Chapter 14: the minister's wooing, 1857-1859.
- Death of Mrs. Stowe's oldest son. -- letter to the Duchess of Sutherland. -- letter to her daughters in Paris. -- letter to her sister Catherine. -- visit to Brunswick and Orr's Island. -- writes the minister's Wooing and “the Pearl of Orr's Island.” -- Mr. Whittier's comments. -- Mr. Lowell on the “minister's Wooing.” -- letter to Mrs. Stowe from Mr. Lowell. -- John Ruskin on the “minister's Wooing.” -- a year of sadness. -- letter to Lady Byron. -- letter to her daughter. -- departure for europe.
Immediately after Mrs. Stowe's return from England in June, 1857, a crushing sorrow came upon her in the death of her oldest son, Henry Ellis, who was drowned while bathing in the Connecticut River at Hanover, N. H., where he was pursuing his studies as a member of the Freshman class in Dartmouth College. This melancholy event transpired the 9th of July, 1857, and the 3d of August Mrs. Stowe wrote to the Duchess of Sutherland:
 About this same time she writes to her daughters in Paris:
Can anybody tell what sorrows are locked up with our best affections, or what pain may be associated with every pleasure? As I walk the house, the pictures he used to love, the presents I brought him, and the photographs I meant to show him, all pierce my heart. I have had a dreadful faintness of sorrow come over me at times. I have felt so crushed, so bleeding, so helpless, that I could only call on my Saviour with groanings that could not be uttered. Your papa justly said, “Every child that dies is for the time being an only one; yes — his individuality no time, no change, can ever replace.” Two days after the funeral your father and I went to Hanover. We saw Henry's friends, and his room, which was just as it was the day he left it. “ There is not another such room in the college as his,” said one of his classmates with tears. I could not help loving the dear boys as they would come and look sadly in, and tell us one thing and another that they remembered of him. “ He was always talking of his home and his sisters,” said one. The very day he died he was so happy because I had returned, and he was expecting soon to go home and meet me. He died with that dear thought in his heart. There was a beautiful lane leading down through a charming glen to the river. It had been for years the bathing-place of the students, and into the pure, clear water he plunged, little dreaming that he was never to come out alive. In the evening we went down to see the boating club of which he was a member. He was so happy in  this boating club. They had a beautiful boat called the Una, and a uniform, and he enjoyed it so much. This evening all the different crews were out; but Henry's had their flag furled, and tied with black crape. I felt such love to the dear boys, all of them, because they loved Henry, that it did not pain me as it otherwise would. They were glad to see us there, and I was glad that we could be there. Yet right above where their boats were gliding in the evening light lay the bend in the river, clear, still, beautiful, fringed with overhanging pines, from whence our boy went upward to heaven. To heaven-if earnest, manly purpose, if sincere, deliberate strife with besetting sin is accepted of God, as I firmly believe it is. Our dear boy was but a beginner in the right way. Had he lived, we had hoped to see all wrong gradually fall from his soul as the worn-out calyx drops from the perfected flower. But Christ has taken him into his own teaching.Shortly after this time Mrs. Stowe wrote to her sister Catherine:--And one view of Jesus as He is,Since I wrote to you last we have had anniversary meetings, and with all the usual bustle and care, our house full of company. Tuesday we received a beautiful portrait of our dear Henry, life-size, and as perfect almost as life. It has just that half-roguish, half-loving expression with which he would look at me sometimes, when I would come and brush back his hair and look into his eyes. Every time I go in or out of the room, it seems to give so bright a smile that I almost think that a spirit dwells within it. When I am so heavy, so weary, and go about as if I were wearing an arrow that had pierced my heart, I  sometimes look up, and this smile seems to say, “ Mother, patience, I am happy. In our Father's house are many mansions.” Sometimes I think I am like a gardener who has planted the seed of some rare exotic. He watches as the two little points of green leaf first spring above the soil. He shifts it from soil to soil, from pot to pot. He watches it, waters it, saves it through thousands of mischiefs and accidents. He counts every leaf, and marks the strengthening of the stem, till at last the blossom bud was fully formed. What curiosity, what eagerness,--what expectation — what longing now to see the mystery unfold in the new flower. Just as the calyx begins to divide and a faint streak of color becomes visible,--lo! in one night the owner of the greenhouse sends and takes it away. He does not consult me, he gives me no warning; he silently takes it and I look, but it is no more. What, then? Do I suppose he has destroyed the flower? Far from it; I know that he has taken it to his own garden. What Henry might have been I could guess better than any one. What Henry is, is known to Jesus only.
Will strike all sin forever dead.
How little he thought, wandering there as he often has with us, that his mortal form would so soon be resting there. Yet that was written for him. It was as certain then as now, and the hour and place of our death is equally certain, though we know it not. It seems selfish that I should yearn to lie down by his side, but I never knew how much I loved him till now. The one lost piece of silver seems more than all the rest,--the one lost sheep dearer than all the fold, and I so long for one word, one look, one last embrace. . . .
The winter of 1857 was passed quietly and uneventfully at Andover. In November Mrs. Stowe contributed to the Atlantic monthly a touching little allegory, The mourning veil. In December, 1858, the first chapter of The minister's Wooing appeared in the same magazine. Simultaneously with this story was written “The Pearl of  Orr's Island,” published first as a serial in the “Independent.” She dictated a large part of The minister's Wooing under a great pressure of mental excitement, and it was a relief to her to turn to the quiet story of the coast of Maine, which she loved so well. In February, 1874, Mrs. Stowe received the following words from Mr. Whittier, which are very interesting in this connection:
When I am in the mood for thinking deeply I read “ The Minister's Wooing.” But “The Pearl of Orr's Island” is my favorite. It is the most charming New England idyl ever written.The minister's Wooing was received with universal commendation from the first, and called forth the following appreciative words from the pen of Mr. James Russell Lowell:--
It has always seemed to us that the anti-slavery element in the two former novels by Mrs. Stowe stood in the way of a full appreciation of her remarkable genius, at least in her own country. It was so easy to account for the unexampled popularity of “ Uncle Tom” by attributing it to a cheap sympathy with sentimental philanthropy! As people began to recover from the first enchantment, they began also to resent it and to complain that a dose of that insane Garrison-root which takes the reason prisoner had been palmed upon them without their knowing it, and that their ordinary watergruel of fiction, thinned with sentiment and thickened with moral, had been hocussed with the bewildering hasheesh of Abolition. We had the advantage of reading that truly extraordinary book for the first time in Paris, long after the whirl of excitement produced by  its publication had subsided, in the seclusion of distance, and with a judgment unbiased by those political sympathies which it is impossible, perhaps unwise, to avoid at home. We felt then, and we believe now, that the secret of Mrs. Stowe's power lay in that same genius by which the great successes in creative literature have always been achieved,--the genius that instinctively goes right to the organic elements of human nature, whether under a white skin or a black, and which disregards as trivial the conventional and factitious notions which make so large a part both of our thinking and feeling. Works of imagination written with an aim to immediate impression are commonly ephemeral, like Miss Martineau's “ Tales,” and Elliott's “Corn-law Rhymes;” but the creative faculty of Mrs. Stowe, like that of Cervantes in “Don Quixote” and of Fielding in “Joseph Andrews,” overpowered the narrow specialty of her design, and expanded a local and temporary theme with the cosmopolitanism of genius. It is a proverb that “ There is a great deal of human nature in men,” but it is equally and sadly true that there is amazingly little of it in books. Fielding is the only English novelist who deals with life in its broadest sense. Thackeray, his disciple and congener, and Dickens, the congener of Smollett, do not so much treat of life as of the strata of society; the one studying nature from the club-room window, the other from the reporters' box in the police court. It may be that the general obliteration of distinctions of rank in this country, which is generally considered a detriment to the novelist, will in the end turn to his advantage by compelling him to depend for his effects on the contrasts and  collisions of innate character, rather than on those shallower traits superinduced by particular social arrangements, or by hereditary associations. Shakespeare drew ideal, and Fielding natural men and women; Thackeray draws either gentlemen or snobs, and Dickens either unnatural men or the oddities natural only in the lowest grades of a highly artificial system of society. The first two knew human nature; of the two latter, one knows what is called the world, and the other the streets of London. Is it possible that the very social democracy which here robs the novelist of so much romance, so much costume, so much antithesis of caste, so much in short that is purely external, will give him a set-off in making it easier for him to get at that element of universal humanity which neither of the two extremes of an aristocratic system, nor the salient and picturesque points of contrast between the two, can alone lay open to him? We hope to see this problem solved by Mrs. Stowe. That kind of romantic interest which Scott evolved from the relations of lord and vassal, of thief and clansman, from the social more than the moral contrast of Roundhead and Cavalier, of far-descended pauper and nottueau riche which Cooper found in the clash of savagery with civilization, and the shaggy virtue bred on the border-land between the two, Indian by habit, white by tradition, Mrs. Stowe seems in her former novels to have sought in a form of society alien to her sympathies, and too remote for exact study, or for the acquirement of that local truth which is the slow result of unconscious observation. There can be no stronger proof of the greatness of her genius, of her possessing  that conceptive faculty which belongs to the higher order of imagination, than the avidity with which “Uncle Tom” was read at the South. It settled the point that this book was true to human nature, even if not minutely so to plantation life. If capable of so great a triumph where success must so largely depend on the sympathetic insight of her mere creative power, have we not a right to expect something far more in keeping with the requirements of art, now that her wonderful eye is to be the mirror of familiar scenes, and of a society in which she was bred, of which she has seen so many varieties, and that, too, in the country, where it is most native and original? It is a great satisfaction to us that in “The minister's Wooing” she has chosen her time and laid her scene amid New England habits and traditions. There is no other writer who is so capable of perpetuating for us, in a work of art, a style of thought and manners which railways and newspapers will soon render as palaeozoic as the mastodon or the megalosaurians. Thus far the story has fully justified our hopes. The leading characters are all fresh and individual creations. Mrs. Kate Scudder, the notable Yankee housewife; Mary, in whom Cupid is to try conclusions with Calvin; James Marvyn, the adventurous boy of the coast, in whose heart the wild religion of nature swells till the strait swathings of Puritanism are burst; Dr. Hopkins, the conscientious minister come upon a time when the social prestige of the clergy is waning, and whose independence will test the voluntary system of ministerial support; Simeon Brown, the man of theological dialectics, in whom the utmost perfection of creed is shown to be  not inconsistent with the most contradictory imperfection of life,--all these are characters new to literature. And the scene is laid just far enough away in point of time to give proper tone and perspective. We think we find in the story, so far as it has proceeded, the promise of an interest as unhackneyed as it will be intense. There is room for the play of all the passions and interests that make up the great tragicomedy of life, while all the scenery and accessories will be those which familiarity has made dear to us. We are a little afraid of Colonel Burr, to be sure, it is so hard to make a historical personage fulfill the conditions demanded by the novel of every-day life. He is almost sure either to fall below our traditional conception of him, or to rise above the natural and easy level of character, into the vague or the melodramatic. Moreover, we do not want a novel of society from Mrs. Stowe; she is quite too good to be wasted in that way, and her tread is much more firm on the turf of the “door-yard” or the pasture, and the sanded floor of the farmhouse, than on the velvet of the salon. We have no notion how she is to develop her plot, but we think we foresee chances for her best power in the struggle which seems foreshadowed between Mary's conscientious admiration of the doctor and her halfconscious passion for James, before she discovers that one of these conflicting feelings means simply moral liking and approval, and the other that she is a woman and that she loves. And is not the value of dogmatic theology as a rule of life to be thoroughly tested for the doctor by his slave-trading parishioners? Is he not to learn the bitter difference between intellectual acceptance  of a creed and that true partaking of the sacrament of love and faith and sorrow that makes Christ the very life-blood of our being and doing? And has not James Marvyn also his lesson to be taught? We foresee him drawn gradually back by Mary from his recoil against Puritan formalism to a perception of how every creed is pliant and plastic to a beautiful nature, of how much charm there may be in an hereditary faith, even if it have become almost conventional. In the materials of character already present in the story, there is scope for Mrs. Stowe's humor, pathos, clear moral sense, and quick eye for the scenery of life. We do not believe that there is any one who, by birth, breeding, and natural capacity, has had the opportunity to know New England so well as she, or who has the peculiar genius so to profit by the knowledge. Already there have been scenes in “ The Minister's Wooing” that, In their lowness of tone and quiet truth, contrast as charmingly with the humid vagueness of the modern school of novel-writers as “ The Vicar of Wakefield” itself, and we are greatly mistaken if it do not prove to be the most characteristic of Mrs. Stowe's works, and therefore that on which her fame will chiefly rest with posterity.The minister's Wooing was not completed as a serial till December, 1859. Long before its completion Mrs. Stowe received letters from many interested readers, who were as much concerned for the future of her “spiritual children,” as George Eliot would call them, as if they had been flesh and blood. The following letter from Mr. Lowell is given as the most valuable received by Mrs. Stowe at this time:-- 
After the book was published in England, Mr. Ruskin wrote to Mrs. Stowe :--
Well, I have read the book now, and I think nothing can be nobler than the noble parts of it (Mary's great speech to Colonel Burr, for instance), nothing wiser than the wise parts of it (the author's parenthetical and under-breath remarks), nothing more delightful than the delightful parts (all that Virginie says and  does), nothing more edged than the edged parts (Candace's sayings and doings, to wit); but I do not like the plan of the whole, because the simplicity of the minister seems to diminish the probability of Mary's reverence for him. I cannot fancy even so good a girl who would not have laughed at him. Nor can I fancy a man of real intellect reaching such a period of life without understanding his own feelings better, or penetrating those of another more quickly. Then I am provoked at nothing happening to Mrs. Scudder, whom I think as entirely unendurable a creature as ever defied poetical justice at the end of a novel meant to irritate people. And finally, I think you are too disdainful of what ordinary readers seek in a novel, under the name of “interest,” --that gradually developing wonder, expectation, and curiosity which makes people who have no self-command sit up till three in the morning to get to the crisis, and people who have self-command lay the book down with a resolute sigh, and think of it all the next day through till the time comes for taking it up again. Still, I know well that in many respects it was impossible for you to treat this story merely as a work of literary art. There must have been many facts which you could not dwell upon, and which no one may judge by common rules. It is also true, as you say once or twice in the course of the work, that we have not among us here the peculiar religious earnestness you have mainly to describe. We have little earnest formalism, and our formalists are for the most part hollow, feeble, uninteresting, mere stumbling-blocks. We have the Simeon Brown species,  indeed; and among readers even of his kind the book may do some good, and more among the weaker, truer people, whom it will shake like mattresses,--making the dust fly, and perhaps with it some of the sticks and quill-ends, which often make that kind of person an objectionable mattress. I write too lightly of the book, -far too lightly,--but your letter made me gay, and I have been lighter-hearted ever since; only I kept this after beginning it, because I was ashamed to send it without a line to Mrs. Browning as well. I do not understand why you should apprehend (or rather anticipate without apprehension) any absurd criticism on it. It is sure to be a popular book,--not as “ Uncle Tom” was, for that owed part of its popularity to its dramatic effect (the flight on the ice, etc.), which I did not like; but as a true picture of human life is always popular. Nor, I should think, would any critics venture at all to carp at it. The Candace and Virginie bits appear to me, as far as I have yet seen, the best. I am very glad there is this nice French lady in it: the French are the least appreciated in general, of all nations, by other nations. . . My father says the book is worth its weight in gold, and he knows good work.When we turn from these criticisms and commendations to the inner history of this period, we find that the work was done in deep sadness of heart, and the undertone of pathos that forms the dark background of the brightest and most humorous parts of “The minister's Wooing” was the unconscious revelation of one of sorrowful spirit, who, weary of life, would have  been glad to lie down with her arms “round the wayside cross, and sleep away into a brighter scene.” Just before beginning the writing of The minister's Wooing she sent the following letter to Lady Byron:--
The views expressed in this letter certainly throw light on many passages in The minister's Wooing. The following letter, written to her daughter Georgiana, is introduced as revealing the spirit in which much of The minister's Wooing was written:--
 So is it ever: when with bold step we press our way into the holy place where genius hath wrought, we find it to be a place of sorrows. Art has its Gethsemane and its Calvary as well as religion. Our best loved books and sweetest songs are those “that tell of saddest thought.” The summer of 1859 found Mrs. Stowe again on her way to Europe, this time accompanied by all her children except the youngest.