UNCLE TOM'S CABIN.
This is a fiction—professedly a fiction; but, unlike other works of the same type, its purpose is not amusement, but proselytism. The romance was formerly employed to divert the leisure, recreate the fancy, and quicken the sympathies of successive generations, changing its complexion and enlarging the compass of its aims with the expanding tastes of different periods; but never forgetting that its main object was to kindle and purify the imagination, while fanning into a livelier flame the slumbering charities of the human heart. But, in these late and evil days, the novel, notwithstanding those earlier associations, has descended from its graceful and airy home, and assumed to itself a more vulgar mission, incompatible with its essence and alien to its original design. Engaging in the coarse conflicts of life, and mingling in the fumes and gross odours of political or polemical dissension, it has stained and tainted the robe of ideal purity with which it was of old adorned. Instead of remaining the ever welcome companion of an idle hour, which turned to profit by its sweet alchemy the loose moments devoted to intellectual reverie, it has entered upon a sterner career, and one which requires us to question the visitant before admitting it to our confidence or listening to its tale. Now-a-days, it frequently assumes both the stole of the philosopher and the cassock of the priest and exhibits strange contracts between its face and figure, and the garb in which they are enveloped. Sometimes, though rarely, we discover the fairy features of our former favorite under the new disguise, and are only amused by the quaint antics and grotesque diablerie which spring from the uncongenial union: but more commonly the airy phantom which flitted before our earlier fancy, is transmuted into an aged and haggard crone, who wears the mask, pads her shrivelled limbs, and clothes herself in a deceptive garb, that she may steal more securely into our unsuspicious favor, mumble her incantations before we recognise them as the song of Canidia, and distill into our ears the venom of her tongue, before any apprehension is awakened. In the one case we may imagine that we have before us Omphale in the arms of Hercules; in the other, it is the drunken Lais, proud of the conquests of her youth and beauty, and garnishing the silly tattle of her age with the shreds and patches she has preserved from her ancient association with Ariatippus. The one may still be a Venus, though bedecked with the casque and plumes of Minerva: the other is the veriest drab who ever pretended to sense or virtue, to modesty or religion.
The wide dissimilarity between these two classes of romancing missionaries renders it important for us to be on our guard, and should suggest the prudence of questioning at the threshold, these new votaries of fiction, that we may know whence they come, and to what end they visit us. We may tolerate the coquettish airs of the one; we must repel the disgusting and depraved seductions of the other. If they descend upon us like the angel visits of former dreams, bearing balm upon their wings, and bringing consolation in the afflictions or trials of life, by enlarging the range of our sympathies, and revealing to our eyes the pettiness of our own sorrows, murmurs, complaints, and difficulties, in comparison with the vast array of deeper agonies, more arduous struggles, and darker fortunes cumbered amongst the possible and probable contingencies of human life,—then, as in the days when they were still untainted with suspicion, let us bid them welcome, and receive or endure the philosophy which but little befits them, for the sake of the inspiration, the hope, or the resignation which they instill. But, if the emblems of fiction are assumed but to delude, if the stole which they wear is the robe of the Cynic, or their hood the cowl of the fanatic; if their mission is to produce discontent, to be the heralds of disorder and dissension, then, though their song be as sweet as the Syren's, and their skin as sleek and slimy and glistening as that of the serpent which tempted Eve, let us bid them avaunt! and repel them from our intimacy and from our dwellings, which their presence would contaminate. But, in either case, let us examine their nature before we extend to them our greetings, or reject them with disgust.
We have examined the production of Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe,
which we purpose to review, and we discover it to belong to the latter
class, and to be one of the most reprehensible specimens of the tribe.
We own that we approach the criticism of the work with peculiar
sensations of both reluctance and repugnance. We take no pleasure in
the contact with either folly or vice; and we are unwilling to handle
the scandalous libel in the manner in which it deserves to be treated,
in consideration of its being the effusion of one of that sex, whose
natural position entitles them to all forbearance and courtesy, and
which, in all ordinary cases, should be shielded even from just
severity, by that protecting mantle which the name and thought of
woman cast over even the erring and offending members
of the sex. But higher interests are involved; the rule that everyone bearing the name and appearance of a lady, should receive the delicate gallantry and considerate tenderness which are due to a lady, is not absolutely without exception. If she deliberately steps beyond the hallowed precincts—the enchanted circle—which encompasses her as with the halo of divinity, she has wantonly forfeited her privilege of immunity as she has irretrievably lost our regard, and the harshness which she may provoke is invited by her own folly and impropriety. We cannot accord to the termagant virago or the foul-mouthed hag the same deference that is rightfully due to the maiden purity of untainted innocence. Still, though the exception undoubtedly exists, and we might, without indecorum, consider that all claims to forbearance had been lost by Mrs. Stowe, we shall not avail ourselves of the full benefit of her forfeiture. We cannot take the critical lash into our hands with the same callous indifference, or with the same stern determination of venting our just indignation, that we might have done, had the penalty been required for 'the lords of creation.' We will endeavor, then, as far as possible, to forget Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, and the individuality of her authorship, and will strive to concentrate our attention and our reprehension on her book, venturing only an aside at parting—a quotation from a work which it would be infamy to cite in connection with any other lady's name than her own:
Ciel, que je hais ces creatures fieres,
With this, we dismiss Mrs. Stowe: and we claim credit for our forbearance in thus resisting the temptation to castigate the improprieties of a woman, who has abandoned the elevated sphere appropriate to her sex, and descended into the arena of civil dissension and political warfare—to say no more—where the gladiators contend naked and a l'outrance.
We have said that Uncle Tom's Cabin is a fiction. It is a fiction throughout; a fiction in form; a fiction in its facts; a fiction in its representations and coloring; a fiction in its statements; a fiction in its sentiments; a fiction in its morals; a fiction in its religion; a fiction in its inferences; a fiction equally with regard to the subjects it is designed to expound, and with respect to the manner of their exposition. It is a fiction, not for the sake of more effectually communicating truth; but for the purpose of more effectually disseminating a slander. It is a fictitious or fanciful representation for the sake of producing fictitious or false impressions. Fiction is its form and falsehood is its end. When Aristotle assigned to poetry the precedence over history for its superior efficacy in instructing, refining, and ennobling mankind: when Bacon re-echoed the praise, and eulogised the works of the imagination, as seeking, by the universality and congeniality of ideal truth, to correct and elevate the warped and imperfect examples of virtue furnished in human action, they certainly never anticipated that the realm of fiction would be degraded into the domain of falsehood, or that fiction would cease to be the means of inculcating truth for the sake of substituting itself as the ultimate aim in the place of truth. By the beneficent Providence of God, the mind of man has been so constituted that, amid all the frailties and illusions, the follies and the errors of fallen humanity, it can still conceive of virtue more enduring and undeviating, of justice more unswerving, of fortitude more constant and patient; and of charities more diffusive and ennobling than the trials, and difficulties, and obstacles of actual existence will permit to be exhibited. Fancy, as if lighted up by the radiance of the sun which gilded the landscapes of Eden, can revert to imagined possibilities of a higher, a holier, and a nobler existence, and recalling, as it were, the reminiscences of the days of purity and innocence, can strengthen our hearts and elevate our feelings, to resist the seductions of evil; when, without such aid, the imperishable relic of a better condition—we might too easily yield to the vanities, the vices, and the temptations of life. But the magic wand is broken—the priceless treasure lost—when, instead of limiting the play of the imagination to its legitimate employment, we turn it to unholy uses. Nay, it is degraded and stripped of its power of transmitting this baser life of ours into the semblance of a golden age, when we suffer its potency to be turned to opposite ends, and to be applied not to the revival of the latent image of ideal excellence, but to the dirty sorcery of party purposes and fanatical aims. The rod of Aaron, which blossomed in the desert, drew down day by day celestial food from heaven, and educed from the river rock the living waters, to quench the deadly thirst of the Israelites, was the same wand which brought the plagues of flies and frogs and locusts, famine and pestilence and death, over the populous valleys of the prolific Nile. So it is with fancy: the fiction, which is the hand-maiden of truth, may refresh our fainting spirits in the wilderness of life: the fiction, which ends in fiction and is the slave of falsehood, will spread a fatal blight where all was salubrious, and happy and prosperous before.
In Uncle Tom's Cabin, the vice of this depraved
application of fiction and its desolating consequences, may be readily detected. Every fact is distorted, every incident discolored, in order to awaken rancorous hatred and malignant jealousies between the citizens of the same republic, the fellow countrymen whose interests and happiness are linked with the perpetuity of a common union, and with the prosperity of a common government. With the hope of expediting or achieving the attainment of a fanatical, and in great measure, merely speculative idea, of substituting the real thraldom of free labor for the imaginary hardships of slavery—the hydra of dissension is evoked by the diabolical spells of falsehood, misrepresentation, and conscious sophistry. What censure shall we pass upon a book, calculated, if not designed, to produce such a result? What condemnation upon an effort to revive all the evils of civil discord—to resuscitate all the dangers of disunion—allayed with such difficulty, and but recently lulled into partial quiescence by the efforts of the sages and the patriotic forbearance of the States of the Confederacy? What language shall we employ when such a scheme is presented, as the beau ideal of sublimated virtue, under the deceptive form of literary amusement, and is seriously offered as the recreation of our intellectual leisure?
We have neither the time nor the inclination run methodically through the labyrinths of misrepresentation which constitute the details of this romance. It has obtained an unhappy notoriety, which would render the task as profitless as it would be ungrateful. The copy before us purports to belong to the ninety-fifth thousand already published in America; and we see that upwards of one hundred and fifty thousand have been issued in England. How rapid the circulation of error! how slow the program of truth! How easy the propagation of falsehood; how arduous the dissemination of its antidote! When in the course of a few short mouths, a quarter a million of the readers of the English tongue manifest their readiness to welcome and their anxiety to believe a lie, it is useless for the injured party to disprove the false statement, as his disclaimers will be drowned by the clamors of the aggregated fanatics. The circumstances of the time; the distempered atmosphere of public sentiment, both at the North and beyond the Atlantic; the mawkish sensibilities and the imbecile ignorance of many within our own borders; the recent and still active agitation of the Slavery question in Congress and in the Presidential canvass; the frenzy of fanaticism and the fever of political intrigue, have all conspired to give a popularity and currency to the work at this particular moment, which its ability does not justify, and its purposes should forbid. Still, from whatever cause its multitudinous dispersion may arise, this of itself assures us both of the virulence of the venom and of the aptitude of the public mind both at the North and in England, to catch the contagion, and welcome the contamination. Hence, the necessity on the part of all those interested in the rights, the prosperity, the happiness and the integrity of the South, to accord to it a notice far beyond what its intrinsic merits or even vices might claim. But, as a bold, sweeping, unmitigated accusation against the Southern States, it cannot be suffered to pass entirely without challenge, nor can it be permitted to circulate without reprobation and repudiation. The consciousness of right, the dignity of our position, the knowledge of the inefficacy of our disclaimers, might prescribe unruffled contempt and unbroken silence, as the true mode of meeting the bald slanders and the forged accusations of mere fiction: but the purpose of the fiction—the intention of the libel is recognized, welcomed and applauded by myriads; and the numbers which swell the battalions of our adversaries render them dangerous, however contemptible the component units may be.
But, though we condescend to give more attention to Uncle Tom's
Cabin than we think such a work or such an attack entitled to on its
own score, we will not prolong our disagreeable duty so far as to
follow it through all the mazes of its misrepresentation—through all
the loathsome labyrinths of imaginary cruelty and crime, in which its
prurient fancy loves to roam. So far as a false statement can he
rectified by positive denial,—so far as misrepresentation can be
corrected by direct, abundant, unquestionable proof of the error, this
service has been already adequately rendered by the newspapers and
periodical literature of the South. We have intimated our belief, that
both the negation and the refutation are useless, for our adversaries
are as deaf and as poisonous too, as the blind adder. But this service
has already been fully rendered. It would, then, be a work of
supererogation to repeat the profitless labor, to trace the separate
threads of delusion which enter into the tissue of deception, and to
exhibit the false dyes and the tangles of fiction which aid in the
composition of the web. It would seem almost a hopeless waste of time
to show how the truth which has been so scantily employed, has been
prostituted to base uses, and made to minister to the general
falsehood; how human sympathies have been operated on to encourage and
sanctify most unholy practices: how every commandment of the decalogue
and all the precepts of the Gospel have been violated in order to
extend the sanctification of the higher-law, to every crime de-
nounced and condemned by laws, human and divine. Unfortunately for the cause of the South, the evidence for or against her, is neither weighed nor regarded: the defence is rejected without consideration, and all slanders are cordially received, not because they are known or proved to be true, but because they are wished to be so; and harmonise with pre-conceived and malicious prejudices. We have not the ear of the court; our witnesses are distrusted and discredited, and in most cases, they are not even granted a hearing; but the case is presumed to be against us, and by a summary process a verdict of guilty is rendered, without any regard to the real merits of the cause, but in compliance with the fanatical complicity of the jurors. Why is this? and what is the court before which we are required to plead?
Assuredly, there is no necessity to convince the slave owners, or
the residents in the Southern States, that the condition of society,
the status of the slave, the incidents and
accidents of slavery, the practices or even the rights of masters, are
exhibited in a false light, and are falsely stated in Uncle Tom's
Cabin; and that, by whatever jugglery or sorcery the result is
obtained, the picture, with all its ostensible desire of truthful
delineation, is distorted and discolored, and presents at one time a
caricature, at another a total misrepresentation of things amongst us.
It is not to Southern men that it is necessary to address any argument
on a topic like this. They are already aware of the grossness of the
slander by their own observation and experience. No, the tribunal to
which our defence mast be addressed, is the public sentiment of the
North and of Europe. In both latitudes, the case is already prejudged
and decided against us; in both, popular ignorance and popular
fanaticism, and a servile press have predetermined the question. The
spatial circumstances of the condition of society in both have led to
the complete extinguishment of slavery, eo nominee;
and what was dictated by pecuniary interest, and achieved by folly or
accident, is believed to furnish the immutable canon for the action of
all communities, and to constitute the valid criterion of a higher
law, which shall promise all the blessings of redemption to those who
vilify and malign their fellows for following the example of Abraham,
Isaac and Jacob, and all the curses of damnation to those who are the
innocent victims of the abuse. The ignorant and unreflecting outcry of
those whose social condition is infinitely below that of our slaves,
is eagerly caught up by the myriad serfs of the dominant cottonocracy;
is re-echoed from all points of the horizon; and is believed to be the
language of truth because it is the clamor of a multitude. A better
class stimulates and repeats the defamation, because their interests
are supposed to accord with the perpetuation of ignorance and the
propagation of delusion on this subject; and because it is a cheap
expenditure of philanthropy to melt in sentimental sorrow over remote
and imaginary evils, while neglecting the ever present ills and
pressing afflictions in their own vicinage. Such a tone of sentiment
among both the educated and the illiterate classes in those
communities where literature is a trade and the mercenary principles
of Grub street constitute the morality of all intellectual avocations,
generates a literary atmosphere which is fatal to the dissemination of
unpopular truths, and which gives singular vitality and longevity to
error, by pandering to the popular desire for its circulation and
confirmation. In this manner, we may understand both the cause of the
thousands of copies of Uncle Tom's Cabin, which have been sold at the
North and in England, and also the extreme difficulty, not to say
absolute impossibility, of securing a dispassionate hearing for our
defence, or of introducing the antidote where the poison has spread.
There is no obduracy so impracticable—no deafness so incurable—as
that Pharisaical self-sanctification and half-conscious hypocrisy,
which gilds its own deliberate delusions with the false colors of an
extravagant morality, and denounces all dissent from its own fanatical
prejudices, as callous vice and irremediable sin. The whole phalanx of
Abolition literature, in all its phases and degrees, is fully imbued
with this self-righteous spirit; and its influence, under all forms in
fiction and in song—in sermon and is essay—in politics harangue as
in newspaper twaddle is completely turned against us: and an
aggregation of hostile tendencies is brought to bear upon us so as to
deny to our complaints, our recriminations, or our apologies, either
consideration or respect. The potency of literature, in this age of
the world; when it embraces all manifestations of public or individual
thought and feeling, and permeates, in streams, more or less diluted,
all classes of society, can scarcely be misapprehended. But the
illiberal, unjust, and unwise course of Southern communities, has
deprived them of the aid of this potent protection, by excluding
themselves and their views almost entirely from the domain of
literature. The Southern population have checked and chilled all
manifestations of literary aptitudes at the South; they have
discouraged by blighting indifference, the efforts of such literary
genius as they may have nurtured: they have underrated and disregarded
all productions of Southern intellect; and now, when all the batteries
of the literary republic are turned against them, and the torrent of
literary censure threatens to unite with other agencies to overwhelm
them, it is in
vain that they cry in their dire necessity, "Help me, Cassius, or I sink." The voice of a home-born literature, which would have been efficient in their defence, is almost unheard, and, if uttered, is scarcely noticed beyond Mason and Dixon's line, because the Southern people have steadily refused to it that encouragement, both in the shape of material support and public favor, which is essential to its healthy development and assured existence, and which is imperatively required to give it respectability and influence abroad. Thus are we to explain the reason why the arguments and expositions of Southern sentiment on the subject of slavery, pass so entirely unheeded-why both its expostulations and denials are wholly disregarded, and its grave discussions contemptuously scorned and rejected without a moment's consideration.
What Southern author has not occasion for bitter complaints of the neglect, injustice, and illiberality of the Southern communities for which he has lived and written? What Southern work has been introduced to public favor by the cordial co-operation of Southern men, or the steady approbation of the Southern people? What Southern periodical, established for the development of Southern intellect, for the defence of Southern institutions, for the creation of a Southern literature, has not languished for want of adequate encouragement, come to a premature end for want of respectable support, or lingered on with a frail and fainting existence, having ever on its tongue and in its heart the humiliating confession that the South, for which it labored and to which it ministered, was indifferent to its fate? The fact that some few Southern works have attained distinction, that a few Southern periodicals have been able to protract a feeble and uncertain life through all trials and difficulties, reveals rather the native energy of the Southern mind, the spontaneous vitality of Southern intellect, than furnishes any disproof or palliation of the folly, the illiberality, the injustice, or the mole-eyed and narrow-minded sagacity of the Southern States.
It is a natural and inevitable consequence of this silly and fatal indifference to the high claims of a native and domestic literature, that the South is now left at the mercy of every witling and scribbler who panders to immediate profit or passing popularity, by harping on a string in unison with the prevailing fanaticism. It is a necessary result of the same long continued imprudence, that no defence can be heard, no refutation of vile slander regarded in the courts of literature, which comes from a land whose literary claims have been disparaged and crushed by its own blind recklessness and meanness. In Uncle Tom's Cabin, there is certainly neither extraordinary genius nor remarkable strength: the attack is unquestionably a weak one; there is only that semblance of genius which springs from intense fanaticism and an earnest purpose; and that plausibility which is due to concentrated energy and a narrow one-sided exposition of human afflictions: yet, though so slight be the merits of the book, the only criticism in reply which could pretend to any general efficiency in arresting the current of the virtual slander—and then by no means an adequate one—must be sought beyond the Atlantic, and gathered from the columns of the London Times. The South has benumbed the hearts and palsied the arms of her natural and willing defenders: she has dismantled her towers, and suppressed her fortresses of all efficient garrison, and she is now exposed, unarmed and unprotected, to all the treacherous stratagems sod pitiless malice of her inveterate and interested enemies. She has invited and merited her own fate: she has wooed the slander which she is almost powerless to repel: she has offered a premium to vituperation and imposed a grave penalty on every attempt to redress the indignity to which she has subjected her citizens.
It is not without distinct and deliberate purpose, that we have thus unveiled the secret causes of that contempt for the feelings, the interests, the rights, and the views of the South; which is indicated by the sudden and unprecedented success of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and also of that impossibility of obtaining an equal hearing in reply, which renders it as ungrateful and useless, as the task of exposing its perversions and misrepresentations is humiliating and disgusting. We will not repeat the unwelcome and unprofitable labor. The only true defence of the South against this attack, and the swarms of similar insults and indignities which its success and the prevalent fanaticism will generate, is to create and cherish a true Southern literature, whose spontaneous action will repel and refute such accusations, and command a respectful consideration wherever intellect is honored, or truth even dimly sought. Let the South honestly and cordially sustain her own periodicals, and her own writers, and such productions will cease to alarm or annoy her, or if they should attempt to fret her, they will he brushed aside without effort, and without producing even momentary injury. Let her fail to do this, and no one can complain if she is slandered, without contradiction and maligned without defence.
The mis-statements of Uncle Tom's Cabin, have already, as we have
said, been frequently exposed, but the refutation has been entirely
disregarded in those quarters where alone the disproof of its
mis-representations could be re-
quired. But, if for these and other reasons, we will not so far degrade ourselves as to retrace the beaten track, what remains for a Southern writer to do? Absolute silence is liable to misconstruction, and the just indignation which so malignant as outrage would merit, might be traduced as blind rage at the detection of guilt. He is, therefore compelled, by the untoward circumstances of the case, to speak, although convinced that, by so doing, he concedes much of the dignity of his cause to the evasive vituperation of its enemies. He may, however, enter his solemn protest against the reception of an impeachment, supported by testimony, which has been steadily and uniformly denied and disproved. He will do this, not with the hope of arresting the course of the slanderers, but for the sake of hearing testimony to the innocence of the South, and the wanton guilt of her accusers, and of preventing her from becoming a party to her own defamation, by the silence which might be construed as assent. He may then strike out a new line of argument, which, by waiving the points apparently in dispute, may, perhaps, conciliate attention, and discuss the real issue in a manner less calculated to excite or revive the habitual prejudices.
Something of this sort we will endeavor to do. We will concede for the nonce, the general truth of the facts alleged, and will maintain that, notwithstanding this concession, the culpability of the work, its fallacy and its falsehood remain the same. In the one case, the false conclusions are erected upon the basis of false assertions; in the other, we overlook the untruth of the statements, and find that they are deliberately employed for the insinuation of untrue and calumnious impressions. We will suppose, then, that such enormities as are recounted in Uncle Tom's Cabin, do occur at the South: that George Harris and Eliza his wife, with that seraphic little mulatto, their child, have, in truth, their prototypes among our slaves, and that the brutal treatment of the former by his owner, might find its parallel in actual life. We will endeavor to imagine the reality of the murder of Prue, and the probability of the virtues, misfortunes and martyrdom of Uncle Tom—and, still heavier tax upon our credulity, we will suppose the angelical mission of that shrewish Yankee maiden, Miss Ophelia, for the conversion of hopeless niggers, and the redemption of Ebo, to have been a fact:—and, yet, notwithstanding all this, and it is tough, indeed, to swallow, we will maintain the doctrines of the book to be most pernicious, the representation given to be the most erroneous, the impression designed to be produced the most criminal and false, and the iniquity of the scandalous production to be entitled to unmitigated censure and reprobation. We will not even limit our concession so far as might be requisite to bring the delineation within any reasonable approximation of the truth; we will not insist that the incidents conceded must be regarded as exceptional cases; for it is perceived in Uncle Tom's Cabin, that to admit them to be exceptions, would be to change, entirely, the character of the argument, and destroy its validity. How acute is the perverse instinct of deliberate wrong: how sagacious the ingenuity of premeditated error? We will concede all the facts stated in the work: all that we will not concede, is the significance attributed to them, and their relevancy for the purpose for which they are employed. And, having granted all this, we still believe that we can offer an ample vindication of the South, and justify the severest censure of this inflammatory and seditious production.
We cannot, however, pass to what may be regarded as the argument of the work, without noting that the hero and heroine of the tale—the tawny Apollo and Venus, with the interesting yellow Cupid, on whom so large a portion of the plot is concentrated—belong exactly to that particular shade of tainted blood, when the laws of many of the Southern States, if not of all, would recognize them as free. George and Eliza Harris, as represented, have a larger proportion of white blood in their veins, than is compatible with the continuance of the servile condition. The jurisprudence of those very communities, which are vilified for their imaginary mistreatment of this elegant pair, is not savage enough to retain them is bondage. It would only have been necessary for them to exhibit their radiant countenances, their soft, glossy hair, and curling ringlets, and prove the superabundance of their Caucasian blood in any of our courts of justice, to be assured of obtaining their free papers. If the work was intended for an exposition of the enormities incident to slavery, and for a protestation in favor of the injured and own-trodden African race, is it not a singular dishonesty of procedure to assume as types of this class, those who are rather degraded specimens of the white blood, than in any sense, representatives of the African, and who do not, legitimately, by the laws of the South, belong to the class intended to be redeemed by the exhibition of their sufferings, but more properly to the tribe of the alleged oppressors. Into such inconsistencies is malice betrayed, when it aims at producing false impressions, and is utterly unscrupulous in the employment of any means which seem calculated to heighten the false effect desired.
But leaving this exceedingly vulnerable characteristic of Uncle
Tom's Cabin, the argument of the work—for there is an argument even
successive dramatic pictures designed to produce a given effect, as well as in successive syllogisms designed to establish a special conclusion:—the argument of the work is, in plain and precise terms, that any organization of society—any social institution, which can by possibility result in such instances of individual misery, or generate such examples of individual cruelty as are exhibited in this fiction, must be criminal in itself, a violation of all the laws of Nature and of God, and ought to be universally condemned, and consequently immediately abolished. Unhappily, in all the replies to Uncle Tom's Cabin which have hitherto been attempted under the form of corresponding fiction, usually, we are sorry to say, by weak and incompetent persons, it has not been recognized with sufficient distinctness that the whole strength of the attack, as the whole gist of the argument, lies in this thesis. The formal rejoinders have consequently been directed to the wrong point: the real question has been mistaken; and the formal issue never joined. This explains the insufficiency of such counter representations as Aunt Phillis's Cabin, and similar apologies; and also that sense of insufficiency which they have not failed to produce. It is no valid refutation of the offensive fiction that slavery may be shown to present at times—no matter how frequently—a very different phase. This point was already guarded:—nay, it was already conceded in Uncle Tom's Cabin; and such a mode of replication consequently mistakes the subject of debate, and is entirely without force because directed against a post already surrendered. It may be doubted, indeed, whether an assault on a solemn interest, moral or social, conveyed under the garb of fiction, can ever be satisfactorily answered under a similar form. If it could be, it would be too trivial to be worthy of such an elaborate defence. If it be sufficiently important to demand a thorough reply, it is degrading to the serious character of the subject, it is trifling with the earnest and grave import of the question, to dress it up in the gewgaws and tawdry finery of a mere counter-irritant. Moreover, a reply in this shape too commonly necessitates such an adherence to the dramatic procedure and to the progression of sentiment adopted by the original work, that it places the replicant in a secondary position, and exhibits him in the false light of a mere imitator and plagiarist, by way of opposition, thus obviously yielding the vantage ground to the offender. If, however, the reply must be couched in the same form as the attack, the true picture to be delineated is not a mere representation of a real or imaginary state of beatitude enjoyed by fictitious slaves, but should be the portraiture of graver miseries, worse afflictions, and more horrible crimes familiar to the denizens of our Northern Cities, and incident to the condition of those societies where the much lauded white labor prevails. But the main cause of failure in the replies which have been attempted, and whose inefficacy has been injurious to the interests of the South, has unquestionably been that the real thesis of Uncle Tom's Cabin, whence most of its dangers, its pernicious sophistry, and its wicked delusion proceed, has not been recognized with adequate clearness, and has not been refuted in a suitable manner. It is this thesis which we propose to examine.
The true and sufficient reply to this proposition is a very brief
one. It is simply this, that the position is absolutely fatal to all
human society—to all social organization, civilized or savage,
whatever. It strikes at the very essence and existence of all
community among men, it lays bare and roots up all the foundations of
law, order and government. It is the very evangel of insubordination,
sedition, and anarchy, and is promulgated in support of a cause worthy
of the total ruin which it is calculated to produce. Pandemonium
itself would be a paradise compared with what all society would
become, if this apparently simple and plausible position were tenable,
and action were accordingly regulated by it. Ate herself, hot from
hell, could not produce more mischievous or incurable disorder than
this little thesis, on which the whole insinuated argument of Uncle
Tom's Cabin is founded, if this dogma were once generally or cordially
received. In all periods of history—under all forms of
government—under all the shifting phases of the social condition of
man, instances of misery and barbarity equal to any depicted in this
atrocious fiction, have been of constant recurrence, and, whatever
changes may hereafter take place, unless the nature of man be also
changed, they must continually recur until the very end of time. In
thousands of instances, of almost daily occurrence, the affliction or
the crime has sprung as directly from existing laws, manner, and
institutions, as in the examples erroneously charged to the score of
slavery in Uncle Tom's Cabin. But in all of them the real causes have
been the innate frailties of humanity, the play of fortuitous
circumstances, the native wickedness of particular individuals, and
the inability of human wisdom or legislation to repress crime without
incidentally ministering to occasional vices. If there be any latent
truth in the dogma enforced by the nefarious calumnies of Uncle Tom's
Cabin, it furnishes a stronger argument against all other departments
of social organization than it does against slavery, as the records of
our courts of justice and the inmates of our penitentiaries would
testify. There is no felon who might not divest himself of his load of
guilt, and extricate his neck from the halter, if such an argument was entitled to one moment's weight or consideration. In the complicated web of trials, difficulties and temptations, with which Providence in its wisdom has thought proper to intertwine the threads of human existence, an unbroken career of happiness or prosperity is not to be found. Every heart has its own sorrows,—every condition as every class its own perils and afflictions, and every individual his own bitter calamities to bewail. The very aptitude of this life for that state of probation which it was designed to be, depends upon the alternation and juxtaposition of weakness and virtue, of joy and misery, of gratifications and trials, of blessings and misfortunes, of adversity and prosperity. These varying shadows of our earthly career are due partly to the accidents by which we are surrounded, partly to the temper and conduct of our own hearts, but more than all to the concurrent or conflicting action of the members of the community among which our lot has been cast. The virtues of our neighbors may aid or encourage us, but their vices or their crimes may crush our hopes, ruin our fortunes, and entail irretrievable woe on our children as well as on ourselves. From this discord of fate it is our stern duty to educe the elements of our own career: beset with temptations, menaced by vicious intrigue, cheered by high examples or consoling counsel, but ever at the mercy of fortune, we must pursue our rough journey through the thorny paths of a world of trial. We cannot invent an Elysium or reclaim a Paradise: we can only turn to the utmost possible good the diverse conditions which encompass us around on all sides. It is only the insane hope of a frivolous and dreamy philanthropy to expect or wish that this order and variety of sublunary changes should be altered; as it is only the malignant hate of a splenetic and frenzied fanaticism which would venture to charge upon a particular institution, as its peculiar and characteristic vice, the common incidents of humanity in all times and under all its phases.
It is no distinctive feature of the servile condition that individual members of the class should suffer most poignantly in consequence of the crimes, the sins, the follies, or the thoughtlessness of others;—that children should be torn from their parents, husbands separated from their wives, and fathers rudely snatched away from their families. The same results, with concomitant infamy, are daily produced by the operation of all penal laws, and the same anguish and distress are thereby inflicted upon the helpless and innocent, yet such laws remain and must remain upon our statute books for the security and conservation of any social organization at all. The ordinary play of human interests, of human duties, of human necessities, and even of human ambition—unnoticed and commonplace as it may be conceived to be, produces scenes more terrible and agony more poignant and heart-rending than any attributed to slavery in Uncle Tom's Cabin. The temptations of wordly advancement, the hopes of temporary success, the lures of pecuniary gain, in every civilized or barbarous community throughout the world—in the deserts of Sahara as amid the snows of Greenland—in the streets of Boston and Lowell as in those of London, Manchester, and Paris, may and do exhibit a longer register of sadder results than even a treacherous imagination, or fiction on the hunt for falsehood has been able to rake up from the fraudulent annals of slavery in the present work. There is scarcely one revolution of a wheel in a Northern or European cotton-mill, which does not, in its immediate or remote effects, entail more misery on the poor and the suffering than all the incidents of servile misery gathered in the present work from the most suspicious and disreputable sources. The annual balance sheet of a Northern millionaire symbolizes infinitely greater agony and distress in the labouring or destitute classes than even the foul martyrdom of Uncle Tom. Are the laws of debtor and creditor—and the processes by which gain is squeezed from the life-blood of the indigent, more gentle;—or the hard, grasping, demoniac avarice of a yankee trader more merciful than the atrocious heart of that fiendish yankee, Simon Legree? Was the famine in Ireland productive of no calamities which might furnish a parallel to the scenes in Uncle Tom's Cabin? We would hazard even the assertion that the Australian emigration from Great Britain, and the California migration in our country—both impelled by the mere hope of sudden and extraordinary gains, have been attended with crimes and vices, sorrows, calamities and distresses far surpassing the imaginary ills of the slaves whose fictitious woes are so hypocritically bemoaned. But such are the incidents of life, and we would neither denounce nor revolutionize society, because such consequences were inseparable from its continuance.
It should be observed that the whole tenor of this pathetic tale
derives most of its significance and colouring from a distorted
representation or a false conception of the sentiments and feelings of
the slave. It presupposes an identity of sensibilities between the
races of the free and the negroes, whose cause it pretends to
advocate. It takes advantage of this presumption, so unsuspiciously
credited where slavery is unknown, to arouse sympathies for what might
be grievous misery to the white man, but is none to the dif-
ferently tempered black. Every man adapts himself and his feelings more or less to the circumstances of his condition: without this wise provision of nature life would be intolerable to most of us. Every race in like manner becomes habituated to the peculiar accidents of its particular class; even the Paria may be happy. Thus what would be insupportable to one race, or one order of society, constitutes no portion of the wretchedness of another. The joys and the sorrows of the slave are in harmony with his position, and are entirely dissimilar from what would make the happiness, or misery, of another class. It is therefore an entire fallacy, or a criminal perversion of truth, according to the motive of the writer, to attempt to test all situations by the same inflexible rules, and to bring to the judgment of the justice of slavery the prejudices and opinions which have been formed when all the characteristics of slavery are not known but imagined.
The proposition, then, which may be regarded as embodying the peculiar essence of Uncle Tom's Cabin, is a palpable fallacy, and inconsistent with all social organization. Granting, therefore, all that could be asked by our adversaries, it fails to furnish any proof whatever of either the iniquity or the enormity of slavery. If it was capable of proving any thing at all, it would prove a great deal too much. It would demonstrate that all order, law, government, society was a flagrant and unjustifiable violation of the rights, and mockery of the feelings of man and ought to be abated as a public nuisance. The hand of Ishmael would thus be raised against every man, and every man's hand against him. To this result, indeed, both the doctrines and practices of the higher-law agitators at the North, and as set forth in this portentous book of sin, unquestionably tend: and such a conclusion might naturally be anticipated from their sanctimonious professions. The fundamental position, then, of these dangerous and dirty little volumes is a deadly blow to all the interests and duties of humanity, and is utterly impotent to show any inherent vice in the institution of slavery which does not also appertain to all other institutions whatever. But we will not be content to rest here: we will go a good bow-shot beyond this refutation, though under no necessity to do so; and we maintain that the distinguishing characteristic of slavery is its tendency to produce effects exactly opposite to those laid to its charge; to diminish the amount of individual misery in the servile classes; to mitigate and alleviate all the ordinary sorrows of life; to protect the slaves against want as well as against material and mental suffering; to prevent the separation and dispersion of families; and to shield them from the frauds, the crimes, and the casualties of others, whether masters or fellow-slaves, in a more eminent degree than is attainable under any other organization of society, where slavery does not prevail. This is but a small portion of the peculiar advantages to the slaves themselves resulting from the institution of slavery, but these suffice for the present, and furnish a most overwhelming refutation of the philanthropic twaddle of this and similar publications.
Notwithstanding the furious and ill-omened outcry which has been made in recent years against the continuance of slavery, the communities where it prevails exhibit the only existing instance of a modern civilized society in which the interests of the labourer and the employer of labour are absolutely identical, and in which the reciprocal sympathies of both are assured. The consequence is that both interest and inclination, the desire of profit and the sense or sentiment of duty concur to render the slave-owner considerate and kind toward the slave. So general is the feeling, so habitual the consciousness of this intimate harmony of the interests and duties of both, that it has formed an efficient public sentiment at the South which brands with utter reprobation the slave-holder who is either negligent of his slaves or harsh in his treatment of them. It goes even further than this; it makes every man at the South the protector of the slave against injury by whomsoever offered, thus establishing an efficient and voluntary police, of which every one is a member , for the defence of the slave against either force, fraud, or outrage. Such habitual regard for the rights of a subordinate class generates in its members a kindliness of feeling and a deference of bearing to the slaveholder in general, which no severity could produce and no rigor maintain. It is this intercommunion of good offices and good will, of interests and obligations, which renders the realities of slavery at the South so entirely different from what they are imagined to be by those who have no intimate familiarity with its operation. Hence, too, in great measure it is, that, except where inveterate idleness or vice compels a sale, or the changes of fortune, or the casualties of life, break up an establishment, families are rarely dispersed, but are held together without being liable to those never-ending separations which are of daily occurrence with the labouring or other classes elsewhere. Even where the misfortunes of the owner necessitate a sale, if the negroes enjoy a respectable character, there is every possibility that they will never be removed from the district in which they have lived, but will either be bought with the place on which they have worked, be transferred en masse to some neighboring locality, or scattered about within easy distance of each other in the same vicinity.
It is true that the continued agitation of the
slavery question, and the nefarious practices of the abolitionists, which are so cordially eulogised in Uncle Tom's Cabin, have in some degree modified the relations between master and slave in those frontier settlements which border on the Ohio river, and have rendered imperative a harsher intercourse and more rigid management, than prevails where the feelings and principles of the negroes are not tampered with by incendiary missionaries. This is but one of the melancholy fruits of that philanthropical fanaticism, which injures by every movement which it makes those whom it pretends so sympathetically to serve.
It is needless to repeat the evidence that the average condition of the slave at the South is infinitely superior, morally and materially, in all respects, to that of the labouring class under any other circumstances in any other part of the world. This has been done so frequently and efficiently before, that we need only refer to previous expositions of this point.
If then all the facts alleged in Uncle Tom's Cabin, and entering into the composition of the pitiful tale, be conceded, they furnish no evidence whatever against the propriety or expediency of slavery. But, if the facts be false, what might have been error and delusion in the former case, becomes deliberate fraud and malignant slander. If they were true, we might pity the ignorance which had suffered itself to be perverted to crime by its ill-disposed credulity. If they are false, we must execrate the infamous virulence which fanatically employs falsehoods to breed dissension. If they were true, but did not legitimately minister to the purpose for which they ware introduced, we could not pardon the folly, the presumption, and the unchristian spirit, which used them to fan the flames of discord, and to stir up the embers of civil war. If they are false, the diabolical hate which presided over the composition of the work, and clothed itself in the tempting hues of tender charity and melting philanthropy, for the surer accomplishment of its infernal aims, stands revealed in all its caked deformity, seared with the brand of infamy, and blackened with the deep damnation of its guilt. It is Satan starting up from his disguise, in the monstrous proportions and with the Goodish visage of the prince of hell, at the presence of the angels of heaven, and the touch of the spear of truth. That the facts as stated and as intended to be received are false, we solemnly aver—and for the confirmation of this averment we confidently appeal to every resident in the South, who has dispassionately reflected upon his own experience and observation—whether he be slave-owner or not:—whether he be native, yankee immigrant, or foreigner. That the isolated statements may accidentally be true sub modo, we will not utterly deny : the range of fiction is wide, but the miracles of reality far surpass it: but that they are true under the colouring with which they are depicted we do absolutely gainsay, and inferences insinuated with the impressions designed to be produced are utterly fallacious in themselves, and are generated by a criminal desire to propagate a slander.
We have so far endeavored to estimate this inflammatory publication with all possible sobriety and coolness: we have tempered our indignation as nearly as might be to philosophic impartiality: we have conceded all that is or could be asked in favor of Uncle Tom's Cabin; and yet we find, that even if its facts were true, they would not support the inference which the work is designed to convey, much lees justify the practices which it is intended to enforce. A libel is a libel still, notwithstanding the truth of its allegations, because it is calculated to disturb the peace of societies, and to destroy the harmony of any community. The ignorance of the libeller of the import or tendencies of his own language will remove neither the penalty nor the guilt, because the injury inflicted is not diminished thereby, and the public danger is not mitigated by the plea of folly. When, then, Uncle Tom's Cabin employs representations of Southern slavery, even if supposed to be true, which are calculated not merely to wound and outrage the feelings of Southerners, which would be comparatively a slight offence, but to pander to malignant prejudices, to disseminate throughout the Union dissensions and hostilities, and to circulate scandal abroad throughout the world, neither sincerity nor ignorance would afford any palliation for the rash, foolish, and criminal procedure. It is a caution frequently given to children, not to meddle with edge-tools, and if weak women or other persons of mature years but immature discretion, venture to engage in seditious pursuits, knowing the aim but ignorant of the character of the means, they must pay the penalty.
But, if truth be deliberately wrested to wrong; if facts are
accurately stated for the sake of veiling with the semblance of truth
doctrines known to be dangerous, and intended to generate social
disorder and political ruin, the sin of treacherous hypocrisy is
substituted for, or is added to the weakness of ignorant temerity. The
vestments of an angel of light are thrown around the body of a fiend;
the wolf has assumed the clothing of the sheep, that it may more
successfully prey upon the innocent and delude the shepherd. Shall we
exonerate Uncle Tom's Cabin from such deep-dyed hypocrisy? Almost
every page shows that however it may revel in the altitudes of an
ideal perfection, the practices inculcated and the cause espoused by
it, are at variance with all law,
order, and government, with solemn oaths and established obligations, with the well-being of society, and with the perpetuity of the Union. Is either simplicity or fanaticism any excuse for that mole-eyed blindness, which fancies it sees afar off the duty of so organized crusade to conquer a disputed point of morale or social economy, and yet cannot behold the ever present obligation to perform those common duties of life which lie at the foundation of all social and political communion? Is it not either wilful hypocrisy or deliberate perversity, when a solitary crotchet of sentimental morality is conceived to transcend all the commandments of the decalogue, all the prescriptions of the Bible, and all the laws of man? Yet all this is done,—purposely, systematically, continually, and malignantly done in that immaculate encyclopaedia of fictitious crimes—Uncle Tom's Cabin. The commandment inscribed by the finger of God on the tablets of stone which Moses bore to the Israelites as the everlasting will of Jehovah, burns in our eyes in characters of flame while perusing this intricate tissue of deception. THOU SHALT NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS AGAINST THY NEIGHBOUR.
This, however, is by no means the sole violation of the Decalogue which is committed by the book, but it is the most prominent. Of the others we have scarcely the patience, and we have very little inclination to speak. Yet all the commandments relative to the duties of mankind to each other are frequently and systematically contravened, with the significant exception of that against adultery, which was not a very delicate prescription for a lady to handle, although she does assiduously endeavor to assert its habitual disregard in the South by slave-owners towards their female slaves. We will not disavow the existence of vice where it may be proved to exist, nor will we defend it under any circumstances, but if the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin had been as well read in the annals of prostitution in countries where slavery does not exist, or, supposing her to have the information, had she been as much disposed is reveal the facts that might be discovered on this head with regard to the virtuous practices of Boston, Philadelphia, and New York, as she is ingenious in the imagination of fictitious seductions, and inclined to transmute a dirty fancy into an alleged truth, she might have found that there was neither any very great peculiarity nor any very remarkable excess in Southern practices in this respect.
The essence of murder according to the laws of all nations and the public sentiment of all periods lies in the taking, contrary to law, and with malice prepense, the life of a rational fellow-creature. Unless the definition be altered entirely and the moral principles of mankind be changed, murder is distinctly prescribed and applauded both by the precept and example of this book.
There is one sin which is justly regarded as the most despicable and debasing in the catalogue of crimes—the sin of perjury. Yet this is deliberately commended by this new missionary of the higher law.
It has always been esteemed the dory of good men and the pride of patriots to obey the solemn laws and uphold the institutions of their country. The whole tenor of these would-be immaculate volumes is directed to the subversion of both.
The Bible is either blasphemously mocked by the infidel, or reverently received by the Christian: but here with professions of more than Christian sanctity, its doctrines are distorted or disavowed, and its ministers maligned.
It is easy for even sincere fanaticism to rue ignorantly and precipitately into the practice or palliation of crime; but in this instance the fanaticism clothes itself with the raiment of a pretended impartiality, and feigns justice the better to effectuate iniquity. There is an obvious discord between the professions and the purposes, the sentimentalism and the precepts of Uncle Tom's Cabin, which can scarcely permit us to withhold from it the charge of deliberate hypocrisy.