We have been in no haste to reply to the strictures of the "British Friend," on the remarks that appeared in our 20th number, in reference to "Uncle Tom's Cabin." We think they bear evidence of a spirit "distinguishable from true wisdom," and as we have always felt kindly towards the Editors of that journal, and rejoiced in their efforts to defend the doctrines and testimonies of our religious Society from modern innovations, we regret that anything we have said on the subject, should have called them forth. Still we can see nothing in their strictures that in anywise invalidates our arguments, or that screens the popular Novel of the day, from the action of the testimony which Friends have heretofore borne against all works of fiction.
The Editors allege that "this testimony is not founded on Novels being works of fiction merely, but on account of the false and pernicious sentiments which they inculcate and exemplify," and that they consider Uncle Tom's Cabin "as an exception to a general rule, because it enforces no deleterious sentiments, and is founded on fact." We think the reason for the exception would, if correct, render the general rule little better than a dead letter. If if applies to this one, it is equally applicable to other works of fiction of a similar character; and the press is teeming with novels and romances, said by critics to come within this class: the only way to discover that they are not such as they are represented, is to read them, and thus the door would be thrown open for our members to indulge without restraint in this most pernicious literature.
How can any one have "the fullest unity with the testimony of our Society in regard to the objectionable character and injurious
dency of novel reading in general," while they believe a Novel to be of "indescribable value as an instrumentality of potent efficacy" for effecting a good purpose? Stronger terms could hardly be used to recommend Barclay's Apology; and if one Novel deserves such a character, so may another. Upon what ground then, can the testimony of the Society against them be supported? It does not rest, says the British Friend, "on Novels being works of fiction merely," and if they may be so "indescribably" potent for good, instead of bearing testimony against them, writing and reading those as well got up as "Uncle Tom's Cabin," ought to be advised and encouraged. The popularity of that work has already given rise to numerous imitations, some directed against the "abominations of American slavery," and some against the abominations of English slavery, as exhibited among her operatives; and the appetite for this high-seasoned, exciting literature being fairly developed, should the sentiments of the "British Friend" on the subject, obtain general currency in our Society, it will be kept constantly stimulated until the minds of our members become so weakened, that other kinds of reading will be tasteless and rejected. Will not our respected Co-labourers reconsider the subject, and honestly examine whether their zeal against Slavery has not in this instance led them too far?
If the dissemination of H. B. Stowe's Novel should curtain the existence, or mitigate the evils of Slavery, we will rejoice at it: it would not be the first time that that which is evil in itself has been overruled for good; but as we said before, we do not believe that it has had or will have such effects. The true character of Slavery, its abominable cruelties and injustices, were as well known before that work was written as since. A system that subjects a whole class in the community to the absolute and irresponsible possession and control of another, must, while human nature remains what it is, give rise to characters and scenes as revolting as any that may be delineated in it; and so far, the expression that the work is founded on fact, may be admitted; but the ardent feelings kindled up by it, are the fruits of the absorbing interest awakened in the minds of its readers, in the fictitious characters so vividly portrayed; and as the consciousness ever attends that they existed only in the imagination of the authoress, that interest must in the nature of things be short lived.
In this country, the febrile excitement created on its first appearance, has already passed off; and if we may judge from the tone of the public press, and the action of some of our Legislatures, it has been succeeded by a cold stage, which is anything but indicative of healthful or improved action, on the subject of Slavery, in the body politic. Its general reception as a truthful picture of all slaveholders, while they regard it as a high-coloured caricature intended to hold them up to scorn, has excited the evil passions of many among them, prompting them to repel the approaches of those who address them in the language of Truth; and compelling such (who are always the most efficient friends of the poor slave) to hold back, until the feelings of anger and hostility may be removed, and an ear be again opened to hear them.
But, says the "British Friend," "objecting thus decidedly as 'The Friend' does to such works as this of H. B. Stowe's, our readers will naturally be curious to know if the Editor has any specific of his own to substitute." It then quotes a paragraph from our remarks, where we say, that the removal of Slavery "can only be effected by the slaveholders themselves," and italicizes these words as though they indicated something that we had put forth as a specific. We mentioned nothing as a specific; but we did say, that in order to bring about that effect, viz., abolishing slavery by the slaveholders themselves, those who are out of the immediate influence of the errors and prejudices of slaveholders, "must address the hearts and understanding of their brethren involved in them, in the authority of Truth, and in the spirit of Christian love"; and we still believe that this will do more to effect that good work, than all the Novels that can be written.