The Atlantic Monthly
Unsigned Article
Boston: June 1866


  . . . But this is not all that is to be said of the Era. To that paper belongs the honor of introducing to the world the story of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Although reference has frequently been made to the origin of this wonderful fiction, the facts of its inception and growth have never been given to the public. These are so curious, that we are happy to be able to present what politicians would call the "secret history" of this book. The account was furnished to a friend by Dr. Bailey himself, when about to embark for Europe, on his first voyage for health, in 1853; the manuscript, now used for the first time, was hurriedly penned, without expectation of its appearance in print, and therefore has all the dashing freedom which might be looked for in a communication from one friend to another. We give it verbatim, that it may serve for a souvenir, as well as a contribution to the literary history of the time.

"NEW YORK, May 27, 1853.

  "In the beginning of the year 1851, as my custom has been, I sent remittances to various writers whom I wished to furnish contributions to the Era, during that volume. Among these was Mrs. Stowe. I sent her one hundred dollars, saying to her that for that sum she might write as much as she pleased, what she pleased, and when she pleased. I did not dream that she would attempt a novel, for she had never written one. Some time in the summer she wrote me that she was going to write me a story about How a Man became a Thing.' It would occupy a few numbers of the Era, in chapters. She did not suppose or dream that it would expand to a novel, nor did I. She changed the title to 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' and commenced it in August. I read two or three of the first chapters, to see that everything was going on right, and read no more then. She proceeded,—the story grew,—it seemed to have no end,—everybody talked of it. I thought the mails were never so irregular, for none of my subscribers was willing to lose a single number of the Era while the story was going on. Mrs. Bailey attracted my attention by her special devotion to it, and Mr. Chase always read it before anything else. Of the hundreds of letters received weekly, renewing subscriptions or sending new ones, there was scarcely one that did not contain some cordial reference to Uncle Tom. I wrote to Mrs. Stowe, and told her that, although such a story had not been contracted for, and I had, in my programme, limited my remittance to her to one hundred dollars, yet, as the thing had grown beyond all our calculations, I felt bound to make her another remittance. So I sent her two hundred dollars more. The story was closed early in the spring of 1852. I had not yet read it; but I wrote to Mrs. Stowe that, as I had not contemplated so large an outlay in my plans for the volume, as the paper had not received so much pecuniary benefit


from its publication as it would have done could my readers have foreseen what it was to be, and as my large circulation had served as a tremendous advertisement for the work, which was now about to be published separately, and of which she held the copyright alone, I supposed that I ought not to pay for it so much as if these circumstances had not existed. But I simply stated the case to her,—submitted everything to her judgment,—and would pay her additional just exactly what she should determine was right. She named one hundred dollars more; this I immediately remitted. And thus terminated my relations with 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' but not with its author, who is still engaged as a regular contributor to the Era. Dr. Snodgrass is hereby commended to Mr. Clephane [Dr. Bailey's clerk], who is authorized to hand him any letters between Mrs. Stowe and myself that may aid him in his undertaking."

  It may be proper to say that the "undertaking" referred to contemplated a biographical sketch, not of Dr. Bailey, but of his distinguished contributor,—a project the execution of which circumstances did not favor, and which was therefore abandoned.

  "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and the remarkable introduction of its author to fame and pecuniary fortune, were not the only results of a similar character referable to the Era. Mrs. Southworth also made her literary début in the same journal. Previous to her connection with the Era, she had only published some short sketches in the Baltimore Saturday Visiter, over her initial "E," or "Emma" at most; and even these signatures gave her much trouble, as her letters to the editor plainly indicated, so fearful was she of the recognition and unfavorable criticism of her friends. She had a painful lack of confidence in her own ability. Just before the transfer of the subscription list of the Visiter to the Era, she had sent in a story. To this, against her earnest protest, the editor had affixed her entire name, and the story, prepared for the Visiter, was transferred with its list to the Era, and was there published, in spite of the deprecations of Mrs. Southworth. It served the purpose intended. The attention of Dr. Bailey was called to one until then unknown to him, although residing in the same city, and he at once gave her a paying engagement in his journal. This brought her under new influences, which resulted in her conversion to the principles of the antislavery reform,—a conversion whose fruits have since been shown in her deeds as well as her writings. And thus commenced the literary career of another successful author, who, but for the existence of the Era, would probably have been left to struggle on in the adversity from which her pen has so creditably set her free.