If Mrs. STOWE has not outlived her fame, she has long survived her vogue. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is still no doubt sold and read, and it may be sold and read for some generations to come. It may be even read with interest, an interest due to its merits as work of art, to its delineation of the types of human character evolved or developed under a social state that has irrevocably passed away. Shelby and St. Clair and Legree remain the types of slaveholders in the minds of Northerners and Europeans and are becoming such types to the readers of the south itself, as the institutions of slavery recedes more and more from actual experience and memory. Certainly they are likely to supplant any of the types created by the old-fashioned writers of “romances of the sunny Southland,” who were, in sooth, dreadfully incompetent to fix a type that would stand or to paint a picture that was memorable. Uncle Tom himself is rather a “property” hero, and the best that can be said for Eva is that she is fairly comparable with DICKENS’S efforts in the pathetic line, on which she was closely modeled. The strictly incidental people were better, George and Eliza and the Quaker, whose name we have forgotten, and the evangelical spinster from New-England. The great majority of readers who read for entertainment will in the future be apt to derive from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” their impressions of slavery in the United States.
This is praise of the famous novel from a purely literary point of view, on its merits as a novel. But of course it was not its literary merits that won for it so astonishing and perhaps unexampled a success. It would be safe to say that far more than two millions of copies of it have been sold in English, and it was translated into every language of Europe and in several of them was successful beyond the contemporary successes of any native author. This wonderful popularity it owed, not to its merits as a work of art, nor to its value as a “human document,” but to its efficiency and timeliness as a political pamphlet. The timeliness, indeed, was a great part of the efficiency. It was published two years after the middle of the century at the beginning of which slavery was not an anachronism at all and at the end of which there will not be a human being legally held in bondage in any country that calls itself civilized, and there will be very few such persons even in barbarous countries. Already our politics had begun to turn upon that issue, which ten years before had been successfully subordinated to less important and dangerous questions, and ten years afterward was to array the two halves of the country against each other in war. The efforts of WEBSTER and men like him effort to keep it out of politics had become as visibly vain as are now the efforts to subordinate the currency issue to the tariff. Eighteen hundred and fifty-two was the year alike of the “Seventh of March Speech,” which was the last of WEBSTER’S efforts, and of the publication of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The novelist was a better politician than the statesman, for four years afterward the Presidential campaign was fought out upon the issue of the restriction of slavery. There was really no other public topic in the United States. A book purporting to be detailed picture of slave life in the South, under the most favorable and the least favorable conditions, appealed to a universal craving. Even had the picture been less artistically done than it was, had it been only tolerably done, it was assured beforehand of a great success.
With “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” the literary career of its author began and ended, though the composition of it was only an episode in a hard-working literary life. Perhaps some of her other books were as well written as her one book, but they were not written under the same inspiring assurance of a wide popular sympathy, and it is and will remain entirely permissible not to have read them. The author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” however, is sure of a long remembrance.