Uncle Tom's Cabinby Harriet Beecher Stowe
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Uncle Tom's Cabin was a sensation upon its publication in 1852. In its first year it sold 300,000 copies, and has since been translated into more than twenty languages. This powerful story of one slave's unbreakable spirit holds an important place in American history, as it helped solidify the anti-slavery sentiments of the North, and moved a nation to civil war.
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Late in the afternoon of a chilly day in February, two gentlemen were sitting alone over their wine, in a well-furnished dining parlor, in the town of P--, in Kentucky. There were no servants present, and the gentlemen, with chairs closely approaching, seemed to be discussing some subject with great earnestness.
For convenience sake, we have said, hitherto, two gentlemen. One of the parties, however, when critically examined, did not seem, strictly speaking, to come under the species. He was a short, thick-set man, with coarse, commonplace features, and that swaggering air of pretension which marks a low man who is trying to elbow his way upward in the world. He was much over-dressed, in a gaudy vest of many colors, a blue neckerchief, bedropped gayly with yellow spots, and arranged with a flaunting tie, quite in keeping with the general air of the man. His hands, large and coarse, were plentifully bedecked with rings; and he wore a heavy gold watch-chain, with a bundle of seals of portentous size, and a great variety of colors, attached to it,--which, in the ardor of conversation, he was in the habit of flourishing and jingling with evident satisfaction. His conversation was in free and easy defiance of Murray's Grammar, and was garnished at convenient intervals with various profane expressions, which not even the desire to be graphic in our account shall induce us to transcribe.
His companion, Mr. Shelby, had the appearance of a gentleman; and the arrangements of the house, and the general air of the housekeeping, indicated easy, and even opulent circumstances. As we before stated, the two were in the midst of an earnest conversation.
'That is the way I should arrange the matter,' said Mr. Shelby.
'I can't make trade that way--I positively can't, Mr. Shelby,' said the other, holding up a glass of wine between his eye and the light.
'Why, the fact is, Haley, Tom is an uncommon fellow; he is certainly worth that sum anywhere--steady, honest, capable, manages my whole farm like a clock.'
'You mean honest, as niggers go,' said Haley, helping himself to a glass of brandy.
'No; I mean, really, Tom is a good, steady, sensible, pious fellow. He got religion at a camp-meeting, four years ago; and I believe he really did get it. I've trusted him, since then, with everything I have,--money, house, horses,--and let him come and go round the country; and I always found him true and square in everything.'
'Some folks don't believe there is pious niggers, Shelby,' said Haley, with a candid flourish of his hand, 'but I do. I had a fellow, now, in this yer last lot I took to Orleans--'twas as good as a meetin', now, really, to hear that critter pray; and he was quite gentle and quiet like. He fetched me a good sum, too, for I bought him cheap of a man that was 'bliged to sell out; so I realized six hundred on him. Yes, I consider religion a valeyable thing in a nigger, when it's the genuine article, and no mistake.'
'Well, Tom's got the real article, if ever a fellow had,' rejoined the other. 'Why, last fall, I let him go to Cincinnati alone, to do business for me, and bring home five hundred dollars. 'Tom,' says I to him, 'I trust you, because I think you're a Christian--'I know you wouldn't cheat.' Tom comes back, sure enough; I knew he would. Some low fellows, they say, said to him--'Tom, why don't you make tracks for Canada?' 'Ah, master trusted me, and I couldn't'--they told me about it. I am sorry to part with Tom, I must say. You ought to let him cover the whole balance of the debt; and you would, Haley, if you had any conscience.'
'Well, I've got just as much conscience as any man in business can afford to keep,--just a little, you know, to swear by, as 'twere,' said the trader, jocularly; 'and then, I'm ready to do anything in reason to 'blige friends; but this yer, you see, is a leetle too hard on a fellow--a leetle too hard.' The trader sighed contemplatively, and poured out some more brandy.
'Well, then, Haley, how will you trade?' said Mr. Shelby, after an uneasy interval of silence.
'Well, haven't you a boy or gal that you could throw in with Tom?'
'Hum!--none that I could well spare; to tell the truth, it's only hard necessity makes me willing to sell at all. I don't like parting with any of my hands, that's a fact.'
Here the door opened, and a small quadroon boy, between four and five years of age, entered the room. There was something in his appearance remarkably beautiful and engaging. His black hair, fine as floss silk, hung in glossy curls about his round, dimpled face, while a pair of large dark eyes, full of fire and softness, looked out from beneath the rich, long lashes, as he peered curiously into the apartment. A gay robe of scarlet and yellow plaid, carefully made and neatly fitted, set off to advantage the dark and rich style of his beauty; and a certain comic air of assurance, blended with bashfulness, showed that he had been not unused to being petted and noticed by his master.
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Meet the Author
Harriet Beecher Stowe, a prolific writer best remembered today for Uncle Tom's Cabin, was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, on June 14, 1811, into a prominent New England family. Her father, Lyman Beecher, was a well-known Congregational minister, and her brother Henry Ward Beecher became a distinguished preacher, orator, and lecturer. Like all the Beechers she grew up with a strong sense of wanting to improve humanity. At the age of thirteen Harriet Beecher enrolled in the Hartford Female Seminary and subsequently taught there until 1832, when the family moved to Cincinnati. In Ohio she was an instructor at a school founded by her elder sister Catharine, and she soon began publishing short stories in the Western Monthly Magazine.
Four years later, in 1836, Harriet Beecher married Calvin Stowe, a respected biblical scholar and theologian by whom she had seven children. In order to supplement the family's meager income she continued writing. The Mayflower, her first collection of stories and sketches, appeared in 1843. During this period abolitionist conflicts rocked Cincinnati, and Mrs. Stowe witnessed firsthand the misery of slaves living just across the Ohio River in Kentucky. But not until the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was she inspired to write about their plight. After the family resettled in Brunswick, Maine, when Mr. Stowe was hired as a professor at Bowdoin College, she began working on a novel that would expose the evils of slavery.
First serialized in the National Era, an abolitionist paper, in forty weekly installments between June 5, 1851, and April 1, 1852, and published as a book on March 20, 1852, Uncle Tom's Cabin was an enormous success. Tolstoy deemed it a great work of literature 'flowing from love of God and man,' and within a year the book had sold more than 300,000 copies. When Uncle Tom's Cabin appeared in Great Britain Queen Victoria sent Mrs. Stowe a note of gratitude, and enthusiastic crowds greeted the author in London on her first trip abroad in 1853. In an attempt to silence the many critics at home who denounced the work as vicious propaganda, Mrs. Stowe brought out A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1853, which contained documentary evidence substantiating the graphic picture of slavery she had drawn. Dred (1856), a second antislavery novel, did not enjoy the acclaim of Uncle Tom's Cabin, yet the author had already stirred the conscience of the nation and the world, fueling sentiments that would ignite the Civil War. When Abraham Lincoln met her at the White House in 1862 he allegedly remarked: 'So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!'
In subsequent novels Stowe shifted her attention away from the issue of slavery. Beginning with The Minister's Wooing (1859), and continuing with The Pearl of Orr's Island (1862), Oldtown Folks (1869), and Poganuc People (1878), she presented a perceptive and realistic chronicle of colonial New England, focusing especially on the theological warfare that underscored Puritan life. In a second and less popular series of novels—My Wife and I (1871), Pink and White Tyranny (1871), and We and Our Neighbors (1875)—she depicted the mores of post-Civil War America. Mrs. Stowe did enjoy success, however, with the controversial Lady Byron Vindicated (1870), a bold defense of her friend Anne, Lady Byron, that scandalously revealed Lord Byron's moral delinquency. In addition she became a regular contributor to the Atlantic Monthly, which published many of the memorable short stories later collected in Oldtown Fireside Stories (1872) and Sam Lawson's Oldtown Fireside Stories (1881).
Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote little during the last years of her life. She died in Hartford, Connecticut, on July 1, 1896. Perhaps Mrs. Stowe's achievement was best summed up by abolitionist Frederick Douglass who said: 'Hers was the word for the hour.'
- Date of Birth:
- June 14, 1811
- Date of Death:
- July 1, 1896
- Place of Birth:
- Litchfield, Connecticut
- Place of Death:
- Hartford, Connecticut
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