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Charles W. Chesnutt to George Washington Cable, 23 May 1890

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  Chas. W. Chesnutt, 30 Blackstone Bld'g, Cleveland, O. My dear Mr Cable:-

Thanks for your kind letter of May 9th. I enclose you a copy of the letter which I have written to the editor of "Family Fiction".

Thanks for your good wishes. My business has been very prosperous for the past eight or nine months, and if it continues in anything like its present condition, I shall be able in a very few years to take the chances of devoting myself entirely to literary work, which I earnestly hope to do; meanwhile I look forward to a little leisure for writing during the Summer.

I trust that your kind word in its favor, coupled with such merits as the story itself may possess, will help "Rena Walden" to run the gauntlet of editorial criticism and break into the charmed pages of the "Century".

May I retain the copy of Mr. Edwards' letter and Mr Gilder's note?1 If you wish to have them returned, may I take copies of them?

I have just received a circular, directed in a familiar handwriting, with the Northampton postmark, in reference to "HJustice and Jurisprudence". I have ordered the book, which I did not find at our leading bookstore, and look forward with some curiosity to reading it. I think I can guess who inspired it. Is one permitted to know anything further about the "Brotherhood of Liberty"?2 It is plain that in some form or other, under one name or another, the good work which has its fountainhead in a certain Northampton study goes bravely on. In the meantime some of your admirers are waiting patiently for your next novel,3 which from what you said to me when in Cleveland, we expect to find not without some bearing upon the question that "Justice and Jurisprudence" deals with.

Sincerely yours, Chas. W. Chesnutt. G.W. Cable, Esq. Northampton Mass.

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. In February 1890, The Century published a short story by Harry Edwards entitled "How Sal Came Through." Chesnutt noted the story's similarity to his story "How Dasdy Came Through," which had appeared three years earlier in Family Fiction. Chesnutt noted this possible plagiarism in a February 5, 1890, letter to George Washington Cable. Cable wrote to The Century editor, Richard Watson Gilder, about the matter. In April, the editor of Family Fiction also noted the similarity, writing to Chesnutt about the "close resemblance" (April 28, 1890). Edwards, in a reply to Gilder, denied any knowledge of Chesnutt's story. On May 9, Cable forwarded this reply to Chesnutt, and on May 15 Chesnutt wrote the Family Fiction editor that he did not want to charge Edwards with plagiarism. [back]

2. In 1889, the Brotherhood of Liberty published the book Justice and Jurisprudence: An Inquiry Concerning the Constitutional Limitations of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. The Brotherhood was founded in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1885 to protect the rights of Black people and combat social injustice.[back]

3. Cable was writing John March, Southerner, which was published in 1894.[back]