Skip to main content

[Review of The Colonel's Dream]

The Colonel's Dream. By Charles W. Chesnutt. New York: Doubleday, Page & Company. Pp. 294. $1.50.

Mr. Chesnutt won his spurs in "The House Behind the Cedars" and "The Marrow of Tradition" so that whatever he writes now finds waiting an eager bevy or readers. His books, and this one is no exception, deal in some form with the ubiquitous Negro question; but under the charm of his cultivated pen they are as new and thrilling as the national novels of Scott, when he immortalized the land of his birth and the people of his blood.

In "The Colonel's Dream" Mr. Chesnutt has taught the lesson that the common sense and justice of a thing will not necessarily commend it to a community or a class whose training and prejudices have declared against it. What Colonel French found he could not do with money and Southern birth to aid him, is essentially that the same thing that Judge Tourgee told us in "The fool's Errand," could not be done in the opposite way; so that it /283/ would seem that the South will be sufficient unto itself on its race question, despite the conscious efforts of reformers, for many years to come. When it is brought to conform to the thought and conscience of the whole other world, and it will be, since the spirit of an age leaves no one untouched, the South will come to it by meditation and unconscious suggestion, rather than by advice from without. There are many pages in this book that make the reviewer forget his cold-blooded purpose, and read for dear life, just as the school girl might be expected to do. No part is more thrilling, and none more artistically done, than the brief, but all-containing half-inch paragraph that tells of the lynching. It is not the detailed horror that so often freezes the blood with disgust, where the writer would simply arouse horror; it is not done in the regulation style at all--that long-drawn-out account that leaves the mind morbid and debauched; and yet what an arraignment are in a few words. Here them: "A rope, a tree--a puff of smoke, a flash of flame--or a barbaric orgy of fire and blood--what matter which? At the end there was a lump of clay and a hundred murderers where there had been one before."

These are the words of a master, and Mr. Chesnutt is a master. His place is made.