REWRITING UNCLE TOM
The Freaks of Fancy Produced by Harriet Beecher Stowe's Illness
Special to the Washington Post.
New York, Sept. 15.—The incurable mental malady of Harriet Beecher Stowe has progressed alarmingly. Mrs. Stowe's vagaries, regarded as mere eccentricities, first amounted to actual aberration of mind about a month prior to the final attack. The interval was chiefly spent by her in writing "Uncle Tom's Cabin" over again. She imagined that she was engaged in the original composition, and for several hours every day she industriously used pen and paper, inscribing long passages of the book almost exactly word for word.
This was done unconsciously from memory, the authoress imagining that she composed the matter as she went along. To her diseased mind the story was brand new, and she frequently exhausted herself with labor which she regarded as freshly created. The worldwide fame of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was now an anticipation to her, and she talked wildly of the popularity which the book was going to win. Even to the kind of pen, paper and ink used, Mrs. Stowe repeated the first composition, and if the manuscript could be compared with the corresponding portions of the original copy it is not likely that much difference of appearance would be discovered.
Another subject that weighed on her mind, during this period of incipient dementia, was a rivalry that had broken out between two women as to which should be authorized to write her biography. The controversy had grown bitter. Mrs. Stowe had herself projected an autobiography, and had made ready to write it, when ill-health prevented her from beginning. It was then that two Hartford publishing houses undertook to secure the prize, and each employed an authoress. Mrs. Stowe's unsettled intellect confounded the two ventures, somehow, and so both women got a degree of authority for their work. It is said that Mrs. Stowe confounded them by imaging in that only one person had the biography in hand, and upon seeing one of the writers soon after having had an interview with the other, she supposed they were one and the same.
A financial catastrophe in the theatrical business was a result of Mrs. Stowe's illness. Somebody conceived the project of a new dramatization of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," which should be sufficiently the work of Mrs. Stowe to command her name, and, therefore, appeal powerfully to a wider public that that which commonly supports the stage. A sort of syndicate was formed for the enterprise, and abundant capital was promised.
The plan included a company of far better actors than had ever before impersonated old Uncle Tom and those who befriended or persecuted him. Charles Gardiner, J. Charles Davis, W. W. Randall, Charles Frohman and several men known in the amusement business agreed to risk collectively $25,000, provided Mrs. Stowe could be secured as either the real or ostensible dramatist. Just how nearly the scheme got to success in the matter of securing Mrs. Stowe's sponsorship cannot be learned.
She was visited at Hartford by an agent of the syndicate, and she talked favorably of the project. She had never seen a stage performance of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," not so much because she disapproved of theatricals, as that friends had told her she would be disappointed by the attempts to embody the creations of her novel. She was now assured that so much ability would be commanded in the proposed cast that she need fear no damage to her fame by sanctioning them.
Clay M. Green, the California dramatist, now in this part of the country, was employed to make a new dramatic version of the story. This was to be submitted to Mrs. Stowe as a basis for her revision, alteration or addition. But it was no more than ready before Mrs. Stowe's condition required a removal to Sag Harbor. Therefore, the venture had to be abandoned, or pushed on without the Stowe backing that had been so heavily counted on. A company had been engaged at salaries ranging from two hundred a week to not less in any one instance than a hundred. Alice Harrison was the Topsy and Louisa Eldridge, Frank Mordaunt, Mark Price, Frank Losee and other well-known performers were in the truly remarkable cast. But the projectors of the scheme had no faith in it after the loss of Mrs. Stowe's countenance, and they most of them withdrew from it, leaving little or no capital in the treasury when the first performances were given in Boston, last week. They did not believe that the public would be re-awakened to any special interest in "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by uncommon excellence of acting alone, and in that their judgment proved sound, for the audiences were unremuneratively small considering the heavy expense and the treasurer had nothing with which to pay salaries. The organization has gone to pieces, its members have straggled back to town with empty pockets, and so one more dramatic gold mine has been found to yield no precious metal.