Uncle Tom's Cabin, or Life Among the Lowly (London: Cassell, 1852), 9.2 cm high by 15.4. cm wide, vignetted. The image is one of twenty-seven which Cruikshank completed for the British serialised edition of the sensational anti-slavery narrative. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]— Vol. 1, opposite page 51, in
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It was a dreadful moment for Eliza. Her room opened by a side door to the river. She seized her child and sprang down the steps towards it.
Haley caught sight of her as she disappeared down the bank. Throwing himself from his horse, and calling loudly to Sam and Andy, he was after her in a moment.
In that terrible moment her feet scarcely seemed to touch the ground. The next, she was at the water's edge.
On they came behind her. With one wild cry and flying leap, shejumped right over the water by the shore, on to the raft of ice beyond. It was a desperate leap. Haley, Sam, and Andy cried out, and lifted up their hands in astonishment.
The great piece of ice pitched and creaked as her weight came upon it. But she stayed there not a moment. With wild cries she leaped to another and still another stumbling leaping — slipping— springing up again!
Her shoes were gone, her stockings cut from her feet by the sharp edges of the ice. Blood marked every step. But she knew nothing, felt nothing, till dimly, as in a dream, she saw the Ohio side, and a man helping her up the bank.
"Yer a brave gal, now, whoever ye are!"said the man.— Chapter 4, "The Chase."
For the publication in weekly parts of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (Cohn 777, 1852) the artist designed twenty-seven woodcuts, as well as the vignette on the title-page and a frontispiece portrait of the author. — E. D. H. Johnson, p. 19.
Published simultaneously in Boston and Cleveland by two Jewett firms (John P. Jewett and Jewett, Proctor, and Worthington respectively) in 1852, the novel by pro-abolitionist seminary student Harriet Beecher Stowe helped shape attitudes towards slavery on both sides of the Atlantic, as reflected in the popular British press. A key scene in the anti-slavery novel is Eliza's daring crossing of the Ohio River, for freedom lies on the opposite shore, even though the state legislature has attempted to stem the tide of runaway slaves by passing a law (the second Fugitive Slave Act, 1850) preventing anti-slavery activists in Ohio from offering aid and sustenance to runaways. Uncle Tom's Cabin first appeared as a 40-week serial in The National Era, an abolitionist periodical, starting with the 5 June 1851 issue. In London, the story appeared in thirteen weekly parts, issued by John Cassell, in 1852, with two illustrations for each number by George Cruikshank.
Whereas in the United States some 300,000 copies were sold in its first year of publication, in Great Britain one million copies of the Cassell's edition were sold, laying the basis for popular opinion that would keep Britain, despite the vast cotton mills of Lancashire, out of the American Civil War. The original American editions contained just six full-page illustrations by Hammatt Billings. Published in book form on 20 March 1852, in the northern United States the novel sold 3,000 copies on that day alone. In 1853, Jewett published a deluxe edition, perhaps inspired by the success of the more extensively illustrated Cassell's edition in Great Britain, featuring 117 illustrations by Hammatt Billings. In London the book published as a triple-decker in May 1852 sold 200,000 copies immediately, making it one of the century's best-selling books.
This illustration, the night-time setting rendering it a "dark plate," portrays one of the most celebrated scenes in Stowe's melodramatic novel: with ruthless slave-catchers in pursuit, the former lady's maid, Eliza, makes a desperate bid for freedom by crossing from the Kentucky to the Ohio shore to prevent her baby from being sold away to a different master. When Eliza overhears her owners, Mr. and Mrs. Shelby, planning to sell Tom and Harry, Eliza determines to run away with her son. Stowe states that Eliza made this decision because she fears losing her only surviving child (she had already miscarried two children). Eliza departs that night, leaving a note of apology to her mistress.
Accompanied by his slaves Andy and Sam (who, out of sympathy for Eliza, attempt to delay the pursuit), the slave-trader Haley finally departs. Haley tells White people that he treats his slaves well, but in fact he is a violent and brutal master. The trio (depicted upper left in the Cruikshank illustration) arrive at the banks of the Ohio just in time to watch Eliza making her perilous way across the ice-floes towards the Ohio shore. Jumping from one "cake" of ice to the next, and, in the illustration, nearly capsizing, clasping child tightly, with the wind flowing from right to left in the darkness, heightening the tension visually, Eliza stumbles again and again, her feet covered with blood. By coincidence (or Divine intervention), a man helps her onto the shore; this is Mr. Symmes, previously introduced as a friend of Shelby's, who detests slave-catchers such as Haley. Moreover, feeling that the young woman through her daring has has earned her freedom, indicates where she can find shelter, even though by doing so he is in contravention of the second Fugitive Slave Act, 1850. Thus, Stowe's is "a novel of today" rather than an historical novel, its contemporary nature made all the more engaging by sixty-year-old George Cruikshank's wood-engravings, which enable White English to readily identify themselves with the plight of the Black characters. The book made the young female author from Hartford, Connecticut, an overnight celebrity in Great Britain.
Burton, Anthony. "Cruikshank as an Illustrator of Fiction." George Cruikshank: A Revaluation. Ed. Robert L. Patten. Princeton: Princeton U. P., 1974, rev., 1992. Pp. 92-128.
Cohen, Jane Rabb. Part One, "Dickens and His Early Illustrators: 1. George Cruikshank. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio University Press, 1980. Pp. 15-38.
Cruikshank, George. "Eliza Crosses the Ohio on the Floating Ice." The Newberry: "Digital Collections for the Classroom, The American Renaissance in Context." http://dcc.newberry.org/items/eliza-crosses-the-ohio-on-the-floating-ice.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher, and George Cruikshank (illustrator). Uncle Tom's Cabin, or Life Among the Lowly. With Twenty-Seven illustrations on Wood by George Cruikshank. London: John Cassell, 1852.
Kitton, Frederic G. "George Cruikshank." Dickens and His Illustrators. London: Chapman & Hall, 1899. Pp. 1-28.
McLean, Ruari. George Cruikshank: His Life and Work as a Book Illustrator. English Masters of Black-and-White. London: Art and Technics, 1948.
Last modified 12 July 2017