The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.XI. The Later Novel: Howells
§ 5. Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher, born in Litchfield, Connecticut, 14 June, 1811, passed her childhood and girlhood, indeed practically her entire life, in an atmosphere of piety which, much as she eventually lost of its original Calvinistic rigour, not only indoctrinated her with orthodox opinions but furnished her with an intensely evangelical point of view and a sort of Scriptural eloquence. Her youth was spent in a more diversified world than might be thought: from her mother’s people, who were emphatically High Church and, in spite of the Revolution, some of them still Tory at heart, she learned a faith and ritual less austere than that of her father, Lyman Beecher; she had good teaching at the Litchfield Academy, especially in composition; like all her family, she was highly susceptible to external nature and passionately acquainted with the lovely Litchfield hills; she read very widely, and not only theology, of which she read too much for her happiness, but the accepted secular authors of the eighteenth century, as well as Burns and Byron and Scott. At the same time, she justified her Beecher lineage by her ready adaptation to the actual conditions under which she lived during Lyman Beecher’s pastorates in Litchfield and Boston, and during her own career as pupil and then teacher in the school conducted at Hartford by her strong but morbid sister Catherine. Although Harriet Beecher was still a thorough child of New England when she went, in 1832, to live in Cincinnati, to which her father had been called as president of the Lane Theological Seminary, and although her earliest sketches and tales, collected in a volume called The Mayflower (1843), deal largely with memories of her old home set down with an exile’s affection, she grew rapidly in knowledge and experience. Married in 1836 to Professor Calvin E. Stowe of the Seminary, mother by 1850 of seven children, she returned in that year to Brunswick, Maine, where Professor Stowe had accepted a position in Bowdoin College. There, deeply stirred by the passing of the Fugitive Slave Law, she began Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life among the Lowly, which ran as a serial in The National Era of Washington from June, 1851, to April, 1852, and then, on its appearance in two volumes in March, 1852, met with a popular reception never before or since accorded to a novel. Its sales went to the millions. Over five hundred thousand Englishwomen signed an address of thanks to the author; Scotland raised a thousand pounds by a penny offering among its poorest people to help free the slaves; in France and Germany the book was everywhere read and discussed; while there were Russians who emancipated their serfs out of the pity which the tale aroused. In the United States, thanks in part to the stage, which produced a version as early as September, 1852, the piece belongs not only to literature but to folklore.