FROM OBSCURITY TO FAME
ONE apparently trivial incident in Mrs. Stowe's
life ploughed itself so deeply into her memory that it left an enduring impression. It
was at the time when she, with her five little children, was making her way alone from
Cincinnati to Brunswick, bargaining with hackmen and baggage men, amid the confusion of
hurrying crowds and the rush and roar of steamboats and trains. Unconscionably early
one morning she found herself at a railroad station where she must wait three weary hours
for the next train. She sat on her baggage, her children grouped about her, looking,
according to her own testimony, extremely shabby and disconsolate. In this attitude she was
discovered by a brisk and self-important little station agent, who evidently regarded her
with suspicion as an undesirable citizen, and questioned her with extreme asperity of manner
as to where she came from and where she was going. When she had answered quietly and briefly,
the peremptory little function-
ary strode away and left her with an unreasonable but keen consciousness of her own insignificance. This was Harriet Beecher Stowe two years before the writing of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." That this brisk little watch-dog of respectability felt called upon to bark at her struck her sense of humor, and she often told of it with a twinkle in her eye. George Eliot has somewhere remarked that even the great Sir Isaac Newton surveying his countenance in the convex lease of a highly polished door knob would have been compelled to rest satisfied "with the facial angles of a bumpkin," but Harriet Beecher Stowe was not inclined to seek consolations of this nature at the expense of the brisk little station agent. On the contrary, the Apostle Paul himself could not have had a keener sense of his own weakness according to the flesh than had Mrs. Stowe. "So you want to know something about what sort of a woman I am!" she writes Mrs. Follen immediately after the publication of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." "Well, if this is any object, you shall have statistics free of charge. To begin, then, I am a little bit of a woman,—somewhat more than forty, just as thin and dry as a pinch of snuff; never very much to look at in my best days, and looking like a used-up article
now." This was the Harriet Beecher Stowe that the aggressive little station master found sitting on her luggage with her five children about her in the dim and misty dawn of an April morning in the year 1850.
Two years later this little woman "just as thin and dry as a pinch of snuff" had written a story called "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Looking back on that time more than thirty years afterwards, she writes "'Uncle Tom's Cabin' was published March 20, 1852. The despondency of the author as to whether anybody would read or attend to her appeal was soon dispelled. Ten thousand copies were sold in a few days, and over three hundred thousand within a year, and eight power presses running day and night were barely able to keep pace with the demand for it. It was read everywhere, apparently, and by everybody, and she soon began to hear echoes of sympathy from all over the land. The indignation, the pity, the distress, that had long weighed upon her soul seemed to pass off from her and into the readers of the book."
It was like the kindling of a mighty conflagration, the sky was all aglow with the resistless
tide of emotion that swept all before it and even crossed the broad ocean, till it seemed as if the
whole world scarcely thought or talked of anything else. Then, multitudes began to ask who had done this thing? Who had set the world on fire? And, lo, there stood outlined against the great light "a little bit of a woman . . . Just as thin and dry as a pinch of snuff."
That was Harriet Beecher Stowe. Like the noise of mighty winds, like the rushing of the waters, there arose from the earth a tumult of human voices. There was the voice of weeping, and the cry of those who said, "Can nothing be done to banish this accursed thing from off the face of the earth?" Then followed the outburst of rage, hatred, and defiance. The hells were stirred to their very depths, and belched obscenity and profanity.
There came to Mrs. Stowe letters "so curiously compounded of blasphemy, cruelty, and obscenity that their like could only be expressed by John Bunyan's account of the speech of Apollyon: 'He spake as a dragon.'"
Let us hear again what Mrs. Stowe herself said:—
"For a time, after it ['Uncle Tom's Cabin'] was issued, it seemed to go by acclamation.
From quarters most unexpected, from all political parties,
came a most unbroken chorus of approbation. I was very much surprised, for I knew the explosive nature of the subject. It was not till the sale had run to over a hundred thousand copies that reaction began, and the reaction was led off by the London Times. Instantly, as by a preconcerted signal, all papers of a certain class began to abuse; and some who had at first issued articles entirely commendatory now issued others equally depreciatory. Religious papers, notably the New York Observer, came out and denounced the book as anti-Christian, anti-evangelical, resorting even to personal slander of the author as a means of diverting attention from the work.
"My book . . . is as much under an interdict in some parts of the South as the Bible in Italy. It is not allowed in the book-stores, and the greater part of the people hear of it and me only through grossly caricatured representations in the papers, with garbled extracts from the book.
"A cousin residing in Georgia this winter says that the prejudice against me is so strong that she dares not have my name appear on the outside of her letters, and that very amiable and excellent people have asked her if such as I could be received into reputable society at the North.
"The storm of feeling that the book raises in Italy, Germany, and France is all good, though truly 'tis painful for us Americans to bear."
Within a year the obscure little woman had become a figure of international importance. Not only had her book been universally read, but it had been taken so seriously as to become a great political and moral force in the world.
How was she herself affected by this dazzlingly sudden transition from the quiet obscurity
in which she had hitherto passed her days to this prodigious fame? One might almost say that
she was not affected at all! As Mrs. Fields has most truly said in the "Life and Letters":
"The sense that a great work had been accomplished through her only made her, if possible,
less self-conscious." No one who knew Mrs. Stowe will deny that she possessed the artistic
temperament, but she was not preeminently an artist. She never looked at things solely from
the aesthetic point of view. In the daughter of Lyman Beecher, the artist was dominated by
the preacher and reformer. Hence, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was to her a sermon hurled against
a great moral evil. Never once does she display the artist's quiet satisfaction in a work of
art done for art's sake. No! far from it! She
is determined that the world shall be convinced that she has spoken the truth.
With this aim in view, she sets herself immediately to write the "Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin"! In those first months after the publication of the book she is too much in earnest to think of herself at all, any more than old Lyman Beecher thought of himself when, with tears in his eyes and three or more pairs of spectacles on top of his head, he urged sinners to repentance. While at work on the "Key" she writes to Mrs. Follen: "I am now writing a work which will contain perhaps an equal amount of matter with 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' It will contain all the facts and documents on which that story was founded, an immense body of facts, reports of trials, legal documents, and testimony of people now living South, which will more than confirm every statement in 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.'
"I must confess that till I began the examination of facts to write this book, much as I thought I knew before, I had not begun to measure the depths of the abyss.
"The law records of courts and judicial proceedings are so incredible as to fill me with
amazement whenever I think of them. It seems to me that the
book cannot but be felt, and, coming upon the sensibility awakened by the other, do something.
"I suffer exquisitely in writing these things. It may be truly said, I write them with my heart's blood. Many times in writing 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' I thought my health would fail utterly; but I prayed earnestly that God would help me till I got through, and still I am pressed beyond measure and beyond strength. . . .
"It seems so odd and dreamlike that so many persons desire to see me, and now I cannot help thinking that they will think when they do, 'that God hath chosen the weak things of the world.'"
As her renown flowed in upon her from without, it was constantly met by that deeper and stronger tide which welled up from the deeps of her own soul. Professor Stowe had at this time accepted a chair at the Andover Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. She writes to him from Andover, speaking of the home that they are to have there.
"It seems almost too good to be true, that we are to have such a house, in such a beautiful place, and to live here among all these agreeable people, where everybody seems to love you so much, and think so much of you.
"I am almost afraid to accept it, and should
not, did I not see the Hand that gives it all, and know that it is both firm and true.
"He knows if it is best for us, and His blessing addeth no sorrow therewith. I cannot describe to you the constant under-current of love and joy and peace ever flowing through my soul. I am so happy—so blessed!"
It was this undercurrent of love, joy, and peace that, about this time, found expression in that hymn by which Mrs. Stowe is perhaps as favorably known as by anything she wrote:—
Still, still, with Thee when purple morning breaketh,
One month after the publication of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" she writes to her husband: "It is not fame nor praise that contents me. I seem never to have needed love so much as now. I long to hear you say how much you love me."
There could be no truer picture of her inner life than she herself has given in that restful hymn:—
When winds are raging o'er the upper ocean,
So this woman, whose name was on every tongue, whose words were being translated into nearly every language and read in every land, lived in the midst of it all, hid as in a pavilion from the strife of tongues. So above and beyond it all was she, that it seemed but trivial to her who realized so intensely how "God's greatness flows about our incompleteness, and about our restlessness his rest."
The work on the "Key" completed, Professor and Mrs. Stowe accepted the invitation of
the friends of the cause of emancipation in England to visit that country as their guest. When
they landed at Liverpool, Mrs. Stowe was astonished to find a crowd waiting at the pier,—
so little had it ever dawned upon her that she was a person of importance. "I had an
early opportunity of making an acquaintance with my English brethren; for, much to my
astonishment, I found quite a crowd on the wharf, and we walked up to our carriage through
a long lane of people, bowing, and looking very glad to see us." She left Liverpool "with
a heart a little tremulous and excited by the vibration of an atmosphere of universal
sympathy and kindness." At Lockerbie, it is with a strange kind of thrill "she hears
her name inquired for in the
Scottish accent. Men, women, and children are gathered, and hand after hand is presented with the hearty greeting: 'Ye're welcome to Scotland.'"
Of the many kindnesses offered her that she could not accept or return, she says: "For all these kindnesses what could I give in return? There was scarce time for even a grateful thought on each. People have often said to me that it must have been an exceeding bore. For my part, I could not think of regarding it so. It only oppressed me with an unutterable sadness." She writes of her visit to the Edinburgh Cathedral: "As I saw the way to the cathedral blocked up by a throng of people that had come out to see me, I could not help saying, 'What went ye out for to see: a reed shaken with the wind?' In fact, I was so worn out that I could hardly walk through the building. The next morning I was so ill as to need a physician." Everywhere her life is a constant fight with physical exhaustion. She consoles herself with the reflection: "Everybody seems to understand how good-for-nothing I am; and yet, with all this consideration, I have been obliged to keep my room and bed for a good part of the time. Of the multitudes that have called, I have seen scarcely any." She reflects in this connection,—
"What a convenience in sight-seeing it would be if one could have a relay of bodies, as of clothes, and slip from one into the other."
Nothing pleased her so much as the sympathy and appreciation everywhere shown by the
working people. She speaks with genuine pleasure of putting her hand "into the great prairie
of a palm" of one of the Duke of Argyle's farmers who had read "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and
walked many miles to shake the hand of the author. She writes of the journey through Scotland:
"We rode through several villages after this, and were met everywhere with a warm welcome. What
pleased me was that it was not mainly from the literary, or the rich, or the great, but the plain,
common people. The butcher came out of his stall, and the baker from his shop, the miller dusty
with flour, the blooming, comely young mother, with her baby in her arms, all smiling and bowing,
with that hearty, intelligent, friendly look, as if they knew we should be glad to see them." To
her the conventional was trivial and unimportant. She reached out instinctively to grasp those
organic elements of human nature that are common to cultivated and uncultivated, rich and poor
alike. It was the chord of the uni-
versal human which she had struck so powerfully in "Uncle Tom's Cabin" that was ringing in the hearts of these simple, sturdy people when they instinctively greeted her as their friend. She had appealed to humanity, and humanity was responding to the call. Only sheer exhaustion forced her to decline invitations from the workingmen of Dundee and Glasgow to attend receptions given in her honor. After one such public reception, where she was long and lustily cheered, her reflection is: "After all, I consider that these cheers and this applause are Scotland's voice to America, a recognition of the brotherhood of the nations."
Of her multitudinous engagements on this tour, which she had ingenuously looked forward to
as a vacation, she writes: "As to all engagements, I am in a state of happy acquiescence, having
resigned myself as a very tame lion into the hands of my keepers. Whenever the time comes for
me to try to do anything, I try to behave myself as well as I can, which, as Dr. Young says,
is all that an angel could do under the same circumstances." To find herself in the company
of very distinguished people excites her sense of humor, and she laughs to herself: "Oh, isn't
this funny, to
see poor little me with all the great ones of the earth?" She writes to her husband from London about a concert at Stafford House: "The next day from my last letter came off Miss Greenfield's concert, of which I send a card. You see inn what company they have put your poor little wife! Funny—isn't it? Well, the Hons. and the Right Hons. all were there, and I sat by Lord Carlisle."
The most notable event in which Mrs. Stowe was the central figure during this her first
visit to England was the reception given her by the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland at Stafford
House, on the occasion when Lord Shaftesbury presented to her, in behalf of the women of England,
an address of welcome and appreciation. Of this Mrs. Stowe writes: "When the Duchess appeared,
I thought she looked handsomer by daylight than in the evening. She received us with the same
warm and simple kindness which she had shown before. . . . Among the first that entered were
the members of the family, the Duke and Duchess of Argyle, Lord and Lady Blantyre, the Marquis
and Marchioness of Stafford, and Lady Emma Campbell. Then followed Lord Shaftesbury with his
beautiful lady, and her
father and mother, Lord and Lady Palmerston. Lord Palmerston is of middle height, with a keen dark eye and black hair streaked with gray. There is something peculiarly alert and vivacious about all his movements; in short, his appearance perfectly answers to what we know of him from his public life. One has a strange, mythological feeling about the existence of people of whom one hears for many years without ever seeing them. While talking with Lord Palmerston I could but remember how often I had heard father and Mr. S. exulting over his foreign dispatches by our own fireside. There were present, also, Lord John Russell, Mr. Gladstone, and Lord Granville. The latter we all thought very strikingly resembled in his appearance the poet Longfellow.
"After lunch the whole party ascended to the picture-gallery, passing on our way the grand
staircase and hall, said to be the most magnificent in Europe. The company now began to
assemble and throng the gallery, and very soon the vast room was crowded. Among the throng I
remember many presentations, but of course must have forgotten many more. Archbishop Whately was
there, with Mrs. and Miss Whately; Macaulay,
with two of his sisters; Milman, the poet and historian; the Bishop of Oxford, Chevalier Bunsen and lady, and many more.
"When all the company were together, Lord Shaftesbury read a very short, kind, and considerate address in behalf of the women of England, expressive of their cordial welcome.
"This Stafford House meeting, in any view of it, is a most remarkable fact. Kind and gratifying as its arrangements have been to me, I am far from appropriating it to myself individually as a personal honor. I rather regard it as the most public expression possible of the feelings of the women of England on one of the most important questions of our day, that of individual liberty considered in its religious bearings."
What would the little station agent have thought could he have seen the erstwhile victim of his official contempt in these surroundings? When the reports of this Stafford House meeting reached America, Calhoun remarked that its chief significance lay in the fact that it would make abolitionism fashionable. A despised movement made fashionable by a little Yankee woman "just as thin and dry as a pinch of snuff."
After a partial rest in Paris, where she escaped
publicity through some strategy, she went into Switzerland, where her presence became generally known in spite of precautions and she was hailed everywhere as "Madame Besshare." It was Scotland over again. All had read her book, and their enthusiasm seemed boundless. "Oh, Madame, do write another! Remember, our winter nights here are very long!" entreated the peasants in an Alpine village.
She finally returns to England, whence she writes as she leaves for home: "Thus, almost sadly, as a child might leave its home, I left the shores of kind, strong old England—the mother of us all."
She returns to America to be plunged into the thick of the Kansas and Nebraska struggle.
She could think of nothing but slavery, and planned a story to be elaborated out of the
material gathered in fashioning the "Key" for "Uncle Tom's Cabin." In her own words, the
purpose of "Dred" is "to show the general effect of slavery on society ; the various social
disadvantages that it brings, even to its more favored advocates; the shiftlessness and misery,
and backward tendency of all the economic arrangements of slave states; the retrograding of
good families into poverty; the deterioration of land; the worst demoralization
of all classes, from the aristocratic tyrannical planter to the oppressed and poor white, which is the result of the introduction of slave labor." In "Dred" the didactic purpose is even more pronounced than in "Uncle Tom." Yet the book made a profound sensation in its day. Crossing again to England to secure a copyright, Mrs. Stowe wrote to her husband at Andover: "'Dred' is selling over here wonderfully. Low says that, with all the means at his command, he has not been able to meet the demand. He sold fifty thousand in two weeks, and probably will sell as many more." And later she adds: "One hundred thousand copies of 'Dred' sold in four weeks! After that, who cares what critics say? . . . It goes everywhere, is read everywhere, and Mr. Low says that he puts the hundred and twenty-fifth thousand to press confidently. The fact that many good judges like it better than 'Uncle Tom' is success enough!"
A little later she wrote from Paris: "It is wonderful that people here do not seem to get
over 'Uncle Tom' a bit. The impression seems fresh as if just published. How often have they
said, 'That book has revived the gospel among the poor of France; it has done more than all the
books we have published put together. It has gone among
les ouvriers, among the poor of Faubourg St. Antoine, and nobody knows how many have been led to Christ by it.' Is not this blessed, my dear husband? Is it not worth all the suffering of writing it?"
Mrs. Stowe returned from this second trip to Europe to meet the supreme sorrow of her life,— the death of her eldest son, Henry Stowe. One beautiful summer day in the year 1857, while swimming in the Connecticut River near Hanover, New Hampshire, where he was a student in Dartmouth College, he was seized with a cramp. He threw his arms about a classmate who tried to save him, and both sank together. As they rose to the surface, the friend cried out, "You're drowning me, Henry!" Immediately he relaxed his grasp, and sank to rise no more.
His mother was away on a visit when a telegram summoned her home. His classmates had just
arrived with his body. As she looked upon his strong, peaceful young face, it was impossible
for her to realize that her voice, which had ever had such power over him, could never now
recall him. As she wrote to the Duchess of Sutherland, whom she and Henry had visited together
only a few months before: "There had always been such union, such
peculiar tenderness, between us. I had had such power always to call up answering feelings to my own, that it seemed impossible that he could be unmoved at my grief." No one had understood her as he had. No one had treated her with such constant and chivalrous tenderness. Her strange lapses of memory often excited outbursts of nervous irritability from other members of the family, but never from him. "A dreadful faintness of sorrow" came over her at times. As she went about the house, the pictures of which he was fond, the presents she had bought him, the photographs she was to show him, all pierced her heart. She writes that she would have been glad, "like the woman in the St. Bernard, to lie down with her arms around the wayside cross, and sleep away into a brighter scene."
"Henry's fair, sweet face looks down upon me now and then from out a cloud, and I feel again all the bitterness of the eternal 'No!' which says that I must never, never in this life, see that face, and lean on that arm, hear that voice."
She wrote from Hanover, where she was visiting shortly after Henry's death: "A poor, deaf old
slave woman, who has still five children in bondage, came to comfort me. 'Bear up, dear soul,'
'you must bear it, for the Lord loves ye.' . . . She went on to say: 'Sunday is a heavy day to me, 'cause I can't work, an' I can't hear preachin', an' can't read, so I can't keep my mind off my poor children. Some on 'em the blessed Master's got, and they's safe; but oh, the'er five I don't know where they are.'"
"What are our mother sorrows to this?" exclaims Mrs. Stowe. "I shall try to search out and redeem these children. . . . Every sorrow I have, every lesson on the sacredness of family love, makes me the more determined to resist to the last this dreadful evil that makes so many mothers so much deeper mourners than I ever can be." So even in this supreme sorrow she seeks added strength for her warfare against the infliction of unnecessary suffering upon others.
On the completion of "The Minister's Wooing" in 1859 Professor and Mrs. Stowe returned to
England for the third and last time. The whole family were abroad at this time except the
youngest son Charley, then nine years old, to whom his father wrote the following graphic account
of their experiences in England: "As it was court time . . . we wanted to go and see the court,
so went over to St. George's Hall, a most magnificent
structure, that beats the Boston State House all hollow, and Sir Robert Gerauld himself (the high sheriff of Lancashire) met us, and said he would get us a good place. So he took us away round a narrow, crooked passage, and opened a little door, where we saw nothing but a great, crimson curtain, which he told us to put aside and go straight on; and where do you think we all found ourselves?
"Right on the platform with the judges in their big wigs and long robes, and facing the whole
crowded court! It was enough to frighten a body into fits, but we took it quietly as we could,
and your mamma looked as meek as Moses in her little, battered straw hat and gray cloak, seeming
to say, 'I didn't come here o' purpose.' . . . Tuesday . . . we called at Stafford House, and
enquired if the Duchess of Sutherland were there. A servant came out and said that the Duchess
was in and would be very glad to see us; so your Mamma, Georgie, and I went walking up the
magnificent staircase in the entrance hall, and the great, noble, brilliant Duchess came sailing
down the stairs to meet us, in her white morning gown, . . . took your mamma into her great bosom,
and folded her up till the little Yankee woman looked like a small gray kitten half covered in a
snowbank, and kissed
and kissed her, and then she took up little Georgie and kissed her, and then she took my hand, and did n't kiss me.
"Next day we went to the Duchess's villa, near Windsor Castle, and had a grand time riding round the park, sailing on the Thames, and eating the very best dinner that was ever set on a table."
Professor and Mrs. Stowe's interest in things spiritual, keen as it had ever been, was greatly
intensified by the death of their son, Henry. It took the form of a pathetic yet rational
outreaching toward the future life, a kind of calm but fervent protest against the eternal "No."
In a letter written to her husband after he had returned home and she was in Italy, Mrs. Stowe
says: "One thing I am convinced of,—that spiritualism is a reaction from the intense materialism
of the present age. Luther, when he recognized a personal devil, was much nearer right. We ought
to enter fully, at least, into the spiritualism of the Bible. Circles and spiritual jugglery I
regard as the lying signs and wonders, with all deceivableness of unrighteousness; but there is
a real spiritual spiritualism which has fallen into disuse, and must be revived, and there are,
doubtless, people who, from constitutional formation, can more readily receive the im-
pressions of the surrounding spiritual world. Such were apostles, prophets, and workers of miracles."
At this time Mrs. Stowe was not only acquainted with many of the eminent characters of Europe, but had among them a considerable number of real friends, of whom were the Ruskins, father and son, the Brownings, Mr. and Mrs. Lewes (George Eliot), Lady Byron, Mr. Low, her London publisher, the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland, the Duke and Duchess of Argyle, Lord Shaftesbury, Charles Kingsley, Lord Carlisle, who wrote the preface to the English edition of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and Monsieur and Madame Belloc, he the Director of the French Academy of Design, and she the translator of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" into French.
In Mrs. Browning she found a particularly quick and ready response to her own feelings regarding
things spiritual. In a letter written about a year after their friendship started, Mrs. Browning
says: "Your letter, which would have given me pleasure if I had been in the midst of pleasures,
came to me when little beside could have pleased. Dear friend, let me say it, I had had a great
blow and loss in England, and you wrote things in that letter which seemed meant for me, meant to
do me good, and which did me good,—the first good any
letter or any talk did me; and it seems to me as strange, as more than a coincidence, that your first word since we parted in Rome last spring should have come to me in Rome, and bear so directly on an experience which you did not know of.
". . . I don't know how people can keep up their prejudices against spiritualism with tears in their eyes,—how they are not, at least, thrown on the 'wish that it might be true,' and the investigation of the phenomena, by the abrupt shutting in their faces of the door of death, which shuts them out from the sight of their beloved. My tendency is to beat up against it like a crying child.
. . .It ['De Profundis'] refers to the greatest affliction of my life,—the only time when I felt despair,—written a year after or more. Forgive all these reticences. My husband calls me 'peculiar' in some things,—peculiarly lâche, perhaps. I can't articulate some names, or speak of certain afflictions;—no, not to him,—not after all these years! It's a sort of dumbness of the soul. Blessed are those who can speak, I say. But don't you see from this how I must want 'spiritualism' above most persons?"
In a letter to George Eliot, Mrs. Stowe thus speaks of spiritualism: "I am perfectly aware of
the frivolity and worthlessness of much of the revealings purporting to come from spirits. In my view, the worth or worthlessness of them has nothing to do with the question of fact.
Do invisible spirits speak in any wise,—wise or foolish?—is the question à priori. I do not know of any reason why there should not be as many foolish virgins in the future state as in this. As I am a believer in the Bible and Christianity, I don't need these things as confirmations, and they are not likely to be a religion to me. I regard them simply as I do the phenomena of the Aurora Borealis, or Darwin's studies on natural selection, as curious studies into nature. Besides, I think some day we shall find a law by which all these facts will fall into their places. . . ."
To this George Eliot replies: ". . I desire on all subjects to keep an open mind . . . apart
from personal contact with people who get money by public exhibitions as mediums, or with
semi-idiots such as those who make a court for a Mrs. ——, or other feminine personages of that
kind, I would not willingly place any barriers between my mind and any possible channel of truth
affecting the human lot." At about this period George Eliot writes Mrs. Stowe a letter in which
upon her own religious views in words which now appear startlingly prophetic. She says: "... Both traveling abroad and staying at home among our English sights and sports, one must continually feel how slowly the centuries work toward the moral good of men, and that thought lies very close to what you say you wonder concerning my religious point of view. I believe that religion, too, has to be modified according to the dominant phases; that a religion more perfect than any yet prevalent must express less care of personal consolation, and the more deeply awing sense of responsibility to man springing from sympathy with that which of all things is most certainly known to us,—the difficulty of the human lot. Letters are necessarily narrow and fragmentary, and, when one writes on wide subjects, are likely to create more misunderstanding than illumination. But I have little anxiety in writing to you, dear friend and fellow laborer; for you have had longer experience than I as a writer, and fuller experience as a woman, since you have borne children and known a mother's history from the beginning."
On the eve of her return to America for the third and last time, Mrs. Stowe received from John
Ruskin this outburst of whimsical and affectionate
pessimism,". . . What a dreadful thing it is that people should have to go to America again, after coming to Europe! It seems to me au inversion of the order of nature. I think America is a sort of 'United States of Probation' out of which all wise people, being once delivered, and having obtained entrance into this better world, should never be expected to return (sentence irremediably ungrammatical), particularly when they have been making themselves cruelly pleasant to friends here. . . . I've no heart to write about anything in Europe to you now. When are you coming back again? Please send me a line as soon as you get safe over, to say you are all—wrong, but not lost in the Atlantic."