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


Note: This letter contains insensitive language.

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June 11 1895

Paul Laurence Dunbar.

Dear Friend:

Twenty two years ago I was a reporter, first on Indianapolis Sentinel then on Indpls. Journal, and my experiences were racy [?]during that brief career. It is a pernicious work for any man who has cultivated literary style. Your work on a weekly paper is not so bad for you. I should like to own an influential literary weekly, it would be a good waste-basket for all my random notes and comments. (I afterwards, by the way, was manager of a weekly paper at Indianapolis and helped to make it a good plant underground.) But– well, well, well, well! That is what I intended to remark when I commenced the letter. Who’d ‘a’ thought you’d be locating yourself in my town! Git out!

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One of my nieces there is very ill and in a critical condition from hemorrhages. Her sister who married and went to Iowa, and their mother, my sister, are now back at Indianapolis attending the sick one. Those two girls are my favorite girls and love me as well as my own daughters. The name of the one who is sick is Mrs Curry, and she lives at 491 E. Tenth St. I should be gratified if you would call on them. If you don’t care to go alone, take Mr. Taylor, as he is acquainted, and they know you well through me. My sister’s name is Mrs. Thompson. You will find them all at the number mentioned.

I have met a number of your people, Dr Elbert, Mr. Christy, and many teachers, among them W. D. McCoy who went to Liberia, and I think died there.

Go see my “Old Covered Bridge” over the river west. It is a historic landmark. You ought to republish my “Indianapolis.” If you could get access to files of the People and Herald and Review of 1869 to 1887, you would find a host of my old poems.

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I have just finished one of my most elaborate reminiscent poems “The Boy in The Country,” and I love it more at each reading. It has 672 iambic feet (all Trilbys.) I am feeling jubilant over it. (whoop!) I have filed it it at Johnson of the Century, as Mr. Gilder is in Europe and I have Johnson foul. As I finished and copied it June 9, and it occupies 9 pages of paper, it should be accepted, if my mascot number is worth anything. The last couplet in it pleases me as much as anything I ever wrote:- and you may note the style of verse by this:

“O the tones of boyhood’s laughter in the / mint of manhood’s prime

Are golden coins that jingle down the / stony steps of Time!”

Or this form:

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O the tones of boyhood’s laughter thus the mint / of manhood’s prime

As golden coins come ringing down the stony / steps of Time.

Or this:

“O each tone of boyhood’s laughter is a coin in / manhood’s prime

And rings with golden music down the / stony steps of time!”

The last quoted is the way I sent it, and I can’t decide which is best. What think?

One of my favorite haunts about there was in Fall Creek right at the head of College Ave. and in a path (opposite side) from there on up to Schofield’s Mills, which is now by the new fair grounds. It said to be beautiful, was miles in the country but now the town is building up all about there. I said to ride a “velocipede” the first form of bicycle, along a wooded road up and down hill with squirrels running across the roads and rail fences. That quiet road is now College Ave. from the old University – now Orphan's Home – on north, to about tenth street. A wonderful change!

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My next poem will be “The Glen,” based on Watkins Glen and surroundings. It is a fairyland about there. Then I shall write a supreme dialect group at the country store, and think I will give it a specific name, from the lecture where I use the material now, “Hoosier Hollow.” Another part of that lecture I will also put into verse, “The Country Hack.” Then I will versify my “In De Ole Slabe Days.” So I have some hard grinding labor ahead.

Say, save me one of those nice little parliens that you are dawdling along. I want to plant it in Virginia and build a log cabin on it by the sounding. [illustration of a musical staff with a treble clef and a half note C] (That is a half-tone engraving.)

I always knew Indianapolis was a health resort, and now it has cured you of an

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awful disease: cacoethes scribendi! Mercy! What possessed you to ever handle such things? Next thing you’ll be going around like a bloated bond holder or an Injun with war paint, from fooling with poison ivy.

‘Scuse me for all this, but I’m feeling hysterical today. There was a circus procession here yesterday with three brass bands and a calliope, and worse than all that the Salvation Army is located across the street from this hotel with two or three cornets that go tumbling over one another with cold in there heads!!

Have you see Irvington? See it and die. Cottman lives there, and he is a new Thoreau and John Burroughs. But he is probably camping now up at Lake Tippecanoe.

Well, durn it if you can’t write, then write letters. That is the way with me.


Richard Lew Darson.

Remarkable things: my “Boy” poem is all about old times, but the word “old” does not occur once in it.


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