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Charles W. Chesnutt to George Washington Cable, 4 February 1890

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  My dear Mr. Cable:-

In my letter to you of yesterday I forgot to mention something that strikes me as either a remarkable coincidence or a rather bold plagiarism. The February number of the Century contains a contribution by H. S. Edwards, entitled "How Sal Came Through."1 About three years ago I published in a Washington paper, called Family Fiction, a story entitled "How Dasdy Came through." It was about a colored girl who had a sweetheart. Another girl with a new dress and hat cut her out and caught the fickle swain, to Dasdy's great chagrin. There was a revival in progress at the colored church, and her mother advised her to seek the consolation of religion. Dasdy went to the mourners' bench for several evenings, and managed to "come through" one night just at a time when her successful rival, clad in the new dress and hat, was standing near her. In the irresponsible frenzy of her "coming through," Dasdy tore the new dress to shreds and made a wreck of the new hat. The remedy was efficacious, and when Dasdy came out next Sunday in a new dress and all the odor of a freshly-acquired sanctity, the fickle 'Dolphus returned to his first love. If that is n't the story in the Century, then I have n't read it correctly. It is padded more than mine, told in a different style and illustrated—some of the cuts are caricatures—but the substance is the same, even to the name. Of course it may only be a coincidence, but it is certainly a curious one. I have a printed copy of my story, which is signed with my own name.

I don't know just how editors look upon such an adaptation, but I mention this to you as a matter of curiosity. Perhaps it might be doing the author a service for somebody to drop him a hint to quit writing when he has used up his own stock of ideas.

Yours very Truly, Chas. W. Chesnutt.

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. Harry Stillwell Edwards, "How Sal Came Through," The Century, 39 (February 1890), 578-85.[back]