Notices of New Works
Macaulay, in the opening paragraph of his Essay on the Life of Addison, discusses the question whether lady authors should or should not be dealt with according to strict critical justice. The gallant reviewer gives as his opinion, that while lady writers should be not permitted to teach "inaccurate history or unsound philosophy" with impunity, it were well that critics should so far recognize the immunities of the sex as to blunt the edge of their severity towards the offenders. And he instances, as pertinent to the critic's position, the case of the Knight, who being compelled by duty to keep the lists against Bradamante, was fain, before the combat commenced, to exchange Balisarda for a lighter and less fatal weapon, with which, however, he fought well and successfully.
For ourselves, we are free to say that we quite coincide with Mr. Macaulay, in the exact terms of his proposition. But we beg to make a distinction between lady writers and female writers. We could not find it in our hearts to visit the dulness or ignorance of a well-meaning lady with the rigorous discipline which it is necessary to inflict upon male dunces or blockheads. But where a writer of the softer sex manifests, in her productions, a shameless disregard to truth and of those amenities which so peculiarly belong to her sphere of life, we hold that she has forfeited the claim to be considered a lady, and with that claim all exemption from the utmost stringency of critical punishment. It will not indeed suffice, to work this forfeiture, that she merely step beyond the limits of female delicacy. A Joan of Arc, unsexed though she be, in complete armour, mounted en chevalier, and battling for the defense of her native land, might, perhaps come within the rule of knightly courtesy. But the Thalestris of Billingsgate, coarse of speech and strong of arm, hurling unwomanly oaths and unwomanly blows at whom she chooses to assail, would probably be met by a male opponent, (if he could not run away from her,) in a very different manner.
Mrs. Stowe—to whose work of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" we now propose to devote
ourselves—is neither one nor the other of the characters we have described.
She is not a Joan of Arc. She is not a fishwoman. She is something much
less noble than the Gallic heroine; she is certainly a much more refined person
than the virago of the Thames. Yet with all her cultivation she has placed
herself without the pale of kindly treatment at the hands of Southern criticism.
Possessed of a happy faculty of description, an easy and natural style, an
uncommon command of pathos and considerable dramatic skill, she might, in
the legitimate exercise of such talents, have done much to enrich the literature
of America, and to gladden and elevate her fellow beings. But she has chosen
to employ her pen for purposes of a less worthy nature. She has volunteered
officiously to intermeddle with things which concern her not—to libel and
vilify a people from among whom have gone forth some of the noblest men that
have adorned the race—to foment heart-burnings and unappeasable hatred between
brethren of a common country, the joint heirs of that country's glory—to
sow, in this blooming garden of freedom, the seeds of strife and violence
and all direful contentions. Perhaps,
indeed, she might declare that such was not her design—that she wished, by the work now under consideration, to persuade us the horrible guilt of Slavery, and with the kindest feelings for us as brethren, to teach us that our constitution and laws are repugnant to every sentiment of humanity. We know that among other novel doctrines in vogue in the land of Mrs. Stowe's nativity—the pleasant land of New England—which we are old-fashioned enough to condemn, is one which would place woman on a footing of political equality with man, and causing her to look beyond the office for which she was created—the high and holy office of maternity—would engage her in the administration of public affairs; thus handing over the State to the perilous protection of diaper diplomatists and wet-nurse politicians. Mrs. Stowe, we believe, belongs to this school of Women's Rights, and on this ground she may assert her prerogative to teach us how wicked are we ourselves and the Constitution under which we live. But such a claim is in direct conflict with the letter of scripture, as we find it recorded in the second chapter of the First Epistle to Timothy—
"Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
"But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence."
But whatever her designs may have been, it is very certain that she has shockingly traduced the slaveholding society of the United States, and we desire to be understood as acting entirely on the defensive, when we proceed to expose the miserable misrepresentations of her story. We shall be strongly tempted, in the prosecution of this task, to make use, now and then, of that terse, expressive, little Saxon monosyllable which conventionality has properly judged inadmissable in debate, yet we trust we shall be able to overcome the temptation, and in the very torrent and tempest of our wrath, (while declining to "carry the war into Africa,") to "acquire and beget a temperance which may give it smoothness."
While we deem in quite unnecessary, in this place, to lay before our readers in detail the plot of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," still we shall best accomplish our purpose by running over the leading incidents of the novel. But even this will not be the easiest thing in the world. We have given Mrs. Stowe credit for dramatic skill. Yet it will be seen that as a dramatist she is, by no means, without some glaring faults. It is a rule of art, (judged by which Fielding's Tom Jones has been pronounced by the best critics to be almost perfect,) that a work of fiction should be so joined together that every passage and incident should contribute to bring about an inevitable though unexpected catastrophe. Mrs. Stowe's events have many of them no connection with each other whatever. She has two principal characters, for whom the reader's sympathy is enlisted, whose paths never lie within a thousand miles of each other. Whenever she brings Uncle Tom forward, George Harris is moved backward: whenever she entertains us with George Harris, Uncle Tom's rights as a hero are in abeyance, wherein Mrs. Stowe reminds us of the ventriloquist vaudevilles of the facetious Mr. Love, who, individually representing the entire dramatis personae, is compelled to withdraw as Captain Cutandthrust, before he can fascinate his audience with Miss Matilda Die-away. Perhaps, indeed, Mrs. Stowe has proceeded upon the principle laid down by Puff in the Critic—
"O Lord, yes; ever while you live have two plots to your tragedy. The grand point in managing them is only to let your under-plot have as little connection with your main plot as possible."
The tale opens with a dialogue between a Kentucky planter, Mr. Shelby, and a negro-trader called Haley, at the dinner-table of the former at his plantation residence. Haley holds Mr. Shelby's I. O. U. for a considerable amount which he is unable to settle, and takes advantage of this indebtedness to compel Mr. Shelby to part with two of his slaves—Uncle Tom, his general manager, and a little mulatto boy, the child of Eliza Harris, Mrs. Shelby's maid. Eliza is the wife of George Harris, the Admirable Crichton of the book. Being determined not to see her child sold away from her, she runs off with it it in it in the night, and after many adventures, (one of which is the passage of the Ohio River on the ice, with a leap across its unfrozen channel,) finally reaches the non-slaveholding territory. Before following her, we must pause to notice two points it in the narrative. The first is the conduct which the authoress ascribes to Mrs. Shelby it in conniving at Eliza's escape—conduct which is held up to us as, it in the highest degree, commendable. Now, the reader must know that Mr. Shelby has acquainted his wife with the fact that Haley has become the purchaser of the slaves. The good faith of Mr. Shelby, therefore, was pledged, and his wife knew it, to the fulfillment of this portion of the contract by putting Haley it in possession of them. And however painful to the feelings of that kind and excellent lady might have been the separation, the obedience due to her husband, and the regard she was bound to cherish for his word, should have restrained her from throwing any obstacle it in the way of the performance of his engagements, much more from assisting it in the escape of a valuable servant. But at this point the authoress brings the "Higher Law" to bear upon Mrs. Shelby's line of duty, and as obedience to one's husband is not recognized by the new school of Woman's Rights, perhaps there is no departure herein from ethical consistency. The second point to which we wish to refer, is the utter indifference to fact and probability displayed it in a conversation which the authoress details between the men who become engaged it in the pursuit of Eliza. Haley, having given chase, after some delay at the Shelby mansion, comes up with Eliza just it in time to see her, with the child it in her arms, brave the dangers of the ice-bound Ohio and gain the opposite bank it in safety. Chagrined at this frustration of his plans, he resorts to brandy-and-water at the nearest tavern, where he finds two old acquaintances quite as beastly and devilish as himself, who are also negro-traders. Haley proposes to them to assist him it in retaking Eliza. The matter is debated at length and a bargain is struck. The parties agree that it in case of a re-capture, the child is to be surrendered to Haley, who shall thereupon interpose no objection to the kidnapping of Eliza by his comrades—the said Haley paying down the just and full sum of Fifty Dollars it in advance, as an indemnity against loss it in the event of failure. The discussion reeks with bad brandy and the fumes of tobacco, and is therefore not well-suited to quotation, but one passage of it must be given:
"Marks had got from his pocket a greasy pocketbook, and taking a long paper from thence, he sat down, and fixing his keen black eyes on it, began mumbling over its contents: 'Barnes—Shelby County—boy Jim, three hundred dollars for him, dead or alive.
"'Edwards—Dick and Lucy—man and wife, six hundred dollars; wench Polly and two children—six hundred for her or her head.'
"'I'm jest a runnin' over our business, to see if we can take up this yer handily. Loker,' he said, after a pause, 'we must set Adams and Springer on the track of these yer; they've been booked some time.'
"'They'll charge too much,' said Tom.
"'I'll manage that ar; they 's young in the business, and must spect to
work cheap,' said Marks, as he continued to read. 'Ther's three on 'em easy
all you've got to do is to shoot 'em, or swear they is shot; they couldn't, of course, charge much for that.'"
The reader will observe that two charges against the South are involved in this precious discourse—one, that it is the habit of Southern masters to offer a reward with the alternative of "dead or alive," for their fugitive slaves, and the other, that it is usual for pursuers to shoot them. Indeed, we are led to infer that as the shooting is the easier mode of obtaining the reward, it is the more frequently employed in such cases. Now, when a Southern master offers a reward for his runaway slave, it is because he has lost a certain amount of property, represented by the negro, which he wishes to recover. To allege then that the owner, so deprived of his property, would be willing to pay an extravagant sum of money to the man who should place that property forever beyond the possibility of recovery, is so manifestly absurd and preposterous, that Mrs. Stowe will not find many readers weak enough to believe it, even in New England. What man of Vermont, having an ox or an ass that had gone astray, would forthwith offer half the full value of the animal, not for the carcass which might be turned to some useful purpose, but for the unavailing satisfaction of its head? Yet are the two cases exactly parallel. With regard to the assumption that men are permitted to go about, at the South, with double-barrelled guns, shooting down runaway negroes in preference to apprehending them, we can only say that it is as wicked and wilful as it is ridiculous. Such Thugs there may have been as Marks and Loker, who have killed negroes in this unprovoked manner, but if they have escaped the gallows, they are probably to be found within the walls of our State Penitentiaries where they are comfortably provided for at public expense. The laws of the Southern States, which are designed, as in all good governments, for the protection of persons and property, have not been so loosely framed as to fail of their object where person and property are one.*
Recur we now to the fugitives—Eliza and her child. The next thing we hear of them, they are seeking shelter and assistance at the house of Mr. Byrd, (or perhaps we should say Mrs. Byrd, as this lady seems to rule the household as completely as any Women's Rights Orator could desire,) where they are hospitably welcomed and tenderly cared for. Just before their arrival, the conjugal Byrds had been twittering in an argumentative duet concerning the matter of lending "aid and comfort" to runaway negroes, during which the feathers of the female had been somewhat ruffled, for her loving mate had but lately flown into the nest from the noisy aviary, the Legislature of Ohio, where as a Byrd of some consequence, he had lent his voice in the Senate to the passage of a Bill "forbidding people to give meat and drink to those poor colored folks that come along." Mrs. Stowe takes great delight in showing us here how the Senator's stern convictions of duty were melted away, like the wax that sustained the pinions of Icarus, by the feelings of compassion that kindled in his gentle bosom at the story of Eliza's wrongs, and how the worthy and Honorable Byrd, maker of laws, proceeded to help the fugitives to a place of greater safety, by driving them at night over a rough road to a Quaker settlement some miles distant. The reader who will reflect upon the matter a single moment, must see that the Senator is applauded for what in old times was considered one of the worst of offenses—the violation of his oath. For in assuming his legislative duties he had solemnly sworn to support the Constitution of the United States, and his conduct is in direct conflict with that sacred obligation. But to writers like Mrs. Stowe is reserved the casuistical talent, and we may add, the portentous impudence, of making perjury graceful and good, and of founding upon it the claim to an integrity approaching the perfect holiness of the saints.
To keep up with the story, it is necessary that we should now turn to the fortunes of George Harris. This remarkable mulatto, who unites the genius of an Arkwright to the person of an Antinous, shortly before Eliza's hegira, had incurred the displeasure of his master for having invented "a machine for the cleaning of hemp" which displayed as much talent, we are told, as Whitney's cotton-gin. George was hired by the proprietor of a large bagging factory, where he was "considered the first hand in the place" and was greatly caressed. His owner, however, cannot brook the crime of invention, and seeks to humble his proud spirit in the performance of the most degrading offices. As well he might hope to humble a Plantagenet or a Pottowattomy. George runs off, bids adieu to Eliza and the boy who are yet on the estate, disguises himself, with the help of a little walnut bark and hair-dye, as a Spanish grandee of the sangre azula, and with two pistols and a bowie knife under his waistcoat, travels leisurely, in his own conveyance, to the border line of the free states, actually stopping to read, in a tavern by the wayside, the handbill in which the reward of Four Hundred Dollars has been offered for his recovery or, as usual, "for satisfactory proof that he has been killed." If any one portion of Mrs. Stowe's book is more silly than another, it is this account of George's escape. The most embruted wretch that ever "wolloped" his negro, like his donkey, even without the provocation that he "wouldn't go," could not have acted like George's master. George, at the factory, where his genius might be brought into exercise, was worth to his owner five times as much as he could have been on the plantation, and it is a little the most improbable thing in the world that the owner would have sacrificed his pecuniary interest with no other motive than a humiliating sense of his negro's mental superiority. But Mrs. Stowe convicts herself of an utter ignorance of the Law of Contracts, as it affects Slavery in the South, in making George's master take him from the factory against the proprietor's consent. George, by virtue of the contract of hiring had become the property of the proprietor for the time being, and his master could no more forcibly have taken him away than the owner of a house in Massachusetts can dispossess his lessee, at any moment, from mere whim or caprice. There is no court in Kentucky where the hirer's rights, in this regard, would not be enforced. As for the details of the escape—the Spanish disguise, the pistols and bowie-knife, the easy nonchalance of the principal performer, et cetera, they would not go down as part and parcel of the burnt-cork melodrama of the Bowery.
While George was playing this magnificent part, Eliza had, as we have already described, succeeded in reaching a temporary place of refuge among the Quakers. These worthy people live, it seems, in Indiana. To their village, by a lucky accident, comes George, and a happy reunion of parents and child takes place. But the fugitives are not yet beyond the reach of danger. For Loker and his myrmidons are upon their track, prepared to identify them as slaves. It is necessary, therefore, to push on the Canada. On the way they are overtaken. A struggle ensues between the two parties, in which Loker is shot by George Harris. The rest of the pursuers fly, and the mulatto proceeds without further difficulty, until he sets foot, with Eliza and the child, upon the Canadian shore of Lake Erie. The triumph of innocence is complete.
Having disposed of the Harrises, we have now to direct our attention to Uncle Tom. It is a sad day at Mr. Shelby's when Haley returns from his ineffectual pursuit of Eliza, to take away the negro manager from the old plantation. Mr. Shelby has gone off to avoid the disagreeable scene of the departure; Old Chloe, Uncle Tom's wife, and the picaninnies mingle their tears with those of Mrs. Shelby; the whole establishment wears an air of the deepest gloom—two persons only of all seem unaffected, the purchaser and the purchased. Haley, steeled against the promptings of pity, and Uncle Tom himself, lifted by a noble resignation to the will of Providence far above the weakness of despondency, are equal to the occasion. The manacles are put on, and Tom is whirled away. A mile from the house, they meet young George Shelby, the son of Uncle Tom's former master, who has been absent for a few days. Tom gives some parting advice with his blessing to George, and George, with generous fervor, promises to redeem Tom at some future day, and the interview terminates. Without other incident that we need mention, Haley reaches La Belle Reviere and embarks with Uncle Tom upon its waters, in a steamer bearing the beautiful French name of the stream itself.
We think it well here to advert to a prominent fault of Mrs. Stowe's production, because it is exhibited, perhaps, as conspicuously in the earlier chapters as any where else. It lies in the cruel disparity, both intellectual and physical, which our authoress makes between the white and black races, to the prejudice of the former. The negro under her brush invariably becomes handsome in person or character, or in both, and not one figures in Uncle Tom's Cabin, no matter how benighted or besotted his condition, who does not ultimately get to heaven. But while Mrs. Stowe can thus "see Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt," she is unable to look upon a white face without tracing in it something sinister and repulsive. The fairest of her Southern ladies retain some ugly marks of their descent from the erring mother of our race—
Some flowers of Eden they still inherit,
The white villains she thus describes are villains indeed. Dante fell into some rather bad company when he descended with Virgil to the realms of the lost, but the demons of the Inferno are amiable and well-behaved gentlemen in comparison with Marks and Loker. On the other hand, Beatrice, soaring to the loftiest circles of the glorified, is but a commonplace damsel by the side of Eliza. See with what Titianesque touches she is represented to the us. The "rich, full, dark eye with its long lashes;" the "ripples of silky black hair;" the "delicately formed hand" and "trim foot and ankle;" "the dress of the neatest possible fit," setting off to advantage "her finely moulded shape"—all these make up a picture the effect of which is heightened by the assurance that the original possesses "that peculiar air of refinement, that softness of voice and manner, which seems in many cases to be a particular gift to quadroon and mulatto women." As for Uncle Tom, he is an epitome of the cardinal virtues, a sort of ebony St. Paul undergoing the perils, the stripes, the watchings and ultimately the martyrdom of the Apostle, with all of the Apostle's meekness and fortitude, carrying a stainless soul in an offending body, and walking through much tribulation, without a single turn from the straight course, to the portals of the Heavenly Kingdom. In person he is finely and powerfully made, and as the manager of Mr. Shelby's estate his judgment and discretion are unparalleled in Southern agriculture. Trusted with untold gold, he never yields to the temptation of appropriating a piece of it to his own use. Resentment for injury was what Uncle Tom had never experienced. Whisky, the "peculiar wanity" of his race, has never passed his lips. Finally, whatsoever things are true, whatsover things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; it there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, all these things were blended in Uncle Tom.
In attributing this perfection to the negro character, Mrs. Stowe not only "o'ersteps the modesty of nature," but she places in a strong light the absurdity of the whole story of Mr. Shelby's sacrifice. An Irish soldier in our army was once rebuked by his commanding officer for getting drunk. "Arrah! yer honor," said Pat, "yer wouldn't be after expectin' all the Christian vartues in a man, for eight dollars a month!" In like manner we would ask if a sensible man like Mr. Shelby could be expected to sell so much of prudence, honesty, foresight, sobriety and affection as were found in Uncle Tom, for any sum that Haley would be willing to allow for him? We are not told what this sum was, but judging from Haley's grinding disposition, and the fact that he afterwards sold Uncle Tom for thirteen hundred dollars, it is fair to the fix his original price at One Thousand Dollars. Now, admitting Mr. Shelby's embarrassments and conceiving it possible that he could set aside all his long-standing attachment for Uncle Tom at the bidding of an insolent trader, is it likely that so valuable, or rather so invaluable, a piece of property would have been relinquished for so small a "consideration"? But a high-toned and chivalrous Kentuckian cannot so easily divest himself of his humanity, and it is a slander upon that gallant State to represent the scene within her borders. The dialogue with which Mrs. Stowe's novel opens, if carried to its legitimate conclusion, would have been a short one. Mr. Shelby would have "participated matters," as Mrs. Malaprop says, by knocking Haley down stairs.
But our authoress would have Uncle Tom sold, and we now return to him, with his new master—
Floating down de riber of de O-hi-o!
In due time they reach the Mississippi, upon whose turbid flood they are
borne to New Orleans. Before arriving at this metropolis, an incident
occurs to Uncle Tom which operates a material change in his condition.
Among the passengers in the steamer, there is a certain Mr. St. Clare, a
young, rich, clever and handsome Louisiana planter, on his way home from a
Northern excursion, accompanied by his daughter, a fair-haired little seraph
of five or six years of age, and a New England cousin, one Miss Ophelia St.
Clare, who has never before been in the Southern States. One day this little
daughter falls overboard from the forward deck, just as the boat is leaving
a landing. Tom, who has been reading his bible near at hand, plunges after
her in a moment, and rescues her from drowning. A friendship springs up between
the child and Uncle Tom which leads to his pur-
chase by Mr. St. Clare, to whose luxurious establishment in New Orleans our sable hero is now speedily transferred. The role assigned him was that of coachman, but his duties amounted to no more than a general supervision of the stables. The business of his life was to play the companion to Evangeline, or Little Eva, as she was generally called, to minister to her simple wants, to pluck for her the sunniest fruits and to twine roses in her golden hair. Eva on her part was not less zealous in gentle offices. She read to him, as Tom had never heard them read before, those passages of Holy Writ which were most calculated to impress both their imaginative intellects. Thus for two years did "the foot of Time" with Tom, "tread noiselessly on flowers." But the cheek of Little Eva soon mantled with that hectic glow which announces the dread presence of consumption. The art of the physician was invoked in vain to arrest the fatal malady. Day by day the form upon which parents and friends gazed so fondly, wasted from their sight. The fine intellect of the child flashed out with preternatural brilliancy as its earthly tenement was about to be dissolved. The vigils of Uncle Tom at the bedside of the sufferer are described with a pathos that goes to the heart of the reader. At last the destroyer came. In the sad circle of the bereaved there was none whose grief was more bitter and abiding than Uncle Tom's.
This touching little episode is so far the best part of the novel that it seems to be not of it. It is a gem shining amid surrounding rubbish. We think, however, that we have read something very like it before. The enchanting conception of grace and innocence in the person of little Eva is not original. Years ago, the tears of thousands of readers were drawn forth by the story of a child, in all respects the prototype of Eva, whose angelic figure, floating above an atmosphere of guilt and shame, seemed to sanctify its habitation on earth, as the presence of Eva hallowed the frivolity and extravagance of the St. Clare household. She too was fondly attached to an old man, less saintly than Uncle Tom, but feeling as deep a sentiment of love for his youthful companion as ever Uncle Tom felt. She too sickened of consumption and went down to a premature grave. The story was written by Charles Dickens, and our readers have doubtless already noted the resemblance of Eva and Tom to Little Nell and her grandfather.
One evening during Eva's lifetime, Miss Ophelia, the bustling little spinster to whom we have already alluded, came into the room where St. Clare lay reading his paper, with a raw-head-and-bloody-bones account of a negro woman having been whipped to death by her master.
"'An abominable business,—perfectly horrible!' she exclaimed, as she entered the room where St. Clare lay reading his paper.
"'Pray, what iniquity has turned up now?' said he.
"'What now? why, those folks have whipped Prue to death!' said Miss Ophelia, going on, with great strength of detail, into the story, and enlarging on its most shocking particulars.
"'I thought it would come to that, some time,' said St. Clare, going on with his paper.
"'Thought so!—an't you going to do anything about it?' said Miss Ophelia. 'Haven't you got any selectmen, or anybody, to interfere and look after such matters?'
"'It's commonly supposed that the property interest is a sufficient guard in these cases. If people choose to ruin their own possessions, I don't know what's to be done. It seems the poor creature was a thief and a drunkard; and so there won't be much hope to get up sympathy for her.'
"'It is perfectly outrageous,—it is horrid, Augustine! It will certainly bring down vengeance upon you.'
"'My dear cousin, I didn't do it, and I can't help it; I would, if I could. If low-minded, brutal people will act like themselves, what am I to do? They have absolute control; they are irresponsible despots. There would be no use in interfering; there is no law that amounts to anything practically, for such a case. The best we can do is to shut our eyes and ears, and let it alone. It's the only resource left us."
In a subsequent part of the same conversation, St. Clare says—
"'For pity's sake, for shame's sake, because we are men born of women, and not savage beasts, many of us do not, and dare not,—we would scorn to use the full power which our savage laws put into our hands. And he who goes the furthest, and does the worst, only uses within limits the power that the law gives him.'"
We have italicized a sentence or two of this conversation to direct attention to the reckless manner in which our authoress puts loose statements into the mouths of her characters. We are told in the appendix that this incident of the killing of Prue occurred "under the personal observation" of a brother of the authoress who was a clerk to a large mercantile house in New Orleans at the time. If we understand the force of language, it is here meant that this gentleman was an actual eye-witness of the murder. If so, then was he, before God and man, an accessory to the crime. For he had only, in the event that his own interposition would not have sufficed to the prevent it, to have called in the police to have saved Prue's life. And failing to do this—standing by, in cold blood, while a fellow-being was brutally scourged to death without an effort to rescue her—not even volunteering his evidence subsequently to ensure the punishment of the murderers, in what light can we regard his conduct other than as making him particeps criminis of Prue's death? But Mrs. Stowe tells us, through St. Clare, that "there is no law that amounts to the anything" in such cases, and that he who goes furthest in severity towards his slave, i.e. to the deprivation of an eye or a limb or even the destruction of life, "only uses within limits the power that the law gives him." This is an awful and tremendous charge, which lightly and unwarrantably made, must subject the maker to a fearful accountability. Let us see how the matter stands upon the statute-book of Louisiana. By referring to the Civil Code of that State, Chapter 3rd, Article 173, the reader will find this general declaration—
"The slave is entirely subject to the will of his master, who may correct and chastise him, though not with unusual rigor, nor so as to maim or mutilate him, or to expose him to the danger of loss of life, or to cause his death."
On a subsequent page of the same Volume and Chapter, Article 192, we find provision made for the slave's protection against his master's cruelty, in the statement that one of two cases, in which a master can be compelled to the sell his slave, is
"When the master shall be convicted of cruel treatment of his slave, and the judge shall deem proper to pronounce, besides the penalty established for such cases, that the slave shall be sold at public auction, in order to place him out of the reach of the power which the master has abused."
A code, thus watchful of the negro's safety in life and limb, confines not its guardianship to the inhibitory clauses, but proscribes extreme penalties in case of their infraction. In the Code Noir (Black Code) of Louisiana, under the head of Crimes and Offences, No. 55, xvi, it is laid down that
"If any person whatsoever shall wilfully kill his slave or the slave of another person, the said person being convicted thereof shall be tried and condemned agreeably to the laws."
And because negro testimony is inadmissable in the courts of the State, and therefore the evidence of such crimes might be with difficulty supplied, it is further provided that
"If any slave be mutilated, beaten or ill-treated contrary to the true intent and meaning of this act, when no one shall be present, in such cases, the owner or other person having the management of said slave thus mutilated shall be deemed responsible and guilty of the said offense, and shall be prosecuted without further evidence, unless the said owner or other person so as aforesaid can prove the contrary by means of good and sufficient evidence, or can clear himself by his own oath, which said oath every court under the cognizance of which such offense shall have been examined and tried, is by this act authorized to administer." Code Noir. Crimes and Offenses, 56, xvii.
Enough has been quoted to establish the utter falsity of the statement, made by our authoress through St. Clare, that brutal masters are "irresponsible despots"—at least in Louisiana. It would extend our review to a most unreasonable length, should we undertake to give the law, with regard to the murder of slaves, as it stands in each of the Southern States. The crime is a rare one, and therefore the Reporters have had few cases to the record. We may refer, however, to two. In Fields v. the State of Tennessee, the plaintiff in error was indicted in the circuit court of Maury county, for the murder of a negro slave. He pleaded not guilty; and at the trial was found guilty of wilful and felonious slaying of the slave. From this sentence, he prosecuted his writ of error, which was disallowed, the court affirming the original judgment. The opinion of the court as given by Peck, J. overflows with the spirit of enlightened humanity. He concludes thus—
"It is well said by one of the judges of North Carolina, that the master has a right to exact the labor of his slave; thus far, the rights of the slave are suspended; but this gives the master no right over the life of his slave. I add to this saying of the judge, that law which says thou shalt not kill, protects the slave; and he is within its very letter. Law, reason, christianity and common humanity all point out one way." 1st Yerger's Tenn. Reports. 156.
In the General Court of Virginia, June Term, 1851, in Souther v. The Commonwealth it was held "that the killing of a slave by his master and owner, by wilful and excessive whipping, is murder in the first degree; though it may not have been the purpose of the master and owner to kill the slave." 7th Grattan's Reports, 673.
Having placed this matter of the irresponsibility of masters and the insecurity of slaves in its proper light, we revert to the history of Uncle Tom. Soon after the death of Eva, St. Clare determined to emancipate that good and faithful servant, and actually took the initiatory steps for the purpose. Uncle Tom looked forward with delight to his return to Chloe and his children upon "the old plantation." But the fates had ordered otherwise. St. Clare is brought home one night from a cafe, mortally wounded by a stab from a bowie-knife which he had received in endeavouring to separate two combatants. He lives but a few moments and has no time to declare his wishes as to the disposition of his property. Tom finds himself, after the pompous pageant of his master's funeral is over, at the mercy of a proud, selfish, languid, fashionable, hard-hearted woman, his master's widow—Marie St. Clare. Of this woman we have not before spoken, because she exists in the story hitherto only as a parenthesis, without contributing to its action or at all affecting its characters. We may here say in brief that as an individual we do not object to her, for we have seen many such in the whirl of fashion in New York and Boston, and such there may be in New Orleans, but that as the type of a class, as a portraiture of Southern female character, she is a gross and stupendous libel. And this libel is all the more unpardonable because Marie St. Clare is represented as a member of a Christian Church, uniting with becoming propriety in all the observances of religion—whereby Mrs. Stowe seeks to bring into contempt the entire communion of the Southern States. We have no words to express our scorn of such an effort, and therefore we proceed to say that this pious widow sets at naught her husband's already-begun proceedings with regard to Uncle Tom and sells him—conduct of which not one Southern lady of a thousand would be guilty, but in perfect consistency with Marie's natural disposition and altogether necessary to the dreadful denouement Mrs. Stowe has in store for us.
Behold Uncle Tom now the property of Simon Legree, a Red River planter. And here we may stop a moment to perform an act of justice to Mrs. Stowe in saying that she has transcended all delineations of the scoundrel that have yet fallen under our notice, in this head-devil of her story. Legree is a darker, a more perfect, a more consistent, a more symmetrical piece of diabolism than the literature of any language within the limited sphere of our knowledge can furnish. Og in the reeking couplets of Dryden—Jean qui rit, the laughing executioner of Louis XI., who found it such capital sport to chop heads off before breakfast—the worst fiends of the Italian poets—Rhadamanthus, in the gloomy shades, punishing first and trying afterwards—Tiberius in the debasement of Capreae—all these bad characters, historical and imaginary, by throwing their blackest traits into a joint stock and presenting them in one master-piece of associated deformity, could not have made up such a mauvais sujet as our friend Simon. And if "Uncle Tom's Cabin" is remarkable in no other respect, it is certainly entitled to the praise of giving the world assurance of a villain.
Legree carries Uncle Tom in fetters to the plantation, and from their arrival at that pleasant retreat, the Iliad of Uncle Tom's woes becomes a darker and more painful story until the final scene of all. He is beaten almost every day, for the sole reason that he does not deserve it. He does more than his share of work, and is flogged for that. He will not cry aloud under his sufferings, nor upbraid his persecutor, and this is considered sufficient cause for additional stripes. He refuses to lash his fellow-servants, and the fury of Legree becomes ungovernable. Let it be remembered that Uncle Tom's excellences as a "hand" had been early noticed by his master, who hoped to make him one of the most profitable slaves upon his estate. As a matter of self-interest, therefore, it would seem as if Legree ought to treat Uncle Tom well. But his cupidity is no match for his cruelty. One day in a frenzy of rage he scourges Uncle Tom beyond the point of human endurance, and the poor, submissive, heroic negro sinks upon his wretched pallet, never to rise from it again. By many persons who regard this novel as a tissue of falsehoods, this shocking act of barbarity will be considered improbable. We confess, however, that to us, Mrs. Stowe seems for once to have kept within the strict limits of vraisemblance. For the reader must bear in mind that Simon Legree had not been brought up in a slaveholding community, and had therefore no acquaintance with the negro character, no sympathy with their peculiar traits, no aptitude for their government. Mrs. Stowe tells us that
"In early childhood, a fair-haired woman had led him, at the sound of Sabbath
bell, to worship and to pray.
Far in New England that mother had trained her only son, with long unwearied love, and patient prayers."
Now, it is well-known in the Southern States that of all tyrants in the world, a New England slave-driver is the most cruel and remorseless. We mean not, in saying this, to reflect upon our brethren of the Northern States, nor will we imitate our authoress by holding up Legree generically as a fair representative of the New England master. But no one who has studied the institution of slavery, can have failed to observe that in a majority of cases, New England slaveholders err, in the management of negroes, in one or the other of two ways—either by indulging them to an extent which puts all subordination out of the question, or by holding over them a rod of iron. The kind-hearted Northern man will never be able to overcome a certain and very natural repugnance to the use of the lash, and so his slaves will do just as they please. The New Englander of less sensibility soon learns how to lay it on, and enforces a discipline the rigor of which exceeds any thing known upon the plantations of Southerners. Much of the odium with which slavery is regarded abroad, is due to the cruelty of New England masters like Legree, and but for the salutary operation of such laws, as we have adduced, for the negro's protection, scenes, similar to the "martyrdom" of Uncle Tom, might be more frequent than we are glad to know they now are. The greater humanity of Southern men in the administration of corporal punishment is attested by a Northern writer who brought forth, two years ago, a volume, the object of which was the abolition of flogging in the Navy. He says,
"It is a thing that American man-of-war's men have often observed, that the Lieutenants from the Southern States, the descendants of the old Virginians, are much less severe, and much more gentle and gentlemanly in command, than the Northern officers, as a class."*
While Uncle Tom is in the very article of death, but still in the full possession of his faculties, young George Shelby, mindful of his promise to the redeem the old manager of the estate at home, arrives at Legree's. An affecting scene occurs between them, marked by the noblest submission on the part of Uncle Tom, and an honest indignation on the part of the generous Kentuckian. It was indeed enough to rouse the blood of the young man—this atrocious murder of his dearly-loved and long-tried negro servant and friend, the grown-up companion of his boyish sports. He seeks Legree, and we are prepared to the expect that he will visit summarily upon the head of that miscreant the just retribution of his crime. Mrs. Stowe works us up for something dreadful. Legree speaks to George in an insulting tone. "The word was as a spark to a powder-magazine," and when a spark is communicated to a powder-magazine we naturally look out for a "general burst up." But what does the reader suppose to be the conduct of this "Kentucky boy" to whom "prudence was never a cardinal virtue"? "With one indignant blow," he knocks Legree, (not "into a cocked hat" but) "flat on his face!" Shade of Nemesis, what an expiation was there! Why Simeon Halliday himself, that drab-coated member of the Society of Friends, to whom we were introduced in the first volume as the whilome protector of Eliza, would have done something more to the purpose. The scene is a shocking anti-climax. If our authoress did not intend gratifying us with "justifiable homicide" why should she take such especial pains to the make us anticipate it? As it is, we feel like the crowd at Tyburn when there came a reprieve of the highwayman—we have been swindled out of an indefeasible, though not, perhaps, wholesome, excitement.
We must go back a little here, in order to get at the end of the story understandingly, for the purpose of introducing a character whom Uncle Tom found at Legree's plantation on his first arrival there, and with whose antecedents is connected the only thing like plot in the whole novel. This is a quadroon woman called Cassy. Her life has been a life of shame and suffering. The child of a slave woman and a wealthy proprietor, she had been nursed in the lap of luxury, and sent, at a proper age, to a convent, where she acquired music, French, embroidery and other accomplishments. When she was fourteen years of age, her father died suddenly of Asiatic Cholera, and Cassy was set down in the inventory of his property. The lawyer who came to settle up the estate was a handsome young man, and Cassy fell in love with him. In turn he seemed fascinated with her, and Cassy was not sorry to learn that she was to become his property. He soon placed her in a "beautiful house with servants, horses and carriages, and furniture, and dresses." Some years passed away, and Cassy was the mother of two lovely and interesting children. Up to this time, her master had lavished upon her every proof of affection but one—the marriage vow. But things changed, and Cassy was sold with her children, to clear off the gambling debts of her owner. The purchaser did not long retain his newly acquired property. Cassy passed into the possession of Simon Legree; her children, a boy and a girl, both of tender years, went off with new masters, she knew not whither.
Just before Uncle Tom was whipped to death, Cassy had projected a plan of escape with Emmeline, another quadroon inmate of Legree's household, and it was in connection with their disappearance that Uncle Tom suffered. The plan is successful. Cassy disguised as a Spanish Donna with Emmeline as her maid servant, having helped themselves freely to Legree's money before going off, reach in safety a Mississippi steamboat, the same in which George Shelby embarks on his return to Kentucky. George is struck with Cassy's appearance and pays her some attentions. Cassy, becoming uneasy under the close observation with which he regards her, confides to him the whole story of the escape, and receives from him the assurance of his protection. On the boat, occupying the next state-room to Cassy, is a very beautiful woman, one Madame de Thoux. Hearing that George Shelby is from Kentucky, she makes enquiries of him concerning George Harris, and being told of his flight to Canada, exclaims with fervor "Thank God!" She then explains that George Harris is her brother, that she had been purchased many years before by a West Indian planter who had emancipated and married her, that her husband had lately died, and that she was now on her way to Kentucky for the purpose of setting George at liberty. We shall not stop to comment on this string of unnatural incidents, for something stranger is about to transpire. George Shelby in speaking of George Harris mentions his marriage with Eliza. We quote the rest of the conversation—
"'Was she born in your house?' said Madame de Thoux.
"'No. Father bought her once, in one of his trips to New Orleans, and brought her up as a present to mother. She was about eight or nine years old, then. Father would never tell mother what he gave for her; but, the other day, in looking over his old papers, we came across the bill of sale. He paid an extravagant sum for her, to be sure. I suppose, on account of her extraordinary beauty.'
"George sat with his back to Cassy, and did not see the absorbed expression of her countenance, as he was giving these details.
"At this point in the story, she touched his arm, and, with a face perfectly white with interest, said, 'Do you know the names of the people he bought her of?'
"'A man of the name of Simmons, I think, was the principal in the transaction. At least, I think that was the name on the bill of sale.'
"'O, my God!' said Cassy, and fell insensible on the floor of the cabin."
Of course Eliza turns out to be Cassy's child and we are soon entertained with the family meeting in Montreal, where George Harris is living, five or six years after the opening of the story, in great comfort.
Now, the reader will perhaps be surprised to know that such an incident as the sale of Cassy apart from Eliza, upon which the whole interest of the foregoing narrative hinges, never could have taken place in Louisiana, and that the bill of sale for Eliza would not have been worth the paper it was printed on. Observe. George Shelby states that Eliza was eight or nine years old at the time his father purchased her in New Orleans. Let us again look at the statute book of Louisiana.
In the Code Noir we find it set down that
"Every person is expressly prohibited from selling separately from their mothers, the children who shall not have attained the full age of ten years."
And this humane provision is strengthened by a statute, one clause of which runs as follows—
"Be it further enacted, that if any person or persons shall sell the mother of any slave child or children under the age of ten years separate from said child or children, or shall, the mother living, sell any slave child or children of ten years of age or under, separate from said mother, such person or persons shall incur the penalty of the sixth section of this act."
This penalty is a fine of not less than One Thousand nor more than Two Thousand Dollars, and imprisonment in the public jail for a period of not less than six months nor more than one year. Vide Acts of Louisiana, 1 Session, 9th Legislature, 1828-9, No. 24, Section 16.
What will now be said of the story of Cassy and her children? Really Mrs. Stowe should be more cautious in the construction of her works of fiction. And yet we know not but the fancy sketch of the separation and the reunion was the best finale "Uncle Tom's Cabin" could have had. There is a fitness, a sort of epic unity in making a book of the most absurd improbabilities wind up in an impossibility that we can not think open to criticism.
We have devoted a much larger space to the plot of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" than we designed, when we commenced this review; it only remains for us to consider briefly those points upon which the authoress rests her abuse of the Southern States, in the book as a whole. These may be reduced to three—the cruel treatment of the slaves, their lack of religious instruction, and a wanton disregard of the sacred ties of consanguinity in selling members of the same family apart from each other.
We have already shown, by a reference to the laws regulating slavery in the Southern States, that many of the allegations of cruelty towards the slaves, brought forward by Mrs. Stowe, are absolutely and unqualifiedly false. As for the comfort of their daily lives and the almost parental care taken of them on well-regulated plantations, we may say that the picture of the Shelby estate, drawn by Mrs. Stowe herself, is no bad representation. The world may safely be challenged to produce a laboring class, whose regular toil is rewarded with more of the substantial comforts of life than the negroes of the South. The "property interest" at which the authoress sneers so frequently in "Uncle Tom's Cabin," is quite sufficient to ensure for the negro a kindness and attention, which the day-laborer in New England might endeavor to win from his employer. But we surely need not elaborate a point which has been settled so well by Southern writers before us.
The lack of religious instruction for slaves is a charge against the South, in great favor with Northern fanatics, many of whom are deplorably in want of "religious instruction" themselves, and vastly beneath the pious slave in that love for their neighbour which is the keystone of the Christian arch. Yet never was there a charge more extravagant. We can tell these worthies that throughout the Southern States a portion of every house of worship is set apart for the accommodation of slaves; that upon very many plantations, may be seen rude but comfortable buildings, dedicated to God, where stated preaching of His Holy Word is ordained; that Sabbath schools for negroes are established in several Southern cities; and that in every Southern family, almost without an exception, where morning and evening prayers are held, the domestics of the household are called together to unite in them. Instances of fervent and unaffected piety among the negroes, where they have not been tampered with by Abolitionists, are by no means rare. The entire absence of anxiety of mind, with the negro, arising from the perplexities of business and the lack of employment, and the practice, habitual to him from his birth, of resigning all care for the morrow to his master, are favorable to the reception of religious truth, and we believe that statistics would show a larger proportion of professing Christians among the negroes than among the whites. Writers like Mrs. Stowe, in treating of this subject, assume that there can be no acquaintance with gospel truth among a class who are not permitted to learn to read. But how many of the early Christians were ignorant and illiterate persons? The fishermen of Galilee were men without instruction when they first followed the fortunes of the lowly Nazarene. As for Mrs. Stowe, she is answered upon this point in her own pages. Uncle Tom was no scholar, and after many years of diligent application could at last read his bible with difficulty. Yet where shall we find a nobler and purer exemplification of the "beauty of holiness" than in him? It is, indeed, a triumphant vindication of the institution of slavery against Mrs. Stowe's assaults, that in a slaveholding community, a character so perfect as "Uncle Tom" could be produced. We have, it is true, intimated that "Uncle Tom" is somewhat overdrawn, not one dash of human frailty entering into his composition. Yet making due allowance for this, and relying solely upon his biblical lore, we may take "Uncle Tom," and deny, in the face of New England that there can be any serious lack of religious instruction in a society of which he was a member. Mrs. Stowe is, we believe, peculiarly favored in the way of spiritual advantages. Daughter of one clergyman, wife of another and sister to a third, she is redolent of the "odor of sanctity." Yet for ourselves we would not exchange Uncle Tom's unlettered, but trustful and unpretending piety for the erudite goodness of the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, who can read his [in the beginning was the word] in the original Greek, or the intellectual devotion of his worthy sister, who can "make a story-book," as the children say, "all out of her own head."
The sundering of family ties among the negroes is undoubtedly a dreadful
thing as represented by Abolition pamphleteers. Nor have we any desire to
close our eyes to the fact that occasionally there do occur instances of
compulsory separation involving peculiar hardship. But we have shown that in the very State which Mrs. Stowe has chosen for her most painful incident of this character, there are statutory regulations mitigating very much the severity of this condition of affairs, and we may add that every where the salutary influence of an enlightened public opinion enforces the sale of near relatives in such manner as that they may be kept as much as possible together. We are of the opinion too that heart-rending separations are much less frequent under the institution of slavery than in countries where poverty rules the working classes with despotic sway. But admit the hardship to its full extent, and what does it prove? Evils are inseparable from all forms of society and this giant evil (if you will call it so) is more than counterbalanced by the advantages the negro enjoys. Ever since the day that St. Paul bid adieu to the little flock at Miletum, who followed him down to the ship, "sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more"—there have been mournful partings and sobbing farewells. The English soldier ordered to the distant coast of India, with a high probability that he will die there of a fever, weeps above his wife and children before he marches off to the tap of the drum; and yet is no argument for the disbanding of the English army that family ties are rent by its stern and undiscriminating discipline.
There are some who will think that we have taken upon ourselves an unnecessary trouble in exposing the inconsistencies and false assertions of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." It is urged by such persons that in devoting so much attention to Abolition attacks we give them an importance to which they are not entitled. This may be true in general. But let it be borne in mind that this slanderous work has found its way to every section of our country, and has crossed the water to Great Britain, filling the minds of all who know nothing of slavery with hatred for that institution and those who uphold it. Justice to ourselves would seem to demand that it should not be suffered to circulate longer without the brand of falsehood upon it. Let it be recollected, too, that the importance Mrs. Stowe will derive from Southern criticism will be one of infamy. Indeed she is only entitled to criticism at all, as the mouthpiece of a large and dangerous faction which if we do not put down with the pen, we may be compelled one day (God grant that day may never come!) to repel with the bayonet. There are questions that underlie the story of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" of far deeper significance than any mere false coloring of Southern society, and our readers will probably see the work discussed, in other points of view, in the next number of the Messenger, by a far-abler and more scholar-like hand than our own. Our editorial task is now ended and in dismissing the disagreeable subject, we beg to make a single suggestion to Mrs. Stowe—that, as she is fond of referring to the bible, she will turn over, before writing her next work of fiction, to the twentieth chapter of Exodus and there read these words—"THOU SHALT NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS AGAINST THY NEIGHBOUR."