July 6 - The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

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On July 6, 1895, Dr. Henry A. Tobey of Toledo, Ohio, wrote his first letter to Paul Laurence Dunbar in Dayton.  Dr. Tobey, Superintendent of the Toledo State Hospital, would become one of Paul's greatest supporters.

I am not a literary character, but I believe you possess real poetical instinct.  I have read your poems again and again, and the more I read them the more I recognize the divinity that stirs within you.  When I was in Dayton I learned that your ambition is to become a lawyer.  The world is already too full of lawyers for its own good.  What we need is more persons to interpret Nature and Nature's God.  I believe you are specially endowed for this work, and therefore would admonish you to continue as you have started.  I am anxious to assist you in any way I can.  Enclosed herewith I send you a check for Five Dollars and would like to have you send me the number of volumes of your poems that this amount will buy.

Henry A. Tobey to Paul Laurence Dunbar, July 6, 1895.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 1).

Dr. Tobey's letter referred to Paul's first book of poetry, Oak and Ivy.  He later helped sell copies of Paul's second book, Majors and Minors.

I was down to the city yesterday and sold books for you as follows and each one of the gentlemen said that they wanted to see you and make your acquaintance.  Mr. King said he would give you a number of names of persons that would buy books, that he had already spoken to several and would speak to more.  Mr. Scott, I think, is President of the Board of Trustees of the City Library.  He speaks of putting your book in the Library.  Mr. Childs, night clerk at the Boody House, told me that he received a long and beautiful letter from Mr. Herne to whom he presented a book when Mr. Herne was here.

Henry A. Tobey to Paul Laurence Dunbar, April 22, 1896.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 1).

Dr. Tobey's letter mentions an actor named James Herne who stayed at a Toledo hotel called the Boody House.  Herne was given a copy of Majors and Minors, which he passed along to the literary critic William Dean Howells in New York.  Howells was impressed by the book and wrote a favorable review in Harper's Weekly that made Paul nationally famous.

Although Paul had been in Toledo for a poetry reading in 1893, he did not meet Dr. Tobey on that occasion.  Tobey became aware of Paul during a visit to Dayton.

Interesting discussions bearing on the Negro problem were enjoyed by the people at the Memorial Baptist church last evening.  Dr. H. A. Tobey gave some interesting personal reminiscences of Paul Laurence Dunbar.  While visiting friends in Dayton, his attention was called to some poems written by a colored boy, the son of the woman who washed for his friends.  He saw at once that there was merit in them and on his return to Toledo sent $5 to the lad with the request that he would forward as many poems as that amount would buy.  A short time thereafter Dr. Tobey sent for the lad to come to Toledo.  He had the lad give some readings of his poems and seeing in him elements of genius, with the assistance of Mr. Thatcher and others in Toledo, made him known to W. D. Howells and Robert Ingersoll, and in a short time his fame had become national.

"Discussed the Negro Problem."  Toledo Blade (Toledo, Ohio).  June 3, 1901.

The article refers to Charles Thatcher, who was a lawyer in Toledo and another of Paul's early supporters.  Colonel Robert Ingersoll was an attorney who helped Paul get a job at the Library of Congress.  Paul acknowledged the support of Dr. Tobey by dedicating a book of short stories to him.  Paul also kept a photo of Dr. Tobey on display above his desk.

To my Friend
H. A. Tobey, M. D.


Dedication for Folks from Dixie by Paul Laurence Dunbar.  Published in 1898.

The Dunbar home is in Le Droit Park.  It is a pretty and attractive home, tasteful and homelike.  The author's study is a pleasant room on the second floor.  One side of the study has its walls entirely covered with a large bookcase, which contains among its volumes the various editions of Mr. Dunbar's works and numerous presentation volumes from his brother craftsmen.  On the opposite wall and above the mantel are portraits of friends, authors, and the originals of Kemble's illustrations for "Folks from Dixie."  Immediately over the large flat-top desk, at which the poet works, hangs a portrait of his friend, Dr. Tobey.

"Orpheus of His Race."  The Washington Post (Washington, D. C.).  January 29, 1899.