Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Dream? (Looks More Like a Nightmare)

With a keyword search using "Underground Railroad" I came across this image on the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs online catalog. I wasn't able to make out many of the details at first so I downloaded the TIFF image and enlarged it. I must admit the image was kind of grotesque. The beasts portrayed, whether dragons, demons or some other monsters - flying or creeping or shooting cannonballs - are a seeming chorus from of Dante's Inferno.

Thankfully the kind people at the Library of Congress provided an interpretation of this image called "A Dream Caused by a Perusal of Mrs. H. Beecher Stowe's Popular Work Uncle Tom's Cabin." To me it appears to me more of nightmare than a dream. But it goes a long way toward showing how some people interpreted the potential impact that the book could or would have on society. Interestingly, it was published in 1853 by a firm (J.C. Frost and G.W. Hall) from Louisville, Kentucky, and was apparently drawn by lithographer Colin R. Milne.

Library of Congress interpretation: "An imaginative and biting satire on Harriet Beecher Stowe and her recently published antislavery novel 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' Printed serially beginning in June 1851, the novel first appeared in book form in 1852. The artist has concocted a chaotic, nightmarish vision, where armies demons and other monsters battle in a barren, desert setting reminiscent of the infernal visions of Hieronymus Bosch and Jacques Callot. (Murrell points out, in fact, that the plate owes its central motif - an enormous flying dragon - from Callot's 'Temptation of St. Anthony.') In the center a leering black man dressed as a Quaker holds a flag 'Women of England to the Rescue.' To the left, near the mouth of the cave marked 'Underground Railway,' Mrs. Stowe is pulled and harassed by demons. She holds up a book that reads 'Uncle Tom's Cabin, I Love the Blacks.' Another woman, (or perhaps Mrs. Stowe again) rides in a parade of demons on the right. In the distance several monsters feed copies of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' to a blazing fire."

The TIFF version can be downloaded here

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