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


Full text of letter:

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Washington, D.C.

July 18, 1894

My dear Paul: -

After spending two weeks, most delightfully, in Baltimore I arrived home yesterday to find your letter awaiting me — a fitting clown of happiness for the pleasant days I’d spent. To have the end with a letter from you was

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indeed a joyous consummation. It was such a nice letter, too, Paul so like yourself, and sometimes, of late, you don’t write me nice letters, you know, when you are feeling more pessimistic than usual. Oh my dear Paul, if you could only throw off the cloak of skepticism that envelopes you so completely and let the radiance of faith and trust enter your soul, how much hap-

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pier you would be! Then you would not “analyze a friends smile into so many parts self-interest and so many parts deceit and contempt.” Instead, you would go through this life with a heart as light as your poetic inspiration should make it. Why should you my dear Paul, with all the music of the muses murmuring in you soul; why, I say, should you constitute your

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self into a morbid social chemist weighing and analyzing the smiles, tears, tones, emotions and expressions of your friends, discovering, pessimist like, the germs of selfishness and deceit. But what can you expect, Paul? — He who looks for evil sure by finds it: and who knows but that his strong determination to find it, creates it? you remember those lines of Phoebe Cary’s? –

“Look for goodness look

for gladness,

you will meet them all

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the while;

If we bring a smiling visage,

To the glass, we need a smile.” and vica versa , my dear Paul; so if you would be happy “Look for what is good and strong, in everyone who comes near you: honor that; rejoice in it; and your doubts (pardon the paraphrase) will drop off like dead leaves when their time comes.”

How very sorry I am, my dear Paul, that you find so little time

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to transcribe the poetry with which your brain, your ever busy brain is teeming. How I wish I were rich that I might make you a present of TIme. He should be your slave, and you should write, write, write. Nevermind, I may be rich someday and when I am, Time shall be yours, provided you have not grown too old to make use of it.

A propos of time, Paul, you must really

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steal enough, to finish that little poem you have started, “If life were but a dream my love” etc.[?] I am so anxious to know the sequence of that “if.” You must finish it and send it to me, Paul, along with some of your later poems.

I would like to know why it is, mon ami, that you can only write me nice letters when you write “wildly” as you say you were, when this one was written. If

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you were wild when you wrote this one, Paul go mad when you write the next, and write it soon.

And now, Paul Dunbar, farewell until you write again. I pray kind fortune scatter dollars (not roses) in your way. The “almighty dollar” is the open “sesame” to all things, even to the indulgence of poetic inspiration. If the very unpoetic ending of this scrawl offend you dear, “pluck it off (I mean cut it off) and cast it

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from thee; for what indeed have poets to do with anything so vulgar as money? Can you forgive me, oh, disciple of the muses! No doubt if kindly Fortune obeyed my invocation and showered “filthy lucre” in your way, you would cry out in scorn, “A poet's path way is be strewn with flowers, he stroke not down to gather up base coins!”

May Ganymede

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Feed thee on the nectar and ambrosia of the gods, and may the muses quench thy thirst with libations from those sacred founts whence gush poetic inspiration.



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