"UNCLE TOM'S CABIN"
SOME REMINISCENES OF AN OLD FRIEND OF MRS. STOWE.
BRIDGETON, Me., Nov. 9.—"Oh, how I thank the good God that I was the person chosen to write that story which did so much for so many poor Uncle Toms in the South," said Mrs. Stowe to a visitor at her pretty vine-covered cottage in Hartford, Conn.
"It is a live book! It will sell," was the verdict of Mrs. John P. Jewett, 36 years ago, to her husband, a Boston publisher, after reading the manuscript of "Uncle Tom's Cabin; or Life among the Lowly." And on that decision, happily in the affirmative, hinged fame and fortune both to the lucky publisher and the gifted author.
I have just had an interesting interview with an old friend and former neighbor of Mrs. Stowe's, who was a resident of Brunswick, Me., the seat of Bowdoin College, at the time Prof. Calvin E. Stowe occupied the Chair of Natural and Revealed Religion in that institution and Mrs. Stowe was writing "Uncle Tom's Cabin." She is a connection of James Russell Lowell by marriage—an aunt to his second wife, (Fannie Dunlap,) who died while he was Minister to England—a lady of superior intellect and fine education, who moved in the same social plane as Mrs. Stowe, and who, though now past 80 years of age, fully retains her mental powers and has a rich fund of reminiscence pertaining to "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and its illustrious author. Her name is Elizabeth Cushing.
"Some writer," said Miss Cushing, has erroneously stated that while Mrs. Stowe was writing 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' she at the self-same time took all the care of the children, and did much of the household work. But you can readily see that it was out of the question. How could she do that and at the same time write incessantly all day long every week day?
"The Stowes lived in the 'Parson Titcomb' house, on Federal-street. Prof. Stowe—himself a graduate of Bowdoin-occupied a room in one of the college buildings, and it was in this apartment, where Mrs. Stowe could be free from callers and have handy access to her husband's books and the college library, that the immortal work was written. As the college was at least a quarter of a mile from her home, the walk afforded some needful exercise, but that, so far as we neighbors know, was about all the exercise she had. So absorbed was she in her literary work that she paid scarcely any heed to her dress or toilet, but went looking most of the time untoward, her frizzly hair tossing in disheveled, unkempt masses upon her neck and shoulders and her clothes hanging loosely about her form, as if they had got there by accident. Nature had given her a good figure, but a very plain face. As soon as she had eaten her breakfast she would hurry down to the college and write, write, write, till the dinner hour; then hasten home, eat, back to the college, and write, write, write, till tea time. She acted as if almost insane in her devotion to her work—whatever it might be. All we knew was, she was writing some kind of a novel, but none of us dreamed of the great literary, moral, and political monument she was so industriously rearing."
"What about her domestic affairs?" I asked. "Who looked after them?"
"They were under charge of a Mrs. Smith," answered Miss Cushing. "I don't know who she was, only that she was an intimate friend of Mrs. Stowe's, a lady of good address, and evidently of fair talents and education, whom she delegated to act as mistress of the house, with full power to run it according to her own ideas, while she herself gave her whole time and attention to her writings. When Mrs. Stowe introduced her into the society in which she moved, chiefly the college people, such as President Cleveland, Profs. Upham, Smyth, Packard, Chapman, Newman, &c., and their families, she also privately gave them to understand that it was her desire that Mrs. Smith be received on precisely the same social plane as herself, which request was cordially and fully complied with.
So Prof. Stowe attended to his college duties; his wife was daily with him, lost in her new world of wonders and inspired portrayal of slave life on the Southern plantation. Mrs. Smith ran the 'home office' and took care of the baby, while as to the rest of the children—well, they pretty much ran themselves! The Stowe girls were good girls, but real romps, and the recollection of some of their pranks makes me laugh every time I think of them."
"How was Mrs. Stowe liked, socially?"
"On the whole, quite well, I think. To be sure she would have at times an abstracted manner, due no doubt to her preoccupation of mind when in the realm of fancy. I have seen her at an evening party when she was so utterly occupied by her thoughts as to ignore the rest of the company—-a part of the time, at least—and thereby offend people who didn't understand her. We who understood her loved her none the less for it, for we knew her to be a woman of warm heart and tender sympathies. Again she would soon to awaken from her revery, descend out of cloudland, and be one of the most charming of women. A fluent and brilliant conversationist, she was queen of the social circle wherever she saw fit to shine. And her smile! I can see it as plainly as over a third of a century ago, when I used to see her features so lighted up, so sweet, so charming, so benignant, as to make her face positively handsome. It was a soul beauty born of kindly heart and mental inspiration. Yes, Mrs. Stowe was a good, a wonderful, a noble woman."
Miss Cushing told me that one of the most remarkable facts connected with "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was that its author, previous to writing it, had never lived in a slave State. To be sure, she had at times accompanied on his travels in Kentucky her father, the Rev. Dr. Lyman Beecher, who was president of a theological seminary at Walnut Hills, near Cincinnati, and keenly observed the practical workings of slavery. These casual observations, together with what she had picked up from some of her relatives and others who had sojourned in the South, united with wonderful imaginative powers, a certain sort of intuition, and a nature rich in sympathies, embracing the widest range of human sufferings, enabled her to create and marshal a procession of realistic characters that, with the description of natural scenes, produced a diorama no less marvelous in coloring than true to the life in graphic portraiture.
And so it came to pass that in her hands the "Uncle Tom" of fiction became the valiant knight, whose lance, tilted at the critical moment, proved a winning factor of one of the greatest and most decisive moral battles of the world.
C. O. S.