Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice


    Paul Laurence Dunbar Autograph Manuscript Signed. One page, 5" x 8", [Washington, D.C.]; March 12, [1898]. Dunbar has written his poem titled "A Choice" on Library of Congress letterhead. In part: "They please me not-these solemn songs / That hint of sermons covered up. 'Tis true the world should heed its wrongs, / But in a poem, let me sup, / Not simples brewed to cure or ease / Humanity's confessed disease... Paul Laurence Dunbar"

    Dunbar was an employee at the Library of Congress from September 1897 through December 1898. The date of "12 March 98-99" is written in blue pencil at the top of the poem in an unknown hand. Since Dunbar had left the library at the end of the year 1898 for health reasons (the dust in the book stacks was detrimental to his health), the poem would have been written in 1898. It was eventually published in Lyrics of the Hearthside (Dodd, Mead & Company, 1899).

    Condition: The document has two horizontal folds and a few wrinkles at the bottom, away from text; otherwise good condition.

    More Information:

    Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) was one of the first African-American poets to gain national recognition. Dunbar's parents were freed slaves from Kentucky and he would draw on their stories of plantation life throughout his writing career. By the age of fourteen, Dunbar had poems published in the Dayton Herald. While in high school he edited the Dayton Tattler, a short-lived black newspaper published by classmate Orville Wright. Unable to afford college, Dunbar worked for a while as an elevator operator while he continued writing poetry. In 1893, Dunbar self-published a collection called Oak and Ivy. To help pay the publishing costs, he sold the book for a dollar to people riding in his elevator. Referred to by Frederick Douglass as "the most promising young colored man in America," by 1895 Dunbar's poetry was being published in national newspapers and magazines, such as the New York Times. That same year his second collection of poems, Majors and Minors, was published. Dunbar embarked on a six-month reading tour of England in 1897. When he returned to the United States, he received a clerkship at the Library of Congress.


    While living in Washington, D.C., Dunbar published a collection of short stories entitled Folks from Dixie (1898), a novel The Uncalled (1898) and two additional collections of poems, Lyrics of the Hearthside (1899) and Poems of Cabin and Field (1899). He left his position at the Library of Congress in December 1898 to dedicate himself to writing. Over the next five years, he published three more novels and three short story collections. Between 1902 and his death in 1906 at the age of 33 as a result of tuberculosis, Dunbar produced three additional collections of poems, Lyrics of Love and Laughter (1903), Howdy, Howdy, Howdy (1905), and Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow (1903), which cemented his reputation as America's premier African-American poet.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    May, 2017
    11th Thursday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 3
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 415

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    25% on the first $250,000 (minimum $19), plus 20% of any amount between $250,000 and $2,500,000, plus 12% of any amount over $2,500,000 per lot.

    Sold for: Sign-in or Join (free & quick)
    Track Item

    Heritage membership

    Join Now - It's Free

    1. Past Auction Values (prices, photos, full descriptions, etc.)
    2. Bid online
    3. Free Collector newsletter
    4. Want List with instant e-mail notifications
    5. Reduced auction commissions when you resell your
    Consign now
    • Cash Advances
    • More Bidders
    • Trusted Experts
    • Over 200,000 Satisfied Consignors Since 1976
    Only 23 days left to consign to the 2020 October 4 Luxury Accessories Signature Auction - New York !

    Learn about consigning with us

    The department director has the heart of a true and highly knowledgeable collector with the business acumen of someone who has been not only successful but has decades of an impeccable track record
    David Greenburg,
    Chicago, IL
    View More Testimonials receives more traffic than any other auction house website. (Source:

    Video tutorial

    Getting the most out of search