The Manhattan
William Henry Forman
New York: January 1883


  WHO was the original of Uncle Tom? Probably a million of people could be found who would say, without hesitation, that the only person whose answer to that question can be relied on is Mrs. Stowe. But this million of people—every man and woman of them—would be mistaken. For Mrs. Stowe has recently shown that she is a very unsafe guide in the case. A few months since, one of her readers, following the example of many others, addressed her a note of inquiry as to the original Uncle Tom. Mrs. Stowe replied to her correspondent, with a letter which went the rounds of the press, appearing in the New York Sun of August 7th. Her letter thus concludes:

"After I had begun the story I got, at the Anti-Slavery Rooms in Boston, the autobiography of Josiah Hensen and introduced some of its most striking incidents into my story. The good people of England gave my simple good friend Josiah enthusiastic welcome as the Uncle Tom of the story, though he was alive and well, and likely long to live, and the Uncle Tom of the story was buried in a martyr's grave. So much in reply to your inquiries. I trust this plain statement may prevent my answering any more letters on the subject."

  Those who have within reach the first edition of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and the first edition of the "Life of Josiah Hensen" will be puzzled by this "plain statement" of Mrs. Stowe. The first edition of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" bears the date 1852, while the first edition of "Hensen's Life"—which has an introduction by Mrs. Stowe—is dated 1858, and was copyrighted the same year. A second edition of "Hensen's Life," with additions, was published in 1879, with a Preface by Mrs. Stowe. Both editions of "Hensen's Life" are in the Congressional Library. Messrs. John P. Jewett & Co., of Boston, were the publishers of the first edition of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and also of the first edition of "Hensen's Life." How Mrs. Stowe could, in 1852, make use of book that was not published until 1858 is hard to understand. If any one can explain the discrepancy, Mr. John P. Jewett, who published both books, would seem to be the man. He is now residing in the neighborhood of New York, and his attention was called to the matter.

  "Well," said Mr. Jewett, "the only possible explanation of the discrepancy is that Mrs. Stowe's memory, in the lapse of thirty years, has deceived her. My firm published both books. It is certain that the first edition of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' was in 1852. It is equally certain that the first edition of 'Father Hensen's Life' did not appear until 1858. When 'Uncle Tom' was published, the 'Life of Hensen' not only had not been printed, it had not been written. On this latter point I speak with positiveness, for I was obliged to write about one-quarter of the book myself."

  "How did that happen, Mr. Jewett?"

  "Father Hensen could neither read nor write. Indeed, he could not have used a pen if he knew how to write. Nearly every bone in his body had been broken by his cruel taskmaster, and he had so little control over his hands and arms that he could not put a hat on his head. He had to lay the hat on a table and, by a wriggling motion, insert his head into it. Moreover, he had not sufficient mental capacity to dictate a continuous narrative. It was necessary for someone to construct the story out of fragmentary hints dropped by the old negro. To get at the details of any incident required a tedious cross-examination. The first person who undertook to write 'Hensen's Life' was a Unitarian clergyman of Springfield, Mass. After he had written about half of it his health gave way, and he was ordered by his physician to desist from all literary occupation. Father Hensen then induced the Rev.—afterward Bishop—Gilbert Haven, at that time editor of Zion's Herald in Boston, to take up the work. Mr. Haven had written another quarter of the book, when he was summoned to New York by the dangerous illness of his father. Father Hensen came to me in a peck of trouble. I tried to get someone else to finish the book, but was unsuccessful. In the meanwhile the time was fast approaching at which I had promised the appearance of the volume. I was accustomed to keep my engagements with the public, and in despair of finding any


one to undertake the task, I wrote the remaining quarter of the book myself. It was not an easy job, for it required not a little patience to make a connected story out of Father Hensen's jumbled and incoherent talk. However, I finished it, and the volume appeared at the time appointed, with an introduction by Mrs. Stowe."

  "Did the three parts of 'Father Hensen's Life' match?"

  "Wonderfully well. No one seemed to perceive that they were by diffent hands. And I never saw any comment which suggested any difference of style or treatment in different portions of the book."

  "How did you come to be the publisher of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin'?"

  "I suspect it was principally because I was a rabid anti-slavery man, although the fact that I had previously been the publisher of a book by Mr. Henry Ward Beecher may have had something to do with it. 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' as is well known, first appeared as a serial in the weekly paper of Washington called The National Era. After about one-half of the story had been published in the Era, Mrs. Stowe thought she might make a little something by having the tale appear in book form. She applied to several Boston publishers, but they were afraid to have anything to do with such a dangerous anti-slavery production. In such odium were the anti-slavery people in Boston at that time these publishers were not certain but that one result of publishing such a book might be to have their stores pulled down over their heads. Unsuccessful elsewhere, Mrs. Stowe and her husband came to me. My sentiments in regard to slavery were pretty well known in Boston, for I was one of the founders of the Anti-Slavery Society. I had already had my share of persecution for the pestilent doctrines I advocated, but I had survived the ill usage, and the anti-slavery aspect of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' so far from being a bugbear, was a recommendation to me. The only question with me then was whether the book would sell. My wife, who died a few years thereafter, and on the excellence of whose judgment I had frequent occasion to rely, had read the story as it had appeared in the Era. She had highly praised the portions she had read, and declared that 'Uncle Tom' would make a book that would sell largely. She had urged me to read the parts as they were published, but I had declined, preferring to wait and read the completed story. However, I now read the portion which had been printed and the remainder of the manuscript as far as it was written, for it had not yet been finished. After a careful examination I concluded that the story would not only repay the cost of publication in book form, but would yield some profit. Possibly I was helped to that conclusion by my firm conviction that the volume would prove a strong anti-slavery document. At all events, I expressed a willingness to publish it, and the next thing was to arrange the terms. Prof. Stowe was in favor of selling the manuscript for a sum down. 'I tell wife,' he said to me, 'that if she can get a good black silk dress or fifty dollars in money for the story she had better take it.'"

  "Do you believe that you could have bought the story for fifty dollars?"

  "I believe I could have bought it for twenty-five dollars. Prof. Stowe asked my opinion as to the advisability of selling the story. I told him I was not a competent advisor on that point, as my interest and his were antagonistic, but that if the story were mine I would not sell it. This advice was taken, and we set about considering what sort of an agreement we should make about the publication. Miss Catherine E. Beecher, the sister of Mrs. Stowe, had constituted herself the advisor of the Professor and his wife. A book by Miss Beecher had been issued by New York publishers under a contract that she was to have half the profits after payment of all expenses, which were to be borne by the publishers, and she had found that contract profitable. I always had a strong aversion to this style of agreement, having perceived that under it, whether a book is a profit or a loss, the author has no means of knowing whether the account of expenses is correct, and is therefore apt to suspect that he has been cheated by his publishers. I offered to pay ten per cent. on the retail price of every copy sold by me, the book to appear in two volumes at $1.50 for the two. Miss Beecher was very set in her ideas, and she opposed my plan with all her might. Before the matter was concluded she was obliged to go to the West. After her departure Prof. and Mrs. Stowe came again to see me. Tired of discussing the subject, I suggested to Prof. Stowe that I draw up two agreements, one after the plan of Miss Beecher, the other after my own plan, and that he submit them to three men


in whom he had confidence. This suggestion was agreed to. I drew the proposed agreements and he and Mrs. Stowe went away with them, saying they would consult Mr. Philip Greeley, then Collector of the Port of Boston and the brother of Prof. Stowe's first wife; Mr. Christopher Columbus Dean, the publisher of the Massachusetts Sunday School Union, and Mr. T. R. Marvin, at that time one of the leading publishers of Boston. The Professor and his wife were gone about two hours when they returned and said they had consulted the gentlemen named, all of whom were clearly of the opinion that my plan of publication was by all odds best for the interest of the author. We signed the agreement then and there, by which Prof. Stowe (married women had then in Massachusetts no right to separate property) was to receive ten per cent. on the retail price of every copy I sold. I had thus made an agreement which was something like buying a pig in a poke, for the conclusion of the story was not yet written. Mrs. Stowe afterward wrote in an office over my counting-room the concluding chapters, while the printers were setting up the first portions of the book."

  "Did you take extraordinary pains to make the book succeed?"

  "I did. I was bound to make it a success, both as an anti-slavery document and for the pecuniary profit to be got from it. I sent advertisements to the greater numbers of the Northern newspapers, with notices of the book written by myself. These notices generally appeared as editorial matter, although just as I had written them. Before a single copy of the book had been bound I had expended thousands of dollars for advertising—an enormous sum in those days to be spent in advertising a single book. I had then a special partner, and he came in one day to warn me privately that it was generally thought among my friends that I was losing my mind; that my anti-slavery sentiments had affected my reason, and I was throwing away a large sum of good money in insane advertising. I answered that I knew what I was about. And the result convinced the most incredulous that there was considerable method in my madness. So large were the orders for the book, that from the day I first began to print it the eight presses never stopped, day or night, save Sundays, for six months, and even then there were complaints that the volumes did not appear fast enough. In a little while I was able to inform Prof. and Mrs. Stowe that their percentage already amounted to $10,000, and, although my contract with them required me to give a note only, I would pay them that sum in cash."

  "How did they receive your information?"

  "They seemed a little dazed by the news. The sum was so vastly beyond anything they expected, or had theretofore possessed, that it appeared to them like a great fortune. When they called at my office I handed Prof. Stowe my check for $10,000, payable to his order. Neither the Professor nor Mrs. Stowe had ever before received a check, they told me, and they did not know what to do with it, or how to get the money it represented. I explained to the Professor that he must endorse the check and present it for payment. I advised him to deposit the money in the same bank. We went thither together. I introduced him to the President, and the Professor opened an account. After instructing him how to keep his check book and so on, and cautioning him and his wife never to go about with more than $5 in their pockets, I bade them good day, and they went their way rejoicing. When I gave them a second check for $10,000 I found they needed no further instruction."

  "How many copies of Uncle Tom did you publish?"

  "More than 320,000 sets of two volumes each were published in the first year. After that the demand fell off."

  "Do you know of any other book which has had such a circulation?"

  "Nothing approaching so many copies of any similar book has ever been printed. Of 'Helen's Babies' I have been told more than 400,000 copies have been published, but that was in size and cost a trifle compared with Uncle Tom."

  "Did Miss Catherine Beecher acknowledge the wisdom of your plan of publication?"

  "Not at all. After she returned from the West and found my plan of publication had been adopted she was very angry with me. Not even the great pecuniary success of the book convinced her. When she had once made up her mind she never changed it. And I dare say she went to her grave persuaded that I had robbed her sister of many thousands of dollars."

  "You said you published a book by Mr. Beecher before publishing Uncle Tom. What book was that?"


  "'Lectures to Young Men.' That book may be said to have been the cause of his being called to Brooklyn."

  "Please explain."

  "Before going into business in Boston I was a publisher in Cincinnati, which city I quitted for the benefit of my wife's health. On the eve of my departure from Cincinnati I was called upon by a publisher from Indianapolis, who told me that he had published a work entitled 'Lectures to Young Men,' of which he had been able to dispose of but a small number of copies, and he had stored away the unfolded sheets of 1,200 copies, which were dead on his hands. He added that the lectures had been delivered by a young clergyman of Indianapolis, of whom I had never heard, a son of old Dr. Lyman Beecher. My visitor urged me to either take the sheets to Boston and bind and sell them on commission or buy them outright. I said I would read the lectures the same evening. I did so, and found them full of fire and likely to sell. The result was that the next day I bought the sheets of the 1,200 copies. I took them to Boston, and, with some pushing, the book sold rapidly, and attracted attention. Persons came to me to inquire about the author. I told them that I knew nothing about him, save that he was the son of old Dr. Lyman Beecher, but I had been told that he spoke even better than he wrote. One of the persons to whom I made this answer was a clergyman—whose name I have forgotten—who was one of the principal managers of the May meetings in New York and Boston. 'Let us have Mr. Beecher on in May,' said my clerical friend, and Mr. Beecher was accordingly invited. He came, spoke, and conquered, proving the leading attraction at all the May meetings that year, both in New York and Boston. As a result, he was immediately offered the charge of the Plymouth congregation in Brooklyn."