“A Career Unique,” excerpt from Theodore Tilton’s Sonnets to the Memory of Frederick Douglass

Theodore Tilton c1870.jpgHe came to Paris; and we paced the streets

As if we twain were truants out of school!

We clomb aloft where many a carven ghoul

And grinning gargoyle mocked our giddy feats;

We made a sport of sitting in the seats

Where Kings of France were wont to sit and rule!

‘A throne,’ quote he, ‘is a pretender’s stool –

For kingship is a fraud, and kings are cheats!’

 

He loved a hero. Nor can I forget

How with uncovered head, in awe profound

He hailed Coligny’s all-too tardy stone [2];

And how, before the tomb of Lafayette [3],

He said, ‘This place is doubly sacred ground –

This patriot had two countries for his own!’

 

2 Admiral de Coligny was murdered in the St. Bartholomew massacre, on the night of August 24, 1752.

3 Lafayette lies in the Picpus Cemetery, rue Picpus, Paris.

 

SOURCE:

Tilton, Theodore. Sonnets to the Memory of Frederick Douglass. Paris. Brentano’s, 37 Avenue De Opera. 1895, p. 11.

Editor’s Note:

It is sometimes cited that Paul Laurence Dunbar dedicated a 546-word poem to Douglass entitled “Douglass” in his 1896 poetry collection, Lyrics of Lowly Life.

Robert Hayden, a well-known modern poet who served as the first African-American US Poet Laureate in the late 1970s, is also often mentioned for his one paragraph poem dedicated to Douglass.

The “elusiveness” of Frederick Douglass in the barely-existent field of Douglassoniana Studies is because scholars have done very little original investigative work. This is seen in the very few references in Douglassoniana to Tilton’s poetry and writings about his friendship with his brother-from-another, Fred. Philip Foner did the work.

Within days of catching word in Paris that his friend had passed Tilton composed and published a short book dedicated to the memory of his dear brother. He promptly sent it to Helen Pitts Douglass in Washington.

There are more folks alleged to be Douglass scholars that deal in speculation, conjecture, psychoanalysis, guesswork and their own genuflecting on Douglass than actual scholarship.

That said, it is clear Tilton loved Douglass as though he was his own brother. Fred was from the streets. He understood when you’re mobbing through the streets of Paris it’s better to be with your brother than on the solo mission. I know.

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