UNCLE TOM'S CABIN AND THE LONDON TIMES.
The article in the London Times, September 3rd, which has been extensively copied in this country, is not in the usual tone of the British press, when adverting to the subject of slavery. It is far more apologetic, and less denunciatory, than most of the criticisms of our trans-Atlantic brethren. Be the accomplished writer an Englishman or an American—and we more than half suspect he is the latter—still it is quite obvious, that he means to show up the fair side of slavery, to make the best of a bad case. The evidence of this purpose is as plain as that Mrs. Stowe's "book is a vehement and unrestrained argument in favor of her creed." Hence we are the less surprised, that the author finds so much in the book of which to complain. The article, though written with much ability, and making some just criticisms upon Uncle Tom, is on the eager look-out for faults. Its praises are reluctant, while its censures seem spontaneous—rather preferred than regretted.
That Uncle Tom is having a prodigious run in England as well as in this country, is a fact of which the writer in the Times is duly aware. There is no answering the bookseller's argument; it is a strong man armed; and the case of Mrs. Stowe proves that she has made a decided "hit." Criticism may smile or frown, may dislike "the plot" and call the whole "absolute and audacious trash;" yet nothing can beat Uncle Tom in the art of finding readers. There is something in the book, in its theme, in the spirit with which it is executed, or in human nature, or in all these put together, that has given it an unprecedented popularity. Almost every bookstore, far and near, in the country, and in the town, must be furnished with Uncle Tom. Not to have read it, is at least a slight exposure to literary reprobation. Even slaveholders themselves do not decline to buy it and read it, though, in the judgment of the Times, its tendency is to "keep ill-blood at the boiling point." We have as yet heard of no explosion among this class, none that has harmed anybody; and we trust there may be none in the future. To our certain knowledge, several slaveholders, and many others who have witnessed the practical workings of slavery, have expressed the opinion that Mrs. Stowe has drawn up a fair picture of the lights and shades of Negro life at the South. At any rate, if she has not done it, she has inspired others to make the effort. We have now no less than three Cabins—the real "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and then "Uncle Tom's Cabin as it is," and then "Aunt Phillis's Cabin"; and how many more are to make their appearance, we do not know. Neither of the last two, we believe, has yet been reprinted in England.
The writer in the Times thinks Mrs. Stowe extremely faulty, by being partial and extravagant in her portraiture of characters; and we must confess, that in respect to extravagance there is some ground for the criticism. Some of her characters are undoubtedly overdrawn. Uncle Tom is decidedly too good, too patient, too much like an angel, to be a black man or a white one. The same is true of little Eva: such a child as Mrs. Stowe makes her, we have never seen; and we seriously doubt whether anybody else ever did, except it be the mother of the blessed Jesus. It is to be remembered, however, that Mrs. Stowe is not professing to write with the vigorous severity of history. While she pledges her veracity for the truth of the general outline, having facts for her starting-points, she is manifestly making large drafts on her fancy, creating no inconsiderable part of her narrative as she goes along. But while she has indulged in the customary dramatic license of making some of her characters too strong for the soberness of exact truth, we are not able to see that unfairness which the Times imputes to the work. Had the writer, taking counsel from his own criticism, more thoroughly studied the entire "plot" of the book, we doubt whether he would have written the following sentence:
"An error, almost as fatal as the one adverted to, is committed by our authoress in the pains she takes to paint her negroes, mulattoes, and quadroons, in the very whitest white, while she is equally careful to disfigure her whites with the very blackest black."
This is not the truth. Whoever reads Uncle Tom with suitable care, will see that Mrs. Stowe has presented a great variety of scenes and actions, not all by any means wearing the same moral dress. Now to say, as the writer in the Times does, that she has painted her negroes "in the very whitest white," and her whites with "the very blackest black," is not to speak the truth. It is not so. She imparts intense interest to every character she describes; yet, she is by no means amenable to the charge of the Times. It is not true in respect to Mr. Shelby, St. Clare, little Eva, Miss Ophelia, Mr. Bird the Senator, or Mr. Halliday. These are white people, not in "the blackest black." It is true of Haley and Legree, Marks and Tom Loker; and who doubts that there are just such creatures, disgracing the creation of God? Neither do we find Sam and Andy, Sambo and Quimbo, Topsy, or even Emmeline and Cassy, painted "in the very whitest white." Uncle Tom and Aunt Chloe, Eliza and George Harris, act as if they belonged to the better sort of white people; and we freely confess that Uncle Tom, the principal character of the whole book, though admirably drawn and wonderfully symmetrical, is nevertheless too good for real life. On the whole, we must say that Mrs. Stowe has presented a spicy variety, the good things and the bad things to be found in slavery. We think, this must be the impression of every candid reader.
But "the gravest fault of the book" yet remains to be considered. In the judgment of the Times, "it will keep ill-blood at the boiling point, and irritate, instead of pacifying, those whose proceedings Mrs. Stowe is anxious to influence on behalf of humanity." This is followed by a lecture on the proper mode of treating the subject, adverting to more points than we have time to consider,without writing half a dozen columns. We do not think the work to be irritating to any class of persons. Though it contains a great many home-arguments, and will doubtless feel its way to many a conscience; yet, it does not scald or blister, like vehement denunciation. It is not iron-hoofed. It carries its own sedative with it, in the intense interest, sometimes humorous, and at others pathetic, with which it beguiles the reader along its different scenes. He has not time to get mad, unless he makes up his mind beforehand—which will seldom be the case—that he will get mad at any rate. The writer in the Times ought to know enough of the human passions to understand this. He professes to have read some "novels" in his day—we presume they were good ones; and he will doubtless remember how bewitching they held him captive to their dramatic power. The same is true of Uncle Tom; it is executed with the most consummate ability; nothing can beat it in its command over the feelings; and should it now and then stir a passion not particularly agreeable, it will generally afford its own remedy, before the mind reaches the "boiling point." This is one of the great excellences, the reveal the nice skill of the distinguished authoress. We commend it to the reviewer, as a sedative to his own fears.
What good will the work do? How much will it accomplish towards mitigating the evils of slavery, or lessening the period of its duration? We know not how to answer these questions. Slavery exists under the sanction of law in this country. It is an old institution in the Southern States, interwoven with the very structure of society, and fortified with the education, prejudices, and interests of the white race. It has been, and is still rapidly increasing, becoming a great element of political power, and frowning upon every effort that contemplates either its removal or the limitation of its growth. These are painful facts, known and read of all men in this country; and they ought to be known to every intelligent Englishman. To let the institution alone, to cease all thinking and acting on the subject, or to attempt its removal by Colonization to Liberia, as the writer in the Times counsels us to do, is in the one case to leave slavery to its natural growth till the reaction of brute force shall sweep all before it, and in the other to adopt a mode of removal so distant in its results as hardly to be deemed a remedy. That it cannot be done by any method in a moment; that it cannot be done except by violence, without the action of the Slave States; that the Federal government has no power to compel this action; that the Northern States can exert only a moral influence on the fate of slavery; of these propositions every intelligent American is quite aware, and needs no lecture from abroad to convince him of their truth. And yet whoever expects the removal of slavery without thinking, without that kind of agitation which consists in earnest thinking and honest action, has not well studied the history of reforms in our world, or the power of the institution to be removed. Slavery is not waning in this country, as Mrs. Stowe's reviewer seems to imagine: it is waxing—steadily waxing, as it has been ever since the adoption of the Federal Constitution; and moreover, the leading measures at the South do not contemplate its termination at any period. These facts the writer would see, if he were on this side of the water. To tell the conscientious opponents of the progress of slavery to keep still, to cease their agitation, does not meet the whole case. Slavery must be discussed, and in this sense we must have agitation. The only question is, how shall the discussion be conducted? We go for two principles—kindness and truthfulness—the spirit of love towards all parties, and that of unflinching rectitude. These are safe on all moral questions, and they will be, so long as God rules; and we have yet to learn that slavery is any exception to their power. We do not regret its discussion, while we do of some who have embarked in it. We think, kind words are always the best for a good cause.
The writer makes a thrust at Mrs. Stowe, by asking whether she would have the slaves emancipated on the soil, in their present state of unfitness for freedom? Will the reviewer tell us why they are unfit for freedom, supposing this to be a fact? Slavery is confessedly the cause. How long then will it take the cause of the unfitness, to cure the evil which it creates? We quote for his consideration the eloquent language of Macaulay, in his essay on Milton—"Many politicians in our time are in the habit of laying it down as a self-evident proposition, that no people are to be free till they are fit to use their freedom. The maxim is worthy of the fool in the old story, who resolved not to go into the water till he had learned to swim! If men are to wait for liberty till they become wise and good in slavery, they may indeed wait forever." To plead this doctrine of unfitness, and yet keep its causes steadily in action, is a palpable absurdity. Moreover, let the reviewer show us, if he can, not from fancy, but from historical data, that the removal of slavery by emancipation on the soil has ultimately worked out greater evils than slavery, where the slaveholding class have done any justice in their treatment of the servile class. The facts are wanting to prove such a proposition; indeed, the facts prove exactly the opposite.
But we must pause, saying in a word that the writer in the London Times has not, in our view, done justice to Mrs. Stowe in his strictures upon Uncle Tom, nor fairly met the great slavery-issue, as it exists upon our own soil. The ability of the article we admit; it shows a powerful pen, like all the articles in the Times; and yet, it is not without its marked faults.