Errors in Chapter I of John P. Jewett’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin

During the process of collating four early versions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, I have been able to identify some passages in the most commonly reprinted text of John P. Jewett’s 1852 2-volume edition that from many editorial perspectives could be considered errors. I cite four documentary sources that conceivably represent authorial preference: 1851-52 National Era newspaper (symbol NE), 1852 Jewett 2-volume edition (symbol J2V), 1852/53 Jewett one-volume paperback (JPB), and 1853 Jewett Illustrated (symbol JIL). Houghton Osgood’s New Edition (1879) is also noted. My intent is to list some of the most important examples here. This post will be devoted to chapter I.

Error 1: scrachin or screachin’
I all’ays hates these yer scrachin, screamin times. (NE 89)
I al’ays hates these yer screachin’, screamin’ times. (J2V 18)
I al’ays hates these yer screechin’, screamin’ times. (JPB 6)
I al’ays hates these yer screechin’, screamin’ times. (JIL 18)
I al’ays hates these yer screechin’, screamin’ times. (HO 6)

The first example that I consider an error in J2V, the reading closest to Stowe’s authorial manuscript is the newspaper, so the preferred reading is scrachin, screamin. I believe that scrachin is the most interesting reading because a woman whose child has been sold to a slave trader (text is from Haley’s example of previous parallels should Arthur Shelby agree to sell Eliza’s son Harry) resists with hands and nails also, not just voice.

The Jewett edition’s screachin’, screamin’ is probably a compositor’s error, caused by anticipating the subsequent word. This two words are needlessly repetitive, and the first word is misspelled. J2V twice has the correct spelling, screechin’ or screeching. See J2V 1:19 (also Haley) and 1:118 (Sam). In PB, JIL and HO, J2V screachin’ is corrected to screechin’ (JPB 6 and JIL 18). Note also that Jewett editions generally include apostrophes to indicate elided g’s in dialect. The newspaper, like the manuscript, does not.

As the authorial manuscript does not survive, I infer the greater likelihood that the earliest copy set from manuscript, the newspaper, better reflects the authorial reading. The NE reading scrachin should be noted as a possible emendation even if confined to editorial notes. Even if that proposed emendation is rejected, editors (and readers) who reject the former should consider additional occurrences of screechin’ and screeching in J2V and the correction of this form to screechin’ in JPB, JIL, and HO. The evidence is strong that screachin’ in J2V is misspelled.

Error 2: Haley folds arm

And the trader leaned back in his chair, and folded his arms, with an air of virtuous decision, apparently considering himself a second Wilberforce. (NE 89)
And the trader leaned back in his chair, and folded his arm, with an air of virtuous decision, apparently considering himself a second Wilberforce. (J2V 1:20)
And the trader leaned back in his chair, and folded his arms, with an air of virtuous decision, apparently considering himself a second Wilberforce. (PB 7)
And the trader leaned back in his chair, and folded his arms, with an air of virtuous decision, apparently considering himself a second Wilberforce. (JIL 19)
And the trader leaned back in his chair, and folded his arm, with an air of virtuous decision, apparently considering himself a second Wilberforce. (HO 7)

The J2V reading folded his arm is less satisfactory in context than the other three contemporaneous editions, which have folded his arms. The NE reading is probably closer to manuscript, J2V is likely a compositor’s error, and the J2V reading is corrected in PB and JIL. The 1879 HO New Edition restores the J2V reading, but the preponderance of evidence suggests that J2V and HO are incorrect.

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