Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/88

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70
The Later Novel

in Litchfield and Boston, and during her own career as pupil and then teacher in the school conducted at Hartford by her strong but morbid sister Catherine. Although Harriet Beecher was still a thorough child of New England when she went, in 1832, to live in Cincinnati, to which her father had been called as president of the Lane Theological Seminary, and although her earliest sketches and tales, collected in a volume called The Mayflower (1843), deal largely with memories of her old home set down with an exile’s affection, she grew rapidly in knowledge and experience. Married in 1836 to Professor Calvin E. Stowe of the Seminary, mother by 1850 of seven children, she returned in that year to Brunswick, Maine, where Professor Stowe had accepted a position in Bowdoin College. There, deeply stirred by the passing of the Fugitive Slave Law, she began Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life among the Lowly, which ran as a serial in The National Era of Washington from June, 1851, to April, 1852, and then, on its appearance in two volumes in March, 1852, met with a popular reception never before or since accorded to a novel. Its sales went to the millions. Over five hundred thousand Englishwomen signed an address of thanks to the author; Scotland raised a thousand pounds by a penny offering among its poorest people to help free the slaves; in France and Germany the book was everywhere read and discussed; while there were Russians who emancipated their serfs out of the pity which the tale aroused. In the United States, thanks in part to the stage,[1] which produced a version as early as September, 1852, the piece belongs not only to literature but to folklore.

That Uncle Tom’s Cabin stands higher in the history of reform than in the history of the art of fiction no one needs to say again. Dickens, Kingsley, and Mrs. Gaskell had already set the novel to humanitarian tunes, and Mrs. Stowe did not have to invent a type. She had, however, no particular foreign master, not even Scott, all of whose historical romances she had been reading just before she began Uncle Tom. Instead she adhered to the native tradition, which went back to the eighteenth century, of sentimental, pious, instructive narratives written by women chiefly for women. Leave out the merely domestic elements of the book—slave families

  1. See above, Vol.I, p. 227