Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) c. 1853)
Harriet Beecher Stowe, born this in date in 1811, followed her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), with her nonfiction book A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1853). She explains the reason for writing A Key:
At different times, doubt has been expressed -whether the representations of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” are a fair representation of slavery as it at present exists…. The writer acknowledges that the book is a very inadequate representation of slavery; and it is so, necessarily, for this reason,— that slavery, in some of its workings, is too dreadful for the purposes of art. A work which should represent it strictly as it is would be a work which could not be read. And all works which ever mean to give pleasure must draw a veil somewhere, or they cannot succeed.
William Meade (1789-1862) was elected Assistant bishop of Virginia in 1829. He became the third bishop of Virginia at the death of Bishop Moore in 1841 and served as diocesan until own death in 1862.
Stowe and Meade intersect in A Key. In A Key we do not see the Meade who was troubled by slavery, who implored his recalcitrant clergy to evangelize the enslaved and who was a leading member of the American Colonization Society. Meade’s portrait is not as simple as that. Meade was a prolific writer and this is the Meade that Stowe knows. She writes,
Concerning the absolute authority of the master, take the following extract from Bishop Mead’s sermon. (Brooke’s Slavery, pp. 30. 31, 32.)
Having thus shown you the chief duties you owe to your great Master in heaven, I now come to lay before you the duties you owe to your masters and mistresses here upon earth; and for this you have one general rule that you ought always to carry in your minds, and that is, to do all service for them as if you did it for God himself. Poor creatures! you little consider, when you are idle and neglectful of your masters’ business, when you steal and waste and hurt any of their substance, when you are saucy and impudent, when you are telling them lies and deceiving them; or when you prove stubborn and sullen, and will not do the work you are set about without stripes and vexation; you do not consider, I say, that what faults you are guilty of towards your masters and mistresses are faults done against God himself, who hath set your masters and mistresses over you in his own stead, and expects that you will do for them just as you would do for Him. And, pray, do not think that I want to deceive you when I tell you that your masters and mistresses are God’s overseers; and that, if you are faulty towards them, God himself will punish you severely for it in the next world, unless you repent of it, and strive to make amends by your faithfulness and diligence for the time to come; for God himself hath declared the same.
Now, from this general rule, — namely, that you are to do all service for your masters and mistresses as if you did it for God himself, — there arise several other rules of duty towards your masters and mistresses, which I shall endeavor to lay out in order before you.
And, in the first place, you are to be obedient and subject to your masters in all things.
And Christian ministers are commanded to “exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things, not answering them again, or gainsaying.” [Titus 2:9.] You see how strictly God requires this of you, that whatever your masters and mistresses order you to do, you must set about it immediately, and faithfully perform it, without any disputing or grumbling, and take care to please them well in all things. And for your encouragement he tells you that he will reward you for it in heaven; because, while you are honestly and faithfully doing your master’s business here, you are serving your Lord and Master in heaven. You see also that you aro not to take any exceptions to the behavior of your masters and mistresses; and that you are to be subject and obedient, not only to such as are good, and gentle, and mild, towards you, but also to such as may be froward, peevish, and hard. For you are not at liberty to choose your own masters; but into whatever hands God hath been pleased to put you, you must do your duty, and God will reward you for it.
. . . .
You are to be faithful and honest to your masters and mistresses, not purloining or wasting their goods or substance, but showing all good fidelity in all things…. Do not your masters, under God, provide for you? And how shall they be able to do this, to feed and to clothe you, unless you take honest care of everything that belongs to them? Remember that God requires this of you; and, if you are not afraid of suffering for it here, you cannot escape the vengeance of Almighty God, who will judge between you and your masters, and make you pay severely in the next world for all the injustice you do them here. And though you could manage so cunningly as to escape the eyes and hands of man, yet think what a dreadful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God, who is able to cast both soul and body into hell!
You are to serve your masters with cheerfulness, reverence, and humility. You are to do your masters” service with good will, doing it as the will of God from the heart, without any sauciness or answering again. IIow many of you do things quite otherwise, and, instead of going about your work with a good will and a good heart, dispute and grumble, give saucy answers, and behave in a surly manner! There is something so becoming and engaging in a modest, cheerful, good-natured behavior, that a little work done in that manner seems better done, and gives far more satisfaction, than a great deal more, that must be done with fretting, vexation, and the lash always held over you. It also gains the good will and love of those you belong to, and makes your own life pass with more ease and pleasure. Besides, you are to consider that this grumbling and ill-will do not affect your masters and mistresses only. They have ways and means in their hands of forcing you to do your work, whether you are willing or not. But your murmuring and grumbling is against God, who hath placed you in that service, who will punish you severely in the next world for despising his commands.
A very awful query here occurs to the mind. If the poor, ignorant slave, who wastes his master’s temporal goods to answer some of his own present purposes, be exposed to this heavy retribution, what will become of those educated men, who, for their temporal convenience, make and hold in force laws which rob generation after generation of men, not only of their daily earnings, but of all their righte and privileges as immortal beings? Read the rest of this entry »