The National Era
Unsigned Article
Washington, D.C.: 13 November 1856

The Review.

THE CURSE ENTAILED. By Harriet Hamlin Bigelow. Boston: Wentworth & Co. 1857.

  If we may judge by the number and variety of volumes on these subjects issued from the press, Anti-Slavery literature is very popular. Every few weeks gives us a new tale, embracing some phase of slave life or fortunes. Books for and against the institution meet each other, and jostle on to the reading public, the greater portion of whom are not afraid to look both parties in the face. In multitudinous ways the subject is discussed. Wherever there is free speech and a free press, and we are thankful that it is so with by far the most numerous of our population the month in and month out, there is no lack of material to keep up the interest in the topic that has taken such a hold on the thinking mind. The books are sold and are read. They are talked about; opinions are compared; that there is an insensible influence from them pervading the whole community. It cannot be otherwise, and it is this fact among others which assures us that the leaven of sound opinions is spreading among all the masses, which renders any ultimate retrograde action impossible. The next generation will have had more light so poured upon the minds than any proceeding. No one but must know and feel that where thousands of copies of one and another tale or autobiography are falling into the hands of the young, as well as those of riper years, it is not all the bars and bolts of despotism that can hold its citadel from a final downfall. Our Revolution was aided by no such mighty engines to batter down the walls of oppression; yet the clarion sounds that year after year came pealing on the ears of our sires had their effect, and at last poured their echoed thunder upon the very throne. So it will be now. Such being the case, we cannot but watch with no little interest the almost daily issues of the press bearing any relation to this subject. Writers who thus come out in the field should feel the responsibility, weigh well their strength and so shape their efforts as not to let them be lacking in interest or might of conviction.

  The authoress of this volume has drawn a dark enough picture of slavery; its most revolting features leer upon us with a horrid mockery of religion and morality. Facts, such as she has depicted, no doubt exist. They are the necessary result of the system carried out to its legitimate results. Unlimited power, as an instrument of passion and sensual excess, must be baleful and damning in their work on the souls of man. The moral sense will be blinded, too, even where these worst consequences are not developed, and the feeling of responsibility to God is impaired till it ceases to be realized, except on some startling occasion. A partial numbness creeps over the heart, and the eye can see, the ear can hear, the tongue can speak, its apologies, as it would not once have done. Habituated to mingle with others as insensible, if not far more so, to the evils known, soon the injustice and the sin is unthought of, and the daily occurrences of such a state of the inferior society so far beneath them, is as little cared for as among the brutes that heard in their fields. God, however, must see it all with a different eye. And it is because they are not mere brutes, but destined to live forever, that the voice of the blood shed, and the fires of down-trodden men and women, have such a fearful meaning. It is this point which Mrs. Stowe has urged with such effect; and this it is, with other things which imparts such a moral power to her Uncle Tom's Cabin and Dred. Our authoress, in the book now under notice, too, has not been wanting in seizing hold of this element, and her tale is in may respects well conceived, and portions of it are suitably carried out. It, however, is too involved in this plot, and there is a degree of apparent exaggeration in the incidents, that may detract from its effect. We would not charge any real exaggeration of possible situation or conditions; but in our view, a less lengthened coil many times round and round of the serpent, a less elaborated network of contingencies cast over the persons who figure throughout the scenes, would have been better. The volume in parts should have been shorter; with fewer details, the breaks here and there of the main thread of the story are too great. Whether or not a practiced writer, she evidently describes with great sincerity of purpose. We think she fails in the Negro dialect; it is less true to nature than in some other books. There is a want of distinctness also in certain portions of the book; at least, the incidents and language do not make that impression that the mind recalls them when their remembrance is needed to further the progress toward the end. The operations of the curse in one generation after another is strongly depicted, and we feel it. But the whole influence after all, is not so concentrated as to produce the effect that she aims at. We rise from its perusal as from a tale of horror, but the abiding power is soon lost. We state our impression of the book as it seemed to us when we had gone through it all. Our readers may be differently affected, and the authoress should have the benefit of such admission, as she has our sincere wishes that her book may prove a better auxiliary than we have regarded it, in the great cause of moral improvement and philanthropy.