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Article VI.—THE MINISTER'S WOOING: FROM THE DR.
DRYASDUST POINT OF VIEW.
The Minister's Wooing. By HARRIET BEECHER STOWE. New
York: Derby & Jackson.
We have no occasion to make any portion of the public acquainted with this book. Already hundreds of thousands are more familiar with it than they are with Paradise Lost or with Hamlet. Already the names of the leading personages in the story are household words in each of the two great nations that speak our mother tongue.
In the Minister's Wooing Mrs. Stowe has attempted a more difficnlt task than in either of those former works which have made her famous. Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Dred are stories of to-day, dealing exclusively with the facts and problems of the passing age, and portraying only the features of American society as it now is. The scene of those two stories is, indeed, chiefly in regions known to the author less by personal observation than by the report of others; but, to a mind like hers, the distance of a thousand miles in space within the limits of our common country, is nothing in comparison with the distance of two-thirds of a century in time. Historical fiction, dealing with historic persons, and portraying manners and a state of society that have passed away, is a very different thing from the fiction, sentimental or satirical, which only holds up the mirror to the author's own contemporaries, and seeks to “ catch the manners living as they rise." Both alike must have their chief interest in their representation of that human nature which is common to all ages. Both alike must charm by tonching the springs of human sympathy in the reader's consciousness. Both alike must be true to pature. But the historic fiction, while true to nature and to human sentiments and sympathies, must also be true to history.
We do not propose to inark precisely the bounds of that VOL. XVIII.
poetic license which is allowed to the writers of fiction. Yet we may safely lay down two rules which every such writer should respect, and which no author can violate, deliberately or unintentionally, without incurring the imputation of ignorance, or of carelessness, or else of indolence or want of ingenuity in the construction of the story. Our rules are these,
1. The facts of history must not be contradicted. 2. The personages of history must not be misrepresented.
In both these rules it is assumed that the illustration of history is one aim of historic fiction, or at least one duty of the writer who incorporates into his fiction materials that belong to history. This is the difference between a properly historic novel or romance and one that deals with merely mythical stories and personages. What rules should restrain or guide the imagination of one who takes King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table for his theme, or who transfers himself and his readers to the reign of some fabulous British king before the days of Julius Cæsar, we will not undertake to say, for such works rest on no historic basis; they borrow nothing from history and owe to history nothing in return. But when Walter Scott writes Ivanhoe, he becomes in some sort a historian as well as a writer of fiction, and he puts himself under certain obvious responsibilities in respect to historic truth and fairness. He undertakes to represent not the England of the Commonwealth, nor the England of the Reformation, nor the England of the Heptarchy, but the England of the Crusades, that romantic and half barbarous England in which the lionhearted Richard reigned. When he writes Peveril of the Peak he undertakes to represent not England as it now is, nor the Englishmen that live in this nineteenth century, but England as it was in the years immediately following the restoration of the Stuarts, and Englishmen as they were when John Milton was an old blind traitor who owed his safety only to his obscurity.
The Minister's Wooing is a historical novel. It introduces three historical personages under their well known names, Samuel Hopkins, Ezra Stiles, and Aaron Burr. The scene, instead of being laid at some locality not found upon the map,
is laid at Newport, Rhode Islaud. The time or date of the story, as announced by the advertisements of the publishers, is "sixty years ago," or, as defined by internal indications, is when General Washington was at the head of the Federal Government, (from 1789 to 1797,) and more exactly when Aaron Burr was a Senator of the United States, (from 1791 to to 1797.) We are compelled to assume that the events at Newport, great and emall, which make up the story of the Minister's Wooing, are dated somewhere in the last ten years of the eighteenth century. The allusion in one passage (pp. 198, 199) to John Adams's being a minister at the Court of St. James, as a contemporaneous fact, is only one of the anachronisms in which the author, using her poetic license, has ventured to indulge.
Our readers will allow us to refresh their memory a little by recapitulating the essential points of the story, as connected with the facts of history. Dr. Hopkins, the coryphæus among the New-divinity theologians of New England in his time, has been, for an indefinite number of years, the Pastor in one of the two Congregational churches of Newport. He is now a venerable bachelor, old enough to have written his “System of Divinity,” which he is endeavoring to publish by subscription, and yet young enough to be not much more than forty. p. 182. His home has long been under the roof of a widow Scudder, whose daughter, Mary, has grown up under his eyes, and is the only additional inmate of the dwelling, except the “hired men” who cultivate the widow's farm. There is a tender attachment between Mary Scudder and a young man, James Marvyn, a model sailor, who has come to be the second officer of a vessel and goes upon a three years' voyage at the beginning of the story. Mrs. Scudder, observing the simple Doctor's half parental interest in her daughter, indulges an ambitious motherly hope that his growing affection for Mary may ultimately lead him to think of a nearer and tenderer relation to one so worthy of him,—which accordingly comes to pass in the progress of events. At the date of these occurrences, as the story runs, Newport was thriving by the African slave trade. Not only were the merchants of that place employing their ships, at that late day, in carrying negroes on “ the middle passage” from Guinea to the southern ports of the United States; but with a remarkable lack of mercantile shrewdness, they were bringing slaves from Africa to Newport, and there selling them to southern customers. pp. 153, 155. Just at this time the simple-minded pastor, having long meditated on the slave trade and on slavery, and having signalized himself by his endeavors to instruct and Christianize the blacks of the place, comes to the conclusion that the enslaving of those people and the trade that brings them from Africa, are wrong; and “finding in his former blindness and the comparative dumbness which he has heretofore maintained on this subject, much wherewith to reproach himself,” (p. 159,) be determines to relieve his conscience by speaking out. He makes his first experiment in a private conference with a wealthy member of his own church, a zealously Hopkinsian slave-trader, who accepts with high-flying zeal the most paradoxical deductions from the doctrine and duty of disinterested benevolence, but revolts instantaneously and violently from the proposal to give up his African trade for the sake of God's glory which consists in the highest happiness of the universe. On the same day, he makes a second experiment with better success; and at his suggestion Mr. Zebedee Marvyn, the father of James, emancipates his two African servants, Candace and her husband Cato. In the course of the same week there is a large wedding party at the house of one of the wealthiest and most aristocratic families in the place. There all the historic perdopages of the story meet, Hopkins, Stiles, and Burr; for Dr. Stiles is still the pastor of the Second Congregational church; and “ Colonel Burr, of the United States Senate,” happens to be in Newport, just at this time, busy in some political in. trigue. At that gay and brilliant party it is whispered about that Dr. Hopkins has denounced the slave trade, and will preach against it on the next Sunday. Consequently his dilapidated old meeting house is filled for once with a polite and fashionable congregation, who are indignant at the strange doctrine. The story goes forward a year, and then there comes the news that the ship in which Jaines Marvyn sailed from
Newport has been lost with all on board save the one who like one of Job's messengers was left to bring the tidings home. Again the story goes forward, and, after a few months, the broken-hearted Mary, through the mediation of her mother, has consented to become the wife of Dr. Hopkins. But just as preparations for the wedding are almost finished, James, who has been saved from the wreck of his ship by one of the many chances that are always at the service of a poet or a novelist, comes home alive and hearty, and not only so bnt rich. The old theologian, in the true spirit of disinterested benevolence, being informed of what in his unobservant simplicity he has never suspected, namely, that James is to Mary the object of a tenderer and more passionate affection than she conld ever feel toward her revered and paternal pastor, makes, voluntarily and heroically, the sacrifice of his brightest hopes for this world, and gives Mary to her lover. Then we are informed that in time, the Doctor himself, though of course well stricken in years, “married a woman of a fair countenance, and that sons and daughters grew up around him.” In time, too, his System of Divinity was published, and “proved a success not only in public acceptance and esteem, but even in a temporal view, bringing to him at last a modest competence.” “ To the last of a very long life,” he was “ever saying and doing what he saw to be eternally right, without the slightest consultation with worldly expediency or earthly gain, nor did his words cease to work in New England till the evils he opposed were finally done away."
We have no intention of pronouncing or implying any judgment on the plot of the Minister's Wooing, considered nierely as a story. Nor is it our purpose to inquire how far the personages of the story, considered as creations of the author's mind, are true to human nature, and to the peculiar development of human nature under the religious and social influences of Puritan New England. Indeed, we are too late for such an inquiry. On that point, the verdict of all who know anything about New England life as it was some forty years ago, is already declared. It is also onr purpose to avoid entirely, at present, the question which has been raised, in some minds, about the theological relations and tendencies of
slighteeing what of a ver