On the 29th of June, 1852, Henry Clay died. In that month the two

great political parties, in their national conventions, had

accepted as a finality all the compromise measures of 1850, and

the last hours of the Kentucky statesman were brightened by the

thought that his efforts had secured the perpetuity of the Union.

But on the 20th of March, 1852, there had been an event, the

significance of which was not taken into account by the political

conventions or by Clay, which was to test the conscience of the

nation. This was the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Was this

only an "event," the advent of a new force in politics; was the

book merely an abolition pamphlet, or was it a novel, one of the

few great masterpieces of fiction that the world has produced?

After the lapse of forty-four years and the disappearance of

African slavery on this continent, it is perhaps possible to

consider this question dispassionately.

The compromise of 1850 satisfied neither the North nor the South.

The admission of California as a free State was regarded by

Calhoun as fatal to the balance between the free and the slave

States, and thereafter a fierce agitation sprang up for the

recovery of this loss of balance, and ultimately for Southern

preponderance, which resulted in the repeal of the Missouri

Compromise, the Kansas-Nebraska war, and the civil war. The

fugitive slave law was hateful to the North not only because it

was cruel and degrading, but because it was seen to be a move

formed for nationalizing slavery. It was unsatisfactory to the

South because it was deemed inadequate in its provisions, and

because the South did not believe the North would execute it in

good faith. So unstable did the compromise seem that in less than

a year after the passage of all its measures, Henry Clay and

forty-four Senators and Representatives united in a manifesto

declaring that they would support no man for office who was not

known to be opposed to any disturbance of the settlements of the

compromise. When, in February, 1851, the recaptured fugitive

slave, Burns, was rescued from the United States officers in

Boston, Clay urged the investment of the President with

extraordinary power to enforce the law.

Henry Clay was a patriot, a typical American. The republic and

its preservation were the passions of his life. Like Lincoln, who

was born in the State of his adoption, he was willing to make

almost any sacrifice for the maintenance of the Union. He had no

sympathy with the system of slavery. There is no doubt that he

would have been happy in the belief that it was in the way of

gradual and peaceful extinction. With him, it was always the

Union before state rights and before slavery. Unlike Lincoln, he

had not the clear vision to see that the republic could not endure

half slave and half free. He believed that the South, appealing

to the compromises of the Constitution, would sacrifice the Union

before it would give up slavery, and in fear of this menace he

begged the North to conquer its prejudices. We are not liable to

overrate his influence as a compromising pacificator from 1832 to

1852. History will no doubt say that it was largely due to him

that the war on the Union was postponed to a date when its success

was impossible.

It was the fugitive slave law that brought the North face to face

with slavery nationalized, and it was the fugitive slave law that

produced Uncle Tom's Cabin. The effect of this story was

immediate and electric. It went straight to the hearts of tens of

thousands of people who had never before considered slavery except

as a political institution for which they had no personal

responsibility. What was this book, and how did it happen to

produce such an effect? It is true that it struck into a time of

great irritation and agitation, but in one sense there was nothing

new in it. The facts had all been published. For twenty years

abolition tracts, pamphlets, newspapers, and books had left little

to be revealed, to those who cared to read, as to the nature of

slavery or its economic aspects. The evidence was practically all

in,--supplied largely by the advertisements of Southern newspapers

and by the legislation of the slaveholding States,--but it did not

carry conviction; that is, the sort of conviction that results in

action. The subject had to be carried home to the conscience.

Pamphleteering, convention-holding, sermons, had failed to do

this. Even the degrading requirements of the fugitive slave law,

which brought shame and humiliation, had not sufficed to fuse the

public conscience, emphasize the necessity of obedience to the

moral law, and compel recognition of the responsibility of the

North for slavery. Evidence had not done this, passionate appeals

had not done it, vituperation had not done it. What sort of

presentation of the case would gain the public ear and go to the

heart? If Mrs. Stowe, in all her fervor, had put forth first the

facts in The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, which so buttressed her

romance, the book would have had no more effect than had followed

the like compilations and arraignments. What was needed? If we

can discover this, we shall have the secret of this epoch-making


The story of this book has often been told. It is in the nature

of a dramatic incident of which the reader never tires any more

than the son of Massachusetts does of the minutest details of that

famous scene in the Senate Chamber when Webster replied to Hayne.

At the age of twenty-four the author was married and went to live

in Cincinnati, where her husband held a chair in the Lane

Theological Seminary. There for the first time she was brought

into relations with the African race and saw the effects of

slavery. She visited slaveholders in Kentucky and had friends

among them. In some homes she saw the "patriarchal" institution

at its best. The Beecher family were anti-slavery, but they had

not been identified with the abolitionists, except perhaps Edward,

who was associated with the murdered Lovejoy. It was long a

reproach brought by the abolitionists against Henry Ward Beecher

that he held entirely aloof from their movement. At Cincinnati,

however, the personal aspects of the case were brought home to

Mrs. Stowe. She learned the capacities and peculiarities of the

negro race. They were her servants; she taught some of them;

hunted fugitives applied to her; she ransomed some by her own

efforts; every day there came to her knowledge stories of the

hunger for freedom, of the ruthless separation of man and wife and

mother and child, and of the heroic sufferings of those who ran

away from the fearful doom of those "sold down South." These

things crowded upon her mind and awoke her deepest compassion.

But what could she do against all the laws, the political and

commercial interests, the great public apathy? Relieve a case

here and there, yes. But to dwell upon the gigantic evil, with no

means of making head against it, was to invite insanity.

As late as 1850, when Professor Stowe was called to Bowdoin

College, and the family removed to Brunswick, Maine, Mrs. Stowe

had not felt impelled to the duty she afterwards undertook. "In

fact, it was a sort of general impression upon her mind, as upon

that of many humane people in those days, that the subject was so

dark and painful a one, so involved in difficulty and obscurity,

so utterly beyond human hope or help, that it was of no use to

read, or think, or distress one's self about it." But when she

reached New England the excitement over the fugitive slave law was

at its height. There was a panic in Boston among the colored

people settled there, who were daily fleeing to Canada. Every

mail brought her pitiful letters from Boston, from Illinois, and

elsewhere, of the terror and despair caused by the law. Still

more was the impressed by the apathy of the Christian world at the

North, and surely, she said, the people did not understand what

the "system" was. Appeals were made to her, who had some personal

knowledge of the subject, to take up her pen. The task seemed

beyond her in every way. She was not strong, she was in the midst

of heavy domestic cares, with a young infant, with pupils to whom

she was giving daily lessons, and the limited income of the family

required the strictest economy. The dependence was upon the small

salary of Professor Stowe, and the few dollars she could earn by

an occasional newspaper or magazine article. But the theme burned

in her mind, and finally took this shape: at least she would write

some sketches and show the Christian world what slavery really

was, and what the system was that they were defending. She wanted

to do this with entire fairness, showing all the mitigations of

the "patriarchal" system, and all that individuals concerned in it

could do to alleviate its misery. While pondering this she came

by chance, in a volume of an anti-slavery magazine, upon the

authenticated account of the escape of a woman with her child on

the ice across the Ohio River from Kentucky. She began to

meditate. The faithful slave husband in Kentucky, who had refused

to escape from a master who trusted him, when he was about to be

sold "down river," came to her as a pattern of Uncle Tom, and the

scenes of the story began to form themselves in her mind. "The

first part of the book ever committed to writing [this is the

statement of Mrs. Stowe] was the death of Uncle Tom. This scene

presented itself almost as a tangible vision to her mind while

sitting at the communion-table in the little church in Brunswick.

She was perfectly overcome by it, and could scarcely restrain the

convulsion of tears and sobbings that shook her frame. She

hastened home and wrote it, and her husband being away, read it to

her two sons of ten and twelve years of age. The little fellows

broke out into convulsions of weeping, one of them saying through

his sobs, 'Oh, mamma, slavery is the most cursed thing in the

world!' From that time the story can less be said to have been

composed by her than imposed upon her. Scenes, incidents,

conversations rushed upon her with a vividness and importunity

that would not be denied. The book insisted upon getting itself

into being, and would take no denial."

When two or three chapters were written she wrote to her friend,

Dr. Bailey, of Washington, the editor of The National Era, to

which she had contributed, that she was planning a story that

might run through several numbers of the Era. The story was at

once applied for, and thereafter weekly installments were sent on

regularly, in spite of all cares and distractions. The

installments were mostly written during the morning, on a little

desk in a corner of the dining-room of the cottage in Brunswick,

subject to all the interruptions of house-keeping, her children

bursting into the room continually with the importunity of

childhood. But they did not break the spell or destroy her

abstraction. With a smile and a word and a motion of the hand she

would wave them off, and keep on in her magician's work. Long

afterwards they recalled this, dimly understood at the time, and

wondered at her power of concentration. Usually at night the

chapters were read to the family, who followed the story with

intense feeling. The narrative ran on for nine months, exciting

great interest among the limited readers of the Era, and gaining

sympathetic words from the anti-slavery people, but without making

any wide impression on the public.

We may pause here in the narrative to note two things: the story

was not the work of a novice, and it was written out of abundant

experience and from an immense mass of accumulated thought and

material. Mrs. Stowe was in her fortieth year. She had been

using her pen since she was twelve years old, in extensive

correspondence, in occasional essays, in short stories and

sketches, some of which appeared in a volume called The Mayflower,

published in 1843, and for many years her writing for newspapers

and periodicals had added appreciably to the small family income.

She was in the maturity of her intellectual powers, she was

trained in the art of writing, and she had, as Walter Scott had

when he began the Waverley Novels at the age of forty-three,

abundant store of materials on which to draw. To be sure, she was

on fire with a moral purpose, but she had the dramatic instinct,

and she felt that her object would not be reached by writing an

abolition tract.

"In shaping her material the author had but one purpose, to show

the institution of slavery truly, just as it existed. She had

visited in Kentucky; had formed the acquaintance of people who

were just, upright, and generous, and yet slave-holders. She had

heard their views, and appreciated their situation; she felt that

justice required that their difficulties should be recognized and

their virtues acknowledged. It was her object to show that the

evils of slavery were the inherent evils of a bad system, and not

always the fault of those who had become involved in it and were

its actual administrators. Then she was convinced that the

presentation of slavery alone, in its most dreadful forms, would

be a picture of such unrelieved horror and darkness as nobody

could be induced to look at. Of set purpose, she sought to light

up the darkness by humorous and grotesque episodes, and the

presentation of the milder and more amusing phases of slavery, for

which her recollection of the never-failing wit and drollery of

her former colored friends in Ohio gave her abundant material."

This is her own account of the process, years after. But it is

evident that, whether consciously or unconsciously, she did but

follow the inevitable law of all great dramatic creators and true

story-tellers since literature began.

For this story Mrs. Stowe received from the Era the sum of three

hundred dollars. Before it was finished it attracted the

attention of Mr. J. P. Jewett, of Boston, a young and then unknown

publisher, who offered to issue it in book form. His offer was

accepted, but as the tale ran on he became alarmed at its length,

and wrote to the author that she was making the story too long for

a one-volume novel; that the subject was unpopular; that people

would not willingly hear much about it; that one short volume

might possibly sell, but that if it grew to two that might prove a

fatal obstacle to its success. Mrs. Stowe replied that she did

not make the story, that the story made itself, and that she could

not stop it till it was done. The publisher hesitated. It is

said that a competent literary critic to whom he submitted it sat

up all night with the novel, and then reported, "The story has

life in it; it will sell." Mr. Jewett proposed to Professor Stowe

to publish it on half profits if he would share the expenses.

This offer was declined, for the Stowes had no money to advance,

and the common royalty of ten per cent on the sales was accepted.

Mrs. Stowe was not interested in this business transaction. She

was thinking only of having the book circulated for the effect she

had at heart. The intense absorption in the story held her until

the virtual end in the death of Uncle Tom, and then it seemed as

if the whole vital force had left her. She sank into a profound

discouragement. Would this appeal, which she had written with her

heart's blood, go for nothing, as all the prayers and tears and

strivings had already gone? When the last proof sheets left her

hands, "it seemed to her that there was no hope; that nobody would

read, nobody would pity; that this frightful system, which had

already pursued its victims into the free States, might at last

even threaten them in Canada." Resolved to leave nothing undone

to attract attention to her cause, she wrote letters and ordered

copies of her novel sent to men of prominence who had been known

for their anti-slavery sympathies,--to Prince Albert, Macaulay,

Charles Dickens, Charles Kingsley, and Lord Carlisle. Then she

waited for the result.

She had not long to wait. The success of the book was immediate.

Three thousand copies were sold the first day, within a few days

ten thousand copies had gone, on the 1st of April a second edition

went to press, and thereafter eight presses running day and night

were barely able to keep pace with the demand for it. Within a

year three hundred thousand copies were sold. No work of fiction

ever spread more quickly throughout the reading community or

awakened a greater amount of public feeling. It was read by

everybody, learned and unlearned, high and low, for it was an

appeal to universal human sympathy, and the kindling of this

spread the book like wildfire. At first it seemed to go by

acclamation. But this was not altogether owing to sympathy with

the theme. I believe that it was its power as a novel that

carried it largely. The community was generally apathetic when it

was not hostile to any real effort to be rid of slavery. This

presently appeared. At first there were few dissenting voices

from the chorus of praise. But when the effect of the book began

to be evident it met with an opposition fiercer and more personal

than the great wave of affectionate thankfulness which greeted it

at first. The South and the defenders and apologists of slavery

everywhere were up in arms. It was denounced in pulpit and in

press, and some of the severest things were said of it at the

North. The leading religious newspaper of the country, published

in New York, declared that it was "anti-Christian."

Mrs. Stowe was twice astonished: first by its extraordinary sale,

and second by the quarter from which the assault on it came. She

herself says that her expectations were strikingly different from

the facts. "She had painted slaveholders as amiable, generous,

and just. She had shown examples among them of the noblest and

most beautiful traits of character; had admitted fully their

temptations, their perplexities, and their difficulties, so that a

friend of hers who had many relatives in the South wrote to her:

'Your book is going to be the great pacificator; it will unite

both North and South.' Her expectation was that the professed

abolitionists would denounce it as altogether too mild in its

dealings with slaveholders. To her astonishment, it was the

extreme abolitionists who received, and the entire South who rose

up against it."

There is something almost amusing in Mrs. Stowe's honest

expectation that the deadliest blow the system ever suffered

should have been received thankfully by those whose traditions,

education, and interests were all bound up in it. And yet from

her point of view it was not altogether unreasonable. Her

blackest villain and most loathsome agent of the system, Legree,

was a native of Vermont. All her wrath falls upon the slave-

traders, the auctioneers, the public whippers, and the overseers,

and all these persons and classes were detested by the Southerners

to the point of loathing, and were social outcasts. The slave-

traders and the overseers were tolerated as perhaps necessary in

the system, but they were never admitted into respectable society.

This feeling Mrs. Stowe regarded as a condemnation of the system.

Pecuniary reward was the last thing that Mrs. Stowe expected for

her disinterested labor, but it suits the world's notion of the

fitness of things that this was not altogether wanting. For the

millions of copies of Uncle Tom scattered over the world the

author could expect nothing, but in her own country her copyright

yielded her a moderate return that lifted her out of poverty and

enabled her to pursue her philanthropic and literary career. Four

months after the publication of the book Professor Stowe was in

the publisher's office, and Mr. Jewett asked him how much he

expected to receive. "I hope," said Professor Stowe, with a

whimsical smile, "that it will be enough to buy my wife a silk

dress." The publisher handed him a check for ten thousand


Before Mrs. Stowe had a response to the letters accompanying the

books privately sent to England, the novel was getting known

there. Its career in Great Britain paralleled its success in

America. In April a copy reached London in the hands of a

gentleman who had taken it on the steamer to read. He gave it to

Mr. Henry Vizetelly, who submitted it to Mr. David Bogue, a man

known for his shrewdness and enterprise. He took a night to

consider it, and then declined it, although it was offered to him

for five pounds. A Mr. Gilpin also declined it. It was then

submitted to Mr. Salisbury, a printer. This taster for the public

sat up with the book till four o'clock in the morning, alternately

weeping and laughing. Fearing, however, that this result was due

to his own weakness, he woke up his wife, whom he describes as a

rather strong-minded woman, and finding that the story kept her

awake and made her also laugh and cry, he thought it might safely

be printed. It seems, therefore, that Mr. Vizetelly ventured to

risk five pounds, and the volume was brought out through the

nominal agency of Clarke & Company. In the first week an edition

of seven thousand was worked off. It made no great stir until the

middle of June, but during July it sold at the rate of one

thousand a week. By the 20th of August the demand for it was

overwhelming. The printing firm was then employing four hundred

people in getting it out, and seventeen printing-machines, besides

hand-presses. Already one hundred and fifty thousand copies were

sold. Mr. Vizetelly disposed of his interest, and a new printing

firm began to issue monster editions. About this time the

publishers awoke to the fact that any one was at liberty to

reprint the book, and the era of cheap literature was initiated,

founded on American reprints which cost the publisher no royalty.

A shilling edition followed the one-and-sixpence, and then one

complete for sixpence. As to the total sale, Mr. Sampson Low

reports: "From April to December, 1852, twelve different editions

(not reissues) were published, and within the twelve months of its

first appearance eighteen different London publishing houses were

engaged in supplying the great demand that had set in, the total

number of editions being forty, varying from fine illustrated

editions at 15s., 10s., and 7s. 6d. to the cheap popular editions

of 1s. 9d. and 6d. After carefully analyzing these editions and

weighing probabilities with ascertained facts, I am able pretty

confidently to say that the aggregate number of copies circulated

in Great Britain and the colonies exceeds one and a half

millions." Later, abridgments were published.

Almost simultaneously with this furor in England the book made its

way on the Continent. Several translations appeared in Germany

and France, and for the authorized French edition Mrs. Stowe wrote

a new preface, which served thereafter for most of the European

editions. I find no record of the order of the translations of

the book into foreign languages, but those into some of the

Oriental tongues did not appear till several years after the great

excitement. The ascertained translations are into twenty-three

tongues, namely: Arabic, Armenian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch,

Finnish, Flemish, French, German, Hungarian, Illyrian, Italian,

Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, modern Greek, Russian, Servian,

Siamese, Spanish, Swedish, Wallachian, and Welsh. Into some of

these languages several translations were made. In 1878 the

British Museum contained thirty-five editions of the original

text, and eight editions of abridgments or adaptations.

The story was dramatized in the United States in August, 1852,

without the consent or knowledge of the author, and was played

most successfully in the leading cities, and subsequently was

acted in every capital in Europe. Mrs. Stowe had neglected to

secure the dramatic rights, and she derived no benefit from the

great popularity of a drama which still holds the stage. From the

phenomenal sale of a book which was literally read by the whole

world, the author received only the ten per cent on the American

editions, and by the laws of her own country her copyright expired

before her death.

The narrative of the rise and fortunes of this book would be

incomplete without some reference to the response that the author

received from England and the Continent, and of her triumphant

progress through the British Isles. Her letters accompanying the

special copies were almost immediately replied to, generally in

terms of enthusiastic and fervent thankfulness for the book, and

before midsummer her mail contained letters from all classes of

English society. In some of them appeared a curious evidence of

the English sensitiveness to criticism. Lord Carlisle and Sir

Arthur Helps supplemented their admiration by a protest against

the remark in the mouth of one of the characters that "slaves are

better off than a large class of the population of England." This

occurred in the defense of the institution by St. Clare, but it

was treated by the British correspondents as the opinion of Mrs.

Stowe. The charge was disposed of in Mrs. Stowe's reply: "The

remark on that subject occurs in the dramatic part of the book, in

the mouth of an intelligent Southerner. As a fair-minded person,

bound to state for both sides all that could be said, in the

person of St. Clare, the best that could be said on that point,

and what I know IS in fact constantly reiterated, namely, that the

laboring class of the South are in many respects, as to physical

comfort, in a better condition than the poor in England. This is

the slaveholder's stereo-typed apology; a defense it cannot be,

unless two wrongs make one right."

In April, 1853, Mr. and Mrs. Stowe and the latter's brother,

Charles Beecher, sailed for Europe. Her reception there was like

a royal progress. She was met everywhere by deputations and

addresses, and the enthusiasm her presence called forth was

thoroughly democratic, extending from the highest in rank to the

lowest. At Edinburgh there was presented to her a national penny

offering, consisting of a thousand golden sovereigns on a

magnificent silver salver, an unsolicited contribution in small

sums by the people.

At a reception in Stafford House, London, the Duchess of

Sutherland presented her with a massive gold bracelet, which has

an interesting history. It is made of ten oval links in imitation

of slave fetters. On two of the links were the inscriptions

"March 25, 1807," the date of the abolition of the slave-trade,

and "August 1, 1838," the date of the abolition of slavery in all

British territory. The third inscription is "562,848--March 19,

1853," the date of the address of the women of England to the

women of America on slavery, and the number of the women who

signed. It was Mrs. Stowe's privilege to add to these

inscriptions the following: "Emancipation D. C. Apl. 16, '62;"

"President's Proclamation Jan. 1, '63;" "Maryland free Oct. 13,

'64;" "Missouri free Jan. 11, '65;" and on the clasp link,

"Constitution amended by Congress Jan. 31, '65. Constitutional

Amendment ratified." Two of the links are vacant. What will the

progress of civilization in America offer for the links nine and


One of the most remarkable documents which resulted from Uncle Tom

was an address from the women of England to the women of America,

acknowledging the complicity in slavery of England, but praying

aid in removing from the world "our common crimes and common

dishonor," which was presented to Mrs. Stowe in 1853. It was the

result of a meeting at Stafford House, and the address, composed

by Lord Shaftesbury, was put into the hands of canvassers in

England and on the Continent, and as far as Jerusalem. The

signatures of 562,848 women were obtained, with their occupations

and residences, from the nobility on the steps of the throne down

to maids in the kitchen. The address is handsomely engrossed on

vellum. The names are contained in twenty-six massive volumes,

each fourteen inches high by nine in breadth and three inches

thick, inclosed in an oak case. It is believed that this is the

most numerously signed address in existence. The value of the

address, with so many names collected in haphazard fashion, was

much questioned, but its use was apparent in the height of the

civil war, when Mrs. Stowe replied to it in one of the most

vigorous and noble appeals that ever came from her pen. This

powerful reply made a profound impression in England.

This is in brief the story of the book. It is still read, and

read the world over, with tears and with laughter; it is still

played to excited audiences. Is it a great novel, or was it only

an event of an era of agitation and passion? Has it the real

dramatic quality--the poet's visualizing of human life--that makes

works of fiction, of imagination, live? Till recently, I had not

read the book since 1852. I feared to renew acquaintance with it

lest I should find only the shell of an exploded cartridge. I

took it up at the beginning of a three-hours' railway journey. To

my surprise the journey did not seem to last half an hour, and

half the time I could not keep back the tears from my eyes. A

London critic, full of sympathy with Mrs. Stowe and her work,

recently said, "Yet she was not an artist, she was not a great

woman." What is greatness? What is art? In 1862 probably no one

who knew General Grant would have called him a great man. But he

took Vicksburg. This woman did something with her pen,--on the

whole, the most remarkable and effective book in her generation.

How did she do it? Without art? George Sand said, "In matters of

art there is but one rule, to paint and to move. And where shall

we find conditions more complete, types more vivid, situations

more touching, more original, than in Uncle Tom?" If there is not

room in our art for such a book, I think we shall have to stretch

our art a little. "Women, too, are here judged and painted with a

master hand." This subtle critic, in her overpoweringly tender

and enthusiastic review, had already inquired about the capacity

of this writer. "Mrs. Stowe is all instinct; it is the very

reason that she appears to some not to have talent. Has she not

talent? What is talent? Nothing, doubtless, compared to genius;

but has she genius? I cannot say that she has talent as one

understands it in the world of letters, but she has genius as

humanity feels the need of genius,--the genius of goodness, not

that of the man of letters, but of the saint." It is admitted

that Mrs. Stowe was not a woman of letters in the common

acceptation of that term, and it is plain that in the French

tribunal, where form is of the substance of the achievement, and

which reluctantly overlooked the crudeness of Walter Scott, in

France where the best English novel seems a violation of

established canons, Uncle Tom would seem to belong where some

modern critics place it, with works of the heart, and not of the

head. The reviewer is, however, candid: "For a long time we have

striven in France against the prolix explanations of Walter Scott.

We have cried out against those of Balzac, but on consideration

have perceived that the painter of manners and character has never

done too much, that every stroke of the pencil was needed for the

general effect. Let us learn then to appreciate all kinds of

treatment, where the effect is good, and where they bear the seal

of a master hand."

It must be admitted to the art critic that the book is defective

according to the rules of the modern French romance; that Mrs.

Stowe was possessed by her subject, and let her fervid interest in

it be felt; that she had a definite purpose. That purpose was to

quicken the sense of responsibility of the North by showing the

real character of slavery, and to touch the South by showing that

the inevitable wrong of it lay in the system rather than in those

involved in it. Abundant material was in her hands, and the

author burned to make it serviceable. What should she do? She

might have done what she did afterwards in The Key, presented to

the public a mass of statistics, of legal documents. The evidence

would have been unanswerable, but the jury might not have been

moved by it; they would have balanced it by considerations of

political and commercial expediency. I presume that Mrs. Stowe

made no calculation of this kind. She felt her course, and went

on in it. What would an artist have done, animated by her purpose

and with her material? He would have done what Cervantes did,

what Tourgenieff did, what Mrs. Stowe did. He would have

dramatized his facts in living personalities, in effective scenes,

in vivid pictures of life. Mrs. Stowe exhibited the system of

slavery by a succession of dramatized pictures, not always

artistically welded together, but always effective as an

exhibition of the system. Cervantes also showed a fading feudal

romantic condition by a series of amusing and pathetic adventures,

grouped rather loosely about a singularly fascinating figure.

Tourgenieff, a more consummate artist, in his hunting scenes

exhibited the effect of serfdom upon society, in a series of

scenes with no necessary central figure, without comment, and with

absolute concealment of any motive. I believe the three writers

followed their instincts, without an analytic argument as to the

method, as the great painter follows his when he puts an idea upon

canvas. He may invent a theory about it afterwards; if he does

not, some one else will invent it for him. There are degrees of

art. One painter will put in unnecessary accessories, another

will exhibit his sympathy too openly, the technique or the

composition of another can be criticised. But the question is, is

the picture great and effective?

Mrs. Stowe had not Tourgenieff's artistic calmness. Her mind was

fused into a white heat with her message. Yet, how did she begin

her story? Like an artist, by a highly dramatized scene, in which

the actors, by a few strokes of the pen, appear as distinct and

unmistakable personalities, marked by individual peculiarities of

manner, speech, motive, character, living persons in natural

attitudes. The reader becomes interested in a shrewd study of

human nature, of a section of life, with its various refinement,

coarseness, fastidiousness and vulgarity, its humor and pathos.

As he goes on he discovers that every character has been perfectly

visualized, accurately limned from the first; that a type has been

created which remains consistent, which is never deflected from

its integrity by any exigencies of plot. This clear conception of

character (not of earmarks and peculiarities adopted as labels),

and faithful adhesion to it in all vicissitudes, is one of the

rarest and highest attributes of genius. All the chief characters

in the book follow this line of absolutely consistent development,

from Uncle Tom and Legree down to the most aggravating and

contemptible of all, Marie St. Clare. The selfish and hysterical

woman has never been so faithfully depicted by any other author.

Distinguished as the novel is by its character-drawing and its

pathos, I doubt if it would have captivated the world without its

humor. This is of the old-fashioned kind, the large humor of

Scott, and again of Cervantes, not verbal pleasantry, not the

felicities of Lamb, but the humor of character in action, of

situations elaborated with great freedom, and with what may be

called a hilarious conception. This quality is never wanting in

the book, either for the reader's entertainment by the way, or to

heighten the pathos of the narrative by contrast. The

introduction of Topsy into the New Orleans household saves us in

the dangerous approach to melodrama in the religious passages

between Tom and St. Clare. Considering the opportunities of the

subject, the book has very little melodrama; one is apt to hear

low music on the entrance of little Eva, but we are convinced of

the wholesome sanity of the sweet child. And it is to be remarked

that some of the most exciting episodes, such as that of Eliza

crossing the Ohio River on the floating ice (of which Mr. Ruskin

did not approve), are based upon authentic occurrences. The want

of unity in construction of which the critics complain is

partially explained by the necessity of exhibiting the effect of

slavery in its entirety. The parallel plots, one running to

Louisiana and the other to Canada, are tied together by this

consideration, and not by any real necessity to each other.

There is no doubt that Mrs. Stowe was wholly possessed by her

theme, rapt away like a prophet in a vision, and that, in her

feeling at the time, it was written through her quite as much as

by her. This idea grew upon her mind in the retrospective light

of the tremendous stir the story made in the world, so that in her

later years she came to regard herself as a providential

instrument, and frankly to declare that she did not write the

book; "God wrote it." In her own account, when she reached the

death of Uncle Tom, "the whole vital force left her." The

inspiration there left her, and the end of the story, the weaving

together of all the loose ends of the plot, in the joining

together almost by miracle the long separated, and the discovery

of the relationships, is the conscious invention of the novelist.

It would be perhaps going beyond the province of the critic to

remark upon what the author considered the central power of the

story, and its power to move the world, the faith of Uncle Tom in

the Bible. This appeal to the emotion of millions of readers

cannot, however, be overlooked. Many regard the book as effective

in regions remote from our perplexities by reason of this grace.

When the work was translated into Siamese, the perusal of it by

one of the ladies of the court induced her to liberate all her

slaves, men, women, and children, one hundred and thirty in all.

"Hidden Perfume," for that was the English equivalent of her name,

said she was wishful to be good like Harriet Beecher Stowe. And

as to the standpoint of Uncle Tom and the Bible, nothing more

significant can be cited than this passage from one of the latest

writings of Heinrich Heine:--

"The reawakening of my religious feelings I owe to that holy book

the Bible. Astonishing that after I have whirled about all my

life over all the dance-floors of philosophy, and yielded myself

to all the orgies of the intellect, and paid my addresses to all

possible systems, without satisfaction like Messalina after a

licentious night, I now find myself on the same standpoint where

poor Uncle Tom stands,--on that of the Bible! I kneel down by my

black brother in the same prayer! What a humiliation! With all

my science I have come no further than the poor ignorant negro who

has scarce learned to spell. Poor Tom, indeed, seems to have seen

deeper things in the holy book than I. . . . Tom, perhaps,

understands them better than I, because more flogging occurs in

them; that is to say, those ceaseless blows of the whip which have

aesthetically disgusted me in reading the Gospels and the Acts.

But a poor negro slave reads with his back, and understands better

than we do. But I, who used to make citations from Homer, now

begin to quote the Bible as Uncle Tom does."

The one indispensable requisite of a great work of imaginative

fiction is its universality, its conception and construction so

that it will appeal to universal human nature in all races and

situations and climates. Uncle Tom's Cabin does that.

Considering certain artistic deficiencies, which the French

writers perceived, we might say that it was the timeliness of its

theme that gave it currency in England and America. But that

argument falls before the world-wide interest in it as a mere

story, in so many languages, by races unaffected by our own

relation to slavery.

It was the opinion of James Russell Lowell that the anti-slavery

element in Uncle Tom and Dred stood in the way of a full

appreciation, at least in her own country, of the remarkable

genius of Mrs. Stowe. Writing in 1859, he said, "From my habits

and the tendency of my studies I cannot help looking at things

purely from an aesthetic point of view, and what I valued in Uncle

Tom was the genius, and not the moral." This had been his

impression when he read the book in Paris, long after the whirl of

excitement produced by its publication had subsided, and far

removed by distance from local influences. Subsequently, in a

review, he wrote, "We felt then, and we believe now, that the

secret of Mrs. Stowe's power lay in that same genius by which the

great successes in creative literature have always been achieved,--

the genius that instinctively goes to the organic elements of

human nature, whether under a white skin or a black, and which

disregards as trivial the conventions and fictitious notions which

make so large a part both of our thinking and feeling. . . . The

creative faculty of Mrs. Stowe, like that of Cervantes in Don

Quixote and of Fielding in Joseph Andrews, overpowered the narrow

specialty of her design, and expanded a local and temporary theme

with the cosmopolitanism of genius."

A half-century is not much in the life of a people; it is in time

an inadequate test of the staying power of a book. Nothing is

more futile than prophecy on contemporary literary work. It is

safe, however, to say that Uncle Tom's Cabin has the fundamental

qualities, the sure insight into human nature, and the fidelity to

the facts of its own time which have from age to age preserved

works of genius.

THE NEGRO IN THE REGULAR ARMY THE WIFE OF HIS YOUTH facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail