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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 Oct. 7, ‘94

Paul, my friend,

Again am I indebted to you for one of your exquisite letters. your letters, Paul, are to me like some rare nosegay, the beauty of whose perfume intoxicates me. When Iread your letters, Paul, I love you. Somehow they touch a something in my heart that warms it into love for you. Be not alarmed my friend, I love you only when I read your letters. So you see it is a harmless sort of affection, one that need cause you no worry.

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Do I love you when I read your letters because you love me when you write them? Tell me, do you like me best when you write me? I keep your letters, Paul, I could no more destroy them than I could some delicate perfume, breathing flower. Indeed, as I have said, your letters are flowers and I am engaged in the delightful task of making them into a bouquet, whose fragrance I shall inhale for all time!

Your sad little lyric, “Ships that Pass in the Night” sets me thinking Paul – does something in our lives remind you of that queer good story of Beatrice Harraden? Have we, too, but met to stretch out our

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hands and fold them for an instant in a strong clasp whose influence we shall feel throughout the length of life, though we may meet no more?

If into your life I could have brought a tithe of that beneficent influence which Bernardine exercised over the Disagreeable Man. – if you have found in me, so I have found in you, a single attribute that has rendered all mankind the dearer, awakening us to the conviction that sympathy, sincerity, and truth make yet the human heart their dwelling place: – if you are the happier or better for having known me, as I am for having known you, then might we be content to be but as ships that have passed in the night.” Has it ever struck you, Paul, that Bernardine’s

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death was the most fitting climax for such a story? I can see why Miss Harraden chose to end her story as she did. Most novelists, as you know, tell us a tale of vicissitudes and love that culminates in the happy marriage of the hero and heroine. Here, in their wisdom, they stop. How often does the novelist enter into the story of their married life? Seldom, very seldom and why? because constant association is an iconoclast, as disillusioner that tears away the veil (which during the halcyon days of courtship we are never able to pierce with our Cupid blinded eyes) disclosing to our view those rough and jagged edges of character which first shock, then pain, and then disgust. Miss Harraden

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in her book, does not even leave as to the contemplation of a possible rupture in the love of her characters, no, she holds up to our gaze their entire life, and takes Barnandine from us sweet and fair and pure, giving her back into the hands of God when it was fittest that she should go, when she had become a part of God, for “God is love” and Bernadine loved. No doubt much of Miss Harraden’s story is taken from real life (Bernardine is in some respects like herself). Now, if her book had ended in marriage of Bernadine and the Disagreeable Man, there would have arisen in the minds of the readers that perplexing question “I wonder what story the sequel of their marriage would reveal.” As it is she leaves us no room for unpleasant speculation (for speculation of this kind is often-

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er along unpleasant lines than pleasant) she tells us all this story leaving us as Bernardine’s legacy a fuller sympathy, a tenderer pity, a wider belief, a truer interest in out fellow man, an awakening to our base selfishness, and the knowledge of a purer love reaching from earth to heaven, and from heaven back to earth again, for was it not that love which stayed the suicide’s hand?

I regretted sincerely, my friend, that you did not succeed in your endeavor to secure a position here, but after all it may be best. No doubt you will always think the more of me for not having been associated with me continuously. I am

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full of faults and association would disclose them to you so soon my friend, so soon.

Indeed I have often wondered how I have kept you interested in me this long? You are so versatile, so poetic, so interesting – I am so monotonous, so prosy and so dull. Is it the “law of opposites” that binds us together? You are indeed poorly repaid for the beautiful letters you send me. Your correspondence is the source of the most exquisite pleasure to me and believe that the poverty of my replies arises from the head and not the heart, for the latter is full enough.

Tell me my friend, did you find a friend, a girl friend, to wander with you through the fragrant words, that day in which

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you wrote me? Was it someone you love, Paul, and did you two interpret the language of “wave and breeze and bird”? And were you happy as you wandered forgetful of all else, with this maiden of your choice? – I hope so. I have made you think of her now and so I leave you to her contemplation for no doubt you would have me stop here that you may dream over again “that day.”

Forget me not entirely, mon ami. I could not quite bear that

That you may attain your highest ambition is the ever constant wish of

“Your friend always”



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