Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Stowe, Calvin Ellis
STOWE, Calvin Ellis, clergyman, b. in Natick, Mass., 6 April, 1802; d. in Hartford, Conn., 22 Aug., 1886. His ancestors came from London to Boston in 1634. Mr. Stowe was a lad of six years when his father died, leaving a widow and two boys to struggle with poverty, so he was sent to board at the home of his maternal grand-parents (Bigelow, Natick), and at the age of twelve he was apprenticed to a paper-maker. He was early distinguished for his insatiable craving for books, and acquired the rudiments of Latin by studying at odd moments during his apprenticeship in the paper-mill. His earnest desire and determined efforts to gain an education attracted the attention of benevolent people, who resolved to assist him, and in November, 1820, he was sent to the academy in Gorham, Me. He was graduated at Bowdoin in 1824, remained there one year as librarian and instructor, and in September, 1825, entered the theological seminary at Andover, Mass. In the seminary, at the instigation of Prof. Moses Stuart, he completed a scholarly translation of Jahn's “Hebrew Commonwealth” (Andover, 1828; 2 vols., London, 1829). In 1828 he was graduated, and in the following year he became editor of the Boston “Recorder,” the oldest religious paper in the United States. In addition to his editorial labors, he published a translation from the Latin, with notes, of “Lowth's Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews” (1829). In 1830 he was appointed professor of Greek in Dartmouth, and he married in 1832 Eliza, daughter of Rev. Bennett Tyler, of Portland, Me. The same year he removed to Walnut Hills, near Cincinnati, Ohio, having been called to the chair of sacred literature in Lane theological seminary. In August, 1834, his wife died without children, and in January, 1836, he married Harriet Elizabeth, daughter of Dr. Lyman Beecher, the president of the seminary. Prof. Stowe became convinced by his experience as an instructor that the great need of the west at that time was an efficient common-school system, and, without neglecting his professional duties, he devoted himself heart and soul to this work. In May, 1836, he sailed for England, primarily to purchase a library for Lane seminary, but he received at the same time an official appointment from the state legislature to visit as agent the public schools of Europe, particularly those of Prussia. On his return he published his “Report on Elementary Education in Europe.” In 1850 Prof. Stowe accepted a professorship in Bowdoin, and in 1852 he was appointed to fill the chair of sacred literature at Andover seminary. In 1853 and 1856 he visited Europe with Mrs. Stowe. In 1864, owing to failing health and increasing infirmities, he resigned his professorship and removed to Hartford, Conn. Besides the works mentioned above, he published “Introduction to the Criticism and Interpretation of the Bible” (Cincinnati, 1835); “The Religious Element in Education,” a lecture (1844); “The Right Interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures,” inaugural address (Andover, 1853); and “Origin and History of the Books of the Bible, both Canonical and Apocryphal” (Hartford, 1867). — His wife,
Harriet Elizabeth Beecher, b. in Litchfield, Conn., 14 June, 1812; d. in Hartford, 1 July, 1896. She was the third daughter of Rev. Dr. Lyman Beecher. When she was a mere child Mrs. Beecher died, yet she never ceased to influence the lives of her children. Mrs. Stowe wrote: “Although my mother's bodily presence disappeared from our circle, I think that her memory and example had more influence in moulding her family than the living presence of many mothers.” After her death, Mrs. Stowe was placed under the care of her grandmother at Guilford, Conn. Here she listened, with untiring interest, to the ballads of Sir Walter Scott and the poems of Robert Burns. The “Arabian Nights,” also, was to her a dream of delight — an enchanted palace, through which her imagination ran wild. After her father's second marriage, her education was continued at the Litchfield academy under the charge of Sarah Pierce and John Brace. Of Mr. Brace and his methods of instruction Mrs. Stowe ever spoke with the greatest enthusiasm. “Mr. Brace exceeded all teachers that I ever knew in the faculty of teaching composition,” she wrote. “Much of the inspiration and training of my early days consisted not in the things I was supposed to be studying, but in hearing, while seated unnoticed at my desk, the conversation of Mr. Brace with the older classes.” Nor, indeed, were the influences in her home less stimulating to the intellect. Dr. Beecher, like the majority of the Calvinistic divines of his day, had his system of theology vast and comprehensive enough to embrace the fate of men and angels, and to fathom the counsels of the Infinite. His mind was kept in a state of intense and joyous intellectual activity by constantly elaborating, expounding, and defending this system. Consequently his children grew up in an atmosphere surcharged with mental and moral enthusiasm. There was no trace of morbid melancholy or ascetic gloom in Dr. Beecher. He was sound in body, sound in mind, and the religious influence which he exerted on the minds of his children was healthy and cheerful. Under such circumstances it is not surprising to find a bright and thoughtful child of twelve years writing a school composition on the profound theme “Can the Immortality of the Soul be proved from the Light of Nature?” The writer took the negative side of the question, and argued with such power and originality that Dr. Beecher, when it was read in his presence, not knowing the author, asked with emphasis, “Who wrote that?” “Your daughter, sir,” quickly answered Mr. Brace. Said Mrs. Stowe, speaking of this event: “It was the proudest moment of my life. There was no mistaking father's face when he was pleased, and to have interested him was past all juvenile triumphs.”
Dr. Beecher read with enthusiasm, and encouraged his children to read, both Byron and Scott. When nine or ten years of age, Mrs. Stowe was deeply impressed by reading Byron's “Corsair.” “I shall never forget how it electrified and thrilled me,” she wrote. “I went home absorbed and wondering about Byron, and after that listened to everything that father and mother said at table about him.” Byron's death made an enduring, but at the same time solemn and painful, impression on her mind. She was eleven years old at the time, and usually did not understand her fathers sermons, but the one that he preached on this occasion she remembered perfectly, and it had had a deep and lasting influence on her life. At the time of the Missouri agitation Dr. Beecher's sermons and prayers were burdened with the anguish of his soul for the cause of the slave. His passionate appeals drew tears down the hardest faces of he old farmers who listened to them. Night and morning, in family devotions, he appealed to leaven for “poor, oppressed, bleeding Africa, that the time of deliverance might come.” The effect of such sermons and prayers on the mind of an imaginative and sensitive child can be easily conceived. They tended to make her, what she had seen from earliest childhood, the enemy of all slavery. In 1824, when thirteen years of age, Mrs. Stowe went to Hartford to attend the school that had been established there by her eldest sister, Catherine. Here she studied Latin, read Ovid and Virgil, and wrote metrical translations of the former, which displayed a very respectable knowledge of Latin, a good command of English, with considerable skill in versification. At the age of fourteen she taught with success a class in “Butler's Analogy,” and gained a good reading knowledge of French and Italian. As scholar and teacher she remained with her sister in Hartford till the autumn of 1832, when both removed with their father to Cincinnati, Ohio, where Dr. Beecher assumed the presidency of Lane theological seminary and the pastorate of the 3d Presbyterian church. At this time Mrs. Stowe compiled an elementary geography for a western publisher, which was extensively used, and again engaged in teaching with her sister in Cincinnati. She wrote lectures for her classes in history, and, as a member of a literary club, called the Semi-Colon, humorous sketches and poems.
In January, 1836, she married Mr. Stowe. During her residence in Cincinnati she frequently visited the slave states, and acquired the minute knowledge of southern life that was so conspicuously displayed in her subsequent writings. Fugitive slaves were frequently sheltered in her house, and assisted by her husband and brothers to escape to Canada. During the riots in 1836, when James G. Birney's press was destroyed and free negroes were hunted like wild beasts through the streets of Cincinnati, only the distance from the city and the depths of mud saved Lane seminary and the Yankee Abolitionists at Walnut Hills from a like fate. Many a night Mrs. Stowe sank into uneasy slumber, expecting to be roused by the howlings of an angry mob, led by the agents of exasperated and desperate slave-holders. In 1849 Mrs. Stowe published “The Mayflower, or Short Sketches of the Descendants of the Pilgrims” (New York; new ed., with additions, Boston, 1855), being a collection of papers which she had from time to time contributed to various periodicals. In 1850 she removed with her husband and family to Brunswick, Me., where the former had just been called to a professorship in Bowdoin. It was at the height of the excitement caused by the passage of the fugitive-slave law. It seemed to her as if slavery were about to extend itself over the free states. She conversed with many benevolent, tender-hearted, Christian men and women, who were blind and deaf to all arguments against it, and she concluded that it was because they did not realize what slavery really meant. She determined, if possible, to make them realize it, and, as a result of this determination, wrote “Uncle Tom's Cabin, or Life among the Lowly.” In the mean time Prof. Stowe was appointed to the chair of biblical literature in the theological seminary at Andover, Mass., and removed thither with his family about the time that this remarkable book was published. Neither Mrs. Stowe nor any of her friends had the least conception of the future that awaited her book. She was herself very despondent. It does not seem to have been very widely read when it appeared in the “National Era,” at Washington, D. C., from June, 1851, till April, 1852, before it was issued in book-form (Boston, 1852). Mrs. Stowe says: “It seemed to me that there was no hope; that nobody would hear; that nobody would read, nobody would pity; that this frightful system which had pursued its victims into the free states might at last threaten them even in Canada.” Nevertheless, nearly 500,000 copies of this work were sold in the United States alone in the five years following its publication. It has been translated into Armenian, Bohemian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Illyrian, Polish, Portuguese, modern Greek, Russian, Servian, Spanish, Swedish, Wallachian, Welsh, and other languages. These versions are to be found in the British museum in London, together with the most extensive collection of the literature of this book. In reply to the abuse and recrimination that its publication called forth, Mrs. Stowe published, in 1853, “A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, presenting the Original Facts and Documents upon which the Story is founded, together with Corroborative Statements verifying the Truth of the Work.” She also wrote “A Peep into Uncle Tom's Cabin, for Children” (1853). The story has been dramatized in various forms; once by the author as “The Christian Slave; a Drama” (1855). The character of Uncle Tom was suggested by the life of Josiah Henson (q. v.).
So reduced was Mrs. Stowe's health by her severe and protracted labors that complete rest and change of scene became necessary. Consequently, in the spring of 1853, accompanied by her husband and brother, the Rev. Charles Beecher, she sailed for England. In the following year appeared “Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands,” a collection of letters of Mrs. Stowe and her brother during their travels in Europe (2 vols., Boston, 1854). In 1856 she published “Dred, a Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp.” The same book was reissued, in 1866, under the title “Nina Gordon,” but has now been again issued under the original title. About this time Mrs. Stowe made a second visit to England, and an extended tour of the continent. In the judgment of some critics, by far the ablest work that had come from Mrs. Stowe's pen, in a purely literary point of view, is the “Minister's Wooing” (New York, 1859). It was first given to the public as a serial in the “Atlantic Monthly,” and James Russell Lowell said of it: “We do not believe that there is any one who, by birth, breeding, and natural capacity, has had the opportunity to know New England so well as she, or who has the peculiar genius so to profit by the knowledge. Already there have been scenes in the ‘Minister's Wooing’ that, in their lowness of tone and quiet truth, contrast as charmingly with the timid vagueness of the modern school of novel-writers as the ‘Vicar of Wakefield’ itself; and we are greatly mistaken if it do not prove to lie the most characteristic of Mrs. Stowe's works, and that on which her fame will chiefly rest with posterity.” Mrs. Stowe received letters containing similar expressions of commendation from William E. Gladstone, Charles Kingsley, and Bishop Whately.
In 1864 Prof. Stowe resigned his professorship at Andover and removed to Hartford, Conn., where the family continued to reside, making their winter home in Mandarin, Fla., until Prof. Stowe's increasing infirmities made the journey no longer possible. In 1869 Mrs. Stowe published “Old-Town Folks,” a tale of New England life based on her husband's childhood memories of life with his Bigelow cousins in Natick, and in September of the same year, moved thereto by reading the Countess Guiccioli's “Recollections of Lord Byron,” contributed a paper to the “Atlantic Monthly” on “The True Story of Lady Byron's Life.” In reply to the tempest of adverse criticism that this paper evoked, she published “Lady Byron vindicated: a History of the Byron Controversy” (Boston, 1869). Her seventieth birthday was celebrated with a garden party, mainly of literary people, in Cambridge, Mass. She spent the summer of 1888, in failing health, at North Haven, Long Island. George Sand has paid the following tribute to the genius of Mrs. Stowe: “I cannot say she has talent as one understands it in the world of letters, but she has genius as humanity feels the need of genius the genius of goodness, not that of the man of letters, but of the saint. . . . Pure, penetrating, and profound, the spirit that thus fathoms the recesses of the human soul.” The accompanying steel engraving represents Mrs. Stowe as she appeared in middle life; the vignette, at threescore and ten.
Besides the works that have been mentioned, Mrs. Stowe had written “Geography for my Children” (Boston, 1855); “Our Charley, and what to do with him” (1858); “The Pearl of Orr's Island; a Story of the Coast of Maine” (1862); “Agnes of Sorrento” (1862); “Reply on Behalf of the Women of America to the Christian Address of many Thousand Women of Great Britain” (1863); “The Ravages of a Carpet” (1864); “House and Home Papers, by Christopher Crowfield” (1864); “Religious Poems” (1865); “Stories about our Dogs” (1865); “Little Foxes” (1865); “Queer Little People” (1867): “Daisy's First Winter, and other Stories” (1867); “The Chimney Corner, by Christopher Crowfield” (1868); “Men of our Times” (Hartford, 1868); “The American Woman's Home,” with her sister Catherine (Philadelphia, 1869); “Little Pussy Willow” (Boston, 1870); “Pink and White Tyranny” (1871); “Sam Lawson's Fireside Stories” (1871); “My Wife and I” (1872); “Palmetto Leaves” (1873); “Betty's Bright Idea, and other Tales” (1875); “We and Our Neighbors” (1875); “Footsteps of the Master” (1876); “Bible Heroines” (1878); “Poganuc People” (1878); and “A Dog's Mission” (1881). Most of these works have been republished abroad. There is also a selection from her writings entitled “Golden Fruit in Silver Baskets” (London, 1859). In 1868 she became co-editor with Donald G. Mitchell of “Hearth and Home” in New York. Her life has been written by her son, the Rev. Charles Edward Stowe, who is pastor of Windsor avenue Congregational church in Hartford (Boston, 1890).