by Robert Louis Stevenson
Some like drink
in a pint pot,
Some like to think,
Strong Dutch cheese,
Old Kentucky Rye,
Some like these;
Some like Poe,
And other like Scott,
Some like Mrs. Stowe;
Some like to laugh,
Some like to cry,
Some like chaff;
I was just reading reviews on goodreads.com about Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which I just finished reading. The range of opinions about this book is astonishing to me. One comment to a review wrote only the above poem. I think it frames the opinions perfectly. It’s hard to tell if RLS was being serious or sarcastic. I tend toward the latter.
I gave this book 5 stars for many reasons. Firstly for it’s importance in changing the course of history. It was the best selling novel of the 19th century and is often credited with starting the Civil War. It was written in a flowery, sentimental style evidently common to the era. And while some deride it for this, I found this to be one of it’s charms. If one give oneself over to it, the book does evoke strong emotions.
I’m concurrently reading An Experiment In Criticism by C.S. Lewis, who draws a distinction between two type of readers. Those who “use” art (in what ever form) and those who receive it.
The distinction can hardly be better expressed than by saying that the many use art and the few receive it. The many behave in this like a man who talks when he should listen or gives when he should take. I do not mean by this that the right spectator is passive. His also is an imaginative activity; but an obedient one. He seems passive at first because he is making sure of his orders. If, when they have been fully grasped, he decides that they are not worth obeying—in other words, that this is a bad picture—he turns away altogether.
Lewis, C. S. (2014-08-26). An Experiment in Criticism (pp. 19-20). Cambridge University Press 1961. Kindle Edition.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that all “good art” is “good” to all. There is still plenty of room for differing tastes even among good art. What I think this means is that there is an element in the good that is there regardless of the medium, and we can only find it out if we give ourselves over to it and allow ourselves to be used by it. If it is not good, it will produce no fruit. (I don’t mean to bring religion into this, but compare this thought to Alma 32.)
Uncle Tom’s Cabin needed to be written. The story speaks for itself, regardless of the language. People can quibble about whether the language is this or that. But the fact remains, Harriet Beecher Stowe said what needed to be said, and we must never forget the evil that was slavery.