July 31, 1851

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Textual Transcription of Chapter 9: Part 2

Chapter IX—Continued.

Mrs. Burr and her husband reëntered the parlor. She sat down in her little rocking-chair before the fire, swaying thoughtfully to and fro. Mr. Burr strode up and down the room, grumbling to himself—“Pish! Pshaw! Confounded awkward business!” &c. At length, striding up to his wife, he said—

“I say, wife, she’ll have to get away from here this very night. That fellow will be down on the scent bright and early to-morrow morning; if ’twas only the woman, she could lie quiet till it was over; but that little chap can’t be kept still by a troop of horse and foot, I’ll warrant me; he’ll bring it all out, popping his head out of some window or door. A pretty kettle of fish it would be for me, too! to be caught with them both here, just now! No—they’ll have to be got off to-night!”

“To-night! How is it possible—where to?”

“Well, I know pretty well where to,” said the Senator, beginning to put on his boots with a reflective air; and stopping when his leg was half in, he embraced his knee with both hands, and seemed to go off in deep meditation. “It’s a confounded awkward, ugly business,” said he, at last, beginning to tug at his boot-straps again, “and that’s a fact!” After one boot was fairly on, the Senator sat with the other in his hand, profoundly studying the figure of the carpet. “It will have to be done, though, for aught I see; hang it all!” and he drew the other boot anxiously on, and looked out of the window.

Now, little Mrs. Burr was a discreet woman—a woman who never in her life said, “I told you so!” and on the present occasion, though pretty well aware of the shape her husband’s meditations were taking, she very prudently forbore to meddle with them, only sat very quietly in her chair, and looked quite ready to hear her liege lord’s intentions, when he should think proper to utter them.

“You see,” he said, “there’s my old client, Van Trompe, has come over from Kentucky, and set all his slaves free, and he has bought a place seven miles up the creek, here, back in the woods, where nobody goes, unless they go on purpose; and it’s a place that isn’t found in a hurry. There she’d be safe enough; but the plague of the thing is, nobody could drive a carriage there to-night, but me.

“Why not? Cudjoe is an excellent driver.”

“Aye, aye, but here it is. The creek has to be crossed twice; and the second crossing is quite dangerous, unless one knows it as I do. I have crossed it a hundred times on horseback, and know exactly the turns to take. And so you see there’s no help for it. Cudjoe must put in the horses as quietly as may be about twelve o’clock, and I’ll take her over; and then, to give color to the matter, he must carry me on to the next tavern, to take the stage for Columbus, that comes by about three or four, and so it will look as if I had had the carriage only for that. I shall get into business bright and early in the morning. But I’m thinking I shall feel rather cheap there, after all that’s been said and done; but hang it, I can’t help it.”

[Continue reading the full text of Chapter 9 here.]

Commentary by Emily Todd

Associate Professor of English at Westfield State College

When I teach only excerpts from Uncle Tom’s Cabin in American literature surveys, I always teach Chapter IX.  I do so because the chapter dramatizes one of Stowe’s central arguments so well: the chapter stages how “private feelings” can—or, really, should—influence “public” action.  The debate between Mrs. Bird and her senator husband, as Gregg Crane suggests in his commentary about last week’s installment, ends with “Senator Bird’s ideas of law . . . re-grounded in the moral sense expressed by Mrs. Bird.”[1]  When she asks her husband about the recent legislation he helped to craft (the Fugitive Slave Act), she questions how anyone could support a law so “cruel and unchristian” that prevents people from giving shelter, food, and clothes to those in need.  Of course, the position she articulates at the beginning of the chapter is the one Senator Bird adopts when he breaks the very law he had help to write.  I know the chapter well and, in my teaching, I have charted a predictable course through it.

But when I read this week’s installment from the National Era, I discovered that it wasn’t quite the chapter I knew. For one, this week’s installment picks up in the middle Chapter IX.  The installment is the first chapter to have been split in two, a practice that Gamaliel Bailey used 10 other times during the run of the novel in the National Era. And there’s another change.  The characters I had come to know well have different names: Senator and Mrs. Burr, not Senator and Mrs. Bird.  (Wesley Raabe has suggested one possible source for the switch, but, as Susan Belasco Smith has noted, “no reason is known for the name change.”[2])   As readers of this blog, we experience Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and specifically this chapter, differently from how readers of the novel in book form might experience it.  A reader beginning the second half of Chapter IX, after a week has elapsed, encounters what is in effect a new chapter, one that illustrates the transformation of Senator Burr.  I have always taught Chapter IX through an analysis of Mrs. Bird’s persuasive powers, but the continued chapter shifts the focus to Senator Bird—or, rather, Senator Burr.

The chapter break would likely not have been Stowe’s decision.  According to Wesley Raabe, the National Era could not always fit in everything Stowe had written.  When a chapter did spill over, Raabe suggests, it was Bailey who decided where to break the chapter.[3]  So the chapter break is not significant for what it tells us about an authorial decision but rather for what it tells about readers’ experiences.  In this case, the chapter break focuses the reader’s attention on Senator Burr—not Mrs. Burr or Eliza but on a public figure with political power who ends up acting on his Christian principles.  This week’s installment highlights the possibility for political transformation through the journey of Senator Burr.

[1] Gregg Crane, Commentary on Chapter IX, July 24, 2011.

[2] Thanks to Wesley Raabe for sharing his unpublished article, which is taken from his dissertation.  See Wesley Neil Raabe, “Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin: an Electronic Edition of the National Era Version” (Ph.D. Diss, University of Virginia, 2006): 122-127.  The quotation is from page 84 of Susan Belasco Smith’s “Serialization and the Nature of Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in Nineteenth-Century American Periodical Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995): 69-89.

[3] See Raabe’s dissertation for more details.

[Continue reading the full text of Emily Todd’s commentary here.]

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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