The Trouble with Facsimiles: Jewett’s Illustrated Edition (1853) of Uncle Tom’s Cabin

In 2011, as I was about half-way finished with oral proofing my twice-keyboarded transcription of John P. Jewett’s Illustrated Edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1853), the scholar David S. Reynolds published two major contributions to Stowe scholarship almost simultaneously, Mightier than the Sword (Norton, 2011) and a facsimile reprint of Jewett’s Illustrated Edition (1853). Reynolds’s “Splendid Edition” (Oxford, 2011), named by Jewett’s advertising, elicited a thought, “Damn.” But that was short-lived emotion, as I remembered that the long view is all a textual scholar has. I was just getting started on transcribing and proofreading the New Edition (Houghton Osgood, 1879) of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and my detailed study of the text would probably allow me to make some contribution to the study of the Illustrated edition even after Reynolds’s publication. Textual editing is a slow business, and more nimble scholar-critics may get out ahead of us.

I had the advantage of a previous “Damn” moment, when shortly after I finished my dissertation in 2006 I imagined reframing a dissertation chapter for an article on the serialization of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the National Era. But while I was busy transcribing and collating the Jewett first edition and the Edition for the Million, Claire Parfait’s Publishing History of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1852-2002 (2007) came out with a quite sharp synthesis of the publication history, which makes part (though not quite all) of my work on the serialization redundant. I could find stuff to quibble about, but I don’t wish to turn into the spot-on Dr. Seuss caricature, the Tweetle Beetles.

I have postponed sharing these thoughts on the Illustrated Edition (1853), but I can now offer some thoughts that may complicate Reynolds’s significant achievement. Two matters I aim to discuss: first, the reasonably obvious typesetting and type damage errors that are visible in the facsimile; second, the curious case of two alternate illustrations by Hammatt Billings, the less known of which seems to me to alter the ideological tenor of the novel.

I dislike the term “obvious error,” which elides an important qualification, “to whom?” Errors that seem “obvious” after they are pointed out by professors or by editors are seldom obvious to readers when making their first pass through a text. Those who transcribe (many scholarly editors) are more alert to errors than those who read. Your English professor does not notice more errors in a classroom anthology because she is smarter than you–though of course that’s possible too: she notices because she reads more carefully and may well have read the same text many times. I had transcribed Stowe’s novel four times and read it a dozen times and was proofreading it orally for the fourth time when I took up the proofreading of the Illustrated edition, and when proofreading orally I spell out longer words and dialect. So I am highly attuned to author and to compositor habits. For example, I even notice the approximate width of a space, or absence of such space, in a contraction like “it ‘s” because I’ve noticed and recorded some aspects of type space during transcription. Obvious only means, then, “to me,” from the perspective of the extravagant attention that I’ve put into the text as part of editorial labor. In any case, here is the list of the errors: Jewett 1853 Illustrated Edition List of Errors (PDF). You will see, for example, that on page 523, on the 16th text line on the page, the word “its” should be “it’s.” And maybe it’s worth nothing that in the Jewett Illustrated edition there are no spaces before apostrophes in contractions, though the first edition had such spaces. I would note that I do not include errors which might emerge as “obvious” during a collation against another text, which focuses the mind in a different way. In the latter case, what qualifies as an error depends on one’s editorial dispensation. I present the apparatus (which includes type damage on the second page) as an Acrobat PDF file because it employs a number of special characters (swung dash, parallel pipes, etc). Such typesetting fanciness is too much trouble to convert to a blog-compatible form.

OK, “So what?” Admittedly, to most people such details (the list of 30 “obvious” errors in the facsimile) matter not. And I need to complete a study of the stereotype printing to ascertain whether the type damage noted in the second list matters. Nonetheless, the errors in the facsimile–most of which will be obvious to any reader examines them closely–illustrate a point that bears repeating. A facsimile of one copy can only be as accurate as that copy. To determine the degree to which the copy is representative of the entire edition, one must compare multiple copies. An editor of a facsimile can, of course, identify the errors and other variants and list them for the reader. Most scholars who publish facsimiles don’t do that, because it’s a lot of work. Yet a facsimile reprint by a scholarly editor (as contrasted to one by a literary critic who also edits) should do the work of reporting variants in the text and illustrations. During my own transcription and collation of the text of three copies of this edition, I have yet to notice a significant variant aside from type damage (I have three more copies to collate before I’ll make that a more sweeping statement), but I have noticed a variant that seems to me significant, in an illustration.

In the Splendid Edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Reynolds offers an extended discussion of Billings’s illustrations, including those of heavenly beings, the angels. Reynolds points out that at least one reviewer complained about angels as human figures with arms, because (Reynolds’s words) “they profanely mixed the human and the heavenly. But it was precisely this mixture that Stowe wanted to emphasize” (xxi). I agree that Stowe intends for readers to recognize the parallel between the actions on earth and spiritual actions and that Billings does remarkable work in rendering and emphasizing that aspect of Stowe’s novel with his illustrations. The engravings based on Billings’s drawings are a striking “reading” of the novel. But the most intriguing angel in Billings’s illustrations is this one, which you won’t find in Reynolds’s facsimile.

John P. Jewett, Illustrated Edition, 1853, pg. 560

John P. Jewett, Illustrated Edition, 1853, pg. 560 (personal copy)

What angel is that, and what is it carrying? I suspect that this is the Archangel Michael, and that he carries a scourge. In Christian tradition, one of Michael’s tasks is “To call away from earth and bring men’s souls to judgment” (“St. Michael the Archangel,” Catholic Encyclopedia). This is a quite appropriate illustration given the context, as the sentence that closes the novel promises vengeance on a nation which will not turn from sin:

Not by combining together, to protect injustice and cruelty, and making a common capital of sin, is this Union to be saved,–but by repentance, justice, and mercy; for not surer is the eternal law by which the millstone sinks in the ocean, than that stronger law, by which injustice and cruelty shall bring on nations the wrath of Almighty God! (560)

So that illustration, of Michael descending with a scourge, is the personification of the Almighty’s wrath (also see Revelations 12) and a sign of the end times. I would note another glancing Michael connection in the novel, that he is often the angel who is said to have appeared to Balaam; Balaam’s ass may be one of Stowe’s biblical antecedents for the slave Sam’s interference with trader Haley’s horse, which aided Eliza’s escape (see this post). Biographer Joan D. Hedrick has documented Stowe’s fascination with the end times (see Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life 148-150). The threat and menace of Billings’s scourge-wielding angel is a fitting coda to Stowe’s novel. But in Reynolds’s edition (and in other copies of the first edition), one finds instead a fancy rendering of two words, “The End.”


John P. Jewett, Illustrated Edition, 1853, pg. 560 (courtesy of University of Virginia, Small Special Collections)

So why would we have two alternate closing illustrations in one edition of the novel? That is, both copies (the one I’ve noted, and the one that became the basis of Reynolds’s facsimile) were printed from the same stereotype plate. But in this case at some point the publisher directed the printer to switch out one illustration for the other. Such alterations are not done lightly, so I assume that the publisher did so in response to pressure. I suspect that the angel with the scourge is the earlier one (it’s less common than this one), that some readers found this angel to be particularly upsetting, and that it was replaced with “The End” as a revised illustration. Every online facsimile of the Illustrated Edition (or its British counterpart by Sampson Low, Son, and Co.) that I’ve located (this one on Google Books, this one on Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture [illustrations only], and this one on HathiTrust, also at the Internet Archive) has “The End” as its closing illustration. So I suspect the angel was an earlier illustration and “The End” the replacement for it, which is in most copies. It’s also intriguing that two copies of Uncle Tom’s Cabin that I acquired on the cheap from used booksellers are bound in boards but lack the final page. I now begin to wonder if more than one reader found the angel illustration a little too pointed. I had long thought that the two missing pages in my damaged volumes an unfortunate and coincidental accident, but I now think it’s possible that the angel with a scourge was seen as a bit too pointed a promise of vengeance, which in later printed copies was replaced with the more benign “The End” but in some surviving printed copies may have been excised by readers (this is speculation: how many examples of missing pages could help bolster the case I don’t know, but it would take a fairly large sample).

The conventional closing “The End” is actually an oddity among early American editions. It does not appear in the National Era version of the Stowe’s novel, nor the Jewett first edition, nor the Edition for the Million. In fact, if the angel illustration is present, there’s no “The End” in the Illustrated Edition either. But after seeing the angel, I no longer see Billings’s “The End” as a benign but stylized conventional visual coda to the novel. It can instead be read as another version of “The End” promised in the angel-bearing-scourge version. In other words, as John Bryant in The Fluid Text has advised about revisions of words, that variants retain the traces of alternate readings and inflect them when known, this “The End” is less a signal about the end of a novel and more like “The End” as the final and all-encompassing end of the world. You know, that “The End,” the Last Judgment.

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2 Responses to The Trouble with Facsimiles: Jewett’s Illustrated Edition (1853) of Uncle Tom’s Cabin

  1. Christie says:

    I’m trying to find a copy of Jewett’s 1853 “splendid edition” with no luck. Is it a hard to find copy? Do you happen to know how many were printed?

    • wraabe says:

      That one is not that hard to find, if you don’t mind spending a few hundred dollars. Don’t use phrase “splendid edition” in your search. That was Jewett’s advertising copy, which Reynolds and Oxford included on his new facsimile, but it is not common in auction or bookseller sites. The Sampson Low London editions are all but identical to Jewett ones. Today, when I searched, I found four Sampson Low under $500. The Jewett editions are crazy expensive at the moment. You might set up an eBay search. One appears every few months. I have not yet ventured a formal guess on number of copies printed, as I have not consulted the Houghton Mifflin archives.

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