The Christian Observer
Unsigned Article
New York: 11 September 1852

"The White Slave;"—"Uncle Tom's Cabin;"—"Aunt Phillis's Cabin."

  In the words of the late Dr. John H. Rice, "whatever strongly attracts the attention of young people generally, is important." And if it apply a powerful stimulus to the passions, it is the more important. If the stimulus confers no benefit on the mind and heart, it is injurious. The greater its power, the greater the injury resulting from it. To borrow again from the writer just cited, "we cannot put on an air of dignity, and pass by with stoical apathy, when we see a number of immortal and responsible beings keenly intent on injurious trifles"—we quote from an article on "Historical Novels," published thirty years ago, in the fifth volume of the "Evangelical and Literary Magazine."

  "Is it right to read Uncle Tom's Cabin?" and "What do you think of it?" are questions which have been repeatedly presented. Instead of answering them directly, we quote again from our author. And his remarks are as pertinent to the works named above, as they are to the Waverly Novels, which solicited them.

  "The mischief that is done by bad company, may also be done, and often is done by improper books." "In the economy of human nature, passions and feelings are intended to be the stimuli of the soul, to rouse it to action." "Anything which strongly excites them, without producing a course of vigorous and useful action, cannot but be injurious." "Violent mental is like violent corporeal excitement; it is sure to produce debility. Accordingly, the devotees of Novels do not fail to contract a sickly sensibility, a mawkish sentimentality, which pours itself out in tears and sighs, in fine sayings, but does none of the works of genuine charity. No person is so little qualified to bear the hard rubs and perform the active services of life, as the exquisite sentimentalist. No person has so little knowledge of human nature, as the one who judges of it by the heroes and heroines of romance. The reason is, that the characters are not natural, not like the characters found in real life. The friendship of real life is not so true, the love not so pure, the piety not so consistent, the hatred not so malignant, the vice not so unmixed, as in Novels. These remarks would lead to the consignment of a large collection of books to the fire."

  In the next paragraph, Dr. R. speaks of the danger of the excitement which does not lead to useful action—and then applies his remarks to the Waverly Novels, and concludes by saying—"On the whole, we would forbid, if we could, the use of Novels altogether, until the taste is fully formed, and a strong desire for solid improvement has been excited and strengthened into habit."

  "But as to Historical Novels, we have something more to say." "It is almost impossible for a man not to convey his own prejudices and party feelings in his delineation of character."—In illustration of this remark, the writer refers to the caricatures of the pious Conventers, as delineated by Walter Scott—representing men who were heroes in a just cause, as too weak and inoffensive, or too ignorant and foolish to do much harm, even if they were disposed to do evil! The moral influence of such caricatures of Christian men, in an attractive narrative, is more injurious to the young, than the works of avowed infidels. The impression they make is not a true impression. Far from it. There may be historical facts interwoven in the story: But the prejudices, the feelings of the writer, give a coloring to the facts, and to the entire picture, so as to produce on the mind of the reader a decidedly false impression. And how is this done?

  Let a writer, in order to give us a view of life in Boston, look over the records of intemperance, and arson, and burglary, and murder, and other crimes in that city, in the last twenty years; let him select the most exciting scenes of drunken revelry, debauchery, riots, and murder; let him pourtray and color a few such characters as John W. Webster and Garrison and Abby Folsom, and the lowly victims of vice, and bring them before us in a series of dramatic scenes, interwoven with an exciting history of some two or three heroes; and let him introduce occasionally a good citizen or a pious lady, to give variety to the painting—and let the prejudices of a foreigner, who has no sympathy with Republicanism, impart their hues to the picture,—and will not the good people of Boston regard it as a libel on their character, and on the fair fame of their city?

  So the people of the southern States regard "the White Slave," and "Uncle Tom's Cabin," whenever referred to as pictures of life in the South. A picture of the sins of wicked men in Boston gives us no just view of real life in that city. A drama, representing the riots and murders and burning of churches, and scenes of violence, enacted in Philadelphia, in 1841, can give us no true idea of life and character in this city; nor can either of the works just named give the reader any other than very erroneous views of life in the South.

  These works not only give false views of real life, but they powerfully excite and rouse the passions, without leading to any useful action. They prescribe no remedy for the real or fancied life which they pourtray. They rouse the passions, but offer nothing practical to be done. They may entertain the reader and waken his prejudices; they will also create a "mawkish sentimentality," and promote intellectual and moral debility.

  The papers state that Mrs. Stowe has been engaged to write a book like "Uncle Tom's Cabin," to exhibit the evils of the—spirit traffic—but it is very questionable whether a work of the kind can be so written as to give just views of real life, or promote the cause of temperance.