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ART. I.1. Uncle Tom's Cabin, or Life among the Lowly. By HARRIET BEECHER STOWE. London: 1852.
2. A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin. By HARRIET BEECHER STOWE. London: 1853.
3. Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands. By Mrs. HARRIET BEECHER STOWE. London: 1854.
4. Speech of the Honourable Charles Sumner on his Motion to Repeal the Fugitive Slave Bill in the Senate of the United States. Aug. 26. 1852. Washington: 1852.
THE sale of Uncle Tom's Cabin' is the most marvellous literary phenomenon that the world has witnessed. It came out as a sort of feuilleton in the National Era,' a Washington paper. The death of Uncle Tom was the first portion published, indeed the first that was written. It appeared in the summer of 1851, and excited so much attention, that Mrs. Stowe added a beginning and middle to her end, by composing and printing from week to week the story as we now have it, until it was concluded in March, 1852. It was soon after reprinted at Boston in two volumes, a form in which we have not seen it in England, although by the end of Nov. 1852, 150,000 copies had been sold in America. The first London edition was published in May, 1852, and was not large, for the European popularity of a picture of negro life was doubted. But in the following September, the London publishers furnished to one house 10,000 copies per day for about four weeks, and had to employ 1000 persons in preparing copies to supply the general demand.
VOL. CI. NO. CCVI.
We cannot follow it beyond 1852, but at that time more than a million of copies had been sold in England; probably ten times as many as have been sold of any other work, except the Bible and Prayer-book. In France Uncle Tom' still covers the shop windows of the Boulevards, and one publisher alone, Eustace Barba, has sent out five different editions in different forms. Before the end of 1852 it had been translated into Italian, Spanish, Danish, Swedish, Dutch, Flemish, German, Polish, and Magyar. There are two different Dutch translations, and twelve different German ones, and the Italian translation enjoys the honour of the Pope's prohibition. It has been dramatised in twenty different forms, and acted in every capital in Europe, and in the free States of America.
Its moral influence, though it has not been as wonderful as its literary popularity, has been remarkable. In the form of a novel it is really a political pamphlet. It is an attack on the Fugitive Slave Law of America, and though it has not effected the repeal of that law, it has rendered its complete execution impossible. Those among our readers to whom the subject is not familiar may perhaps be interested by a short account of the origin, and the nature of that law.
Slavery is a status so repugnant to the principles of Christianity, that, though never formally abolished, it gradually died out, as with the diffusion of knowledge and the improvement of intelligence, the spirit of our religion was better understood, and its precepts were better obeyed. By the beginning of the sixteenth century, it was practically extinct in the civilised portions of Europe. Its revival is one of the crimes of religious intolerance. At that time orthodoxy was supposed to be essential to salvation. The Church of Rome condemned to eternal damnation, as indeed she does now, all whose faith on any point, however practically unimportant, however purely speculative, however unintelligible, differed from the creed which she thought fit to proclaim. The Reformers followed her example. Each sect believed those, whose opinions varied from its own, worthy of the severest punishment which can be inflicted in this world, and destined to perpetual suffering in the other. The strongest term of reproach and antipathy in the English language, the word in which abhorrence and contempt are concentrated, is miscreant. That is to say, a person whose religious belief differs from that of the speaker.
When such was the sentence which each sect passed on its fellow Christians, on men who agreed with them as to the precepts of Revelation, and differed from them only as to the essence of the Being from whom it was derived, or as to the
nature of His relations to mankind, of course they were not more merciful to infidels. The Roman Catholic, who condemned a Protestant to be burnt alive here, and to be tormented for never ending millions of years hereafter, had nothing worse in store for the follower of Mahomet and of Menu. The difference seems to have been that they hated most the heretics, and despised most the heathens. The former they treated as rebels, the latter as enemies. They believed the deities of Paganism to be real existencies, to be devils in a state of permanent war with our Creator and Saviour, and their worshippers, therefore, to be the allies and auxiliaries of the enemies of God and of his people. They felt for them no more sympathy than we do for wolves or tigers; in fact, they felt less, for, though we delight in killing a tiger, we have no pleasure in torturing one.
When it occurred, therefore, to the Spaniards, that the tropical regions of the new hemisphere, which were then mortal to the white labourer, might perhaps be profitably cultivated by seizing negroes in Africa, and transporting them to America, the cruelty or the injustice of thus treating the negro was not an element in the deliberation. He was a heathen, a worshipper of devils, a vessel of wrath, created for the purpose of enduring eternal misery, and to give him a foretaste in this world of what was to be his fate in the next, was only carrying out the decrees of Providence. The experiment was tried and succeeded. The English and the Dutch followed in this respect, as in her other colonial follies and enormities, the example of Spain. They were at that time the wisest and the most religious nations of the world. One of them had just conquered her independence and her freedom, the other was preparing for the long contest which ended in the British Constitution; but they had no more scruples about enslaving heathens than they had about enslaving horses.
These opinions, however, though they enabled the British settler to kidnap or purchase, and work to death, without compunction, the natives of Africa, did not justify retaining in servitude their children born in Barbadoes or Virginia, whom it was obviously his duty to educate as Christians, and, therefore, as equals in the sight of God to himself.
Another prejudice came to the aid of the planter's cupidity, and enabled him, as he thought, to reconcile his interests and his religion. The Bible was at that time considered by all, as it is now by many, as a single book, every word of which had been dictated by God. Little distinction was made between what Moses was forced, by the hardness of his countrymen's hearts, to tolerate, and what was a moral rule of general and eternal obli
gation. The laws, which we now perceive to have been temporarily laid down for the guidance of semi-barbarians living under a theocracy, were then supposed to be also addressed to the fellow-countrymen and contemporaries of Bacon and Milton. Some of the New England States extracted from Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy their municipal code, and fancied that they thus obtained institutions wiser than any that man could invent. Among these institutions was domestic slavery; palliated indeed in some respects when the slave was a Hebrew, but in others carried to its worst abuses.
'If thou buy an Hebrew servant,' says the Book of Exodus, 'six years shall he serve, and the seventh he shall go free for ' nothing. If his master have given him a wife, and she have borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall 'be her master's, and he shall go out by himself. And if a man 'sell his daughter to be a maid servant, she shall not go out as 'the men servants do. If a man smite his servant or his maid with a rod, and he die under his hand, he shall be surely 'punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he • shall not be punished: for he is his money.' †
Of the heathen that are round about you,' says the Book of Leviticus, shall ye buy bond men and bond maids. Moreover, of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families which they begat in your land, and they shall be your possession. And
ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after 'you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bond 'men for ever.' +
This error has been admirably illustrated by Archbishop Whately-Christians acknowledge that the Mosaic Dispensation came from God. And that that, and also the Christian Dispensation, are contained in the volume which we call the Bible. Now any one who regards the Bible (as many Christians do) as one book, 'containing divine instructions, without having formed any clear notions of what does and does not belong to each Dispensation, will, ' of course, fall into the greatest confusion of thought. He will be like a man who should have received from his father, at various 'times, a great number of letters containing directions as to his con'duct, from the time when he was a little child just able to read, till 'he was a grown man; and who should lay by these letters with care and reverence, but in a confused heap, and should take up any one ' of them at random, and read it without any reference to its date, 'whenever he needed his father's instructions how to act.' (Third Dissertation prefixed to Encyclopædia Brit., pp. 509, 510.) † Exodus, xxi. 2, 3. 7. Leviticus, xxv. 44-46.; ↓