Temporary Prostration of Mrs. Stowe after the Completion of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Her Despair of Reaching the Hearts of the People. Her Letters to Prominent Personages at Home and Abroad. Replies from Queen Victoria and the Royal Consort, T. B. Macauley, Charles Kingley, The Earl of Shaftesbury, Hon. Arthur Helps, Archbishop Whateley, Frederca Bremer, Madame George Sands, Whittier, Garrison, Henry Ward Beecher, Harriet Martineau and Others. The Effect of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" on the South. Enormous Circulation of the Book. Translations into more than Twenty Languages. The Collection of Editions and Versions in the British Museum Library. Descriptions of Curious Specimens in the Possession of the Author at Hartford, Conn. Instances of Its Effect upon the Moral and Religious Opinions of the World. Rev. Charles E. Stowe's Report of Its American Sale during 1887. An Account Given by the Editor of the Atlantic Monthly of Mrs. Stowe's First Attendance of the Theatrical Representation of "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
NOT until the last chapters of "Uncle
Tom's Cabin" were written, and that eloquent appeal to the people of
the United States which ends the book was finished, did Mrs. Stowe
falter in her task. Not until the last sheets were
folded and sent to the Post Office by a trusty messenger, did she realize how great had been the strain upon her body, heart and mind. It was only when the last page of proof was examined and corrected, that the exaltation and creative fire which had for so many months possessed the author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," fell and died out, leaving her in despair, trembling and quite cast down. Because she feared the results to her personally, because she dreaded impending events, because she lost belief in the truth and justice of the cause which she had thus presented? Not for an instant. It was that it seemed so hopeless to reach the hearts of the people, so futile to remonstrate and urge a turning to the right, so impossible to break down the greed, prejudice and conventionalism which hedged in this system. For some days she lay with closed eyes, inert and plunged in reactionary feeling which destroyed hope and courage. But not for long. Her spirit rose. She felt that she must give her work, if possible, a hearing with the best minds of the age. She must leave nothing undone, which even remotely promised to further the success of her book.
Consequently, she occupied her time for several weeks writing letters, and when the book appeared sent a copy of it with her letter to the English Royal Consort, Prince Albert. There was another to Thomas Babington Macaulay, whose father, Zachary Macaulay, she knew to have been an anti-slavery laborer, of whom Mrs. Stowe afterwards said, "whose place in the hearts of the English Christians was little below saintship." Her book was sent, with the hope that the son might sympathize.
Charles Dickens had more than once expressed his sym-
pathy with the slave, and to him she wrote, sending her book. She addressed another appeal and copy of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," to Charles Kingsley, and another to Lord Carlisle, who had been influential in giving freedom to the blacks in the British colonies.
"Uncle Tom's Cabin" was published in book form in March, 1852. The despondency and uncertainty of the author as to whether any one would read her book, was soon dispelled. Ten thousand copies were sold in a few days, and over three hundred thousand within a year. Eight powerful presses running day and night for months were barely able to keep pace with the demand for it. It was read everywhere, by all classes of people. Talk of it filled the atmosphere. Heated discussions occasioned by it, resounded in cottage, farm house, business offices and palatial residences, all over the land. The pity, distress, and soul-felt indignation in which it had been written, were by it transferred to the minds and consciences of her readers, and the antagonism it everywhere engendered, threw the social life of this country and England, into angry effervescence through all its stratas.
Echoes of its clarion tones came back to her in the quiet home at Brunswick, returning as they had struck the world, with clashing dissonance or loud alarum or low sweet tones of human feeling.
Letters, letters of all sizes, colors, direction and kinds of
chirography, astonished the Post Master at Brunswick, by their
countless numbers, and the author began to feel the nation's pulse.
Friends applauded, remonstrated, or vociferously deprecated her
course. Literary associates praised the technique of the story, but
the subject ill chosen. Abolitionists wrote with irrepressible enthusiasm, and praised God that she had been raised up to do this thing. Politicians angrily expressed their amazement, that her husband should permit her to commit this incendiarism, which might burst into a conflagration that would dissolve the national union. Slave-holders heaped reproaches and contumely upon her, and badly spelled productions, evincing cowardly ruffianism, were taken with tongs by her husband and dropped, almost unread into the fire.
On one occasion Prof. Stowe opened an envelope which contained a negro's ear, pinned to a bit of card-board. Accompanying this sickening thing, were a few words scrawled, which hinted that this was one of the effects of her would-be defense of the "D—n niggers." This was never seen by his wife, as it, with all other offensive letters were speedily destroyed by him in his anxiety to shield her from the unpleasant results of her noble work.
A friend of Mrs. Stowe's favorite brother, has recently said that Henry had threatened never to read "Uncle Torn's Cabin," but couldn't help it, cried over it and wrote to her: "If you ever write another such book I will kill you, if I have to go around the world to find you. You have taken more out of me, than a whole year of preaching. I wish that all the slave-holders in the South, and all their Northern sympathizers with them, were, shut up for a century, and obliged to read about 'Uncle Tom.'"
In May, 1852, Mrs. Stowe, very much in need of rest and
recreation, visited New York. It was at the time of Jenny Lind's
second visit to this country. She was the idol of the hour. Women
listened to her matchless voice with
tears, men were moved to irrepressible enthusiasm, which found vent in dragging her carriage, heaped with flowers, from the Academy of Music to her hotel. Tickets for her concerts were bought weeks in advance, and Mrs. Stowe found that seats were not to be had at any price. But somehow the young Swedish vocalist heard of Mrs. Stowe's application, and immediately sent her tickets for two of the best seats in the house, accompanying them with a charming letter, in which she very ingenuously and gracefully, thanked her for the pleasure she had felt in reading her wonderful book. The letter, with its delicate hand writing, and charmingly fluent, if unconventional English, remains one of the valued souvenirs of the woman and the time.
The cheering testimony came in from fugitive slaves, that people were more kind to them, after reading "Uncle Tom's Cabin." In one respect, however the author's expectations were amusingly controverted by facts. She had represented slave-holders at their best, had taken cognizance of their difficulties and limitations, had admitted their noble traits of character, and really believed that while the radical Abolitionists might think the picture altogether too tame and mild in its dealings with slave-holders, her book would be, as a friend in the South assured her it must be, "a great pacificator; which will unite both North and South." To her astonishment it was the extreme Abolitionists who received it with acclamation, and the solid South who rose up against it; and so far from leveling and smoothing away the differences of opinion between them, it drew an impassable line, fixing a barrier of facts upon either side of which must all the people array themselves.
In May, 1852, Whittier wrote to Garrison:—"What a glorious work Harriet Beecher Stowe has wrought. Thanks for the Fugitive Slave law. Better for slavery that that law had never been enacted, for it gave occasion for 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.'"
In a letter from Garrison to Mrs. Stowe he said, that he estimated the value of anti-slavery writing by the abuse it brought. "Since Uncle Tom's Cabin was published" he added, "all the defenders of slavery have let me alone and are spending their strength in abusing you."
Harriet Martineau wrote sententiously "I am glad to find Mrs. Stowe is held up to execration in the South, along with myself and Mrs. Chapman."
Alternating with and accompanying packages of letters from the illustrious, the celebrated, and the wise of the world were irate and abusive epistles from the brutal traders and slave-holders of the South. Some of these were a disgusting mixture of blasphemy and obscenity, and all rang with cruelty and brutal invective.
Responses came from over the sea. Mrs. Stowe was informed that Prince Albert and the Queen had read her story with the most intense interest. Charles Dickens wrote from London in July, and while courteously suggesting that she went too far and sought to prove too much—a natural criticism from one who had not seen slavery as it was in America—he closed by saying: "Your book is worthy of any head and any heart that ever inspired a book. I am your debtor, and thank you most fervently and sincerely."
Macaulay wrote, thanking her for the volume, assuring her of his
high respect for the talents and for the benevo-
lence of the writer. Four years later the same illustrious author, essayist and historian wrote to Mrs. Stowe: "I have just returned from Italy, where your fame seems to throw that of all other writers into the shade. There is no place where 'Uncle Tom,' transformed into 'Il Zio Tom,' is not to be found."
From Lord Carlisle she received a long and earnest epistle in which he says he felt that slavery was by far the "topping" question of the world and age, and that he returned his "deep and solemn thanks to Almighty God, who has led and enabled you to write such a book."
The Rev. Charles Kingsley, in the midst of illness and anxiety, sent his thanks saying, "Your book will do more to take away the reproach from your great and growing nation, than many platform agitations and speechifyings."
Said Lord Palmerston, "I have not read a novel for thirty years; but I have read that book three times, not only for the story, but for the statesmanship of it."
Lord Cockburn declares: "She has done more for humanity than was ever before accomplished by any single book of fiction."
In December of the same memorable year, 1852, the Earl of
Shaftesbury, a man who spent a lifetime in endeavors to lift the
crushing burdens from the laboring classes of England. and had
redeemed from the slavery of the collieries and the mines, hundreds of
women and children, who were degraded almost below belief in the
horrors of their situation and labor, introduced himself by letter to
the author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," commending various good points in
her story, and testifying to his realization from experience, of the
truth of certain characters. He
waived the particularization of the various beauties, "singular, original and lasting, which shine throughout the work," and assured her of his sincere admiration and respect.
About the same time Mrs. Stowe received a letter from Hon. Arthur Helps, accompanying a review of her work written by himself, for Fraser's Magazine.
Her reply to this letter, having been shown to Archbishop Whateley, elicited a letter from him, complimenting her, and informing her that he had negotiated for articles from very able hands upon the same subject for the "Edinburgh" and "North British " Reviews, both of which had a wide circulation and potent influence.
This was surely most welcome evidence that the book had found powerful friends and sturdy support on English shores. Mr. Sampson Low, afterwards Mrs. Stowe's English publisher, wrote of its success in England, saying that from April to December, six months after its publication, forty editions had been issued, in all forms, from the handsome, illustrated one, at fifteen shillings, to the sixpence pamphlet. He estimated that the number then circulated in England and its colonies, would aggregate one million and a half.
Meanwhile the book had found its way to the North of Europe, and among the precious assurances of its worth was a letter from sweet Fredericka Bremer at Stockholm. It was written in her own charming style, and every sentence seemed to have been fused in the genial warmth of her woman's heart.
The Paris Temps has recently said: "Even
if we go back to Alexandre Dumas's 'Musketeers ' and to Eugene Sue's
'Mysteries of Paris' we still find that 'Uncle Tom' surpassed them all in the intense interest awakened. Every paper and publisher in Paris wanted it, and three of our dailies published it simultaneously. So great was the popular excitement that a reader of the Siecle would hurry out and buy a copy of the Presse in the hope that it might give more of the unfinished chapter."
We have ministerial authority for the statement that the reading of Uncle Tom's Cabin in Paris created a great demand among the people for Bibles. "Purchasers eagerly inquired if they were buying the real Bible- -Uncle Tom's Bible. The same result was produced in Belgium and elsewhere. Could the most eloquent preacher do more than this?"
Henrick Heine, whom no one could suspect of such predilections, after describing his gropings and flounderings amid the unsatisfactory speculations of German philosophy, tells us how he at length come to quit Hegel and to read the Bible with Uncle Tom, finding in the simple faith of the poor slave a higher wisdom than in the great philosophers' dialectics.
Madame George Sand, a woman of rare intellectual strength, presented it to the reading public of France in a glowing review, which is doubtless one of the worthiest tributes to the author and the work, which has ever seen the light. It was vital with spontaneous enthusiasm, and while recognizing certain artistic defects, with true judgment as to the essentials, Madame Sand regards these as nothing in comparison with the persuasive force and compelling strength of the story. George Sand declares that the children "are the true heroes of Mrs. Stowe's work."
Reviews and critics everywhere were speedily busy with the book, discussing it from standpoints as various as human opinions, in lights as many and different as the imperceptible gradations of the prismatic colors or the shade between black and white which Goethe ingeniously, if erroneously, took to be the scientific explanation of color.
Within a year "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was scattered all over the world. Translations were made into all the principal languages and into several obscure dialects, in number variously estimated from twenty to forty. The librarian of the British Museum, with an interest and enterprise which might well put our own countrymen to blush, has made a collection which is unique and very remarkable in the history of books. American visitors may see there, thirty-five editions of the original English and the complete text, and eight of abridgements and adaptations, Of translations into different languages there are nineteen; viz, Armenian 1; Bohemian 1; Danish 2 distinct versions; Dutch 1; Finnish 1; Flemish 1; French 8 distinct versions and 2 dramas; German 5 distinct versions and 4 abridgments; Hungarian 1 complete version, 1 for children and 1 versified abridgement; Illyrian 2 distinct versions; Italian 1; Polish 2 distinct versions; Portuguese 1; Roman or Modern Greek 1; Russian 2 distinct versions; Spanish 6 distinct versions; Swedish 1; Wallachian 2 distinct versions; Welsh 3 distinct versions.
Of the "Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin" there are seven editions in
different languages, of works on the subject of "Uncle Tom's Cabin
there are eight, separately published. Of reviews of it there are
forty-nine. But this list is by no means complete. Many editions and
translations have been
impossible to procure, but the English speaking world owes thanks to Mr. Bullen and his coadjutors for their successful collection of so many versions.
In Italy, "the powers that be" published an edition in which all allusions to Christ were changed to the Virgin Mary, "a piece of craftiness," says our authority, "that argues better for the book than for its mutilators."
Many foreign publishers and translators sent their reproductions to the author and in the library of Mrs. Stowe's house at Hartford, the writer has seen many most interesting and curious editions. At intervals since the publication of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" the author has received editions of her work from the most unexpected sources, and the more interesting ones have been preserved, though with that characteristic lack of appreciation of her own greatness, and the carelessness which familiarity and close associations with a famous author, seem to make possible, neither Mrs. Stowe nor her children appear to have invested them with high value, and when asked for by the present writer, a few of them were found after some search on the shelves in the back of a closet, scattered about and in imperfect preservation.
Among them were specimens of several of the French editions, by
various translators, and a few of the German issues. There were
numerous Italian editions, Spanish and Cuban, Dutch, Swedish and
Danish. One from Abertawy, India, in the provincial dialect; one in
Polish; and two which were found published on the island of Java in
the Dutch language, an 18mo published at Sooraligia at the east end of
the island, and an octavo brought out at Batavia. These were forwarded
Mrs. Stowe by a missionary, the Rev. Samuel W. Bonney, who found them in this out-of-the-way place, with a letter written on the good ship "Comet " one hundred miles south of Java. There was one which seemed to be all consonants, chiefly L's, W's and Y's in the Welsh. This was illustrated by George Cruikshank in his most peculiar style. Those in the Russian, of which there were several, were pictured with the most astonishing and un-American negroes and drivers, imaginable.
There is one very rare and valuable, in Armenian, translated by one of the monks in the convent at Venice. The hieroglyphics which convey written ideas in this language are most obscure and unfamiliar.
There was one, received from an unknown hand, which is in a language of which the family had no information. Prof. Stowe with his knowledge of philology could not guess at it, until some student of uncommon lore pronounced it to be one of the least known of the Hungarian dialects.
Some of the early English editions were quaint and interesting; one, a penny sheet, in print so small as to be ruinous to the eyesight. Other cheap English editions were more attractive, but all had illustrations which were intensely English, and convey to the American reader no similitude of scenes in the South. Many of these editions, numbering some seventy-five, came to the author with the compliments of the publishers, (it is not recorded whether in many cases their acknowledgments went so far as the paying of a royalty) and many were rich and costly, while others are in pasteboard or the penny sheet.
The Rev. Dr. Dwight, an eminent American missionary,
wrote from Constantinople to Prof. Stowe regarding the Armenian translation in September, 1855, three years and one half after the publication of the great book, as follows:
"Uncle Tom's Cabin in the Armenian language! Who would have thought it? I do not suppose your good wife when she wrote that book, thought she was going to missionate it among the sons of Haig in all their dispersions, following them along the banks of the Euphrates, sitting down with them in their towns and villages under the shade of hoary Ararat, traveling with them in their wanderings even to India and China. But I have it in my hands in the Armenian of the present day, the same language in which I speak and think and dream. Now do not suppose this is any of my work, or that of any missionary in the field. The translation has been made and the book printed at Venice by a fraternity of Catholic Armenian Monks perched there on the Island of St. Lazarus. It is in two volumes neatly printed with plates, I think translated from the French. It has not been in any respect materially altered and when it is so, not on account of religious sentiment. The account of the negro prayer and exhortation meetings is given in full, though the translator, not knowing what we mean by people's becoming Christians, took pains to insert at the bottom of the page that at these meetings of the negroes, great effects were sometimes produced by the warmhearted exhortations and prayers, and it often happened that heathen negroes embraced Christianity on the spot.
One of your former scholars is now in my house studying Armenian, and the book I advised him to take as the best for the language is this 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.'"
Good Mr. Thomas Watts, the librarian next preceding Mr. Bullen of
the British Museum, the one who first suggested making a collection of
the various editions and trans-
lations, wrote Prof. Stowe many interesting facts regarding the book and said: "The translation of the same text by thirteen different translators at precisely the same epoch of a language is a circumstance perhaps altogether unprecedented, and it is not one likely to recur, as the tendency of modern alteration in the law of copyright is to place restrictions on the liberty of translators. The possession too, of such a book as 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' is very different from that of such a book as 'Thomas a Kempis' in the information it affords to the student of a language. There is every variety of style, from that of animated narration and passionate wailing to that of the most familiar dialogue, and dialogue not only in the language of the upper classes but of the lowest. The student who has once mastered 'Uncle Tom' in Welsh or Wallachian, is not likely to meet any further difficulties in his progress through Welsh or Wallachian prose."
Thus it appears that this book was destined to stand pre-eminent as an educator, not only morally but technically.
It is related that during the season following the publication of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" a kind-hearted gentleman was staying over night at one of the New York hotels. After retiring to his room his attention was arrested by a sound as of some one in the next apartment, a strong man, sobbing and moaning. With occasional periods of quiet, the sorrowful sounds were prolonged even after he had gone to bed. At last moved to pity by the evident suffering of a fellow mortal, he arose, found it past midnight, and going to the wall, rapped upon it and asked, "My friend, what is the matter? Are you ill or in any trouble that I can relieve? Shall I call for medical aid?"
After a slight pause the voice replied, though choked with convulsive sobs, " No. No, a doctor wouldn't do me any good. I am reading 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.'"
"Ah!" said the good man who was a friend of the slave, "I am sorry—no, glad. Weep on, my friend, and when the time comes, act upon what you are learning."
Rufus Choate, the brilliant lawyer, who, from his qualities, was naturally conservative,—even through his respect for the laws, a strong pro-slavery man—read "Uncle Tom's Cabin," as all needs must do who would be informed upon the latest and most powerful condemnation of the "system." He wept over it in spite of himself, and slamming down the book exclaimed angrily: "There! That will add two thousand more to the ruff-scuff Abolitionists." As it proved this estimate was a moderate one.
Seeing that the great desire of her heart, the awakening of the Christian people, had begun as a direct result of her work, and that various petitions and remonstrances had within a few months poured in upon Congress from the Middle and Western states, and that as many as one hundred and twenty-five remonstrances had already appeared from the ministers of the six New England states, Mrs. Stowe conceived the idea of a mammoth Memorial, so engrossed as to present the original signatures, and heading of each petition, protesting "in the name of Almighty God against the proposed extension of the domain of slavery in the territory of the United States."
She suggested it to Dr. H. M. Dexter, editor of
The Congregationalist, through whose agency
the heading was prepared at a meeting of the Boston ministers. The
names of 3,050 New England clergymen were obtained and the memor-
ial, a monster petition two hundred feet long, was presented to Congress.
Charles Sumner, then fresh in his seat in the Senate, thanked the ministers for their interposition, adding in his inspiriting voice, "In the days of the Revolution, John Adams, yearning for independence, said, 'Let the pulpit thunder against oppression' and the pulpits thundered! The time has come for them to thunder again."
In the present age of the world and condition of literary criticism, it has sometimes seemed difficult to understand the phenomenal popularity of this work, but is only because in our supposed familiarity with it, we have forgotten its strength, its graphic power, its deep philosophy, its rare humor. While negro slavery has receded rapidly into the past, in the more than twenty years since the proclamation of Lincoln, and another generation has come upon the stage; while we are in our turn, absorbed with the burning questions of the present day, and naturally prone to undervalue those that are past, it needs but a reperusal of this great work to carry us back into the very seeth and foam of the agitation of forty years ago. It is only in realizing how potent it is with its readers of the reconstructed Union of to-day—a Union which is fairer and brighter for the troubles and sadness of the past—that we can estimate the momentum which this intellectual work carried with it all over the civilized world.
A correspondent, writing of the tardy abolition of slavery in
Brazil, which held its chattels after the sister republics of S.
America had given them freedom, recently says: "Uncle Tom's Cabin" is
a book that still goes marching on. Down in Brazil the emancipation of
the slaves was
mainly due to an editor who kept his paper red hot with abolition arguments. He did not have much success until finally he printed a translation of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Then the people waked up. They cried over the story, and raised such a protest against slavery that the government was forced to abolish it."
Having freed her mind and heart of the weight of anxiety and responsibility which bore upon it, having eased her own sympathies in great measure by transferring from herself to her army of readers, the freight of woe, which weighed her down and would not be lightened until she had spoken—Mrs. Stowe returned quietly to the duties of domestic life. Her baby boy then a year old, proceeded with the succession of small ailments which infantile man finds ready to meet him in this difficult world. The dreaded crisis of teething in the second summer was upon him, the older children demanded constant attention, and the mother's sewing was sadly in arrears. The two older daughters, nearly fifteen years of age, were entering young womanhood with alert and quickened senses, their evenings were spent in conversation and listening to readings from the best English authors by Professor Stowe, while the little mother patched, and darned, ripped, turned, pressed and made over innumerable garments and began to think of sending the twin girls to boarding school.
The author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" knew with glad surprise, and a
sort of awe of her own performance, of the wonderful sale of her book.
She received and read hundreds of letters with a deep sense of
gratitude that the good seed had fallen upon such unexpectedly rich
places. With a singular modesty which she has ever since maintained—
a modesty which was superior to, and not to be lessened by the praise which poured in upon her, and has been poured in such precious measure at her feet even until now—Mrs. Stowe never thought of the work as a credit to her literary powers, but only with an humble thankfulness that she had been chosen the instrument by which God had unfolded the right.
At the end of the first six months, Professor Stowe one day tore open a letter from Mr. Jewett, the publisher of "Uncle Torn's Cabin," and found enclosed a check for ten thousand dollars, which the sender begged him to accept as the first installment of the author's royalty on "Uncle Tom's Cabin." "Why, Harriet," said he, "it is more money than I ever saw in all my life."
The sum which was now in their hands would indeed, if placed at the usual rate of interest, yield a yearly income which would largely augment the salary of Professor Stowe. It meant comfort, intellectual possibilities, aesthetic gratifications, which they had never dreamed of as for them. The next six months brought a similar sum, and for thirty-seven years the income from "Uncle Torn's Cabin" has not ceased, but brought not only the temporal good things of life to its author and her family, but the comforting assurance that the heart power, the spirit of love and good will to men which is embodied, still thrills responsive in human hearts, still carries a throb of pity and kindness to a million breasts, still works on, imperishable, as intrinsic goodness must ever be, sweetening and brightening the world.
In answer to an inquiry made by the present writer as to the
number of copies of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" sold
since its appearance, Rev. Charles E. Stowe wrote Dec. 28th, 1887: "I have no kind of a notion as to the number of copies of Uncle Tom sold since the first. Since last May, there have been twelve thousand two hundred and twenty-five copies sold.
"The edition is completely exhausted, so when new copies were wanted to sell at the Plymouth Church fair in Brooklyn the other day, there were none to be had."
A rough estimate shows that the steady sale of Uncle Tom's Cabin was, in 1887, at the rate of fifteen hundred copies a month. It will be understood that Mr. Stowe spoke of the American edition alone.
To the Hon. Francis H. Underwood, LL. D., at present United States Consul at Glasgow, we are indebted for the following account of Mrs. Stowe's first visit to a dramatic representation of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Having been the projector of the Atlantic Monthly and then acting as managing editor, it fell to him and his wife to entertain its contributors, and Mrs. Stowe was the recipient of many courtesies from them.
In the winter of 1852 or 1853 a dramatic version of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was performed at the National Theatre, Boston—a fine, large theatre, in the wrong place—that is to say, in one of the worst districts of Boston. It was burned a few years later, and never rebuilt. The dramatization was not very artistic, and the scenes introduced were generally the most ghastly ones of the painful story. Of the lightness and gayety of the book there was no sign. The actors were fairly good, but none of them remarkable, except the child who personated Eva, and the woman, (Mrs. Howard) who played Topsy. Mrs. Howard was beyond comparison the best representative of the dark race I ever saw. She was
I asked Mrs. Stowe to go with me to see the play. She had some natural reluctance, considering the position her father had taken against the theatre, and considering the position of her husband as a preacher; but she also had some curiosity as a woman and as an author to see in flesh and blood the creations of her imagination. I think she told me she had never been in a theatre in her life. I procured the manager's box, and we entered privately, she being well muffled. She sat in the shade of the curtains of our box, and watched the play attentively. I never saw such delight upon a human face as she displayed when she first comprehended the full power of Mrs. Howard's Topsy. She scarcely spoke during the evening; but her expression was eloquent,—smiles and tears succeeding each other through the whole.
It must have been for her a thrilling experience to see her thoughts bodied upon the stage, at a time when any dramatic representation must have been to her so vivid. Drawn along by the threads of her own romance, and inexperienced in the deceptions of the theatre, she could not have been keenly sensible of the faults of the piece or the shortcomings of the actors.
I remember that in one scene Topsy came quite close to our box, with her speaking eyes full upon Mrs. Stowe's. Mrs. Stowe's face showed all her vivid and changing emotions, and the actress must surely have divined them. The glances when they met and crossed reminded me of the supreme look of Rachel when she repeated that indescribable Helas! There was but a slight wooden barrier between the novelist and the actress—but it was enough! I think it a matter of regret that they never met.
The Eliza of the evening was a reasonably good actress, and
The Uncle Tom was rather stolid—such a man as I have seen preaching among the negroes when I lived in Kentucky.
It was afterwards put upon the stage at the Boston Museum in a more worthy presentation, and at the same period ran 150 nights in New York before packed houses. Dramatic versions, from those on the grandest scale to parlor dialogues, flooded the market, and thousands who might never have been reached by the book, were moved and thrilled by that potent educator, the theatre.