December 25, 1851

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

Transcription of Chapter 27

Chapter XXVII.

Week after week glided away in the St. Clare mansion, and the waves of life settled back to their usual flow where that little bark had gone down. For how imperiously, how coolly, in disregard of all one’s feeling, does the hard, cold, uninteresting course of daily realities move on! Still must we eat, and drink, and sleep, and wake again—still bargain, buy, sell, ask and answer questions—pursue, in short, a thousand shadows, though all interest in them be over; the cold mechanical habit of living remaining after all vital interest in it has fled.

All the interests and hopes of St. Clare’s life had unconsciously wound themselves around this child. It was for Eva that he had managed his property; it was for Eva that he had planned the disposal of his time; and to do this and that for Eva—to buy, improve, alter, and arrange, or dispose something for her, had been so long his habit, that now she was gone, there seemed nothing to be thought of, and nothing to be done.

True, there was another life—a life which, once believed in, stands as a solemn, significant figure before the otherwise unmeaning cypress of time, changing them to orders of mysterious, untold value. St. Clare knew this well, and often in many a weary hour he heard that slender childish voice calling him to the skies, and saw that little hand pointing to him the way of life; but a heavy lethargy of sorrow lay on him—he could not arise. He had one of those natures which could better and more clearly conceive of religious things from its own perceptions and instincts, than many a matter of fact and practical Christian. The gift to appreciate and the sense to feel the finer shades and relations of moral things, often seems an attribute of those whose whole life shows a careless disregard of them. Hence Moore, Byron, Goethe, often speak words more wisely descriptive of the true religious sentiment than another man whose whole life is governed by it. In such minds, disregard of religion is a more fearful treason—a more deadly sin.

St. Clare had never pretended to govern himself by any religious obligation, and a certain fineness of nature gave him such an instinctive view of the extent of the requirements of Christianity, that he shrank by anticipation from what he felt would be the exactions of his own conscience, if he once did resolve to assume them. For so inconsistent is human nature, especially in the ideal, that not to undertake a thing at all, seems better than to undertake and come short.

[Continue reading the full text of chapter 27, here.]

Commentary by Jeannine DeLomard

Associate Professor of English at the University of Toronto

Taking Possession

This fascinating chapter opens by marveling that, even in the wake of a loss so intense as that of the angelic Little Eva, “the hard, cold, uninteresting course of daily realities move on,” requiring the bereaved not only to “eat, and drink, and sleep, and wake again,” but to “bargain, buy, [and] sell” as well. For, as is so often the case in what would become Stowe’s bestselling sentimental novel, inner feelings are not as separable from the outside world of commerce as they might appear.

Indeed, as we move closer to St. Clare’s perspective in the subsequent paragraph, we begin to perceive the inextricability of his intertwined financial and emotional investments: “All the interests and hopes of St. Clare’s life had unconsciously wound themselves around this child. It was for Eva that he had managed his property; …to buy, improve, alter, and arrange, or dispose something for her, had been so long his habit, that now she was gone, there seemed nothing to be thought of, and nothing to be done.” That the father experiences the daughter’s death in such terms speaks less to the sensitive Southern gentleman’s corruption by the masculine world of business than to the fact that, in the course of daily realities, property makes us who we are.

St. Clare, “well versed in the forms of law,” would have understood property not physically, as a set of objects, but metaphysically, as a cluster of rights. Seen in this light, property is as much about relations among persons as between persons and things. When we are told that St. Clare, Marie, and Ophelia “took possession of the parlor” after tea, we read the phrase in its figurative sense, as an indication that the couple and their cousin have physically occupied the domestic space in question. But a key aspect of St. Clare’s legal ownership of the mansion would be his right to exclude others – including, perhaps, his female relatives – from access to the parlor or any other part of the house. It is precisely the owner’s right to exclude that leads an “enraged” Topsy to kick and fight “valiantly for what she considered her rights” when her fellow slave Rosa seeks to extract from her dress the object concealed in its bosom. And it is Topsy’s inability to maintain such rights in the face of Miss Ophelia’s peremptory “order” that threatens to open not just the “little parcel,” but the enslaved girl’s body, to inspection under her master’s gaze. Even Tom, who partakes of neither St. Clare’s legal literacy nor Topsy’s defiant feistiness, understands that property is primarily about social relations rather than material goods – this is why he would “rather have poor clothes, poor house, poor everything, and have ‘em mine, than have the best, and have ‘em any man’s else.”

[Continue reading the full text of Jeannine DeLombard ‘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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