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Statement on Editorial Method (Autobiography, volume 1)


Statement on Editorial Method

The method followed in editing Douglass's autobiographical writings reflects modern critical theory regarding the literary genre and the conventional concerns of historians concerning the evidentiary value of such works.1A useful discussion to the contrasting methodologies of literary and historical editors can be found in Mary-Jo Kline, A Guide to Documentary Editing (Baltimore, 1987), 1-29; and in G. Thomas Tanselle, "The Editing of Historical Documents," Studies in Bibliography, 31 : 1-56 (January 1978). As a consequence, the editorial method differs somewhat from that followed in Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews. Essentially, we have been guided in our development of the editorial method by the observation of Erik Erikson that "an item in an autobiography should be judged first for its meaning in the stage of the recorder's life, and secondly, for its meaning in the course of his whole life history. But this means that at the same time it must be seen also in the immediate context of contemporary history, and in the historical process of which it is but a stage. Only then can one turn to the remembered item itself, and see what set of criteria would give it a certain convincing probability."2Eric Erikson, "Gandhi's Autobiography The Leader as a Child, "American Scholar, 35 : 639 (Spring 1966).

Modern literary scholars regard the concept of a single, stable, unchanging text as invalid. Instead, reprinted and revised editions must be studied to produce a scholarly edition of the work that captures the author's intent. Literary scholars have discovered how dynamic nineteenth-century published works were with authors intervening editorially in various stages of type composition, proofsheets, and subsequent revised editions. For the Narrative alone, Douglass participated in the production of twenty-one editions. Collectively, Douglass produced thirty separate editions of his three autobiographies.

Committed to producing accurate and reliable printed versions of Douglass's autobiographies, the project has followed the guidelines laid down by the Modern Language Association's Committee for Scholarly Editions (CSE) on all textual practices. Each volume will supply a precise publication history of its autobiography. In addition, textual appendixes will accompany each volume, identifying all variations in the texts of


authoritative manuscript and published editions of the autobiography and
certifying Douglass's intention.3The guidelines of the Center for Scholarly Editions' have been followed scrupulously. Additional readings of the texts by professional proofreaders and editorial assistants preceded readings by the editors and independent scholars. Center for Editions of American Authors, An Introductory Statement of Editorial Principles and Procedures, rev. ed. (New York, 1972), Center for Scholarly Editions, The Center for Scholarly Editions: An Introductory Statement (New York, 1977); Committee on Scholarly Editions, "Committee on Scholarly Editions: Aims and Policies," Publications of the Modem Language Association of America, 100 : 444-47 (September 1985); Paul Baender, "Reflections upon the CEAA by a Departing Editor," Resources for American Literary Study, 4 : 131-44 (Autumn 1974); Kline, Documentary Editing, 8-23. Our five independent proofreaders were: Jeffery A. Drobney, Susan E. Lewis, Eva Segert-Tauger, Timothy Sweet, and Betty L. Wiley.

Historians of slavery have long debated the credibility of Douglass's autobiographies. Among the most extreme critics of the slave narrative genre was Ulrich B. Phillips, who declared in 1929 in his seminal book Life and Labor in the Old South that "ex-slave narratives in general . . . were issued with so much abolitionist editing that as a class their authenticity is doubtful."4Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, Life and Labor in the Old South (Boston, 1929), 219; idem, The American Slave: A Survey of Supply, Employment and Control of Negro Labor as Determined by the Plantation Regime (New York, 1918), 445n; Blassingame, Slave Testimony, xvii; Andrews, To Tell A Free Story, 17, 295n; David Thomas Bailey, "A Divided Prism: Two Sources of Black Testimony on Slavery" Journal of Southern History, 46 : 182 (August 1980). Although accepting the possibility that Douglass wrote the Narrative, many other historians contended that Douglass was such an unusual individual that what he wrote was not characteristic of the lives and feelings of most slaves. Such views prompted a response from historian Gilbert Osofsky in 1969:

In describing his personal life, the sensitive and creative writer touches a deeper reality that transcends his individuality. Frederick Douglass, for example, was certainly an exceptional man, but his autobiography has much to teach us about the slaves around him, his friends and enemies on the plantation and in the city, and many other typical aspects of American slavery. ... To exclude the "exceptional" is to eliminate all strong autobiography as a distortion of the events of its time. Yet it is these writers whose books are most likely to interpret reality with insight and clarity.5Osofsky, Puttin' on Ole Massa, 10-11.5

Barrett John Mandel responds most directly to the historians' concern about autobiographical "facts." Seeking to dispel a number of myths about autobiographies, Mandel argues that such works "emanate


ultimately from the reality of being." The special order of reality in autobiographies represents considerably more, however, than pictures from the past; autobiography is not a literal photographic rendition of the past; autobiographical intent cannot be separated from autobiographical facts: "At every moment of any true autobiography ... the author's intention is to convey the sense that 'this happened to me.'" The autobiography's angle of vision and subjectivity constitute part of its reality. The essential truth of an autobiography is what it reveals about the author: "Autobiographies are not essentially fabular; they are experiential: an autobiography shares experience as its way of revealing reality. . . . [It] embodies truth when the reader seeks confirmation of his or her own perceptions of reality in terms of those experienced by another mortal." The presence of some apparent inaccuracies need not undermine the essential truth of an autobiography as a representation of an author's life. Mandel puts it well when he asserts, "The simple truth that autobiography is not fiction is not threatened by the fact that a swatch of autobiography out of context may have the appearance of fiction." The autobiographer uses language to create "the illusion of the past coming to life" and embodies this in his or her accounts: "The way in which the illusion of the past is presented is, finally, the meaning of the author's life: it is the 'form' one's life takes, and it is the only meaning there can be for a subject." Finally, in words framed for historians and literary critics, Mandel sums up his views of the truthfulness of autobiographies: "In my experience most autobiographies are honest . . . with occasional distortions, honest evasions, discrete pockets of non-communication. An honest autobiography puts its illusion of the past forward in good faith."6Barren J. Mandel, "Full of Life Now," in Olney, Autobiography, 62, 64, 66. See also: Darrel Mansell, "Unsettling the Colonel's Hash: 'Fact' in Autobiography," Modern Language Quarterly 37 : 115-32 (June 1976); Janet Varner Gunn, "Autobiography and the Narrative Experience of Temporality as Depth," Soundings 60 : 194-209 (Summer 1977); Ross Miller, "Autobiography as Fact and Fiction: Franklin, Adams, Malcolm X," Centennial Review, 16 : 221-32 (Summer 1972); Karl J. Weintraub, "Autobiography and Historical Consciousness," Critical Inquiry, 1 : 821-48 (June 1975); Roy Pascal, Design and Truth in Autobiography (Cambridge, Mass., 1960); and William L. Howarth, "Some Principles of Autobiography," New Literary History, 5 : 363-81 (Winter 1974).

Historians who have investigated the nature of historical evidence and have attempted to corroborate autobiographical details by examining independent sources share the views of such literary critics as Mandel. Foremost among these scholars are the twentieth-century historians who have


edited nineteenth-century slave narratives.7 Robin Winks et al., eds., Four Fugitive Slave Narratives (Reading, Mass., 1969), v-xxxiv; John Brown, Slave Life in Georgia, edited by F. N. Boney (Savannah, 1972), vii-xxi; Solomon Northrup, Twelve Years a Slave, edited by Sue Eakin and Joseph Logsdon (Baton Rouge,1968), ix-xxiv; Osofsky, Puttin' on Ole Massa, 9-44. Typical of them is Robin Winks, who in 1968 called on historians examining slave narratives to try "to unravel the real from the unreal, and to show the validity of, and the truth that still lurks behind, that portion we could call unreal." The historian. Winks contends, "must concern himself fully as much with what people thought to be true, as with the so-called objective data of history," because "even though certain historical documents may be proven to be largely fictitious, or heavily embroidered, these same documents contain covert evidence of an objective reality."8Winks, Four Fugitive Slave Narratives, vii, v.

The concerns of the historian and the literary critic merge in Bruce Mazlish's exploration of the autobiography situated "between truth and self-deception/' Mazlish views autobiography in psychological and historical p erspective and argues that scholarly analysis should focus on "what must always be at the heart of autobiography: present, form, and content all help to define autobiography and its reality." Presenting what he calls a "compacted definition of 'modern' autobiography," Mazlish asserts that it is "a literary genre . . . , which offers us a picture from a specific present viewpoint. . . of an individual past, reached by means of introspection and memory of a special sort, wherein the self is seen as a developing entity, changing by definable stages, and where knowledge of the self links with knowledge of the external world, and both together provide us with a deep and true grasp of reality."9Bruce Mazlish, "Autobiography and Psycho-analysis: Between Truth and Self-Deception," Encounter, 35 : 28-37 (October 1970). See also: Erikson, "Gandhi's Autobiography," 635.

In order to grasp the objective reality of Douglass's life story as embodied in his autobiographies and diary, the historian, somewhat more than the literary critic and the psychologist, insists on going outside the text for independent data on the people and events mentioned in it. The editors have used annotations extensively in this volume to identify all those individuals, places, events, and literary allusions appearing in the texts and to substantiate Douglass's representation of them as much as possible.

Identification is only provided for an individual, place, or event the first time the reference appears in the volume. Items having appeared previously in Series One have been shortened considerably and revised,


when necessary, to place the people and events within the context of Douglass's autobiographies. In the annotation of materials appearing for the first time in the diary and autobiographies, the editors have confined themselves, as in Series One, to supplying only that information mandatory for the comprehension of the texts. We have provided the least information about persons, places, and events ordinarily covered in standard textbooks, encyclopedias, and biographical dictionaries, while devoting more space to the most obscure. Because it has not been our intention to settle perennial historical debates or to write a biography of Douglass, we have tried to keep the notes as short as possible. In spite of our best efforts, some casual references have been elusive or impossible to identify with precision. Information on people, places, and events has often been drawn from a variety of sources, and we have cited them at the end of each note as a guide to future researchers. These annotations will be placed in an appendix to follow the text of each autobiography. The textual reference for each note will be indicated by means of the page and line numbers of the Yale edition text.

In addition to the textual appendix and the historical annotation appendix, there will be one or more additional appendixes published following the texts of the autobiographies. In each volume, one appendix will contain the sources and texts of the critical response to the autobiography, including published reviews and letters to Douglass. These critical responses are reprinted in the chronological order of their original publication. The names of "reviewers" are listed whenever they could be identified. Whenever prefaces written by Douglass or introductions written by other individuals appeared in editions of the autobiographies other than that of the chosen copy-text, those prefaces and introductions will be reproduced in an appendix to the volume. Handwritten marginal "annotation" of the texts of the autobiographies by members of his master's family confirming or challenging Douglass's views also will be printed in appendixes. Finally, the travel diary of Douglass's second wife, Helen Pitts Douglass, will be published in an appendix to the volume containing the text of his own travel diary. The texts of all nineteenth-century documents reproduced in these appendixes will be transcribed and verified by the same procedures used for the texts of Douglass's autobiographical writings. The only form of annotation for these documents will be the brief introductions to each of the appendixes.

To help the reader in following Douglass's movements, contemporary maps of Talbot County, Baltimore, and Maryland's Eastern Shore are re-


produced in an appendix for each of the antebellum autobiographies. One other type of annotation, contemporary illustrations, has been added to each volume. The frontispieces for each authoritative text will be published with the appropriate volume. For the volume containing Life and Times, the autobiography that covers seventy-seven years of Douglass's life, the original published illustrations will be produced.