The New York Times
25 April 1853

Uncle Tom's Cabin and Colonization.

To the Editor of the New-York Daily Times:

  A book which, within nine or ten months of its issuing, has realized a sale of one million of copies or upwards, must needs be an extraordinary book. Pointing to its laurels, it may laugh at the pains-taking criticism which seeks to parade before the public a few minor defects of plot, character, incident, or style. A good book, like a good man, is very likely to be marked by blemishes, more or less prominent. But it hardly deserves, that a few spots, which, without a very close and microscopic scrutiny, would be almost undistinguishable, should be swelled into such dimensions, as to overshadow a whole cluster of beauties and excellencies. To our eye, the good book and the good man shine with a brighter lustre because of here and there an imperfection. The contrasted effect of light and shade renders the light sweeter and more refreshing. What is natural to man—error and infirmity—admonishes us never to expect spotlessness in the fairest development of human character. Is it marvellous that one, whose "best estate is vanity," should give birth to works which proclaim the condition annexed to a fallen and diseased humanity? Would it not be marvellous indeed, were the pages of the most excellent book, entirely free from the defects which, in a degree, shade, if they do not mar, the loveliest and most faultless characters that have adorned the world?

  This book of Mrs. STOWE, which has made so deep a mark upon the face of society, far and wide, has its defects, like others of its class. It is far from being a perfect book. A captious, cynical criticism has detected scores of fancied imperfections. A candid criticism has pointed out some real ones. Among this latter class, it has not been discovered, so far as we are aware, that the book ranks with that large class of fictitious works which pander to the lowest and worst passions of the heart; works which make vice attractive, decry virtuous principles, inculcate the most pernicious moral lessons, sneer with the air of a Mephistopheles at the social and domestic charities, and aim to undermine the pillars which uphold all that is seemly and good in human relationship. Mrs. STOWE has not contributed a rill to swell this mighty stream of demoralization which is sweeping over the land. Her book is removed from this loathsome crew far as the East is from the West. It has no affinity with them. It could not live in their atmosphere. It scorns and detests their society. It is their earnest antagonist at all points and at all times. It is the cherished inmate of virtuous homes. The moral and religious portion of society have received it, with no dread that a poisonous sting lay concealed among its leaves. No criticism has discovered that its aim is to unsettle moral principle, relax salutary restraint, and so corrupt society. Whatever other objections may fairly be alleged against it, its being a vehicle of vicious and depraving morality, is not among the number.

  Nor does this book owe its unexampled popularity to the fact of its being an Abolition book. No judgment can be more erroneous. Scores of portraitures have been given to the reading world, displaying Slavery in its worst characteristics and features, and drawn in colors more deeply dark and repulsive, than any presented in Mrs. STOWE's book. But the subject, however variously and vigorously treated, was not found sufficiently attractive to insure much attention to the several treatises, or guard them against the fate of most of the ephemeral publications of their class. The intrinsic qualities of this book have done for it, in spite of its subject, what the subject never has done or could do, apart from the qualities. It is a book of extraordinary power, judged by the usual tests which measure the excellence of this species of composition. The easy march and vigor of its narrative; the sprightliness of the dialogue; the vivacity of its descriptions; the naturalness of its characters, some of which have been evidently drawn from no copy, and by the freshness and power of their delineation, impress the mind instantly and indelibly; the happy and graceful touches by which mirth is irresistibly provoked, and the "water made to stand in the eyes withal," as honest JOHN BUNYAN would express it, are among the rare attributes which go to explain the secret of Uncle Tom's fame.

  But this is not all, or the most important. The book is instinct with a high purpose, the spirit of which breathes from every page; the electric glow of whose earnestness is communicated to every reader. While, more than all, the large, hopeful spirit of humanity pervades it, whose mission it is to weep with the weeping; to look pityingly upon the outcast, the friendless, the lowly, the wretched, the oppressed, of whatever color or race; and put forth a helping hand to succor or raise the lowest fallen and most degraded of our species. No book that combines these qualities, can fail; any book that has them remarkably, must succeed well; the precise complexion, lineage or affinities of the subject of it being, for the most part, indifferent. The rude Hottentot, the Siberian exile, the half-famished Irish tenant, the English subterranean coal-heaver, or she whose weary fingers keep time to the "Song of the Shirt," excite, through the qualities in question, as warm an interest, and rise to as lofty a stature of heroism, as the American slave.

  It is absurd to object to this book, that its characters are extravangantly drawn, and hence unnatural, as though the masses of its readers, pronouncing the portraits faithful by a well nigh unanimous verdict of approval, could be imposed on by an exhuberance of flaunting and tawdry decorations. Is not a little fancy coloring incidental to the whole class of fictitious compositions? Are not the most exemplary books of this sort, open in a degree, to the same objection? Mrs. STOWE's book, though no exception to the rule, is yet more life-like in its character-sketching, than most moral tales admitted to virtuous homes, whose high excellence is proclaimed by their wide and enduring popularity. Take the two extremes, Uncle Tom and Simon Legree, the extreme of black excellence and the extreme of white brutality. Is the former character, impossibly good? To answer "yes," is to reproach our Christianity, by decrying the claims it puts forth, and the influence it asserts, in transforming the principles and life of Jew and Greek, bond and free, black and white. Its renovating power is promised and confined to no race, no caste, or color. It may exalt the down-trodden African into a Christian hero and martyr, as well as the man of a different race of skin. Only grant to Uncle Tom sincerity, with ordinary intelligence, and there is nothing impossible or unprecedented in the rest. The power that nerved Paul, in the face of stripes, stonings, scourgings, hardships and indignities, innumerable, to say, "none of these things move men," can infuse into the lowliest of his children equal energy of endurance for the Truth. The "African servant," as he appears in the well-known tract of Legh Richmond, is a fact not a fiction. And the noble black man, whose heroism Mr. EVERETT characterized, in his recent Colonization Address, as worthy of a monument, is the real flesh and bones exponent of such as Uncle Tom.

  So of Legree. Wretches of his class, cold-blooded, vindictive and unrelenting, are to be found everywhere. We have them at the North, where public sentiment and what with them is more potent, the law's impending terrors, hardly suffice to check, and do not always repress their violence and brutality. Make them irresponsible, and would the "milk of human kindness" course so gently through their veins as to render them less fierce and fiendish than the remorseless tyrant, Simon Legree? He is simply an illustration of the corrupt tree, bearing fruit after its kind, and the crop a luxuriant one. Surely we need not travel to the banks of the Red River, to find full-blown specimens of the abhorrent class.

  Not to vindicate, however, or commend a book which has already had abundant attention of this sort bestowed upon it, our design in this paper is to notice what we do not remember to have seen specially pointed out elsewhere, the character it bears as an ally of colonization. Abolition, as the book is pronounced to be in its tone, and animus—abolitionist as the authoress shows herself to be, when she steps forth from behind the scenes and lectures us didactically in her own person. She yet warmly espouses the cause of colonization, in the person of one of her favorite personages, and urges arguments in its behalf, that would do no discredit to President ROBERTS or Mr. PINNEY. George Harris states, very clearly and cogently, the reasons which prevent him from remaining in America, and impel him to cast in his lot with the hopeful freemen of the African republic. We commend those reasons, not only to the people of his own race, who, being free, yet remain among us, but to those querulous pale faces, who having never been slaves, except to their own passions and prejudices, find strange delight in decoying and abusing one of the wisest and noblest schemes of philanthropy, which the age or any age can boast. Mrs. STOWE is scarcely kind or true to her associates and friends. They depict—many of them at least—the Colonization Society as the incarnation of everything that is corrupt and loathsome. She presents it in colors so soft and delicate, that its worst enemies, we should suppose, would find it hard not to fall in love with it. To the GARRISON and PHILLIPS school, it is "a mighty engine of iniquity," and even to the less invective-dealing GARRETT SMITH, whose general benevolence we do not call in question, it is so unlovely and pernicious an institution, that his meek lips characterize it, in his letter to WASHINGTON HUNT, for instance, in terms of such gross and repulsive bitterness, that we do not care to see their copy reproduced. Here is antagonism between Mrs. STOWE and her abolition "lovers." It is not for us to reconcile or explain it. We mark the fact, and leave it to the parties to compound their differences as they may.

  Nor is this difference a mere unimportant accident. It touches principles, deep-seated and strongly held. The immediate emancipation of all slaves, without colonization, fraught as it must be, with evils to the liberated themselves, and to the country, to which the most stolid cannot be insensible, seems to proclaim the event an impossibility, on considerations humane as well as patriotic. To liberate, with a view to swelling the numbers of free citizens of Liberia, as soon as such a step can be properly taken, is what every liberty and union-loving citizen desires as ardently as Mrs. STOWE. In the name of such we would thank her for the good word she has spoken in this direction, and the wide circulation she has given to her well-put argument. With her womanly instincts, thus warmly enlisted for colonization, we almost wonder that in certain quarters, her orthodoxy on vital questions has not been called in question. With the views she has expressed on colonization, she can hardly fail to respond to the remark of Mr. WEBSTER, in his speech of March 7, 1850; that, of the eighty millions of dollars received into the public Treasury—the proceeds of the public lands, ceded to government by Virginia, and this sum swelled to two hundred millions, by proceeds of the lands coming from the same source, as yet unsold—he was willing that Virginia and the South, if they saw fit to relieve themselves, from their free colored population, should have any adequate sum paid them, for the transportation and comfortable settlement of this population, on their native shores. We go with Mrs. STOWE, to make slaves freemen as soon as practicable, and then colonize them where they may enjoy a distinct nationality, and are strangers to the dwarfing influence of cast and color.

  One other remark and we have done. What is known and designated as Evangelical religion, is set forth and illustrated in Mrs. STOWE's book, by life-examples of the most spirited and striking character. The religious novel—if the phrase be not a solecism—is rare indeed, and we are acquainted with none which approaches more nearly than this, our idea of what one of the kind ought to be. The Evalina of FRANCES BURNEY, GOLDSMITH's Vicar of Wakefield, some of Mrs. SHERWOOD's and HANNAH MORE's tales, are, with their purity of tone, and loftiness of moral inculcation, less religious than this, in the direct sense, of teaching what Christianity is, and what it requires—how personal responsibility rests upon each, and the Divine mercy may be compassed by all. Mrs. Shelby is a Christian, the sable hero is a Christian, Evangeline is a Christian, Eliza Harris is a Christian, while her husband and the little imp, Topsy, become converts to a Gospel, which regards not the person, but childlike faith in the crucified, as the great requisite for offering the incense of a "sweet smelling savor" to Him, whose smile is the petitioner's joy and life. The Christianity which they profess and exemplify is the very same, that strengthens the purest Christian Society, and adorns the most refined and virtuous household.

  The wide circulation of this book, exhibiting as it does, the grace and grandeur of Christian principle and life, can hardly fail to rebuke and counteract the foul issues of an unscrupulous press, toiling and groaning to scatter abroad seeds, whose unfolded leaves are for anything but the "healing of the nations." The time is probably far enough off, that tales will no longer be read—and since people will read them, let such be presented, as are not only healthy-toned themselves, but tend to beget distaste and loathing of those which breathe pollution from every page. They who are wont to respire a pure atmosphere, become nauseated by the first contact with a foul and fetid air. The swarming issues of a filth-seeking press, are among the most noisome and crying nuisances that afflict the land. Whoever succeeds in abating the evil, deserves golden opinions from the orderly and decorous. And if Mrs. STOWE's book imposed no other obligations on Society, the telling blow which it has struck in behalf of this great and good work, the effects of which must be widely wholesome, entitles it to a high place in the regards of all true hearts.