The Atlantic Monthly
Boston: October 1867


  THERE is an American lady living at Hartford, in Connecticut, whom the United States has permitted to be robbed by foreigners of $200,000. Her name is Harriet Beecher Stowe. By no disloyal act has she or her family forfeited their right to the protection of the government of the United States. She pays her taxes, keeps the peace, and earns her livelihood by honest industry; she has reared children for the service of the Commonwealth; she was warm and active for her country when many around her were cold or hostile;—in a word, she is a good citizen.

  More than that: she is an illustrious citizen. The United States stands higher to-day in the regard of every civilized being in Christendom because she lives in the United States. She is the only woman yet produced on the continent of America to whom the world assigns equal rank in literature with the great authoresses of Europe. If, in addition to the admirable talents with which she is endowed, she had chanced to possess one more, namely, the excellent gift of plodding, she had been a consummate artist, and had produced immortal works. All else she has,—the seeing eye, the discriminating intelligence, the sympathetic mind, the fluent word, the sure and happy touch; and these gifts enabled her to render her country the precise service which it needed most. Others talked about slavery: she made us see it. She showed it to us in its fairest and in its foulest aspect; she revealed its average and ordinary working. There never was a fairer nor a kinder book than "Uncle Tom's Cabin"; for the entire odium of the revelation fell upon the Thing, not upon the unhappy mortals who were born and reared under its shadow. The reader felt that Legree was not less, but far more, the victim of slavery than Uncle Tom, and the effect of the book was to concentrate wrath upon the system which


tortured the slave's body and damned the master's soul.

  Wonderful magic of genius! The hovels and cotton-fields which this authoress scarcely saw she made all the world see, and see more vividly and more truly than the busy world can ever see remote objects with its own unassisted eyes. We are very dull and stupid in what does not immediately concern us, until we are roused and enlightened by such as she. Those whom we call "the intelligent," or "the educated," are merely the one in ten of the human family who by some chance learned to read, and thus came under the influence of the class whom Mrs. Stowe represents.

  It is not possible to state the amount of good which this book has done, is doing, and is to do. Mr. Eugene Schuyler, in the preface to the Russian novel which he has recently done the public the service to translate, informs us that the publication of a little book in Russia contributed powerfully to the emancipation of the Russian serfs. The book was merely a collection of sketches, entitled "The Memoirs of a Sportsman"; but it revealed serfdom to the men who had lived in the midst of it all their lives without ever seeing it. Nothing is ever seen in this world, till the searching eye of a sympathetic genius falls upon it. This Russian nobleman, Turgenef, noble in every sense, saw serfdom, and showed it to his countrymen. His volume was read by the present Emperor, and he saw serfdom; and he has since declared that the reading of that little book was "one of the first incitements to the decree which gave freedom to thirty millions of serfs." All the reading public of Russia read it, and they saw serfdom; and thus a public opinion was created, without the support of which not even the absolute Czar of all the Russias would have dared to issue a decree so sweeping and radical.

  We cannot say as much for "Uncle Tom's Cabin," because the public opinion of the United States which permitted the emancipation of the slaves was of longer growth, and was the result of a thousand influences. But when we consider that the United States only just escaped dismemberment and dissolution in the late war, and that two great powers of Europe were only prevented from active interference on behalf of the Rebellion by that public opinion which "Uncle Tom's Cabin" had recently revived and intensified, we may at least believe, that, if the whole influence of that work could have been annihilated, the final triumph of the United States might have been deferred, and come only after a series of wars. That book, we may almost say, went into every household in the civilized world which contained one person capable of reading it. And it was not an essay; it was a vivid exhibition;—it was not read from a sense of duty, nor from a desire to get knowledge; it was read with passion; it was devoured; people sat up all night reading it; those who could read read it to those who could not; and hundreds of thousands who would never have read it saw it played upon the stage. Who shall presume to say how many soldiers that book added to the Union army? Who shall estimate its influence in hastening emancipation in Brazil, and in preparing the amiable Cubans for a similar measure? Both in Cuba and Brazil the work has been read with the most passionate interest.

  If it is impossible to measure the political effect of this work, we may at least assert that it gave a thrilling pleasure to ten millions of human beings,—an innocent pleasure, too, and one of many hours' duration. We may also say, that, while enjoying that long delight, each of those ten millions was made to see, with more or less clearness, the great truth that man is not fit to be trusted with arbitrary power over his fellow. The person who afforded this great pleasure, and who brought home this fundamental truth to so many minds, was Harriet Beecher Stowe, of Hartford, in the State of Connecticut, where she keeps


house, educates her children, has a book at the grocery, and invites her friends to tea. To that American woman every person on earth who read "Uncle Tom's Cabin" incurred a personal obligation. Every individual who became possessed of a copy of the book, and every one who saw the story played in a theatre, was bound, in natural justice, to pay money to her for service rendered, unless she expressly and formally relinquished her right,—which she has never done. What can be clearer than this? Mrs. Stowe, in the exercise of her vocation, the vocation by which she lives, performs a professional service to ten millions of people. The service is great and lasting. The work done is satisfactory to the customer. What can annul the obligation resting upon each to render his portion of an equivalent, except the consent of the authoress "first had and obtained"? If Mrs. Stowe, instead of creating for our delight and instruction a glorious work of fiction, had contracted her fine powers to the point of inventing a nutcracker or a match-safe, a rolling-pin or a needle-threader, every individual purchaser could have been compelled to pay money for the use of her ingenuity, and everybody would have thought it the most natural and proper thing in the world so to do. There are fifty American inventions now in use in Europe from which the inventors derive revenue. Revenue!—not a sum of money which, once spent, is gone forever, but that most solid and respectable of material blessings, a sum per annum! Thus we reward those who light our matches. It is otherwise that we compensate those who kindle our souls.

  "Uncle Tom's Cabin," like every other novelty in literature, was the late-maturing fruit of generations. Two centuries of wrong had to pass, before the Subject was complete for the Artist's hand, and the Artist herself was a flower of an ancient and gifted family. The Autobiography of Lyman Beecher has made known this remarkable family to the public. We can all see for ourselves how slowly and painfully this beautiful genius was nourished,—what a narrow escape it had from being crushed and extinguished amid the horrors of theology and the poverty of a Connecticut parsonage,—how it was saved, and even nurtured, by that extraordinary old father, that most strange and interesting character of New England, who could come home, after preaching a sermon that appalled the galleries, and play the fiddle and riot with his children till bedtime. A piano found its way into the house, and the old man, whose geniality was of such abounding force that forty years of theology could not lessen it, let his children read Ivanhoe and the other novels of Sir Walter Scott. Partly by chance, partly by stealth, chiefly by the force of her own cravings, this daughter of the Puritans obtained the scanty nutriment which kept her genius from starving. By and by, on the banks of the Ohio, within sight of a slave State, the Subject and the Artist met, and there, from the lips of sore and panting fugitives, she gained, in the course of years, the knowledge which she revealed to mankind in "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

  When she had done the work, the United States stood by and saw her deprived of three fourths of her just and legitimate wages, without stirring a finger for her protection. The book sold to the extent of two millions of copies, and the story was played in most of the theatres in which the English language is spoken, and in many French and German theatres. In one theatre in New York it was played eight times a week for twelve months. Considerable fortunes have been gained by its performance, and it is still a source of revenue to actors and managers. We believe that there are at least three persons in the United States, connected with theatres, who have gained more money from "Uncle Tom's Cabin" than Mrs. Stowe. Of all the immense sums which the exhibition of this story


upon the stage has produced, the authoress has received nothing. When Dumas or Victor Hugo publishes a novel, the sale of the right to perform it as a play yields him from eighty thousand to one hundred and twenty thousand francs. These authors receive a share of the receipts of the theatre, the only fair arrangement,—and this share, we believe, is usually one tenth; which is also the usual percentage paid to authors upon the sale of their books. If a French author had written "Uncle Tom's Cabin," he would have enjoyed,—1. A part of the price of every copy sold in France; 2. A share of the receipts of every theatre in France in which he permitted it to be played; 3. A sum of money for the right of translation into English; 4. A sum of money for the right of translation into German. We believe we are far within the truth when we say, that a literary success achieved by a French author equal to that of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" would have yielded that author half a million dollars in gold; and that, too, in spite of the lamentable fact, that America would have stolen the product of his genius, instead of buying it.

  Mrs. Stowe received for "Uncle Tom's Cabin" the usual percentage upon the sale of the American edition; which may have consisted of some three hundred thousand copies. This percentage, with some other trifling sums, may have amounted to forty thousand dollars. From the theatre she has received nothing; from foreign countries nothing, or next to nothing. This poor forty thousand dollars—about enough to build a comfortable house in the country, and lay out an acre or two of grounds—was the product of the supreme literary success of all times! A corresponding success in sugar, in stocks, in tobacco, in cotton, in invention, in real estate, would have yielded millions upon millions to the lucky operator. To say that Mrs. Stowe, through our cruel and shameful indifference with regard to the rights of authors, native and foreign, has been kept out of two hundred thousand dollars, honestly hers, is a most moderate and safe statement. This money was due to her as entirely as the sum named upon a bill of exchange is due to the rightful owner of the same. It was for "value received." A permanently attractive book, moreover, would naturally be more than a sum of money; it would be an estate; it would be an income. This wrong, therefore, continues to the present moment, and will go on longer than the life of the authoress. While we are writing this sentence, probably, some German, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, or English bookseller is dropping into his "till" the price of a copy of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," the whole of which he will keep, instead of sending ten per cent of it to Hartford on the 1st of January next.