OLDTOWN FOLKSby Harriet Beecher Stowe
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"Oldtown Folks," need not base her fame wholly on "Uncle Tom" and "Dred." One can be sure that the stories of that simple New England life which she knew so well and described with such verisimilitude are not, after all, the chief things Harriet Beecher Stowe has done for art, just as "Uncle Tom" and "Dred" are the chief things she has done for humanity? If the highest office of art is, as generally believed, the interpretation of life, and if one can interpret best what one knows best, then her chief title to fame as a literary artist is her interpretation of the life of New England.
In the preface to "Oldtown Folks," Horace Holyoke says: "I have tried to make my mind as still and passive as a looking-glass or a mountain lake, and then to give you merely the images reflected there." And this is really what Stowe has done. She has invented nothing. All the scenes which she portrays were first mirrored in her mind; all the events which she narrates actually took place either within her or around her. We find further assurance of the truthfulness of her pictures in the fact that her experiences were not peculiar. Indeed, until she reached her fortieth year her life was not very different from that of thousands of young women in her generation. It is this typical character of her career that makes her account of it, as given in her novels and here in her journals and letters, all the more interesting and valuable. We lament that her son's account is not fuller, deeper, and more lifelike ; that it is not such a portrayal of her life, in all its relations, as she might have given us in her prime.
Though her "happy, hearty child-life" is spoken of, we are left to imagine what it was from the account given of her mother's death, a brother's death, an aunt's catechising, the father's library, a stepmother, and an attack of scarlet-fever. We are assured that this " happy, hearty child "distinguished herself as a pupil, and made her father proud by writing at the tender age of twelve "a remarkable composition"—which is printed in full—on the question, "Can the Immortality of the Soul be Proved by the Light of Nature?" It is plain that to this daughter of the Puritans theology was daily bread. But it was a kind of bread that, as prepared and presented by the preachers of the day, must sometimes, one would think, have proved harsh and distressing to the youthful stomach.
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