Black Sam’s “Evident and Eminent”: Stowe’s Theological Joke or a Typo?

In the National Era, when Haley seeks to catch Eliza and her child Harry, Sam boasts to Andy in Haley’s hearing–after the ludicrous episode with the beech nut and Haley’s horse–about his expectation for the “evident and imminent success of the operation” (10 July 1851). But in the Jewett edition, Sam’s wording is altered (or corrected) to “evident and eminent.”

I think the alteration is a clue to an aural pun that uses Sam’s exaggerated piety to reveal the true nature of Stowe’s text. To Sam, for whom complex words are spelled as they are pronounced, either word, imminent or eminent, could be intended. For Haley, who wishes to believe that Sam and Andy will help him to capture Eliza, the word is the the one that Haley wants to hear, and will hear– “imminent,” regardless of how it is spelled. The difference between “eminent” and “imminent” is that the former refers to “exalted or distinguished” and that the latter refers to an event “ready to befall or overtake one…coming on shortly” (OED). The imminent event will turn out to be an eminent one, Eliza’s miraculous crossing on the ice.

The phrase “evident and eminent” has a theological ring, and its reversed form “eminent and evident” has even more of one–one which can be attested as a possible allusion to a text to which Stowe refers in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Scott’s Family Bible, the Bible that is on the shelf in Miss Ophelia’s Vermont household along with Milton’s Paradise Lost, Flint’s Travels, and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (see Chapter 15).

In Scott’s Family Bible, in a commentary to the episode of Balaam’s ass in the Book of Numbers, the phrase “eminent and evident” appears in the commentary. In that episode, the Israelites—released from bondage in Egypt—have already smited the Amorites. The King Moab, fearing he’s next, appeals to Balaam for assistance. Balaam initially refuses, but then he requests as the condition for his assistance a “house full of silver and gold” (22:18). God is angered at Balaam, so as Balaam rides forth on his ass with two servants, an angel blocks Balaam’s path. The ass can see God’s angel, and the ass crushes Balaam’s foot against the wall rather than continue—then it sits down. Afterwards, the Lord opens the ass’s mouth, who speaks to Balaam, and then God opens Balaam’s eyes so he can see the angel (22: 23-28). Thomas Scott offers a comment on the ass’s refusing to continue (verses 18-23):

Balaam’s eyes being holden that he could not see the angel who was visible to the ass was an emblem of the blindness of his mind to that eminent and evident peril into which he was rushing by this presumptuous undertaking Surely the singular circumstances of this occurrence should have induced him to consider whether he were in the right way or not. (293-94 n. 18-23) Scott gives as his source The Angels &.c, and I’d be much obliged if someone could help me figure out the scriptural commentary to which he refers.

The parallels between the episodes of Balaam’s ass and Eliza’s escape in Uncle Tom’s Cabin are numerous: Eliza is fleeing from slavery like the Israelites from Egypt; Haley’s horse, like Balaam’s ass, frustrates his journey; Balaam rides with two servants like Haley with Sam and Andy, both Balaam and Haley are attracted by the opportunity for money to continue participating in the enslavement of the innocent, Balaam to enslave the Israelites, Haley to enslave Eliza. And I think it’s at least reasonable that miraculous events are hinting to Haley that he may not be “in the right way.”

Though certainly suggestive, if Numbers is not Stowe’s immediate source, I would draw your attention also to another use of phrase “eminent and evident” in Jonathan Edward’s Treatise Concerning the Religious Affections—where it says,

The witness or seal of the Spirit that we read of, consists in the effect of the Spirit of God in the heart, in the implantation and exercises of grace there, and so consists in experience. And it is also beyond doubt, that this seal of the Spirit, is the highest kind of evidence of the saints’ adoption, that ever they obtain. But in these exercises of grace in practice, that have been spoken of, God gives witness, and sets to his seal, in the most conspicuous, eminent and evident manner. It has been abundantly found to be true in fact, by the experience of the Christian church; that Christ commonly gives, by his Spirit, the greatest, and most joyful evidences to his saints, of their sonship, in those effectual exercises of grace, under trials, which have been spoken of; as is manifest in the full assurance and unspeakable joys of many of the martyrs. (454)

Again, many parallels: If the “effect” of God’s spirit consists in “exercises of grace there, and so consists in experience,” Sam exhibits “exercises of grace, under trials,” and his manner is one of “full assurance and unspeakable joys of many of the martyrs.”

Guess I’ll leave this here for today. What? You don’t think Sam’s a martyr? Of course he’s a martyr. He even says so. That is, if you read the earliest printing of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the newspaper text, rather than the Jewett edition. In the serial, Sam says it would be OK if they “burn me live like dat ar old coon dar missus was a showin us in der catechise.” The “catechise” is the New England Primer. The “old coon” is the Protestant martyr John Rogers. I have explained the allusion in note 9 on this edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

This would be much easier of we could instead just remember what Ann Douglas told us, that Stowe is a careless writer. That way, maybe we just eliminate all this complexity of textual variants, aural puns, and allusions to OT Book of Numbers and Jonathan Edwards.

Edwards, Jonathan. Treatise Concerning the Religious Affections. The Works of Jonathan Edwards. Ed. John E. Smith. Vol. 2. Yale University Press, 2009. Print. 91-462. http://books.google.com.

Scott, Thomas. The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments, According to the Authorised Version; with Explanatory Notes, Practical Observations, and Copious Marginal References. S. T. Armstrong, 1832. Print. http://books.google.com.

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One Response to Black Sam’s “Evident and Eminent”: Stowe’s Theological Joke or a Typo?

  1. Pingback: On Scholarly Annotation | Fill His Head First with a Thousand Questions

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