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George Washington Cable to Charles W. Chesnutt, 9 May 1890

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  [Charles Wadell Chestnutt] My dear Mr Chesnutt:

Yesterday I received yours of May 6th. with enclosures which please find returned. Today I have just received Mr Gilder's letter with copy of Edwards', both of which also find enclosed all you really need to have established is the fact that your story appeared before Edwards' and that therefore if there was either plaigairisms or unconscious reminiscence it was his and not yours. You can afford to let the public settle the rest.1 A great many more things look like plagiarisms than really are such. I would discourage the editor from further action in the matter. Write him a very few clear lines and leave Mr Edwards under no implication whatever.

Mr. Go[?]ilder has "Rena Walden" and holds it   (2) under consideration.2 I have the paper on Southern schools and cannot do anything with it for awhile.3 If you should want it back let me know. I have not heard of the action of the Virginia legislature.4 If you have it in print, I would like to file it. with your paper on schools.

With heartiest wishes for your success,

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. This story would eventually become the novel House Behind the Cedars (1900).[back]

3. Cable refers here to an essay (currently unlocated) that Chesnutt prepared on Southern schools.[back]

4. According to the Cleveland Gazette, Virginia Governor Philip W. McKinney appointed "one of the brainiest colored men in Virginia," Hon. R. G. L. Paige, as the Curator of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute. Chesnutt may be referring here to the Virginia legislature's action to "[kill] the college part" of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia; see "Some Race Doings," Cleveland Gazette (April 5, 1890): 1.[back]