KEY TO UNCLE TOM'S CABIN AND FIRST VISIT TO ENGLAND
IN the autumn of the same year that "Uncle Tom " was published, Mrs. Stowe returned to Brooklyn, where she cemented her friendship with her brother's parishioner, Mrs. John T. Howard. Mr. Howard was one of the earliest promoters of Plymouth Church, and from their first acquaintance to the end of his life Mr. and Mrs. Howard and their children were Mr. Beecher's unwavering supporters and faithful friends. By this time Mrs. Stowe's foreign correspondence had increased. The letters exchanged across the water were the beginning of some of her most valued friendships. Her brother Henry said, many years after leaving Indianapolis for Brooklyn: "I have no opportunity to tell my friends there how dearly I love them, but pearls and diamonds do not change when laid away in a bag, neither do such friendships." It was the same with Mrs. Stowe. Her genius for friendship was only another phase of her intimate life which the world could not see. Her love once given was not subject to any "wind of doctrine." Days, weeks, and months could pass without communication, but her heart was always remembering and alive.
Mrs. Howard has written a delightful account of the beginning of her lifelong intimacy with Mrs. Stowe.
"The newspapers were then filled with accounts of the wonderful
success of the book at home and abroad," writes Mrs. Howard. "When
ready to return to her home in
Andover, she urged my going, with her, an invitation that I gladly accepted. To lessen the fatigue of the long railroad journey, we spent one night in Hartford with Mrs. Stowe's sister, Mrs. Perkins. After a pleasant evening with the family, we retired, sharing the same room at Mrs. Stowe's request. I soon disrobed and lay upon the bed, looking at her little childish figure gathered in a heap upon the floor as she sat brushing out her long curls with a thoughtful look upon her face, which I did not disturb by words.
"At last she spoke, and said, 'I have just received a letter from my brother Edward from Galesburg, Illinois. He is greatly disturbed lest all this praise and notoriety should induce pride and vanity, and work harm to my Christian character.' She dropped her brush from her hand and exclaimed with earnestness, 'Dear soul, he need not be troubled. He does n't know that I did not write that book.' 'What !' said I, ' you did not write "Uncle Tom "!' 'No,' she said, 'I only put down what I saw.' 'But you have never been at the South, have you?' I asked. 'No,' she said, 'but it all came before me in visions, one after another, and I put them down in words.' But being still skeptical, I said, 'Still you must have arranged the events.' 'No,' said she, 'your Annie reproached me for letting Eva die. Why! I could not help it. I felt as badly as any one could! It was like a death in my own family, and it affected me so deeply that I could not write a word for two weeks after her death.' 'And did you know,' I asked, 'that Uncle Tom would die?' 'Oh yes,' she answered, 'I knew that he must die from the first, but I did not know how. When I got to that part of the story, I saw no more for some time. I was physically exhausted, too. Mr. Stowe had then accepted a call to Andover, and had to go there to find a house for the family.
"'He urged my going with him for the change, and I went. No available home could be found, and the Faculty gave us permission to occupy a large stone building which had been built for a gymnasium. I had always longed to plan a house for myself, and we entered into the work with great interest. We consulted an architect, and had been with him arranging the plan for rooms, pantries, and other household conveniences, all the morning.
" 'I was very tired when we returned to our boarding-house to the early midday dinner. After dinner we went to our room for rest. Mr. Stowe threw himself upon the bed; I was to use the lounge; but suddenly arose before me the death scene of Uncle Tom with what led to it and George's visit to him. I sat down at the table and wrote nine pages of foolscap paper without pausing, except long enough to dip my pen into the inkstand. Just as I had finished, Mr. Stowe awoke. "Wife," said he, "have not you lain down yet?" "No," I answered. "I have been writing, and I want you to listen to this, and see if it will do." I read aloud to him with the tears flowing fast. He wept, too, and before I had finished, his sobs shook the bed upon which he was lying. He sprang up saying, "Do! I should think it would do! " and folding the sheets he immediately directed and sent them to the publisher, without one word of correction or revision of any kind. I have often thought,' she continued, 'that if anything had happened to that package in going, it would not have been possible for me to have reproduced it.'
"As I lay there and listened to this wonderful account, how could I
help believing that God inspires his children, and that mighty works
do still show forth themselves in those who are prepared to be his
mediums. If I had only possessed the limner's power, how gladly would
I have put upon canvas that face, lit with a light divine, as though
remembering those angel visits, and still saying,
'Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be unto me as Thou wilt.'
"Many years after this occurrence," continues Mrs. Howard, "a new edition of 'Uncle Tom ' was brought out by her publishers. In the preface was a paper by Mrs. Stowe, giving an account of the writing of the book. In this account she speaks of having many years before written a sketch of the death of an old slave, and of her reading it to her children, who were very much affected by it, this being the original idea (in part) of 'Uncle Tom.' The next time I saw her I spoke of it, and reminded her of what she had told me just after ' Uncle Tom' was published. There seemed to me a serious inconsistency between the two accounts. 'No,' said she, ' both are true, for I had entirely forgotten that I had ever written that sketch, and I suppose that I had unconsciously woven it in with the other.'"
There is still another discrepancy in this narration. Professor Stowe
did not accept the appointment to Andover until after the publication
of "Uncle Tom." A letter front his wife in Boston, while he is still
in Brunswick at his post, considers the subject of acceptance, and
puts before him what Professor Park has to say on the subject. They
did not go to the boarding-house, it appears, until the summer, when
"Uncle Tom " had been published three or four months. There is a
letter from the Committee of Trustees written in June of this year
suggesting the "old stone house" as a possible resort if they feel
inclined to fit it up. Therefore the subject had not been considered
before "Uncle Tom" was printed, and Mrs. Stowe must have written the
chapter as described after a busy day either in Brunswick or in
Boston. It is true that neither of these slips disturbs in the least
the true value of the story. The work which she was to do lay upon her
heart, and the first available instant, even one which seemed
for repose, was seized upon and dedicated to this service. The almost incredible swiftness of the writing proves the rapt condition of her mind. Surely it is not wonderful that some of the details of the occasion were forgotten.
Mrs. Howard was a generous intermediary between Henry Ward Beecher and his sister. Harriet was always anxious to know how it was with her brother, and he found little time for correspondence. His daring in those exciting days laid him open to the attacks of the enemy.
"Has the pressure really affected Henry's health?" Mrs. Stowe writes. "I have been so sheltered and hemmed in my retirement that I have not read the articles in the 'Observer.' . . . I am reminded of one of Aunt Esther's stories. A man, when very drunk, had the habit of using very abusive language to his wife, to which she paid no attention, but went about her affairs as usual. At last he fell to praying about her, saying all manner of horrid things against her in his prayers. Still she gave no heed.
"'Why, do you hear,' said a neighbor, 'how that man goes on?'
"'Oh, poh!' said his wife, 'he'll get over it by and by.'
"'But do just hear him praying.'
"'Oh, let him pray, nobody minds his prayers.'
"So it has struck me that both the secular and the pious abuse of the 'Observer ' are equally unworthy of attention. All we have to do is to live on."
The year following the publication of "Uncle Tom" was a very hard
one. Mrs. Stowe was necessarily much away from home. Her visits at
Brooklyn, which were a necessity after her writing was done, were
followed by the news that Professor Stowe had accepted the call
received from the Andover Theological Seminary to become Professor of
Sacred Literature there. She was disinclined to leave
Brunswick, where she found herself surrounded with loving friends from the moment of her arrival, but she wrote: "For my part, if I must leave Brunswick I would rather leave at once. I can tear away with a sudden pull more easily than to linger there knowing that I am to leave at last. I shall never find people whom I shall like better than those of Brunswick."
Again Professor Stowe was called away to Cincinnati, and again his wife set herself to the task of making a new home. The house decided upon for their abode in Andover was known at this time as the old stone work-shop, but it was soon transformed by her care and ingenuity into a pleasant residence, and called "The Stone Cabin." I can well remember the cosy aspect of the house in winter, the windows full of flowering plants, and a general air of comfort pervading it. Here many interesting persons, drawn by her great fame, came to visit her, and here she continued her public and private labors. During the first summer, before the house was ready, she wrote to her husband:—
"What a beautiful place it is! There is everything here that there is at Brunswick except the sea,—a great exception. Yesterday I was out all the forenoon sketching elms. There is no end to the beauty of these trees. I shall fill my book with them before I get through. We had a levee at Professor Park's last week,—quite a brilliant affair. To-day there is to be a fishing party to go to Salem beach and have a chowder.
"It seems almost too good to be true that we are going to have such a
house in such a beautiful place, and to live here among all these
agreeable people, where everybody seems to love you so much and to
think so much of you. I am almost afraid to accept it, and should not,
did I not see the Hand that gives it all and know that it is both firm
and true. He knows if it is best for us, and
his blessing addeth no sorrow therewith. I cannot describe to you the constant undercurrent of love and joy and peace ever flowing through my soul. I am so happy—so blessed!"
"I seem to have so much to fill my time, and yet there is my Maine story waiting. However, I am composing it every day, only I greatly need living studies for the filling in of my sketches. There is 'old Jonas,' my 'fish father,' a sturdy, independent fisherman farmer, who in his youth sailed all over the world and made up his mind about everything. In his old age he attends prayer-meetings and reads the 'Missionary Herald.' He also has plenty of money in an old brown sea-chest. He is a great heart with an inflexible will and iron muscles. I must go to Orr's Island and see him again. I am now writing an article for the 'Era' on Maine and its scenery, which I think is even better than the 'Independent' letter. In it I took up Longfellow. Next I shall write one on Hawthorne and his surroundings.
"To-day Mr. Jewett sent out a most solemnly savage attack upon me from the 'Alabama Planter.' Among other things it says: 'The plan for assaulting the best institutions in the world may be made just as rational as it is by the wicked (perhaps unconsciously so) authoress of this book. The woman who wrote it must be either a very bad or a very fanatical person. For her own domestic peace we trust no enemy will ever penetrate into her household to pervert the scenes he may find there with as little logic or kindness as she has used in her "Uncle Tom's Cabin."' There 's for you!"
Her absence from home and children for the long time required to go to Andover and start things afresh there filled her mind with cares and anxieties.
She wrote to her husband:—
"A day or two ago, my mind lay clear as glass, and I thought I had no will but God's, and could have none. Lo! his hand touches a spring, and I see what poor trash I am. But I am his chosen one for all that, and I shall reign with Him when all the stars have done blossoming, and if I am so poor I am betrothed to One who is Heir of all things. I read Chaucer a great deal yesterday, and am charmed at the reverential Christian spirit in which he viewed all things. He thought of marriage as 'a most dread sacrament,' just as I do; and surely, if our catechism says truly, a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace."
Professor Stowe was often greatly agitated by the difficulties which surrounded them. At such times, no matter what her occupation was, she would drop everything to write and try to soothe him. The large square sheets of old-fashioned paper covered with her fine script would make many a book beside those which belong to the public. In one of these letters, she says:
"I grieve to see how much you suffer; but God, I am persuaded, has better things in store for you. I trust you will be of good cheer."
One would hardly guess that it was she who was bearing the burden of
the family to such an extent if she did not occasionally recount the
details, in order, as it appears, to divert his mind from the painful
channels of his own despair. The attacks made upon his wife after the
publication of "Uncle Tom" oppressed him. "For myself," she said, "I
have not an anxiety, but am only vulnerable
through you. That you should be exposed to this annoyance on my
account is the real and only trouble I have had. For me, what harm can
——- or anybody else do to me? 'Who is he that can harm you if ye be
followers of that which is good?' In this belief I have tried to keep
near to Him who only is good. . . . Let me recom-
mend to you what my good mother Edmondson says has been her relief: 'Oh, many a time,' she says, 'my heart has been so heavy—and I' ve been to the throne of Grace and when I 've poured out my sorrows to the Lord, I 've come away and felt that I can live a little longer.'
"So God lays on you a heavy burden in the internal structure of your mind; but how blessed is this baptism of sorrow. Would you part with what you have gained by your peculiar suffering? I can see that you have acquired by it much that gives you power over other minds. There is not One Sorrow that I have had that I would part with,—nay, I bear with joy all that falls on my heart from day to day. I say 'Welcome, cross of Christ!'"
Mr. J. R. Howard says that his father was making a brief visit to Mrs. Stowe at this period, when "one afternoon she told him that she often arose in the morning at half past four and went out to enjoy the birds and the dawn, and she challenged him to join her. The next morning they went out, and in that rare, sweet atmosphere they talked, and were silent, together. And she read to him some verses which she had written at such all hour. Since then they have been read and sung by many, to whom they have brought the very peace of Christ." I give the first stanza of the well-known beautiful hymn:
"Still, still with Thee when purple morning breaketh,
Even in the heat and hurry of that time the "central peace" of which Wordsworth speaks was ever at her heart.
The Maine story to which Mrs. Stowe has already referred was begun
before she left Brunswick, but she was obliged to lay it aside on
account of the numberless attacks made upon "Uncle Tom," which must
finally be answered. Unhappily the beautiful beginning of "The
Pearl of Orr's Island," one of her best pieces of writing, was never followed out in the same vein.
Mrs. Stowe had scarcely set herself to the task of writing what she calls "A key to unlock 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,'" when she discovered it to be a far greater labor than she anticipated. She had spoken, in writing to Mrs. Howard, of an additional twenty-five pages which she was to add to the next edition of "Uncle Tom," but she soon found herself launched upon a work which was to occupy her for many months and make an entirely new book.
Late in the winter, she wrote to her husband:—
"I am now very much driven. I am preparing a Key to unlock 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' It will contain all the original facts, anecdotes, and documents on which the story is founded, with some very interesting and affecting stories parallel to those told of Uncle Tom. Now I want you to write for me just what you heard that slave-buyer say, exactly as he said it, that people may compare it with what I have written. My Key will be stronger than the Cabin."
In regard to this "Key" Mrs. Stowe also wrote to the Duchess of Sutherland upon hearing that she had headed an address from the women of England to those of America:
It is made up of the facts, the documents, the things which my own eyes have looked upon and my hands have handled, that attest this awful indictment upon my country. I write it in the anguish of my soul, with tears and prayer, with sleepless nights and weary days. I bear my testimony with a heavy heart, as one who in court is forced by an awful oath to disclose the sins of those dearest.
So I am called to draw up this fearful witness against my country and
send it into all countries, that the general voice of humanity may
quicken our paralyzed vitality, that
all Christians may pray for us, and that shame, honor, love of country, and love of Christ may be roused to give us strength to cast out this mighty evil. Yours for the oppressed,
H. B. STOWE.
She continued the exhausting labor of preparing this book until the spring, when an invitation came from the friends of emancipation in England urging her to come over to them. It was a great opportunity which Professor Stowe and his wife accepted gladly. Meanwhile a letter had been received from Mrs. Follen, who was then in London, asking for information about the writer of "Uncle Tom." Mrs. Stowe replied:
ANDOVER, February 16.MY DEAR MADAM,—I hasten to reply to your letter, to me the more interesting that I have long been acquainted with you, and during all the nursery part of my life made daily use of your poems for children.
I used to think sometimes in those days that I would write to you, and tell you how much I was obliged to you for the pleasure which they gave us all.
So you want to know something about what sort of a woman I am! Well, if this is any object, you shall have statistics free of charge. To begin, then, I am a little bit of a woman,—somewhat more than forty, about as thin and dry as a pinch of snuff, never very much to look at in my best days, and looking like a used-up article now.
I was married when I was twenty-five years old to a man rich in Greek
and Hebrew, Latin and Arabic, and, alas! rich in nothing else. When I
went to housekeeping, my entire stock of china, for parlor and kitchen
was bought for eleven dollars. That lasted very well for two years,
till my brother was married and brought his bride to visit me. I then
found, on review, that I had neither plates
nor teacups to set a table for my father's family; wherefore I thought it best to reinforce the establishment by getting me a tea-set that cost ten dollars more, and this, I believe, formed my whole stock in trade for some years.
But then I was abundantly enriched with wealth of another sort.
I had two little curly-headed twin daughters to begin with, and my stock in this line has gradually increased, till I have been the mother of seven children, the most beautiful and the most loved of whom lies buried near my Cincinnati residence. It was at his dying bed and at his grave that I learned what a poor slave mother may feel when her child is torn away from her. In those depths of sorrow which seemed to me immeasurable, it was my only prayer to God that such anguish might not be suffered in vain. There were circumstances about his death of such peculiar bitterness, of what seemed almost cruel suffering, that I felt that I could never be consoled for it unless this crushing of my own heart might enable me to work out some great good to others. . . .
I allude to this here because I have often felt that much that is in that book ("Uncle Tom") had its root in the awful scenes and bitter sorrows of that summer. It has left now, I trust, no trace on my mind except a deep compassion for the sorrowful, especially for mothers who are separated from their children.
During long years of struggling with poverty and sickness, and a hot,
debilitating climate, my children grew up around me. The nursery and
the kitchen were my principal fields of labor. Some of my friends,
pitying my trials, copied and sent a number of little sketches from my
pen to certain liberally paying "Annuals" with my name. With the first
money that I earned in this way I bought a feather bed! for as I had
married into poverty and without a dowry, and as my husband had only a
of books and a great deal of learning, the bed and pillows were thought the most profitable investment,. After this I thought that I had discovered the philosopher's stone. So when a new carpet or mattress was going to be needed, or when, at the close of the year, it began to be evident that my family accounts, like poor Dora's, "would n't add up," then I used to say to my faithful friend and factotum Anna, who shared all my joys and sorrows, "Now, if you will keep the babies and attend to the things in the house for one day, I'll write a piece, and then we shall be out of the scrape." So I became an author,—very modest at first, I do assure you, and remonstrating very seriously with the friends who had thought it best to put my name to the pieces by way of getting up a reputation; and if you ever see a woodcut of me, with an immoderately long nose, on the cover of all the U. S. Almanacs, I wish you to take notice that I have been forced into it contrary to my natural modesty by the imperative solicitations of my dear five thousand friends and the public generally. One thing I must say with regard to my life at the West, which you will understand better than many English women could.
I lived two miles from the city of Cincinnati, in the country, and domestic service, not always you know to be found in the city, is next to an impossibility to obtain in the country, even by those who are willing to give the highest wages; so what was to be expected for poor me, who had very little of this world's goods to offer?
Had it not been for my inseparable friend Anna, a noble-hearted
English girl, who landed on our shores in destitution and sorrow, and
clave to me as Ruth to Naomi, I had never lived through all the trials
which this uncertainty and want of domestic service imposed on both;
you may imagine, therefore, how glad I was when, our seminary property
being divided out into small lots which were rented at a low price, a
number of poor families settled in
our vicinity, from whom we could occasionally obtain domestic service. About a dozen families of liberated slaves were among the number, and they became my favorite resort in cases of emergency. If anybody wishes to have a black face look handsome, let them be left, as I have been, in feeble health in oppressive hot weather, with a sick baby in arms, and two or three other little ones in the nursery, and not a servant in the whole house to do a single turn. Then, if they could see my good old Aunt Frankie coming with her honest, bluff, black face, her long, strong arms, her chest as big and stout as a barrel, and her hilarious, hearty laugh, perfectly delighted to take one's washing and do it at a fair price, they would appreciate the beauty of black people.
My cook, poor Eliza Buck,—how she would stare to think of her name
going to England!—was a regular epitome of slave life in herself;
fat, gentle, easy, loving and lovable, always calling my very modest
house and dooryard "The Place," as if it had been a plantation with
seven hundred hands on it. She had lived through the whole sad story
of a Virginia-raised slave's life. In her youth she must have been a
very handsome mulatto girl. Her voice was sweet, and her manners
refined and agreeable. She was raised in a good family as a nurse and
seamstress. When the family became embarrassed, she was suddenly sold
on to a plantation in Louisiana. She has often told me how, without
any warning, she was suddenly forced into a carriage, and saw her
little mistress screaming and stretching her arms from the window
towards her as she was driven away. She has told me of scenes on the
Louisiana plantation, and she has often been out at night by stealth
ministering to poor slaves who had been mangled and lacerated by the
lash. Hence she was sold into Kentucky, and her last master was the
father of all her children. On this point she ever maintained a
reserve that always appeared to me remarkable. She always called him her husband; and it was not till after she had lived with me some years that I discovered the real nature of the connection. I shall never forget how sorry I felt for her, nor my feelings at her humble apology, "You know, Mrs. Stowe, slave women cannot help themselves." She had two very pretty quadroon daughters, with her beautiful hair and eyes, interesting children, whom I had instructed in the family school with my children. Time would fail to tell you all that I learned incidentally of the slave system in the history of various slaves who came into my family, and of the underground railroad which, I may say, ran through our house. But the letter is already too long.
You ask with regard to the remuneration which I have received for my work here in America. Having been poor all my life and expecting to be poor the rest of it, the idea of making money by a book which I wrote just because I could not help it never occurred to me. It was therefore an agreeable surprise to receive ten thousand dollars as the first-fruits of three months' sale. I presume as much more is now due. Mr. Bosworth in England, the firm of Clarke & Co., and Mr. Bentley, have all offered me an interest in the sales of their editions in London. I am very glad of it, both on account of the value of what they offer, and the value of the example they set in this matter, wherein I think that justice has been too little regarded.
I have been invited to visit Scotland, and shall probably spend the summer there and in England.
I have very much at heart a design to erect in some of the Northern
States a normal school for the education of colored teachers in the
United States and in Canada. I have very much wished that some
permanent memorial of good to the colored race might be created out of
the proceeds of a work which promises to have so unprecedented
a sale. My own share of the profits will be less than that of the publishers, either English or American; but I am willing to give largely for this purpose, and I have no doubt that the publishers, both American and English, will unite with me; for nothing tends more immediately to the emancipation of the slave than the education and elevation of the free.
I am now writing a work which will contain, perhaps, an equal amount of matter with "Uncle Tom's Cabin." It will contain all the facts and documents on which that story was founded, and an immense body of facts, reports of trials, legal documents, and testimony of people now living South, which will more than confirm every statement in "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
I must confess that till I began the examination of facts in order to write this book, much as I thought I knew before, I had not begun to measure the depth of the abyss. The law records of courts and judicial proceedings are so incredible as to fill me with amazement whenever I think of them. It seems to me that the book cannot but be felt, and, coming upon the sensibility awaked by the other, do something.
I suffer exquisitely in writing these things. It may be truly said that I write with my heart's blood. Many times in writing "Uncle Tom's Cabin" I thought my health would fail utterly; but I prayed earnestly that God would help me till I got through, and still I am pressed beyond measure and above strength.
This horror, this nightmare abomination! can it be in my country! It
lies like lead on my heart, it shadows my life with sorrow; the more
so that I feel, as for my own brothers, for the South, and am pained
by every horror I am obliged to write, as one who is forced by some
awful oath to disclose in court some family disgrace. Many times I
have thought that I must die, and yet I pray God
that I may live to see something done. I shall in all probability be in London in May: shall I see you?
It seems to me so odd and dream-like that so many persons desire to see me, and now I cannot help thinking that they will think, when they do, that God hath chosen "the weak things of this world."
If I live till spring I shall hope to see Shakespeare's grave, and Milton's mulberry-tree, and the good land of my fathers,—old, old England! May that day come!
Yours affectionately, H. B. STOWE.