Tag Archives: Wesley Raabe

March 18, 1852

Transcription of Chapters 39 to 41

Chapter XL.—The Young Master.

Two days after, a young man drove a light wagon up through the avenue of China trees, and, throwing the reins hastily on the horse’s neck, sprang out, and inquired for the owner of the place.

It was George Shelby; and to show how he came to be there, we must go back in our story.

The letter of Miss Ophelia to Mrs. Shelby had, by some unfortunate accidents, been detained for a month or two at some remote post office before it reached its destination, and, of course, before they could read it, Tom was already lost to their view among the distant swamps of the Red River.

Mrs. Shelby read the intelligence with the deepest concern; but any immediate action upon it was an impossibility. She was then in attendance upon the sick bed of her husband, who lay delirious in the crisis of a fever. Master George Shelby, who in the interval had changed from a boy to a tall youth, was her constant and faithful assistant, and her only reliance in superintending his father’s affairs. Miss Ophelia had taken the precaution to send them the name of the lawyer who did business for the St. Clares; and the most that in the emergency could be done, was to address a letter of inquiry to him. The sudden death of Mr. Shelby, a few days after, brought, of course, an absorbing pressure of other interests for a season.

Mr. Shelby showed his confidence in his wife’s ability, by appointing her sole executrix upon his estates; and thus immediately a large and complicated amount of business was brought upon her hands.

Mrs. Shelby, with characteristic energy, applied herself to the work of straightening the entangled web of affairs; and she and George were for some time occupied with collecting and examining accounts, selling property, and settling debts; for Mrs. Shelby was determined that everything should be brought into tangible and recognisable shape, let the consequences to her prove what they might.

[Continue reading the full text of part 2 of chapter 39, chapter 40, and part 1 of chapter 41, here.]

Commentary by Wesley Raabe

Assistant Professor, Kent State University

In his 1895 memoir, William Dean Howells, one of the leading American writers of his era, recalls reading Stowe’s novel in his youth as it “came out week after week in the old National Era, and I broke my heart over Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as every one else did.”[1] To the delight of readers as enthusiastic about Stowe’s work as the young Howells, publisher John P. Jewett in an Era advertisement on 11 March had promised that Stowe’s book “will be ready march 20” and available from the “principal booksellers in the United States.”[2] Doubtless many of the earliest copies of Jewett’s edition went into the hands of Era subscribers—impatient readers who chose not to wait a week, or two, and instead sought one of the 10,000 copies of the book that would be sold before Stowe’s story completed its serial run. To imagine the experience of such readers, those who read the ending in the Jewett edition before the serial installment arrived in the mail this week, the next, or the next can alert us to the complexities of reading Stowe’s work in multiple publication forms.

The readers who purchased a copy of the Jewett edition before the serial installment arrived no doubt quickly found their way to the top of page 273 in the second volume, where chapter 40 picked up from the 11 March installment. But for readers who knew the work as a series of weekly installments, the chapter number must have prompted some questions—because the Jewett edition’s “chapter 39,” entitled “The Martyr,” a chapter which had begun on 11 March, was numbered chapter 40 in the Era. In this 18 March installment, the serial reader would find the remainder of that chapter; chapter 40, “The Young Master”; and part of chapter 41, “An Authentic Ghost Story.” Perhaps some dedicated readers eventually figured how the chapters came to be renumbered, but many may have surrendered to the inevitability of misprints and errors or decided to trust the book as the more likely product of the author’s careful consideration. But if readers today consider closely this moment in the text’s publication history—when some members of Stowe’s audience had two versions of her text before them—we might recognize that the antislavery reader that Stowe anticipates in the Era is somewhat different than the reader she anticipates in the Jewett edition.

Notes are available on the full-length post. See link to full text below.

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


January 1, 1852

National Era

Transcription of Chapter 27, Part 2 and Chapter 28, Part 1

Chapter XXVII—Continued.

“Well, are you going to do differently now?” said Miss Ophelia.

“God only knows the future,” said St. Clare. “I am braver than I was, because I have lost all; and he who has nothing to lose can afford all risks.”

“And what are you going to do?”

“My duty, I hope, to the poor and lowly, as fast as I find it out,” said St. Clare, “beginning with my own servants, for whom I have yet done nothing; and perhaps at some future day it may appear that I can do something for a whole class—something to save my country from the disgrace of that false position in which she now stands before all civilized nations.”

“Do you suppose it possible that a nation ever will voluntarily emancipate?” said Miss Ophelia.

“I don’t know,” said St. Clare. “This is a day of great deeds. Heroism and disinterestedness are rising up here and there in the earth. The Hungarian nobles set free millions of serfs, at an immense pecuniary loss; and perhaps among us may be found generous spirits who do not estimate honor and justice by dollars and cents.”

“I hardly think so,” said Miss Ophelia.

[Continue reading the full text of 1 January installment, here.]

Commentary by Wesley Raabe

Assistant Professor of English at Kent State University

A New Year, A New Augustine St. Clare, a New Marie?

On 1 January of 1852, the new year brought a new installment of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and the discomfited Augustine St. Clare resumes his effort to postpone, if not forestall, the actions to which an awakened Christian conscience seems to call him, freeing his slaves. But he finds himself hounded by the relentless interrogations of his Vermont cousin, for whom “now,” what Stowe’s narrator in the previous installment calls “the present tense of action,” is the only moment in which a thing can be done. In the previous installment, St. Clare turned to his newspaper to fend off Miss Ophelia’s efforts to purchase Topsy, but he found her unyielding: “But I want it done now.…Because now is the only time there ever is to do a thing in.” One of Stowe’s frequent techniques is to repeat a word for thematic emphasis, so when the split chapter resumed on 1 January Stowe reminded her reader of the topic by Miss Ophelia’s pointed query to Augustine: “Well, are you going to do differently now?”

St. Clare initially appears to recognize that “now” might be a propitious moment for emancipation in the world, the nation, and his own household. Stowe’s Era readers would have been broadly familiar with the gathering signs of the times, as the Era followed such developments faithfully. When Stowe’s 18 December installment was missed, editor Gamaliel Bailey requested the readers’ forbearance with “long articles,” one of which was an international sensation, “the long speech of [Louis] Kossuth at the great Banquet at New York.” This is the international event to which St. Clare refers in this installment with regard to the emancipation of Hungarian serfs. A national matter that may have offered another sign for the times was the Christiana incident. A free black community harboring fugitive slaves in Pennsylvania successfully resisted an attempt by the Maryland slaveholder Edward Gorsuch to re-enslave men he claimed as his property. Gorsuch was killed in the violent exchange. A Quaker, Castner Hanway was charged with treason for aiding the fugitive slaves’ escape, but he was acquitted of the treason charges on 11 December. The reverberations of this incendiary incident, another test of the Fugitive Slave Act, promised to echo long but would fade into a historical footnote. Stowe’s readers may well have recognized the Harris family’s escape with the aid of a Quaker as an uncanny parallel to Christiana. But if the international and national signs were propitious for the march toward greater freedom, domestic signs were decidedly negative, and Augustine St. Clare’s tentative resolution to emancipate his slaves—including Tom—appears to falter on this matter.

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

September 25, 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

Transcription of Chapter 16

Chapter XVI.—Tom’s Mistress and her opinions.


“And now, Marie,” said St. Clare, “your golden days are dawning. Here is our practical, business-like New England cousin, who will take the whole budget of cares off your shoulders, and give you time to refresh yourself and grow young and handsome. The ceremony of delivering the keys had better come off forthwith.”

This remark was made at the breakfast table, a few mornings after Miss Ophelia had arrived.

“I’m sure she’s welcome,” said Marie, leaning her head languidly on her hand. “I think she’ll find one thing if she does, and that is, that it’s we mistresses that are the slaves down here.”

“Oh, certainly, she will discover that, and a world of wholesome truths beside, no doubt,” said St. Clare.

“Talk about our keeping slaves as if we did it for our convenience,” said Marie. “I’m sure if we consulted that, we might let them all go at once.”

Evangeline fixed her large, serious eyes on her mother’s face, with an earnest and perplexed expression, and said, simply, “What do you keep them for, mamma?”

“I don’t know, I’m sure, except for a plague; they are the plague of my life. I believe that more of my ill health is caused by them than by any other one thing; and ours, I know, are the very worst that ever anybody was plagued with.”

“Oh, come, Marie, you’ve got the blues this morning,” said St. Clare. “You know ’tisn’t so. There’s Mammy, the best creature living—what could you do without her?”

“Mammy is the best I ever knew,” said Marie; and yet Mammy, now, is selfish—dreadfully selfish; it’s the fault of the whole race.”

“Selfishness is a dreadful fault,” said St. Clare, gravely.

[Continue reading the full text of chapter 16 here.]

Commentary by Wesley Raabe

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

A Thoroughly Selfish Woman and Eva’s Mysterious Coach Ride

In the 25 September installment we as readers are offered our first close explication of how the system of slavery corrupts a female mistress. Whereas the previous mothers in Uncle Tom’s Cabin took seriously their responsibility to shape a household by love and kindness and Christian religion, Marie St. Clare reverses utterly such expectations. The casual or vicious cruelties of Arthur Haley and Tom Loker did seem to represent almost complete moral evil, but one could at least see a glimpse of humanity in the two men, Haley with his repressed plans for repentance, Loker with his recognition of Haley’s hypocrisy. Marie’s corruption within slavery as a system is more absolute. She has no hidden regrets nor any recognition of its moral evil: her beautiful surfaces—her “fine figure, a pair of bright dark eyes, and a hundred thousand dollars”—hide a rotten interior.

Marie St. Clare cannot be a beloved character, but I do think we can marvel at the seemingly effortless skill with which Stowe creates her. Augustine St. Clare, Eva, and Miss Ophelia challenge Marie to recognize human frailties or feelings in her servants, but she turns back each challenge by insisting that slaves are sub-human inferiors whose only purpose is to serve masters. If Marie sees a fault in her servant—deceit, self-indulgence, or laziness—the reader can see the fault written larger in herself. She cannot recognize that her self is reflected in her servants and instead attributes their failings to St. Clare’s refusal to discipline the slaves with sufficient whipping and brutality. Given the evil consequences to be let loose if Marie were allowed to rule her household, Stowe seems on the verge of celebrating the mistress’s deferral to her husband’s authority, a cultural norm that in the anti-patriarchal household of Rachel Halliday Stowe had seemed eager to overturn.

For this thoroughly self-indulgent woman, whose husband checks her cruelty and mocks her beliefs with sarcasm, the Southern church offers a pillar of self-righteousness to stand on. Dr. G——, her preacher, explains that the text “He hath made everything beautiful in its season” justifies her belief that “all the orders and distinctions in society came from God,” that “some were born to rule and some to serve,” and that “the Bible was on our side, and supported all our institutions.” Marie finds support for her beliefs in the church while Augustine for his in the memory of his saintly mother, but one marvels that the husband tolerates her moral corruption or that the wife tolerates his belittling sarcasm. Stowe offers a convincing portrait of a broken and cold marriage. Though she leaves the possibility unsaid, I think a reader can rightly wonder whether the absence of romantic affection within the marriage might lead husband, wife, or both to seek physical intimacy outside of it.

[Continue reading the full text of  Wesley Raabe’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!

August 28, 1851

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

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

Transcription of Chapter 12

Chapter XII.—Select Incidents of Lawful Trade.


“In Ramah there was a voice heard—weeping, and lamentation, and great mourning; Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted”


Mr. Haley and Tom jogged onward in their wagon, each for a time absorbed in their own reflections. Now, the reflections of two men sitting side by side, are a curious thing—seated on the same seat, having the same eyes, ears, hands, and organs of all sorts, and having pass before their eyes the same objects—it is wonderful what a variety we shall find in these same reflections!

As for example: Mr. Haley, he thought first of Tom’s length, and breadth, and height, and what he would sell for, if he was kept fat and in good case till he got him into market. He thought of how he should make out his gang; he thought of the respective market value of certain suppositious men and women and children who were to compose it, and other kindred topics of the business—then he thought of himself, and how humane he was—that whereas other men chained their niggers, hand and foot both, he only put fetters on the feet, and left Tom the use of his hands, as long as he behaved well, and he sighed to think how ungrateful human nature was, so that there was even room to doubt whether Tom appreciated his mercies. He had been taken in so by niggers whom he had favored; but still he was astonished to consider how good-natured he yet remained!

As to Tom, he was thinking over some words of an unfashionable old book, which kept running through his head, again and again, as follows: “We have here no continuing city, but we seek one to come; wherefore God himself is not ashamed to be called our God; for he hath prepared for us a city.” These words of an ancient volume, got up principally by “ignorant and unlearned men,” have through all time kept up, somehow, a strange sort of power over the minds of poor, simple fellows, like Tom. They stir up the soul from its depths, and rouse, as with trumpet call, courage, energy, and enthusiasm, when before, was only the blackness of despair.

I mention this, of course, philosophic friend, as a psychological phenomenon. Very likely it would do no such thing for you, because you are an enlightened man, and have outgrown the old myths of past centuries. But then, you have Emerson’s Essays, and Carlyle’s Miscellanies, and other productions of the latter day, suited to your advanced development.

[Continue reading the full text of chapter 12 here.]

Commentary by Wesley Raabe

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

The Era’s readers were probably eager to return to Tom’s story: we left him three weeks ago just after Haley had a set of handcuffs retrofitted at the blacksmith’s shop, at which young George Shelby gave him a symbolic dollar. 19th-century readers of sentimental fiction knew that the dollar would be significant later in the story, but we in the 21st century may see the episode as a plot contrivance. As Haley has only one prisoner, why would he lack appropriate handcuffs? To read this episode sympathetically demands attention to conventions for sentimental fiction, a genre concerned overmuch with tears, earnest religiosity, and beset womanhood. Today’s first-time readers of Stowe’s novel might open this serial installment with the expectation of mawkish sentimentalism, but critics recognize it as one of Stowe’s most powerful chapters. Even for experienced readers who know Stowe’s text from the Jewett edition, the serial text has a wrinkle, an intriguing passage that was omitted from the book.

But before looking at the serial chapter itself, let’s consider the prevalence of tears, the “sob story.”[1] Some readers may hold back tears when Tom fears that he might never see his children again. Others might do so when Mrs. Burr explores the drawer of her little Henry’s things: “And oh! mother that reads this, has there never been in your house a drawer, or a closet, the opening of which has been to you like the opening again of a little grave?”[2] Readers familiar with Stowe’s biography will know that Stowe lost a child about two years before she wrote these lines, and she probably memorializes her own little drawer, which held the memorials of her 18-month-old son. Two days after little Charley’s death, the grieving mother wrote to her sister-in-law Sarah Sruges Beecher. In the letter, Stowe relates a conversation with the daguerreotypist who took Charley’s deathbed portrait. She writes a strangely calm factual account of the cholera epidemic’s ravages but breaks suddenly into an anguished cry: “In Ramah there was a voice heard—weeping and lamentation and great mourning Rachel weeping for her children and would not be comforted because they were not—” (see image below). I use a transcription of the letter and a reproduction of Charley’s daguerreotype from Joan D. Hedrick’s biography as a class handout. To read the letter and to see the daguerreotype together is haunting: I cannot read it with dry eyes, nor can my students. Stowe’s repeated return to the death of the child transforms obsession into a form of courageous examination of self and society: to probe the deep wounds of Charley’s death, to will her story back again to the lost child, to associate her pain with slavery’s destruction of families, and to focus outrage on the abuses that the trade’s legal status permits. I invite you to consider this letter now because the same passage with which Stowe gave voice to her mourning for Charley (from Matthew 2:18, Jeremiah 31:15) serves as the epigraph that opens chapter 12.

[1] Jane Tompkins,“Sentimental Power: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Politics of Literary History,” Glyph 8 (1981): 84. Tompkins’s episode of Little Eva is the most famous tear jerker and still to come.

[2] Harriet Beecher Stowe, National Era, July 24, 1851.

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

Click on the image to read the contents of Stowe's letter

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

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

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

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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