Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Harriet Beecher Stowe



"Ah, dearer than the praise that stirs
The air to-day, our love is hers!
She needs no guaranty of fame
Whose own is linked with freedom's name."

THERE are few women in American history who have been so highly praised and so severely censured as Harriet Beecher Stowe. Mrs. Stowe was born in the year 1812, at Litchfield, Conn., just at a time when her father, Rev. Lyman Beecher, was rising into fame as a pulpit orator. As a girl she was active, conscientious and helpful. When grown she spent more or less of her time in teaching school. Later on in life she married the Rev. Calvin E. Stowe and entered upon her domestic duties with the same energy with which she took up all other duties of life, busying herself with her pen at odd moments.

She was never called beautiful, yet her large, dark eyes, and almost sad expression of countenance, show that the woman was no ordinary type. After- her marriage she moved near Boston. Here she had an opportunity to study the negro character. Here she also studied the system of slavery and its influence upon master and slave. Her heart was stirred with the tales of wrong and sorrow which she heard from those who had escaped from the land of bondage. The pent-up feelings of her heart at last found an outlet. She resolved to write and tell what she knew of the crimes and horrors of the slave system, in a book. "Uncle Tom's Cabin" took the public by storm. It first appeared in detached parts through the medium of a weekly newspaper. In April, 1852, it was issued in two volumes, and in May was republished in London. By the close of 1852 more than one million copies had been sold in America and England. The book has now been translated and published in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Flemish, Polish, Russian and other languages. These versions are to be found in the British Museum, in London. It has been dramatized in twenty different forms, and to-day, not only in America, but in every capital in Europe, its influence in stamping out the dark system of slavery, is beyond^all question. Mrs. Stowe uttered a voice for humanity and for God that will not soon die away, and in strength of description has never been surpassed.

Take for instance that part where Eliza, the slave mother, concealed in a closet, overhears a conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Shelby, and learns that her little son has been sold to a trader. "When the voices died in silence, she rose and crept stealthily away. Pale, shivering, with rigid features and compressed lips, she looked an entirely altered being from the soft and timid creature she had been hitherto. She moved cautiously along the entry, paused one moment at her mistress' door, raised her hands in mute appeal to heaven, and then turned and glided into her own room. It was a quiet, neat apartment on the same floor with her mistress. There was the pleasant sunny window, where she had often sat singing at her sewing; there a little case of books, and various little fancy articles arranged by them, the gifts of Christmas holidays; there was her simple wardrobe in the closet and in the drawers; here was, in short, her home; and, on the whole, a happy one it had been to'her. But there, on the bed, lay her slumbering boy, his long curls falling negligently around his unconscious face, his rosy mouth half open, his little fat hands thrown out over the bed clothes, and a smile spread like a sunbeam over his whole face. 'Poor boy, poor fellow,' said Eliza; 'they have sold you; but your mother will save you yet.' No tear dropped over that pillow; in such straits as these the heart has no tears to give—it drops only blood, bleeding itself away in silence."

Somewhat in advance of her pursuers, Eliza reached a village on the bank of the Ohio. Here, to her dismay, she found the river swollen to a flood, and filled with floating ice. She had been but a short time in the village tavern when "the whole train of her pursuers swept by the window, around to the front door. A thousand lives seemed to be concentrated in that one moment to Eliza. Her room opened by a side door to the river. She caught her child, and sprang down the steps toward it. The trader caught a full glimpse of her just as she was disappearing down the bank; and throwing himself from his horse, and calling loudly on Sam and Andy, he was after her like a hound after a deer. In that dizzy moment, her feet to her scarce seemed to touch the ground, and a moment brought her to the water's edge. Right on behind they came; and, nerved with strength such as God gives only to the desperate, with one wild cry and flying leap, she vaulted sheer over the turbid current by the shore, on to the raft of ice beyond. It was a desperate leap, impossible to anything but madness and despair. The huge, green fragment of ice on which she alighted pitched and creaked as her weight came on it; but she staid there not a moment. With wild cries and desperate energy she leaped to another and still another cake, stumbling, leaping, slipping, springing upward again. Her shoes are gone, her stockings cut from her feet, while blood marked every step; but she saw nothing, felt nothing, till dimly, as in a dream, she saw the Ohio side, and a man helping her up the bank."

Besides "Uncle Tom's Cabin" Mrs. Stowe wrote many other works, the most notable being "The Minister's Wooing," "Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands." and "Oldtown Folks." Mrs. Stowe passed away on the first of July, 1896, surrounded by friends in her pretty home at Hartford, Conn.

Excerpt from Leaders of the 19th Century by Evelyn Harriet Walker ©1900

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