Frederick Douglass' Paper
Frederick Douglass
Rochester: 2 February 1853

Literary Notices

  GRAHAM, for March, has been in our possession many days. It was issued before its wonted time, and will, we hope, be duly noticed by all the liberal journals of the country. Mr. Graham sends with it the following:


In order to make our position particularly clear, we have printed at page 365 a reply to the personalities and threats of a portion of our exchanges, and send this slip—to direct attention to it—to every one of the nineteen hundred editors with whom we exchange. We meet the question fairly, and with determination to know how many of Graham's readers go for the gag law. If it is to be a cold shower bath, let us have it at once, lady and gentlemen agitators! We shall take it like a philosopher, but have no fear of much of a 'shower,' from people whose vocation it is to make a very great cry over a very little wool,' when grief does not cost a sixpence.
We request the worshipers of English opinion and 'liberty' to read at page 351 'The British slave system,' and to answer it!
For the rest, 'Graham' the Magazine, may speak for Graham the Editor."

  And "the Editor" does speak; yet neither wisely—nor well—nor to the purpose. We are not surprised that the ungenerous and ungentlemanly attack ("miscalled a Review") upon "Uncle Tom's Cabin," in GRAHAM for February, called forth indignant bursts of censure from that portion of Editors who dare to speak out. Had we space, we would quote largely from that article, that those among our readers who do not see GRAHAM might read and judge for themselves. We would, moreover, observe that towards the close of this graceful and grammatical composition, Graham says, "For the present we are done with this subject. We hope we are done with it forever."

  We have not "done with the subject" on which the article treats; but (to speak candidly) while we deeply regretted to see the pages of GRAHAM disgraced by "Black Letters; or, Uncle Tom's Foolery in Literature," we thought there was a mistake about it—that the March number would correct it, and we never dreamt that Graham, the Editor, would endorse the miserable review in question. Yet so it is. We admire real "independence;" but is it not possible that some confusion exists in Mr. Graham's brain between the terms "independence" and servility?

  We cannot resist the inclination we feel to give our readers a little of "the feast of reason and flow of soul" we enjoyed while perusing the aforesaid article; and we, therefore, shall glean, for their especial benefit, a few scattered ears from the rich harvest outspread before us.

"In the sudden hurrah which bursts from the throats of the many over the 'Cabin literature,' we feel no certainty that Milton, Shakspeare, Byron, Wordsworth, Scott, and Cooper, are in immediate danger of being burned by the hands of the common hangman, to the tantaralara of an African dance."

* * * * * *

"Our female agitators have abandoned Bloomers in despair, and are just now bestride a new hobby—an intense love of black folks, in fashionable novels! Flannel ceases to be cut into garments for the children of Africa, but they are most intolerably drenched with ink—on the principle, we suppose, of 'like to like.'"

* * * * * *

"Sambo is a pretty good gold-digger, just now—work him who will; and those who
Would not have a slave to till the ground,
use him pretty severely in the press-room.—We have a regular incursion of the blacks. The shelves of booksellers groan under the weight of Sambo's woes, done up in covers! What a dose we have had and are having!—The population of readers has gone a wool-gathering! Our 'Helots of the West' are apparently at a premium with the publishers just now; and we have Northern folks as anxious to make money of them, as the Southrons can be for their lives. A plague of all black faces! We hate this niggerism, and hope it may be done away with. We cannot tolerate negro-slavery of this sort—we are abolitionists on this question."

* * * * * *

"The first of these works is Uncle Tom's Cabin. It has a certain feminine vivacity of style which takes the reader, in spite of its faults—and we, therefore, giving the lady the pas, call her up first for examination.— Regarding the success of the 'Cabin'—the exaggerated success, we believe—we have been trying to account for it, independently of the merits, which are not sufficient cause for such an effect."

* * * * * *

"The Reception of the 'Cabin' in England was very genial—it was so pleasant to pray for that reprobate, Jonathan! The Times, to be sure, and a few other shrewd organs, saw the thing in all its bearings, and gave a very blunt opinion of it. But, in a sentimental way, Lord Carlisle—our sometime visitor, Lord Morpeth—and the moralists, had the advantage of these cosmopolitan critics, as far as the curious public were concerned. Indeed, the fact of word coming out in favor of anything of the kind was enough to give it instant vogue among the English, and his lordship's recommendation, was certainly the strongest foreign puff of the 'Cabin.' The N. Y. Post, and kindred presses, certainly helped to sell their thousands; but the Earl of Carlisle sold his ten thousands. When once any sort of book is talked of, for any one reason or other, people must have it, in self-defence, and so vires acquiret cundo—it gathers as it goes, like a rolling snowball in the Oberland. Half the machinery of the whole business would have procured nearly as great a notoriety for any book thoroughly spiced with horrors."

* * * * * *

"The book is vastly overrated, and will soon find its level." . . . "It is clumsily constructed, and inartificial." . . . "The plot is feeble; it is strung and tacked together in a very unworkmanlike way." . . . "But after doing justice to the spirit and earnestness of the work, we are still happy to think it has not power enough to cause as much mischief as some have supposed."

* * * * * *

"Indeed, were Mrs. Stowe's book ten times more meritorious and forcible than it is, the existing sense of this community, and its growing tendencies—political or otherwise—would neutralize it. It is hopeless to look for any more exasperations on account of slavery, or to think it can ever be done away with by vituperation or the high hand. The Times was right in saying that, as a means of abolition, Uncle Tom was a mistake and would be a failure."

* * * * * *

"We have taken up the 'Cabin literature' for the purpose of saying frankly what we think of the whole business—for it is a business, and nothing more. We have spoken temperately and critically of the books, indignantly and perhaps warmly of the spirit which pervades them, and we say by the way of emphasis, that we despise the whole concern—the spirit which dictated them is false. They are altogether speculations in patriotism—a question of dollar and cents, not of slavery or liberty. The whole literary atmosphere has become tainted with them—they are corrupt altogether and abominable. Many of the persons who are urging on this negro crusade into the domain of letters, have palms with an infernal itch for gold.— They would fire the whole republic if they could but rake the gems and precious stones from the ashes. They care nothing for principle, honor or right, and though anxious to be regarded as martyrs, the chief concern is about the stakes. He would be an explorer worthy of all honor who could stumble upon a truth which they would not sacrifice for shillings. For the present we are done with this subject. We hope we are done with it forever."

  In his criticism on "UNCLE TOM," Graham seems to be left "alone in his glory;" for all the most distinguished Reviewers in Great Britain, France, and Germany, have pronounced the book one of the most wonderful on record: the most celebrated American critics unite in doing it honor; at the present time. Several of the Southern States are sending extensive orders to Messrs. Jewett, for "Uncle Tom's Cabin;" and we doubt whether Graham's coup de main will succeed with his Southern patrons; for we do believe that there is more nobleness of character, more generosity, and more straightforwardness among Southern slaveholders, than among Northern cringers to the slave power.

  Of the article in the March number of Graham, to which he invites his readers' attention, we have not much to say.

  Recrimination is the favorite artillery of the defenders and abettors of the slave system. This article is a sort of second edition of Mrs. Julia Tyler's letter to the ladies of England. Though there may be, perhaps, rather more vinegar in the mixture. The beggars of London, the Irish paupers, the miners, the factory workers, are all brought forward, as illustrations of the extremes of wretchedness—nor are the millions of India forgotten! To read Graham, and Graham only, any one would believe the British Empire to be the greatest of despotisms, and every other spot of earth a paradise.

  In parading his hatred to Britain, and British institutions, before the American people, Graham doubtless diplomatically designs to cater to the public taste, and to win applause and subscribers. How far he will succeed remains to be seen.

  We shall close our brief and imperfect remarks with a few appropriate paragraphs from the world-renowned pen of DOUGLAS JERROLDJ.G.

"There can be no doubt that there is much truth in what MRS. AMERICA is made to speak. But the moral destitution, the moral blackness of a thousand English outcasts do not make five hundred free negroes of so many slaves. Very true it is that we have wretched, wo-begone children in alleys; that we have "illicit" costermongers; that our needlewomen have starved or, at times, anticipated death by a plunge from Waterloo bridge; true that there has been grinding misery in factories; misery unceasing, remorseless as the machinery once set at work. But all this evil—all this degrading, crushing woe, mocking—as with the mockery of a devil—our professions as a Christian people, all this is as nothing to the all-blighting curse and all-encompassing horror of slavery!—There is something still left—some drop of comfort, some ray of light in this misery—this bitterness—this darkness where slavery is set. We may not snatch one of these alley children from the dirt, and sell it like a hog: we may not separate frail costermonger JOE from his frail companion SAL. POOR SAL may have a child at her breast and one or two at what they call a home: yet JOE and SAL are safe from the slave-buyer, and may love on and quarrel on, and their young barbarians may still dispute with the pigs on the dust-heap—no human flesh-dealer daring to cast his blood-bargaining eyes upon them. This is something. And this something—no small thing, surely, in this human life of ours, whether passed on Stafford velvet pile, or stiflingly breathed in Slush-lane—this something is till the ray of GOD'S own light and justice, however foul and dark and wo-begone the place it penetrates."