Disappointing as the average American negro may be to many who have hoped for greater results from the civilizing influences exerted upon him since the period of reconstruction, there can be little doubt that in many instances the slave of bygone days has been quick to see and grasp his opportunities. The imitative instinct of the negro has stood him in good stead in his upward and onward efforts, and it would be difficult to find in much of the negro society of today differences which would stamp it as inferior to that of the whites. The ordinary everyday association of the colored people with low manual occupations and the attribution of equally demeaning ideas and manners has led to a general neglect or ignorance of the fact that there are cities in this country which can boast of societies of colored people who in refine-ment, culture and wealth, stand on an equal footing with any of the whites.
Charles W. Chesnutt, in a volume of short stories entitled "The Wife of His Youth," introduces us to the better class of negroes as represented in the cities of Ohio. Mr. Chesnutt's familiarity with negro life and manners is of that sympathetic stamp that gives a story the mark of realistic and faithful portraiture. In these stories the humorous characteristics that are so firmly ingrained in the very nature of the negro, are brought out in a simple and very effective way. In the use of the pathetic elements, Mr. Chesnutt shows himself to be singularly convincing. The effects of the ante-bellum days upon the lives of the negro, in the tragedies for which the war was directly responsible, have been brought into high relief by the writer.
The title story is perhaps the best in the volume. "Uncle Wellington's Wives" will easily follow next and as a clever and truthful delineation of the restlessness and fickle disposition of the negro, so deplored by Booker T. Washington, will hardly be equaled. There are nine tales in the volume and all are of genuine interest.
Mr. Chesnutt's style is plain and direct and he manages surprising effects by simple means. The volume is tastefully bound in a handsome cover with a simple design. The illustrations are of excellent quality and are by Clyde O. DeLand. ["The Wife of His Youth," by Charles W. Chesnutt; Houghton, Mifflin & Co. For sale by Putnam, Davis & Co., $1.50.]