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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow & Harriet Beecher Stowe

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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ca. 1842

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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ca. 1842 / Maine Historical Society

Longfellow had opposed slavery throughout the antebellum period, and even published Poems on Slavery in 1842. Thus, although he would not be considered a strident abolitionist, one would expect him to sympathize with what he read in Uncle Tom's Cabin. Yet his agreement was hardly immediate. At the outset of his reading of the book, Longfellow noted in his journal: "Began 'Uncle Tom?' - a pathetic and droll book on slavery." His view soon changed however, as a later journal entry stated: "Every evening we read ourselves into despair in that tragic book, "Uncle Tom's Cabin!" It is too melancholy, and makes one's blood boil too hotly."

One year later, perhaps envious of the meteoric rise in Stowe's popularity, Longfellow wrote: "How she is shaking the world with her 'Uncle Tom's Cabin!' At one step she has reached the top of the staircase up which the rest of us climb on our knees year after year. Never was there such a literary coup-de-main as this." (Gossett, Thomas F., Uncle Tom's Cabin and American Culture, Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, 1985; in turn citing Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 3 vol., edited by Samuel Longfellow, Boston, Ticknor & Co., 1886, 2:222-23, 233)

While Longfellow clearly admired Stowe's work, the feeling was mutual. Stowe traveled to England to spread her abolitionist message in 1853. Perhaps indicative of Longfellow's literary influence in Europe at that time, Stowe wrote to Longfellow before she departed. Her reason for writing to Longfellow, she explained to him, was "so that I shall be able to say in England that I have seen Longfellow!" (Hedrick, p.236; in turn citing correspondence from Harriet Beecher Stowe to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, February 1, 1853; Houghton Library, Harvard University)

 

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