UNCLE TOM'S CABIN.—This remarkable book has still an unprecedented sale and widespread circulation. The inquiry is also continued by many who have not read it, "What is in it to make it so wonderful?"
We might answer, the style, the language, the naturalness of the entire conception, and the sympathy the heart naturally feels when a tale of suffering is related.
Let us present an extract, where the author brings you into the Cabin, that you may see the closing up of a dialogue between Aunt Chloe and Master George Shelby:
"Now, Missis, she wanted me to do dis way, and she wanted me to do dat way; and, finally, I got kinder sarcy, and, says I, 'Now, Misses, do jist look at dem beautiful white hands o' yourn with long fingers, and all a sparkling with rings, like my white lilies when de dew's on 'em; and look at my great black stumpin hands. Now, don't ye think dat de Lord must have meant me to make de pie-crust, and you to stay in de parlor? Dar! I was jist so sarcy, Mas'r George."
"And what did mother say?" said George.
"Say?—why, she kinder larfed in her eyes—dem great handsome eyes o' hern; and, says she, 'Well, Aunt Chloe, I think you are about in the right on 't,' says she; and she went off in de parlor. She oughter cracked me over de head for bein' so sarcy; but dar's whar 't is—I can't do nothin' with ladies in de kitchen!"
"Well, you made out well with that dinner,—I remember everybody said so," said George.
"Didn't I? And wan't I behind de dinin'-room door dat bery day? and didn't I see de General pass his plate three times for some more dat bery pie?—and, says he, 'You must have an uncommon cook, Mrs. Shelby.' Lor! I was fit to split myself.
"And de Gineral, he knows what cookin' is," said Aunt Chloe, drawing herself up with an air. "Bery nice man, de Gineral! He comes of one of de bery fustest families in Old Virginny! He knows what's what, now, as well as I do—de Gineral. Ye see, there's pints in all pies, Mas'r George; but tan't everybody knows what they is, or as orter be. But the Gineral, he knows; I knew by his 'marks he made. Yes, he knows what de pints is!"
The character of the Vermont cousing, Miss Ophelia, who accompanies Mr. St. Clair to New Orleans as a family friend, is interestingly delineated. After describing the incidents attending her decision, her arrangements here, and her religious character, Mrs. Stowe continues:
As to mental cultivation,—she had a clear, strong, active
mind, was well and thoroughly read in history and the older English classics, and thought with great strength within certain narrow limits. Her theological tenets were all made up, labelled in most positive and distinct forms, and put by, like the bundles in her patch trunk; there were just so many of them, and there were never to be any more. So, also, were her ideas with regard to most matters of practical life,—such as housekeeping in all its branches, and the various political relations of her native village. And, underlying all, deeper than anything else, higher and broader, lay the strongest principle of her being—conscientiousness. Nowhere is conscience so dominant and all-absorbing as with New England women. It is the granite formation, which lies deepest, and rises out, even to the tops of the highest mountains.
Miss Ophelia was the absolute bond-slave of the "ought." Once make her certain that the "path of duty," as she commonly phrased it, lay in any given direction, and fire and water could not keep her from it. She would walk straight down into a well, or up to a loaded cannon's mouth, if she were only quite sure that there the path lay. Her standard of right was so high, so all-embracing, so minute, and making so few concessions to human frailty, that, though she strove with heroic ardor to reach it, she never actually did so, and of course was burdened with a constant and often harassing sense of deficiency;—this gave a severe and somewhat gloomy cast to her religious character.
But, how in the world can Miss Ophelia get along with Augustine St. Clare,—gay, easy, unpunctual, unpractical, sceptical,—in short,—walking with impudent and nonchalant freedom over every one of her most cherished habits and opinions?
To tell the truth, then, Miss Ophelia loved him. When a boy, it had been hers to teach him his catechism, mend his clothes, comb his hair, and bring him up generally in the way he should go; and her heart having a warm side to it, Augustine had, as he usually did with most people, monopolized a large share of it for himself, and therefore it was that he succeeded very easily in persuading her that the "path of duty" lay in the direction of New Orleans, and that she must go with him to take care of Eva, and keep everything from going to wreck and ruin during the frequent illnesses of his wife. The idea of a house without anybody to take care of it went to her heart; then she loved the lovely little girl, as few could help doing; and though she regarded Augustine as very much of a heathen, yet she loved him, laughed at his jokes, and forbore with his failings, to an extent which those who knew him thought perfectly incredible. But what more or other is to be known of Miss Ophelia our reader must discover by a personal acquaintance.
There she is, sitting now in her state-room, surrounded by a mixed multitude of little and big carpetbags, boxes, baskets, each containing some separate responsibility which she is tying, binding up, packing, or fastening, with a face of great earnestness.
"Now, Eva, have you kept count of your things? Of course you haven't,—children never do: there's the spotted carpet-bag and the little blue band-box with your best bonnet,—that's two; then the India rubber satchel is three; and my tape and needle box is four; and my band-box, five; and my collar-box; and that little hair trunk, seven. What have you done with your sunshade? Give it to me, and let me put a paper round it, and tie it to my umbrella with my shade;—there, now."
"Why, aunty, we are only going up home;—what is the use?"
"To keep it nice, child; people must take care of their things, if they ever mean to have anything; and now, Eva, is your thimble put up?"
"Really, aunty, I don't know."
"Well, never mind; I'll look your box over,—thimble, wax, two spools, scissors, knife, tape-needle; all right,—put it in here. What did you ever do, child, when you were coming on with only your papa. I should have thought you'd a lost everything you had."
"Well, aunty, I did lose a great many; and then, when we stopped anywhere, papa would buy some more of whatever it was."
"Mercy on us, child,—what a way!"
"It was a very easy way, aunty," said Eva.
"It's a dreadful shiftless one," said aunty.
"Why, aunty, what'll you do now?" said Eva; "that trunk is too full to be shut down."
"It must shut down," said aunty, with the air of a general, as she squeezed the things in, and sprung upon the lid;—still a little gap remained about the mouth of the trunk.
"Get up here, Eva!" said Miss Ophelia, courageously; "what has been done can be done again. This trunk has got to be shut and locked—there are no two ways about it."
And the trunk, intimidated, doubtless, by this resolute statement, gave in. The hasp snapped sharply in its hole, and Miss Ophelia turned the key, and pocketed it in triumph.
"Now we're ready. Where's your papa? I think it time this baggage was set out. Do look out, Eva, and see if you see your papa."
"O, yes, he's down the other end of the gentlemen's cabin, eating an orange."
"He can't know how near we are coming," said aunty; "hadn't you better run and speak to him?"
"Papa never is in a hurry about anything," said Eva, "and we haven't come to the landing. Do step on the guards, aunty. Look! there's our house, up that street!"
The boat now began, with heavy groans, like some vast, tired monster, to prepare to push up among the multiplied steamers at the levee. Eva joyously pointed out the various spires, domes, and way-marks, by which she recognized her native city.
"Yes, yes, dear; very fine," said Miss Ophelia. "But mercy on us! the boat has stopped! where is your father?"
And now ensued the usual turmoil of landing—waiters running twenty ways at once—men tugging trunks, carpet-bags, boxes—women anxiously calling to their children, and everybody crowding in a dense mass to the plank towards the landing.
Miss Ophelia seated herself resolutely on the lately vanquished trunk, and marshalling all her goods and chattels in fine military order, seemed resolved to defend them to the last.
"Shall I take your trunk, ma'am?" "Shall I take your baggage?" "Let me
'tend to your baggage, Missis?" "Shan't I carry out these yer, Missis?" rained
down upon her unheeded. She sat with grim determination, upright as a darning-needle
stuck in a board, holding on her bundle of umbrella and parasols, and replying
with a determination that was enough to strike dismay even into a hackman,
wondering to Eva, in each interval, "what upon earth her papa could be thinking
of; he couldn't have fallen over, now,—but something must have happened;"—and
just as she
had begun to work herself into a real distress, he came up, with his usually careless motion, and giving Eva a quarter of the orange he was eating, said,
"Well, Cousin Vermont, I suppose you are all ready."
"I've been ready, waiting, nearly an hour," said Miss Ophelia; "I began to be really concerned about you."