image preview



Creation Date



Paul Laurence Dunbar, Ohio history, Poetry, dialect poetry, biography, black history, black poets, primary sources, prominent Ohioans


Washington, D.C.

Nov. 18, 1894

My dear Paul,

Two weeks have passed since I received your letter — do you think that I have allowed a decent period of time to elapse before replying? You seem to think that an early replay “indicates too great an eagerness to be recording one’s own impressions and opinions. You characterize letter writing as “selfish and egotistical.” I do not think it is either my friend — when we write a letter we attempt to please, we strive to interest and amuse another. We do not write from selfish motives; it is not the desire to please ourselves, but to please another that actuates letter writing. How often when we are feeling in anything but a mood for writing, do we put aside our inclination and indite* a long missive to a friend because we know that friend will find pleasure in its receipt. I fear, my dear Paul, you grow more cynical. I am sorry that the perusal of “Kenelm Chillingly”** has had such a bad effect upon you. In following the different states of that hero’s mind you should have grown as he grew and instead of closing the book feeling cynical against yourself and the world, you should, like Kenelm, have become broader and better.

Did you keep for yourself out of all that Kenelm says only that bit of his early philosophy where he expatiates on the selfishness of the human race, comparing each man’s life to a circle that can touch another’s only at one point, “nay if it quite touches even there”? “Self is always selfish” he adds — well to an intuitive extent — yes, but it is not necessarily all selfishness for I believe that in each human heart there lay the spark of self-denial, and I further believe that few indeed live out their lives without that spark at some time being fanned into an active flame.

You do not know, my dear friend, how it pleases me to have you write me a digest of some character that has pleased or failed to please you. Believe me the “latest book” has not the greatest charm for me. I prefer the old ones.

You inquired in your letter about Charlie Mitchell; he is not here. I think he is in the West. Joe, as you know perhaps, is travelling with “The Nahar Concert Company.”

Apropos of your request for my picture — I have none. I have a most serious aversion to the camera — one which I can not overcome sufficiently to have even a presentable likeness taken. I have had two sittings in my life and neither result looks anything like me. If I can possibly make up my mind to undergo the ordeal a third time I shall certainly be pleased to send you one of the “results.”

And now, dear Paul, good bye. I hope you may have a most successful season. Forego the practice of your philosophy, dear, and send me an early answer.



Repository notes:

* The word “indite” is an archaic word meaning to write or compose.

** Kenelm Chillingly is a book by Edward Bulwer Lytton published in 1873.


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, Ohio history, Poetry, dialect poetry, biography, black history, black poets, primary sources, prominent Ohioans