By Donald A. Petesch
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Additional info for A Spy in the Enemy's Country: The Emergence of Modern Black Literature
The critical review "felt it a duty to repress any writer who tended to disrupt the political, economic, and moral status quo.... " The preservation of the social order influenced even the response to philosophical pessimism or skepticism. After quoting George Bancroft's 1824 criticism of Goethe, Charvat observes, "Bancroft's attitude was typical of the period. Americans disliked gloominess in literature, and rarely failed to remark on it in their reviews of the Germans, of Byron, and of such of our own poets as indulged in it"because gloom had social implications: "Most of the critics thought of gloom as a selfish thing, as a product of too much introversion and a lack of proper social feeling....
But not only is he their voice, he sees his existence in their existence. Thoreau had three chairs in his cabin, "one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society";15 Douglass had over forty scholars in his illegal Sabbath school: The work of instructing my dear fellow-slaves was the sweetest engagement with which I was ever blessed. We loved each other, and to leave them at the close of the Sabbath was a severe cross indeed.... For the ease with which I passed the year, I was, however, somewhat indebted to the society of my fellow-slaves.
Audiences were accustomed to writings about slaves. Charles Osborn's antislavery journal the Philanthropist appeared in Ohio in 1817, to be followed by other antislavery periodicals, including Freedom's Journal, the first black newspaper, established in 1827. "2 But here was the word literally made flesh: a former slave telling his own story. Garrison was so impressed by Douglass that he joined with others in urging him to become active in the abolition movement, and Douglass, though legally a fugitive slave, agreed.