November 25 - Poetry in Pictures

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On November 25, 1899, Paul Laurence Dunbar signed a contract with the New York firm Dodd, Mead & Company to publish the book Poems of Cabin and Field.  The royalty percentages specified are lower than Paul had received with previous books for Dodd.  There is no explicit reference to a cash advance, although the figure $800.00 is written in the margin.

The said parties of the second part shall pay to the party of the first part a sum of money equal to ten per cent of the retail price of each and every copy of the said work sold by or for them up to five thousand copies, and upon copies exceeding five thousand a Royalty of fifteen per cent shall be paid.

Contract for Poems of Cabin and Field, November 25, 1899.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 2).

Poems of Cabin and Field contained only seven poems, all of which had been previously published.  They were all in Black dialect and dealt with popular topics such as holidays and domestic life.  It was the first of Paul's books to be illustrated with photographs:  on one page was part of a poem, and on the opposite page was a photo that visualized those lines.  The photographs were taken by members of the camera club at the Hampton Institute, a Virginia school that provided job skills training to African Americans (although the photographers were white).  Illustrated books were popular as gifts, and Dodd eventually published six volumes in which Paul's poems were combined with photos.  Poems of Cabin and Field was released shortly before Christmas 1899 and won high praise from reviewers.

For some years interest in photography has been growing at Hampton.  To give point to their efforts, the club decided to illustrate a poem.  "Tent on the Beach" was the first attempt, and this being done successfully, last year "The Deserted Plantation" was fixed upon.  This proved more interesting, and the set of photographs was so good that the club was urged to send them to Dodd, Mead & Co., who offered to publish them, if more could be taken to illustrate some of Dunbar's other dialect poems.  The publishers have done their part to make a very charming book, with a gay trumpet vine on the cover, and on every page decorations by Alice Morse.  But of course the principal interest lies in the pictures, all but one of which were taken near Hampton.  They illustrate the lines very truly, and most of them are excellent artistically, while many have the irresistible life and swing, or the pensive pathos of the old-time Negro character.  The edition is likely to call fresh attention to Dunbar's verses, which in this attractive form will sell more widely, and poems and photographs together give a true and delightful picture of one phase of the old-fashioned plantation life.

"Book Reviews."  The Southern Workman (Hampton, Virginia).  December 1899.  Page 506.

The Hampton Institute Camera Club made a series of characteristic photographs which are reproduced in this volume.  Alice Morse made the border decorations, in which a stanza of each poem is set on a page.  It would be very difficult to say too much for the way the publishers have prepared this volume.  To call it a beautiful book by no means expresses it strongly enough for there are many such.  Do not fail to see "Poems of Cabin and Field."  It cannot fail to please anyone who has an eye for the beautiful.

"Poems of Cabin and Field."  The Literary Bulletin (Detroit, Michigan).  December 1899.

This is one of the most artistic publications that have been issued from the press for a long time.  The illustrations are superb.  Every other page contains an illustration, and, being printed on very heavy paper, they are as fine as photographs.  It is probable that in the book line there will be nothing finer than this for a Christmas present.

"Book Notices."  The Morning News (Savannah, Georgia).  December 4, 1899.  Page 7.

"Poems of Cabin and Field" appears with an attractive and appropriate pictorial accompaniment.  This has been supplied by the Hampton Institute Camera Club, in the shape of numerous photographs taken among just such scenes and among just such negro types as the poems commemorate.  The pictures and the text are surrounded by decorative arabesques, printed in a dainty tint.  The tuneful verses are realistic, and the photographs seem therefore perfectly adapted to them.  This is notably the case with the vignette that faces the line, "Oh, de music o' de banjo," and the group illustrating the verse beginning "Oh, dey's fun inside de co'n crib."  The photographers have shown much tact in their work, their plates having variety as well as truth.  Altogether, this is a capital Christmas book, amusing, touching, and artistic;  a deserved tribute to a clever young poet.

"New Books and New Editions."  New York Daily Tribune (New York, New York).  December 5, 1899.  Page 8.