Monday, December 12, 2011

Harriet Beecher Stowe - Uncle Tom's Cabin

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811 - 1896) was the daughter of prominent Presbyterian preacher Lyman Beecher of New England. She was also the sister of Henry Ward Beecher a renowned preacher of his era. Harriet was a teacher who authored the book Uncle Tom's Cabin

Uncle Tom's Cabin was published in serial from between 1851 and 1852. Harriet was a widely read author and an important part of the abolitionist movement preceding the Civil War. Although she wrote thirty historical novels and countless essays an poems which were primarily about colonial life in New England; Uncle Tom's Cabin or Life Among the Lowly became her most famous work. It first appeared as serial installments in the National Era an anti slavery newspaper. It is generally believed that Uncle Tom's Cabin aroused more popular sentiment in the states north of the Mason Dixon Line than any other publication. The book sold 10,000 copies its first week of publication. She became a celebrity in Great Britain, Europe and the United States after the publication of her book.

Public sentiment in opposition to the Fugitive Slave Law was stirred up through the publication of her book. The overseer “Simon Legree” in her story became the embodiment of cruelty of slaves throughout the southern states. “Tom,” the slave hero became the likeness of the oppressed slave with a pure loving compassionate heart.

When President Abraham Lincoln met Harriet, he declared to her: 

“So you're the little lady who started this big war.”

Harriet dedicated herself to Jesus Christ at the tender age of fourteen after listening to a sermon delivered by her father.

“As soon as my father came home and was seated in his study...I went up to him and fell in his arms, saying, 'Father, I have given myself to Jesus, and He has taken me,' I never shall forget the expression of his face as he looked down into my earnest childish eyes...'Is it so?' he said, holding me silent to his heart as I felt the hot tears fall on my head.”

Harriet would rise each morning at 4:30 to commune with her Lord and Savior before beginning her daily activities. She heartily enjoyed listening to the birds, watching the sunrise, and sensing the gracious loving presence of God her redeemer. Her best known hymn was written while meditating on Psalm 139:17-18.

“How precious also are are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them. If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand; When I awake, I am still with You.”

Still, Still with Thee 

Still, still with Thee, when purple morning breaketh,
When the bird waketh, and the shadows flee,
Fairer than the morning, lovelier than the day light,
Dawns the sweet conscientiousness, I am with Thee.
Alone with Thee, amid the mystic shadows,
The solemn hush of nature newly born;
Alone with Thee in breathless adoration,
In the calm dew and freshness of the morn,
Still, still with Thee, as to each newborn morning,
A fresh and solemn splendor still is given,
So does this blessed consciousness, awaking,
Breathe each day nearness unto thee and heaven.
So shall it be at last, in that bright morning,
When he soul awaketh and life's shadows flee.
O in that hour, fairer than daylight dawning
Shall rise the glorious thought, I am with Thee

It was Harriet's faith in Christ which became the anchor which sustained her throughout the personal storms she encountered in life.

Harriet was a remarkable woman who raised seven children while managing household and a career. She was an instructor in a college. Harriet's life was filled with personal tragedy. Her son drowned while he was a freshman in college. Another son became an alcoholic and disappeared and a daughter became addicted to morphine which was administered as a pain-killer following childbirth.

A Selection from Uncle Tom's Cabin

Simon Legree is determined to recover two slaves who have escaped. He demands that Tom reveal whatever he knows of the two runaway female slaves.

“The morning star now stands over the tops of the mountains, and gales and breezes, not of earth, show the gates of day are unclosing. 
The escape of Cassy and Emmeline irritated the before surly temper of Legree to the last degree; and his fury, as was expected, fell upon the defenseless head of Tom. When he hurriedly announced the tidings among his hands, there was a certain light in Tom's eye, a sudden upraising of his hands, that did not escape him. He saw that he did not join the muster of the pursuers. He thought of forcing him to do it; but, having had, of old, experience of his inflexibility when commanded to take part in any deed of inhumanity, he would not, in his hurry, stop to enter into any conflict with him.
Tom therefore, remained behind, with a few who had learned of him to pray, and offered up prayers for the escape of the fugitives.
 When Legree returned, baffled and disappointed, all the long-working hatred of his soul towards his slave began to gather in a deadly and desperate form. Had not this man braved him, – steadily, powerfully, resistlessly, – ever since he bought him? Was there not a spirit in him which, silent as it was, burned on him life the fires of perdition?
'I hate him!' said Legree, that night, as he sat up in his bed; 'I hate him! And isn't he MINE? Can't I do what I like with him? Who's to hinder, I wonder?' And Legree clenched his fist, and shook it, as if he had something in his hands that he could not rend in pieces.
But, then, Tom was a faithful, valuable servant; and, although Legree hated him the more for that, yet the consideration was still somewhat of a restraint to him.
The next morning, he determined to say nothing, as yet; to assemble a party, from some neighboring plantations, with dogs and guns; to surround the swamp, and go about the hunt systematically. If it succeeded, well and good; if not, he would summon Tom before him, and – his teeth clenched and his blood boiled – then he would break the fellow down, or – there was a dire inward whisper, to which his soul assented.
Ye say that the interest of the master is sufficient safeguard for the slave. In the fury of man's mad will, he wittingly, and with open eye, sell his own soul to the devil to gain his ends; and will he be more careful of his neighbor's body?

'Well,' said Cassy, the next day, from the garret, as she reconnoitered through the knot-hold, 'the hunt's going to begin again, to-day!
Three or four mounted horsemen were curvetting about, on the space front of the house; and one or two leashes of strange dogs were struggling with the negroes who held them, baying and barking at each other.
The men are, two of them, overseers of plantations in the vicinity; and others were some of Legree's associates at the tavern-bar of a neighboring city, who had come for the interest of the sport. A more hard-favored set, perhaps, could not be imagined. Legree was serving brandy, profusely, round among them, as also among the negroes, who had been detailed from the various plantations for this service; for it was an object to make every service of this kind, among the negroes, as much of a holiday as possible.
Cassy placed her ear at the knot-hole; and, as morning air blew directly toward the house, she could overhear a good deal of the conversation. A grave sneer overcast the dark, severe gravity of her face, as she listened, and heard them divide out the ground, discuss the rival merits of the dogs, give orders about firing, and the treatment of each, in case of capture.
Cassy drew back; and, clasping her hands, looked upward, and said, 'O, great Almighty God! We are all sinners; but what have we done, more than all the rest of the world, that we should be treated so!'
There was a terrible earnestness in her face and voice, as she spoke.

'If it wasn't for you, child, she said, looking at Emmeline, 'I'd go out to them and I'd thank any one of them that would shoot me down; for what use will freedom be to me? Can it give me back my children, or make me what I used to be?'
Emmeline, in her childlike simplicity, was half afraid of the dark moods of Cassy. She looked perplexed, but made no answer. She only took her hand with a gentle, caressing movement.
'Don't!' said Cassy, trying to draw it away; 'you'll get me to loving you; and I never mean to love anything, again!'
'Poor Cassy!' said Emmeline, 'don't feel so! If the Lord give us liberty perhaps he'll give you back your daughter; at any rate, I'll be like a daughter to you. I know I'll never see my poor old mother again! I shall love you, Cassy, whether you love me or not!'
The gentle, childlike spirit conquered. Cassy sat down by her, put her arm around her neck, stroked her soft, brown hair; and Emmeline then wondered at the beauty of her magnificent eyes, now soft with tears.
'O, Em! Said Cassy, 'I've hungered for my children, and thirsted for them, and my eyes fail with longing for them! Here! Here!' she said, striking her breast, 'it's all desolate, all empty! If God would give me back my children, then I could pray.'
'You must trust him, Cassy,' said Emmeline; 'he is our Father!'
'His wrath is upon us,' said Cassy; 'he has turned away in anger.'
No, Cassy! He will be good to us! Let us hope in him,' said Emmeline, – 'I always have had hope'...
The hunt was long, animated, and thorough, but unsuccessful; and, with grave, ironic exultation, Cassy looked down on Legree, as, weary and dispirited, he alighted from his horse...
'Well, Tom!' said Legree, walking up, and seizing him grimly by the collar of his coat, and speaking through his teeth, in a paroxysm of determined rage, 'do you know I've made up my mind to KILL you?'
'It's very likely, Mas'r,' said Tom, calmly.
'I have,' said Legree, with grim, terrible calmness, 'done – just – that – thing, Tom, unless you'll tell what you know about these yer gals!'
 Tom stood silent.
'D' ye hear?' said Legree, stamping, with a roar like that of an incensed lion. 'Speak!'
'I han't got nothing to tell, Mas'r,' said Tom, with a slow, firm deliberate utterance.
'Do you dare to tell me, ye old black christian, ye don't know?' said Legree.
Tom was silent.
'Speak!' thundered Legree, striking him furiously. 'Do you know anything?'
'I know, Mas'r; but I can't tell anything. I can die!'
Legree drew in a long breath; and, suppressing his rage, took Tom by the arm, and, approaching his face almost to his, said, in a terrible voice, 'Hark'e, Tom! --ye think, 'cause I've let you off before, I don't mean what I say; but, this time, I've made up my mind, and counted the cost. You've always stood it out agin me: now, I'll conquer ye or kill ye! – one or t'other. I'll count every drop of blood there is in you, and take 'em, one by one, till ye give up!'
Tom looked up to his master, and answered, 'Mas'r, if you was sick, or in trouble, or dying, and I could save ye, I'd give ye my heart's blood; and, if taking ever drop of blood in this poor old body would save your precious soul, I'd give 'em freely, as the Lord gave his for me. O, Mas;r! Don't bring this great sin on your soul! It will hurt you more than 't will me! Do the worst you can, my troubles'll be over soon; but, if ye don't repent, your won't never end!'
Like a strange snatch of heavenly music, heard in the lull of a tempest, this burst of feeling made a moment's blank pause. Legree stood agast, and looked at Tom; and there was such a silence that the tick of the old clock could be heard, measuring, with silent touch, the last moments of mercy and probation to that hardened heart.
It was but a moment. There was one hesitating pause, – one irresolute, relenting thrill, – and the spirit of evil came back, with sevenfold vehemence and Legree, foaming with rage, smote his victim to the ground...
Scenes of blood and cruelty are shocking to our ear and heart. What man has nerve to do, man has not nerve to hear. What brother-man and brother-Christian suffer, cannot be told us, even in our secret chamber, it so harrows up the soul! And yet, O my country! These things are done under the shadow of thy laws! O, Christ! Thy church sees them, almost in silence! …
'He's most gone, Mas'r,' said Sambo, touched, in spite of himself, by the patience of his victim.
'Pay away,till he gives up! Give it to him! – give it to him!' shouted Legree. 'I'll take every drop of blood he has, unless he confesses!'
Tom opened his eyes, and looked upon his master. 'Ye poor miserable crittur!' he said, 'there an't no more ye can do! I forgive ye, with all my soul! And he fainted entirely away.
'I b'lieve, my soul, he's done for, finally,' Legree, stepping forward, to look at him. 'Yes, he is! Well, his mouth's shut up, at last, – that's one comfort!'

Yes, Legree; but who shall shut up that voice in thy soul? That soul, past repentance, past prayer, past hope, in whom the fire that never shall be quenched is already burning!
Yet Tom was not quite gone. His wondrous words and pious prayers had struck upon the hearts of the imbruted blacks, who had been the instruments of cruelty upon him; and, the instant Legree withdrew, they took him down, and, in their ignorance, sought to call him back to life, – as if that were any favor to him.
'Sartin, we's been doin' a drefful wicked thing! Said Sambo; 'hopes Mas'r'll have to 'count for it, and not we.'
They washed his wounds, – they provided a rude bed, of some refuse cotton, for him to lie down on; and one of them, stealing up to the house, begged a drink of brandy of Legree, pretending that he was tired, and wanted it for himself. He brought it back, and poured it down Tom's throat.
'O, Tom!' Said Quimbo, 'we's been awful wicked to ye!'
'I forgive ye, with all my heart!' said, Tom, faintly.
'O, Tom! Do tell us who is Jesus, anyhow?' said Sambo, – 'Jesus, that's been a standin' by you so, all this night! – Who is he?'
The word roused the failing, fainting spirit. He poured forth a few energetic sentences of that wonderus One, – his life, his death, his everlasting presence, and power to save.
They wept, – both the two savage men.
'Why didn't I never hear this before?' said Sambo; 'but I do believe! – I can't help it! Lord Jesus, have mercy on us!'
'Poor critturs!' said Tom, 'I'd be willing to bar all I have, if it'll only bring ye to Christ! O, Lord! Give me these two more souls, I pray!'
That prayer was answered!”

Uncle Tom's Cabin ends with this declaration:

“A day of grace is yet held out to us. Both North and South have been guilty before God; and the Christian church has a heavy account to answer. Not by combining together, to protect injustice and cruelty, and making a common capital of sin, is this Union to be saved, but by repentance, justice and mercy.”

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