GEORGE SAND AND UNCLE TOM.
The most popular female novelist of France has written an elaborate criticism of the romance of Mrs. Beecher Stowe. It appeared in the Paris Presse of the 20th of December, a few days after the close of Mr. Piatt's translation of the work. Our readers will of course feel a vivid curiosity to know what such an authority can say of such a work, and we mean to gratify it by rendering the criticism into English.—N.Y. Eve. Post.
UNCLE TOM'S CABIN.
To speak of a book on the morrow of its appearance, (says Madame Sand,) and in the very journal in which it has been published, is contrary to custom; but in the present case, this is a disinterested homage, since the immense success which the book has acquired acquits one of any motive of attempting to aid its circulation. It is already in all hands—in all journals. Editions of all sizes have appeared, and everybody devours it, and covers it with tears. No one who can read, is permitted to go without reading it; and the only regret is, that there are so many among us who cannot read—the Helots of misery, the slaves of ignorance—for whom politics has not yet solved the problem of bread for the soul and bread for the body.
It is no clap-trap advertisement, then, to return upon the work of Mrs. Stowe; it is an homage, and never did a pure and generous woman deserve a more tender and spontaneous one. She is far away from this, we do not know her, she that has pierced our hearts with emotions so sad, and therefore so sweet, and so let us thank her the more! Let the plaintive voices of women, let the generous voices of men and of children, so admirably glorified in the book, and those of the oppressed in this world, traverse the sea to say how much she is esteemed, how much she is loved.
If the best praise that can be given to an author is to love him, the truest that can be shown his book, is to love its faults. We cannot pass these in silence, we cannot elude the discussion of them, but we need not trouble ourselves about them, while others rally us for weeping over the simple narratives of the victims described. The defects of Mrs. Stowe's book exist only in respect to certain conventions of art, which are not absolute. If the judges, treating it as a mere bit of bookmaking, find parts that are tedious, repetitions, unskilfulness, let them take care, when they try to confirm their judgments by selecting some chance chapter, that their eyes are dry! They will remind themselves of that Ohio Senator, who argued with his little wife that he was right in voting for the Fugitive Slave Law, and yet took off two fugitives himself in his carriage in the depth of the night, getting out into the mud up to his middle often, to help push on the wheels. This charming episode paints in the most admirable manner the situation of the greater part of men, placed between custom, prejudice, and their own hearts, otherwise, more naive and generous than their institutions and manners.
This is the history, both touching and ludicrous, of a great number of independent critics. Whether the question be a social or literary one, those who pretend to judge it coldly, and at the point of view of the abstract law, are often surprised into the deepest emotions, and sometimes conquered, without being willing to confess it. I am always charmed with the anecdote of Voltaire, who, wishing to hold the fables of Lafontaine up to contempt, took the book, and said—"listen! you shall see—take the first we come to!" He read it. "Ah! that's passable—but here's another, quite stupid!" He read the second, and found it very pretty. A third quite disarmed him; but reading on to find a bad one, he threw down the book, exclaiming, with ingenious spite, "It's only a hotch-potch of master-pieces." Great minds may be billious and vindictive, but when they reflect, it is impossible for them to be unjust or insensible.
This work, badly constructed, according to the laws of modern romances, as they are accepted in France, inspires everybody, and triumphs over all criticism, in every discussion raised in the family circle. For it is essentially a domestic and family book, with its long dialogues, its minute details, and its portraits, so carefully studied. Mothers, young persons, children, and servants, read and comprehend it; and men, even superior men, cannot disdain it—we do not say, because its finer qualities redeem its defects, but because of these very pretended defects.
In France, we combated for a long while the prolixities of exposition in Walter Scott. We next cried out against these of Balzac; but on consideration, it was seen, that in paintings of manners and characters, there was never too much when every stroke of the pencil was in its place, and concurred in the general effect. Sobriety and rapidity are eminent qualities; but we should learn to like all methods that are good, and which bear the sign of a wise and instinctive mastery.
Mrs. Stowe is all instinct, and for that reason she appears at first not to have talent. No talent! What is talent? Nothing, doubtless, compared to genius! But has she genius? I do not know that she has talent, as it is understood in the world of letters, but she has the genius which humanity has the most need of—the genius of good! This is not to be a man of letters, but do you know what it is? It is to be a saint—nothing more.
Yes, a saint! Three times holy is the soul which loves, blesses, and consoles martyrs! Pure, penetrating, and profound, is the spirit which sounds the depths of human nature! Great, generous, and vast the heart, which embraces in its pity, in its love, in its respect, a race sunken in blood and mire, under the scourges of cruel men, and the maledictions of the impious.
It is well for us, that it is so; it is well that we feel, in spite of ourselves, that genius is the heart, that power is faith, that finally, success is sympathy, since this book quite overturns us, chokes the throat, melts the spirits, and fills us with a strange sentiment of tenderness and admiration for the figure of a poor negro, lacerated with blows, stretched in the dust, and exhaling, in a coach-house, his last breath to God.
In respect to art, moreover, there is but one rule, one law, which is to show and to move. Where do we find creations more complete, types more living, situations more touching and more original, than in Uncle Tom? The sweet relations of the slave with the child of his master, exhibit a condition of things unknown amongst us—the protest of the master himself against slavery endures the whole phase of his life, when his soul belongs to God alone. Society absorbs him then, law expels deity, and interest deposes conscience. Arriving at manhood the child ceases to be a man, he becomes a master, and God does out of his heart.
What experienced hand has ever traced a type more striking and attractive than Saint Clair—that refined, noble, loving, generous nature, but too soft and indifferent to be great? Is he not man in general, man with his fine innate qualities, his good impulses, and his deplorable carelessness—the charming master, who loves and is loved, who thinks, who reasons, but who never concludes or acts? He expends in a day the treasures of indulgence, of reason, of justice, and of goodness; he dies without having saved. His precious life is all resumed in a word—aspiration and regret. He could not will. Alas! there are not a few such among the best and strongest of men.
The life and death of a child, the life and death of a negro, is the whole of this book. That child and that negro are two saints for Heaven. The friendship which unites them, their respect for each other, is the whole love and passion of the drama. I do not know any other genius than that of sanctity, which could have spread over such a situation, a charm so powerful, and sustained.
Children are the true heroes of Mrs. Stowe. Her soul, the most maternal that ever was, has conceived all the little beings in the very light of Heaven, (rayon de la grace.) George Shelby, little Harry, the cousin of Eva, the baby of the little wife of the Senator, and Topsey, the poor, devilish, and excellent Topsey, those that are seen, and those that are not seen in this romance, but of which only three words are spoken by their desolate mothers—are a world of little white and black angels, in which every women recognises the object of her love, the source of her joys and her tears. In taking form in the mind of Mrs. Stowe, these children, without ceasing to be children, taken also ideal proportions, and come to interest us more than all the personages in love romances.
The women, too, are designed with the hand of a master—not only the mothers, who are sublime, but those who are not mothers, either in heart or in face, and whose infirmities are treated with indulgence or rigor. By the side of the methodical miss Ophelia, who learns that duty is nothing without affection, Marie St. Clair is a portrait of frightful fidelity. One trembles to think that she exists—this American lioness; that she is everywhere; that each of us has seen her; for slaves are not wanting to her to make her reveal herself as a torturer in the midst of her vapors and tremblings of the nerve.
Saints have also their claw; it is that of the lion; it respects human flesh; but it fastens upon the conscience. A little warm indignation, a little terrible mockery, is not unbecoming Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the woman so gentle, so humane, so religious, so full of evangelical unction. Yes, she is a woman of great goodness, but not what we derisively call "a very good woman;" she is a strong, courageous heart, which, in blessing the unhappy, in caressing the faithful, aiding the irresolute, attracting the weak, does not fear to spit the hardened sinners, that she may show their deformity to the world.
Madame Sand then concludes her article with an expression of her personal thanks to Mrs. Stowe.