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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 Free-
dom." 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 beau-
tiful 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 versa-
tility of talent here brought into requisition,
and the varied phases may safely challenge

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 per-
fections of the mind of each; not what is of
more utility—the application and good pro-
ducts. We can much admire the beauties
of an instrument, but much more its prac-
tical 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' Anti-
Slavery Sewing Society, has gone a
a step further, and coupled with its beauties,
its nobler biases, utilities and results. Pur-
pose 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 sup-
plied without detriment.

In running our fingers through this vol-
ume, one cannot award too much credit to
the artist for the life-like portraits he has giv-
en us through it, as well as for the accurate
autographs. There is, by way of introduction,
the stern and bold face of Giddings, that un-
mistakably tells you of its unyielding pro-
pensities, and strong determination for the
right; and there also is Miss Antoinette L.
fine, generous face, whose noble
soul beams out through her lustrous, intel-
ligent 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 free-
man; 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 atten-
tion. Yes, it is Lewis Tappan, just as you
have seen and heard him. Nay, look in-
tently at him, and you may hear him now
speak as from living lips in your imagina-
tion. 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 spok-
en. 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 thou-
sands 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
, 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 essen-
tials there.
Passes them to the mind, which husbanding
Brings them forth, timely to the yet incredulous

It was both kind and fortunate of the edi-
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 some-
what accounts for their thus favoring us with
this fine, intellectual face. Well, 'tis a bless-
ing to be pretty as well as intellectual. A
wag looking over my shoulder, slyly intimat-
ed 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, intel-
lectual that so taxes the powers of the ar-
tist. 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 ob-
servation; 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 cir-
culation. 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, un-
molested by the genius of progess and lib-


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 (Rochester, N.Y.) 1851-18??



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