Image and link courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center-Hartford, CT
Transcription of Chapter 18, Continued
(Note: Chapter numbered 19 in book editions)
“I used sometimes to hear my mother reasoning cases with him—endeavoring to excite his sympathies. He would listen to the most pathetic appeals with the most discouraging politeness and equanimity. ‘It all resolves itself into this,’ he would say; ‘must I part with Stubbs, or keep him? Stubbs is the soul of punctuality, honesty, and efficiency—a thorough business hand, and as humane as the general run. We can’t have perfection; and if I keep him, I must sustain his administration as a whole, even if there are now and then things that are exceptionable. All government includes some necessary hardness. General rules will bear hard on particular cases.’ This last maxim, my father seemed to consider a settler in most alleged cases of cruelty. After he had said that, he commonly drew up his feet on the sofa, like a man that has disposed of a business, and betook himself to a nap, or the newspaper, as the case might be.
“The fact is, my father showed the exact sort of talent for a statesman. He could have divided Poland as easy as an orange, or trod on Ireland as quietly and systematically as any man living. At last my mother gave up in despair. It never will be known, till the last accounts, what noble and sensitive natures like hers have felt—cast utterly helpless into what seems to them an abyss of injustice and cruelty, and which seems so to nobody about them. It has been an age of long sorrow of such natures, in such a hell-begotten sort of world as ours. What remained for her, but to train her children in her own views and sentiments. Well, after all you say about training, children will grow up substantially what they are by nature, and only that. From the cradle, Alfred was an aristocrat; and as he grew up, instinctively, all his sympathies and all his reasonings were in that line, and all mother’s exhortations went to the winds. As to me, they sunk deep into me. She never contradicted, in form, anything that my father said, or seemed directly to differ from him; but she impressed, burnt into my very soul, with all the force of her deep, earnest nature, an idea of the dignity and worth of the meanest human soul. I have looked in her face with solemn awe, when she would point up to the stars in the evening, and say to me, ‘See there, Auguste! the poorest, meanest, soul on our place will be living when all these stars are gone forever—will live as long as God lives!’
“She had some fine old paintings; one in particular, of Jesus healing a blind man. They were very fine, and used to impress me strongly. ‘See there, Auguste,’ she would say, ‘the blind man was a beggar, poor and loathsome; therefore he would not heal him afar off! He called him to him, and put his hands on him! Remember this, my boy.’ If I had lived to grow up under her care, she might have stimulated me to I know not what of enthusiasm. I might have been a saint, reformer, martyr—but alas! alas! I went from her when I was only thirteen, and I never saw her again!”
St. Clare rested his head on his hands, and did not speak for some minutes. After a while he looked up, and went on.
[Continue reading the full text of chapter 18, Continued, here.]
Commentary by Patricia Hill
Professor of History at Wesleyan University
Today’s installment opens with a continuation of a “serious talk” between Miss Ophelia and St. Clare. St. Clare enlarges upon his previous characterization of his father and mother as polar opposites in temperament. Their temperaments, he tells us, were inherited by their children; St. Clare’s twin brother Alfred is a born aristocrat like his father. St. Clare, in contrast, shares his mother’s more empathic nature. He associate her with sentiment, religion, and a democratic conviction of “the dignity and worth of the meanest human soul.” St. Clare explains to Miss Ophelia that he took her words and example to heart, especially in recalling the lesson she drew from a painting of Jesus healing a blind man. Her insistence that it was necessary for Jesus to put his hands on the blind man in order to heal him makes intimacy with the suffering a moral imperative. Stowe will later allude to this lesson in a scene where St. Clare confronts the physical recoil that marks Miss Ophelia’s racial prejudice. Indeed, Stowe’s repeated insistence in the novel that barriers to cross-racial intimacy must be removed constitutes a theme critics have largely ignored. It is a matter that antislavery writing rarely addressed. Romantic racialism, while insisting as Stowe’s novel does, on the full humanity of the African, posited racial differences that supported a distanced benevolence, a spectatorial sympathy, rather than an intimate relationship, and did little to conquer racial prejudice. Stowe goes beyond this spectatorial sympathy. Scenes throughout Uncle Tom’s Cabin that depict cross-racial emotional intimacy are Stowe’s equivalent to St. Clare’s mother’s painting; we might read them as a series of variations on this theme. Stowe’s understanding of the interaction of environment and temperament in shaping human personality emerges through St. Clare’s comparison of his own father with Miss Ophelia’s father. St. Clare sees them as identical, possessing “just that same strong, overbearing, dominant spirit.” One, constrained by the democratic culture of a New England town, has his despotic tendencies curbed to the extent of joining the church and an abolition society and embracing democratic theory. The other, in the context of Louisiana slave culture, is free to indulge his natural, aristocratic tendencies and act the despot. The debilitating and degrading influence that slave culture has on the development of human personality is also at stake St. Clare’s argument about its effect on the master class and especially on their children. He sees Eva’s angelic nature as all that has prevented her moral ruin.
In this serious talk on slavery, St. Clare serves as a vehicle for Stowe’s views. Her use of a male persona to voice her own political, economic, and religious convictions works strategically on two levels. It is a strategy she would later employ in her House and Home Papers sketches for the Atlantic Monthly where she speaks through the mask of a male narrator in order to render her opinions with the cultural authority of a man. Here, St. Clare can speak convincingly on topics about which readers would not have expected a woman to be knowledgeable. More important perhaps, as a Southerner, St. Clare can speak authoritatively about slavery. That Stowe has him articulate such antipathy to slavery as he expresses in this passage works to serve her strategic goal of persuading Southerners to become opponents of slavery. Her hope that this novel would change hearts and minds in the South was, of course, not realized, but one can admire the cleverness of the strategies she adopted to make a space for antislavery sentiment in the South as she depicts it. However, she seems to undermine her own stated purpose when she paints St. Clare as unable to mount any effectual resistance to slavery. His capacity for empathy with slaves makes him incompetent as a planter, but this womanish sentimentalism seems also to have rendered him incapable of acting on his principles.
[Continue reading the full text of Patricia Hill’s commentary here.]
How did Stowe connect this chapter to real-life stories? Find out here!
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