In noticing the story of "Hot Foot Hannibal" in a recent number of the Atlantic Monthly, mention was made of the fact that a collection of some of the negro dialect stories of Mr. Charles W. Chesnutt was in the press, that story being included. The promised volume has been issued, and "The Conjure Woman"–that being the title being given the collection–is heartily commended to those who have not read the stories as they appeared disconnectedly in the magazines. Those who have already read them will find a new interest in these tales when thus brought together and their connection established.
CHARLES W. CHESTNUTT.
There are seven stories in the collection, all having their motive in the negro belief in "conjuration, goophering, bewitching." The thread on which the stories are strung is furnished in the opening tale of "The Goophered Grapevine." The reporter of the tale, a northern man from the region of the great lakes, was advised by his family doctor to seek a permanent residence in a warmer and more equable climate for the benefit of his wife's health. Being engaged in grape culture in northern Ohio, he removed to North Carolina and purchased an abandoned vineyard in that state. On going to examine it an old negro, Uncle Julius, was found to be living as a squatter on the property, and, it was afterwards discovered, had been marketing what grapes could be gathered from the neglected vines. The negro, who had been before the war a slave on the land, strongly advised the northerner not to make the purchase, because "de truf ov de matter is dat this yer ole vimyard is goophered." Then followed the story of the "goopherin'" by "ole cunjuh 'oman," told with a humor all the more delicious from the solemn earnestness of the old darkey, and his seeming thorough belief in the deadly power of the "goopher" laid upon the grapes by the "conjure woman." The story failed of its purpose, for the vineyard was bought, but Julius lost nothing by the transaction, for he was engaged as coachman, and there were reasons for suspecting that he still had all he wanted for his own consumption of the delicious "scuppernon' grapes," for, as Julius said, "ef dey's anything a nigger lub nex' ter 'possum en' chick'n, en watermillyums, it's scuppernon's. Dey ain' nuffin' dat kin stan' up side'n de scuppernon fer sweetness; sugar ain't a suckumstance ter scuppernon.' W'en de season is nigh 'bout ober, en de grapes begin ter swivel up des a little wid de wrinkles er ole age–w'en de skin git sof' en brown–den de scuppernon' make you smack yo' lip en roll yo' eye en wush fer mo'; so I reckon it ain' very 'stonishin' dat niggers lub scuppernon'."
In each of the half dozen stories that follow, old Julius had a scheme of his own to further by telling, and generally attained his object, although it is not until the tale is done and the reporter of the story finishes the sequel that the scheme of the sly old darkey becomes apparent. The opening story is pure comedy. In the others there is more or less of the tragic element. It would be unfair to the author to give anything of their plot. Each story is complete in itself, brings out a new phase of negro character and a different illustration of the conditions and superstitions of the race in the old days of slavery and ignorance, but in all the power of the "conjure woman" is the dominating feature. Although "The Conjure Woman" has been published but a few days it has already achieved a decided success, both with the critics and the reading public.–Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Boston: The Borrows Bros. Co.