‘Precept’: A Short Book About Frederick Douglass’s Visit to Ireland
‘Precept’ by Matthew de Lacey Davidson is about Frederick Douglass’s 1845 visit to Ireland where he went on a two-year lecture tour to avoid recapture and a torrent of death threats. Though a thin volume, Precept deals with two big issues: slavery in the United States and the Great Famine. So, how did Douglass find himself in Ireland? And what does that have to do with the Great Famine in Ireland?
First, a bit about Frederick Douglass because I’ll shamefully admit that I didn’t know much about him before reading Precept. As usual, I’m using Encyclopedia Britannica as my source for this information:
Frederick Douglass was a famous abolitionist. He escaped slavery in 1838 and began his work as an abolitionist three years later. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “To counter skeptics who doubted that such an articulate spokesman could ever have been a slave, Douglass felt impelled to write his autobiography in 1845, revised and completed in 1882 as Life and Times of Frederick Douglass,” otherwise known as the Narrative or the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. He later published a number of other books and his own newspaper called The North Star. He was also a consultant to President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. After the Civil War, he was a civil rights activist. He also became a U.S. official and later the U.S. ambassador to Haiti.
On to the book, which the author kindly gave me for free in exchange for an honest review.
Frederick Douglass’s Visit to Ireland
Precept follows Nathan Whyte, a budding adolescent and son to Daniel Whyte, the fictitious printer responsible for creating the British Isles edition of Douglass’s Narrative. Soon after meeting Douglass, Nathan becomes captivated by Douglass and his message.
Before Douglass goes on his speaking tour, Daniel takes Nathan, Douglass, and Mr. Abegg, Douglass’s travel companion, to Skibbereen, the poster child of the Great Famine. They witness the beginnings of the Great Famine and the horror of starvation. Matthew de Lacey Davidson goes on to describe some of Douglass’s speaking engagements and Nathan’s mounting interest in politics.
I enjoyed reading about Douglass’s lectures and how his words were received, particularly his criticism of American Protestant churches. And I think Matthew De Lacey Davidson did justice to Douglass’s legacy as a great orator. I also read the book as a sequel of sorts to Alias Grace and a prequel to Carnegie’s Maid, which was fun. And yes, I’m a huge nerd.
My thoughts on Precept
At the beginning of the book, I worried that Precept would equate poverty with slavery, but my fears were unfounded. Instead, Precept illuminates both struggles, depicting slaves and victims of the Great Famine as kindred spirits, not one and the same.
In less than 140 pages Precept showcases a unique and interesting bit of history. So, using Paul Goat Allen's framework for book reviews, Precept gets stars for immersion, originality, and thematic profundity but loses stars for readability, and character depth. Nathan and Douglass were the most developed characters. And Nathan’s character was particularly interesting at the end of the book, which I loved by the way. I would have preferred the book to be a little longer in the interest of developing the rest of the characters. Precept was also written by a poet and reads as such. Despite being beautifully written, I needed a dictionary by my side while I was reading it. The use of ten-dollar words didn’t affect how immersed I was in Precept, but it did hamper the readability for me.
With regard to thematic profundity, Precept is thought-provoking. When I went over my notes, I realized how many quotes I loved and how much I learned from Precept. So, keep an eye out for my next post where I’ll discuss the wisdom I gleaned from Precept.
By Matthew de Lacey Davidson
First Edition Design Publishing, Inc. 146pp.