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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: October 2017

1 - Memoir and Theatrical Career of Ira Aldridge, the African Roscius

from Part One: The Life


To the philosopher, the philanthropist, the physiologist—to the man interested in the whole human family, and capable of drawing liberal conclusions from the various characteristics which, under different aspects, it exhibits, this brief memoir of one who stands forth a conspicuous specimen of a “distinct” and “marked” race, and a living illustration of their intellectual capabilities, will be peculiarly acceptable.

It will tell of an Ethiopian—“a black”—who, notwithstanding the abject state in which most of his kind

Live, and move, and have their being,

has obtained, and maintains among us Europeans—“whites”—who deem ourselves to be the most civilized and enlightened people upon God's earth, a reputation whose acquisition demands the highest qualities of the mind and the noblest endowments of the person.

The acquirements of a scholar, the conception of a poet, and the accomplishments of a gentleman, must be united in one individual before he can become eminent as an actor. These mental and physical advantages have been found to exist in an African; and to such a degree are they by him exhibited, that he, in his single person, and as a champion of his sable brethren, gives the lie direct to the most “refined” among us who, in his prejudice, his exclusiveness, and his ignorance, shall harbour the remotest doubt of an African being, to all intents and purposes,

A man and a brother.

It is not, however, the present endeavour of the writer to “point a moral and adorn a tale”; but to give, in the fewest possible words, a concise history of one whose career, describe it as you may, cannot fail to fill the reflective mind with thoughts of deepest interest. It is impossible to regard one man of colour as a being of extraordinary faculties, possessing a soul capable of appreciating, and endowments equal to the representation of immortal Shakespeare's great creations, and not sigh in serious contemplation of the wrongs of thousands of his countrymen, treated by their paler brethren as mindless, heartless, soulless, feelingless clay, bearing the corporeal impress of humanity, but cruelly or thoughtlessly denied its spiritual attributes.