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American Literature:
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Harriet Beecher Stowe

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

It was given to a New England woman to write the most widely circulated book of the Century, one which had even greater political effect than literary power. "Uncle Tom's Cabin" excited both in North and South that impassioned feeling which culminated in bloody strife and did not cease till slavery was abolished. Yet the book was written by a woman who had never been in the slave States, though she had lived on the border and had learned much of the working of the slave system from fugitive negroes and from newspapers. Her strong imagination, humanitarian sentiment and reforming spirit had supplied whatever was necessary to make the fiction more powerful than fact in overthrowing an institution protected by legal and constitutional bulwarks.

Harriet Beecher Stowe was the daughter of Rev. Lyman Beecher, the leading orthodox Calvinistic minister of his time. Her brother, Henry Ward Beecher, became even more noted in his time, being as active in the political strife as in the theological field. Other brothers and sisters were prominent in Church and educational matters. Harriet was born at Litchfield, Connecticut, in 1811, and grew up in a strongly religious atmosphere. She was a pupil and afterward teacher in her sister Catherine's school. In 1832 the Beecher family removed to Cincinnati, and there Harriet was married to Prof. Calvin E. Stowe, of Lane Theological Seminary. Her first book was "The Mayflower" (1849), slight sketches of New England life. Professor Stowe was called to Bowdoin Col-lege, at Brunswick, Maine, and there his wife wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin, or Life Among the Lowly." It appeared first in the "National Era," an anti-slavery paper published at Washington, but excited no sensation until it came out in book form in 1852. When its revelations of slavery were called in question, Mrs. Stowe published a "Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin," containing extracts from Southern newspapers and other testimony in vindication of the truth of incidents in her story. As that book had shown the working of slavery in Kentucky and Louisiana, she went on to describe the system in Virginia in "Dred, a Tale of the Dismal Swamp." Being raised to affluence by the income from her books she went to Europe, where she was received with high honor. In 1864 the family removed to Hartford, Connecticut, where she kept her residence until her death in 1896. She made several visits to Europe and for many years spent her winters in Florida. After the Civil War Mrs. Stowe wrote several tales of New England life, including "The Minister's Wooing," "The Pearl of Orr's Island," "Oldtown Folks," "Poganuc People." In these appeared a new development of the Puritan spirit, turning away from the logical discussion and devoting itself to the cultivation of kindness and immediate social duty. Sam Lawson, a shrewd, talkative Yankee, was made responsible for several stories. In "My Wife and I" and other tales, Mrs. Stowe undertook to teach young married people the proper way of living. But while these didactic stories were attractive to a large class, they never reached the wide popularity of her anti-slavery novels.

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