REPLY TO H.C. WRIGHT ON 'UNCLE TOM'S CABIN.'
SPRINGFIELD MASS., AUG. 20, 1852
FRIEND GARRISON—I am aware that you are overburthened at this time with communications for the Liberator, particularly those of a theological character; but having seen no reply in your columns to what I deem a very unfair attack on one of the very best anti-slavery instrumentalities of the age, I trust you will allow me an opportunity to attempt to reply to it. While perusing H. C. W's article on 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' I was filled with astonishment that such a sterling friend of the poor slave as he, could find it in his heart thus to deride and oppose a book that has done more for the anti-slavery cause, probably, than any half-dozen others that have been published since the commencement of this enterprise. To be sure, it does not pretend to be an ultra production, nor do its friends claim for it such merit as they attribute to severer rebukes of slavery as a sinful institution; but as a picture of the terrible institution, drawn with the skill of a perfect artist, and pointed with a faithfulness that defies that criticism of one who has gazed on its counterpart all his life-time, they do regard it as pre-eminently the work of the anti-slavery enterprise. It seems almost like justifying benevolence, or defending virtue, to attempt to lead in favor of such a work; and I should not undertake to do so, did I not know that some minds who have not read the book have been prejudiced against it by H. C. W's article. I am sure that H. C. W. would be the last man, knowingly, to oppose any anti-slavery instrumentality—much less, so powerful an one as this; and therefore I am forced to conclude, that he is honest in his opposition to the book, although it is difficult for me to conceive how one, usually as clear-sighted as he, can be so blinded in this instance. Having perused the book in course three times, and once since the appearance of H. C. W's article, that I might be able to detect the faults of which he speaks, besides having read large portions of it twenty times to friends and others, I think I am sufficiently able to speak correctly concerning its contents.
In the first place, what does the book pretend? Does it claim to be a radical, 'no union with slaveholders,' 'no church, no ministry, no Bible, no Sabbath' production? By no means. It comes before the public not as a thoroughgoing abolition production, the object of which is to preach the gospel of repentance to the pro-slavery sinners of our land; but simply as a tale, a story, the scenes of which lie, as the author says, 'among a race hitherto ignored by the associations of polite and refined society,' and as such it is to be tried. It would be exceedingly unfair to subject all of H. C. W.'s writings to one unvarying standard of criticism. For instance, in relating the admirable story of the Quaker and the man who stole his wheat, how unjust it would be to condemn H. C. W. because the Quaker believed in punishment hereafter, when he feared to pray, 'forgive us our trespasses, even as we forgive those who trespass against us.' H. C. W. does not believe that the doctrine of punishment by the Almighty is true, and yet he does not hesitate to use the incident as an illustration of true Christian practice. In a novel, we surely do not look for correct action, on the part of all the characters, for that is to portray men and women as they are, and not as they should be. If 'Uncle Tom' had been represented as one possessing perfectly true ideas of morals, then what would have become of the oft-repeated assertion of abolitionists, that slavery prevents a slave from being a Christian? "Uncle Tom" is not the highest type of Christian perfection, by any means, but only the best character that slavery could produce. I believe with H. C. W. that no person can be a Christian and consent to remain a slave, but as soon as God's Spirit takes up his abode in the slave's heart, he will be induced to seek to obtain his freedom; but nevertheless, I do not object at all to the glorious, though somewhat mistaken character of 'Uncle Tom.' He is certainly the best representation of our friend's own doctrine of non-resistance that any book has furnished us with, and as a non-resistant, is worthy of all praise; although more enlightened views of religion would have made him a less submissive one. Can we not admire sincerity, faith and love, even when error accompanies their manifestation? A bright landscape may be sullied by several obnoxious objects, and yet, do we gaze at it any the less rapturously? No! forgetting the specks upon its otherwise fair surface, we drink in, with all our soul, the beautiful prospect before us. Suppose we should cast away all our friends who had one fault, however perfect they might be in other respects, where would be the remainder of them? If perfection is so rare in actual life, why should we look for its delineation on the pages of a novel. When the design of a novel is not to create imaginary human beings, but to paint them as they really exist? What would be thought of a novel, whose characters were merely the author's ideal either of virtue of vice? Such a story would lose all its force, as being unheard of and incredible. The only question to regard to 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' is, is it a true representation of slavery? This is all the authoress claims for it, and this is the only rule of criticism by which we have a right to try it. It is not for us to complain because our theological or moral ideas are not all taught in its pages. If we can appreciate nothing but what squares with out higher conceptions, we shall lose a vast deal of truth and beauty that flash abroad in the world—sometimes in places where we would hardly look for them. I think reformers sometimes err in this respect. We are too apt to reject truth because it is connected with error, whereas we should be eclectics, always choosing the good, no matter in what company it may be found.
The Apostle John, in his most sublime delineations of Christian brotherhood, recognizes as Christians a great multitude of persons that we with our light would all reject, as not entitled to the Christian name. For instance, he declares that 'Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God'; and 'Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God'; both of which allegations we should pronounce untrue; but would any of us therefore cast away his beautiful doctrines of the brotherhood of the race? Christ himself calls his disciples 'clean,' or pure, and yet 'they all forsook him and fled,' which we should regard as pretty good evidence that there were not 'clean,' but on this account we none of us reject Christ's teachings.
H. C. W. seems to suppose that Mrs. Stowe, so to speak, fathers all the characters in her work. A novel writer necessarily introduces many characters of whom he disapproved; and who can determine his sentiments from perusing the incidents daguerreotyped by him? As well might a sculptor, or still more a poet, be accused of teaching a wrong morality, because forsooth, his pencil, chisel or pen has invested with new charms the actions of some dead hero whose morality was in some respects questionable. Would H. C. W. object to the whole of Milton's Paradise Lost, because of the gross caricatures of God and Christ contained therein? Or to Walter Scott's charming creation of the 'Lady of the Lake,' because King James is represented as a worthy character, and royalty and war are upheld? Or, to come nearer home, does he reject J. R. Giddings's last speech in Congress, because of his remarks respecting holding up slavery, so that he and his friends could sit in Congress in peace?
But, in these remarks I have admitted, for argument's sake, what I by no means believe, with one exception, that the book is not a thorough-going anti-slavery production. On the contrary, show me a more clear, convincing and decided condemnation, not of the abuses of slavery, but of the institution itself, than this book contains. Take the case of St. Clare, a slaveholder, and did ever more burning, or even radical rebuke of slavery proceed from H. C. W's lips? Read, for instance, the whole of his remarks to Miss Ophelia, on the death of old Prue. And then what abolitionist, even that prince of logicians, C. C. Burleigh, ever used better logic than St. Clair used in his argument with his brother, on the occasion of Henrique's ride with little Eva? Where will you find more hearty denunciation of slavery, in its mildest form, then that administered by Mrs. Shelby, who believed in a sin in itself, and if she could have had her way, would have emancipated her slaves? Who ever drew a more terrible picture of the realities of the slave system, than George did in his memorable interview at the tavern with Mr. Wilson? Or than Cassy does, in her never-to-be-forgotten conversation with Uncle Tom, or that dreadful night when he lay bleeding in the old gin-house, after his godlike refusal to beat the old woman at the command of his master? Can H. C. W. offer a more convincing proof of the criminality of the whole system, than the whole story from beginning to end offers? Take the cases of those horrid creatures, Haley Marks, and Tom Loker, into whose hands the 'well bred' and 'well treated' slaves of Mrs. Shelby were about to fall. Is it not most clearly shown here, as also in the cases of Uncle Tom after St. Clare's death, and of Cassy at her father's decease, that slavery, in its best estate, results, upon a change of masters, in horrid and dreadful abuses? In short, what portion of slavery is defended in the book? H. C. W. says that slaveholders are represented as Christians? Pray tell us in what instance. Mrs. Shelby, I believe, is the only Christian spoken of as connected with slavery, and she has no power to emancipate her husband's slaves, or she would quickly have done the deed.
So far from slaveholders being represented as Christians, St. Clair expressly denounces the whole system as of the devil, and says 'it is a pretty respectable specimen of what he can do in his own line'; and in his admirable religious discussion with his church-going wife, he talks in a way that even Parker Pillsbury would not despise. Hear him: 'If I was to say any thing on this slavery matter, I would say out fair and square, "We're in for it, we've got 'em, and mean to keep 'em, its for our convenience and our interest"—that's just the whole of what all this sanctified stuff amounts to. This religious talk on such matter, why don't they carry it a little further, and show the beauty in its season of a fellow's taking a glass too much, and sitting a little too late over his cards? We'd like to hear that those are right and godly too.' 'When any one speaks up like a man and says, "Slavery is necessary too us, we can't get along without it, and we mean to hold on to it," this is strong, clear, well-defined language; but when he begins to snuffle and quote scripture, I incline to think he isn't much better than he should be.' 'Suppose that something should bring down the price of cotton once and forever, and make the whole slave property a drug in the market, don't you think we should have another version of the scripture doctrine? What flood of light would pour into the church, all at once, and how immediately it would be discovered that every thing in the bible went the other way!' It appears to me that it is clearly shown in the book, that slavery itself is utterly inconsistent with Christianity; but even if it admitted that the effect of Christianity was to make the master kinder, would that condemn the book? Does not H. C. W. believe Christianity to be only another name for doing right? and if so, cannot a person change gradually, from gross sin to perfect holiness? Is not a rumseller who refuses to sell to drunkards more under the influence of Christianity, or of doing right, than one who sells to all? Is not a moral voter more of a Christian than a pro-slavery drunken one? It appears to me that there are degrees in religion; and although a true Christian would emancipate his slaves, yet a man who, like St. Clare, never beats his slaves, and hates the system, is nearer Christianity than Tom Loker and Simon Legree are.
Uncle Tom never 'refused to run away because he was a Christian,' as H. C. W. will perceive on a reperusal of the book. On the contrary, he advised both Eliza and Cassy to help him escape.
In regard to its being wrong for Cassy to take Legree's money, I get a different impression from H. C. W. It seems to me to be taught there that Cassy did not do wrong, as far as any thing is taught.
As it respects Colonization, I am aware that an error has been committed here, but I do not believe that it is a damning one. If this book teaches colonization, I would ask why is it that the colored people, almost to a man, as far as my observation has extended, are enthusiastically in favor of it? I have heard great numbers of the speak of it in the warmest terms, which they would not do, if they supposed it much in favor of Colonization. I have never read, any where, more touching tributes to the capacities and tastes of the colored race, than this book contains. Take, for instance, the remarks on the 236th and 239th pages of the first volume, and the 115th of the second. St. Clare on the 257th page, volume 1, certainly condemns that principle which lies at the foundation of the Colonization scheme. What is Colonization? As I understand it, it teaches the impossibility of the co-existence of the two races here in a state of freedom. Does Mrs. Stowe teach any such idea? By no means. On the contrary, she advocates such existence in full, for a season, at least, and condemns the Colonization doctrine of sending slaves to Africa as soon as emancipated. George grants that this Liberia may have subserved all sorts of purposes, by being 'played off in the hands of our oppressors against us.' I think Colonization derives but little if any support from this book. If my article were not too long already, I would like to allude to the good even not effected by the book; but I desist, at present.
Yours, for 'FAIR PLAY.'