Harriet Beecher StoweOnly Holding the Pen

M. L. H., “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Was it written by spirit aid or Inspiration?”  Religio-Philosophical Journal, July 30, 1887:7

Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of the immortal work, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, has recently been interviewed, and thus expresses herself thereby concerning her work:

“I never thought of writing a book when I commenced ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin.’  I became first roused on the subject of slavery when I lived in Cincinnati, and used to see escaping slaves come over the Ohio from Kentucky.  Ah, me!  it thrills me even now, the sight of those poor creatures!  Now a young girl, suggesting the lover, parent or brother for whom her heart was breaking in bondage; again, the strong husband, aged father or stalwart brother.  Oh, I must write a story to stop the dreadful shame!  I kept putting it off, dreading bringing the characters to life, till the fugitive slave law lashed me into fury, and I commenced what I meant to be a short story.  But it grew, and grew, and grew, and came, and came, and came.  I wrote, and wrote, and wrote, and finally thought I never should stop.  I did not plan the book as it turned out.  I was only full of the wrath, and the story built itself around it as I wrote.  A publisher was waiting for a story from me.  I told him the subject I had undertaken.  He wrote, saying: ‘You have struck a popular subject; for heaven’s sake keep it short.’  I wrote in reply: ‘I shall stop when I get through—not before.’  He never got it, for I had to make a book of it.  While writing it I was filled with an enthusiasm which transfused my being, knew no hindrance, no rival interest, no belief but in writing it.  I had young children, was keeping house and teaching school at the time, and never worked so hard, but I had to write.  Dinner had to be got, I knew.  This had to be written just as much—aye, and more, too.  It was though it was written through me, I only holding the pen.  I was lifted off my feet.  Satisfied.  When it was finished it was done, and relief came.  I never felt the same with anything I afterward wrote.”

This is very interesting; and the great question is, was it an inspiration in which every faculty of the author’s mind and being was so filled with her subject that she did not seem like herself; or did great and good spirits take possession of her brain, and to some extent control it?  Both.  It would be an interesting subject for the psychologist.

“Ministration of the Departed,” Univercoelum and Spiritual Philosophy (New York), April 21, 1849:327.

A writer (Mrs. H. B. Stowe) in the “New York Evangelist,” argues the possibility and probability of a communion with the spirits of the departed as follows:

“In early life, with our friends all around us—hearing their voices, cheered by their smile—death and the spiritual world are to us remote, misty and fabulous; but as we advance in our journey, and voice after voice is hushed, and form after form vanishes from our side, and our shadow falls almost solitary on the hill side of life, the soul by a necessity of its being, tends to the unseen and spiritual, and pursues in another life those it seeks in vain in this.  For with every friend that dies, dies also some peculiar form of social enjoyment, whose being depended on the peculiar character of that friend; till, late in the afternoon of life, the pilgrim seems to himself to have passed over the unseen world, in successive portions, half his own spirit; and poor indeed is he who has not familiarized himself with that unknown, whither, despite himself, his soul is earnestly tending.  One of the deepest and most imperative cravings of the human assurance that they still love and care for us.  Could we firmly believe this, bereavement would lose half its bitterness.  As a German writer beautifully expresses it: “Our friend is not wholly gone from us; we see across the river of death, in the blue distance, the smoke of his cottage”—hence the heart, always creating what it desires, has ever made the guardianship and ministration of departed spirits a favorite theme of poetic fiction.

“But is it, then, fiction?  Does revelation, which gives so many hopes which nature had not, give none here?  Is there no sober certainty, to correspond to the in-born and passionate craving of the soul?  Do departed spirits, in verity, retain any knowledge of what transpires in this world, and take any part in its scenes?

“All that revelation says of a spiritual state, is more intimation than assertion—it has no distinct treatise, and teaches nothing apparently of set purpose, but gives vague glorious images, while now and then some accidental ray of intelligence looks out,

     —like eyes of cherubs shining
     From out the vail that hid the ark.

“But out of all the different hints and assertions of the Bible, we think a better inferential argument might be constructed, to prove the ministration of departed spirits, than for many a doctrine which has passed in its day for the height of orthodoxy.

“First, then, the Bible distinctly says that there is a class of invisible spirits who minister to the children of men.  “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation?”  It is said of little children, that “their angels do always behold the face of the Father which is in heaven.”  This last passage, from the words of our Savior, taken in connection with the well-known tradition of his time, fully recognizes the idea of individual guardian spirits.

“It is strangely in confirmation of this idea, that in the transfiguration scene, which seems to have been intended purposely to give the disciples a glimpse of the glorified state of their Master, we find him attended by two spirits of earth, Moses and Elias, “which appeared with him in glory, and spake of his death which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.”

“It appears that these so long departed ones were still mingling with deep sympathy with the tide of human affairs, not only aware of the present, but also informed as to the future.
. . .

“Have we not memories which correspond to such a belief?  When our soul has been cast down, has never an invisible voice whispered, ‘There is lifting up’?”


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