The Effect of Uncle Tom in Europe
[The following from the New York Herald, presents an interesting view of one side of the phenomenon that is exciting the world. In our opinion, however, the wonderful success of Uncle Tom's Cabin is chiefly owing to the secret influence of the true Jesuits—we mean the Primitive Church.]
The London Times, which cannot afford room for the speeches of Mr. Cass or Mr. Everett on the highest questions of international politics, publishes at full length a letter from Prof. Stowe to Mr. McSymon, informing that gentleman and the world that Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe is indisposed. Nor is the Times in advance of the rest of the English people in this respect.—Honors such as crowned heads have seldom received, await on all sides the authoress of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Congratulations and fetes that a sovereign might envy, are pressed upon her from every quarter; rich and poor, noble and plebian, throng the path through which she is expected to pass. British statesmen deem her opinions worth careful study. Archbishop Whately deliberately awards her the first place among modern philanthropists, and the leading critic of London deposes Dickens from his throne to exalt Mrs. Stowe.—Public opinion of Europe fully bears them out in these extravagant views. About one hundred editions of Uncle Tom's Cabin, or one million copies, have been sold in England. Some twenty editions, comprising 300,000 copies, have been sold in France. Thirty editions, or 500,000 copies, in Germany. At least ten editions, or rather more than 200,000 copies, in the rest of Europe. We shall not exaggerate if we say that the total circulation of the work in Europe amounts to two millions of copies. It has, moreover, been dramatized in ten or twelve theatres; and the personages have become more familiar to the people than the heroes of Biblical history, Scott's novels, or Shakspeare's dramas. Neither the imperial library of Paris, not the Vatican library, nor the British Museum, contains any work whose popularity is so extensive at the present time as Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Its success is a phenonemon which deserves to be studied. Abolitionists like the Earl of Shaftsbury, see in it nothing but a striking expression of public opinion against negro-slavery. A few whose unreasoning philanthropy may possibly excuse their deficiency of literary acumen, ascribe it to the intrinsic excellencies which they have discovered in the style and plot of the work. The bulk of thinkers note the fact, and judiciously abstain from expressing an opinion as to its causes.
Their reserve is creditable to their discretion. The sources of the popularity of works like Uncle Tom's Cabin will not bear probing in Europe.—When Cayenne and military platoons are so constantly before the eyes of the public, it is but common prudence to hide under a jest or a sagacious doubt, a conviction whose corollaries might lead to one or the other. For, deeply as the discovery may wound the anti-slavery faction, they may depend upon it they are destined to find out, some day, that the abolitionist sentiment goes for little or nothing in the success of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Its prestige rests not on the plea it urges on behalf of the blacks, but in the bold, earnest tone in which it sets forth the rights of man and the principles of natural democracy. The color of the heroes of the tale is soon lost sight of by the European reader. His passions are stirred by the wrongs of injured individuals—men like himself. He asks not, he cares not, whence they hail, nor what destiny fate has seemed to allot them. All he notes is the oppression they are painted as suffering. Without any extraordinary effort of imagination, he draws a plausible analogy between the condition of his own fellow-countrymen and that of the Uncle Toms of romance. He can find a Haley in the feudal landlords of his native soil, and many a Legree in the agents of their estates, or, still more frequently, in the military tyrants whom these latter days have produced in such numbers. He can readily apply to his own case the piteous prayer for justice that Mrs. Stowe utters on behalf of her black proteges. Instances are not wanting to remind him that, however fanciful her pictures of negro life, the miseries of a Cassy and the brutality of a Sambo are not without precedent in European history. Hence the thrilling interest he discovers in the narrative. It is to him a burning appeal on behalf of the oppressed throughout the globe. His own case—that of his friends and fellow-countrymen—are plainly depicted. The negro disguise does not delude him for an instant. Those rights which Mrs. Stowe claims in such powerful language for the negroes, he has been vainly struggling for a century or more to conquer for himself. Every noble impulse which she implants in the hearts of her impossible model black men, has long since taken firm root in his own. Each stifled threat that escapes from the lips of a George, has been audibly murmured time after time by himself.—Englishmen's hearts burn with fury when the sufferings of their own seamstresses are vividly delineated in the characters of Cassy and Eliza.—Many a Frenchman has felt, with George, that he was born to better things than serfdom. Germans, Hungarians, Italians, know, that whatever be the condition of the American negroes, they are themselves but slaves, and that on God's earth they are entitled to be free.
That an earnest appeal for liberty and equality for all men, most skilfully embodied in a dramatic form, should find two millions of readers among the one hundred and fifty millions of enslaved white men in Europe, can excite no surprise. Indeed, when we bear in mind that the present laws of continental Europe prohibit the dissemination of such sentiments in direct form, we might almost wonder that a book which answers the secret cravings of men's hearts, without arousing the fears of their tyrants, should not have obtained a still wider popularity.
Uncle Tom has his mission in Europe, and most conscientiously is he fulfilling it. Figaro, efficient as he was, could not compare with him for an instant. For one who imbibed notions of freedom from Beaumarchais' stirring vindication of popular rights, twenty will feel their nerves strung and their hearts braced for the coming encounter by the perusal of Uncle Tom. Some such stimulus was needed. Ten, twenty, or thirty years may elapse before the eruption of the vast volcano which must dash the thrones of Europe to the dust. A whole generation must pass away before freedom and equal rights are conquered by the one hundred and fifty million white slaves who inhabit the continent of Europe. But come it must. The battle must be fought. The antagonistic principles of democracy and oligarchy must meet face to face, and one only leave the field. When that fearful struggle does take place, philosophers and historians will note with careful accurary that the notions of freedom which impelled the champions of the popular cause to the conflict, had been in a great measure imbibed from the perusal of a romance by an American woman. Her immediate purpose will, in all human probability, remain unfulfilled. Planters at the south may continue to employ slave labor, and happiness and contentment may still pervade the negro population, in spite of the insidious attempts of abolitionist incendiaries.—But she will have contributed largely to a work of far great importance. The aristocrats of England and Europe, who fancy they are dealing a desperate blow at our institutions by their patronage of Uncle Tom, will discover when it is too late that they themselves are the Legrees and the Haleys upon whom retribution must fall.