June 26, 1851

Click on the image for a larger/readable version of the National Era

Image and link courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center-Hartford, CT

Textual Transcription of Chapter 5:

Chapter V.—Showing the Feelings of Living Property on changing Owners.

Mr. and Mrs. Shelby had retired to their apartment for the night. He was lounging in a large easy chair, looking over some letters that had come in the afternoon mail, and she was standing before her mirror, brushing out the complicated braids and curls in which Eliza had arranged her hair; for, noticing her pale cheeks and haggard eyes, she had excused her attendance that night, and ordered her to bed. The employment naturally enough suggested her conversation with the girl in the morning, and turning to her husband, she said, carelessly—

“By the bye, Arthur, who was that low-bred fellow that you lugged in to our dinner-table to-day?”

“Haley is his name,” said Shelby, turning himself rather uneasily in his chair, and continuing with his eyes fixed on a letter.

“Haley! Who is he, and what may be his business here, pray?”

“Well, he’s a man that I transacted some business with last time I was at Natchez,” said Mr. Shelby.

“And he presumed on it to make himself quite at home, and call and dine here, ay?”

“Why, I invited him—I had some accounts with him,” said Shelby.

“Is he a negro-trader?” said Mrs. Shelby, noticing a certain embarrassment in her husband’s manner.

“Why, my dear, what put that into your head?” said Shelby, looking up.

“Nothing, only Eliza came in here after dinner, in a great worry, crying and taking on, and said you were talking with a trader, and that she heard him make an offer for her boy, the ridiculous little goose!”

“She did, hey?” said Mr. Shelby, returning to his paper, which he seemed for a few moments quite intent upon, not perceiving that he was holding it bottom upwards.

“It will have to come out,” said he, mentally—as well now as ever.

[Continue reading the full text of Chapter 5 here.]

Commentary by Wesley Raabe:

Assistant Professor of Textual Editing and American Literature at Kent State University

Mrs. Shelby’s Contribution to Slavery’s Abuses (26 June)

Emily Shelby appears to mean well, but in this installment she is caught in circumstances beyond her control. Her husband Arthur Shelby, whose legal and financial authority extends over the entire household, which includes wife and children as well as slaves, bears the greatest responsibility for the abuses of slavery. She protests in this chapter that she has sought to “gild it over” with “kindness, and care, and instruction.”[1] She is already troubled that religious hypocrisy may excuse the abuses that law permits, and Arthur Shelby’s sale of little Harry and Uncle Tom stuns his wife and convinces her that her former idealism was foolish. Even if we intuit her emotions rightly, we may be too sympathetic to her defensive rationalizations, whether she appeals to social expectations, to economic circumstance, or to what I will call her maternal authoritarianism. Harriet Beecher Stowe provides numerous subtle clues, some in punctuation that was altered for the Jewett edition, that Mrs. Shelby has contributed significantly, if unconsciously, to the perpetuation of slavery and to its inevitable abuses of “living property.”

Her sin in chapter 5, the 26 June installment, is that she fails to transform thought into action with real economic effects. She is “hurriedly and abstractedly fingering her gold watch” as she protests that she has no “jewelry of any amount”; however, due to what may be a punctuation error in the newspaper, her speech is not marked as continuing aloud. She may muse to herself about possibilities: “would not this watch do something—it was an expensive one when it was bought.” The punctuation error, which is scarcely detectable, may signal that Stowe’s manuscript was not clear about when Mrs. Shelby again addresses her husband. In the Jewett edition, she speaks aloud when she appeals to her husband—a question mark follows “something.” She continues without a response: why? how long does she wait? does his silence close the discussion? In the book printing, a comma follows “expensive one”: there she may rationalize that the watch has not retained its value.[2] Regardless of whether she responds to her husband’s silence (book) or thinks to herself (serial), she asserts that she could sacrifice but does not do anything—which for Stowe is a cardinal sin. Mrs. Shelby has other jewelry, the rings that Aunt Chloe in the previous installment had said were “sparklin”: the stones are so numerous as to resemble dew on lilies. Readers also learned in the slave cabin of the mistress’s “new berage” (a dress of silky or gauzelike fabric), another household expense to assure that Chloe’s mistress can continue to “kinder sweep it into a room” in the manner to which she is accustomed. The economic costs for Mrs. Shelby to meet her social expectations, as the wife of a gentleman planter, seem as immutable as law.

But that’s an illusion. People may confuse what they need with what they want, in Stowe’s day as well as our own. In her son and grandson’s 1911 biography it is said that Stowe’s husband Calvin hoped with the profits from Uncle Tom’s Cabin that she would be able to buy a silk dress. Did Mrs. Shelby or Stowe “need” a silk dress? Do you “need” an iPhone? The pro-slavery Southern critic, Louisa McCord, who was nonetheless a sharp-eyed reader, mocked Stowe’s assumption that a Southern gentleman like Mr. Shelby could not put together a meager thousand dollars. Did McCord find a fault? Or did Stowe outwit McCord? [3]

[Continue reading the full text of Wesley Raabe’s commentary here.]

[1] Mrs. H[arriet]. B[eecher] Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin: or, Life among the Lowly, National Era, June 5, 1851–April 1, 1852.

[2]   Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin: or, Life among the Lowly, 2 vols. (Boston: John P. Jewett; Cleveland: Jewett, Proctor, and Worthington, 1852), 1:25, 1:59.

[3] Charles Edward Stowe and Lyman Beecher Stowe, Harriet Beecher Stowe: The Story of Her Life (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1911), 148. Louisa S. McCord, “Art. III—Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Southern Quarterly Review, January 1853, 90-91.


How did Stowe connect this chapter to real-life stories? Find out here!

Check out the top news stories, this week in 1851, here!

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