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It is, unquestionably, a work of genius. It has defects of conception and style, exhibits a want of artistic skill, is often tame and inadequate in description, and is tinctured with methodistic cant; but, with all its blemishes, - thought, imagination, feeling, high moral and religious sentiment, and dramatic power shine in every page. It has the capital excellence of exciting the interest of the reader; this never stops or falters from the beginning to the end. The characters are drawn with spirit and truth. St. Clare is a person of talents and education, high-minded, generous, and impulsive; the influences of his position and circumstances on his character are well developed. Ophelia is an admirable picture of a conscientious, practical, kind-hearted, energetic New England woman. St. Clare's wife is well imagined, but somewhat overdrawn. The Shelbys are worthy, amiable, commonplace people, soberly and truly sketched. Legree is a monster, and is painted in strong colors; but the picture wants truth and minuteness of detail to bring out the conception, for no woman's hand could properly describe him. The pencil that drew Front de Bæuf, Dick Hatteraick, and William de la Marck would have made him start from the canvas. We fear he is not exaggerated. There are many such at the North and South; only, in the North, we do not give them so much power, and they sometimes, when not saved by the “ ingenuity of counsel,” or an executive pardon, or the sympathy of a jury, or the lenity of an elected judge, meet their reward in the dungeon or on the gallows. Eva and Tom are dreams; the one is a saint, the other an angel. But dreams are founded on realities, and “ we are all such stuff as dreams are made of." These characters are both exaggerated; but to color and idealize is the privilege of romance, provided the picture does not overstep the modesty of nature or contradict nature. There are no Evas or Uncle Toms, but there are some who possess, in a lower degree, their respective virtues. Many a home has been blessed by the presence, and darkened by the departure, of a child, whose early intelligence seemed inspired, and whose purity, sweetness, and love were too delicate to mingle with the coarse passions of the world; — and many an old family servant in the South is distinguished
for probity, fidelity, truthfulness, and religious feeling, and, slave though he be, is the object of respect and attachment.
But whatever may be the literary merits of Uncle Tom, they do not account for its success. It exhibits by no means the highest order of genius or skill. It is not to be named in comparison with the novels of Scott or Dickens; and in regard to variety of knowledge, eloquence, imaginative power, and spirited delineations of life and character, manners and events, it is inferior even to those of Bulwer, or Currer Bell, or Hawthorne. Yet none of these have been read and talked of, for months together, by Europe and America, or have sensibly influenced a great moral movement, or have disturbed whole communities by the dread of a social revolution. It is true, that, were Uncle Tom not well written, it would not have produced these effects ; but the result is so disproportioned to its merit as a work of art, that we must look to other causes. The book has one idea and purpose to which it is wholly devoted. Its sole object is to reveal to the world the nature of American slavery, and thus to promote the cause of abolition.
Now this subject of slavery is one in which the world, or at least the reading and thinking part of it, which has become a very large part, just now takes a very lively interest. In Europe, the dream of political liberty, in the sense of the French Revolutionary school, has vanished. It has been discovered, after repeated and most disastrous experiments, that it means the absolute power of the mob and its demagogues ; that equality means plunder, and fraternity, massacre. The people of France have discovered, by bitter experience, that there, at least, democracy is inconsistent with freedom, property, and civilization; and they have acquiesced quietly and cheerfully in a strong government, supported and guided by the public opinion of the rich and educated, and surrounded by bayonets to protect property and order, and keep the dangerous classes in subjection.
Disenchanted on the subject of political liberty, disgusted with Kossuth, and Mazzini, and Louis Blanc, tired and out of humor with Poles and Hungarians, with French Revolutions, Chartist movements, and Irish rebellions, which have ended in
nothing but sound and fury, because destitute of truth and reason, adequate cause, virtuous motive, or definite purpose ;their sympathies have found an object in the condition of the negro slave. Political liberty, in the democratic sense, they have found a delusion; but personal liberty is quite another thing. They can understand why it is dangerous to the security of society to give political power to the ignorant and reckless mob; but they cannot understand why it is necessary for any community to deprive a portion of its people of all civil rights whatever, and reduce them to the condition of property. They see a great, prosperous, and civilized democracy, advancing with rapid strides to the position of a formidable power, rivalling them not only in wealth but in refinement, boasting of liberty, advocating liberty, openly and avowedly giving countenance and support to every revolutionary movement among their discontented classes, - yet all the while, holding four millions of its own people in abject slavery, and defending with warmth and defiance its right so to hold them. This strange inconsistency provokes comment and discussion. The subject is not a new one in Europe; late events have revived it there. Constant intercourse with us has brought it closer to their minds and feelings. They see in it an incongruity, - a contradiction to the advanced culture, the enlightened intelligence, of the age, a stain and blemish on the common humanity and civilization of the world. They have got rid of it themselves; personal slavery with them is matter of history. It lies behind them, among the barbarisms of the past. They regard it as a wrong and an evil which ought not to exist, and which, therefore, the good, the wise, and the gifted should endeavor to remove by those means which have dispelled so much moral evil from the world, - by truth and reason, by argument and persuasion, by the keen arrows of invective and scorn. Mixed with these sentiments, there is, doubtless, something of national jealousy and fear, something of dislike to republican government, and of triumph at being able to point to such a blot on its mantle. But these feelings only add to the excitement of the subject, and prepare the public mind of Europe to receive, with the greater eagerness and interest, the animated pictures,
the heart-stirring scenes, the passionate appeals of Uncle Tom.
With us, the subject is of far deeper concern. It comes home closely and immediately to our firesides and altars, to our honor and prosperity, to our peace and union. On it hang the issues of life and death. It is not an abstract question, to be discussed with philosophic serenity in the seclusion of libraries and drawing-rooms; but it involves property and security, sectional power and party power, and sweeps into its vortex the passions which disturb the repose of society and shake the stability of empires. The country has just passed through a painful and perilous crisis growing out of this question, which yet did not decide it. It still hangs like a dark cloud over the horizon of the future. The public mind, like the sea after a storm, heaves and swells with ominous agitation, and parties are mustering their forces to renew the contest. It is a question about which many are alarmed, many more are strongly excited, and none are indifferent. Viewed simply as a moral question, affecting individual conduct and the condition of millions of human beings, it is one of deep and serious interest; but involving, as it necessarily does, a vast amount of property, and connected, as it has become, with party strife and sectional rivalry, moderation, fairness, and reason in the treatment of it are not to be expected. A work like Uncle Tom, coming at such a moment, so admirably suited to the common mind, teaching, not by abstract reasoning addressed to the intellect, but by actual scenes and events affecting the imagination and the feelings, written, too, with so much power and beauty, is eagerly seized on by one party as a valuable auxiliary, and indignantly resented by the other as a new attack. It becomes at once the topic of animated criticism and discussion, and the result is - it is read by all.
Another cause of the wide-spread popularity of Uncle Tom is its foundation in truth. It is a highly-colored description of a reality. This is undeniable by any one who can reflect on what must be the consequences of absolute and irresponsible power, bestowed without reference to character. Here is the real source of the power of the work. Were it a mere
fanciful picture of ideal scenes, it would have already taken the place of other falsehoods, and been forgotten; for it does not pretend to be a work of mere imagination, and if it did, it wants the creative power, the touches of genius, that could give it life as such. If it be not founded on truth, it is nothing. It has been accused of exaggeration, and it is said that the imputed atrocities are exceptions to ordinary usage. But the charge of exaggeration admits the substance, and to acknowledge the exceptions yields nearly the whole case; for the favorable view of Southern life is given by Mrs. Stowe as well as the unfavorable, and she does not say or imply that brutal violence and cruelty are either universal or general. The main points, the state of the law and the existence of practices under it which are inconsistent with enlightened and Christian humanity, and which are not prohibited, are even sanctioned, by the law, are not, and cannot be, denied.
This picture of slavery has astonished Europe and the North. It has astonished many also in the South, who, judging of the state of society only from what passes before their eyes, are ignorant of the existence of what they do not see, or indeed of the true meaning and nature of what they do see, until their attention is forcibly called to it. Nothing is more common than such ignorance of what is passing around us. How few know or think of the scenes of misery and destitution in our cities; yet they exist within a few squares of the comfortable and luxurious homes of wealth, and we see beggars in the streets every day. Now and then, a statistical account, or a police report, or an investigation made for charitable purposes, reveals them to us. Otherwise we should know nothing about them, and perhaps indignantly deny that, in this land of plenty, in New York and Philadelphia, thousands live in all the wretchedness of extreme want, or that the percentage of poverty and crime equals or surpasses that of London.
Some years ago, certain statements were published showing the condition of the children who worked in the English factories and mines. These statements produced universal horror and disgust. The attention of Parliament was called to the subject, investigating committees were appointed, and VOL. LXXVII. — NO. 161.