"And now, my dear wife, I want you to come home as quick as you can. The fact is I cannot live without you, and if we were not so prodigious poor I would come for you at once. There is no woman like you in this wide world. Who else has so much talent with so little self-conceit; so much reputation with so little affectation; so much literature with so little nonsense; so much enterprise with so little extravagance; so much tongue with so little scold; so much sweetness with so little softness; so much of so many things and so little of so many other things?"
In answer to this letter Mrs. Stowe writes from Hartford:—
"I have seen Johnson of the 'Evangelist.' He is very liberally disposed, and I may safely reckon on being paid for all I do there. Who is that Hale, Jr., that sent me the 'Boston Miscellany,' and will he keep his word with me? His offers are very liberal,—twenty dollars for three pages, not very close print. Is he to be depended on? If so, it is the best offer I have received yet. I shall get something from the Harpers some time this winter or spring. Robertson, the publisher here, says the book ('The Mayflower') will sell, and though the terms they offer me are very low, that I shall make something on it. For a second volume I shall be able to make better terms. On the whole, my dear, if I choose to be a literary lady, I have, I think, as good a chance of making profit by it as any one I know of. But with all this, I have my doubts whether I shall be able to do so.
"Our children are just coming to the age when everything depends on my efforts. They are delicate in health, and nervous and excitable, and need a mother's whole attention. Can I lawfully divide my attention by literary efforts?
"There is one thing I must suggest. If I am to write, I must have a room to myself, which shall be my room. I have in my own mind pitched on Mrs. Whipple's room. I can put the stove in it. I have bought a cheap carpet for it, and I have furniture enough at home to furnish it comfortably, and I only beg in addition that you will let me change the glass door from the nursery into that room and keep my plants there, and then I shall be quite happy.
"All last winter I felt the need of some place where I could go and be quiet and satisfied. I could not there, for there was all the setting of tables, and clearing up of tables, and dressing and washing of children, and everything else going on, and the constant falling of soot and coal dust on everything in the room was a constant annoyance to me, and I never felt comfortable there though I tried hard. Then if I came into the parlor where you were I felt as if I were interrupting you, and you know you sometimes thought so too.
"Now this winter let the cooking-stove be put into that room, and let the pipe run up through the floor into the room above. We can eat by our cooking-stove, and the children can be washed and dressed and keep their playthings in the room above, and play there when we don't want them below. You can study by the parlor fire, and I and my plants, etc., will take the other room. I shall keep my work and all my things there and feel settled and quiet. I intend to have a regular part of each day devoted to the children, and then I shall take them in there."
In his reply to this letter Professor Stowe says:—
"The little magazine ('The Souvenir') goes ahead finely. Fisher sent down to Fulton the other day and got sixty subscribers. He will make the June number as handsome as possible, as a specimen number for the students, several of whom will take agencies for it during the coming vacation. You have it in your power by means of this little magazine to form the mind of the West for the coming generation. It is just as I told you in my last letter. God has written it in his book that you must be a literary woman, and who are we that we should contend against God? You must therefore make all your calculations to spend the rest of your life with your pen.
"If you only could come home to-day how happy should I be. I am daily finding out more and more (what I knew very well before) that you are the most intelligent and agreeable woman in the whole circle of my acquaintance."
That Professor Stowe's devoted admiration for his wife was reciprocated, and that a most perfect sympathy of feeling existed between the husband and wife, is shown by a line in one of Mrs. Stowe's letters from Hartford in which she says: "I was telling Belle yesterday that I did not know till I came away how much I was dependent upon you for information. There are a thousand favorite subjects on which I could talk with you better than with any one else. If you were not already my dearly loved husband I should certainly fall in love with you."
In this same letter she writes of herself:—
"One thing more in regard to myself. The absence and wandering of mind and forgetfulness that so often vexes you is a physical infirmity with me. It is the failing of a mind not calculated to endure a great pressure of care, and so much do I feel the pressure I am under, so much is my mind often darkened and troubled by care, that life seriously considered holds out few allurements,—only my children.
"In returning to my family, from whom I have been so long separated, I am impressed with a new and solemn feeling of responsibility. It appears to me that I am not probably destined for long life; at all events, the feeling is strongly impressed upon my mind that a work is put into my hands which I must be earnest to finish shortly. It is nothing great or brilliant in the world's eye; it lies in one small family circle, of which I am called to be the central point."
On her way home from this Eastern visit Mrs. Stowe traveled for the first time by rail, and of this novel experience she writes to Miss Georgiana May:—
BATAVIA, August 29, 1842.
"Here I am at Brother William's, and our passage along this railroad reminds me of the verse of the psalm:—
"Tho' lions roar and tempests blow, And rocks and dangers fill the way."
Such confusion of tongues, such shouting and swearing, such want of all sort of system and decency in arrangements, I never desire to see again. I was literally almost trodden down and torn to pieces in the Rochester depot when I went to help my poor, near-sighted spouse in sorting out the baggage. You see there was an accident which happened to the cars leaving Rochester that morning, which kept us two hours and a half at the passing place this side of Auburn, waiting for them to come up and go by us. The consequence was that we got into this Rochester depot aforesaid after dark, and the steamboat, the canal- boat, and the Western train of cars had all been kept waiting three hours beyond their usual time, and they all broke loose upon us the moment we put our heads out of the cars, and such a jerking, and elbowing, and scuffling, and swearing, and protesting, and scolding you never heard, while the great locomotive sailed up and down in the midst thereof, spitting fire and smoke like some great fiend monster diverting himself with our commotions. I do think these steam concerns border a little too much on the supernatural to be agreeable, especially when you are shut up in a great dark depot after sundown. Well, after all, we had to ride till twelve o'clock at night to get to Batavia, and I've been sick abed, so to speak, ever since."
The winter of 1842 was one of peculiar trial to the family at Walnut Hills; as Mrs. Stowe writes, "It was a season of sickness and gloom." Typhoid fever raged among the students of the seminary, and the house of the president was converted into a hospital, while the members of his family were obliged to devote themselves to nursing the sick and dying.
July 6, 1843, a few weeks before the birth of her third daughter, Georgiana May, a most terrible and overwhelming sorrow came on Mrs. Stowe, in common with all the family, in the sudden death of her brother, the Rev. George Beecher.
He was a young man of unusual talent and ability, and much loved by his church and congregation. The circumstances of his death are related in a letter written by Mrs. Stowe, and are as follows: "Noticing the birds destroying his fruit and injuring his plants, he went for a double-barreled gun, which he scarcely ever had used, out of regard to the timidity and anxiety of his wife in reference to it. Shortly after he left the house, one of the elders of his church in passing saw him discharge one barrel at the birds. Soon after he heard the fatal report and saw the smoke, but the trees shut out the rest from sight. . . . In about half an hour after, the family assembled at breakfast, and the servant was sent out to call him. . . . In a few minutes she returned, exclaiming, 'Oh, Mr. Beecher is dead! Mr. Beecher is dead!' . . . In a short time a visitor in the family, assisted by a passing laborer, raised him up and bore him to the house. His face was pale and but slightly marred, his eyes were closed, and over his countenance rested the sweet expression of peaceful slumber. . . . Then followed the hurried preparations for the funeral and journey, until three o'clock, when, all arrangements being made, he was borne from his newly finished house, through his blooming garden, to the new church, planned and just completed under his directing eye. . . . The sermon and the prayers were finished, the choir he himself had trained sung their parting hymn, and at about five the funeral train started for a journey of over seventy miles. That night will stand alone in the memories of those who witnessed its scenes!
"At ten in the evening heavy clouds gathered lowering behind, and finally rose so as nearly to cover the hemisphere, sending forth mutterings of thunder and constant flashes of lightning.
"The excessive heat of the weather, the darkness of the night, the solitary road, the flaring of the lamps and lanterns, the flashes of the lightning, the roll of approaching thunder, the fear of being overtaken in an unfrequented place and the lights extinguished by the rain, the sad events of the day, the cries of the infant boy sick with the heat and bewailing the father who ever before had soothed his griefs, all combined to awaken the deepest emotions of the sorrowful, the awful, and the sublime. . . .
"And so it is at last; there must come a time when all that the most heart-broken, idolizing love can give us is a coffin and a grave! All that could be done for our brother, with all his means and all the affection of his people and friends, was just this, no more! After all, the deepest and most powerful argument for the religion of Christ is its power in times like this. Take from us Christ and what He taught, and what have we here? What confusion, what agony, what dismay, what wreck and waste! But give Him to us, even the most stricken heart can rise under the blow; yea, even triumph!
"'Thy brother shall rise again,' said Jesus; and to us who weep He speaks: 'Rejoice, inasmuch as ye are made partakers of Christ's sufferings, that when his glory shall be revealed, ye also may be glad with exceeding joy!'"
The advent of Mrs. Stowe's third daughter was followed by a protracted illness and a struggle with great poverty, of which Mrs. Stowe writes in October, 1843:—
"Our straits for money this year are unparalleled even in our annals. Even our bright and cheery neighbor Allen begins to look blue, and says $600 is the very most we can hope to collect of our salary, once $1,200. We have a flock of entirely destitute young men in the seminary, as poor in money as they are rich in mental and spiritual resources. They promise to be as fine a band as those we have just sent off. We have two from Iowa and Wisconsin who were actually crowded from secular pursuits into the ministry by the wants of the people about them. Revivals began, and the people came to them saying, 'We have no minister, and you must preach to us, for you know more than we do.'"
In the spring of 1844 Professor Stowe visited the East to arouse an interest in the struggling seminary and raise funds for its maintenance. While he was there he received the following letter from Mrs. Stowe:—
"I am already half sick with confinement to the house and overwork. If I should sew every day for a month to come I should not be able to accomplish a half of what is to be done, and should be only more unfit for my other duties."
This struggle against ill-health and poverty was continued through that year and well into the next, when, during her husband's absence to attend a ministerial convention at Detroit, Mrs. Stowe writes to him:—
June 16, 1845.
"MY DEAR HUSBAND,—It is a dark, sloppy, rainy, muddy, disagreeable day, and I have been working hard (for me) all day in the kitchen, washing dishes, looking into closets, and seeing a great deal of that dark side of domestic life which a housekeeper may who will investigate too curiously into minutiae in warm, damp weather, especially after a girl who keeps all clean on the outside of cup and platter, and is very apt to make good the rest of the text in the inside of things.
I am sick of the smell of sour milk, and sour meat, and sour everything, and then the clothes will not dry, and no wet thing does, and everything smells mouldy; and altogether I feel as if I never wanted to eat again.
Your letter, which was neither sour nor mouldy, formed a very agreeable contrast to all these things; the more so for being unexpected. I am much obliged to you for it. As to my health, it gives me very little solicitude, although I am bad enough and daily growing worse. I feel no life, no energy, no appetite, or rather a growing distaste for food; in fact, I am becoming quite ethereal. Upon reflection I perceive that it pleases my Father to keep me in the fire, for my whole situation is excessively harassing and painful. I suffer with sensible distress in the brain, as I have done more or less since my sickness last winter, a distress which some days takes from me all power of planning or executing anything; and you know that, except this poor head, my unfortunate household has no mainspring, for nobody feels any kind of responsibility to do a thing in time, place, or manner, except as I oversee it.
Georgiana is so excessively weak, nervous, cross, and fretful, night and day, that she takes all Anna's strength and time with her; and then the children are, like other little sons and daughters of Adam, full of all kinds of absurdity and folly.
When the brain gives out, as mine often does, and one cannot think or remember anything, then what is to be done? All common fatigue, sickness, and exhaustion is nothing to this distress. Yet do I rejoice in my God and know in whom I believe, and only pray that the fire may consume the dross; as to the gold, that is imperishable. No real evil can happen to me, so I fear nothing for the future, and only suffer in the present tense.
God, the mighty God, is mine, of that I am sure, and I know He knows that though flesh and heart fail, I am all the while desiring and trying for his will alone. As to a journey, I need not ask a physician to see that it is needful to me as far as health is concerned, that is to say, all human appearances are that way, but I feel no particular choice about it. If God wills I go. He can easily find means. Money, I suppose, is as plenty with Him now as it always has been, and if He sees it is really best He will doubtless help me."
That the necessary funds were provided is evident from the fact that the journey was undertaken and the invalid spent the summer of 1845 in Hartford, in Natick, and in Boston. She was not, however, permanently benefited by the change, and in the following spring it was deemed necessary to take more radical measures to arrest the progress of her increasing debility. After many consultations and much correspondence it was finally decided that she should go to Dr. Wesselhoeft's watercure establishment at Brattleboro', Vt.
At this time, under date of March, 1846, she writes:
"For all I have had trouble I can think of nothing but the greatness and richness of God's mercy to me in giving me such friends, and in always caring for us in every strait. There has been no day this winter when I have not had abundant reason to see this. Some friend has always stepped in to cheer and help, so that I have wanted for nothing. My husband has developed wonderfully as house-father and nurse. You would laugh to see him in his spectacles gravely marching the little troop in their nightgowns up to bed, tagging after them, as he says, like an old hen after a flock of ducks. The money for my journey has been sent in from an unknown hand in a wonderful manner. All this shows the care of our Father, and encourages me to rejoice and to hope in Him."
A few days after her departure Professor Stowe wrote to his wife:—
"I was greatly comforted by your brief letter from Pittsburgh. When I returned from the steamer the morning you left I found in the post- office a letter from Mrs. G. W. Bull of New York, inclosing $50 on account of the sickness in my family. There was another inclosing $50 more from a Mrs. Devereaux of Raleigh, N. C., besides some smaller sums from others. My heart went out to God in aspiration and gratitude. None of the donors, so far as I know, have I ever seen or heard of before.
"Henry and I have been living in a Robinson Crusoe and man Friday sort of style, greatly to our satisfaction, ever since you went away."
Mrs. Stowe was accompanied to Brattleboro' by her sisters, Catherine and Mary, who were also suffering from troubles that they felt might be relieved by hydropathic treatment.
From May, 1846, until March, 1847, she remained at Brattleboro' without seeing her husband or children. During these weary months her happiest days were those upon which she received letters from home.
The following extracts, taken from letters written by her during this period, are of value, as revealing what it is possible to know of her habits of thought and mode of life at this time.
BRATTLEBORO', September, 1846.
MY DEAR HUSBAND,—I have been thinking of all your trials, and I really pity you in having such a wife. I feel as if I had been only a hindrance to you instead of a help, and most earnestly and daily do I pray to God to restore my health that I may do something for you and my family. I think if I were only at home I could at least sweep and dust, and wash potatoes, and cook a little, and talk some to my children, and should be doing something for my family. But the hope of getting better buoys me up. I go through these tedious and wearisome baths and bear that terrible douche thinking of my children. They never will know how I love them. . . .
There is great truth and good sense in your analysis of the cause of our past failures. We have now come to a sort of crisis. If you and I do as we should for five years to come the character of our three oldest children will be established. This is why I am willing to spend so much time and make such efforts to have health. Oh, that God would give me these five years in full possession of mind and body, that I may train my children as they should be trained. I am fully aware of the importance of system and order in a family. I know that nothing can be done without it; it is the keystone, the sine qu non, and in regard to my children I place it next to piety. At the same time it is true that both Anna [Footnote: The governess, Miss Anna Smith.] and I labor under serious natural disadvantages on this subject. It is not all that is necessary to feel the importance of order and system, but it requires a particular kind of talent to carry it through a family. Very much the same kind of talent, as Uncle Samuel said, which is necessary to make a good prime minister. . . .
I think you might make an excellent sermon to Christians on the care of health, in consideration of the various infirmities and impediments to the developing the results of religion, that result from bodily ill health, and I wish you would make one that your own mind may be more vividly impressed with it. The world is too much in a hurry. Ministers think there is no way to serve Christ but to overdraw on their physical capital for four or five years for Christ and then have nothing to give, but become a mere burden on his hands for the next five. . . .
"The daily course I go through presupposes a degree of vigor beyond anything I ever had before. For this week, I have gone before breakfast to the wave-bath and let all the waves and billows roll over me till every limb ached with cold and my hands would scarcely have feeling enough to dress me. After that I have walked till I was warm, and come home to breakfast with such an appetite! Brown bread and milk are luxuries indeed, and the only fear is that I may eat too much. At eleven comes my douche, to which I have walked in a driving rain for the last two days, and after it walked in the rain again till I was warm. (The umbrella you gave me at Natick answers finely, as well as if it were a silk one.) After dinner I roll ninepins or walk till four, then sitz-bath, and another walk till six.
"I am anxious for your health; do be persuaded to try a long walk before breakfast. You don't know how much good it will do you. Don't sit in your hot study without any ventilation, a stove burning up all the vitality of the air and weakening your nerves, and above all, do amuse yourself. Go to Dr. Mussey's and spend an evening, and to father's and Professor Allen's. When you feel worried go off somewhere and forget and throw it off. I should really rejoice to hear that you and father and mother, with Professor and Mrs. Allen, Mrs. K., and a few others of the same calibre would agree to meet together for dancing cotillons. It would do you all good, and if you took Mr. K.'s wife and poor Miss Much-Afraid, her daughter, into the alliance it would do them good. Bless me! what a profane set everybody would think you were, and yet you are the people of all the world most solemnly in need of it. I wish you could be with me in Brattleboro' and coast down hill on a sled, go sliding and snowballing by moonlight! I would snowball every bit of the hypo out of you! Now, my dear, if you are going to get sick, I am going to come home. There is no use in my trying to get well if you, in the mean time, are going to run yourself down."
MY DEAR SOUL,—I received your most melancholy effusion, and I am sorry to find it's just so. I entirely agree and sympathize. Why didn't you engage the two tombstones—one for you and one for me?
I shall have to copy for your edification a "poem on tombstones" which Kate put at Christmas into the stocking of one of our most hypochondriac gentlemen, who had pished and pshawed at his wife and us for trying to get up a little fun. This poem was fronted with the above vignette and embellished with sundry similar ones, and tied with a long black ribbon. There were only two cantos in very concise style, so I shall send you them entire.
In the kingdom of Mortin I had the good fortin' To find these verses On tombs and on hearses, Which I, being jinglish Have done into English.
The man what's so colickish When his friends are all frolickish As to turn up his noses And turn on his toses Shall have only verses On tombstones and hearses.
But, seriously, my dear husband, you must try and be patient, for this cannot last forever. Be patient and bear it like the toothache, or a driving rain, or anything else that you cannot escape. To see things as through a glass darkly is your infirmity, you know; but the Lord will yet deliver you from this trial. I know how to pity you, for the last three weeks I have suffered from an overwhelming mental depression, a perfect heartsickness. All I wanted was to get home and die. Die I was very sure I should at any rate, but I suppose I was never less prepared to do so."
The long exile was ended in the spring of 1847, and in May Mrs. Stowe returned to her Cincinnati home, where she was welcomed with sincere demonstrations of joy by her husband and children.
Her sixth child, Samuel Charles, was born in January of 1848, and about this time her husband's health became so seriously impaired that it was thought desirable for him in turn to spend a season at the Brattleboro' water-cure. He went in June, 1848, and was compelled by the very precarious state of his health to remain until September, 1849. During this period of more than a year Mrs. Stowe remained in Cincinnati caring for her six children, eking out her slender income by taking boarders and writing when she found time, confronting a terrible epidemic of cholera that carried off one of her little flock, and in every way showing herself to be a brave woman, possessed of a spirit that could rise superior to all adversity. Concerning this time she writes in January, 1849, to her dearest friend:—
MY BELOVED GEORGY,—For six months after my return from Brattleboro' my eyes were so affected that I wrote scarce any, and my health was in so strange a state that I felt no disposition to write. After the birth of little Charley my health improved, but my husband was sick and I have been so loaded and burdened with cares as to drain me dry of all capacity of thought, feeling, memory, or emotion.
"Well, Georgy, I am thirty-seven years old! I am glad of it. I like to grow old and have six children and cares endless. I wish you could see me with my flock all around me. They sum up my cares, and were they gone I should ask myself, What now remains to be done? They are my work, over which I fear and tremble."
In the early summer of 1849 cholera broke out in Cincinnati, and soon became epidemic. Professor Stowe, absent in Brattleboro', and filled with anxiety for the safety of his family, was most anxious, in spite of his feeble health, to return and share the danger with them, but this his wife would not consent to, as is shown by her letters to him, written at this time. In one of them, dated June 29, 1849, she says:—
MY DEAR HUSBAND,—This week has been unusually fatal. The disease in the city has been malignant and virulent. Hearse drivers have scarce been allowed to unharness their horses, while furniture carts and common vehicles are often employed for the removal of the dead. The sable trains which pass our windows, the frequent indications of crowding haste, and the absence of reverent decency have, in many cases, been most painful. Of course all these things, whether we will or no, bring very doleful images to the mind.
On Tuesday one hundred and sixteen deaths from cholera were reported, and that night the air was of that peculiarly oppressive, deathly kind that seems to lie like lead on the brain and soul.
As regards your coming home, I am decidedly opposed to it. First, because the chance of your being taken ill is just as great as the chance of your being able to render us any help. To exchange the salubrious air of Brattleboro' for the pestilent atmosphere of this place with your system rendered sensitive by water-cure treatment would be extremely dangerous. It is a source of constant gratitude to me that neither you nor father are exposed to the dangers here.
Second, none of us are sick, and it is very uncertain whether we shall be.
Third, if we were sick there are so many of us that it is not at all likely we shall all be taken at once.
July 1. Yesterday Mr. Stagg went to the city and found all gloomy and discouraged, while a universal panic seemed to be drawing nearer than ever before. Large piles of coal were burning on the cross walks and in the public squares, while those who had talked confidently of the cholera being confined to the lower classes and those who were imprudent began to feel as did the magicians of old, "This is the finger of God."
Yesterday, upon the recommendation of all the clergymen of the city, the mayor issued a proclamation for a day of general fasting, humiliation, and prayer, to be observed on Tuesday next.
July 3. We are all in good health and try to maintain a calm and cheerful frame of mind. The doctors are nearly used up. Dr. Bowen and Dr. Peck are sick in bed. Dr. Potter and Dr. Pulte ought, I suppose, to be there also. The younger physicians have no rest night or day. Mr. Fisher is laid up from his incessant visitations with the sick and dying. Our own Dr. Brown is likewise prostrated, but we are all resolute to stand by each other, and there are so many of us that it is not likely we can all be taken sick together.
July 4. All well. The meeting yesterday was very solemn and interesting. There is more or less sickness about us, but no very dangerous cases. One hundred and twenty burials from cholera alone yesterday, yet to-day we see parties bent on pleasure or senseless carousing, while to-morrow and next day will witness a fresh harvest of death from them. How we can become accustomed to anything! Awhile ago ten a day dying of cholera struck terror to all hearts; but now the tide has surged up gradually until the deaths average over a hundred daily, and everybody is getting accustomed to it. Gentlemen make themselves agreeable to ladies by reciting the number of deaths in this house or that. This together with talk of funerals, cholera medicines, cholera dietetics, and chloride of lime form the ordinary staple of conversation. Serious persons of course throw in moral reflections to their taste.
July 10. Yesterday little Charley was taken ill, not seriously, and at any other season I should not be alarmed. Now, however, a slight illness seems like a death sentence, and I will not dissemble that I feel from the outset very little hope. I still think it best that you should not return. By so doing you might lose all you have gained. You might expose yourself to a fatal incursion of disease. It is decidedly not your duty to do so.
July 12. Yesterday I carried Charley to Dr. Pulte, who spoke in such a manner as discouraged and frightened me. He mentioned dropsy on the brain as a possible result. I came home with a heavy heart, sorrowing, desolate, and wishing my husband and father were here.
About one o'clock this morning Miss Stewart suddenly opened my door crying, "Mrs. Stowe, Henry is vomiting." I was on my feet in an instant, and lifted up my heart for help. He was, however, in a few minutes relieved. Then I turned my attention to Charley, who was also suffering, put him into a wet sheet, and kept him there until he was in a profuse perspiration. He is evidently getting better, and is auspiciously cross. Never was crossness in a baby more admired. Anna and I have said to each other exultingly a score of times, "How cross the little fellow is! How he does scold!"
July 15. Since I last wrote our house has been a perfect hospital. Charley apparently recovering, but still weak and feeble, unable to walk or play, and so miserably fretful and unhappy. Sunday Anna and I were fairly stricken down, as many others are, with no particular illness, but with such miserable prostration. I lay on the bed all day reading my hymn-book and thinking over passages of Scripture.
July 17. To-day we have been attending poor old Aunt Frankie's [Footnote: An old colored woman.] funeral. She died yesterday morning, taken sick the day before while washing. Good, honest, trustful old soul! She was truly one who hungered and thirsted for righteousness.
Yesterday morning our poor little dog, Daisy, who had been ailing the day before, was suddenly seized with frightful spasms and died in half an hour. Poor little affectionate thing! If I were half as good for my nature as she for hers I should be much better than I am. While we were all mourning over her the news came that Aunt Frankie was breathing her last. Hatty, Eliza, Anna, and I made her shroud yesterday, and this morning I made her cap. We have just come from her grave.
July 23. At last, my dear, the hand of the Lord hath touched us. We have been watching all day by the dying bed of little Charley, who is gradually sinking. After a partial recovery from the attack I described in my last letter he continued for some days very feeble, but still we hoped for recovery. About four days ago he was taken with decided cholera, and now there is no hope of his surviving this night.
Every kindness is shown us by the neighbors. Do not return. All will be over before you could possibly get here, and the epidemic is now said by the physicians to prove fatal to every new case. Bear up. Let us not faint when we are rebuked of Him. I dare not trust myself to say more but shall write again soon.
July 26. MY DEAR HUSBAND,—At last it is over and our dear little one is gone from us. He is now among the blessed. My Charley— my beautiful, loving, gladsome baby, so loving, so sweet, so full of life and hope and strength—now lies shrouded, pale and cold, in the room below. Never was he anything to me but a comfort. He has been my pride and joy. Many a heartache has he cured for me. Many an anxious night have I held him to my bosom and felt the sorrow and loneliness pass out of me with the touch of his little warm hands. Yet I have just seen him in his death agony, looked on his imploring face when I could not help nor soothe nor do one thing, not one, to mitigate his cruel suffering, do nothing but pray in my anguish that he might die soon. I write as though there were no sorrow like my sorrow, yet there has been in this city, as in the land of Egypt, scarce a house without its dead. This heart-break, this anguish, has been everywhere, and when it will end God alone knows. With this severest blow of all, the long years of trial and suffering in the West practically end; for in September, 1849, Professor Stowe returned from Brattleboro', and at the same time received a call to the Collins Professorship at Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, Maine, that he decided to accept.
REMOVAL TO BRUNSWICK, 1850-1852.
MRS. STOWE'S REMARKS ON WRITING AND UNDERSTANDING BIOGRAPHY.—THEIR APPROPRIATENESS TO HER OWN BIOGRAPHY.—REASONS FOR PROFESSOR STOWE'S LEAVING CINCINNATI.—MRS. STOWE'S JOURNEY TO BROOKLYN.—HER BROTHER'S SUCCESS AS A MINISTER.—LETTERS FROM HARTFORD AND BOSTON.—ARRIVES IN BRUNSWICK.—HISTORY OF THE SLAVERY AGITATION.—PRACTICAL WORKING OF THE FUGITIVE SLAVE LAW.—MRS. EDWARD BEECHER'S LETTER TO MRS. STOWE AND ITS EFFECT.—DOMESTIC TRIALS.—BEGINS TO WRITE "UNCLE TOM'S CABIN" AS A SERIAL FOR THE "NATIONAL ERA."—LETTER TO FREDERICK DOUGLASS.— "UNCLE TOM'S CABIN" A WORK OF RELIGIOUS EMOTION.
Early in the winter of 1849 Mrs. Stowe wrote in a private journal in which she recorded thought and feeling concerning religious themes: "It has been said that it takes a man to write the life of a man; that is, there must be similarity of mind in the person who undertakes to present the character of another. This is true, also, of reading and understanding biography. A statesman and general would read the life of Napoleon with the spirit and the understanding, while the commonplace man plods through it as a task. The difference is that the one, being of like mind and spirit with the subject of the biography, is able to sympathize with him in all his thoughts and experiences, and the other is not. The life of Henry Martyn would be tedious and unintelligible to a mind like that of a Richelieu or a Mazarin. They never experienced or saw or heard anything like it, and would be quite at a loss where to place such a man in their mental categories. It is not strange, therefore, that of all biography in the world that of Jesus Christ should be least understood. It is an exception to all the world has ever seen. 'The world knew Him not.' There is, to be sure, a simple grandeur about the life of Jesus which awes almost every mind. The most hardened scoffer, after he has jested and jeered at everything in the temple of Christianity, stands for a moment uncovered and breathless when he comes to the object of its adoration and feels how awful goodness is, and Virtue in her shape how lovely. Yet, after all, the character of the Christ has been looked at and not sympathized with. Men have turned aside to see this great sight. Christians have fallen in adoration, but very few have tried to enter into his sympathies and to feel as He felt." How little she dreamed that these words were to become profoundly appropriate as a description of her own life in its relation to mankind! How little the countless thousands who read, have read, and will read, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" enter into or sympathize with the feelings out of which it was written! A delicate, sensitive woman struggling with poverty, with weary step and aching head attending to the innumerable demands of a large family of growing children; a devoted Christian seeking with strong crying and tears a kingdom not of this world,—is this the popular conception of the author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin"? Nevertheless it is the reality. When, amid the burning ruins of a besieged city, a mother's voice is heard uttering a cry of anguish over a child killed in her arms by a bursting shell, the attention is arrested, the heart is touched. So "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was a cry of anguish from a mother's heart, and uttered in sad sincerity. It was the bursting forth of deep feeling, with all the intense anguish of wounded love. It will be the purpose of this chapter to show this, and to cause to pass before the reader's mind the time, the household, and the heart from which this cry was heard.
After struggling for seventeen years with ill health and every possible vexation and hindrance in his work, Professor Stowe became convinced that it was his duty to himself and his family to seek some other field of labor.
February 6, 1850, he writes to his mother, in Natick, Mass.: "My health has not been good this winter, and I do not suppose that I should live long were I to stay here. I have done a great deal of hard work here, and practiced no little self-denial. I have seen the seminary carried through a most vexatious series of lawsuits, ecclesiastical and civil, and raised from the depths of poverty to comparative affluence, and I feel at liberty now to leave. During the three months of June, July, and August last, more than nine thousand persons died of cholera within three miles of my house, and this winter, in the same territory, there have been more than ten thousand cases of small-pox, many of them of the very worst kind. Several have died on the hill, and the Jesuits' college near us has been quite broken up by it. There have been, however, no cases in our families or in the seminary.
"I have received many letters from friends in the East expressing great gratification at the offer from Bowdoin College, and the hope that I would accept it. I am quite inclined to do so, but the matter is not yet finally settled, and there are difficulties in the way. They can offer me only $1,000 a year, and I must, out of it, hire my own house, at an expense of $75 to $100 a year. Here the trustees offer me $1,500 a year if I will stay, and a good house besides, which would make the whole salary equivalent to $1,800; and to-day I have had another offer from New York city of $2,300. . . . On the whole, I have written to Bowdoin College, proposing to them if they will give me $500 free and clear in addition to the salary, I will accept their proposition, and I suppose that there is no doubt that they will do it. In that case I should come on next spring, in May or June."
This offer from Bowdoin College was additionally attractive to Professor Stowe from the fact that it was the college from which he graduated, and where some of the happiest years of his life had been passed.
The professorship was one just established through the gift of Mrs. Collins, a member of Bowdoin Street Church in Boston, and named in her honor, the "Collins Professorship of Natural and Revealed Religion."
It was impossible for Professor Stowe to leave Lane Seminary till some one could be found to take his place; so it was determined that Mrs. Stowe, with three of the children, should start for the East in April, and having established the family in Brunswick, Professor Stowe was to come on with the remaining children when his engagements would permit.
The following extracts from a letter written by Mrs. Stowe at her brother Henry's, at Brooklyn, April 29, 1850, show us that the journey was accomplished without special incident.
"The boat got into Pittsburgh between four and five on Wednesday. The agent for the Pennsylvania Canal came on board and soon filled out our tickets, calling my three chicks one and a half. We had a quiet and agreeable passage, and crossed the slides at five o'clock in the morning, amid exclamations of unbounded delight from all the children, to whom the mountain scenery was a new and amazing thing. We reached Hollidaysburg about eleven o'clock, and at two o'clock in the night were called up to get into the cars at Jacktown. Arriving at Philadelphia about three o'clock in the afternoon, we took the boat and railroad line for New York.
"At Lancaster we telegraphed to Brooklyn, and when we arrived in New York, between ten and eleven at night, Cousin Augustus met us and took us over to Brooklyn. We had ridden three hundred miles since two o'clock that morning, and were very tired. . . . I am glad we came that way, for the children have seen some of the finest scenery in our country. . . . Henry's people are more than ever in love with him, and have raised his salary to $3,300, and given him a beautiful horse and carriage worth $600. . . . My health is already improved by the journey, and I was able to walk a good deal between the locks on the canal. As to furniture, I think that we may safely afford an outlay of $150, and that will purchase all that may be necessary to set us up, and then we can get more as we have means and opportunity. . . . If I got anything for those pieces I wrote before coming away, I would like to be advised thereof by you. . . . My plan is to spend this week in Brooklyn, the next in Hartford, the next in Boston, and go on to Brunswick some time in May or June."
May 18, 1850, we find her writing from Boston, where she is staying with her brother, Rev. Edward Beecher:—
MY DEAR HUSBAND,—I came here from Hartford on Monday, and have since then been busily engaged in the business of buying and packing furniture.
I expect to go to Brunswick next Tuesday night by the Bath steamer, which way I take as the cheaper. My traveling expenses, when I get to Brunswick, including everything, will have been seventy-six dollars. . . . And now, lastly, my dear husband, you have never been wanting . . . in kindness, consideration, and justice, and I want you to reflect calmly how great a work has been imposed upon me at a time when my situation particularly calls for rest, repose, and quiet.
To come alone such a distance with the whole charge of children, accounts, and baggage; to push my way through hurrying crowds, looking out for trunks, and bargaining with hackmen, has been a very severe trial of my strength, to say nothing of the usual fatigues of traveling.
It was at this time, and as a result of the experiences of this trying period, that Mrs. Stowe wrote that little tract dear to so many Christian hearts, "Earthly Care a Heavenly Discipline."
On the eve of sailing for Brunswick, Mrs. Stowe writes to Mrs. Sykes (Miss May): "I am wearied and worn out with seeing to bedsteads, tables, chairs, mattresses, with thinking about shipping my goods and making out accounts, and I have my trunk yet to pack, as I go on board the Bath steamer this evening. I beg you to look up Brunswick on the map; it is about half a day's ride in the cars from Boston. I expect to reach there by the way of Bath by to-morrow forenoon. There I have a house engaged and kind friends who offer every hospitable assistance. Come, therefore, to see me, and we will have a long talk in the pine woods, and knit up the whole history from the place where we left it."
Before leaving Boston she had written to her husband in Cincinnati: "You are not able just now to bear anything, my dear husband, therefore trust all to me; I never doubt or despair. I am already making arrangements with editors to raise money.
"I have sent some overtures to Wright. If he accepts my pieces and pays you for them, take the money and use it as you see necessary; if not, be sure and bring the pieces back to me. I am strong in spirit, and God who has been with me in so many straits will not forsake me now. I know Him well; He is my Father, and though I may be a blind and erring child, He will help me for all that. My trust through all errors and sins is in Him. He who helped poor timid Jacob through all his fears and apprehensions, who helped Abraham even when he sinned, who was with David in his wanderings, and who held up the too confident Peter when he began to sink,—He will help us, and his arms are about us, so that we shall not sink, my dear husband."
May 29, 1850, she writes from Brunswick: "After a week of most incessant northeast storm, most discouraging and forlorn to the children, the sun has at length come out. . . . There is a fair wind blowing, and every prospect, therefore, that our goods will arrive promptly from Boston, and that we shall be in our own house by next week. Mrs. Upham [Footnote: Wife of Professor Upham of Bowdoin College.] has done everything for me, giving up time and strength and taking charge of my affairs in a way without which we could not have got along at all in a strange place and in my present helpless condition. This family is delightful, there is such a perfect sweetness and quietude in all its movements. Not a harsh word or hasty expression is ever heard. It is a beautiful pattern of a Christian family, a beautiful exemplification of religion. . . ."
The events of the first summer in Brunswick are graphically described by Mrs. Stowe in a letter written to her sister-in-law, Mrs. George Beecher, December 17, 1850.
MY DEAR SISTER,—Is it really true that snow is on the ground and Christmas coming, and I have not written unto thee, most dear sister? No, I don't believe it! I haven't been so naughty—it's all a mistake— yes, written I must have—and written I have, too—in the night- watches as I lay on my bed—such beautiful letters—I wish you had only gotten them; but by day it has been hurry, hurry, hurry, and drive, drive, drive! or else the calm of a sick-room, ever since last spring.
I put off writing when your letter first came because I meant to write you a long letter—a full and complete one, and so days slid by,—and became weeks,—and my little Charlie came . . . etc. and etc.!!! Sarah, when I look back, I wonder at myself, not that I forget any one thing that I should remember, but that I have remembered anything. From the time that I left Cincinnati with my children to come forth to a country that I knew not of almost to the present time, it has seemed as if I could scarcely breathe, I was so pressed with care. My head dizzy with the whirl of railroads and steamboats; then ten days' sojourn in Boston, and a constant toil and hurry in buying my furniture and equipments; and then landing in Brunswick in the midst of a drizzly, inexorable northeast storm, and beginning the work of getting in order a deserted, dreary, damp old house. All day long running from one thing to another, as for example, thus:—-
Mrs. Stowe, how shall I make this lounge, and what shall I cover the back with first?
Mrs. Stowe. With the coarse cotton in the closet.
Woman. Mrs. Stowe, there isn't any more soap to clean the windows.
Mrs. Stowe. Where shall I get soap?
Here H., run up to the store and get two bars.
There is a man below wants to see Mrs. Stowe about the cistern. Before you go down, Mrs. Stowe, just show me how to cover this round end of the lounge.
There 's a man up from the depot, and he says that a box has come for Mrs. Stowe, and it's coming up to the house; will you come down and see about it?
Mrs. Stowe, don't go till you have shown the man how to nail that carpet in the corner. He 's nailed it all crooked; what shall he do? The black thread is all used up, and what shall I do about putting gimp on the back of that sofa? Mrs. Stowe, there is a man come with a lot of pails and tinware from Furbish; will you settle the bill now?
Mrs. Stowe, here is a letter just come from Boston inclosing that bill of lading; the man wants to know what he shall do with the goods. If you will tell me what to say I will answer the letter for you.
Mrs. Stowe, the meat-man is at the door. Hadn't we better get a little beefsteak, or something, for dinner?
Shall Hatty go to Boardman's for some more black thread?
Mrs. Stowe, this cushion is an inch too wide for the frame. What shall we do now?
Mrs. Stowe, where are the screws of the black walnut bedstead?
Here's a man has brought in these bills for freight. Will you settle them now?
Mrs. Stowe, I don't understand using this great needle. I can't make it go through the cushion; it sticks in the cotton.
Then comes a letter from my husband saying he is sick abed, and all but dead; don't ever expect to see his family again; wants to know how I shall manage, in case I am left a widow; knows we shall get in debt and never get out; wonders at my courage; thinks I am very sanguine; warns me to be prudent, as there won't be much to live on in case of his death, etc., etc., etc. I read the letter and poke it into the stove, and proceed. . . .
Some of my adventures were quite funny; as for example: I had in my kitchen elect no sink, cistern, or any other water privileges, so I bought at the cotton factory two of the great hogsheads they bring oil in, which here in Brunswick are often used for cisterns, and had them brought up in triumph to my yard, and was congratulating myself on my energy, when lo and behold! it was discovered that there was no cellar door except one in the kitchen, which was truly a strait and narrow way, down a long pair of stairs. Hereupon, as saith John Bunyan, I fell into a muse,—how to get my cisterns into my cellar. In days of chivalry I might have got a knight to make me a breach through the foundation walls, but that was not to be thought of now, and my oil hogsheads standing disconsolately in the yard seemed to reflect no great credit on my foresight. In this strait I fell upon a real honest Yankee cooper, whom I besought, for the reputation of his craft and mine, to take my hogsheads to pieces, carry them down in staves, and set them up again, which the worthy man actually accomplished one fair summer forenoon, to the great astonishment of "us Yankees." When my man came to put up the pump, he stared very hard to see my hogsheads thus translated and standing as innocent and quiet as could be in the cellar, and then I told him, in a very mild, quiet way, that I got 'em taken to pieces and put together—just as if I had been always in the habit of doing such things. Professor Smith came down and looked very hard at them and then said, "Well, nothing can beat a willful woman." Then followed divers negotiations with a very clever, but (with reverence) somewhat lazy gentleman of jobs, who occupieth a carpenter's shop opposite to mine. This same John Titcomb, my very good friend, is a character peculiar to Yankeedom. He is part owner and landlord of the house I rent, and connected by birth with all the best families in town; a man of real intelligence, and good education, a great reader, and quite a thinker. Being of an ingenious turn he does painting, gilding, staining, upholstery jobs, varnishing, all in addition to his primary trade of carpentry. But he is a man studious of ease, and fully possessed with the idea that man wants but little here below; so he boards himself in his workshop on crackers and herring, washed down with cold water, and spends his time working, musing, reading new publications, and taking his comfort. In his shop you shall see a joiner's bench, hammers, planes, saws, gimlets, varnish, paint, picture frames, fence posts, rare old china, one or two fine portraits of his ancestry, a bookcase full of books, the tooth of a whale, an old spinning-wheel and spindle, a lady's parasol frame, a church lamp to be mended, in short, Henry says Mr. Titcomb's shop is like the ocean; there is no end to the curiosities in it.
In all my moving and fussing Mr. Titcomb has been my right-hand man. Whenever a screw was loose, a nail to be driven, a lock mended, a pane of glass set, and these cases were manifold, he was always on hand. But my sink was no fancy job, and I believe nothing but a very particular friendship would have moved him to undertake it. So this same sink lingered in a precarious state for some weeks, and when I had nothing else to do, I used to call and do what I could in the way of enlisting the good man's sympathies in its behalf.
How many times I have been in and seated myself in one of the old rocking-chairs, and talked first of the news of the day, the railroad, the last proceedings in Congress, the probabilities about the millennium, and thus brought the conversation by little and little round to my sink! . . . because, till the sink was done, the pump could not be put up, and we couldn't have any rain-water. Sometimes my courage would quite fail me to introduce the subject, and I would talk of everything else, turn and get out of the shop, and then turn back as if a thought had just struck my mind, and say:—
"Oh, Mr. Titcomb! about that sink?"
"Yes, ma'am, I was thinking about going down street this afternoon to look out stuff for it."
"Yes, sir, if you would be good enough to get it done as soon as possible; we are in great need of it."
"I think there's no hurry. I believe we are going to have a dry time now, so that you could not catch any water, and you won't need a pump at present."
These negotiations extended from the first of June to the first of July, and at last my sink was completed, and so also was a new house spout, concerning which I had had divers communings with Deacon Dunning of the Baptist church. Also during this time good Mrs. Mitchell and myself made two sofas, or lounges, a barrel chair, divers bedspreads, pillow cases, pillows, bolsters, mattresses; we painted rooms; we revarnished furniture; we—what didn't we do?
Then came on Mr. Stowe; and then came the eighth of July and my little Charley. I was really glad for an excuse to lie in bed, for I was full tired, I can assure you. Well, I was what folks call very comfortable for two weeks, when my nurse had to leave me. . . .
During this time I have employed my leisure hours in making up my engagements with newspaper editors. I have written more than anybody, or I myself, would have thought. I have taught an hour a day in our school, and I have read two hours every evening to the children. The children study English history in school, and I am reading Scott's historic novels in their order. To-night I finish the "Abbot;" shall begin "Kenilworth" next week; yet I am constantly pursued and haunted by the idea that I don't do anything. Since I began this note I have been called off at least a dozen times; once for the fish-man, to buy a codfish; once to see a man who had brought me some barrels of apples; once to see a book-man; then to Mrs. Upham, to see about a drawing I promised to make for her; then to nurse the baby; then into the kitchen to make a chowder for dinner; and now I am at it again, for nothing but deadly determination enables me ever to write; it is rowing against wind and tide.
I suppose you think now I have begun, I am never going to stop, and in truth it looks like it; but the spirit moves now and I must obey.
Christmas is coming, and our little household is all alive with preparations; every one collecting their little gifts with wonderful mystery and secrecy. . . .
To tell the truth, dear, I am getting tired; my neck and back ache, and I must come to a close.
Your ready kindness to me in the spring I felt very much; and why I did not have the sense to have sent you one line just by way of acknowledgment, I'm sure I don't know; I felt just as if I had, till I awoke, and behold! I had not. But, my dear, if my wits are somewhat wool-gathering and unsettled, my heart is as true as a star. I love you, and have thought of you often.
This fall I have felt often sad, lonesome, both very unusual feelings with me in these busy days; but the breaking away from my old home, and leaving father and mother, and coming to a strange place affected me naturally. In those sad hours my thoughts have often turned to George; I have thought with encouragement of his blessed state, and hoped that I should soon be there too. I have many warm and kind friends here, and have been treated with great attention and kindness. Brunswick is a delightful residence, and if you come East next summer you must come to my new home. George [Footnote: Her brother George's only child.] would delight to go a-fishing with the children, and see the ships, and sail in the sailboats, and all that.
Give Aunt Harriet's love to him, and tell him when he gets to be a painter to send me a picture. Affectionately yours, H. STOWE.
The year 1850 is one memorable in the history of our nation as well as in the quiet household that we have followed in its pilgrimage from Cincinnati to Brunswick.
The signers of the Declaration of Independence and the statesmen and soldiers of the Revolution were no friends of negro slavery. In fact, the very principles of the Declaration of Independence sounded the deathknell of slavery forever. No stronger utterances against this national sin are to be found anywhere than in the letters and published writings of Jefferson, Washington, Hamilton, and Patrick Henry. "Jefferson encountered difficulties greater than he could overcome, and after vain wrestlings the words that broke from him, 'I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just and that his justice cannot sleep forever,' were the words of despair."
"It was the desire of Washington's heart that Virginia should remove slavery by a public act; and as the prospects of a general emancipation grew more and more dim . . . he did all that he could by bequeathing freedom to his own slaves." [Footnote: Bancroft's funeral oration on Lincoln.]
Hamilton was one of the founders of the Manumission Society, the object of which was the abolition of slaves in the State of New York. Patrick Henry, speaking of slavery, said: "A serious view of this subject gives a gloomy prospect to future times." Slavery was thought by the founders of our Republic to be a dying institution, and all the provisions of the Constitution touching slavery looked towards gradual emancipation as an inevitable result of the growth of the democracy.
From an economic standpoint slave labor had ceased to be profitable. "The whole interior of the Southern States was languishing, and its inhabitants emigrating, for want of some object to engage their attention and employ their industry." The cultivation of cotton was not profitable for the reason that there was no machine for separating the seed from the fibre.
This was the state of affairs in 1793, when Eli Whitney, a New England mechanic, at this time residing in Savannah, Georgia, invented his cotton-gin, or a machine to separate seed and fibre. "The invention of this machine at once set the whole country in active motion." [Footnote: Greeley's American Conflict, vol. i. p. 65.] The effect of this invention may to some extent be appreciated when we consider that whereas in 1793 the Southern States produced only about five or ten thousand bales, in 1859 they produced over five millions. But with this increase of the cotton culture the value of slave property was augmented. Slavery grew and spread. In 1818 to 1821 it first became a factor in politics during the Missouri compromise. By this compromise slavery was not to extend north of latitude 36 30'. From the time of this compromise till the year 1833 the slavery agitation slumbered. This was the year that the British set the slaves free in their West Indian dependencies. This act caused great uneasiness among the slaveholders of the South. The National Anti-Slavery Society met in Philadelphia and pronounced slavery a national sin, which could be atoned for only by immediate emancipation. Such men as Garrison and Lundy began a work of agitation that was soon to set the whole nation in a ferment. From this time on slavery became the central problem of American history, and the line of cleavage in American politics. The invasion of Florida when it was yet the territory of a nation at peace with the United States, and its subsequent purchase from Spain, the annexation of Texas and the war with Mexico, were the direct results of the policy of the pro-slavery party to increase its influence and its territory. In 1849 the State of California knocked at the door of the Union for admission as a free State. This was bitterly opposed by the slaveholders of the South, who saw in it a menace to the slave- power from the fact that no slave State was seeking admission at the same time. Both North and South the feeling ran so high as to threaten the dismemberment of the Union, and the scenes of violence and bloodshed which were to come eleven years afterwards. It was to preserve the Union and avert the danger of the hour that Henry Clay brought forward his celebrated compromise measures in the winter of 1850. To conciliate the North, California was to be admitted as a free State. To pacify the slaveholders of the South, more stringent laws were to be enacted "concerning persons bound to service in one State and escaping into another."
The 7th of March, 1850, Daniel Webster made his celebrated speech, in which he defended this compromise, and the abolitionists of the North were filled with indignation, which found its most fitting expression in Whittier's "Ichabod:"
"So fallen, so lost, the glory from his gray hairs gone." . . . "When honor dies the man is dead."
It was in the midst of this excitement that Mrs. Stowe, with her children and her modest hopes for the future, arrived at the house of her brother, Dr. Edward Beecher.
Dr. Beecher had been the intimate friend and supporter of Lovejoy, who had been murdered by the slaveholders at Alton for publishing an anti- slavery paper. His soul was stirred to its very depths by the iniquitous law which was at this time being debated in Congress,—a law which not only gave the slaveholder of the South the right to seek out and bring back into slavery any colored person whom he claimed as a slave, but commanded the people of the free States to assist in this revolting business. The most frequent theme of conversation while Mrs. Stowe was in Boston was this proposed law, and when she arrived in Brunswick her soul was all on fire with indignation at this new indignity and wrong about to be inflicted by the slave-power on the innocent and defenseless.
After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, letter after letter was received by Mrs. Stowe in Brunswick from Mrs. Edward Beecher and other friends, describing the heart-rending scenes which were the inevitable results of the enforcement of this terrible law. Cities were more available for the capturing of escaped slaves than the country, and Boston, which claimed to have the cradle of liberty, opened her doors to the slavehunters. The sorrow and anguish caused thereby no pen could describe. Families were broken up. Some hid in garrets and cellars. Some fled to the wharves and embarked in ships and sailed for Europe. Others went to Canada. One poor fellow who was doing good business as a crockery merchant, and supporting his family well, when he got notice that his master, whom he had left many years before, was after him, set out for Canada in midwinter on foot, as he did not dare to take a public conveyance. He froze both of his feet on the journey, and they had to be amputated. Mrs. Edward Beecher, in a letter to Mrs. Stowe's son, writing of this period, says:—-
"I had been nourishing an anti-slavery spirit since Lovejoy was murdered for publishing in his paper articles against slavery and intemperance, when our home was in Illinois. These terrible things which were going on in Boston were well calculated to rouse up this spirit. What can I do? I thought. Not much myself, but I know one who can. So I wrote several letters to your mother, telling her of various heart-rending events caused by the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law. I remember distinctly saying in one of them, 'Now, Hattie, if I could use a pen as you can, I would write something that would make this whole nation feel what an accursed thing slavery is.' . . . When we lived in Boston your mother often visited us. . . . Several numbers of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' were written in your Uncle Edward's study at these times, and read to us from the manuscripts."
A member of Mrs. Stowe's family well remembers the scene in the little parlor in Brunswick when the letter alluded to was received. Mrs. Stowe herself read it aloud to the assembled family, and when she came to the passage, "I would write something that would make this whole nation feel what an accursed thing slavery is," Mrs. Stowe rose up from her chair, crushing the letter in her hand, and with an expression on her face that stamped itself on the mind of her child, said: "I will write something. I will if I live."
This was the origin of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and Professor Cairnes has well said in his admirable work, "The Slave Power," "The Fugitive Slave Law has been to the slave power a questionable gain. Among its first-fruits was 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.'"
The purpose of writing a story that should make the whole nation feel that slavery was an accursed thing was not immediately carried out. In December, 1850, Mrs. Stowe writes: "Tell sister Katy I thank her for her letter and will answer it. As long as the baby sleeps with me nights I can't do much at anything, but I will do it at last. I will write that thing if I live.
"What are folks in general saying about the slave law, and the stand taken by Boston ministers universally, except Edward?
"To me it is incredible, amazing, mournful!! I feel as if I should be willing to sink with it, were all this sin and misery to sink in the sea. . . . I wish father would come on to Boston, and preach on the Fugitive Slave Law, as he once preached on the slave-trade, when I was a little girl in Litchfield. I sobbed aloud in one pew and Mrs. Judge Reeves in another. I wish some Martin Luther would arise to set this community right."
December 22, 1850, she writes to her husband in Cincinnati: "Christmas has passed, not without many thoughts of our absent one. If you want a description of the scenes in our family preceding it, vide a 'New Year's Story,' which I have sent to the 'New York Evangelist.' I am sorry that in the hurry of getting off this piece and one for the 'Era' you were neglected." The piece for the "Era" was a humorous article called "A Scholar's Adventures in the Country," being, in fact, a picture drawn from life and embodying Professor Stowe's efforts in the department of agriculture while in Cincinnati.
December 29,1850. "We have had terrible weather here. I remember such a storm when I was a child in Litchfield. Father and mother went to Warren, and were almost lost in the snowdrifts.
"Sunday night I rather watched than slept. The wind howled, and the house rocked just as our old Litchfield house used to. The cold has been so intense that the children have kept begging to get up from table at meal-times to warm feet and fingers. Our air-tight stoves warm all but the floor,—-heat your head and keep your feet freezing. If I sit by the open fire in the parlor my back freezes, if I sit in my bedroom and try to write my head aches and my feet are cold. I am projecting a sketch for the 'Era' on the capabilities of liberated blacks to take care of themselves. Can't you find out for me how much Willie Watson has paid for the redemption of his friends, and get any items in figures of that kind that you can pick up in Cincinnati? . . . When I have a headache and feel sick, as I do to-day, there is actually not a place in the house where I can lie down and take a nap without being disturbed. Overhead is the school-room, next door is the dining-room, and the girls practice there two hours a day. If I lock my door and lie down some one is sure to be rattling the latch before fifteen minutes have passed. . . . There is no doubt in my mind that our expenses this year will come two hundred dollars, if not three, beyond our salary. We shall be able to come through, notwithstanding; but I don't want to feel obliged to work as hard every year as I have this. I can earn four hundred dollars a year by writing, but I don't want to feel that I must, and when weary with teaching the children, and tending the baby, and buying provisions, and mending dresses, and darning stockings, sit down and write a piece for some paper."
January 12, 1851, Mrs. Stowe again writes to Professor Stowe at Cincinnati: "Ever since we left Cincinnati to come here the good hand of God has been visibly guiding our way. Through what difficulties have we been brought! Though we knew not where means were to come from, yet means have been furnished every step of the way, and in every time of need. I was just in some discouragement with regard to my writing; thinking that the editor of the 'Era' was overstocked with contributors, and would not want my services another year, and lo! he sends me one hundred dollars, and ever so many good words with it. Our income this year will be seventeen hundred dollars in all, and I hope to bring our expenses within thirteen hundred."
It was in the month of February after these words were written that Mrs. Stowe was seated at communion service in the college church at Brunswick. Suddenly, like the unrolling of a picture, the scene of the death of Uncle Tom passed before her mind. So strongly was she affected that it was with difficulty she could keep from weeping aloud. Immediately on returning home she took pen and paper and wrote out the vision which had been as it were blown into her mind as by the rushing of a mighty wind. Gathering her family about her she read what she had written. Her two little ones of ten and twelve years of age broke into convulsions of weeping, one of them saying through is sobs, "Oh, mamma! slavery is the most cruel thing in the world." Thus Uncle Tom was ushered into the world, and it was, as we said at the beginning, a cry, an immediate, an involuntary expression of deep, impassioned feeling.
Twenty-five years afterwards Mrs. Stowe wrote in a letter to one of her children, of this period of her life: "I well remember the winter you were a baby and I was writing 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' My heart was bursting with the anguish excited by the cruelty and injustice our nation was showing to the slave, and praying God to let me do a little and to cause my cry for them to be heard. I remember many a night weeping over you as you lay sleeping beside me, and I thought of the slave mothers whose babes were torn from them."
It was not till the following April that the first chapter of the story was finished and sent on to the "National Era" at Washington.
In July Mrs. Stowe wrote to Frederick Douglass the following letter, which is given entire as the best possible introduction to the history of the career of that memorable work, "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
BRUNSWICK, July 9, 1851. FREDERICK DOUGLASS, ESQ.:
Sir,—-You may perhaps have noticed in your editorial readings a series of articles that I am furnishing for the "Era" under the title of "Uncle Tom's Cabin, or Life among the Lowly.".
In the course of my story the scene will fall upon a cotton plantation. I am very desirous, therefore, to gain information from one who has been an actual laborer on one, and it occurred to me that in the circle of your acquaintance there might be one who would be able to communicate to me some such information as I desire. I have before me an able paper written by a Southern planter, in which the details and modus operandi are given from his point of sight. I am anxious to have something more from another standpoint. I wish to be able to make a picture that shall be graphic and true to nature in its details. Such a person as Henry Bibb, if in the country, might give me just the kind of information I desire. You may possibly know of some other person. I will subjoin to this letter a list of questions, which in that case you will do me a favor by inclosing to the individual, with the request that he will at earliest convenience answer them.
For some few weeks past I have received your paper through the mail, and have read it with great interest, and desire to return my acknowledgments for it. It will be a pleasure to me at some time when less occupied to contribute something to its columns. I have noticed with regret your sentiments on two subjects—the church and African colonization, . . . with the more regret because I think you have a considerable share of reason for your feelings on both these subjects; but I would willingly, if I could, modify your views on both points.
In the first place you say the church is "pro-slavery." There is a sense in which this may be true. The American church of all denominations, taken as a body, comprises the best and most conscientious people in the country. I do not say it comprises none but these, or that none such are found out of it, but only if a census were taken of the purest and most high principled men and women of the country, the majority of them would be found to be professors of religion in some of the various Christian denominations. This fact has given to the church great weight in this country—the general and predominant spirit of intelligence and probity and piety of its majority has given it that degree of weight that it has the power to decide the great moral questions of the day. Whatever it unitedly and decidedly sets itself against as moral evil it can put down. In this sense the church is responsible for the sin of slavery. Dr. Barnes has beautifully and briefly expressed this on the last page of his work on slavery, when he says: "Not all the force out of the church could sustain slavery an hour if it were not sustained in it." It then appears that the church has the power to put an end to this evil and does not do it. In this sense she may be said to be pro-slavery. But the church has the same power over intemperance, and Sabbath-breaking, and sin of all kinds. There is not a doubt that if the moral power of the church were brought up to the New Testament standpoint it is sufficient to put an end to all these as well as to slavery. But I would ask you, Would you consider it a fair representation of the Christian church in this country to say that it is pro-intemperance, pro-Sabbath-breaking, and pro everything that it might put down if it were in a higher state of moral feeling? If you should make a list of all the abolitionists of the country, I think that you would find a majority of them in the church—certainly some of the most influential and efficient ones are ministers.
I am a minister's daughter, and a minister's wife, and I have had six brothers in the ministry (one is in heaven); I certainly ought to know something of the feelings of ministers on this subject. I was a child in 1820 when the Missouri question was agitated, and one of the strongest and deepest impressions on my mind was that made by my father's sermons and prayers, and the anguish of his soul for the poor slave at that time. I remember his preaching drawing tears down the hardest faces of the old farmers in his congregation.
I well remember his prayers morning and evening in the family for "poor, oppressed, bleeding Africa," that the time of her deliverance might come; prayers offered with strong crying and tears, and which indelibly impressed my heart and made me what I am from my very soul, the enemy of all slavery. Every brother I have has been in his sphere a leading anti-slavery man. One of them was to the last the bosom friend and counselor of Lovejoy. As for myself and husband, we have for the last seventeen years lived on the border of a slave State, and we have never shrunk from the fugitives, and we have helped them with all we had to give. I have received the children of liberated slaves into a family school, and taught them with my own children, and it has been the influence that we found in the church and by the altar that has made us do all this. Gather up all the sermons that have been published on this offensive and unchristian Fugitive Slave Law, and you will find that those against it are numerically more than those in its favor, and yet some of the strongest opponents have not published their sermons. Out of thirteen ministers who meet with my husband weekly for discussion of moral subjects, only three are found who will acknowledge or obey this law in any shape.
After all, my brother, the strength and hope of your oppressed race does lie in the church—in hearts united to Him of whom it is said, "He shall spare the souls of the needy, and precious shall their blood be in his sight." Everything is against you, but Jesus Christ is for you, and He has not forgotten his church, misguided and erring though it be. I have looked all the field over with despairing eyes; I see no hope but in Him. This movement must and will become a purely religious one. The light will spread in churches, the tone of feeling will rise, Christians North and South will give up all connection with, and take up their testimony against, slavery, and thus the work will be done.
This letter gives us a conception of the state of moral and religious exaltation of the heart and mind out of which flowed chapter after chapter of that wonderful story. It all goes to prove the correctness of the position from which we started, that "Uncle Tom's Cabin" came from the heart rather than the head. It was an outburst of deep feeling, a cry in the darkness. The writer no more thought of style or literary excellence than the mother who rushes into the street and cries for help to save her children from a burning house thinks of the teachings of the rhetorician or the elocutionist.
A few years afterwards Mrs. Stowe, writing of this story, said, "This story is to show how Jesus Christ, who liveth and was dead, and now is alive and forever-more, has still a mother's love for the poor and lowly, and that no man can sink so low but that Jesus Christ will stoop to take his hand. Who so low, who so poor, who so despised as the American slave? The law almost denies his existence as a person, and regards him for the most part as less than a man—a mere thing, the property of another. The law forbids him to read or write, to hold property, to make a contract, or even to form a legal marriage. It takes from him all legal right to the wife of his bosom, the children of his body. He can do nothing, possess nothing, acquire nothing, but what must belong to his master. Yet even to this slave Jesus Christ stoops, from where he sits at the right hand of the Father, and says, 'Fear not, thou whom man despiseth, for I am thy brother. Fear not, for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name, thou art mine.'"
"Uncle Tom's Cabin" is a work of religion; the fundamental principles of the gospel applied to the burning question of negro slavery. It sets forth those principles of the Declaration of Independence that made Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington, and Patrick Henry anti-slavery men; not in the language of the philosopher, but in a series of pictures. Mrs. Stowe spoke to the understanding and moral sense through the imagination.
"Uncle Tom's Cabin" made the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law an impossibility. It aroused the public sentiment of the world by arousing in the concrete that which had been a mere series of abstract propositions. It was, as we have already said, an appeal to the imagination through a series of pictures. People are like children, and understand pictures better than words. Some one rushes into your dining-room while you are at breakfast and cries out, "Terrible railroad accident, forty killed and wounded, six were burned alive."
"Oh, shocking! dreadful!" you exclaim, and yet go quietly on with your rolls and coffee. But suppose you stood at that instant by the wreck, and saw the mangled dead, and heard the piercing shrieks of the wounded, you would be faint and dizzy with the intolerable spectacle.
So "Uncle Tom's Cabin" made the crack of the slavedriver's whip, and the cries of the tortured blacks ring in every household in the land, till human hearts could endure it no longer.
UNCLE TOM'S CABIN, 1852.
"UNCLE TOM'S CABIN" AS A SERIAL IN THE "NATIONAL ERA."—AN OFFER FOR ITS PUBLICATION IN BOOK FORM.—WILL IT BE A SUCCESS?—AN UNPRECEDENTED CIRCULATION.—CONGRATULATORY MESSAGES.—KIND WORDS FROM ABROAD.—MRS. STOWE TO THE EARL OF CARLISLE.—LETTERS FROM AND TO LORD SHAFTESBURY. —CORRESPONDENCE WITH ARTHUR HELPS.
The wonderful story that was begun in the "National Era," June 5, 1851, and was announced to run for about three months, was not completed in that paper until April 1, 1852. It had been contemplated as a mere magazine tale of perhaps a dozen chapters, but once begun it could no more be controlled than the waters of the swollen Mississippi, bursting through a crevasse in its levees. The intense interest excited by the story, the demands made upon the author for more facts, the unmeasured words of encouragement to keep on in her good work that poured in from all sides, and above all the ever- growing conviction that she had been intrusted with a great and holy mission, compelled her to keep on until the humble tale had assumed the proportions of a volume prepared to stand among the most notable books in the world. As Mrs. Stowe has since repeatedly said, "I could not control the story; it wrote itself;" or "I the author of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin'? No, indeed. The Lord himself wrote it, and I was but the humblest of instruments in his hand. To Him alone should be given all the praise."
Although the publication of the "National Era" has been long since suspended, the journal was in those days one of decided literary merit and importance. On its title-page, with the name of Dr. Gamaliel Bailey as editor, appeared that of John Greenleaf Whittier as corresponding editor. In its columns Mrs. Southworth made her first literary venture, while Alice and Phoebe Gary, Grace Greenwood, and a host of other well-known names were published with that of Mrs. Stowe, which appeared last of all in its prospectus for 1851.
Before the conclusion of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" Mrs. Stowe had so far outstripped her contemporaries that her work was pronounced by competent judges to be the most powerful production ever contributed to the magazine literature of this country, and she stood in the foremost rank of American writers.
After finishing her story Mrs. Stowe penned the following appeal to its more youthful readers, and its serial publication was concluded:—
"The author of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' must now take leave of a wide circle of friends whose faces she has never seen, but whose sympathies coming to her from afar have stimulated and cheered her in her work.
"The thought of the pleasant family circles that she has been meeting in spirit week after week has been a constant refreshment to her, and she cannot leave them without a farewell.
"In particular the dear children who have followed her story have her warmest love. Dear children, you will soon be men and women, and I hope that you will learn from this story always to remember and pity the poor and oppressed. When you grow up, show your pity by doing all you can for them. Never, if you can help it, let a colored child be shut out from school or treated with neglect and contempt on account of his color. Remember the sweet example of little Eva, and try to feel the same regard for all that she did. Then, when you grow up, I hope the foolish and unchristian prejudice against people merely on account of their complexion will be done away with.
"Farewell, dear children, until we meet again."
With the completion of the story the editor of the "Era" wrote: "Mrs. Stowe has at last brought her great work to a close. We do not recollect any production of an American writer that has excited more general and profound interest."
For the story as a serial the author received $300. In the mean time, however, it had attracted the attention of Mr. John P. Jewett, a Boston publisher, who promptly made overtures for its publication in book form. He offered Mr. and Mrs. Stowe a half share in the profits, provided they would share with him the expense of publication. This was refused by Professor Stowe, who said he was altogether too poor to assume any such risk; and the agreement finally made was that the author should receive a ten per cent royalty upon all sales.
Mrs. Stowe had no reason to hope for any large pecuniary gain from this publication, for it was practically her first book. To be sure, she had, in 1832, prepared a small school geography for a Western publisher, and ten years later the Harpers had brought out her "Mayflower." Still, neither of these had been sufficiently remunerative to cause her to regard literary work as a money-making business, and in regard to this new contract she writes: "I did not know until a week afterward precisely what terms Mr. Stowe had made, and I did not care. I had the most perfect indifference to the bargain."
The agreement was signed March 13, 1852, and, as by arrangement with the "National Era" the book publication of the story was authorized before its completion as a serial, the first edition of five thousand copies was issued on the twentieth of the same month.
In looking over the first semi-annual statement presented by her publishers we find Mrs. Stowe charged, a few days before the date of publication of her book, with "one copy U. T. C. cloth $.56," and this was the first copy of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" ever sold in book form. Five days earlier we find her charged with one copy of Horace Mann's speeches. In writing of this critical period of her life Mrs. Stowe says:—
"After sending the last proof-sheet to the office I sat alone reading Horace Mann's eloquent plea for these young men and women, then about to be consigned to the slave warehouse of Bruin & Hill in Alexandria, Va.,—a plea impassioned, eloquent, but vain, as all other pleas on that side had ever proved in all courts hitherto. It seemed that there was no hope, that nobody would hear, nobody would read, nobody pity; that this frightful system, that had already pursued its victims into the free States, might at last even threaten them in Canada." [Footnote: Introduction to Illustrated Edition of Uncle Tom, p. xiii. (Houghton, Osgood & Co., 1879.)]
Filled with this fear, she determined to do all that one woman might to enlist the sympathies of England for the cause, and to avert, even as a remote contingency, the closing of Canada as a haven of refuge for the oppressed. To this end she at once wrote letters to Prince Albert, to the Duke of Argyll, to the Earls of Carlisle and Shaftesbury, to Macaulay, Dickens, and others whom she knew to be interested in the cause of anti-slavery. These she ordered to be sent to their several addresses, accompanied by the very earliest copies of her book that should be printed.
Then, having done what she could, and committed the result to God, she calmly turned her attention to other affairs.
In the mean time the fears of the author as to whether or not her book would be read were quickly dispelled. Three thousand copies were sold the very first day, a second edition was issued the following week, a third on the 1st of April, and within a year one hundred and twenty editions, or over three hundred thousand copies of the book, had been issued and sold in this country. Almost in a day the poor professor's wife had become the most talked-of woman in the world, her influence for good was spreading to its remotest corners, and henceforth she was to be a public character, whose every movement would be watched with interest, and whose every word would be quoted. The long, weary struggle with poverty was to be hers no longer; for, in seeking to aid the oppressed, she had also so aided herself that within four months from the time her book was published it had yielded her $10,000 in royalties.
Now letters regarding the wonderful book, and expressing all shades of opinion concerning it, began to pour in upon the author. Her lifelong friend, whose words we have already so often quoted, wrote:—
"I sat up last night until long after one o'clock reading and finishing 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' I could not leave it any more than I could have left a dying child, nor could I restrain an almost hysterical sobbing for an hour after I laid my head upon my pillow. I thought I was a thorough-going abolitionist before, but your book has awakened so strong a feeling of indignation and of compassion that I never seem to have had any feeling on this subject until now."
The poet Longfellow wrote:—
I congratulate you most cordially upon the immense success and influence of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." It is one of the greatest triumphs recorded in literary history, to say nothing of the higher triumph of its moral effect.
With great regard, and friendly remembrance to Mr. Stowe, I remain,
Yours most truly,
HENRY W. LONGFELLOW.
Whittier wrote to Garrison:—
"What a glorious work Harriet Beecher Stowe has wrought. Thanks for the Fugitive Slave Law! Better would it be for slavery if that law had never been enacted; for it gave occasion for 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.'"
Garrison wrote to Mrs. Stowe:—
"I estimate the value of anti-slavery writing by the abuse it brings. Now all the defenders of slavery have let me alone and are abusing you."