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By Donald A. Petesch

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Is the relation of master to slave benign or evil? 4 What was slavery really like? " Under siege from a burgeoning abolition movement that was growing perceptibly more militant (as can be seen most clearly perhaps in the proliferation of the more extreme antislavery manifestations, such as the publication of David Walker's Appeal in 1829, the rebellion of Nat Turner in 1830, and the publication of William Lloyd Garrison's Liberator in 1831), resistance "at the South" hardened. 6 The view of slavery hardened in the South in the 1830s; formerly, it had been viewed as a ''necessary evil," now it was to be considered a "positive good," and it was worth at least one's social position to view it otherwise.

From this perspective, the social Darwinism of the latter half of the nineteenth century is merely one of the more extreme manifestations of a potentially divisive spirit and ethic. Blacks writing in the nineteenth century thought of their experience in terms of its representativeness rather than in terms of its uniqueness. 9 This difference can be illustrated by comparing Henry David Thoreau's Walden with Frederick Douglass's Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Thoreau's account is our grandest celebration of the separate, and separated, Page 25 self; Douglass, throughout his narrative, stresses his ties to others.

By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant. I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday. " It is little wonder that "The Village" is Walden's briefest chapter. He goes to view its denizens as though he were an early naturalist or anthropologist: As I walked in the woods to see the birds and squirrels, so I walked in the village to see the men and boys; instead of the wind among the pines I heard the carts rattle.

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