"THE MOST INFLUENTIAL AFRICAN AMERICAN OF THE 19TH CENTURY": FIRST EDITION OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS' LIFE AND TIMES, 1881
DOUGLASS, Frederick. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Written by Himself. His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape from Bondage, And His Complete History to the Present Time. Hartford, Conn.: Park, 1881. Octavo, original blind-stamped maroon cloth; pp. 518.
First edition of Douglass' first post-bellum memoir and final autobiography, revealing "for the first time the details of his harrowing escape from slavery," with engraved frontispiece portrait and 17 engraved plates, in original gilt-stamped cloth.
"The history of 19th-century America cannot be told without reference to slavery… nor can the history of African Americans be told without reference to Douglass' writings" (Cambridge Companion, 2). Born a slave when Jefferson was still alive, he escaped slavery in 1838, and died in 1895, only one year before the Supreme Court's infamous Plessy v. Ferguson's decision legalized segregation in its "separate but equal" doctrine. Life and Times, his third and final autobiography, is also his first post-bellum memoir. Here "Douglass revealed for the first time the details of his harrowing escape from slavery in September 1838" (McKivigan, Frederick Douglass Papers, xiv). It is "a rich resource for his biographers, as well as for historians of slavery, abolitionism, and the politics of race in 18th-century American culture," and features an appendix with his 1876 Oration on the unveiling of the Freedmen's Monument honoring Lincoln (Cambridge Companion, 31-39).
"The most influential African American of the 19th century, Douglass… understood that the struggle for emancipation and equality demanded forceful, persistent, and unyielding agitation… Less than a month before his death, when a young black man solicited his advice to an African American just starting out in the world, Douglass replied without hesitation: 'Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!'" (ANB). In the concluding paragraphs of Life and Times, he highlights his continuing mission and the principles of self-respect and self-reliance. At the same time he "acknowledges the significant obstacles regularly faced by African Americans in a white supremacist nation. Poverty, enslavement, and even bullets are placed next to competency, self-respect, and determination. By presenting this list of principles in a single sentence, Douglass underscores the extent to which he views these various convictions as part of a coherent philosophy, while emphasizing as well the enormous of the challenges involved—as if to answer those who might underestimate the overwhelming odds against African American success" (Cambridge Companion, 60-61).
Douglass, who has also "been called the greatest American of the 19th century," wrote his autobiography three times: "each time thrillingly well… In 1845, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, was written as a straightforward abolitionist horror story, albeit an exceptionally humane and potent one. Ten years later came My Bondage and My Freedom, a fuller and more nuanced-novelistic account of the same story. And then, in 1881, when he was in his 60s, he published Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, in which this man, who had watched the ships go by in the Chesapeake Bay with a desperate sense of disbelief that anyone or anything in the world could be so free, was able to report on his journeys to Cairo and Paris and his reception in both as a man of state and of letters… In his legacy as prophetic radical and political pragmatist, in the almost unimaginable bravery of his early journey and the resilience of his later career, in his achievements as a writer, activist, crusader, intellectual, father, and man, the claim that he was the greatest figure that America has ever produced seems hard to challenge" (Adam Gropnik, New Yorker). Containing engraved frontispiece portrait and 17 engraved plates, including portraits of Lincoln and leading abolitionists. With introduction by George L. Ruffin, the first African American to graduate from Harvard, and America's first African American judge. Brigano 66.
Interior generally fresh with scattered foxing mainly to early leaves, front inner hinge expertly reinforced; light edge-wear, faint soiling to original cloth. A handsome near-fine copy.