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Charles W. Chesnutt to George Washington Cable, 10 April 1889

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  My dear Mr. Cable:-

Your two letters were duly received, also Symposium pamphlet.1 I have been very busy since my return to Cleveland, which must be my excuse for not having written to you sooner.

I enclose several type-writer copies of excerpts from pamphlet.2 There are not many short sentences in the symposium. I expect suspect I have written too much, but that it a defect easily remedied. There are other good things, which could not be used, at least some of them, without garbling them. I have written in one copy the name of the author of each group of sentiments; if you do not desire to quote names, of course they can be rubbed out and the copy used . If I had not already delayed this so long I would try to write a suitable introductory paragraph, but I think perhaps you would prefer to do that, as you said nothing about it in your letter.

I have not yet succeeded in procuring you any engagements3 in this part of the country. I am writing to several parties to-day, and shall ask them for immediate replies.

I have not yet decided upon my plans for the Summer; in any event, it will be impossible for me to come to Northampton before the Summer. As to whether I can come then, or move to Northampton permanently, I must have some further time to consider. I fully realize the importance of the work, and would like nothing better, personally, than to be in it. In any event, I shall devote more or less time to it. In the meantime, do not let yourself be embarrassed for want of proper assistance on my account. Whatever you can send me here to do, I will gadladly give precedence, wherever possible, over my other work.

I will send you later in the day, or to-morrow, a list of names for the O.L.C. pamphlets.4 Shall I see your "Haunted House in Royal Street"5 in the Century soon?

Very truly yours, Chas. W. Chesnutt. Room 8, 219 Superior St— Cleveland, O

Correspondent: George Washington Cable (1844–1925) was a reporter, novelist, and critic. He began his career at the New Orleans Times-Picayune, writing nearly one hundred columns in two years. After working on a collection of journalistic essays based mostly on historical accounts, Cable turned to writing short stories, novellas, and novels, typically set in New Orleans. In the 1880s, Cable began lecturing, writing essays, and forming organizations focused on social reform, specifically in the areas of Black rights and prison conditions, and in 1885 he moved to Northampton, MA. Cable and Chesnutt met for the first time in Cleveland, on December 21, 1888, at the Congregational Club's Forefather's Day celebration, where Cable was the principal speaker. They began corresponding immediately, and in mid-1889 Cable offered to employ Chesnutt as his secretary in Northampton, MA; Chesnutt declined. Cable visited the Chesnutt home in the fall of 1889, and for two years, their correspondence was frequent, typically about Cable's political efforts on race issues, Chesnutt's writings, or recent publications. After 1891, they corresponded only occasionally.

1. See Cable to Chesnutt April 5, 1889. The other letter Chesnutt references is probably April 1, 1889, which included Cable's report that Richard Watson Gilder at the Century had rejected Chesnutt's essay, "The Negro's Answer to the Negro Question," which Cable had forwarded to Gilder (To Be an Author 38n1).[back]

2. In his letter to Chesnutt of April 5, 1889, Cable requests short extracts that he might send to newspapers from the Symposium—a twenty-four-page pamphlet, published by the Open Letter Club, entitled Shall the Negro be Educated or Suppressed? A Symposium On Dr. Haygood's Reply to Senator Eustis's Paper on Race Antagonism. Louisiana Senator James B. Eustis's paper had appeared in The Forum (October 1888), and Dr. Atticus G. Haygood's reply in The New York Independent, Dec 8, 1888. Cable sent copies of Haygood's essay to members of the Open Letter Club, and solicited responses. Two months later eight responses were published in The New York Independent. The pamphlet republished these eight and an additional three.[back]

3. In his April 1, 1889, letter to Chesnutt, Cable noted his plans for a spring lecture tour and asked if Chesnutt he might help him find engagements between Oneida, NY, and Chicago, IL, offering him $100 commission for each one secured (To Be an Author, 38n5).[back]

4. Chesnutt may be referring to a list of names he secured from A. H. Slocumb of Fayetteville, NC. In an undated letter, Cable asked Chesnutt's assistance in distributing the Symposium pamphlet and in securing more names for the Open Letter Club's mailing list. On March 9, 1889, Slocumb acknowledged receipt of the pamphlet from Chesnutt and sent ten names. On a separate sheet of paper included with a May 3, 1899, letter to Cable, Chesnutt sent 11 names (To Be an Author 35n4; and 40n3).[back]

5. "The Haunted House in Royal Street" was Cable's non-fiction account, based on newspaper research and interviews, of an aristocratic Creole woman who tortured those she enslaved. Chesnutt must have read it in manuscript, since it did not appear in The Century until four months later: 38, No. 4 (August 1889), 590–601.[back]