AUNT HARRIETS CABIN: Harriet Beecher Stowes fight against slavery

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She had been unable to do a thing for the child, she told Calvin.


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For almost a week she watched him die, with no way to help, she said, no way even to ease his suffering. Calvin returned to her very soon after that, determined to leave Cincinnati for good. He had accepted a professorship at Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, Maine, and before he could settle up his affairs in Cincinnati, he characteristically sent Harriet and three of the children off to Maine ahead of him.

She left Cincinnati in the early spring of , a shabby little figure, perfectly erect, perhaps no more than five feet tall, nearly forty, and pregnant once again. She boarded a riverboat at the foot of town, saying farewell with no misgivings.

Aunt Harriet's cabin - Harriet Beecher Stowe Center

She was going home, she felt. She was also heading for a sudden and colossal notoriety of a kind never known by any American woman before, and very few since; but ofthat she had no notion whatever. Nor did she or anyone else alive have any idea how important those seventeen years in Cincinnati had been to her and, as things turned out, to the whole course of American history. She sailed up the Ohio to Pittsburgh, where she changed to a canalboat.

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Already she was feeling so good she got out and walked the towpath between locks. At Johnstown the boat and all its passengers were hoisted up and over the Allegheny Mountains by that thrilling mechanical contrivance of the nineteenth century, the Portage Railroad. East of the mountains she went by rail to New York and there crossed by ferry to Brooklyn to see her younger brother, Henry Ward, pastor of Plymouth Church. As children they had sometimes been taken for twins, only Henry Ward had been thick of speech and considered the slow one.

Now she took note of his obvious success, and they went out for a drive in a spotless six-hundred-dollar car- riage, a recent gift from his parishioners. In a few days she went on to Hartford, still looking after the children and all their baggage.

Harriet Beecher Stowe - HISTORY

Her spirits were soaring. At Hartford she stayed with her sisters Mary and I sabella ; in Boston with her brother Edward, who was growing ever more militant over the slavery issue. All the Beechers were growing more militant over one thing or another. On the day they were scheduled to arrive at Brunswick, one story goes, the president of Bowdoin sent a professor named Smith down to greet the new faculty wife, but Smith returned disappointed, saying she must have been delayed.

Nobody got off the boat, he said, except an old Irish woman and her brats. Brunswick offered precious few of the eastern civilities Mrs. Stowe had longed for, and the house Calvin had taken in advance turned out to be deserted, dreary, and damp, to use her words. She went straight to work, refinishing floors, putting up wallpaper—the pioneer again.

WhenCalvin wrote from Cincinnati to say he was sick and plainly dying and that she and theirs would soon be plunged into everlasting debt, she read the letter with humor and stuffed it into the stove. Calvin showed up before summer, her baby was born, she rested two weeks. When winter came, there were holes in her shoes, and the house was so cold during one long storm that the children had trouble sitting still long enough to eat their meals.

People are still trying to interpret the book and to explain just how and why she came to write it. She said the book came to her in visions and all she did was write down what she saw.


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I felt as badly as anyone could! It was like a death in my own family and it affected me so deeply that I could not write a word for two weeks after her death. The truth is, the subject of the book had been all around her for a very long time. Old Lyman had been able to make Litchfield farmers weep when he preached on slavery. In Cincinnati she had opened her own Sunday school to black children, and the Lane Seminary had been a hotbed of abolitionist fervor.

The Underground Railroad, she later claimed, went directly through her Cincinnati house, which was a bit of an exaggeration; but on one occasion Calvin and her brother Charles did indeed help a black woman and her child elude a slave hunter. The only time she was in an actual slave state, during a visit across the Ohio River in Kentucky, she made no show of emotion about it. Stowe had seen with her own eyes a husband and wife torn apart by a slave trader. By the time she came east to Maine, Henry Ward was using his Brooklyn pulpit to raise money to buy children out of slavery. Her duty was plain.

There was, she said, a standard higher than an act of Congress. She did some research in Boston and corresponded with Frederick Douglass on certain details.

But for all that, the book would be written more out of something within her, something she knew herself about bondage and the craving for liberation, than from any documentary sources or personal investigation of Negro slavery in the South. Indeed she really knew very little about Negro slavery in the South. Her critics would be vicious with her for this, of course, and she would go so far as to write a whole second book in defense of her sources. I will write that thing if I live. The story appeared first as a serial in the National Era , an antislavery paper, beginning in June, The finished story was brought out in book form by the publisher, John P.

Jewett, in two volumes on March 2O, , a month before the serialized version ended. Calvin thought the book had little importance. He wept over it, but he wept over most of the things she wrote. Her publisher warned that her subject was unpopular and said she took too long to tell her story.

On the advice of a friend who had not read the manuscript, she decided to take a 10 per cent royalty on every copy sold instead of a fifty-fifty division of profit or losses, as had also been offered to her. She herself expected to make no money from it; she thought it inadequate and was sure her friends would be disappointed with her.

Within a week after publication ten thousand copies had been sold. The publisher had three power presses running twenty-four hours a day. In a year sales in the United States came to more than three hundred thousand. The book made publishing history right from the start. In England, where Mrs. Stowe had no copyright and therefore received no royalties, sales were even more stupendous.

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The book appeared in thirty-seven different languages. Stowe had no talent, only genius, and called her a saint. The book had a strange power L over almost everyone who read it then, and for all its Victorian mannerisms and frequent patches of sentimentality much of still does. Its characters have a vitality of a kind comparable to the most memorable figures in literature. There is sweep and power to the narrative, and there are scenes that once read are not forgotten. The book is also rather different from what most people imagine, largely because it was eventually eclipsed by the stage version, which Mrs.

Stowe had nothing to do with and from which she never received a cent and which was probably performed more often than any play in the language, evolving after a fewyears into something between circus and minstrel show. What the book did at the time was to bring slavery out into the open and show it for what it was, in human terms.

No writer had done that before. Slavery had been argued over in the abstract, preached against as a moral issue, its evils whispered about in polite company. But the book made people at that time feel what slavery was about. Moreover, Harriet Stowe had made a black man her hero, and she took his race seriously, and no American writer had done that before.

The fundamental fault, she fervently held, was with the system. Every white American was guilty, the Northerner no less than the slaveholder, especially the church-going kind, her kind.

enter Simon Eegree, it should perhaps always be remembered, was a Vermonter. For her he was something very close to a black Christ. He is the one character in all her book who lives, quite literally, by the Christian ideal. Stowe writes a scene in which George is fully prepared to kill his tormentors and to die himself rather than permit his wife and son to be taken back into slavery. You can come up if you like; but the first one of you that comes within the range of our bullets is a dead man, and the next, and the next, and so on till the last.

She seems to have been everywhere at once after the book was published— Hartford, New Haven, Brooklyn, Boston. Almost immediately the South began boiling with indignation.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher

She was a radical, it was said. All the Beechers were radicals.

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