"AN UNPARALLELED LEVEL OF COMPLEXITY IN THE PORTRAYAL OF THE SLAVE FAMILY": RARE FIRST EDITION OF CHILD’S ANTI-SLAVERY BOOK, 1859, WITH FOUR PROSE WORKS AND INTRODUCTORY ESSAY, ENGRAVED FRONTISPIECE AND NINE ILLUSTRATIONS, IN ORIGINAL CLOTH
(BILLINGS, Hammatt) (THOMPSON, Matilda) (COLMAN, Julia). The Child's Anti-Slavery Book: Containing a Few Worlds about American Slave Children and Stories of Slave-Life. Ten Illustrations. New York: Carlton & Porter, (1859). Small octavo (4 by 6 inches), original gilt- and blind-stamped dark green cloth. Housed in a custom and clamshell box. $5800.
First edition of a major pre-Civil War volume of highly praised stories for children depicting slavery's cruelty while counteracting "images of powerless slave children" and honoring the heroism of enslaved mothers and fathers, with engraved frontispiece and nine engraved illustrations, most full page, rare in original cloth.
Published with the nation about to erupt in the Civil War, this very elusive, illustrated volume features stories by Matilda G. Thompson and Julia Colman. For white women such as Colman and Thompson, "writing children's literature suggested one solution to circumventing barriers and doing necessary abolitionist work." Together their three stories—Thompson's "Mark and Hasty" and "Aunt Judy's Story," and Colman's "Little Lewis"—"counteract images of powerless slave children and delayed intervention" with enslaved mothers who "intercede on their child's behalf to ease its anxiety and to restore a semblance of innocence and family" (De Rosa, Dometic Abolitionism, 1, 57). "Echoing authentic slave narratives such as Douglass' Autobiography and Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Colman and Thompson's stories" depict slavery's "violation of family bonds; the events that lead to a child's awakening of his or her status as a slave; the emotional crisis and ramifications of this awakening." Thompson's "Aunt Judy's Story" also "reflects the domestic abolitionist tradition of casting mothers as storytellers," and both Thompson's "Mark and Hasty" and Colman's "Little Lewis" offer "an unparalleled level of complexity in the portrayal of the slave family unit, its rupture and the stalwart efforts that slave parents made to protect their children" (DeRosa, Into the Mouths of Babes, 313-15).
Child's Anti-Slavery Book, anonymously edited and compiled, won early praise in a February 10, 1859 review in the National Era, but was quickly attacked by a Southern publisher as "rank with abolitionist sentiments… far worse than Uncle Tom's Cabin" (Manuel, ed. Slave's Little Friends, 83). First edition. Title page containing Carlton & Porter New York imprint with "Sunday-School, Union, 200 Mulberry-Street"; copyright page with "1859" date, "Carlton & Porter" and "New-York"; rear leaf of publisher's advertisements. Engraved frontispiece and nine engraved illustrations (seven full-page): nine after Hammatt Billings' drawings for Jewett's illustrated edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852). Containing introductory A Few Words About American Slave Children (signed in print, "D.W."); Little Lewis—The Story of a Slave Boy by Julia Colman; two by Matilda G. Thompson, Mark and Hasty: Or, Slave-Life in Missouri and Aunt Judy's Story: A Story from Real Life, along with unattributed closing tale, Me Neber Give It Up (with full-page illustration not seen in Uncle Tom's Cabin). "Biographical information on Thompson remains elusive." It is believed, however, that "the Julia Colman who contributed to this book may be the same one who was later very active in the temperance movement" (De Rosa, Domestic Abolitionism, 154). Not in Blockson.
Interior generally fresh with light scattered foxing, soiling, original bright gilt-lettered cloth. A handsome near-fine copy.