The National Era Version of Uncle Tom's Cabin:
Historical and Textual Introduction, By Wesley Raabe

HISTORICAL INTRODUCTION

    In January 1851, Gamaliel Bailey, the editor of the National Era, a Washington D.C. antislavery weekly, sought a contribution from Stowe to his paper. He enclosed $100 with his request and said that she could "write as much as she pleased, what she pleased, and when she pleased." In March, Stowe wrote Bailey that she had a story that she expected to fill 3 or 4 installments, but that story, Uncle Tom's Cabin, would run from 5 June 1851 through 1 April 1852, in 41 weekly installments. Three issues lack installments, so the entire serial took 44 weeks. The Era added nearly 5,000 new subscribers during this period, and individual subscribers prepaid $2.00 for an annual subscription (though the Era did offer a discount for club subscriptions). The story ran much longer than the editor or author had expected, and Bailey added $300 to his original $100. Stowe retained copyright for book publication.

    By August of 1851, letters of praise for Stowe's work appeared in the Era, and some looked forward to the book publication. Correspondent Grace Greenwood strained to offer sufficiently high praise in the 2 October issue (158). Later that month, a correspondent wrote that Eva helping Tom to write his letter would be a suitable for an engraving in the eventual book (175). Stowe's negotiations with her publisher are reflected in the newspaper text. Through 14 August 1851, a notice at the top of each installment reads "COPYRIGHT SECURED BY THE AUTHOR." On 18 September, a revised notice appeared, "COPYRIGHT SECURED ACCORDING TO LAW." According to an advertisement in the same issue, a Cleveland bookselling firm had begun to take pre-orders "from the West" (175). The mid-19th century "West," which corresponds roughly to the contemporary idea of the Midwest, included a large audience because Bailey in 1847 had brought the subscription list from his successful Ohio paper when founding the Era. In a 27 November 1851 editorial note Bailey stated that "subscribers in renewing their subscriptions are unanimous in their praise of this admirable production" (190). By January 1851 bookseller John P. Jewett could be reasonably confident that his book would sell, and his initial print run of 5,000 copies sold out within days of its 18 March 1852 issue. (See ARTICLES AND NOTICES section of the archive for transcriptions of the letter by Greenwood and the second "Letter from Era Reader," signed "G.")

    The story of the book's popular success and its various cultural influences is told throughout this site. Reprints of the Jewett edition number in the hundreds, but the Era version has never been reprinted. A number of reasons are probably at work. One is the belief that the serial version has few significant differences from the Jewett edition. So asserted scholarly editor Kenneth Lynn in the introduction to his influential Harvard edition.

    Another reason for the comparative neglect of the serial version of Stowe's work is related to the status of newspapers as cultural objects. Newspapers at their moment of production are ephemeral, and as objects they present significant storage problems. Historical societies and research institutions have discarded paper copies of newspapers in the service of other cultural goals. Progress plays a significant role as new substitutes (microfilm, digitized microfilm images, and digital texts) have led institutions to discard original paper copies because they are designated unwieldy or argued (sometimes misleadingly) to be crumbling to dust. In the case of the Era, fewer than thirty complete runs of paper copy issues that include Uncle Tom's Cabin remain, from a newspaper issued in runs of 15,000 to 19,000 copies. As original copies are comparatively inaccessible, archival reproductions of the Era version of Uncle Tom's Cabin have been produced by University Microfilms International, Accessible Archives, and Negro Universities Press. Though microfilm is available to most scholars, digital surrogates are usually available only to scholars in research institutions with substantial budgets for digital periodical reproductions. The aim of this edition is to provide a readily accessible version of this important text and to transcribe the text with higher standards for accuracy than are observed for archival reproductions.

    But why study the Era version and make it available in electronic form if books and searchable texts of the book version are available? Contrary to Lynn's assertion, Stowe altered the text, as E. Bruce Kirkham explained decades ago. She changed character names, added some passages and removed others, and made minor revisions to numerous passages. Senator and Mrs. Bird are named Senator and Mrs. Burr in the Era version (see 24 Jul. 1851, page 117). Stowe in the newspaper version of "Select Incidents of Lawful Trade" fires a blistering editorial aside at readers under the influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thomas Carlyle, for whom the New Testament is not particularly relevant to the concerns of the modern commercial world (see 28 Aug. 1851, page 137). When Lucy's cotton basket is weighed by Legree, Tom in the Jewett edition "looked, with an anxious glance" whereas in the Era version he "hesitated and lingered" (12 Feb. 1852, page 25). George Shelby punches Simon Legree in the newspaper version more suddenly, without the interruption of Legree's explanation of southern law (18 Mar. 1852, page 46). The importance of a wording difference depends on one's interest, and too often scholars have followed Lynn rather than Kirkham and have assumed that the wording differences between the newspaper and the Jewett edition are insignificant.

    Another reason to study the Era version is that newspaper publication alters the reception of readers, even when words are the same as a book version. For many in the serial audience, the story was read aloud in a familial setting, with listeners gathered around to hear the latest installment each week. The episodic and vividly pictorial qualities of Stowe's work are an artistic response to the necessary interruptions of serial publication form. Memorable character sketches, of which Stowe was a master, are more easily remembered than intricate plotting, whose pleasures are better suited to silent reading, reflection, and the important ability to thumb back to an earlier passage. A newspaper page, even when read silently, is a physical object whose material form calls for a reader to move arms in order to turn the page, to fold such that a section is manageable, or to make use of a flat space on which to spread the paper. Discussions of Stowe's use of the newspaper metaphor in this fiction are typically brief, but the Era publication form should draw more attention to her use of that metaphor.

    What makes newspapers ephemera is simultaneously what draws readers to them, their sense of topical coverage of the current moment, and Stowe's work reflects the contemporary topics and generic norms of other items published in the Era. Her work—like the newspaper's other sentimental fiction—includes heroines whose sexual virtue is threatened, but Stowe innovates as the heroine Eliza is both a mixed-race slave and the mother of a small child. Eliza's trial is but a secondary subplot in the larger story of a black slave's Christian martyrdom: the latter is unusual fare for sentimental fiction. Small items can be affected by their periodical context. Reference that are obscure today, to Hungarian Revolutionary heroes, posed no difficulties in 1851. The Era closely followed the American tour of Louis Kossuth, a dashing and charismatic leader of a Hungarian independence movement who seemed a later European version of America's own revolutionary hero George Washington.

    A contemporary attempt to imagine the experience of mid-19th century readers of Stowe's work will be partial and speculative, but the current moment—in which newspapers in modern information-oriented societies are increasingly read as digital objects—may provide useful analogies. Today's national newspapers, such as the New York Times and Washington Post, can still be described as newspapers even if for many readers a web site is the primary form of interaction rather than a printed copy. The word newspaper conjures a range of associations that are believed to be translatable into the digital realm. The aim of this text is to allow recreation and recovery of Uncle Tom's Cabin in newspaper form even while acknowledging loss during the process. The advantages should not be overlooked, such as the ability to search the electronic text.

TEXTUAL INTRODUCTION

    The aim of this edition is to reproduce the newspaper text, not to reconstruct a text that Stowe as author intended. However, the Era text may more closely follow Stowe's manuscript practices for spelling and punctuation. A weekly newspaper had relentless deadlines, and Stowe, who sent her installments to Washington, D.C. from New Brunswick, Maine, and later Amherst, Massachusetts, did not (as far as we know) read proof. Newspapers are famously the first draft of history. As only a handful of Stowe's manuscript pages are known to be extant, the Era is usually the earliest surviving draft of Uncle Tom's Cabin as well, though the situation is somewhat more complex. In the later installments, Stowe had the opportunity to revise the Jewett edition text before it was published in the Era, and I am convinced that she did so.

    For this electronic version, the text was transcribed based on an original paper copy of the newspaper that is held in the Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature at the University of Virginia. A number of steps were taken to record the text accurately. The transcription was electronically compared to an electronic version prepared by Accessible Archives, and the transcription was corrected. The transcription was then orally proofed against the Barrett copy and corrected. The twice-corrected text was then electronically compared to a version of the Jewett text to identify remaining transcription errors. During each effort at correction, errors in the transcription were confirmed by examining an original paper copy, not microfilm. In some cases, the Barrett copy's text was indecipherable due to paper damage in that copy (as folds in the paper sometimes lead to small tears). In these cases, the transcription is based on the copy held in the Moorland-Spingarn Collection at Howard University. When compared to the Jewett edition (in which ambitious modern editors find only a handful of errors), the newspaper text has numerous faults. I have emended the text, which means that words that I think are obviously misspelled (while the author spoke in the voice of the narrator or an educated character) are corrected to a normalized form consistent with the Era's typical usage. I do not correct the newspaper's spelling of dialect speech (of Stowe's lower-class characters, whether black or white), which is less consistent than the Jewett edition version. I do not apply an external standard of consistency for spelling, so many variant spellings remain. A limited effort to correct punctuation has meant that I have added an opening or closing quote when one would be expected. This version provides a clear text edition with few editorial interruptions, thus reserving information about editorial decisions only for readers who seek it out.

    Such readers, who may want to quote the newspaper exactly or to view photographic facsimiles of newspaper pages, should consult the edition on which this text is based. That edition, which is part of my dissertation, highlights editorial decisions by making them visible to users. This Uncle Tom's Cabin & American Culture version of the text, because it shares a search facility with other texts on the site, has been modified slightly from the dissertation edition. Apostrophes and opening and closing quotes are straightened. Hyphens at the end of a prose paragraph line, which were inserted for the purpose of justification, are removed, and ligatured letters are separated into individual characters for the electronic representation. These modifications (localizations for this publication environment) will provide more satisfactory search results than the dissertation version. This version is also suitable for display using the Internet Explorer browser, which is not possible in the dissertation version.

    One of the claims of the dissertation edition, which influences this version as well, is that the division of the text into installments has greater significance in the newspaper version than the division of the text into chapters. In the 1 January 1852 issue, Ophelia opens the installment by inquiring whether Augustine has resolved to change his behavior. The first of January is an auspicious date for such inquiries, but by the end of that installment the hope of Tom and the other slaves in the St. Clare household is destroyed with St. Clare's death. The point in the text at which the chapter is split and the date on which the chapter resumes reinforce the significance of the passage, and a reproduction that followed book-based chapter division would obliterate the effect of the serial text division. The installment-based division also means, perhaps to the consternation of readers familiar with the Jewett text, that chapter numbers are out of sequence, chapter titles are often omitted in later installments, and the chapter divisions in the St. Clare section are different from the book. The editor thinks that estrangement from the familiar text is educational, but see THIS CHART for aid in translating from one form to the other.

    This electronic version of the newspaper text is freely available for study and citation. All creators and users of texts have certain rights and responsibilities. The text is copyrighted, so to store, transmit, or reprint the text for commercial purposes without the permission of the editor is illegal, and discouraging. Because the content of this text reflects an editorial outlook, a significant effort to record the text accurately, and some decisions to emend the text, please credit or blame the textual editor when citing the text. The encoded text (in Extensible Markup Language that conforms to Text Encoding Initiative guidelines) is also available to scholars who are interested in types of analysis that are not possible from this user interface. If in using the text you identify an error (because you have compared it to a photographic facsimile or an original newspaper copy), an advantage of electronic texts is that the error can be corrected in future updates to this site or later projects based on this text. Errors may remain in the transcription, and errors may creep in during the publication process, in which the source text is transformed from plain ASCII text to XML and from XML into HTML that is suitable for viewing in a browser. If the text is different from your text of Uncle Tom's Cabin but is transcribed correctly from the newspaper, it is probably because your book is a reprint of the Jewett edition. I would recommend first that you ponder the meaning of the difference. The most likely reason for the difference is that you have noticed a textual variant between the two versions, but you may have noticed an error in this text or the book edition. Other causes for variants include an editor or publisher's attempt to smooth your reading experience. Book reprints and electronic texts do not just happen. They are made by people of varying interests and abilities, and to do it one must take advantage of generally helpful but sometimes maddening human-constructed tools. Errors are inevitable, both in editorial judgment and in execution. I welcome your use of another advantage of electronic texts: please contact the editor by email (at "wraabe@unlnotes.unl.edu") if you notice an error that should be corrected. You will be credited in future updates.

BIBLIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY

Please cite the text of the National Era version of Uncle Tom's Cabin on the UTC & American Culture site as follows:

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin: or, Life Among the Lowly. National Era. 5 Jun. 1851-1 Apr. 1852. Electronic Edition. Textual Ed. Wesley Raabe. Uncle Tom's Cabin & American Culture. Charlottesville: Stephen Railton; Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities; Electronic Text Center, 2006. [Date of Access]. "/uncletom/eratoc.html."

    This edition is not asserted to be a definitive version of Stowe's newspaper text because it relies on a single document, the textual study has not been vetted by other scholars, and work on the edition is ongoing. The aim of this publication is to make a key text more widely available in an accurate and searchable transcription. The electronic edition associated with the dissertation provides newspaper page images and two transcriptions of the text. The dissertation includes a full textual introduction that describes the principles for establishing the text and for emending it, an extended discussion of the political and social contexts in which Uncle Tom's Cabin was read in the Era, and appendices that include a complete editorial apparatus that lists editorial emendation, significant end-of-line hyphens, and type and paper damage in the Barrett copy. Chapter 5 of that work explains my claim that later installments of the National Era version could be considered as authorially revised versions of the Jewett text. That project is available HERE.

    This introduction has drawn on the following discussions of the National Era version of Uncle Tom's Cabin. For textual variants, see E. Bruce Kirkham, The Building of Uncle Tom's Cabin (Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1977) and his 1969 dissertation. For Bailey's payments to Stowe, see Susan Geary, "'Uncle Tom's Cabin': Serial Income," Studies in Bibliography 29 (1976): 380-82. On Louis Kossuth, see Larry J. Reynolds, European Revolutions and the American Literary Renaissance (New Haven: Yale UP, 1988): 153-57. For serialization as a mode for publication and reception, see the influential discussion by Susan Belasco Smith, "Serialization and the Nature of Uncle Tom's Cabin," Periodical Literature in Nineteenth Century America, ed. Kenneth M. Price and Susan Belasco Smith (Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1995): 69-89. On Stowe's work and genre in the Era form, see Sarah Robbins, "Gendering the History of Antislavery Narrative: Juxtaposing Uncle Tom's Cabin, Benito Cereno, Beloved and Middle Passage," American Quarterly 49 (1997): 531-73; Barbara Hochman, "Uncle Tom's Cabin in the National Era: An Essay in Generic Norms and the Contexts of Reading," Book History 7 (2004): 14369. The following archival newspaper reproductions include Uncle Tom's Cabin as part of the Era: American Periodical Series, 1800-1850 from UMI (both microfilm and digitized, searchable microfilm facsimile), African-American Newspapers: the 19th Century from Accessible Archives (searchable electronic text on CD), and Black Experience in America: Negro Periodicals in the United States, 1840-1960 from Negro Universities Press (printed microfilm facsimile). The Jewett reprint that is often considered standard, but in my view misleads about variant wording in the newspaper version, is Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life among the Lowly, ed. Kenneth S. Lynn (Cambridge: Belknap-Harvard, 1962).


Return to sitemap. Return to homepage for this section. Search.