Frederick Douglass' Paper
Unsigned Reprint
Rochester: 11 March 1853

Uncle Tom in Paris

  Uncle Tom's literary success I have spoken of in former letters; it had then surpassed anything of the kind since the issue of the Mysteries of Paris. It is still going on without abatement. It has been published at Paris in the feuilletons of the Press, of the Pays, of the Estafette, of the Presse Litteraire, and of another paper; it has also been published in eight distinct book-forms, of one of which an edition of one hundred thousand has been sold. Not one of the numerous circulating libraries that has not its well-thumbed copies. Besides the large importation from England, the house of Baudry has issued an edition for English readers; and still a new translation, the eleventh, is announced in press. Not a journal or literary periodical, from the Revue des Deux Mondes and the Debate, down to the Chronique de France and Charivari, that has not had its article on Mrs. Stowe and her book. Engraved portraits of the lady are displayed in the shop windows; artists are already transferring to canvass the graphic scenes from her pages; a reflex fame illustrates the merits of her other writings, and two translations of her smaller tales have appeared. And all this began only three months ago; Uncle Tom came out in a French dress for the first time last October. We briefly express the universal popularity of a person by saying his name is familiar throughout the land as a household word; it is indicated in this latitude by its appearance at the head of the play-bill. No book that has attained anything like the astonishing success of Mrs. Stowe's, if its [illegible] and characters offer any dramatic elements, fails to be adapted to the stage.

  The French, more sensuous (if I may so apply the word,) but less imaginative, more gregarious and less domestic than we, love to see and hear in sympathetic crowds what they have wept and laughed over in solitary perusal. Consequently, the Ambigu Comique and the Gaite, the two largest theaters in Paris, are nightly crowded from pit to gallery with eager listeners and spectators to the thrilling words and brilliant tableaux of the dramatic spectacles founded on the American book. It would not be worth the while here to present an analysis of these two plays. You will find one given in all the Monday feuilletons of your Parisian files received by last steamer. It is enough to say that, with abundant errors in manners, scenery and local coloring generally, the black shade was essentially American. For, as one of the critics last Monday observes: "We have no slaves; on touching the noble soil of France one becomes free." The acting at both theatres is excellent; the personation of Eliza by Madame Guyon at one, and of Eva by Mlle. Felix, a sister of Rachel, at the other, drew down tears of applause. At the Ambigu, one of the scenes represents an auction sale of slaves at New Orleans, where George, returned a freeman from Canada, bids for his own wife; his competitor is his former master, whose passion is roused by the charms of Eliza; the wealth of the latter soon enables him to run up the merchandise to a price beyond George's resources; two friends add their purses, but they are outbidden by the planter, now mad with passion; at the moment, however, when the chattel is to be struck off to the latter, false news is brought to him that his house is on fire, and he hurries off; George is enabled, by another friendly contribution, to rise on the last enormous bid, and the auctioneer knocks down his wife to her husband. "Il a reussi!" shouted at this instant a worthy blouse, who, with his body half extended over the railing of the gallery, had followed every incident of a scene so novel to a Frenchman with breathless interest.

  This is but one of several instances where the audience seemed to confound the fictitious horrors passing before them with some dread reality. I must note, with thankfulness, that the authors of the dramas had not taken the occasion to retort upon America the hard words which we have found cause to use toward France during the last year. The two theatres which I have mentioned, seat together an audience of 3,700 persons; they count upon a hundred successful representations of the American dramas. Still two other theatres, the Gymnase Dramatique, with 1,300 seats, and the little theatre du Palais Royal, with 930 places, severally announces as forthcoming the Cabane de l'Uncle Tom, and the Cassine de l'Uncle Tom.—Finally, Mr. Ida, or Ira Aldrige, a "black Macready," who would doubtless be mobbed at the Astor place House, but who has been well received at the elegant Opera House in Berlin, is soon to play his round of Shakesperean characters on some Parisian stage.—He is, I believe, our compatriot. Lebao le Negre, who, in this revival of the dramatic black art, figures nightly with sufficient applause, is not, and cannot be further treated of among American representatives abroad.—Cor. of the N. Y. Tribune.