Continuation of the Outline of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Slave Life in New Orleans. Uncle Tom the Coachman and Steward of the St. Clare Establishment. His Guardianship of Little Eva. The Death of the Sainted Child. The Characters which are Famous. The Breaking Up of the Household. Tom is Placed upon the Block and Sold to Simon Legree. Scenes upon a Red River Plantation. The Death of Uncle Tom. His Experience an Epitomization of Every Possible Argument against "The Institution." "Uncle Tom's Cabin" as a Work or Literary Art. A Story without a Lover. Is It a Novel?
WITH fine understanding of the limitations of the reader's sensibilities, the author perceived that too long a tension of outraged feeling would be wearisome. She therefore presented counter situations, which appeal all the more acutely to the feelings, by contrast with what is in the background. In the chapter descriptive of the excitement on the Shelby plantation when it is discovered that Eliza has fled, the wrath of the slave trader, the secret gladness of Mrs. Shelby, and the unproductive preparations for catching the runaway girl, are more entertainingly depicted.
The clownish hatred of Sam for the trader, his irrelevant and
confusing suggestions as to the means of Eliza's capture, his
simulated wild anxiety to make ready the horses, which results in
detention and confusion thrice confounded
are described with great humor. The throwing of Mr. Haley over the head of the spirited mare whom Sam had alarmed by his twitches and shouts and irritated almost to madness by placing a sharp beech nut under her saddle; the escape of the horses into the grounds; the hurrying and scurrying here and there; the snorting of the horses who fail to comprehend the method in Sam's madness; the barking of the dogs who partake of the excitement; the impotent rage of the trader and the vociferous joy of the pickaninnies, who scream, giggle, run and roll over each other upon the earth; is all given with such rare wit and picturesqueness that one must perforce lay back and indulge in a hearty ha-ha, with tears of amusement wetting the eye-lids which lately had been weighed with heavy drops of bitter sympathy.
Eliza's refuge with the good Ohio people, and her safe arrival on the Canadian shores, is a satisfactory outcome of her terrific experience. The dilemma, and generous action of the good man, the Senator, who theorizes that the law should be obeyed, but acts upon the feeling that this woman needs help, is a reproduction of the triumph of the heart over the head, which had been the frequent experience of the Beecher family at Walnut Hill.
In the meantime Aunt Chloe at home in the little cabin, irons
Uncle Tom's shirts, moistening them with her fast falling tears. She
packs his clothes neatly, after putting all in order, the sad farewell
is taken, and Torn goes away with the trader towards the Mississippi
River. The description of the dismal ride, which is pleasantly
interrupted by the arrival of George Shelby, who has ridden after them
to bid his dear old servant good-bye, and the attitude of Mr.
Haley towards his "property," is drawn with masterly strokes.
Where had Harriet Beecher Stowe, the daughter of a New England divine, reared in the innocence of life upon the breezy Litchfield hills, shielded by gallant whole-souled fellows who would not that their sister should know of the low possibilities of men, united to a learned professor of theology, and associated with masculine friends of noble character, refinement and cultivation, learned how to depict the scene that follows? Where had she been that she could so graphically describe the aspect, actions and conversation of a company of coarse men in a bar-room? The scene in chapter eleven, where George Harris appears as a gentleman accompanied by his servant, is drawn as if from sight. Could it have been so accurately described from hearsay, the very spirit and flavor of the atmosphere permeating it? It was an inspiration, a psychological insight, which amounted to clairvoyance. And how the effects of "the system" stand forth as reflected upon these white men who were the administrators of it!
Then comes the sale. The scene in the slave market aroused thousands to vehement indignation and doubtless did more to liberate the American slaves than any other effort put forth by the talented and eloquent band of abolitionists in this country. Read it, Americans! Read it again, and thank Heaven that this blot is removed from the face of our fair land.
See again, the half blind, lame old woman, who is not salable, torn from her youngest son, a lad of fourteen, upon whom she hoped to lean in her decrepit old age. Hear her groans and piteous pleadings to be bought too!
See "the article enumerated as John, aged thirty," whose face quivers an instant as he tells Uncle Tom he has a wife who knows nothing of his departure from her.
See the black mother, who finds herself with her nursing child on the boat going "down river," when she hears that, instead of going to Louisville as a cook at hire, she has been sold, and forever separated from her husband. See her, when she awakes from a fitful sleep to find that her baby boy, a pretty fellow of ten months, has been taken from her arms and sold to a trader who chanced to fancy him! See her, as she hurries to the side of the boat when all is still at midnight, and leaps into the dark water and buries her troubles in death.
Who can read it calmly, even to-day when it is all past? Think what it must have been at the time when society was torn by conflicting opinions and the government had just decided to uphold the system, upon constitutional grounds. When the law sanctioned the invading of free states to reclaim "property," and leases were written to run ninety-nine years, which transferred slaves into the holdings of proprietors over the lines, thus carrying slavery into free soil.
We must not forget what a tremendous force and solidity of custom
this slight woman battled with her delicate hands. There were strong
arguments against interference with vested political rights. There
were reasons of weight sufficient to deter our greatest statesmen
from doing more than attempt to confine slavery within its old limits,
social considerations which might well have had weight with one of a
family who were superior to the fanaticism which clamored for a
principle, without regard to the peril
involved in the sudden disruption of laws which were based upon constitutional rights. These considerations not strangely placed the extreme abolitionists under a ban which it is easy to understand, when we look at their vehemence, and their rash haste which appeared mere incendiarism to those cooler heads, who viewed the question from an intellectual rather than an emotional standpoint.
Harriet Beecher Stowe might well have hesitated, but the wrongs of the blacks were upon her heart. Her soul was burning with an overwhelming pity and righteous indignation which brooked no restraint and made her cry out in so piercing, thrilling, and persuasive a voice, that it reached the world around, and resounded even to Heaven.
Yes, to Heaven, for this work was a prayer, and was doubtless one of the several providences which resulted in the emancipation of the slaves in America. For in spite of the augmenting power of the South in the government; in spite of the increasing value and usefulness of the slaves, which the invention of the Cotton Gin had brought about; in spite of the feeling among politicians, and conservative people everywhere, that constitutional rights must be protected until the framework of the government could be reconstructed—the cause of freedom advanced.
Differences between the North and South widened, and the War which commenced upon other issues, and was fought to maintain the Union or disrupt it, brought about the Emancipation of the Slaves, because the hour had come.
Before Lincoln's proclamation Mrs. Stowe's ideas had permeated all society and had done much to work public opinion up to the support of the measure.
Without such support, no law can be other than a dead letter. The clear sight and courage with which she upheld her convictions, in that time when history was rolled in the scroll of the future, is a marvel. As we read it all now, it is with approval, with acquiescence, which yet is strengthened and augmented, with the flow of her highly charged, electrically eloquent, sentences. As we attempt to realize the state of feeling, which in the North permitted, even while it did not sympathize with, Slavery, and in the South rested upon it as the foundation the political and social system, it becomes plain how this great book, appearing at that epoch, wrestled with the custom of the western world, and turned the eyes of all nations to the "deep damnation" of our institution.
But to return to the story. Uncle Tom was to see more bright days. He was purchased by a gentleman of New Orleans, to please his little daughter—an angelic child who had made acquaintance with Uncle Tom on the river steamer, and been rescued by him from a watery grave, when in her play she had fallen into the stream.
Augustine St. Clare took him home for a coachman for his wife. In
Augustine St. Clare we see another phase of the character of a
southern gentleman. Of distinguished appearance, grace of manner and
intellectual culture, indulgent and light in his moods, as was to be
expected from the strain of French Huguenot blood in his veins, he
presents in his fascinating personality, as he himself declares, a
victim of the institution of slavery. He says that masters and slaves
are generally divided into two classes—the Oppressors and the
Oppressed. He half satirically poses as one of the Oppressed, and
indeed his patience and indulgent for-
bearance under the small impositions of his pampered servants, chief of whom is his impertinent valet Dolph, seemed to bear out the anomalous situation.
Certain it is that he is the victim of the whims and caprices of a pettish, frivolous wife; but his own airy nature, and the love of his beautiful child, seem ample compensations. Into this luxurious southern home, decorated and beautified with all the elegances that wealth and culture can bring togther, with its richly dressed and aristocratic inmates, with its uselessly large retinue of servants and the wasteful extravagances and indifferent management which pertained to such an establishment, there comes Miss Ophelia, a mature maiden cousin from Vermont. She is the personification of New England thrift, common sense, orthodoxy and practical mindedness, a sort of composite photograph of the peculiarities and excellences of all the spinster dwellers east of the Hudson River. She is the strongest possible foil to the ideas and characters of her southern cousins, and finds a discouragingly uncultivated field for her works of reform. Miss Ophelia became at once the recognized and accepted type of a Yankee woman.
Marie remains still a remembrance of what southern women naturally
became when not upheld by any sense of duty, personal responsibility,
or the innate right feeling which is born to those who happily have to
bear their part in life and, by realizing their own privileges,
appreciate the rights of others. In the experiences of this family,
with its diverse characters, in the conversations between Miss Ophelia
and her cousin St. Clare, as she sits fiercely knitting and he reposes
smoking upon a sofa, we are most naturally
shown the various aspects, and results of the system of slavery.
But while the author's ideas are thus cleverly promulgated the
story advances. Uncle Tom becomes the most trusted factotum and the
steward of the St. Clare establishment. Tom regards his handsome,
volatile, young master, with a strange mixture of fealty, reverence
and fatherly solicitude. His insecure religious standing troubles the
good black servant and he speaks respectful words of warning and
remonstrance. St. Clare receives these admonitions with kind
tolerance, which however, on occasions deepens into a momentary
self-condemnation and tender appreciation of the impulses which prompt
Tom to make them. He promises his faithful servant not to tamper
further with the wine which several times has sent him home in an
unsteady condition. Miss Ophelia having undertaken to superintend the
running of the house, begins to suffer the tribulations and to endure
the manifold vexations and vain attempts to adjust irreconcilable
differences, which can only be realized and appreciated by a
housekeeper's mind. Her awful review of the condition of the hidden
recesses of the house, and particularly the kitchen, her overhauling
and re-arrangement of the store rooms, linen presses and china closet,
her conflicts with Dinah, the deposed regent of this realm; the
righteous indignation with which she regards such careless opulence
and the waste of the provisions, and the vivid realization of all the
circumstances calculated to wring a good house-keeper's heart, are
inexpressibly amusing, and perhaps to some minds quite as convincing
of the discomforts of the system of
slavery as the most pathetic representation of the sufferings of the negroes could be.
When Miss Ophelia is tried past bearing, she goes to have it out with St. Clare, and their talks, begun in indignant remonstrance on her part, answered by light persiflage from him, proceed into earnest discussion of the entire subject, and end in his return to his cigar, while Miss Ophelia with a softened face, goes out to her duties. In these discussions there is concentrated the essence, the beginning and end of slavery as it had never before been presented to the world. In St. Clare, Mrs. Stowe develops her possibilities in the analysis of a character, quite distinct and diverse from the several clear cut types in the tale. Modern portrayals of the person, motives, actions and varied tastes, and capabilities of a gentleman, have in no way detracted from this excellently well-painted picture. St. Clare is a born aristocrat, who is yet so far able to extricate himself from his environment, as to see it with unprejudiced eyes. Some of his comments and subtle insights into the distinctive moving springs of his class, are delicious. As for instance when he says,—"An aristocrat has no human sympathies beyond a certain line in society." Again, in speaking of his father, he says, "religious sentiment, he had none beyond a veneration for God as decidedly the head of the upper classes." The passage where he describes his mother's blessed influence is a worthy description of Harriet Beecher Stowe's mother's influence as it was felt in her family.
About this time Topsy comes upon the stage.—Topsy, the black imp,
hardly to be known as a girl or boy, Topsy with the bare legs and
arms, the pig-tails sticking up all
over her head, the bead-like eyes always seeking new mischief! She, of the unexpected and curious gambols, of the warped conscience, and the total lack of responsibility to any being! Every street child, every day laborer, every huckster, thief, colporteur, parson and burglar, knows Topsy. They have all seen her, time and again upon the stage and in memory of the book and its dramatization. She was a revelation, an unimagined personality and character, (not however without precedent as the original was a girl named Celeste, who was known to the family in Cincinnati). But her actions so constantly appealed to the various strings of the human heart that she remains, a synonym for incarnated mischief, incorrigibility, irresponsibility, fun and impish heartlessness. Quite without an idea of her personal relation to the principles of social rights, insensible to beatings, remonstrances, or any punishment yet devised, she became Miss Ophelia's contradiction and stumbling-block, St. Clare's proof of total depravity, Marie's strong aversion, and the torment of all the house servants.
Only sweet little Eva, the angelic child who gently faded from
earth because she had not enough gross material to stay, overcame the
black child's stolid indifference to kind, well-meant reproaches, and
by the melting force of love, touched the calloused heart, pleading
effectually with smiles and tenderness, by friendly hand-clasp and the
breath of flowers, where stripes and bruising blows had failed. Gentle
Eva, the immortal child of the author's brain, had found the answer to
the question, "What is to be done with a human being that can be
governed only by the lash, when that fails?" Whipping and abuse are
opiates, you have to double the dose as the sensibilities fail and decline. It was and is, for we need the lesson still in this strange, queerly assorted life, the power of love. It is the only power that can move the heart, heal wrongs, incite noble action and bring us a final "Well done."
In this bringing together of the two children, representative of the extremes of society, what dramatic force and sense of telling situations did the author display! It was as a tableau which flashed in one comprehensive scene, the effects of heredity and environment. The Saxon, born of ages of cultivation, the African, born of ages of oppression. There was a world of argument in the combination. It speaks most strongly for itself. Comments are not necessary to show between the lines volumes of deep meaning. We can apply it to various situations in life.
Two years go by, and Uncle Tom lives on comfortable and
comparatively happy. By means of a letter from George Shelby a line of
communication, given as well, to the reader of the story, we easily
return to the Kentucky home, where Chloe works with the hope of
sometime buying her husband back, and Mrs. Shelby keeps the place
running with her enviable executive faculty. It is but a glimpse, and
we take a seat upon the magician's carpet and are again in New Orleans
where we see Eva making Uncle Tom her chief companion and confidential
friend, riding with him, talking upon many interesting and improving
themes, exchanging her knowledge of polite society for his religious
perceptions, reading to him in her melodious voice from the
Scriptures, while he explains and expounds passages in his own simple
and clear-seeing manner. Great,
black, earnest Uncle Tom, sings hymns in his heavy sonorous voice, while Eva listens, sometimes joining her clear piping treble. It is to him, her best friend and most appreciative companion, that Eva confides her feeling that she was going to die soon. It is with him that she talks of the happiness she feels in leaving this earth where she is always tired, and pants for breath, and suffers with fever and a hectic burning in her cheeks; with him that she longs for the rest and perfect happiness of the new life which she is approaching; with him that she talks of the glories of God and of the angels. And he, with his great, loving, honest heart, pierced with anguish, prays that it may not be so, not yet, that she may stay to minister to them all, where kindness and mercy and love are so sadly wanting.
Have we not sobbed in uncontrollable emotion over this story? Have we not seen it portrayed by living actors upon the stage, when no failure to rise to its possibilities, could mar the effect of the sentiment, when even slow music upon a melodeon, in provincial performances, could not destroy its inherent strength and beauty and pathos?
Shall we discuss the literary merits of this tale? Shall we talk of art, when its intensity of sweetness and sadness make tears stream from our eyes, confounding the most unimpressionable, and, having knocked the stilts of conventionalism from under us, let us down to the true basis of feeling, sentiment and truth?
The death of Eva, with the events clustering about the time, the
giving of Topsy by St. Clare to Miss Ophelia, his intention of also
freeing Uncle Tom which was unfortunately postponed too long, and his
own death by accident,
follow in quick succession, and Uncle Tom and all the slaves of the household are left unprotected. Uncle Tom is finally sent to the warehouse and sold; not back to the Shelbys, for they know nothing of his changing fortunes, not to Aunt Chloe, for she, singing over her work in the hope of soon making him free, lives on in happy unconsciousness of his fate. Again the reader witnesses the scenes of a slave mart. Again the auctioneer places human beings upon the block, discusses their good points as animals, pats the glossy brawn of the male field hands and lays rough hands upon the tender flesh of modest women, discanting upon their beauties. Emeline and her pretty daughter Susan are introduced and Legree, the fiend in distorted human shape, the type of all that is naturally brutal, warped and degraded by his trade, appears upon the scene. Here is his picture.
"A little before the sale commenced, a short, broad, muscular man, in a checked shirt considerably open at the bosom, and pantaloons much the worse for dirt and wear, elbowed his way through the crowd, like one who is going actively into a business; and coming up to the group, began to examine them systematically. From the moment that Tom saw him approaching, he felt an immediate and revolting horror at him, that increased as he came near. He was evidently, though short, of gigantic strength. His round, bullet head, large, light-gray eyes, with their shaggy, sandy eyebrows, and stiff, wiry, sun-burned hair, were rather unprepossessing items, it is to be confessed; his large, coarse mouth was distended with tobacco. the juice of which, from time to time, he ejected from him with great decision and explosive force; his hands were immensely large, hairy, sunburned, freckled, and very dirty, and garnished with long nails, in a very foul condition."
Simon Legree with the slaves he had bought at several auctions, among whom were Tom and Emeline, departs for his plantation on a Red River boat. The transformation of Tom, as far as wearing apparel could go, from the sleek, respectable coachman in white linen and broadcloth, to the plantation hand in rough clothes and disreputable hat and shoes, here takes place. Uncle Tom manages to retain his Bible while his other belongings are emptied from his trunk upon the deck, and amid much hilarity, sold to the highest bidders. In the character of Legree, the passage to his neglected and broken-down plantation, the fate of his abused slaves and the regime of terror and crime which he maintained, there is exhibited the most fearful possibilities, the most shameful probabilities of the institution which permitted the absolute holding of human beings, by a so-called owner. In this new situation is plainly demonstrated the pernicious workings of a system in which there is absolutely nothing to protect the life of a slave, but the character of the master.
It has been claimed that the character of Legree is a frightful
imagination of diabolism in human form, an exaggeration of malignity
which could never be realized. Legree has been declared as unreal as
Caliban or an ogre in a nursery tale. But Bill Sikes and the
Thenardiers furnish as distinct and successful literary types; and
alas, have we not known in the flesh, of Wirz, another result of cruel
conditions, the calloused keeper of the prison den at Andersonville!
That personification of ingenuity in torture, who while utterly devoid
of mercy or sensibility to suffering, yet showed a strange fertility
in cruel expedient and an
enjoyment of human terror and agony, quite out of keeping with those benumbed sensibilities. Such a fiend was Legree.
Charles Beecher wrote of a man like him upon the wharves of New Orleans who exhibited his fists, with knuckles enlarged and calloused in "knocking niggers down."
The story grows more intense as we follow Tom through the new
experiences of his life on Simon Legree's plantation. The picture
deepens, grows darker and sadder, and the figures of the down-trodden
slaves stand out distinctly against the gloom of the surroundings. The
heavy labor of the field hands, the weary, soul-crushing round of
work, work uninterrupted or relieved by one hour of pleasure or
peaceful rest, the night grinding of the corn by tired men and women,
who impatiently wait their turns at the hand mills, or in utter
despair abandon the attempt to prepare food, preferring death to such
a struggle for existence and only longing for the end; the character
of the woman Cassy, once a petted favorite of a rich and indulgent
master, later the mother of fair and lovely children, then the
abandoned mistress, who came to the block and saw her children sold
into slavery, at last the desperate creature whose apparent insanity
had made her the dread of drivers and her companions in slavery, and
the consort of the fiend Legree, who was yet an abject coward before
her terrible temper, and unconquerable spirit; the shameful life in
prospect for Emeline, unless some kind fate shall interpose in her
behalf; the brutal orgies of the degraded master, with his two still
more degraded slaves and drivers,—all are depicted with ever
increasing strength and graphic power—for the
climax of the tragedy draws near. Legree hates Uncle Tom as is natural when he discovers his superiority, and feels his unspoken disapproval. For as the author says: "So subtle is the atmosphere of opinion that it will make itself felt without words; and the opinion even of a slave may annoy a master."
Legree realizes, by some unseen but none the less palpable thought transference, that Tom despises him. Thus arouses all his vindictive passions, and he resolves to subdue the man. With a just appreciation of the fine feelings of the creature whom he legally owns, he perceives that more degrading than punishment inflicted upon his person, would be compelling him to flog another, and a woman! This Torn refuses to do, by his calm but decided refusal eliciting expressions of terror from the listening slaves, who know too well what the result will be. Legree, at first dumb-founded at the disobedience, then driven to fury by the evidence that he has no power over the indomitable courage and high spirit of the bondman, orders him to be whipped by the brutal fellows who have been often employed in this shameful office.
Again, when Cassy and Emeline disappear, Legree demands of Tom
their whereabouts. He declines to speak of them, and at his repeated
refusals to disclose their retreat, the fiendish master orders him to
be flogged and without mercy. He could indeed hold and torture the
defenceless body of the poor slave but his spirit he could not
degrade. A good Vermont Judge once ordered a slave hunter who demanded
"his property" to "show a bill of sale from the Almighty." Legree had
no such warrant and his baffled ferocity expended itself
upon the poor tenement of the great free soul. One dreads the denouement and yet perforce must read on. The consequence, the fatal injuries of Uncle Tom, whose spirit never faltered even under the terrible cutting lash of the whips—his hour of pain and mortal anguish as he lies on the floor in a shed—the ministrations by night of Cassy, whose unquiet soul had been moved to sweetness and hope by his brave suffering, and spiritual insights—and—at last, his death, bring the intense tale to a climax.
While from the first page, this story has been a startling revelation, a marvelous sight as through a glass, of the various aspects of life under the system of negro slavery, it is not until we stand over the dead body of Uncle Tom; not until we feel the sublime pity of it, the tender regret and rising indignation of it, the swelling sense of cruel wrong and the irrepressible rush of divine rage, aversion, and unquenchable denunciation for what made this possible—that the work reaches its highest power.
In the scarred, swollen, bleeding form of the noble black man, now lying in the stillness of death, which is unlike any other stillness in nature; in the holy love and trust, which have been the consolation and dependence of this poor dead creature, there is summed up, the possibilities, the capacities for joy and suffering, the patience, faithfulness, docility, great hearted kindness, the noble simplicity, devotion to duty, self sacrifice and determination to do right, the deep religious faith and earnest Christian feeling of the whole African race.
In his disfigured and excoriated body there is epitomized every
possible argument against the institution, which for
political reasons, for a mistaken sense of
honor, on account
of a dim sighted valuation of principles over living issues, conservative souls hesitated to condemn hastily! For had it not had the sanction of custom, almost from the foundation of our colonial existence!
The arrival, too late, of young George Shelby, who has come to buy back his old friend, adds an exquisite touch of pathos, and his burial of the remains of Uncle Tom in his own cloak, presents a ceremony in which the reader feels as a sympathetic mourner. The short interview of the impetuous young man, whose soul is filled with sorrow and regret, with Legree who makes invidious remarks as to the sense of making such "a fuss over a dead nigger," and the sudden accession of wrath which excites George to promptly knock him down—affords an immense satisfaction to the reader, who involuntarily finds himself in young Shelby's place. The story draws to a close, with the sad return of George Shelby to Kentucky, the breaking of the intelligence to Aunt Chloe and the family of Uncle Tom's good master. The account of the happy situation of George Harris, Eliza and their child in a Canadian town, and the exposition through a letter from George of the author's idea for the colonization of Liberia, complete the work.
One commences to re-read this wonderful story with a view to its
merits as literary art. But criticism, artistic standpoint, even the
vehicle itself, is forgotten as one is swept away from all
conventionalities and literary tenets upon the surging current of
mighty feeling. Uncle Tom's Cabin has seldom been discussed as a mere
work of art. Human interest and sympathy so transcend the machinery of
the work, that one quite unburdened with susceptibility
to the weal or woe of the characters, the exquisite tortures of mind and body, the sacred rights of living beings, must be the cool headed, cool hearted critic.
It must be a technical mind which can learnedly discuss the work as tested by the criteria of modern art criticism; a mind which can describe with a nicety, the laws of novel writing; which can assert that this book because the end is outside of itself, because it carries in parallel lines the lives of two heroes which have no essential relation each other. And while we bow and say "Yes," "Yes," to these learned and nice analyses, we still feel that it is a novel, that it is artistic, that it is a work of great originality, genius, and perception of actual possibilities, which are worked out with rare discrimination and dramatic power.
It has been the verdict of some critics who place less value upon
the matter than the manner of a literary work, that the characters in
Uncle Tom's Cabin are all too extreme. That they resemble, in their
respective antipodal manifestations, (if one may be pardoned the
flippancy in thus digesting their wise conclusions,) the historic
little girl, with the curl on her forehead. This may be true from a
coldly artistic reasoning, which demands that the lesser values shall
have their representation, and which in the attempt to round out and
fill characters, often merely succeeds in leveling them to a dull,
uninteresting plain, where heroes and cowards, villains and noble
actors, are so alike, that it requires the minutest analysis to
separate them from each other. It was not the fashion forty years ago
to detract from the force of a representation, by an undue
consideration of its drawbacks and limitations. Neither were
characters emasculated as they are often to-day, by a finical anxiety as to their minor and contradictory traits. Neither was it at all to the taste or disposition of Harriet Beecher Stowe to weaken her own, or the reader's convictions, by citing all the possible modifications of her case. She had no inclination to reduce her strong points to the polished level obtained by many writers. Their indecision (which they mistake for liberality) prevents them from making an enduring impress upon the age. Her work was that of the astronomer who looks at fixed stars through his telescope, as compared with the microscopic nicety, which induces the purveyors of details to call our attention to unessentials in the modern novel. And yet Mrs. Stowe's characters, are very like people we know, whose ruling passion quite obscure their minor traits, whether good or bad.
One fact is quite remarkable, it is, that this story is entirely without a lover. No tale of youthful passion holds it together with delicate threads of sympathy, no hint of the old yet ever new spring time of virgin love, is presented. Of pure and holy affection there is a fullness; of marital, filial and brotherly love, most beautiful instances; but no sweet lady is introduced to be the reward and pride of young George Shelby, and no dark-skinned lover complicates the situation where pretty Emeline is concerned. In Uncle Tom's Cabin Mrs. Stowe regarded life, not in the light of hope or pleasant anticipation. She wrote of a terrible wrong as it existed, and with the earnest purpose, to make others see it as she did.
It is indeed a nondescript work of fiction. No rules or canons
which apply to average and mediocre creations, in any way fit it. Some
works and actions are too low and common for conventional criticism,
this is too high and
apart to be brought under usual comparisons. But granting its literary limitations it must be conceded that, aside from its powerful moral purpose, which obtained where thousands of works of polished rhetoric had failed, and "moulded the heart of millions into one," the unprecedentedly popular impression it made, was due to the true art with which facts and impressions were assimilated, fused and set forth. It was slave life: not something it was like, but the life itself, shown to us through the clear medium of this grand woman's intellect. Can art do more?
It is true that this work had the advantage of a new field of exploration, and that it was an unfolding to the world, of a phase of political and social life, into which the novelist had not penetrated, nor leveled and mannerized the actions and characters. The broad poetic features of life upon which romance relies, were the same, but the situation was peculiar, and the treatment fresh, vigorous, and entirely free from conventionalism.
The state of political feeling which prevailed at the time of the writing of " Uncle Tom's Cabin," can hardly be appreciated by the present generation. The lapse of years, and the anxiety then felt, being relieved by the adjustment of the difficulty, has (in a way) blunted the sensibilities of modern readers to the evil which its author dared to attack. But there is nothing ephemeral in her thoughts and methods. The sentiment of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" will be as true and moving one hundred years hence, as it was forty years ago. Mrs. Stowe's fun is intrinsically humorous. The comicality of her situations endures. It is not dependent upon style, time, or nationality.
Her pathos touches the deepest springs of human sym-
pathy, moving the heart to tenderer throb for all humanity, because she so warms it for the weal of woe of her characters.
Her philosophy is based upon tenable ground, and withal, has a touch of indulgence for the error which she condemns, and a sense of the excusable mistakes of finite beings, emanating from her own generous spirit, which after all dominates her strongest conclusions. Her reasoning is masculine in its logic, a thing quite different from the woman's reason of "gentle Will Shakespeare" which "thinks him so, because, she thinks him so." Its sequence is convincing, building one proposition upon another, until a well constructed argument appears, which stands because well founded. Mrs. Stowe impressed the peculiarities of her personality upon her work. Honesty, directness, grasp of essential points, and good-humored toleration of human limitations, were remarkable, while yet she launched a thunderbolt against the system of negro slavery.
"Uncle Tom's Cabin" is full of thought which is deeper than speech. It glows with feeling which is deeper than thought. This work, had she written no other, would in itself be a sufficient passport to literary immortality.
While Mrs. Stowe was far from advocating disunion or a revolution— and hers was not a political effort but one put forth for moral suasion—it must be remembered, that common sense as well as the law, presumes that a person intends the natural consequences of his actions. Therefore in this soul stirring effort against slavery, Harriet Beecher Stowe proved herself an Abolitionist who looked earnestly to the end, let the means be what they might.
It proved to be an agent more powerful than Garris[on's]
Liberator, more potent than the poems of Whittier, more persuasive than the speeches of Phillips and Sumner. As an eminent critic said; "It presented the thing concretely and dramatically, and in particular it made the Fugitive Slave law forever impossible to enforce."
Statesmen still think however, that neither the influence, of this work—well calculated as it was to awaken the right feeling of the people—nor the speeches and writings of all the other moralists of the age, would have wrought the emancipation of the American slaves, had not the madness of the South upon various political questions, precipitated a series of events, of which Lincoln's proclamation was the glorious culmination. This question must remain a matter of personal opinion, as plainly, no one can measure or weigh moral force. Mrs. Stowe never expected to see the slaves free. It seemed impossible in view of the situation, that emancipation could come so soon. But "God disposes."
Men lived years in each day during that pregnant period, and the thing was accomplished, while yet it was supposed to halt in the dimness of future years.