HOPKINSON SMITH'S HERESY
The New York Times Review of Books:
MR. HOPKINSON SMITH has aroused the ire of a number of person and periodicals by stigmatizing Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" as a book that "has done more harm to the world than any other book ever written." Among the periodicals irritated are The Boston Journal and the Philadelphia Inquirer. The attempts of these papers to dispute Mr. Smith's assertion are both pathetic and amusing; for instance, The Journal quaintly remarks that if Mr. Smith's statement is to be taken as correct, Julia Ward Howe's "Battle Hymn of the Republic" must be the most harmful poem ever written. I was not aware that Mr. Smith said anything about the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" but The Journal doubtless has inside information as to the injurious quality of the poem in question.
I quote from The Inquirer the acute observation that "in politics or in the field of ethical dramaturgy," Mr. Smith is "'wholly at sea.'" Perhaps, though he seems fairly seaworthy so far. It has long been admitted that "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was, in a measure, responsible for the insatiable brutality of the reconstruction period, and as the reconstruction period was undoubtedly both a political condition and a monstrous disgrace, it occurs to me that, politically, Mr. Smith has hit the mark.
Mrs. Stowe's book gives one the impression of being, unfortunately, more sophistical than ethical, for by means of an isolated instance the author managed to convey the idea, to a public only too ready to believe, that the same condition prevailed over the entire South.
From a dramaturgical standpoint "Uncle Tom's Cabin" is indeed a moving spectacle. To take one of the most asinine instances, let us observe Eliza, as with her child she flees pursued by the grizzly bloodhounds. On toward the river she hurries until the child becomes weary and refuses to move further. Heavens! What a plight! But stay—a thought—and dear, ingenious Eliza takes an apple that she has been carrying for the refreshment of the infant, throws it in front of her, and persuades the child to run after it. "Thus," as the author naively remarks, "they covered many a weary mile." But consider the condition of the apple after 200 yards!
And then the grand crisis, the supreme moment of utter sentimentality, the death bed of that horrid little prig, Eva! Tears start to my eyes at the thought—not of Eva, but that any one was ever idiotic enough to take her seriously.
And so it goes, on and on, through this literary monstrosity. Hopkinson Smith is right.
EDWARD H. BIERSTADT.
527 West 121st St., New York City