We have just finished the perusal of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," a work in two volumes, of more than three hundred pages each, which appeared originally in the National Era, in a succession of numbers, and has recently been re-published in its present form. The papers inform us that already, within eleven weeks of its re-publication, eighty thousand copies of it have been sold at the rate of a dollar to a dollar and a quarter per copy.
The authoress of this work is HARRIET BEECHER STOWE, wife of Professor Stowe, and daughter of Dr. Beecher. She resided for many years, before and after marriage, in Cincinnati. "Uncle Tom's Cabin" is an anti-slavery novel. It is a caricature of slavery. It selects for description the most odious features of slavery—the escape and pursuit of fugitive slaves, the sale and separation of domestic slaves, the separation of husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters. It portrays the slaves of the story as more moral, intelligent, courageous, elegant and beautiful than their masters and mistresses; and where it concedes any of these qualities to the whites, it is to such only as are, even though slaveholders, opposed to slavery. Those in favor of slavery are slave-traders, slave-catchers, and the most weak, depraved, cruel and malignant of beings and demons.
It is a little curious, that the two works on slavery that have attained the largest circulation since the Wilmot proviso was proposed, have both emanated from Cincinnati. The first, the lecture on "the North and the South," by the senior editor of this paper; the other, "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Of the lecture, about three hundred thousand copies were printed in pamphlets and newspapers. The novel will probably reach an equal circulation.
It deserves to be considered that the defense of the South was a documentary argument, consisting chiefly of a collection of all the evidence on the subject which existed in an authentic shape. The attack on the South is a novel—a romance. The system of the South relies on fact—the sentiment of the North flies to fiction. This is significant. For some time before, the North, the practical, calculating, unimaginative North, claimed the facts. But since the appearance of "the North and the South," that pretension has almost been abandoned. We have been struck by the almost total abstinence of the northern press from all allusion to the results of the last census, when discussing the slavery question. That census has vindicated triumphantly the positions of the lecture on "the North and the South." Now, what is the value of a work of fiction in this controversy? What would be its value even if even incident it contains were founded on fact, as the writer intimates? Why, just nothing at all. Every man who is accustomed to reason is familiar with the artifice of a discomfitted antagonist. When refuted in argument, when overwhelmed with evidence, he insists on relating an anecdote, or telling a story—he retreats into fiction, or cites a particular instance—although everyone capable of reasoning knows that any proposition can be maintained, or any institution be overthrown, if the citation of particular incidents is accepted as argument. Government, society, law, civilization itself would fall in an hour, if we were to listen to the stories of the wrong and ruin that incidentally or exceptionally attend them. Do not murderers escape—are not the innocent sometimes put to death under the administration of criminal law? And yet, who would abolish it, even if hundreds of novels were written to illustrate its defects, or under pretence of exposing its enormity? Do we not find bad men with wealth, or good men in want—then why not have a novel to prove it and to insist on the abolition of property? Nay, there is religion itself, whose institutions cannot be divested of superstition, hypocrisy and fanaticism. How many romances could be written and have been written to illustrate these latter? Yet must we abolish religion?
Mrs. Stowe may have seen, during her residence in Cincinnati, in the arrival and departure of emigrants, and in the trade and navigation of the Ohio and Mississippi, more families separated forever; she must know that from that single city more husbands, brothers, sons and fathers have gone voluntarily, as she calls it, from wives, mothers and children, and, in the pursuit of trade, met with untimely death by fevers and cholera on the river, or in the wilderness, leaving their families to suffer from want, their children to perish from neglect, than probably all who have been separated by the slave trade. Why don't she write a romance against emigration, and navigation and commerce? They are all permitted by our laws.
But Mrs. Stowe complains that slavery gives to one man the power over another to do these things. Well, does not freedom, as she calls it? Cannot the landlord of Cincinnati turn out a family from his dwelling if unable to pay the rent? Cannot those who have food and raiment refuse them to such as are unable to buy? And does not Mrs. Stowe herself virtually do these very things? Suppose a poor man were to present himself to her and say, "Madam, I am a poor man with a large family, and we are destitute. And unless you prevent it, I shall be compelled to-morrow to hire myself as a hand on a flatboat to New Orleans, and besides exposing myself to the cholera and yellow fever, leave my wife in delicate health, my oldest daughter to the dangers of a large city without a protector, and my young ones to the diseases that depopulate the infancy of this place every summer. Now, I have read your novel, and I understand that you have already received a large fortune by the copy-right of it. Now, we are equals—except that I have none of your education, and that is not my fault. Yet somehow or other the laws of this freesoil State allow you to keep thousands of dollars in bank which you do not need, whilst I, for the want of a small part of it, am doomed to separation from all that I hold dear." We doubt whether Mrs. Stowe would recognize the cogency of this argument. But if she would, the laws of this country do not.