Skip to main content

Ethiop [William J. Wilson] to Frederick Douglass, February 6, 1854





DEAR DOUGLASS:—As I sat a few evenings since, with a copy of the Tribune on my knee, Frederick Douglass' Paper in my hand, the Citizen (John Mitchel's) firmly beneath my feet, and rigidity in my face, a friend kindly presented the "Autographs for Freedom." The shadows instantly cleared from my brow and I rose up and thanked, from my heart the editress, for the happy thought that induced this noble undertaking—this beautiful WORK. In examining its contents, I find it filled with terse, but really beautiful articles upon the all-absorbing subject— man's emanicpation and elevation—by many of the most gifted in the land. The versatility of talent here brought into requisition, and the varied phases may safely challenge comparison.

Edgar Poe, I think it was, who, some years ago, collected autographs from distinguished writers about the country; but he aimed no higher than to exhibit (as one would some beautiful machinery) the niceties and perfections of the mind of each; not what is of more utility—the application and good products. We can much admire the beauties of an instrument, but much more its practical appliance to the useful. Poe attempted to merely show that the autograph was an index to the proportions and qualities of the mind. Miss Griffiths, in this book, edited by her for the Rochester Ladies' AntiSlavery Sewing Society, has gone a a step further, and coupled with its beauties, its nobler biases, utilities and results. Purpose is higher than effort. Limbs and leaves serve only for the fruit, else of what purpose are they? Even blossoms, those beautiful forerunnners, cease to give us pleasure, and disappear, that the more useful—the fruit may come forth. "The Autographs for Freedom" present, if we may so speak, the fruits as well as the blossoms of many a tried and sturdy mind, interspersed with those of the younger sapplings which, if not so ripe, are equally luscious and racy. This is a good


omen. It tells us that the orchard is being replenished; that when here and there a sturdy trunk yields, the place will be supplied without detriment.

In running our fingers through this volume, one cannot award too much credit to the artist for the life-like portraits he has given us through it, as well as for the accurate autographs. There is, by way of introduction, the stern and bold face of Giddings, that unmistakably tells you of its unyielding propensities, and strong determination for the right; and there also is Miss Antoinette L. Brown's fine, generous face, whose noble soul beams out through her lustrous, intelligent eyes. What warmth, language and pathos are there, and what beauty too! W. W. Brown, the fugitive, (not slave,) is here too! Why call him a slave? No man is a slave the instant he conceives himself a freeman; no matter what whips and parchments may say. I once saw the original of this face on the other side of the street; and though years since, the copy now before me seems rather more British. A little further on, and lo! the indomitable countenance of Lewis Tappan arrests and rivets your attention. Yes, it is Lewis Tappan, just as you have seen and heard him. Nay, look intently at him, and you may hear him now speak as from living lips in your imagination. And here, too, is Frederick Douglass, with that scowl of just indignation, because of deep and bitter wrongs so long borne; but behind that scowl there is kindness and forbearance, and out of it a volume is spoken. It is Frederick Douglass completely.— Ho! who have we here? It is the earnest face of Horace Greeley. It is philosophy all over. The head is the embodyment of thought—thought lent to a purpose, and that purpose the best good of the race—and shall I add, bending the thoughts of thousands with it to the same end. As an offset to this head, the broad, open face of Rev. E. H. Chapin, almost breathing with eloquence, presents itself bolt upright to you. Gerrit Smith, whose fine, generous face, is an index to his large heart, next meets my view. This is a countenance to be studied by all who would grow wiser and better. It is manly, frank, truthful, noble. This keen, intelli-


gent eye, seems to look right through all the mists and vapors bad men throw round their worse designs, up to a better state. And here, too, we have Wm. H. Seward. Look in this face, and I am much mistaken if you do not discover a wonderful combination of tact, talent and industry. This eye, like that of Gerrit Smith's, seems thus much:—

At one glance, to take in this present, Penetrate the future; and seeing the great essentials there. Passes them to the mind, which husbanding Brings them forth, timely to the yet incredulous masses.

It was both kind and fortunate of the editress to present us with these two faces, which it is so seldom our lot to look upon, yet whose posessors we so much love and admire. In passing through these leaves, I sought for some others; Ward, or Garnett, or Dr. Smith, or Pennington, &c., &c.; yet I am aware everybody cannot expect to be found in the riches of a single volume like this. But I have just stumbled over Prof. C. L. Reason—yes, it is the Professor. The pensive, lamb-like Charley. The fact, that the ladies always did think Charley rather handsome, certainly meek, I suppose somewhat accounts for their thus favoring us with this fine, intellectual face. Well, 'tis a blessing to be pretty as well as intellectual. A wag looking over my shoulder, slyly intimated something about Ethiop. I turned upon the scamp with a frown that made him think of Ethiop in some other connection, than in such pretty and pleasant company.

Ah! here we have the Beechers—sister and brother. The quiet serenity of Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe is here; so is the calm, thoughtful—I fail to see all of Henry Ward. I perceive the mirthful, yet I miss something of the mental. In looking at the original, one fails to take in, at the first, the strong intellectual that predominates. It is one of those faces, the more observed the more you trace out, that undefinable, intellectual that so taxes the powers of the artist. He must look again and again, to trace and put on canvass all that is there. He must redouble his labors, if he would miss nothing of that versatility or mental power that evolves and shows out by constant observation; yet this is Henry Ward Beecher.

Upon the whole, the book is one of the most beautiful as well ad invaluable of the


season, and one which no friend of humanity, and no lover of truth should be without. It should find its way to the centre of every drawing-room and hearth-stone in the land, and I doubt not it will have an extensive circulation. Let us all buy a copy of the Autographs for Freedom; and as we peruse it, let us bless Miss Griffiths, the author of its design, and editress of its pages, and look for Vol. III with eagerness.

Yours truly, ETHIOP.

P. S.—Would it not be better, all things considered, for poor John Mitchel to go back to Van Diemans Land, and there crawl out the remainder of his miserable existence, unmolested by the genius of progess and liberty?


Ethiop (William J. Wilson)


February 6, 1854


This document was calendared in the published volume and has not been published in full before.


Frederick Douglass' Paper



Publication Status