Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe Chapter VIII: First Trip to Europe, 1853.
by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Very soon after the publication of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" Mrs. Stowe
visited her brother Henry in Brooklyn, and while there became
intensely interested in the case of the Edmondsons, a slave family of
Washington, D.C. Emily and Mary two of the daughters of Paul (a free
colored man) and Milly (a slave) Edmondson, had, for trying to escape
from bondage, been sold to a trader for the New Orleans market. While
they were lying in jail in Alexandria awaiting the making up of a gang
for the South, their heartbroken father determined to visit the North
and try to beg from a freedom-loving people the money with which to
purchase his daughters' liberty. The sum asked by the trader was
$2,250, but its magnitude did not appall the brave old man, and he set
forth upon his quest full of faith that in some way he would secure
Reaching New York, he went to the anti-slavery bureau and related his
pitiful story. The sum demanded was such a large one and seemed so
exorbitant that even those who took the greatest interest in the case
were disheartened over the prospect of raising it. The old man was
finally advised to go to Henry Ward Beecher and ask his aid. He made
his way to the door of the great Brooklyn preacher's house, but,
overcome by many disappointments and fearing to meet with another
rebuff, hesitated to ring the bell, and sat down on the steps with
tears streaming from his eyes.
There Mr. Beecher found him, learned his story, and promised to do
what he could. There was a great meeting in Plymouth Church that
evening, and, taking the old colored man with him to it, Mrs. Stowe's
brother made such an eloquent and touching appeal on behalf of the
slave girls as to rouse his audience to profound indignation and pity.
The entire sum of $2,250 was raised then and there, and the old man,
hardly able to realize his great joy, was sent back to his despairing
children with their freedom money in his hand.
All this had happened in the latter part of 1848, and Mrs. Stowe had
first known of the liberated girls in 1851, when she had been appealed
to for aid in educating them. From that time forward she became
personally responsible for all their expenses while they remained in
school, and until the death of one of them in 1853.
Now during her visit to New York in the spring of 1852 she met their
old mother, Milly Edmondson, who had come North in the hope of saving
her two remaining slave children, a girl and a young man, from falling
into the trader's clutches. Twelve hundred dollars was the sum to be
raised, and by hard work the father had laid by one hundred of it when
a severe illness put an end to his efforts. After many prayers and
much consideration of the matter, his feeble old wife said to him one
day, "Paul, I'm a gwine up to New York myself to see if I can't get
Her husband objected that she was too feeble, that she would be unable
to find her way, and that Northern people had got tired of buying
slaves to set them free, but the resolute old woman clung to her
purpose and finally set forth. Beaching New York she made her way to
Mr. Beecher's house, where she was so fortunate as to find Mrs. Stowe.
Now her troubles were at an end, for this champion of the oppressed at
once made the slave woman's cause her own and promised that her
children should be redeemed. She at once set herself to the task of
raising the purchase-money, not only for Milly's children, but for
giving freedom to the old slave woman herself. On May 29, she writes
to her husband in Brunswick:--
"The mother of the Edmondson girls, now aged and feeble, is in the
city. I did not actually know when I wrote 'Uncle Tom' of a living
example in which Christianity had reached its fullest development
under the crushing wrongs of slavery, but in this woman I see it. I
never knew before what I could feel till, with her sorrowful, patient
eyes upon me, she told me her history and begged my aid. The
expression of her face as she spoke, and the depth of patient sorrow
in her eyes, was beyond anything I ever saw.
"'Well,' said I, when she had finished, 'set your heart at rest; you
and your children shall be redeemed. If I can't raise the money
otherwise, I will pay it myself.' You should have seen the wonderfully
sweet, solemn look she gave me as she said, 'The Lord bless you, my
"Well, I have received a sweet note from Jenny Lind, with her name
and her husband's with which to head my subscription list. They give a
hundred dollars. Another hundred is subscribed by Mr. Bowen in his
wife's name, and I have put my own name down for an equal amount. A
lady has given me twenty-five dollars, and Mr. Storrs has pledged me
fifty dollars. Milly and I are to meet the ladies of Henry's and Dr.
Cox's churches tomorrow, and she is to tell them her story. I have
written to Drs. Bacon and Button in New Haven to secure a similar
meeting of ladies there. I mean to have one in Boston, and another in
Portland. It will do good to the givers as well as to the receivers.
"But all this time I have been so longing to get your letter from New
Haven, for I heard it was there. It is not fame nor praise that
contents me. I seem never to have needed love so much as now. I long
to hear you say how much you love me. Dear one, if this effort impedes
my journey home, and wastes some of my strength, you will not murmur.
When I see this Christlike soul standing so patiently bleeding, yet
forgiving, I feel a sacred call to be the helper of the helpless, and
it is better that my own family do without me for a while longer than
that this mother lose all. I must redeem her.
"New Haven, June 2. My old woman's case progresses gloriously.
I am to see the ladies of this place tomorrow. Four hundred dollars
were contributed by individuals in Brooklyn, and the ladies who took
subscription papers at the meeting will undoubtedly raise two hundred
Before leaving New York, Mrs. Stowe gave Milly Edmondson her check for
the entire sum necessary to purchase her own freedom and that of her
children, and sent her home rejoicing. That this sum was made up to
her by the generous contributions of those to whom she appealed is
shown by a note written to her husband and dated July, 1852, in which
"Had a very kind note from A. Lawrence inclosing a twenty-dollar gold-
piece for the Edmondsons. Isabella's ladies gave me twenty-five
dollars, so you see our check is more than paid already."
Although during her visit in New York Mrs. Stowe made many new
friends, and was overwhelmed with congratulations and praise of her
book, the most pleasing incident of this time seems to have been an
epistolatory interview with Jenny Lind (Goldschmidt). In writing of it
to her husband she says:--
"Well, we have heard Jenny Lind, and the affair was a bewildering
dream of sweetness and beauty. Her face and movements are full of
poetry and feeling. She has the artless grace of a little child, the
poetic effect of a wood-nymph, is airy, light, and graceful.
"We had first-rate seats, and how do you think we got them? When Mr.
Howard went early in the morning for tickets, Mr. Goldschmidt told him
it was impossible to get any good ones, as they were all sold. Mr.
Howard said he regretted that, on Mrs. Stowe's account, as she was
very desirous of hearing Jenny Lind. 'Mrs. Stowe!' exclaimed Mr.
Goldschmidt, 'the author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin"? Indeed, she shall
have a seat whatever happens!'
"Thereupon he took his hat and went out, returning shortly with
tickets for two of the best seats in the house, inclosed in an
envelope directed to me in his wife's handwriting. Mr. Howard said he
could have sold those tickets at any time during the day for ten
"Today I sent a note of acknowledgment with a copy of my book. I am
most happy to have seen her, for she is a noble creature."
To this note the great singer wrote in answer:--
MY DEAR MADAM,--Allow me to express my sincere thanks for your very
kind letter, which I was very happy to receive.
You must feel and know what a deep impression "Uncle Tom's Cabin" has
made upon every heart that can feel for the dignity of human
existence: so I with my miserable English would not even try to say a
word about the great excellency of that most beautiful book, but I
must thank you for the great joy I have felt over that book.
Forgive me, my dear madam: it is a great liberty I take in thus
addressing you, I know, but I have so wished to find an opportunity to
pour out my thankfulness in a few words to you that I cannot help this
intruding. I have the feeling about "Uncle Tom's Cabin" that great
changes will take place by and by, from the impression people receive
out of it, and that the writer of that book can fall asleep today or
tomorrow with the bright, sweet conscience of having been a strong
means in the Creator's hand of operating essential good in one of the
most important questions for the welfare of our black brethren. God
bless and protect you and yours, dear madam, and certainly God's hand
will remain with a blessing over your head.
Once more forgive my bad English and the liberty I have taken, and
believe me to be, dear madam,
Yours most truly, JENNY GOLDSCHMIDT, née LIND.
In answer to Mrs. Stowe's appeal on behalf of the Edmonsons, Jenny
MY DEAR MRS. STOWE,--I have with great interest read your statement of
the black family at Washington. It is with pleasure also that I and my
husband are placing our humble names on the list you sent.
The time is short. I am very, very sorry that I shall not be able to
see you. I must say farewell to you in this way. Hoping that in
the length of time you may live to witness the progression of the good
sake for which you so nobly have fought, my best wishes go with you.
Yours in friendship,
While Mrs. Stowe was thus absent from home, her husband received and
accepted a most urgent call to the Professorship of Sacred Literature
in the Theological Seminary at Andover, Mass.
In regard to leaving Brunswick and her many friends there, Mrs. Stowe
wrote: "For my part, if I must leave Brunswick, I would rather
leave at once. I can tear away with a sudden pull more easily than to
linger there knowing that I am to leave at last. I shall never find
people whom I shall like better than those of Brunswick."
As Professor Stowe's engagements necessitated his spending much of the
summer in Brunswick, and also making a journey to Cincinnati, it
devolved upon his wife to remain in Andover, and superintend the
preparation of the house they were to occupy. This was known as the
old stone workshop, on the west side of the Common, and it had a year
or two before been fitted up by Charles Munroe and Jonathan Edwards
[Footnote: Students in the Seminary.] as the Seminary gymnasium.
Beneath Mrs. Stowe's watchful care and by the judicious expenditure of
money, it was transformed by the first of November into the charming
abode which under the name of "The Cabin" became noted as one of the
pleasantest literary centres of the country. Here for many years were
received, and entertained in a modest way, many of the most
distinguished people of this and other lands, and here were planned
innumerable philanthropic undertakings in which Mrs. Stowe and her
scholarly husband were the prime movers.
The summer spent in preparing this home was one of great pleasure as
well as literary activity. In July Mrs. Stowe writes to her husband:
"I had no idea this place was so beautiful. Our family circle is
charming. All the young men are so gentlemanly and so agreeable, as
well as Christian in spirit. Mr. Dexter, his wife, and sister are
delightful. Last evening a party of us went to ride on horseback down
to Pomp's Pond. What a beautiful place it is! There is everything here
that there is at Brunswick except the sea,--a great exception.
Yesterday I was out all the forenoon sketching elms. There is no end
to the beauty of these trees. I shall fill my book with them before I
get through. We had a levee at Professor Park's last week,--quite a
brilliant affair. Today there is to be a fishing party to go to Salem
beach and have a chowder.
"It seems almost too good to be true that we are going to have such a
house in such a beautiful place, and to live here among all these
agreeable people, where everybody seems to love you so much and to
think so much of you. I am almost afraid to accept it, and should not,
did I not see the Hand that gives it all and know that it is both firm
and true. He knows if it is best for us, and His blessing addeth no
sorrow therewith. I cannot describe to you the constant undercurrent
of love and joy and peace ever flowing through my soul. I am so happy
The literary work of this summer was directed toward preparing
articles on many subjects for the "New York Independent" and the
"National Era," as well as collecting material for future books. That
the "Pearl of Orr's Island," which afterward appeared as a serial in
the "Independent," was already contemplated, is shown by a letter
written July 29th, in which Mrs. Stowe says: "What a lovely place
Andover is! So many beautiful walks! Last evening a number of us
climbed Prospect Hill, and had a most charming walk. Since I came here
we have taken up hymn-singing to quite an extent, and while we were
all up on the hill we sang 'When I can read my title clear.' It went
"I seem to have so much to fill my time, and yet there is my Maine
story waiting. However, I am composing it every day, only I greatly
need living studies for the filling in of my sketches. There is 'old
Jonas,' my 'fish father,' a sturdy, independent fisherman farmer, who
in his youth sailed all over the world and made up his mind about
everything. In his old age he attends prayer-meetings and reads the
'Missionary Herald.' He also has plenty of money in an old brown sea-
chest. He is a great heart with an inflexible will and iron muscles. I
must go to Orr's Island and see him again. I am now writing an article
for the 'Era' on Maine and its scenery, which I think is even better
than the 'Independent' letter. In it I took up Longfellow. Next I
shall write one on Hawthorne and his surroundings.
"To-day Mrs. Jewett sent out a most solemnly savage attack upon me
from the 'Alabama Planter.' Among other things it says: 'The plan for
assaulting the best institutions in the world may be made just as
rational as it is by the wicked (perhaps unconsciously so) authoress
of this book. The woman who wrote it must be either a very bad or a
very fanatical person. For her own domestic peace we trust no enemy
will ever penetrate into her household to pervert the scenes he may
find there with as little logic or kindness as she has used in her
"Uncle Tom's Cabin." There's for you! Can you wonder now that such a
wicked woman should be gone from you a full month instead of the week
I intended? Ah, welladay!"
At last the house was finished, the removal from Brunswick effected,
and the reunited family was comfortably settled in its Andover home.
The plans for the winter's literary work were, however, altered by
force of circumstances. Instead of proceeding quietly and happily with
her charming Maine story, Mrs. Stowe found it necessary to take notice
in some manner of the cruel and incessant attacks made upon her as the
author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and to fortify herself against them by
a published statement of incontrovertible facts. It was claimed on all
sides that she had in her famous book made such ignorant or malicious
misrepresentations that it was nothing short of a tissue of
falsehoods, and to refute this she was compelled to write a "Key to
Uncle Tom's Cabin," in which should appear the sources from which she
had obtained her knowledge. Late in the winter Mrs. Stowe wrote:--
"I am now very much driven. I am preparing a Key to unlock 'Uncle
Tom's Cabin.' It will contain all the original facts, anecdotes, and
documents on which the story is founded, with some very interesting
and affecting stories parallel to those told of Uncle Tom. Now I want
you to write for me just what you heard that slave-buyer say, exactly
as he said it, that people may compare it with what I have written. My
Key will be stronger than the Cabin."
In regard to this "Key" Mrs. Stowe also wrote to the Duchess of
Sutherland upon hearing that she had headed an address from the women
of England to those of America:--
It is made up of the facts, the documents, the things which my own
eyes have looked upon and my hands have handled, that attest this
awful indictment upon my country. I write it in the anguish of my
soul, with tears and prayer, with sleepless nights and weary days. I
bear my testimony with a heavy heart, as one who in court is forced by
an awful oath to disclose the sins of those dearest.
So I am called to draw up this fearful witness against my country and
send it into all countries, that the general voice of humanity may
quicken our paralyzed vitality, that all Christians may pray for us,
and that shame, honor, love of country, and love of Christ may be
roused to give us strength to cast out this mighty evil. Yours for the
oppressed, H. B. STOWE.
This harassing, brain-wearying, and heart-sickening labor was
continued until the first of April, 1853, when, upon invitation of the
Anti-Slavery Society of Glasgow, Scotland, Mrs. Stowe, accompanied by
her husband and her brother, Charles Beecher, sailed for Europe.
In the mean time the success of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" abroad was already
phenomenal and unprecedented. From the pen of Mr. Sampson Low, the
well-known London publisher, we have the following interesting
statement regarding it:--
"The first edition printed in London was in April, 1852, by Henry
Vizetelly, in a neat volume at ten and sixpence, of which he issued
7,000 copies. He received the first copy imported, through a friend
who had bought it in Boston the day the steamer sailed, for his own
reading. He gave it to Mr. V., who took it to the late Mr. David
Bogue, well known for his general shrewdness and enterprise. He had
the book to read and consider over night, and in the morning returned
it, declining to take it at the very moderate price of five pounds.
"Vizetelly at once put the volume into the hands of a friendly printer
and brought it out on his own account, through the nominal agency of
Clarke & Co. The 7,000 copies sold, other editions followed, and Mr.
Vizetelly disposed of his interest in the book to the printer and
agent, who joined with Mr. Beeton and at once began to issue monster
editions. The demand called for fresh supplies, and these created an
increased demand. The discovery was soon made that any one was at
liberty to reprint the book, and the initiative was thus given to a
new era in cheap literature, founded on American reprints. A shilling
edition followed the one-and-sixpence, and this in turn became the
precursor of one 'complete for sixpence.' From April to December,
1852, twelve different editions (not reissues) were published, and
within the twelve months of its first appearance eighteen different
London publishing houses were engaged in supplying the great demand
that had set in, the total number of editions being forty, varying
from fine art-illustrated editions at 15s., 10s., and 7s. 6d., to the
cheap popular editions of 1s., 9d., and 6d.
"After carefully analyzing these editions and weighing probabilities
with ascertained facts, I am able pretty confidently to say that the
aggregate number of copies circulated in Great Britain and the
colonies exceeds one and a half millions."
A similar statement made by Clarke & Co. in October, 1852, reveals the
following facts. It says: "An early copy was sent from America the
latter end of April to Mr. Bogue, the publisher, and was offered by
him to Mr. Gilpin, late of Bishopsgate Street. Being declined by Mr.
Gilpin, Mr. Bogue offered it to Mr. Henry Vizetelly, and by the latter
gentleman it was eventually purchased for us. Before printing it,
however, as there was one night allowed for decision, one volume was
taken home to be read by Mr. Vizetelly, and the other by Mr.
Salisbury, the printer, of Bouverie Street. The report of the latter
gentleman the following morning, to quote his own words, was: 'I sat
up till four in the morning reading the book, and the interest I felt
was expressed one moment by laughter, another by tears. Thinking it
might be weakness and not the power of the author that affected me, I
resolved to try the effect upon my wife (a rather strong-minded
woman). I accordingly woke her and read a few chapters to her. Finding
that the interest in the story kept her awake, and that she, too,
laughed and cried, I settled in my mind that it was a book that ought
to, and might with safety, be printed.'
"Mr. Vizetelly's opinion coincided with that of Mr. Salisbury, and to
the latter gentleman it was confided to be brought out immediately.
The week following the book was produced and one edition of 7,000
copies worked off. It made no stir until the middle of June, although
we advertised it very extensively. From June it began to make its way,
and it sold at the rate of 1,000 per week during July. In August the
demand became very great, and went on increasing to the 20th, by which
time it was perfectly overwhelming. We have now about 400 people
employed in getting out the book, and seventeen printing machines
besides hand presses. Already about 150,000 copies of the book are in
the hands of the people, and still the returns of sales show no
The story was dramatized in the United States in August, 1852, without
the consent or knowledge of the author, who had neglected to reserve
her rights for this purpose. In September of the same year we find it
announced as the attraction at two London theatres, namely, the Royal
Victoria and the Great National Standard. In 1853 Professor Stowe
writes: "The drama of 'Uncle Tom' has been going on in the National
Theatre of New York all summer with most unparalleled success.
Everybody goes night after night, and nothing can stop it. The
enthusiasm beats that of the run in the Boston Museum out and out. The
'Tribune' is full of it. The 'Observer,' the 'Journal of Commerce,'
and all that sort of fellows, are astonished and nonplussed. They do
not know what to say or do about it."
While the English editions of the story were rapidly multiplying, and
being issued with illustrations by Cruikshank, introductions by Elihu
Burritt, Lord Carlisle, etc., it was also making its way over the
Continent. For the authorized French edition, translated by Madame
Belloc, and published by Charpentier of Paris, Mrs. Stowe wrote the
PREFACE TO THE EUROPEAN EDITION.
In authorizing the circulation of this work on the Continent of
Europe, the author has only this apology, that the love of man
is higher than the love of country. The great mystery which all
Christian nations hold in common, the union of God with man through
the humanity of Jesus Christ, invests human existence with an awful
sacredness; and in the eye of the true believer in Jesus, he who
tramples on the rights of his meanest fellow-man is not only inhuman
but sacrilegious, and the worst form of this sacrilege is the
institution of slavery.
It has been said that the representations of this book are
exaggerations! and oh, would that this were true! Would that
this book were indeed a fiction, and not a close mosaic of facts! But
that it is not a fiction the proofs lie bleeding in thousands of
hearts; they have been attested by surrounding voices from almost
every slave State, and from slave-owners themselves. Since so it must
be, thanks be to God that this mighty cry, this wail of an unutterable
anguish, has at last been heard!
It has been said, and not in utter despair but in solemn hope and
assurance may we regard the struggle that now convulses America,--the
outcry of the demon of slavery, which has heard the voice of Jesus of
Nazareth, and is rending and convulsing the noble nation from which at
last it must depart.
It cannot be that so monstrous a solecism can long exist in the bosom
of a nation which in all respects is the best exponent of the great
principle of universal brotherhood. In America the Frenchman, the
German, the Italian, the Swede, and the Irish all mingle on terms of
equal right; all nations there display their characteristic
excellences and are admitted by her liberal laws to equal privileges:
everything is tending to liberalize, humanize, and elevate, and for
that very reason it is that the contest with slavery there grows every
year more terrible.
The stream of human progress, widening, deepening, strengthening from
the confluent forces of all nations, meets this barrier, behind which
is concentrated all the ignorance, cruelty, and oppression of the dark
ages, and it roars and foams and shakes the barrier, and anon it must
bear it down.
In its commencement slavery overspread every State in the Union: the
progress of society has now emancipated the North from its yoke. In
Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and Maryland, at different times,
strong movements have been made for emancipation,--movements enforced
by a comparison of the progressive march of the adjoining free States
with the poverty and sterility and ignorance produced by a system
which in a few years wastes and exhausts all the resources of the soil
without the power of renewal.
The time cannot be distant when these States will emancipate for self-
preservation; and if no new slave territory be added, the increase of
slave population in the remainder will enforce measures of
Here, then, is the point of the battle. Unless more slave territory is
gained, slavery dies; if it is gained, it lives. Around this point
political parties fight and manoeuvre, and every year the battle wages
The internal struggles of no other nation in the world are so
interesting to Europeans as those of America; for America is fast
filling up from Europe, and every European has almost immediately his
vote in her councils.
If, therefore, the oppressed of other nations desire to find in
America an asylum of permanent freedom, let them come prepared, heart
and hand, and vote against the institution of slavery; for they who
enslave man cannot themselves remain free.
True are the great words of Kossuth: "No nation can remain free with
whom freedom is a privilege and not a principle."
This preface was more or less widely copied in the twenty translations
of the book that quickly followed its first appearance. These,
arranged in the alphabetical order of their languages, are as follows:
Armenian, Bohemian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Flemish, French, German,
Hungarian, Illyrian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Romaic or modern
Greek, Russian, Servian, Spanish, Wallachian, and Welsh.
In Germany it received the following flattering notice from one of the
leading literary journals: "The abolitionists in the United States
should vote the author of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' a civic crown, for a
more powerful ally than Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe and her romance
they could not have. We confess that in the whole modern romance
literature of Germany, England, and France, we know of no novel to be
called equal to this. In comparison with its glowing eloquence that
never fails of its purpose, its wonderful truth to nature, the
largeness of its ideas, and the artistic faultlessness of the
machinery in this book, George Sand, with her Spiridon and Claudie,
appears to us untrue and artificial; Dickens, with his but too
faithful pictures from the popular life of London, petty; Bulwer,
hectic and self-conscious. It is like a sign of warning from the New
World to the Old."
Madame George Sand reviewed the book, and spoke of Mrs. Stowe herself
in words at once appreciative and discriminating: "Mrs. Stowe is all
instinct; it is the very reason she appears to some not to have
talent. Has she not talent? What is talent? Nothing, doubtless,
compared to genius; but has she genius? She has genius as humanity
feels the need of genius,--the genius of goodness, not that of the man
of letters, but that of the saint."
Charles Sumner wrote from the senate chamber at Washington to
Professor Stowe: "All that I hear and read bears testimony to the good
Mrs. Stowe has done. The article of George Sand is a most remarkable
tribute, such as was hardly ever offered by such a genius to any
living mortal. Should Mrs. Stowe conclude to visit Europe she will
have a triumph."
>From Eversley parsonage Charles Kingsley wrote to Mrs. Stowe:--
A thousand thanks for your delightful letter. As for your progress
and ovation here in England, I have no fear for you. You will be
flattered and worshiped. You deserve it and you must bear it. I am
sure that you have seen and suffered too much and too long to be
injured by the foolish yet honest and heartfelt lionizing which you
must go through.
I have many a story to tell you when we meet about the effects of the
great book upon the most unexpected people.
Yours ever faithfully,
March 28, 1853, Professor Stowe sent the following communication to
the Committee of Examination of the Theological Seminary at Andover:
"As I shall not be present at the examinations this term, I think it
proper to make to you a statement of the reasons of my absence. During
the last winter I have not enjoyed my usual health. Mrs. Stowe also
became sick and very much exhausted. At this time we had the offer of
a voyage to Great Britain and back free of expense."
This offer, coming as it did from the friends of the cause of
emancipation in the United Kingdom, was gladly accepted by Mr. and
Mrs. Stowe, and they sailed immediately.
The preceding month Mrs. Stowe had received a letter from Mrs. Follen
in London, asking for information with regard to herself, her family,
and the circumstances of her writing "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
In reply Mrs. Stowe sent the following very characteristic letter,
which may be safely given at the risk of some repetition:--
ANDOVER, February 16, 1853.
MY DEAR MADAM,--I hasten to reply to your letter, to me the more
interesting that I have long been acquainted with you, and during all
the nursery part of my life made daily use of your poems for children.
I used to think sometimes in those days that I would write to you, and
tell you how much I was obliged to you for the pleasure which they
gave us all.
So you want to know something about what sort of a woman I am! Well,
if this is any object, you shall have statistics free of charge. To
begin, then, I am a little bit of a woman,--somewhat more than forty,
about as thin and dry as a pinch of snuff; never very much to look at
in my best days, and looking like a used-up article now.
I was married when I was twenty-five years old to a man rich in Greek
and Hebrew, Latin and Arabic, and, alas! rich in nothing else. When I
went to house-keeping, my entire stock of china for parlor and kitchen
was bought for eleven dollars. That lasted very well for two years,
till my brother was married and brought his bride to visit me. I then
found, on review, that I had neither plates nor teacups to set a table
for my father's family; wherefore I thought it best to reinforce the
establishment by getting me a tea-set that cost ten dollars more, and
this, I believe, formed my whole stock in trade for some years.
But then I was abundantly enriched with wealth of another sort.
I had two little, curly-headed twin daughters to begin with, and my
stock in this line has gradually increased, till I have been the
mother of seven children, the most beautiful and the most loved of
whom lies buried near my Cincinnati residence. It was at his dying bed
and at his grave that I learned what a poor slave mother may feel when
her child is torn away from her. In those depths of sorrow which
seemed to me immeasurable, it was my only prayer to God that such
anguish might not be suffered in vain. There were circumstances about
his death of such peculiar bitterness, of what seemed almost cruel
suffering, that I felt that I could never be consoled for it, unless
this crushing of my own heart might enable me to work out some great
good to others. . . . I allude to this here because I have often felt
that much that is in that book ("Uncle Tom") had its root in the awful
scenes and bitter sorrows of that summer. It has left now, I trust, no
trace on my mind, except a deep compassion for the sorrowful,
especially for mothers who are separated from their children.
During long years of struggling with poverty and sickness, and a hot,
debilitating climate, my children grew up around me. The nursery and
the kitchen were my principal fields of labor. Some of my friends,
pitying my trials, copied and sent a number of little sketches from my
pen to certain liberally paying "Annuals" with my name. With the first
money that I earned in this way I bought a feather-bed! for as I had
married into poverty and without a dowry, and as my husband had only a
large library of books and a great deal of learning, the bed and
pillows were thought the most profitable investment. After this I
thought that I had discovered the philosopher's stone. So when a new
carpet or mattress was going to be needed, or when, at the close of
the year, it began to be evident that my family accounts, like poor
Dora's, "wouldn't add up," then I used to say to my faithful friend
and factotum Anna, who shared all my joys and sorrows, "Now, if you
will keep the babies and attend to the things in the house for one
day, I'll write a piece, and then we shall be out of the scrape." So I
became an author,--very modest at first, I do assure you, and
remonstrating very seriously with the friends who had thought it best
to put my name to the pieces by way of getting up a reputation; and if
you ever see a woodcut of me, with an immoderately long nose, on the
cover of all the U.S. Almanacs, I wish you to take notice, that I have
been forced into it contrary to my natural modesty by the imperative
solicitations of my dear five thousand friends and the public
generally. One thing I must say with regard to my life at the West,
which you will understand better than many English women could.
I lived two miles from the city of Cincinnati, in the country, and
domestic service, not always you know to be found in the city, is next
to an impossibility to obtain in the country, even by those who are
willing to give the highest wages; so what was to be expected for poor
me, who had very little of this world's goods to offer?
Had it not been for my inseparable friend Anna, a noble-hearted
English girl, who landed on our shores in destitution and sorrow, and
clave to me as Ruth to Naomi, I had never lived through all the trials
which this uncertainty and want of domestic service imposed on both:
you may imagine, therefore, how glad I was when, our seminary property
being divided out into small lots which were rented at a low price, a
number of poor families settled in our vicinity, from whom we could
occasionally obtain domestic service. About a dozen families of
liberated slaves were among the number, and they became my favorite
resort in cases of emergency. If anybody wishes to have a black face
look handsome, let them be left, as I have been, in feeble health in
oppressive hot weather, with a sick baby in arms, and two or three
other little ones in the nursery, and not a servant in the whole house
to do a single turn. Then, if they could see my good old Aunt Frankie
coming with her honest, bluff, black face, her long, strong arms, her
chest as big and stout as a barrel, and her hilarious, hearty laugh,
perfectly delighted to take one's washing and do it at a fair price,
they would appreciate the beauty of black people.
My cook, poor Eliza Buck,--how she would stare to think of her name
going to England!--was a regular epitome of slave life in herself;
fat, gentle, easy, loving and lovable, always calling my very modest
house and door-yard "The Place," as if it had been a plantation with
seven hundred hands on it. She had lived through the whole sad story
of a Virginia-raised slave's life. In her youth she must have been a
very handsome mulatto girl. Her voice was sweet, and her manners
refined and agreeable. She was raised in a good family as a nurse and
seamstress. When the family became embarrassed, she was suddenly sold
on to a plantation in Louisiana. She has often told me how, without
any warning, she was suddenly forced into a carriage, and saw her
little mistress screaming and stretching her arms from the window
towards her as she was driven away. She has told me of scenes on the
Louisiana plantation, and she has often been out at night by stealth
ministering to poor slaves who had been mangled and lacerated by the
lash. Hence she was sold into Kentucky, and her last master was the
father of all her children. On this point she ever maintained a
delicacy and reserve that always appeared to me remarkable. She always
called him her husband; and it was not till after she had lived with
me some years that I discovered the real nature of the connection. I
shall never forget how sorry I felt for her, nor my feelings at her
humble apology, "You know, Mrs. Stowe, slave women cannot help
themselves." She had two very pretty quadroon daughters, with her
beautiful hair and eyes, interesting children, whom I had instructed
in the family school with my children. Time would fail to tell you all
that I learned incidentally of the slave system in the history of
various slaves who came into my family, and of the underground
railroad which, I may say, ran through our house. But the letter is
already too long.
You ask with regard to the remuneration which I have received for my
work here in America. Having been poor all my life and expecting to be
poor the rest of it, the idea of making money by a book which I wrote
just because I could not help it, never occurred to me. It was
therefore an agreeable surprise to receive ten thousand dollars as the
first-fruits of three months' sale. I presume as much more is now due.
Mr. Bosworth in England, the firm of Clarke & Co., and Mr. Bentley,
have all offered me an interest in the sales of their editions in
London. I am very glad of it, both on account of the value of what
they offer, and the value of the example they set in this matter,
wherein I think that justice has been too little regarded.
I have been invited to visit Scotland, and shall probably spend the
summer there and in England.
I have very much at heart a design to erect in some of the Northern
States a normal school, for the education of colored teachers in the
United States and in Canada. I have very much wished that some
permanent memorial of good to the colored race might be created out of
the proceeds of a work which promises to have so unprecedented a sale.
My own share of the profits will be less than that of the publishers',
either English or American; but I am willing to give largely for this
purpose, and I have no doubt that the publishers, both American and
English, will unite with me; for nothing tends more immediately to the
emancipation of the slave than the education and elevation of the
I am now writing a work which will contain, perhaps, an equal amount
of matter with "Uncle Tom's Cabin." It will contain all the facts and
documents on which that story was founded, and an immense body of
facts, reports of trials, legal documents, and testimony of people now
living South, which will more than confirm every statement in "Uncle
I must confess that till I began the examination of facts in order to
write this book, much as I thought I knew before, I had not begun to
measure the depth of the abyss. The law records of courts and judicial
proceedings are so incredible as to fill me with amazement whenever I
think of them. It seems to me that the book cannot but be felt, and,
coming upon the sensibility awaked by the other, do something.
I suffer exquisitely in writing these things. It may be truly said
that I write with my heart's blood. Many times in writing "Uncle Tom's
Cabin" I thought my health would fail utterly; but I prayed earnestly
that God would help me till I got through, and still I am pressed
beyond measure and above strength.
This horror, this nightmare abomination! can it be in my country! It
lies like lead on my heart, it shadows my life with sorrow; the more
so that I feel, as for my own brothers, for the South, and am pained
by every horror I am obliged to write, as one who is forced by some
awful oath to disclose in court some family disgrace. Many times I
have thought that I must die, and yet I pray God that I may live to
see something done. I shall in all probability be in London in May:
shall I see you?
It seems to me so odd and dream-like that so many persons desire to
see me, and now I cannot help thinking that they will think, when they
do, that God hath chosen "the weak things of this world."
If I live till spring I shall hope to see Shakespeare's grave, and
Milton's mulberry-tree, and the good land of my fathers,--old, old
England! May that day come!