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Paul Laurence Dunbar, primary sources, Black history, Black poets, prominent Ohioans


Letter is on letterhead of the West Virginia Colored Institute, Farm, West Virginia, J. Edwin Campbell, Ph.B., Principal.

Full text of letter:

(Page 1)

The West Virginia Colored Institute

J. Edwin Campbell. Ph. B., Principal.

Farm, W. Va., April, 8, 1894

Paul L. Dunbar

140 N. Ziegler St. Dayton, Ohio

My Dear Dunbar: –

Your letter was read the other day

I have concluded since reading is that there is no vale of happiness this side the mists of Eternity where a single mortal can go and be free from _____ care.

Here I thought you were drinking to the lees the wine of happiness that you were flushed with your literary success and that the thought that you were the one negro in the country in whom the literary talent of the race centered rises you beyond all morbidity.

I myself for the last week or two have been a prey to the deepest mental depression. Shall I tell the

(Page 2)

truth? I am tired of being a big man tired of wearing the fool’s mask of dignity. Tired of running into the narrow walls which emprison the path in which my position makes me walk.

I want to throw down the load the onerous load of responsibility. I want to get back to boyhood. I want to roll up my trousers to the knee put on a hat battered out of shape in a victorious battle with bumble bees lie under the shade of a country orchard surreptitiously helping June apples while the June breezes and the June grasses run not over my barelegs living only in the sun and shade of the delirious present while manhood is a thousand years away resting beneath the horizon away over yonder where that buzzard’s wings lazily cut the glorious restful blue.

I’m your success you way have aroused the envy of your fellow men but their envy is like the barbless arrows with which the Indians lad learns to shoot. It cannot hurt you.

The fierce envy that my success arouses is the poisoned and flinted arrows of the

(Page 3)

full grown brave for in my position every shaft that envy directs can maim, can kill.

I tell you Dunbar envy no man not think any man happy from what you see of his surroundings. This smile may be the smile of the Spartan boy while the stolen fox gnaws out his heart.

You are just twenty one. I am twenty six. Let me tell that the five year difference in our ages means for me five years of toil, of disappointment bitter as the wild aloe of failure of anguish. When I was twenty one I had already failed with a newspaper and had gone back home utterly discouraged almost broken hearted. I had from the Editorial chair of the only colored paper in this state and had opened a district school 6 months for 150 and made my own fires paid eight dollars a month for board

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And slept up in the loft of a log cabin where every winter night I could lie in in bed and count through the holes in the dilapidated roof every star in the northern heavens, and many a morning awoke to find that the snow out of pity bad spared another counterpane over my bed and to hide bareness of my attic floor had covered in with a white carpet.

I then had the same talent that I have now and a more intense ambition, an ambition made ravenous by constant denial by starvation!

Pardon if I speak of my condition when at your age. God tries [?] those whose souls essay anything in the fire and the intense heat which seems to scorch you now, is but the fire the refines fire and from it will come the pure gold of your very soul.

I read a long letter from a cousin of mine Miss Gee who teaches in the Paris K’y schools

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and it reminded me that you knew a young lady then. Who is “dreaming there in Paris”.

Perhaps they know each other. If anything of yours has appeared recently send it to me.

It has been so long since anything of mine appeared that I sometimes wonder if anything did ever appear.

I am doing absolutely nothing now in a literary way.

The Post has had in it possession for the last six weeks what I consider my best romance I do not know what they intend to do with it.

I am so glad that my rude verses pleased you.

If I ever publish I shall use them. My house when completed

(Page 6)

will cost me around $1,500 [??] and I am a little blue with that

Well I must close this long rambling letter

Write very over

Yours ever,



Primary Item Type

Personal Correspondence


This item is part of the Paul Laurence Dunbar House collection at Ohio History Connection, Columbus, Ohio. The collection contains items from 219 N. Summit St., Dayton, Ohio (later 219 N. Paul Laurence Dunbar St.), the home Dunbar purchased for his mother, Matilda J. Dunbar, in 1904. Paul Laurence Dunbar lived there until his death in 1906; Matilda lived there until her death in 1934. It is now the Paul Laurence Dunbar House Historic Site, part of the National Park Service.


Paul Laurence Dunbar, primary sources, Black history, Black poets, prominent Ohioans