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INTRODUCTION TO VOLUME TWO xv

portance of revealing the development of moral character, the acquisition
of self-knowledge, avoidance of exhibitions of self-love, credibility, mi-
nuteness of detail, the inspiration of youth, descriptions of upright deport-
ment, and a simple style.4

After 1845 literary critics expanded these conventions.5 Whereas Fos-
ter had focused on the lessons authors learned about themselves in the
course of writing their autobiographies, critics after 1845 expressed more
interest in what such works revealed about the past, enabling readers to
peer inside past societies, to gain accurate knowledge of what motivated
historic personages, and to separate truth from mythology. Though recog-
nizing the extent to which autobiographies destroyed illusions about the
past by placing readers behind the scenes, critics reflected that the histori-
cal value of such works depended on the authors’ opportunities for partici-
pating in and observing the dramas of their times.6

By the mid-1840s critics demonstrated considerably less concern with
defending the interests of the privileged classes or protecting the established
order and public morality. Whatever the character of the lives described in
the autobiographies, the critics tried to find something instructive for read-
ers, and the degree of instructiveness—the critics insisted—depended on
the author's tone. Critics evenhandedly rejected works heavily stressing the
author's joys or sorrows. One writer in the Democratic Review, for exam-
ple, held that autobiographers should record much more than the shadows
that had enveloped their lives because people were “rather prone to exag-
gerate their sufferings than their enjoyments; hence one half of the world is
continually complaining to the other, without ever seeming to think that
each one already has sorrows enough of his own.” Relief from the “brood
of whiners" was necessary if one was to learn how to obtain happiness. An
author who “shows us how his bitter hours were made to bear the fruit of
joy" taught “the true secret of a happy life."7 Some autobiographers, in con-
trast, focused too much on their enjoyments. An Atlantic Monthly critic
found little to admire, for instance, in Lady Morgan's Passages from My
Autobiography
(1859) because it was "painfully vivacious. The poor old

4. John Foster, Essays in a Series of Letters (New York, 1853), 69, 71 -78.

5. The Dictionary of National Biography, 22 vols. (London, 1921-22), 7: 497-99. American
editions of Foster's Essays available to Douglass in 1855 appeared in Hartford, 1807, 1844, 1845, 1847,
and 1854; Boston, 1811, 1833, 1839; Utica, 1815; Andover, 1826; New York, 1835, 1846-54.

6. Blackwood's Magazine, 66: 292-304 (September 1849); Harper 's New Monthly Magazine,
9: 276 (July 1854).

7. The United States Magazine, and Democratic Review, 21: 525 (December 1847).

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