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Charles W. Chesnutt to Albion W. Tourgée, 18 April 1893

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  6876 CHAS. W. CHESNUTT. ATTORNEY-AT-LAW. 736 SOCIETY FOR SAVINGS BLDG. Hon. Albion W. Tourgee, Mayville-on-Chautauqua, N.Y. My dear Judge Tourgee:-

Permit me to thank you for the compliment in the Inter Ocean of April 8th.1 Such a statement from such a source is enough to make one determine that he will not permit such a gift to be entirely smothered, even by success in other lines. That I have not ceased altogether to write you may see from reading the story I send you by this mail. It is not as good as some other things I have written, and the publication in which it appeared, "Two Tales", has suspended since the story appeared; I hope there was no relation of cause and effect between the two events.2

The desire and intention on my part to write is, if anything, stronger even than when I was writing most. I am simply biding my time, and hope in the near future to devote the greater part of my time to literary production. But as I have large and pressing family obligations, I have felt it best to do first the duty nearest to me, and to provide for any peradventure of failure or tardy success in the literary life before I undertook it. I have written much that has never seen the light of day, and that has not even been offered for publication. The kindly appreciation of yourself and other gentlemen who have read such things as I have written,   6876 CHAS. W. CHESNUTT


Cleveland, O.__________189____ -2- and the fact that many people who could not command the same recognition, are making a living at literature—these two things put together certainly have no tendency to discourage me. The only question now, is whether or not I could command a better market, for the kind of matter I could produce most readily and willingly, in this country or in England; and whether or not, in either case, it would not be better for me to live near my best market. For when I do go into literature, I propose to apply to the financial side of it the same business principles I have applied to my other affairs, and to seek the best and most profitable market, knowing that a hearing once secured anywhere will be a hearing secured everywhere.

May I trouble you to drop me a line with the names of the publishers of the two books reviewed by you in the Inter Ocean—"Dessalines" and the other?3 I should be glad to buy them and read them and write a word of appreciation to the authors.

I am glad that Southern editors note with interest and evidently read with care your articles on Southern affairs, as is clearly indicated by their notices of the Birthday edition of the Inter Ocean.4 You do not need my assurance that your efforts in behalf of the colored race are more and more appreciated by them as they advance in education and self-respect.



Cleveland, O.__________189____ -3-

Thanking you again for your kind words, and hoping you may be amused by my story, I remain,

Very truly yours, Chas. W. Chesnutt.

Correspondent: Albion Winegar Tourgée (1838–1905) was a White activist, author, and judge. During Reconstruction, he settled in North Carolina and became an advocate for racial equality. Tourgée wrote his bestselling autobiographical novel, A Fool's Errand (1879), before moving to Mayville, New York, in 1881. He published 15 more novels in the next 17 years, and several times attempted to found magazines, often inviting Chesnutt to serve as editor. In 1891, he founded the National Citizens' Rights Association, an organization devoted to equality for African-American citizens, and in 1896 served as Homer Plessy's lead counsel in the U.S. Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).

1. In his column "Bystander's Notes," Albion W. Tourgée writes that Chesnutt's novels were "something marvelous in their unpretentious realism, of which there are no more because prosperity in other fields has smothered his rare gift, hardly any colored writer has made a serious attempt in the realm of fiction, and not one has ventured upon good-tempered, keen, yet kindly, discussion of present conditions with any specific attempt at literary excellence. These books are practically the first fruits of literary culture of the American negro" (Albion Tourgée, "A Bystander's Notes," The Daily Inter Ocean 22, no. 15 [April 8, 1893]: 4).[back]

2. Chesnutt's short story "A Deep Sleeper" was published in Two Tales, a small Boston publication, on March 11, 1893.[back]

3. Albion W. Tourgée praised Dessalines: A Dramatic Tale A Single Character from Haiti's History (1893) by William E. Easton and A Voice from the South: By a Black Woman of the South (1892) by Anna Julia Cooper, which Tourgée claims is more about Northern culture than about the South (Albion Tourgée, "A Bystander's Notes," The Daily Inter Ocean 22, no. 5 [April 8, 1893]: 4).[back]

4. The Inter Ocean celebrated its 21st year on March 25, 1893, with a large issue of nearly sixty pages. Albion W. Tourgée's article, "A Bystander's Notes," extracted "numerous letters received by the Bystander during the past week" (Albion Tourgée, "A Bystander's Notes," The Daily Inter Ocean 22, no. 1 [March 25, 1893]: 6–7).[back]