Introduction and Life of the Author
"UNCLE TOM'S CABIN" ranks among the world's wonderful books. Like "Robinson Crusoe" and the "Pilgrim's Progress," it stands out amid myriads of works of infinitely higher aim and ambition. Wherever the English language is known, there "Uncle Tom's Cabin" has been read, and will be read for years to come.
There is not a school boy or girl who has not devoured with extraordinary avidity the pathetic narrative of Tom's vicissitudes. Knowing little of the great national question which prompted the work—and, indeed, thinking still less about it—the juvenile reader consumes the enthralling narrative with the same voracious appetite with which it digests all reading of an exciting and absorbing interest. But not to the young reader only does "Uncle Tom's Cabin" appeal. The grown-up man and woman of to-day can read it with real sympathy; and if they cannot summon up all the old interest in the great emancipation question of a few decades ago, they can, nevertheless, with matured life and experience, warm the more to the many moving domestic episodes and incidents that abound in this remarkable story.
It is this human interest that has made this book the universal
favourite that it is. It contains no fine writing, the slave question
itself is all but disregarded, and we are troubled with no subsidiary
incidents, melodramatic or romantic, to break the perfectly natural
drift of the homely plantation story, told in the homeliest language.
Sensationalism of the
kind which blights so much present-day literature in wholly absent, but strong human sympathy abounds on every page.
The admixture of the religious nuance throughout the narrative—always a powerful factor when judiciously employed—lends itself here with all the old force and power of conviction. Unbelievers of the baser sort may and do scoff at religion and the Bible; but at moments the stoutest among them quake before its mighty truths. Even Legree—most callous of the slave-dealers—we find staggering before the convincing Bible arguments which were put into Tom's mouth.
That the gifted authoress was in deep sympathy with her subject is apparent to a degree. No one unacquainted with the life and surroundings of slavery, or who had not the warm blood of universal brotherhood running deeply in the veins, could have penned a story so reasonable and so natural as "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Three of its characters—Tom, Topsy, and Miss Ophelia—stand out above the rest, and will long be figures in fiction. Tom—not a genius, nor a "cute" or planning fellow, but a kindly-disposed, honest, retiring African, intent upon doing his duty to God and man in whatever circumstances—will live, in all probability, long after every memory of the "peculiar institution" has passed away.
The literary worth and possible vitality of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" have from time to time been debated. Who shall decide? Certainly those who would criticize and detract are, of all, the least likely to give the world an equally satisfactory book. Old and young throughout the universe, however, have declared—and this in no unmistakable fashion—in favour of the book, and this popular verdict is, after all, the one that most adequately meets the case.
Harriet Elizabeth Beecher was born at Litchfield, in Connecticut,
on the 14th of June, 1812. She lost her mother early in her youth;
and not the least touching of her many pathetic writings is that in
which she recounts the incidents of the daily life of her motherless
sisters. Her literary career began after her marriage, in 1836, to the Rev. Calvin Ellis Stowe, D.D., and was for many years confined to the production of short tales and sketches. These fugitive works were afterwards collected, under the title of "The May Flower." It was not until about 1851 that Mrs. Beecher-Stowe made her first material success. The agitation for negro emancipation was then at its height, and in that year she contributed to an anti-slavery paper—The National Era—the celebrated story, "Uncle Tom's Cabin." After it had run its course in the newspaper, the author is said to have had some difficulty in finding a publisher willing to bring it out in volume form. At length a Boston publisher, of no particular pretensions, accepted the novel in 1852.
Its success was then swift, and almost beyond precedent in the history of fiction. Nearly half a million of copies were speedily sold in the United States alone, and in England the sale was no less extraordinary. Translations in German, French, Russian, Armenian and even Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, and Welsh, were quickly produced. After several explanatory, defensive, and other supplementary publications, such as "A Peep into Uncle Tom's Cabin" (1853), "The Christian Slave, a Drama founded on Uncle Tom's Cabin" (1855), Mrs. Beecher-Stowe produced in 1856 a second anti-slavery novel, entitled "Dred: a Tale of the Dismal Swamp." Her subsequent works have been numerous, the best known being, perhaps, "The Chimney Corner" (1868), and "My Wife and I" (1872).
In 1870 Mrs. Beecher-Stowe published a small volume entitled "Lady
Byron Vindicated." The substance of this work had previously appeared
in Macmillan's Magazine and the
Atlantic Monthly, and was in essence a reply
to to the "Recollections of Lord Byron," by the Countess Guiccioli.
Mrs. Beecher-Stowe's volume excited a storm of indignation, and it is
not certain that the reputation of Mrs. Beecher-Stowe has even yet
survived the odium aroused by the
unfortunate and perhaps unnecessary vindication. Mrs. Beecher-Stowe had visited Europe in 1853, and there formed the friendship of Lady Byron, on whose authority the allegations were understood to be made. She was for some years the editor of Heart and Home. Mrs. Stowe wrote very little subsequent to "Woman in Sacred History" (1874), and "Poganuc People" (1879).
Mrs. Stowe passed away on the 1st of July, 1896, amid the surroundings of her quiet, pretty home at Hartford, Connecticut. The whole reading world was moved at the news of her death, and many a chord vibrated at the remembrance of her powerful, and we may even say successful, advocacy of the cause of the Slave. The good which "Uncle Tom's Cabin" achieved can never be estimated, and the noble efforts of its author have been interwoven in the work of the world.