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Charles W. Chesnutt to George Washington Cable, 24 May 1889

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  My dear Mr. Cable:—

The North American Review,1 after keeping my essay on the Negro Question an unconscionably long time under the circumstances, has returned it with the usual polite regrets.2 I fear the the the public, as represented by the editors of the leading magazines, is not absolutely yearning for an opportunity to read the utterances of obscure colored writers upon a subject of the Negro's rights; a little of it I suspect goes a long way.

I see from the papers that the chapter of Southern outrages is not yet complete, but the work of intimidating voters and killing prominent negroes on trumped-up charges (the true character of which is not discovered until after the killing) still goes merrily on.

Your story of Salome Müller was very interesting, and yet one could not help thinking, while reading it, what a still more interesting work of fiction might have been made of it.3 I suppose the story of "The Haunted House in Royal Street" will soon appear.4 I hope you have secured a good secretary, and still regret that circumstances would not permit me to serve you that capacity.

Very Truly yours, Chas. W. Chesnutt. 30 Blackstone Bld'g, 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. Founded in 1815 in Boston, The North American Review was a prestigious monthly magazine publishing literary, cultural, and political essays.[back]

2. Chesnutt references his essay "An Inside View," which he first sent to George Washington Cable on January 18, 1889. He retitled it "The Negro's Answer to the Negro Question" and sent three copies to Cable on February 12, 1889. The essay was rejected by The North American Review and Richard Gilder, editor at The Century, to whom Cable had sent the essay. Gilder described it to Cable as "so timely and so political—in fact so partisan—that we cannot handle it," but suggested it should appear at once somewhere. The essay remained unpublished in Chesnutt's lifetime. See "An Inside View of the Negro Question" in Joseph R. McElrath, Jr., Robert C. Leitz, III, and Jesse S. Crisler, eds, Charles W. Chesnutt: Essays and Speeches (Stanford: Stanford UP), 57-68.[back]

3. "Salome Müller. Strange True Stories of Louisiana," edited by George Washington Cable, was published in The Century for May 1889.[back]

4. "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]