"Here, Uncle Tom," said Eva, "is a beautiful one for you. — Vol. 2, opposite page 249, in Uncle Tom's Cabin, or Life Among the Lowly (London: Cassell, 1852), 9.5 cm high by 15.8 cm wide, vignetted. The image is the twentieth of the twenty-seven which Cruikshank completed for the British serialised edition of the sensational anti-slavery narrative. The invalid is positioned centre on a day-bed in the midst of sorrowing relatives and servants. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

Passage Illustrated

It is impossible to describe the scene, as, with tears and sobs, they gathered round the little creature, and took from her hands what seemed to them a last mark of her love. They fell on their knees; they sobbed, and prayed, and kissed the hem of her garment; and the elder ones poured forth words of endearment, mingled in prayers and blessings, after the manner of their susceptible race.

As each one took their gift, Miss Ophelia, who was apprehensive for the effect of all this excitement on her little patient, signed to each one to pass out of the apartment.

At last, all were gone but Tom and Mammy.

"Here, Uncle Tom," said Eva, "is a beautiful one for you. O, I am so happy, Uncle Tom, to think I shall see you in heaven, — for I'm sure I shall; and Mammy, — dear, good, kind Mammy!" she said, fondly throwing her arms round her old nurse, — "I know you'll be there, too."

"O, Miss Eva, don't see how I can live without ye, no how!" said the faithful creature. "'Pears like it's just taking everything off the place to oncet!" and Mammy gave way to a passion of grief. — Chapter 26, "Death," p. 104.

Commentary

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. 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.

The deathbed scene which occurs in Chapter 26, "Death" is accompanied in the 1852 British edition by the illustration Eva's Last Gifts, Cruikshank's short-title in the "List of Illustrations," (vol. 2). Although she is essentially a passive figure, Eva appears alongside the truculent adolescent slave Topsy in the title-page vignette, facing the portrait of their author in the frontispiece. The popularity of the story and of the Cruikshank illustrations, completed in his sixtieth year, is attested to by the fact that fourteen English editions appeared in 1852 alone, selling a million copies, in contrast to the 300,000 in the United States, where, after its forty-week serial run, it was published in two volumes on 20 March 1852 by John P. Jewett and Company.

In the tradition enshrined in the death of Little Nell in Dickens's The Old Curiosity Shop, Evangeline St. Clare ("Eva") is the perfect child, destined to die young because of her spiritual, moral, and physical perfection — a thoroughly pleasant, naive, virtuous little angel, her beatific face (made to look like an adult's face in miniature by George Cruikshank) is framed in a halo by her golden curls, some of which she gives away to friends and family on the night of her death. The impending death of the virtuous and beautiful child brings everyone present in the picture to tears as she says farewell to her family and Black servants in the St. Clare drawing-room of the Louisiana mansion. On the night of her death, Eva delivers a Christ-like sermon to the household, exhorting them all to be good Christians. She then requests that Miss Ophelia, her cousin from Vermont who has been serving as her nurse, cut some of her ringlets, and that she convene a family meeting that will include all the household slaves. Her distribution of locks of her hair implies her saintly nature, for these keepsakes will become relics rather than mere mementos. From her deathbed, she exhorts the slaves to be good Christians, even though they cannot read the Bible. Finally, she entreats her sorrowing father (right) to give Uncle Tom (left) his freedom, and to become an activist in the Abolitionist cause, even though he is a plantation owner. In a sense, her father's agreeing to fulfill her wishes is the "last gift" that Eva gives. The eponymous character, Uncle Tom, kneels at Eva's side to receive the last of the curls that she has distributed.

The scene that Cruikshank has chosen to illustrate is one of the most moving in the story. In the drawing-room of the St. Clare plantation in Louisiana, the angelic Evangeline bids farewell to the family. The St. Clares' cousin from Vermont (stationed behind Eva in the illustration), Miss Ophelia, is in principle an abolitionist; she has been brought south to tend to Evangeline St. Clare, who is dying, probably of consumption (tuberculosis). Although the middle-aged, unmarried cousin is a devout, pious, and hard-working Christian, she harbours the mistaken notion that Blacks are inferior. To counteract her prejudice, St. Clare gives Miss Ophelia a slave of her own, Topsy, who will be a challenge to educate.

Bibliography

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 13 July 2017