CHAPTER V [Extract]
Upon her way to Brunswick she stopped, as we have said, at the house of her brother in Boston, Dr. Edward Beecher. Daniel Webster's seventh of March speech was still ringing in the ears of the People. The hated Compromise had been defended by their idol, and he was cast into the dust. "Ichabod," Whittier cried, "so fallen, so lost! 'When honor dies the man is dead.'"
The hearts of men were aflame at the Fugitive Slave Act, which was then being debated and finally passed by the Congress of that year. The conversation turned upon this topic, and heart-rending scenes were described of families broken up, men frozen by flight in winter through rivers and pathless forests on their way to Canada. After Mrs. Stowe reached Brunswick Mrs. Edward Beecher wrote to her sister: "Hattie, if I could use a pen as you can, I would write something to make this whole nation feel what an accursed thing slavery is."
One of Mrs. Stowe's children remembers well the scene in the little parlor in Brunswick when the letter alluded to was received. Mrs. Stowe herself read it aloud to the assembled family, and when she came to the passage, "I would write something that would make this whole nation feel what all accursed thing slavery is," Mrs. Stowe rose up from her chair, crushing the letter in her hand, and with an expression on her face that stamped itself on the mind of her child, said: "I will write something. I will if I live."
In December, Mrs. Stowe sent a message to her sister: "Tell Katy I thank her for her letter and will answer it. As long as the baby sleeps with me nights I can't do much at anything, but I will do it at last. I will write that thing if I live.
"What are folks in general saying about the slave law,
and the stand taken by Boston ministers universally, except Edward?
"To me it is incredible, amazing, mournful!! I feel as if I should be willing to sink with it, were all this sin and misery to sink in the sea. . . . I wish father would come on to Boston, and preach on the Fugitive Slave Law, as he once preached on the slave-trade, when I was a little girl in Litchfield. I sobbed aloud in one pew and Mrs. Judge Reeves in another. I wish some Martin Luther would arise to set this community right."
She also writes to Professor Stowe at Christmas time and cheers him up by telling him of stories she had been writing for the "Era," and other papers, in which he figures as a farmer, the facts being drawn from life!! But the New Year had not arrived when she records days of terrible cold, which made it almost impossible to hold a pen.
December 29. "We have had terrible weather here. I remember such a storm when I was a child in Litchfield. Father and mother went to Warren, and were almost lost in the snowdrifts.
Sunday night I rather watched than slept. The wind howled, and the
house rocked just as our old Litchfield house used to. The cold has
been so intense that the children have kept begging to get up from
table at mealtimes to warm feet and fingers. Our air-tight stoves warm
all but the floor,—heat your head and keep your feet freezing. If I
sit by the open fire in the parlor my back freezes; if I sit in my
bedroom and try to write my head aches, and my feet are cold. I am
projecting a sketch for the 'Era' on the capabilities of liberated
blacks to take care of themselves. Can't you find out for me how much
Willie Watson has paid for the redemption of his friends, and get any
items in figures of that kind that you can pick up in Cincinnati? . .
. When I have a headache and feel
sick, as I do to-day, there is actually not a place in the house where I can lie down and take a nap without being disturbed. Overhead is the school-room, next door is the dining-room, and the girls practice there two hours a day. If I lock my door and lie down, some one is sure to be rattling the latch before fifteen minutes have passed. . . . There is no doubt in my mind that our expenses this year will come two hundred dollars, if not three, 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 call earn four hundred dollars 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.
* * * * *
"Ever since we left Cincinnati to come here the good hand of God has been visibly guiding our way. Through what difficulties have we been brought! Though we knew not where means were to come from, yet means have been furnished every step of the way, and in every time of need. I was just in some discouragement with regard to my writing; thinking that the editor of the 'Era ' was overstocked with contributors, and would not want my services another year, and lo! he sends me one hundred dollars, and ever so many good words with it. Our income this year will be seventeen hundred dollars in all, and I hope to bring our expenses within thirteen hundred."
Twenty-five years afterwards Mrs. Stowe wrote to her son Charles of
this period of her life: "I well remember the winter you were a baby
and I was writing 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' My heart was bursting with the
anguish excited by the cruelty and injustice our nation was showing to
the slave, and praying God to let me do a little,
and to cause my cry for them to be heard. I remember many a night weeping over you as you lay sleeping beside me, and I thought of the slave mothers whose babes were torn from them."
In April the first chapter of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was dispatched to Dr. Gamaliel Bailey, the editor of the "National Era" in Washington. In July, Mrs. Stowe wrote as follows:
BRUNSWICK, July 9, 1851.
FREDERICK DOUGLASS, ESQ.:
Sir,—You may perhaps have noticed in your editorial readings a series of articles that I am furnishing for the "Era" under the title of "Uncle Tom's Cabin, or Life among the Lowly."
In the course of my story the scene will fall upon a cotton plantation. I am very desirous, therefore, to gain information from one who has been an actual laborer on one, and it occurred to me that in the circle of your acquaintance there might be one who would be able to communicate to me some such information as I desire. I have before me an able paper written by a Southern planter, in which the details and modus operandi are given from his point of sight. I am anxious to have something more from another standpoint. I wish to be able to make a picture that shall be graphic and true to nature in its details. Such a person as Henry Bibb, if in the country, might give the just the kind of information I desire. You may possibly know of some other person. I will subjoin to this letter a list of questions, which in that case you will do me a favor by inclosing to the individual, with the request that he will at earliest convenience answer them.
For some few weeks past I have received your paper through the mail,
and have read it with great interest,
and desire to return my acknowledgments for it. It will be a pleasure to me at some time when less occupied to contribute something to its columns. I have noticed with regret your sentiments on two subjects,—the church and African colonization. . . . with the more regret because I think you have a considerable share of reason for your feelings on both these subjects; but I would willingly, if I could, modify your views on both points.
In the first place you say the church is "pro-slavery." There is a
sense in which this may be true. The American church of all
denominations, taken as a body, comprises the best and most
conscientious people in the country. I do not say it comprises none
but these, or that none such are found out of it, but only if a census
were taken of the purest and most high-principled men and women of the
country, the majority of them would be found to be professors of
religion in some of the various Christian denominations. This fact has
given to the church great weight in this country,—the general and
predominant spirit of intelligence and probity and piety of its
majority has given it that degree of weight that it has the power to
decide the great moral questions of the day. Whatever it unitedly and
decidedly sets itself against as moral evil it can put down. In this
sense the church is responsible for the sin of slavery. Dr. Barnes has
beautifully and briefly expressed this on the last page of his work on
slavery, when he says: "Not all the force out of the church could
sustain slavery an hour if it were not sustained in it." It then
appears that the church has the power to put an end to this evil and
does not do it. In this sense she may be said to be pro-slavery. But
the church has the same power over intemperance, and Sabbath-breaking,
and sin of all kinds. There is not a doubt that if the moral power of
the church were brought up to the New Testament standpoint it is
sufficient to put an
end to all these as well as to slavery. But I would ask you, Would you consider it a fair representation of the Christian church in this country to say that it is pro-intemperance, pro-Sabbath-breaking, and pro everything that it might put down if it were in a higher state of moral feeling? If you should make a list of all the abolitionists of the country, I think that you would find a majority of them in the church,—certainly some of the most influential and efficient ones are ministers.
I am a minister's daughter, and a minister's wife, and I have had six brothers in the ministry (one is in heaven); I certainly ought to know something of the feelings of ministers on this subject. I was a child in 1820 when the Missouri question was agitated, and one of the strongest and deepest impressions on my mind was that made by my father's sermons and prayers, and the anguish of his soul for the poor slave at that time. I remember his preaching drawing tears down the hardest faces of the old farmers in his congregation.
I well remember his prayers morning and evening in the family for
"poor, oppressed, bleeding Africa," that the time of her deliverance
might come; prayers offered with strong crying and tears, and which
indelibly impressed my heart and made me what I am from my very soul,
the enemy of all slavery. Every brother I have has been in his sphere
a leading anti-slavery man. One of them was to the last the bosom
friend and counselor of Lovejoy. As for myself and husband, we have
for the last seventeen years lived on the border of a slave State, and
we have never shrunk from the fugitives, and we have helped them with
all we had to give. I have received the children of liberated slaves
into a family school, and taught them with my own children, and it has
been the influence that we found in the church and by the altar that
has made us do all this. Gather up all the sermons that have been pub-
lished on this offensive and unchristian Fugitive Slave Law, and you will find that those against it are numerically more than those in its favor, and yet some of the strongest opponents have not published their sermons. Out of thirteen ministers who meet with my husband weekly for discussion of moral subjects, only three are found who will acknowledge or obey this law in any shape.
After all, my brother, the strength and hope of your oppressed race does lie in the church,—in hearts united to Him of whom it is said, "He shall spare the souls of the needy, and precious shall their blood be in his sight." Everything is against you, but Jesus Christ is for you, and he has not forgotten his church, misguided and erring though it be. I have looked all the field over with despairing eyes; I see no hope but in him. This movement must and will become a purely religious one. The light will spread in churches, the tone of feeling will rise, Christians North and South will give up all connection with, and take up their testimony against, slavery, and thus the work will be done.
The great story was at last finished in " The National Era," April, 1852. She had put her life-blood, her prayers, and her tears into the work—yet she had no reason to know that her labors were to find response in the world.
"After sending the last proof-sheet to the office," she says, "I sat
alone reading Horace Mann's eloquent plea for the young men and women,
then about to be consigned to the slave warehouse of Bruin & Hill in
Alexandria, Virginia,—a plea impassioned, eloquent, but vain, as all
other pleas on that side had ever proved in all courts hitherto. It
seemed that there was no hope, that nobody would hear, nobody would
read, nobody pity—that this frightful system, that had already
pursued its victims
into the free States, might at last even threaten them in Canada."
She began to reflect if she had done all in her power, and sitting down again at her desk, she wrote letters to Prince Albert, to the Duke of Argyll, to the Earls of Carlisle and Shaftesbury, to Macaulay, Dickens, and others whom she knew to be interested in the cause of anti-slavery. These she ordered to be sent to their several addresses, accompanied by the very earliest copies of her book that should be printed.
Very soon she was assured of the success of her sketches in book form. The whole year's work in "The National Era " brought her only three hundred dollars; but Mr. Jewett, a Boston publisher, having offered to bring it out immediately in one volume, three thousand copies were sold the first day of publication.
She began to reflect how the subject had lain dormant in her mind since she was a child, how she had been led step by step to do her work, and a sense of detachment grew upon her daily.
The modesty of Mrs. Stowe's demeanor throughout the altogether
extraordinary experience which came to her after the publication of
"Uncle Tom's Cabin" is to be understood only by looking upon her life
from her own standpoint. She was pursued by the thought that the
freedom of the slaves was not yet accomplished, and although the
hearts of good men were hot with desire to achieve this end, no one
could see how the great result was to be won. She had done something,
she said to herself; God had stirred the hearts of men through her,
but what more could be done! This was her constant cry, her ever
present thought. Letters of congratulation poured in upon her and were
gratefully received. The well known men and women, both of Europe and
America, responded to her appeal, and she was entirely spent, and
could not see the
way. Soon after the appearance of her book, she felt the need of change, and left home, going to stop for a while with her brother Henry, where she could rest, and it the same time watch the progress of events. She soon. wrote to her husband:—
"The mother of the Edmondson girls [two slave girls formerly redeemed by the Plymouth Church at the instance of Henry Ward Beecher], now aged and feeble, is in the city. I did not actually know when I wrote 'Uncle Tom' of a living example in which Christianity had reached its fullest development under the crushing wrongs of slavery, but in this woman I see it. I never knew before what I could feel till, with her sorrowful, patient eyes upon me, she told me her history and begged my aid. The expression of her face as she spoke, and the depth of patient sorrow in her eyes, was beyond anything I ever saw.
"'Well,' said I, when she had finished, 'set your heart at rest; you and your children shall be redeemed. If I can't raise the money otherwise, I will pay it myself.' You should have seen the wonderfully sweet, solemn look she gave me as she said, 'The Lord bless you, my child!'
"I have received a sweet note from Jenny Lind, with her name and her husband's with which to head my subscription list. They give a hundred dollars. Another hundred is subscribed by Mr. Bowen in his wife's name, and I have put my own name down for an equal amount. A lady has given me twenty-five dollars, and Mr. Storrs has pledged me fifty dollars. Milly and I are to meet the ladies of Henry's and Dr. Cox's churches to-morrow, and she is to tell them her story. I have written to Drs. Bacon and Dutton in New Haven to secure a similar meeting of ladies there. I mean to have one in Boston, and another in Portland. It will do good to the givers as well as to the receivers.
"But all this time I have been so longing to get your
letter from New Haven, for I heard it was there. It is not fame nor praise that contents me. I seem never to have needed love so much as now. I long to hear you say how much you love me. Dear one, if this effort impedes my journey home, and wastes some of my strength, you will not murmur. When I see this Christlike soul standing so patiently bleeding, yet forgiving, I feel a sacred call to be the helper of the helpless, and it is better that my own family do without me for a while longer than that this mother lose all. I must redeem her.
"New Haven, June 2. My old woman's case progresses gloriously. I am to see the ladies of this place to-morrow. Four hundred dollars were contributed by individuals in Brooklyn, and the ladies who took subscription papers at the meeting will undoubtedly raise two hundred dollars more."
Before leaving New York, Mrs. Stowe gave Milly Edmondson her check for the entire sum necessary to purchase her own freedom and that of her children, and sent her home rejoicing. That this sum was made up to her by the generous contributions of those to whom she appealed is shown by a note written to her husband in July. She says:
"Had a very kind note from A. Lawrence inclosing a twenty dollar gold piece for the Edmondsons. Isabella's ladies gave me twenty-five dollars, so you see our check is more than paid already."
Although during her visit in New York, Mrs. Stowe made many new friends, and was overwhelmed with congratulations and praise of her book, the most pleasing incident of this time seems to have been an epistolatory interview with Jenny Lind (Goldschmidt). In writing of it to her husband she says:
" Well, we have heard Jenny Lind, and the affair was a bewildering
dream of sweetness and beauty. Her face
and movements are full of poetry and feeling. She has the artless grace of a little child, the poetic effect of a wood-nymph, is airy, light, and graceful.
"We had first-rate seats, and how do you think we got them? When Mr. Howard went early in the morning for tickets, Mr. Goldschmidt told him it was impossible to get any good ones, as they were all sold. Mr. Howard said he regretted that, on Mrs. Stowe's account, as she was very desirous of hearing Jenny Lind. 'Mrs. Stowe!' exclaimed Mr. Goldschmidt, 'the author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin"? Indeed, she shall have a seat, whatever happens!" Thereupon he took his hat and went out, returning shortly with tickets for two of the best seats in the house, inclosed in an envelope directed to me in his wife's hand-writing. To-day I sent a note of acknowledgment with a copy of my book. I am most happy to have seen her, for she is a noble creature."
In the "History of the United States " by Mr. J. F. Rhodes there
is a brief critical review of Mrs. Stowe's work which may be received
as the ultimate view of posterity. The historian says: " There was a
correct picture of the essential features of slavery in 'Uncle Tom's
Cabin,' the book which everybody read. The author of it had but one
purpose, to show the institution of slavery truly just as it existed.
While she had not the facts which a critical historian would have
collected,—for the 'Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin' was not compiled until
after the novel was written,—she used with the intuition of genius
the materials gained through personal observation, and the result was
what she desired." Again he continues: "One of the finest touches in
'Uncle Tom' is his joyful expression when told by his good and
indulgent master that he should be set free and sent back to his old
home in Kentucky. In attributing the common desire of human-
ity to the negro, the author was as true as she was effective.
A perfect history of the writing of "Uncle Tom" and of the effect produced by its appearance is given by Mrs. Stowe in the form of an introduction to the illustrated edition published many years later. We cannot do better than to repeat exactly this eloquent story of her success. The account she gives is unvarnished and unexaggerated. We can study in this paper the wonderful change which has taken place in her style when we compare these pages with her early letters.
"The author of 'Uncle Tom' had for many years lived in Ohio on the confines of a slave State, and had thus been made familiar with facts and occurrences in relation to the institutions of American slavery. Some of the most harrowing incidents related in the story had from time to time come to her knowledge in conversation with former slaves now free in Ohio. The cruel sale and separation of a married woman from her husband, narrated in Chapter XII., 'Select Incident of Lawful Trade,' had passed under her own eye while passenger on a steamboat on the Ohio River. Her husband and brother had once been obliged to flee with a fugitive slave woman by night, as described in Chapter IX., and she herself had been called to write the letters for a former slave woman, servant in her own family, to a slave husband in Kentucky, who, trusted with unlimited liberty, free to come and go on business between Kentucky and Ohio, still refused to break his pledge of honor to his master, though that master from year to year deferred the keeping of his promise of freedom to the slave. It was the simple honor and loyalty of this Christian black man, who remained in slavery rather than violate a trust, that first impressed her with the possibility of such a character as, years after, was delineated in Uncle Tom.
"From time to time incidents were brought to her knowledge which deepened her horror of slavery. In her own family she had a private school for her children, and as there was no provision for the education of colored children in her vicinity, she allowed them the privilege of attending. One day she was suddenly surprised by a visit from the mother of one of the brightest and most amusing of these children. It appeared that the child had never been emancipated, and was one of the assets of an estate in Kentucky, and had been seized and carried off by one of the executors, and was to be sold by the sheriff at auction to settle the estate. The sum for the little one's ransom was made up by subscription in the neighborhood, but the incident left a deep mark in Mrs. Stowe's mind as to the practical workings of the institution of slavery.
"But it was not for many years that she felt any call to make use of the materials thus accumulating. In fact, it was a sort of general impression upon her mind, as upon that of many humane people in those days, that the subject was so dark and painful a one, so involved in difficulty and obscurity, so utterly beyond human hope or help, that it was of no use to read, or think, or distress one's self about it. There was a class of professed abolitionists in Cincinnati and the neighboring regions, but they were unfashionable persons and few in number. Like all asserters of pure abstract right as applied to human affairs, they were regarded as a species of moral monomaniacs, who, in the consideration of one class of interests and wrongs, had lost sight of all proportion and all good judgment. Both in church and in state they were looked upon as 'those that troubled Israel.'
"It was a general saying among conservative and sagacious people
that this subject was a dangerous one to investigate, and that nobody
could begin to read or think upon it without becoming practically
that it was a subject of such delicacy that no discussion of it could be held in the free States without impinging upon the sensibilities of the slave States, to whom alone the management of the matter belonged.
"So when Dr. Bailey—a wise, temperate, and just man, a model of courtesy in speech and writing—came to Cincinnati and set up an anti-slavery paper, proposing a fair discussion of the subject, there was an immediate excitement. On two occasions a mob led by slave-holders from Kentucky attacked his office, destroyed his printing- press, and threw his types into the Ohio River. The most of the Cincinnati respectability, in church and state, contented themselves on this occasion with reprobating the imprudence of Dr. Bailey in thus 'arousing the passions of our fellow-citizens of Kentucky.' In these mobs and riots the free colored people were threatened, maltreated, abused, and often had to flee for their lives. Even the servants of good families were often chased to the houses of their employers, who rescued them with difficulty; and the story was current in those days of a brave little woman, who defended her black waiter, standing, pistol in hand, on her own doorstep, and telling the mob to face that they should not enter except over her dead body.
"Professor Stowe's house was more than once a refuge for
frightened fugitives on whom the very terrors of death had fallen, and
the inmates slept with arms in the house and a large bell ready to
call the young men of the adjoining Institution, in case the mob
should come up to search the house. Nor was this a vain or improbable
suggestion, for the mob in their bury had more than once threatened to
go up and set fire to Lane Seminary, where a large body of the
students were known to be abolitionists. Only the fact that the
Institution was two miles from the city, with a rough and muddy road
up a long high hill, proved its
salvation. Cincinnati mud, far known for its depth and tenacity, had sometimes its advantages.
"The general policy of the leaders of society, in cases of such disturbances, was after the good old pattern in Judea, where a higher One had appeared, who disturbed the traders in swine; 'they besought him that he would depart out of their coasts.' Dr. Bailey at last was induced to remove his paper to Washington, and to conduct his investigation under the protection of the national Capitol,—and there for years he demonstrated the fact that the truth may be spoken plainly yet courteously, and with all honorable and Christian fairness, on the most exciting of subjects. In justice to the South it must be said, that his honesty, courage, and dignity of character won for him friends even among the most determined slave-holders. Manly men have a sort of friendship for an open, honest opponent, like that of Richard Coeur de Lion for Saladin.
"Far otherwise was the fate of Lovejoy, who assayed an
anti-slavery paper at Alton, Illinois. A mob from Missouri besieged
the office, set the house on fire, and shot him at the door. It was
for some days reported that Dr. Beecher's son, Rev. Edward Beecher,
known to have been associated with Lovejoy at this period, had been
killed at the same time. Such remembrances show how well grounded
were the fears which attended every effort to agitate this subject.
People who took the side of justice and humanity in those days had to
count the cost and pay the price of their devotion. In those times,
when John G. Fee, a young Kentucky student in Lane Seminary, liberated
his slaves, and undertook to preach the gospel of emancipation in
Kentucky, he was chased from the State, and disinherited by his own
father. Berea College, for the education of colored and white, stands
to-day a triumphant monument of his persistence in well-doing. Mr.
Van Zandt, a Kentucky farmer, set free his slaves and
came over and bought a farm in Ohio. Subsequently, from an impulse to humanity, he received and protected fugitive slaves in the manner narrated in Chapter IX. Of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' For this he was seized, imprisoned, his property attached, and he was threatened with utter ruin. Salmon P. Chase, then a rising young lawyer in Cincinnati, had the bravery to appear as his lawyer. As he was leaving the court-room, after making his plea, one of the judges remarked, 'There goes a young man who was ruined himself to-day,' and the sentiment was echoed by the general voice of society. The case went against Van Zandt, and Mr. Chase carried it up to the Supreme Court of the United States, which, utterly ignoring argument and justice, decided it against him. But a few years more, and Salmon P. Chase was himself Chief Justice of the United States. It was one of those rare dramatic instances in which courage and justice sometimes bring a reward even in this life.
"After many years' residence in Ohio, Mrs. Stowe returned to make her abode in New England, just in the height of the excitement produced by the Fugitive Slave Law. Settled in Brunswick, Maine, she was in constant communication with friends in Boston, who wrote to her from day to day of the terror and despair which that law had occasioned to industrious, worthy colored people who had from time to time escaped to Boston, and were living in peace and security. She heard of families broken up and fleeing in the dead of winter to the frozen shores of Canada. But what seemed to her more inexplicable, more dreadful, was the apparent apathy of the Christian world of the free North to these proceedings. The pulpits that denounced them were exceptions; the voices raised to remonstrate were few and far between.
"In New England, as at the West, professed abolitionists were a
small, despised, unfashionable band, whose
constant remonstrances from year to year had been disregarded as the voices of impracticable fanatics. It seemed now as if the system once confined to the South States were rousing itself to new efforts to extend itself all over the North, and to overgrow the institutions of free society.
"With astonishment and distress Mrs. Stowe heard on all sides, from humane and Christian people, that the slavery of the blacks was a guaranteed constitutional right, and that all opposition to it endangered the national Union. With this conviction she saw that even earnest and tender- hearted Christian people seemed to feel it a duty to close their eyes, ears, and hearts to the harrowing details of slavery, to put down all discussion of the subject, and even to assist slave- owners to recover fugitives in Northern States. She said to herself, These people cannot know what slavery is; they do not see what they are defending; and hence arose a purpose to write some sketches which should show to the world slavery as she had herself seen it. Pondering this subject, she was one day turning over a little bound volume of an anti-slavery magazine, edited by Mrs. Dr. Bailey, of Washington, and there she read the account of the escape of a woman with her child on the ice of the Ohio River from Kentucky. The incident was given by an eye-witness, one who had helped the woman to the Ohio shore. This formed the first salient point of the story. She began to meditate. The faithful slave husband in Kentucky occurred to her as a pattern of Uncle Tom, and the scenes of the story began gradually to form themselves in her mind.
"The first part of the book ever committed to writing was the
death of Uncle Tom. This scene presented itself almost as a tangible
vision to her mind while sitting at the communion-table in the little
church in Brunswick. She was perfectly overcome by it, and could
scarcely restrain the convulsion of tears and sobbings that shook her
She hastened home and wrote it, and her husband being away she read it to her two sons of ten and twelve years of age. The little fellows broke out into convulsions of weeping, one of them saying, through his sobs, 'Oh! mamma, slavery is the most cursed thing in the world!' From that time the story can less be said to have been composed by her than imposed upon her. Scenes, incidents, conversations rushed upon her with a vividness and importunity that would not be denied. The book insisted upon getting itself into being, and would take no denial. After the two or three first chapters were written, she wrote to Dr. Bailey of the 'National Era' that she was planning a story that might possibly run through several numbers of the 'Era.' In reply she received an instant application for it, and began immediately to send off weekly installments. She was then in the midst of heavy domestic cares, with a young infant, with a party of pupils in her family to whom she was imparting daily lessons with her own children, and with untrained servants requiring constant supervision, but the story was so much more intense a reality to her than any other earthly thing that the weekly installment never failed. It was there in her mind day and night waiting to be written, and requiring but a few moments to bring it into visible characters.
"The weekly number was always read to the family circle before it was sent away, and all the household kept up an intense interest in the progress of the story.
"As the narrative appeared in the Era, sympathetic words began to come to her from old workers who had long been struggling in the anti-slavery cause. She visited Boston, went to the Anti-Slavery Rooms, and reinforced her repertoire of facts by such documents as Theodore D. Weld's 'Slavery as It Is,' the Lives of Josiah Henson and Lewis Clarke, particulars from both whose lives were inwoven with the story in the characters of Uncle Tom and George Harris.
"In shaping her material the author had but one purpose, to show the institution of slavery truly, just as it existed. She had visited in Kentucky, had formed the acquaintance of people who were just, upright, and generous, and yet slave-holders. She had heard their views and appreciated their situation; she felt that justice required that their difficulties should be recognized and their virtues acknowledged. It was her object to show that the evils of slavery were the inherent evils of a bad system, and not always the fault of those who had become involved in it and were its actual administrators.
"Then she was convinced that the presentation of slavery alone, in
its most dreadful forms, would be a picture of such unrelieved horror
and darkness as nobody could be induced to look at. Of set purpose,
she sought to light up the darkness by humorous and grotesque
episodes, and the presentation of the milder and more amusing phases
of slavery, for which her recollection of the never-failing wit and
drollery of her former colored friends in Ohio gave her abundant
material. As the story progressed, a young publisher, J. P. Jewett,
of Boston, set his eye upon it, and made overtures for the publication
of it in book form, to which she consented. After a while she had a
letter from him expressing his fears that she was making the story too
long for a one-volume publication. He reminded her that it was an
unpopular subject, and that people would not willingly hear much about
it; that one short volume might possibly sell, but if it grew to two
it might prove a fatal obstacle to its success. Mrs. Stowe replied
that she did not make the story, that the story made itself, and that
she could not stop it till it was done. The feeling that pursued her
increased in intensity to the last, till with the death of Uncle Tom
it seemed as if the whole vital force had left her. A feeling of
profound discouragement came over her. Would anybody read it? Would
anybody listen? Would this appeal, into which she had put her heart, soul, mind, and strength, which she had written with her heart's blood,—would it, too, go for nothing, as so many prayers and groans and entreaties of these poor suffering souls had already gone? There had just been a party of slaves who had been seized and thrown into prison in Washington for a vain effort to escape. They were, many of them, partially educated, cultivated young men and women, to whom slavery was intolerable. When they were retaken and marched through the streets of Washington, followed by a jeering crowd, one of them, named Emily Edmundson, answered one man who cried shame upon her, that she was not ashamed,—that she was proud that she and all the rest of them had made an effort for liberty! It was the sentiment of a heroine, but she and her sisters were condemned no less to the auction-block.
"'Uncle Tom's Cabin' was published March 20, 1852. The despondency of the author as to the question whether anybody would read or attend to her appeal was soon dispelled. Ten thousand copies were sold in a few days, and over three hundred thousand within a year, and eight power-presses, running day and night, were barely able to keep pace with the demand for it. It was read everywhere, apparently, and by everybody, and she soon began to hear echoes of sympathy all over the land. The indignation, the pity, the distress, that had long weighed upon her soul seemed to pass off from her, and into the readers of the book.
"The following note from a lady, an intimate friend, was a specimen of many which the post daily brought her:—
MRS. STOWE,—I sat up last night until
long after one o'clock, reading and finishing "Uncle Tom's Cabin." I
could not leave it any more than I could have
left a dying child; nor could I restrain an almost hysterical sobbing for an hour after I laid my head upon my pillow. I thought I was a thoroughgoing abolitionist before, but your book has awakened so strong a feeling of indignation and of compassion, that I seem never to have had any feeling on this subject till now. But what can we do? Alas! alas! what can we do? This storm of feeling has been raging, burning like a very fire in my bones all the livelong night, and, and through all my duties this morning it haunts me,—I cannot away with it. Gladly would I have gone out in the midnight storm last night, and, like the blessed martyr of old, been stoned to death, if that could have rescued these oppressed and afflicted ones. But that would avail nothing. And now what am I doing? Just the most foolish thing in the world. Writing to you, who need no incitement; to you, who have spun from your very vitals this tissue of agony and truths; for I know, I feel, that there are burning drops of your heart's best blood here concentrated. To you, who need no encouragement or sympathy of mine, and whom I would not insult by praise,—oh, no, you stand on too high an eminence for praise; but methinks I see the prayers of the poor, the blessings of those who are ready to perish, gathering in clouds about you, and forming a halo round your beloved head. And surely the tears of gentle, sympathizing childhood, that are dropping about many a Christian hearthstone over the wrongs and cruelties depicted by you so touchingly, will water the sod, and spring up in bright flowers at your feet. And better still, I know,—I see, in the flushing cheek, the clenched hand, and indignant eye of the young man, as he dashes down the book and paces the room to hide the tears that he is too proud to show, too powerless to restrain, that you are sowing seed which shall yet spring up to the glory of God, to the good of the poor slave, to the enfranchisement of our beloved through guilty country.'
"In one respect, Mrs. Stowe's expectations were strikingly different from fact. She had painted slave-holders as amiable, generous, and just. She had shown examples among them of the noblest and most beautiful traits of character; had admitted fully their temptations, their perplexities, and their difficulties, so that a friend of hers who had many relatives in the South wrote to her in exultation: 'Your book is going to be the great pacificator; it will unite both North and South.' Her expectation was that the professed abolitionists would denounce it as altogether too mild in its dealings with slave-holders. To her astonishment, it was the extreme abolitionists who received, and the entire South who rose up against it.
The most valuable of the letters referred to were from Lord Carlisle, the Rev. Charles Kingsley, the Earl of Shaftesbury, Archbishop Whately, Hon. Arthur Helps, Frederika Bremer, and George Sand. The latter thus introduced 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' to the literary world of France:—
To review a book, the very morrow after its appearance, in the very journal where it has just been published, is doubtless contrary to usage, but in this case it is the most disinterested homage that can be rendered, since the immense success attained by this work at its publication does not need to be set forth.
This book is in all hands, and in all journals. It has, and will have, editions in every form; people devour it, they cover it with tears. It is no longer permissible to those who can read not to have read it, and one mourns that there are so many souls condemned never to read it,—helots of poverty, slaves through ignorance, for whom society has been unable as yet to solve the double problem of uniting the food of the body with the food of the soul.
It is not, then, it cannot be, an officious and needless
task to review this book of Mrs. Stowe. We repeat, it is a homage, and never did a generous and pure work merit one more tender and spontaneous. She is far from us; we do not know her who has penetrated our hearts with emotions so sad and yet so sweet. Let us thank her the more. Let the gentle voice of woman, the generous voice of man, with the voices of little children, so adorably glorified in this book, and those of the oppressed of this old world, let them cross the seas and hasten to say to her that she is esteemed and beloved!
If the best eulogy that one can make of the author is to love her, the truest that one can make of the book is to love its very faults. It has faults,—we need not pass them in silence, we need not evade the discussion of them,—but you need not be disturbed about them, you who are rallied on the tears you have shed over the fortunes of the poor victims in a narrative so simple and true.
These defects exist only in relation to the conventional rules of art, which never have been and never will be absolute. If its judges, possessed with the love of what they call 'artistic work,' find unskillful treatment in the book, look well at them to see if their eyes are dry when they are reading this or that chapter.
They will recall to your mind that Ohio senator, who, having sagely demonstrated to his little wife that it is a political duty to refuse asylum and help to the fugitive slave, ends by taking two in his own carriage, in a dark night, over fearful roads, where he must from time to time plunge into mud to his waist to push on the vehicle. This charming episode in "Uncle Tom" (a digression, if you will) paints well the situation of most men placed between their prejudices and established modes of thought and the spontaneous and generous intuitions of their hearts.
It is the history, at the same time affecting and pleasing, of many independent critics. Whatever they may be in the matter of social or literary questions, those who pretend to judge always by strict rules are often vanquished by their own feelings, and sometimes vanquished when unwilling to avow it.
I have always been charmed by the anecdote of Voltaire, ridiculing and despising the fables of La Fontaine, seizing the book and saying, "Look here, now, you will see in the very first one"—he reads one. "Well, that is passable, but see how stupid this is!"—he reads a second, and finds after all that it is quite pretty; a third disarms him again, and at last he throws down the volume, saying, with ingenuous spite, "It's nothing but a collection of masterpieces." Great souls may be bilious and vindictive, but it is impossible for them to remain unjust and insensible.
It, however, should be said to people of culture, who profess to be able to give correct judgments, that if their culture is of the truest kind it will never resist a just and right emotion. Therefore it is that this book, defective according to the rules of the modern French romance, intensely interests everybody and triumphs over all criticisms in the discussions it causes in domestic circles.
For this book is essentially domestic and of the family,—this book, with its long discussions, its minute details, its portraits carefully studied. Mothers of families, young girls, little children, servants even, can read and understand them, and men themselves, even the most superior, cannot disdain them. We do not say that the success of the book is because its great merits redeem its faults; we say its success is because of these very alleged faults.
For a long time we have striven in France against the prolix
explanations of Walter Scott. We have cried out against those of
Balzac, but on consideration have perceived that the painter of
manners and character has never done too much, that every stroke of
the pencil was needed for the general effect. Let us learn then to
kinds of treatment, when the effect is good, and when they bear the seal of a master hand.
Mrs. Stowe is all instinct; it is the very reason that she appears to some not to have talent. Has she not talent? What is talent? Nothing, doubtless, compared to genius; but has she genius? I cannot say that she has talent as one understands it in the world of letters, but she has genius, as humanity feels the need of genius,—the genius of goodness, not that of the man of letters, but of the saint. Yes,—a saint! Thrice holy the soul which thus loves, blesses, and consoles the martyrs. Pure, penetrating, and profound the spirit which thus fathoms the recesses of the human soul. Noble, generous, and great the heart which embraces in her pity, in her love, an entire race, trodden down in blood and mire under the whip of ruffians and the maledictions of the impious.
Thus should it be, thus should we value things ourselves. We should feel that genius is heart, that power is faith, that talent is sincerity, and, finally, success is sympathy, since this book overcomes us, since it penetrates the breast, pervades the spirit, and fills us with a strange sentiment of mingled tenderness and admiration for a poor negro lacerated by blows, prostrate in the dust, there gasping on a miserable pallet, his last sigh exhaled towards God.
In matters of art there is but one rule, to paint and to move. And where shall we find creations more complete, types more vivid, situations more touching, more original, than in "Uncle Tom,"—those beautiful relations of the slave with the child of his master, indicating a state of things unknown among us; the protest of the master himself against slavery during that innocent part of life when his soul belongs to God alone? Afterwards, when society takes him, the law chases away God, and interest deposes conscience. In coming to mature years the infant ceases to be man and becomes master. God dies in his soul.
What hand has ever drawn a type more fascinating and admirable than St. Clare,—this exceptional nature, noble, generous, and loving, but too soft and too nonchalant to be really great? Is it not man himself, human nature itself, with its innate virtues, its good aspirations, and its deplorable failures?—this charming master who loves and is beloved, who thinks and reasons, but concludes nothing and does nothing! He spends in his day treasures of indulgence, of consideration, of goodness; he dies without having accomplished anything. The story of his precious life is all told in a word—"to aspire and to regret." He has never learned to will. Alas! is there not something of this even among the bravest and best of men?
The life and death of a little child and of a negro slave!—that is the whole book! This negro and this child are two saints of heaven! The affection that unites them, the respect of these two perfect ones for each other, is the only love-story, the only passion of the drama. I know not what other genius but that of sanctity itself could shed over this affection and this situation a charm so powerful and so sustained. The child reading the Bible on the knees of the slave, dreaming over its mysteries and enjoying them in her exceptional maturity; now covering him with flowers like a doll, and now looking to him as something sacred, passing from tender playfulness to tender veneration, and then fading away through a mysterious malady which seems to be nothing but the wearing of pity in a nature too pure, too divine, to accept earthly law; dying finally in the arms of the slave, and calling him after her to the bosom of God,—all this is so new, so beautiful, that one asks one's self in thinking of it whether the success which has attended the work is after all equal to the height of the conception.
Children are the true heroes of Mrs. Stowe's works. Her soul, the
most motherly that could be, has conceived
of these little creatures in a halo of grace. George Shelby, the little Harry, the cousin of Eva, the regretted babe of the little wife of the Senator, and Topsy, the poor diabolic, excellent Topsy,—all the children that one sees, and even those that one does not see in this romance, but of whom one has only a few words from their desolate mothers, seem to us a world of little angels, white and black, where any mother may recognize some darling of her own, source of her joys and tears. In taking form in the spirit of Mrs. Stowe, these children, without ceasing to be children, assume ideal graces, and come at last to interest us more than the personages of an ordinary love-story.
Women, too, are here judged and painted with a master hand; not merely mothers who hare sublime, but women who are not mothers either in heart or in fact, and whose infirmities are treated with indulgence or with rigor. By the side of the methodical Miss Ophelia, who ends by learning that duty is good for nothing without love, Marie St. Clare is a frightfully truthful portrait. One shudders in thinking that she exists, that she is everywhere, that each of us has met her and seen her, perhaps, not far from us, for it is only necessary that this charming creature should have slaves to torture, and we should see her revealed complete through her vapors and her nervous complaints.
The saints also have their claw! it is that of the lion. She buries it deep in the conscience, and a little of burning indignation and of terrible sarcasm does not, after all, misbecome this Harriet Stowe, this woman so gentle, so humane, so religious, and full of evangelical unction. Ah! yes, she is a very good woman, but not what we derisively call "goody good." Hers is a heart strong and courageous, which in blessing the unhappy and applauding the faithful, tending the feeble and succoring the irresolute, does not hesitate to bind to the pillory the hardened tyrant, to show to the world his deformity.
She is, in the true spirit of the word, consecrated. Her fervent Christianity sings the praise of the martyr, but permits no man the right to perpetuate the wrong. She denounces that strange perversion of Scripture which tolerates the iniquity of the oppressor because it gives opportunity for the virtues of the victims. She calls on God himself, and threatens in his name; she shows us human law on one side, and God on the other.
Let no one say that, because she exhorts to patient endurance of wrong, she justifies those who do the wrong. Read the beautiful page where George Harris, the white slave, embraces for the first time the shores of a free territory, and presses to his heart wife and child, who at last are his own. What a beautiful picture, that! What a large heart-throb! what a triumphant protest of the eternal and inalienable right of man to liberty!
Honor and respect to you, Mrs. Stowe! Some day your recompense, which is already recorded in heaven, will come also in this world.
NOHANT, December 17, 1852
"Madame L. S. Belloc, also a well-known and distinguished writer, the translator of Miss Edgeworth's and of other English works into French, says:—
"'When the first translation of "Uncle Tom" was published in Paris
there was a general hallelujah for the author and for the cause. A
few weeks after, M. Charpentier, one of our best publishers, called on
me to ask a new translation. I objected that there were already so
many it might prove a failure. He insisted, saying, "Il n'y aura
jamais assez de lecteurs pour un tel livre," and he particularly
desired a special translation for his own collection, "Bibliotheque
Charpentier," where it is catalogued, and where it continues now to
sell daily. "La Case de l'Oncle Tom" was the fifth, if I recollect
rightly, and a sixth illus-
trated edition appeared some months after. It was read by high and low, by grown persons and children. A great enthusiasm for the anti-slavery cause was the result. The popularity of the work in France was immense, and no doubt influenced the public mind in favor of the North during the war of secession.'
"The next step in the history of 'Uncle Tom' was a meeting at Stafford House, when Lord Shaftesbury recommended to the women of England the sending of an 'affectionate and Christian address to the women of America.'
"This address, composed by Lord Shaftesbury, was taken in hand for signatures by energetic canvassers in all parts of England, and also among resident English on the Continent. The demand for signatures went as far forth as the city of Jerusalem. When all the signatures were collected, the document was forwarded to the care of Mrs. Stowe in America, with a letter from Lord Carlisle, recommending it to her, to be presented to the ladies of America in such way as she should see fit.
"It was exhibited first at the Boston Anti-slavery fair, and now remains in its solid oak case a lasting monument of the feeling called forth by 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.'
"It is in twenty-six thick folio volumes, solidly bound in
morocco, with the American eagle on the back of each. On the first
page of the first volume is the address, beautifully illuminated on
vellum, and following are the subscribers' names, filling the volumes.
There are 562,848 names of women of every rank of life, from the
nearest in rank to the throne of England to the wives and daughters of
the humblest artisan and laborer. Among all who signed, it is fair to
presume there was not one who had not read the book, and did not, at
the time of signing, feel a sympathy for the cause of the oppressed
people whose wrongs formed its subject. The address, with its many
signatures, was simply a relief to that impulsive desire to
thing for the cause of the slave, which the reading of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' appeared to inspire.
"Of the wisdom of this step there have been many opinions. Nobody, however, can doubt that Lord Shaftesbury, who had spent a long life in labors to lift burdens from the working-classes of England, and who had redeemed from slavery and degradation English women and children in its mines and colleries, had thereby acquired a certain right to plead for the cause of the oppressed working-classes in all countries.
"The address was received as a welcome word of cheer and encouragement by that small band of faithful workers who for years had stood in an unfashionable minority; but so far as the feeling expressed in it was one of real Christian kindliness and humility, it was like a flower thrown into the white heat of a furnace. It added intensity, if that were possible, to that terrific conflict of forces which was destined never to cease till slavery was finally abolished.
"It was a year after the publication of 'Uncle Tom' that Mrs. Stowe visited England, and was received at Stafford House, there meeting all the best known and best worth knowing of the higher circles of England.
* * * * *
A series of addresses presented to Mrs. Stowe at this time by public meetings in different towns of England, Scotland, and Ireland, still remain among the literary curiosities relating to this book. The titles of these are somewhat curious: 'Address from the Inhabitants of Berwick-upon- Tweed;' 'Address from the Inhabitants of Dalkeith;' 'Address from the Committee of the Glasgow Female University Abstainers' Society;' 'Address from a Public Meeting in Belfast, Ireland;' 'Address from the Committee of the Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society, Edinburgh;' 'Address from the City of Leeds.'
"All these public meetings, addresses, and demonstrations of sympathy were, in their time and way, doubtless of perfect sincerity. But when the United States went into a state of civil war, these demonstrations ceased.
"But it is due to the brave true working-classes of England to say that in this conflict, whenever they thought the war was one of justice to the slave, they gave it their sympathy, and even when it brought hardship and want to their very doors, refused to lend themselves to any popular movement which would go to crush the oppressed in America.
"It is but justice also to the Duchess of Sutherland to say, that although by the time our war was initiated she had retired from her place as leader of society to the chamber of the invalid, yet her sympathies expressed in private letters ever remained true to the cause of freedom.
Her son-in-law, the Duke of Argyll, stood almost alone in the House of Lords in defending the cause of the Northern States. It is, moreover, a significant fact that the Queen of England, in concurrence with Prince Albert, steadily resisted every attempt to enlist the warlike power of England against the Northern States.
"But Almighty God had decreed the liberation of the African race, and though Presidents, Senators, and Representatives united in declaring that such were not their intentions, yet by great signs and mighty wonders was this nation compelled to listen to the voice that spoke from heaven,—'Let my people go.'
"'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' in the fervor which conceived it, in the feeling which it inspired through the world, was only one of a line of ripples marking the commencement of mighty rapids, moving by forces which no human power could stay to an irresistible termination,—towards human freedom.
"Now the war is over; slavery is a thing of the past;
slave-pens, blood-hounds, slave-whips, and slave-coffles are only bad dreams of the night; and now the humane reader can afford to read 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' without an expenditure of torture and tears."
Nothing need be added to this story respecting the growth, development, and reception of "Uncle Tom."
It only remains for us to follow her, now suddenly launched upon an ocean of new experiences; experiences such as are known in this world to the few men and women whose sympathies have led them to give their lives indeed for others. We look back upon the dreaming child, we follow the eager girl, unconscious of incessant labor, conscious only of aspiration and endeavor; we watch the tender mother; and then we see her, forever the same, a tiny figure standing forgetful of herself against the dark vast background of her country's life.