The New York Times
22 December 1889


LIFE AND WORK OF HARRIET BEECHER STOWE. Compiled from Her Letters and Journals. By her son CHARLES EDWARD STOWE. Boston and New York: HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & CO. 1889.

  . . . With the family at last settled in Brunswick, we are on the threshold of the writing of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Not only did that book proceed out of very straitened circumstances among slaves as she had observed them from her Cincinnati home, but from hard times at her own fireside. She had written often for newspapers in those days for the money it gave. In their first Winter at Brunswick she declared: "there is no doubt in my mind that our expenses this year will come $200, if not $300, beyond our salary. We shall be able to come through, notwithstanding, but I don’t want to feel obliged to work as hard every year as I have this. I can earn $400 a year by writing, but I don’t want to feel that I must, and when weary with teaching the children and tending the baby and buying provisions and mending dresses and darning stockings, sit down and write a piece for some paper."

  At Cincinnati her anti-slavery sentiments had taken firm root. She and her brother Henry Ward were much of the same mind in these matters, and both used their pens in the cause. But she was not then, nor was she ever afterward, a declared abolitionist. Even after "Uncle Tom's" had begun to exert its influence, she was out of sympathy with Garrison and his followers, fearing, as she plainly wrote to Garrison, that they would "take from poor Uncle Tom his Bible and give him nothing in its place." Her sentiments in Cincinnati had been intensified by the incident of a former slave whom she had received into her family as a servant, and whom the slave’s former master sought to recover. The last Winter spent in Cincinnati brought to Mrs. Stowe the grief of a child’s death. It was a year in which, in a space of three months, more than nine thousand persons died of cholera within three miles of her home, while more than ten thousand cases of smallpox were known in the same area that same year. Thus, "Uncle Tom," as our author assures us, was "a cry of anguish from a mother’s breast and uttered in sad sincerity." The picture was one that scarcely accords with the popular conception, for it shows us a "delicate, sensitive woman, struggling with poverty, with weary step and aching heart attending to the innumerable demands of a large family of growing children."

  When Mrs. Stowe was on her way to Brunswick, the New-England States were in that whirlwind of excitement produced by Webster’s 7th March speech defending the compromise measures of Henry Clay. After the passage of the fugitive slave law many letters reached Mrs. Stowe describing the touching scenes which resulted from the enforcement of this law. Among them was one from the wife of Edward Beecher, urging her "to write something that would make this whole Nation feel what an accursed thing slavery is." She read this letter aloud to the assembled family in the parlor of her Brunswick home, and on reaching the passage just quoted, rose from her chair, crushed the letter in her hand, and, with an expression which observers remembered, said: "I will write something. I will if I live." It was some months before she was able to take up the work. But it was always on her mind. "As long as the baby sleeps with me nights," she said, "I can’t do much at anything, but I will do it at last. I will write that thing if I live."

  The story of the first publication of the work has often been told and sometimes erroneously, but the facts here given have obvious value. From the Washington newspaper which issued it as a serial she received $300. Mr. Jewett, who issued it in book form, at first proposed to share with the Stowes the cost of the publication, and then divide the profits. To this the unhopeful professor replied that he could not afford to assume such a risk. Thus is came about that only a 10 percent royalty upon all sales was secured for the author. Mrs. Stowe at this time had no reason to look for the large pecuniary returns that the book gave her and by which she received during the first four months a sum of $10,000. "Uncle Tom," which did so much for Uncle Tom’s race, also did much for Mrs. Stowe; it ended her long and weary struggle with poverty.

  It is curious that Mrs. Stowe did not know until a week after the bargain with Mr. Jewett had been made precisely what the terms were. She really cared very little about the matter. "I had the most perfect indifference to the bargain," she has since affirmed. Curious, also, is the fact that the first copy of the book was sold to her. A few days before publication she was charged with "one copy U. T. C., cloth, $0.50." When the work was once started in England its sale became rapidly tremendous. Beginning to make its way in June, it was by August "perfectly overwhelming," while in October the publishers had 100 persons employed in getting it out, with 17 presses besides hand machines. At that time 150,000 copies were in the hands of readers.