REVIEW of REVIEWS

Uncle Tom’s Rejection

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” Was Failure in Early Editon.

DR. CHARLES M. CLARKE February 1 1921
REVIEW of REVIEWS

Uncle Tom’s Rejection

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” Was Failure in Early Editon.

DR. CHARLES M. CLARKE February 1 1921

Uncle Tom’s Rejection

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” Was Failure in Early Editon.

DR. CHARLES M. CLARKE

THE joy of a publishing house when one of its professional readers discovers a new star rising on the literary horizon— an author of promise—is aptly described by Dr. Charles M. Clarke in his account of the placing of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s famous book, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” on the market. Dr. Clarke’s article, published in Chambers’s Journal, states that he is the last living link in connection with the publication of the manuscript. The book, he adds, had at first the “questionable honor of being included in that literary chamber of horrors, the Index Expurgatorius. In spite of the fulmination of the Vatican, it was translated into every European language and even into Chinese and Japanese. This was the start of the book which afterwards sold at the rate of a million and quarter copies within one year:—

“In the spring of 1852 a young man in the employ of Putnam of New York crossed the Atlantic, bringing a copy of the original edition (in two volumes). He hoped, in view of the interest the book was arousing in America, that he might be able to dispose of this early copy to some London publisher, and to this end entrusted the negotiations to Henry Vizetelly, who brought the work under the notice of Charles H. Clarke (the writer’s father.) Clarke carried on a large printing business in Bouverie Street, and had recently in connection therewith started as a publisher at 148 Fleet Street. Clarke took one of the volumes, slit it down the back, and handed one moiety to Salisbury, his partner in the printing concern; the other he gave to Frederick Greenwood, while retaining for his own perusal the second volume.

“Greenwood’s report was that at the end of an hour he was in a tremble lest the interest of the story should sink from the height it had risen to, and that from that point he read on with ever-growing confidence and admiration till he came to the night scene in which Cassy maddens Legree with fear. But that chapter, after what preceded it, answered Clarke and Salisbury’s question conclusively to his mind, and next morning he handed back his portion of the book, with the advice to settle the matter at once, and print quickly.

“The decision to accept Vizetelly’s offer was arrived at on the last day of March, and on the 15th day of April the first edition, consisting of five thousand copies, of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ was issued at two shillings and sixpence by Charles H. Clarke, 148 Fleet Street.

“But the trade hung back, the subscription list proved small, and the publisher was reluctantly compelled to regard the production as a failure. For some months the sales were inconsiderable. However, this state of things soon underwent a change, for in August a phenomenal review, five columns in length, appeared in the Times. From that date the run commenced.”

Dr. Clarke’s description of Mrs. Stowe as she appeared when she visited England is vivid and interesting:—

“During the following year Mrs. Stowe visited London, where, amongst other functions in her honor, was held at Willis’s Rooms a soiree, presided over by Lord Shaftesbury, at which I had the honor of sitting beside her. I vividly recall her personal appearance. Her forehead was high, broad, and intellectual; her piercing brown eyes were set rather wide apart. She had a long, prominent nose, neither aquiline nor Grecian, but a combination of both, with well-cut sensitive nostrils, and a remarkably short upper lip, which allowed her front teeth to be slightly exposed; a large but particularly well-shaped mouth with full rosy lips, below which was a long, determined, though slightly retreating chin.

"Her complexion was rather sallow, save for a bright tint of carmine on her high cheek bones. The shade of her hair was a rich chestnut brown; it was worn smoothly to show the shape of her head. Running from the summit of her brow diagonally to the nape cf her neck was a narrow velvet fillet, from which at the back was bunched up a cluster of curls, while at either side of her face, concealing the ears; hung five full ringlets about seven inches long.

“With regard to her costume, a narrow white lace collar encircled her throat; her gown was of black silk. She stood somewhat below middle height, and carried a full bust, which was accentuated by a sort of loose pelisse open in front, coming down as far as the elbow and worn over the body of her dress. She gave me the impression of being independent in the matter of corsets, and looked a happy, healthy young matron.

“Mrs. Stowe’s manner was extremely, vivacious; her voice, pitched in a high key, was musical, and s,he spoke rapidly in a staccato style with a strong American accent.

“In the position I occupied I could not help overhearing her conversation with

my father, to whom she related how she was ‘roused to such a pitch of indignation when the Fugitive Slave Act was enacted in the States,’ that she then and there vowed if her life was spared to write a book ‘which should rouse the nation’s conscience to boiling-point.’ That she succeeded in her attempt is a matter of history. Then she proceeded to say that the first portion written was the death of Uncle Tom, which, on its appearance in the pages of the Washington Era, created so great an interest that she followed it up with other incidents, and expanded it into the form in which it eventually came before

the public. She said she ‘never expected to realise more from the work than enough to purchase a good silk dress.’ As a matter of fact, the sum she received for the serial rights was only about sixty pound» (two hundred and fifty dollars, to be accurate.)

“A quarter of a century later, Queen Victoria received at Windsor Castle the Rev. Josiah Henson, who was the original model from whom Mrs. Stowe drew the character of Uncle Tom, the main incidents in connection therewith being the actual experiences of Henson during hie slavery.”