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An absence of several days from the city has interfered with my answering your letter returning the MS. of "Rena Walden",1 which came duly to hand. I thank you very much for sending me Mr. Gilder's letter which I do accept as a "faithful, wise word of friendly counsel." Its faithfulness is obvious, its wisdom I cannot question, though I shall have to study both the letter and the story to avail myself of it, for while there is something lacking, Mr. Gilder only very vaguely intimates what it may be. I do not think I am deficient in humor, though I dare say the sentiment of the story is a little bit "amorphous". It was written under the ever-present consciousness, so hard for me to get rid of, that a very large class of people consider the class the story treats of as "amorphous," I fear there is too much of this sentiment to make mulattoes good magazine characters, and I notice that all of the good negroes (excepting your own creations) whose virtues have been given to the world through the columns of the Century,2 have been blacks, full-blooded, and their chief virtues have been their dog-like fidelity and devotion to their old masters. Such characters exist; not six months ago a negro in Raleigh N.C. wrote to the Governor of the State offering to serve out the sentence of seven ‸in the penitentary years just imposed upon his old master for some crime.3 But I don't care to write about these people; I do not think these virtues by any
mead[?]smeans the crown of manhood. I have read a number of English and French novels during the past few
months dealing largely with colored characters, either in principal or subordinate parts. They figure as lawyers, as judges, as doctors, botanists, musicians, as people of wealth and station. They love and they marry without reference to their race, or with only such reference to it as to other personal disabilities, like poverty or ugliness for instance. These writers seem to find nothing extraordinary in a talented, well-bred colored man, nothing amorphous in a pretty, gentle-spirited colored girl.
But our American writers are different. Maurice Thompson's characters are generally an old, vulgar master, who, when not drunk or asleep, is amusing himself by beating an old negro.4 Thos. N. Page5 and H.S. Edwards6‸and Joel C. Harris7 give us the sentimental and devoted negro who prefers kicks to half-pence. Judge Tourgee's cultivated white negroes are always bewailing their fate, and cursing the drop of black blood that "taints"—I hate the word, it implies corruption—their otherwise pure blood.8 An English writer would not hesitate to say that race prejudice was mean and narrow and provincial and UnChristian—something to which a free-born Briton was entirely superior; he would
not make his colored characters think no less of themselves ‸because of their color but infinitely less of those who s despise them on account of it.
But I am wandering. Mr. Gilder finds that I either lack humor, or that my characters have "a brutality, a lack of mellowness, a lack of spontaneous imaginative life, lack of outlook."9 I fear, alas! that those are exactly the things that do characterize them, and just 3. about the things that might be expected in them—the very qualities which government and society had for 300 years or so labored faithfully, zealously, and successfully to produce, the only qualities which would have rendered life at all endurable to them in the 19th Century. But I suppose I shall have to drop the attempt at realism, and try to make my characters like other folks, for uninteresting people are not good subjects for fiction.
I cannot find words to thank you for your expressions of kindness and confidence in my as yet almost untried powers, I have felt the same thing obscurely. Self-confidence is a good thing, but recognition is a better; and next to an accepted MS. there is nothing so encouraging as the recognition of those who have proved their right to criticise. I will endeavor to show that your judgment is not at fault and that it is based on something more than a sentimental sympathy with a would-be writer circumscribed in a manner so peculiar. Mr. Gilder shall see more of my work, and better. I shall write to please the editors, and the public, and who knows but that perhaps at some future day I may be best able to please others by pleasing myself?
I will go right to work on Rena Walden, and send you a draft when completed. I would not personally send the same story twice to an editor, unless so requested by him; but I will follow your advice in regard to the disposition of this one. I am grateful to Mr. Gilder for his interest in me, which the letter sufficiently attests. I fear I cannot acquire his fine discernment of all ingenuinenesses; that is perhaps the quality
of genuine or of genius which gives his genius its individuality; but I will do my best.
Is the authorship of "Justice & Jurisprudence"10 a secret? I have read the book, and infer that it is written by a colored man, as it really purports to be. It shows a great deal of research and industry; I have not yet had time to read it so thoroughly as to criticise it justly, but it strikes me as rather wordy and long drawn out. But there is much valuable information in it, which is worth to me a great deal more than the price of the book, which by the way is rather high for a book designed for popular reading.Yours very truly, Chas. W. Chesnutt.
P.S. I enclose Mr. Gilder's letter, of which I have taken a copy.CWC 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.