishes a still further contrast—the Life and Bondage of FREDERICK DOUGLASS, the well-known fugitive slave, who has come to occupy so conspicuous a position, both as a writer and a speaker. It details the incidents of his experience on the slave plantation of Maryland, where he was born, of his subsequent escape, and of his public career in England and the northern States. We need hardly say that it abounds in interest. The mere fact that the member of an outcast and enslaved race should accomplish his freedom, and educate himself up to an equality of intellectual and moral vigor with the leaders of the race by which he was held in bondage, is, in itself, so remarkable, that the story of the change cannot be otherwise than exciting. For ourselves, we confess to have read it with the unbroken attention with which we absorbed Uncle Tom's Cabin. It has the advantage of the latter book in that it is no fiction. Of course, it is impossible to say how far the author's prejudices, and remembrances of wrong, may have deepened the color of his pictures, but the general tone of them is truthful. He writes bitterly, as we might expect of one who writes under a personal provocation, taking incidents of individual experience for essential characteristics, but not more bitterly than the circumstances seem to justify. His denunciation of slavery and slaveholders are not indiscriminate, while he wars upon the system rather than upon the persons whom that system has made. In the details of his early life upon the plantation, of his youthful thoughts on life and destiny, and of the means by which he gradually worked his way to freedom, there is much that is profoundly touching. Our English literature has recorded many an example of genius struggling against adversity,—of the poor Ferguson, for instance, making himself an astronomer, of Burns becoming a poet, of Hugh Miller finding his geology in a stone quarry, and a thousand similar cases—yet none of these are so impressive as the case of the solitary slave, in a remote district, surrounded by none but enemies, conceiving the project of his escape, teaching himself to read and write to facilitate it, accomplishing it at last, and subsequently raising himself to a leadership in a great movement in behalf of his brethren. Whatever may be our opinions of slavery, or of the best means of acting upon it, we cannot but admire the force and integrity of character which has enabled Frederick Douglass to attain his present unique position.

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