Read CHAPTER VI - HARRIET BEECHER STOWE of Daughters of the Puritans A Group of Brief Biographies , free online book, by Seth Curtis Beach, on

“Is this the little woman who made this great war!” exclaimed President Lincoln when, in 1862, Mrs. Stowe was introduced to him. There was but one woman in America to whom this could have been said without absurdity. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was so conspicuous a factor in bringing on the war which abolished American slavery that to credit these results to Mrs. Stowe was not fulsome flattery but graceful compliment.

There are two excellent biographies of Mrs. Stowe, one published in 1889, by her son, Rev. Charles E. Stowe, and one, in 1897, by Mrs. Annie Fields. That work will hardly need to be done again. The object of this sketch is to study the influences that moulded Mrs. Stowe, to present the salient features of her career, and, incidentally, to discover her characteristic qualities. Her fame rests upon her literary achievements, and these are comparatively well known. Her literary career can hardly be said to have begun until the age of forty and, if this were the only interest her life had for us, we could pass hastily over her youth. It will be found however that her religious development, begun prematurely with her fourth year and continued without consideration or discretion until at seventeen she became a chronic invalid, gives a kind of tragic interest to her earlier years. Her religious education may not have been unique; it may have been characteristic of much of the religious life of New England, but girls set at work upon the problems of their souls at the age of four have seldom attained the distinction of having their biographies written, so that one can study their history.

Harriet, the second daughter and seventh child of Lyman Beecher and Roxanna Foote, was born in Litchfield, Conn., June 14, 1811. There were three Mrs. Lyman Beechers of whom Roxanna Foote was the first. The Footes were Episcopalians, Harriet, sister of Roxanna, being as Mrs. Stowe says, “the highest of High Churchwomen who in her private heart did not consider my father an ordained minister.” Roxanna, perhaps not so high-church, held out for two years against Dr. Beecher’s assaults upon her heart and then consented to become his wife.

Mrs. Beecher was a refined and cultivated lady who “read all the new works that were published at that day,” numbered painting among her accomplishments, and whose house “was full of little works of ingenuity and taste and skill, which had been wrought by her hand: pictures of birds and flowers, done with minutest skill”; but her greatest charm was a religious nature full of all gentleness and sweetness. “In no exigency,” says Dr. Beecher, “was she taken by surprise. She was just there, quiet as an angel above.” There seems to have been but one thing which this saintly woman with an Episcopalian education could not do to meet the expectations of a Congregational parish, and that was that “in the weekly female prayer-meeting she could never lead the devotions”; but from this duty she seems to have been excused because of her known sensitiveness and timidity.

Mrs. Beecher died when Harriet was in her fourth year, but she left an indelible impression upon her family. Her “memory met us everywhere,” says Mrs. Stowe; “when father wished to make an appeal to our hearts which he knew we could not resist, he spoke of mother.” It had been the mother’s prayer that her sons, of whom there were six, should be ministers, and ministers they all were. One incident Mrs. Stowe remembered which may be supposed to have set Sunday apart as a day of exceptional sanctity. It was that “of our all running and dancing out before her from the nursery to the sitting-room one Sabbath morning and her pleasant voice saying after us, ’Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.’” Such early religious impressions made upon the mind of a child of four would have faded in other surroundings, but it will be seen that Harriet’s environment gave no rest to her little soul.

After the death of her mother, the child was sent to her grandmother Foote’s for a long visit. There she fell to the charge of her aunt Harriet, than whom, we are told, “a more energetic human being never undertook the education of a child.” According to her views, “little girls were to be taught to move very gently, to speak softly and prettily, to say ‘Yes ma’am’ and ‘No ma’am,’ never to tear their clothes, to sew and knit at regular hours, to go to church on Sunday and make all the responses, and to come home and be catechised. I remember those catechisings when she used to place my little cousin Mary and myself bolt upright at her knee while black Dinah and Harvey, the bound boy, were ranged at a respectful distance behind us.... I became a proficient in the Church catechism and gave my aunt great satisfaction by the old-fashioned gravity and steadiness with which I learned to repeat it.” This early training in the catechism and the responses bore fruit in giving Mrs. Stowe a life-long fondness for the Episcopal service and ultimately in taking her into the Episcopal Church, of which during her last thirty years she was a communicant. Harriet signalized her fifth year by committing to memory twenty-seven hymns and “two long chapters of the Bible,” and even more perhaps, by accidentally discovering in the attic a discarded volume of the “Arabian Nights,” with which, she says, her fortune was made. It was a much more suitable child’s book, one would think, than the Church catechism or Watts’s hymns.

At the age of six Harriet passed to the care of the second Mrs. Lyman Beecher, formerly Harriet Porter, of Portland, Maine, apparently a lady of great dignity and character. “We felt,” says Mrs. Stowe, “a little in awe of her, as if she were a strange princess rather than our own mamma; but her voice was very sweet, her ways of speaking and moving very graceful, and she took us up in her lap and let us play with her beautiful hands which seemed wonderful things, made of pearl and ornamented with strange rings.” It appears she was a faithful mother, though a little severe and repressive. Henry Ward Beecher said of her: “She did the office-work of a mother if ever a mother did”; she “performed to the uttermost her duties, according to her ability”; she “was a woman of profound veneration rather than of a warm loving nature. Therefore her prayer was invariably a prayer of deep yearning reverence. I remember well the impression which it made on me. There was a mystic influence about it. A sort of sympathetic hold it had on me, but still I always felt when I went to prayer, as though I were going into a crypt, where the sun was not allowed to come; and I shrunk from it.” To complete the portrait of this conscientious lady who was to have the supervision of Harriet from her sixth year, the following from a letter of one of the Beecher children is worth quoting: “Mamma is well and don’t laugh any more than she did.” Evidently a rather stern and sobering influence had come into the Beecher family.

“In her religion,” says Mrs. Stowe, “she was distinguished by a most unfaltering Christ-worship.... Had it not been that Dr. Payson had set up and kept before her a tender, human, loving Christ, she would have been only a conscientious bigot. This image, however, gave softness and warmth to her religious life, and I have since noticed how her Christ-enthusiasm has sprung up in the hearts of all her children.” This passage is of peculiar interest as it shows the source of what Mrs. Stowe loves to call the “Christ-worship” which characterized the religion of the younger Beechers. Writing at the age of seventeen, when her soul was tossing between Scylla and Charybdis, Harriet says: “I feel that I love God, that is, that I love Christ”; and in 1876, writing of her brother Henry, she says, “He and I are Christ-worshippers, adoring him as the Image of the Invisible God.” Her son refers us to the twenty-fourth chapter of the Minister’s Wooing for a complete presentation of this subject “of Christ-worship.” Mrs. Stowe speaks of this belief as a plain departure from ordinary Trinitarianism, as a kind of heresy which it has required some courage to hold. The heresy seems to have consisted in practically dropping the first and third persons in the Godhead and accepting Christ as the only God we know or need to consider.

As Mrs. Stowe during her adult life was an invalid, it is interesting to have Mrs. Beecher’s testimony that, on her arrival, she was met by a lovely family of children and “with heartfelt gratitude,” she says, “I observed how cheerful and healthy they were.” When Harriet was ten years of age, she began to attend the Litchfield Academy and was recognized as one of its brightest pupils. She especially excelled in writing compositions and, at the age of twelve, her essay was one of two or three selected to be read at a school exhibition. After Harriet’s had been read, Dr. Beecher turned to the teacher and asked, “Who wrote that composition?” “Your daughter, Sir,” was the reply. “It was,” says Mrs. Stowe, “the proudest moment of my life.”

“Can the immortality of the soul be proved by the light of Nature?” was the subject of this juvenile composition, a strange choice for a girl of twelve summers; but in this family the religious climate was tropical, and forced development. As might have been expected, she easily proved that nothing of immortality could be known by the light of nature. She had been too well instructed to think otherwise. Dr. Beecher himself had no good opinion of ‘the light of nature.’ “They say,” said he, “that everybody knows about God naturally. A lie. All such ideas are by teaching.” If Harriet had taken the other side of her question and argued as every believer tries to to-day, she would have deserved some credit for originality. Nevertheless the form of her argument is remarkable for her years, and would not have dishonored Dr. Beecher’s next sermon. This amazing achievement of a girl of twelve can be read in the Life of Mrs. Stowe by her son.

From the Litchfield Academy, Harriet was sent to the celebrated Female Seminary established by her sister Catharine at Hartford, Conn. She here began the study of Latin and, “at the end of the first year, made a translation of Ovid in verse which was read at the final exhibition of the school.” It was her ambition to be a poet and she began a play called ‘Cleon,’ filling “blank book after blank book with this drama.” Mrs. Fields prints six pages of this poem and the specimens have more than enough merit to convince one that the author might have attained distinction as a poet. Her energetic sister Catharine however put an end to this innocent diversion, saying that she must not waste her time writing poetry but discipline her mind upon Butler’s Analogy. To enforce compliance, Harriet was assigned to teach the Analogy to a class of girls as old as herself, “being compelled to master each chapter just ahead of the class.” This occupation, with Latin, French and Italian, sufficiently protected her from the dissipation of writing poetry.

Harriet remained in the Hartford school, as pupil and teacher, from her thirteenth to her twenty-third year. In her spiritual history, this was an important period. It may seem that her soul had hitherto not been neglected but as yet youth and a sunny nature had kept her from any agonies of Christian experience. Now her time had come. No one under the care of the stern Puritan, Catharine Beecher, would be suffered to forget her eternal interests. Both of Mrs. Stowe’s biographers feel the necessity of making us acquainted with this masterful lady, “whose strong, vigorous mind and tremendous personality,” says Mr. Stowe, “indelibly stamped themselves on the sensitive, dreamy, poetic nature of her younger sister.”

It was Catharine’s distinction to have written, it is claimed, the best refutation of Edwards on the Will ever published. She was undoubtedly the most acute and vigorous intellect in the Beecher family. Like all the members of her remarkable family, she was intensely religious and, at the period when Harriet passed to her care, gloomily religious. It could not have been otherwise. She had been engaged to marry Prof. Alexander Fisher, of Yale College, a young man of great promise. Unhappily, he was drowned at sea, and she believed his soul was eternally lost. It is futile to ask why Yale College should have entrusted a professorship to a man whom the Lord would send to perdition, or why Miss Beecher should have loved such an abandoned character; it is enough to say that she loved him and that she believed his soul to be lost; and was it her fault that she could not be a cheerful companion to a young girl of thirteen?

As we have seen, Harriet must not fritter away her time writing plays; she must study Butler’s Analogy. She must also read Baxter’s Saints Rest, than which, says Mrs. Stowe, “no book ever affected me more powerfully. As I walked the pavements I wished that they might sink beneath me if only I might find myself in heaven.” In this mental condition she went to her home in Litchfield to spend her vacation. One dewy fresh Sunday morning of that period stood by itself in her memory. “I knew,” she says, “it was sacramental Sunday, and thought with sadness that when all the good people should take the bread and wine I should be left out. I tried hard to think of my sins and count them up; but what with the birds, the daisies, and the brooks that rippled by the way, it was impossible.” The sermon of Dr. Beecher was unusually sweet and tender and when he appealed to his hearers to trust themselves to Jesus, their faithful friend, she says, “I longed to cry out I will. Then the awful thought came over me that I had never had any conviction of my sins and consequently could not come to him.” Happily the inspiration came to her that if she needed conviction of sin and Jesus were such a friend, he would give it to her; she would trust him for the whole, and she went home illumined with joy.

When her father returned, she fell into his arms saying, “Father, I have given myself to Jesus and he has taken me.” “Is it so?” said he. “Then has a new flower blossomed in the kingdom this day.” This is very sweet and beautiful and it shows that Dr. Beecher had a tender heart under his Calvinistic theology. “If she could have been let alone,” says her son, “and taught to ’look up and not down, forward and not back, out and not in,’ this religious experience might have gone on as sweetly and naturally as the opening of a flower in the gentle rays of the sun. But unfortunately this was not possible at a time when self-examination was carried to an extreme that was calculated to drive a nervous and sensitive child well-nigh distracted. First, even her sister Catharine was afraid that there might be something wrong in the case of a lamb that had come into the fold without being first chased all over the lot by the shepherd: great stress being laid on what was called being under conviction. Then also the pastor of the First Church in Hartford, a bosom friend of Dr. Beecher, looked with melancholy and suspicious eyes on this unusual and doubtful path to heaven.”

Briefly stated, these two spiritual guides put Harriet through a process which brought her to a sense of sin that must have filled their hearts with joy. She reached the stage when she wrote to her brother Edward: “My whole life is one continued struggle; I do nothing right. I am beset behind and before, and my sins take away all my happiness.”

Unfortunately for her, it was at this stage of Harriet’s religious experience that Dr. Beecher was called to Boston to stem the rising tide of Unitarianism, with its easy notions about conviction of sin and other cardinal elements of a true faith. To be thrown into the fervors of a crusade was just the experience which Harriet’s heated brain did not need. Her life at this period was divided between Hartford and Boston, but her heart went with Dr. Beecher to his great enterprise in Boston, or, as Mrs. Fields says, “This period in Boston was the time when Harriet felt she drew nearer to her father than at any other period of her life.”

It will not be necessary to go farther into this controversy than to show what a cauldron it was for the family of Dr. Beecher. In his autobiography, Dr. Beecher says, “From the time Unitarianism began to show itself in this country, it was as fire in my bones.” After his call to Boston, he writes again, “My mind had been heating, heating, heating. Now I had a chance to strike.” The situation that confronted him in Boston rather inflamed than subdued his spirit. Let Mrs. Stowe tell the story herself. “Calvinism or orthodoxy,” she says, “was the despised and persecuted form of faith. It was the dethroned royal family wandering like a permitted mendicant in the city where it once held high court, and Unitarianism reigned in its stead. All the literary men of Massachusetts were Unitarians. All the trustees and professors of Harvard College were Unitarians. All the elite of wealth and fashion crowded Unitarian churches. The judges on the bench were Unitarian, giving decisions by which the peculiar features of church organization, so carefully ordained by the Pilgrim Fathers, had been nullified. The dominant majority entered at once into possession of churches and church property, leaving the orthodox minority to go out into schoolhouses and town halls, and build their churches as best they could.”

We can hardly suppose that Harriet had read the decision of the court, or that she deemed it necessary; she knew it was wrong by instinct, and the iron entered her soul. The facts appear to have been as follows: The old parishes in New England included a given territory like a school district or a voting precinct. Members of a given parish, if they were communicants, formed themselves into a “church” which was the church of that parish. The court decided that this church always remained the church of that parish. Members might withdraw, but they withdrew as individuals. They could not withdraw the church, not even if they constituted a majority.

The correctness of this decision does not concern us here; it is enough that Dr. Beecher thought it wrong and that Harriet thought it wrong. “The effect of all this,” she says, “upon my father’s mind was to keep him at a white heat of enthusiasm. His family prayers at this period, departing from the customary forms of unexcited hours, became often upheavings of passionate emotion, such as I shall never forget. ‘Come, Lord Jesus,’ he would say, ’here where the bones of the fathers rest, here where the crown has been torn from thy brow, come and recall thy wandering children. Behold thy flock scattered upon the mountain these sheep, what have they done! Gather them, gather them, O good shepherd, for their feet stumble upon the dark mountains.’”

The fierce heat of this period was too much for a tender plant like Harriet. For her state of mind, even Catharine thought the Boston home life was not entirely suitable. It would be better for her in Hartford. “Harriet will have young society here which she cannot have at home, and I think cheerful and amusing friends will do much for her.” Catharine had received a letter from Harriet which, she says, “made me feel uneasy,” as well it might. Harriet had written her sister: “I don’t know as I am fit for anything, and I have thought that I could wish to die young and let the remembrance of me and my faults perish in the grave.... Sometimes I could not sleep, and have groaned and cried till midnight, while in the daytime I tried to appear cheerful, and succeeded so well that papa reproved me for laughing so much.” Life was too serious to permit even an affectation of gaiety. “The atmosphere of that period,” says Mrs. Field, “and the terrible arguments of her father and of her sister Catharine were sometimes more than she could endure.” Her brother Edward was helpful and comforting. She thanks him for helping her solve some of her problems, but the situation was critical: “I feared that if you left me thus I might return to the same dark, desolate state in which I had been all summer. I felt that my immortal interest, my happiness for both worlds, was depending on the turn my feelings might take.”

Dr. Beecher was too much absorbed with his mission to observe what was going on in his own family, unless there chanced to be an unexpected outburst of gaiety. “Every leisure hour was beset by people who came with earnest intention to express to him those various phases of weary, restless wandering desire proper to an earnest people whose traditional faith has been broken up.... Inquirers were constantly coming with every imaginable theological problem ... he was to be seen all day talking with whoever would talk ... till an hour or two before the time (of service), when he would rush up to his study; ... just as the last stroke of the bell was dying away, he would emerge from the study with his coat very much awry, come down stairs like a hurricane, stand impatiently protesting while female hands that ever lay in wait adjusted his cravat and settled his collar ... and hooking wife or daughter like a satchel on his arm, away he would start on such a race through the streets as left neither brain nor breath till the church was gained.” Such, very much abbreviated, is Mrs. Stowe’s portrait of her father at this period. It is a good example of her power of delineation; but what a life was this for a half distracted girl like Harriet! Much better for her would have been the old serene, peaceful, quiet life of Litchfield.

She had several kinds of religious trouble. It troubled her that in the book of Job, God should seem “to have stripped a dependent creature of all that renders life desirable, and then to have answered his complaints from the whirlwind, and, instead of showing mercy and pity, to have overwhelmed him with a display of his power and justice.” It troubled her that when she allowed herself to take a milder view of deity, “I feel,” she says, “less fear of God and, in view of sin, I feel only a sensation of grief.” This was an alarming decline. It troubled her again that she loved literature, whereas she ought only to care for religion. She writes to Edward: “You speak of your predilections for literature being a snare to you. I have found it so myself.” Evidently, as she has before said, she was beset behind and before. What was perhaps worst of all, the heavens seemed closed to her. Calvinism was pure agnosticism; and she had been educated a Calvinist. There was no ‘imminent God,’ in all and through all, for Calvinism; that came in with Transcendentalism, a form of thought which never seems to have touched Mrs. Stowe. She seems always to have felt, as at this period she writes Edward, that “still, after all, God is a being afar off.” Nevertheless, there was Christ, but Christ at this period was also afar off: “I feel that I love God, that is that I love Christ, that I find happiness in it, and yet it is not that kind of comfort which would arise from free communication of my wants and sorrows to a friend. I sometimes wish that the Savior were visibly present in this world, that I might go to him for a solution of some of my difficulties.”

It will be seen from this passage that Harriet’s storm-tossed soul was settling down upon Christ as the nearest approach to God one could gain in the darkness, and with this she taught herself to be content. “So, after four years of struggling and suffering,” writes her son, “she returns to the place where she started from as a child of thirteen. It has been like watching a ship with straining masts and storm-beaten sails, buffeted by the waves, making for the harbor, and coming at last to quiet anchorage.” One cannot help reflecting how different would have been her experience in the household of Dr. Channing; but Dr. Beecher would sooner have trusted her in a den of wolves.

Harriet was seventeen years old when, mentally, she reached her quiet anchorage but, physically as might be expected, it was with a constitution undermined and with health broken. “She had not grown to be a strong woman,” says Mrs. Fields; “the apparently healthy and hearty child had been suffered to think and feel, to study and starve (as we say), starve for relaxation, until she became a woman of much suffering and many inadequacies of physical life.” A year or two later Harriet herself writes, “This inner world of mine has become worn out and untenable,” and again, “About half my time I am scarcely alive.... I have everything but good health.... Thought, intense emotional thought, has been my disease.”

At the end of six restless and stormy years, in 1832, Dr. Beecher resigned his Boston pastorate to accept the presidency of Lane Theological Seminary at Cincinnati, Ohio, Catharine and Harriet accompanying the family with the purpose of establishing a high grade school for young women. The plan was successfully carried out, and the “Western Female Institute” marked a new stage in education west of the Alleghenies. One of Harriet’s early achievements at Cincinnati was the publication of a text-book in geography, her first attempt at authorship. She made her entry into the field of imaginative literature by gaining a prize of $50 for a story printed in The Western Magazine.

Her connection with the “Western Female Institute” was brief, and the prosecution of a literary career was postponed, by her marriage in 1836, with Prof. Calvin E. Stowe; or, as she announces this momentous event: “about half an hour more and your old friend, schoolmate, sister, etc., will cease to be Hattie Beecher and change to nobody knows who.”

The married life of Mrs. Stowe covered a period of fifty years and was a conspicuously happy one. Prof. Stowe, who seemed so much like a myth to the general public, was a man of great learning and keen intelligence, unimaginative as he says himself, but richly endowed with “a certain broad humor and drollery.” His son tells us that he was “an inimitable mimic and story-teller. No small proportion of Mrs. Stowe’s success as a literary woman is to be attributed to him.” The Sam Lawson stories are said to be a little more his than hers, being “told as they came from Mr. Stowe’s lips with little or no alteration.” For her scholarly husband, Mrs. Stowe had the highest appreciation and the prettiest way of expressing it: “If you were not already my dearly loved husband,” she writes him, “I should certainly fall in love with you.” Prof. Stowe could also write a love-letter: “There is no woman like you in this wide world. Who else has so much talent with so little self-conceit; so much reputation with so little affectation; so much literature with so little nonsense; so much enterprise with so little extravagance; so much tongue with so little scold; so much sweetness with so little softness; so much of so many things and so little of so many other things.” If a man’s wife is to have her biography written, he will not be sorry that he has sent her some effusive love-letters.

Fourteen years of Mrs. Stowe’s beautiful married life were spent in Cincinnati, with many vicissitudes of ill-health, some poverty, and the birth of six children, three sons and three daughters. One can get some idea both of the happiness and the hardship of that life from her letters. In 1843, seven years after marriage, she writes, “Our straits for money this year are unparalleled even in our annals. Even our bright and cheery neighbor Allen begins to look blue, and says $600 is the very most we can hope to collect of our salary, once $1,200.” Again she writes, “I am already half sick from confinement to the house and overwork. If I should sew every day for a month to come I should not be able to accomplish half of what is to be done.” There were trials enough during this period, but her severest affliction came in its last year, in the loss of an infant son by cholera. That was in 1849, when Cincinnati was devastated; when during the months of June, July and August more than nine thousand persons died of cholera within three miles of her house, and among them she says, “My Charley, my beautiful, loving, gladsome baby, so loving, so sweet, so full of life and hope and strength.”

In these years, Mrs. Stowe’s life was too full of domestic care to permit many excursions into the field of literature. In 1842, a collection of sketches was published by the Harpers under the title of the “Mayflower.” Occasionally she contributed a bright little story to a monthly or an annual. An amusing account is given of the writing of one of these stories, by a lady who volunteered to serve as amanuensis while Mrs. Stowe dictated, and at the same time supervised a new girl in the kitchen: “You may now write,” said Mrs. Stowe, “’Her lover wept with her, nor dared he again touch the point so sacredly guarded (Mina, roll that crust a little thinner). He spoke in soothing tones. (Mina, poke the coals).’”

These literary efforts, produced under difficulties, inspired Prof. Stowe with great confidence in her genius. He wrote her in 1842, “My dear, you must be a literary woman. It is so written in the book of fate.” Again he writes, “God has written it in his book that you must be a literary woman, and who are we that we should contend against God! You must therefore make all your calculations to spend the rest of your life with your pen.” Nevertheless the next eight years pass as the last six have passed without apparently bringing the dream of a literary career nearer fulfilment. With a few strokes of the pen, Mrs. Stowe draws a picture of her life at this period: “I was married when I was twenty-five years old to a man rich in Greek and Hebrew and, alas, rich in nothing else.... 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 good 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 things in the house for a day, I’ll write a piece and then we’ll be out of the scrape.’ So I became an author, very modest I do assure you.”

The hardships and privations of Mrs. Stowe’s residence in Cincinnati were more than compensated to her by the opportunity it afforded for intimate acquaintance with the negro character and personal observation of the institution of slavery. Only the breadth of the Ohio river separated her from Kentucky, a slave State. While yet a teacher in the Female Institute, she spent a vacation upon a Kentucky estate, afterward graphically described in ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ as Col. Shelby’s plantation. A companion upon this visit said, “Harriet did not seem to notice anything in particular that happened.... Afterwards, in reading ‘Uncle Tom,’ I recognized scene after scene of that visit portrayed with the most minute fidelity.” A dozen years before there were any similar demonstrations in Boston, she witnessed in 1838, proslavery riots in Cincinnati when Birney’s Abolition press was wrecked and when Henry Ward Beecher, then a young Cincinnati editor, went armed to and from his office. She had had in her service a slave girl whose master was searching the city for her, and whose rescue had been effected by Prof. Stowe and Henry Ward Beecher who, “both armed, drove the fugitive, in a covered wagon, by night, by unfrequented roads, twelve miles back into the country, and left her in safety.” This incident was the basis of “the fugitive’s escape from Tom Loker and Marks in ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin.’”

Lane Theological Seminary, in which Prof. Stowe held a chair, had, it is said, “become a hot-bed of abolition.” Partly for protection, a colony of negroes had settled about the seminary, and these families, says Mrs. Stowe, “became my favorite resort in cases of emergency. If anyone 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 other ones in the nursery, and not a servant in the whole house to do a turn.” “Time would fail me,” writes Mrs. Stowe, “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.”

A New England education alone would not have given Mrs. Stowe the material to write the story of “Uncle Tom.” A youth passed on a Southern plantation would have made her callous and indifferent, as it did so many tender-hearted women. A New England woman of genius, educated in New England traditions, was providentially transferred to the heated border line between freedom and slavery and, during eighteen years, made to hear a thousand authentic incidents of the patriarchal system from the victims themselves. Then “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” could be written. Perhaps one other element of preparation ought to be mentioned since Mrs. Stowe laid stress upon it herself. The woman who should write “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” needed to be a mother who had known what it is to have a child snatched from her arms irrevocably and without a moment’s notice. It was at her baby’s “dying bed and at his grave that I learned,” she says, “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.... I allude to this because I have often felt that much that is in that book (’Uncle Tom’) had its roots in the awful scenes and bitter sorrows of that summer.”

In 1850, this western life, with its mixture of sweet and bitter waters, came to an end. The climate of Cincinnati was unfavorable to the health of both Mr. and Mrs. Stowe, and Mr. Stowe accepted a professorship in Bowdoin College, at the small salary of $1,000 a year, declining at the same time an offer from New York city of $2,300. Why he accepted the smaller salary is not said. Certainly it assured him his old felicity, his Master’s blessing upon the poor. The situation, however, was better than it seems, as Mrs. Stowe had written enough to have confidence in her pen, and she purposed to make the family income at least $1,700 by her writings. She accomplished much more than that as we shall presently see.

From the car window, as one passes through Brunswick, Maine, he can see the house in which Mrs. Stowe passed the three following very happy years, in which her seventh child was born, a son who lived to be her biographer, and in which she wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” It will be remembered that the year 1850 was made memorable by the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Law. How the attempted execution of this law affected Mrs. Stowe can be anticipated. “To me,” she says, “it is incredible, amazing, mournful. I feel as if I should be willing to sink with it, were all this sin and misery to sink in the sea.... I sobbed, aloud in one pew and Mrs. Judge Reeves in another.”

In this mood, Mrs. Stowe received a letter from Mrs. Edward Beecher saying, “Hattie, if I could use a pen as you can, I would write something to make this nation feel what an accursed thing slavery is.” Her children remember that at the reading of this letter, Mrs. Stowe rose from her chair, crushing the letter in her hand, and said, “I will write something, I will if I live.” The fulfilment of this vow was “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

This story was begun in The National Era, on June 5, 1851; it was announced to run through three months and it occupied ten. “I could not control the story,” said Mrs. Stowe; “it wrote itself.” Again, she said, “I the author of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin!’ No, indeed. The Lord himself wrote it, and I was but the humblest instrument in his hand.” It has been said that “‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ made the crack of the slave-driver’s whip and the cries of the tortured blacks ring in every household in the land, till human hearts could bear it no longer,” and that it “made the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law an impossibility.”

It is possible to discuss the question whether “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is a work of art, just as it is possible to discuss whether the Sermon on the Mount is a work of art, but not whether the story was effective, not whether it hit the mark and accomplished its purpose. Mrs. Stowe’s story is not so much one story as a dozen; in the discriminating language of her son, it is “a series of pictures,” and who will deny that the scenes are skilfully portrayed!

Mrs. Stowe did not know that she had made her fortune; she had not written for money; nevertheless when the story was republished in a volume, her ten per cent. of the profits brought her $10,000 in four months. It went to its third edition in ten days, and one hundred and twenty editions, or more than 300,000 copies were sold in this country within one year. This astounding popularity was exceeded in Great Britain. Not being protected by copyright, eighteen publishing houses issued editions varying from 6d to 15s a copy, and in twelve months, more than a million and a half of copies had been sold in the British dominions. The book was also translated and published in nineteen European languages. It was dramatized and brought out in New York in 1852, and, a year later it was running still. “Everybody goes,” it was said, “night after night and nothing can stop it.” In London, in 1852, it was the attraction at two theatres.

What the public thought of the story is evident, nor did competent judges dissent. Longfellow said: “It is one of the greatest triumphs recorded in literary history, to say nothing of the higher triumph of its moral effect.” George Sand said: “Mrs. Stowe is all instinct; it is the very reason that she appears to some to have no talent.... I cannot say that she has talent as one understands it in the world of letters, but she has genius as humanity feels the need of it, the genius of goodness, not that of the man of letters, but of the saint.... In matters of art, there is but one rule, to paint and to move.” I give but a paragraph of a paper which Senator Sumner called “a most remarkable tribute, such as was hardly ever offered by such a genius to any living mortal.”

Apologists for the slave system have declared that “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is a libel upon the system. One must do that before he can begin his apology; but the remarkable fact is that not even in the South was the libel detected at the first. That was an after-thought. Whittier knew a lady who read the story “to some twenty young ladies, daughters of slave-holders, near New Orleans and amid the scenes described in it, and they with one accord pronounced it true.” It was not till the sale of the book had run to over 100,000 copies that a reaction set in and then, strange to say, the note of warning was sounded by that infallible authority upon American affairs, the London Times.

In 1852, the year following the publication of “Uncle Tom” Prof. Stowe accepted a chair in the Theological Seminary at Andover, and that village became the home of the family during the ten following happy years. In 1853, Mr. and Mrs. Stowe went to England upon the invitation of Anti-Slavery friends who guaranteed and considerably overpaid the expenses of the trip. “Should Mrs. Stowe conclude to visit Europe,” wrote Senator Sumner, “she will have a triumph.” The prediction was fulfilled. At Liverpool she is met by friends and breakfasted with a little company of thirty or forty people; at Glasgow, she drinks tea with two thousand; at Edinburgh there was “another great tea party,” and she was presented with a “national penny offering consisting of a thousand golden sovereigns on a magnificent silver salver.” She had the Highlands yet to see as the guest of the Duke of Argyll, not to mention London and Paris. After five months, she sailed from Liverpool on her return, and is it any wonder that she wrote, “Almost sadly as a child might leave its home, I left the shores of kind, strong Old England, the mother of us all!”

In 1856, Mrs. Stowe visited Europe a second time for the purpose of securing an English copyright upon “Dred,” having learned something of business by her experience with “Uncle Tom.” It will be interesting to know that in England “Dred” was considered the better story, that 100,000 copies of it were sold there in four weeks, and that her English publisher issued it in editions of 125,000 copies each. “After that,” writes Mrs. Stowe, “who cares what the critics say?”

She was abroad nearly a year, visiting France, Switzerland, and Italy, and returned in June, 1857, to experience another sad bereavement. Her son Henry was a Freshman in Dartmouth college and, while bathing in the Connecticut river, he was drowned. This was a severe trial to Mrs. Stowe and the more so because, whatever her religion may have done for her, the theology in which she had been educated gave no comfort to her soul. “Distressing doubts as to Henry’s spiritual state were rudely thrust upon my soul.” These doubts she was able to master at least temporarily, by assuming that they were temptations of the devil, but three years later in Florence, on a third voyage to Europe, she wrote her husband, in reply to his allusions to Henry, “Since I have been in Florence, I have been distressed by inexpressible yearnings for him, such sighings and outreachings, with a sense of utter darkness and separation, not only from him but from all spiritual communion with my God.” It will be interesting to know that relief was brought her in this painful crisis, by the ministrations of spiritualism.

Mrs. Stowe returned in 1860 from her third visit to Europe to find the country hovering upon the verge of Civil War. The war brought her another sore bereavement. At the battle of Gettysburg, her son, Capt. Frederick Stowe, was struck by the fragment of a shell and, though the wound healed, he never really recovered. His end was sufficiently tragic. With the hope of improving his health by a long sea voyage, he sailed from New York for San Francisco by way of Cape Horn. That he reached San Francisco in safety, writes his brother, “is known: but that is all. No word from him or concerning him has ever reached the loving hearts that have waited so anxiously for it, and of his ultimate fate nothing is known.” Whatever may have been the “spiritual state” of this son, Mrs. Stowe had now somewhat modernized her theology and could say, “An endless infliction for past sins was once the doctrine that we now generally reject.... Of one thing I am sure, probation does not end with this life.” To stamp out that very heresy had been no small part of Dr. Beecher’s mission in Boston.

In 1863, Prof. Stowe having resigned his chair in Andover, Mrs. Stowe removed with her family to Hartford where for the remaining thirty-three years of her life, she made her summer home. The winter of 1866, she spent with her husband in Florida and, the year following, she bought in that semi-tropical state an orange orchard, the fruit of which the year previous had “brought $2,000 as sold at the wharf.” Here for sixteen winters Mr. and Mrs. Stowe made their home, until her “poor rabbi,” as she affectionately calls him, became too feeble to bear the long journey from Hartford. There she built a small Episcopal church and she invites her brother Charles to become an Episcopalian and come and be her minister.

Her son says that “Mrs. Stowe had some years before this joined the Episcopal church for the purpose of attending the same communion as her daughters.” That she desired to attend the same communion as her daughters does not seem a sufficient reason for leaving the communion of her husband. Certainly, she had other reasons. From her fourth year, she had known the service and, as read by her grandmother at that time, its prayers “had a different effect upon me,” she says, “from any other prayers I heard in early life.” Moreover, she had a mission to the negro race and believed that the Episcopal service is specially adapted to their needs: “If my tasks and feelings did not incline me toward the Church,” she writes her brother, “I should still choose it as the best system for training immature minds such as those of our negroes. The system was composed with reference to the wants of the laboring class of England, at a time when they were as ignorant as our negroes are now.”

The picture of her southern life which she gives in a letter to George Eliot, is very attractive, her husband “sitting on the veranda reading all day,” but during these years, Mrs. Stowe must have spent much of her own time at a writing-table since, for the ten years after 1867, when the Florida life began, she published a volume, sometimes two volumes, a year. In 1872, she was tempted by the Boston Lecture Bureau to give readings from her own works in the principal cities of New England, and the following year, the course was repeated in the cities of the West. Her audiences were to her amazing. “And how they do laugh! We get into regular gales,” she writes her lonely husband at home.

Her seventieth birthday was celebrated at a gathering of two hundred of the leading literary men and women of the land, at the residence of Ex-Governor Claflin in Newton. There were poems by Whittier, Dr. Holmes, J. T. Trowbridge, Mrs. Whitney, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Mrs. Fields, and others, many excellent speeches, and finally a speech by the little woman herself. This garden party, says her son, was the last public appearance of Mrs. Stowe.

Her “rabbi” left her a widow in 1886, dying at the age of 84. Mrs. Stowe survived him ten years, dying in 1896, at the age of 85, leaving behind her a name loved and honored upon two continents.