Go directly to transcription of "September's Baccalaureate"
I have edited "September's Baccalaureate" so as to foreground a production performance that Dickinson scholarship seems largely to have ignored: the publication of Dickinson's poems in The Youth's Companion. The poem that I present here is in fact the first step toward a larger collaborative project in which classmate Matt Hill and I will edit a collection of Dickinson's poems as they appeared in The Youth's Companion. Richard Cutts's Index to The Youth's Companion 1871-1929 lists fifteen separate entries with Emily Dickinson's name. Of these fourteen different poems (one was printed twice), nine first appeared in print in The Youth's Companion; five others were reprints from elsewhere. For each poem, we will present both a scanned-in image of the page from The Youth's Companion that the poem appeared on and a critically-edited version of the poem. The edited version will take as its base text the poem as it appeared in The Youth's Companion, using the poem's manuscript (from Franklin) and other printed forms for collation.
Dickinson and Early Editors
This project approaches the question of how we should read Dickinson's poetry in a way that focuses attention on the work of earlier editors of Dickinson's writing. Much of the attention paid to these early editors -- Mabel Loomis Todd, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and Millicent Todd Bingham and Susan Gilbert Dickinson and Martha Dickinson Bianchi -- casts them simply as part of a transmission history or dispenses with them after harsh words about their work. R.P. Blackmur's reaction in 1937, quoted by Franklin, is telling: "'[Emily Dickinson's poems] have never been edited'" (116), he claimed after all but one of the five earlier editors had worked on them. Here, criticism comes all too easily: these editors do not have, as Johnson does, the saving presence of a variorum that constantly highlights the complex decisions involved in editing Dickinson's poems. Agony over decisions made instead appears solely in blanket statements made in prefaces; the text proper shows only the decisions made. Such decisions, moreover, might easily be conflated with the heavy-handed co-authorship that took place where the editors not only selected variants but smoothed-out rhymes, "corrected" mechanics and grammar, provided titles, and otherwise reworked the poems to make them into what they saw as acceptable to the public.
Dickinson and Popular Periodicals
As part of the public presentation of Dickinson in the 1890s, a number of her poems endured what some might see as a further affront: publication in several popular periodicals. Appearing in small type, wedged between articles, advertisements, and even riddles, Dickinson's poems appear wholly foreign in these settings. So foreign, in fact, that one might be tempted to discard these representations in an effort to get back to a more "true" rendering of the poems. Even Jerome McGann's persuasive argument for a social theory of textual editing in which "the entire history of the work is a fit subject for textual scholarship . . ." (Greetham 337) seems insufficient in a case like this. "'Final authority' for literary works," McGann writes, ". . . resides in the actual structure of the agreements" between "the author" and the "affiliated institution" (540). But what do we do with a case like Dickinson and the popular periodicals, which not only reveals no agreement between author and institution but likely a violation of Dickinson's probable intentions? The Youth's Companion, which was a "leading children's weekly" with a circulation of 480,000 (Buckingham 595), is, after all, a far cry from Dickinson's domestic productions.
By presenting the poem in these forms, we are not answering that question, but are instead hoping to make available a site in which to provoke further discussion of it. Showing how the author shared space on a page with moralistic tales and funny stories for children might help us consider how one of the many Dickinsons was shaped; foregrounding the text in The Youth's Companion in the edited version may lead to further consideration of how Dickinson's poems play havoc with standard editorial practices. Our particular production performance, then, presents no ideal version of the poem. We aim instead to continue raising questions about how poems are created and how authors come into being. We seek not to answer the question of where the text lies, then, but to raise it yet again.
"September's Baccalaureate" first appeared in print in The Youth's Companion on September 29, 1892, as "In September." The poem, according to Millicent Todd Bingham, was one of a group of seven that her mother, Mabel Loomis Todd, brought on September 30, 1891, to Edward Stanwood, then editor of The Youth's Companion (Ancestors' Brocades 158-59, f. 19). Although Bingham is not entirely clear on this transaction, the September 30, 1891, set of poems apparently was intended to replace an initial group that Todd writes of on June 16, 1891. Todd's journal entry records her having sent poems to The Youth's Companion and a number of other periodicals after "all the selection had been made for the second volume" (Ancestors' Brocades 131). The six poems originally sent to Stanwood apparently had to be withdrawn, however, when Todd discovered that five were supposed to be included in the forthcoming 1892 Poems (Ancestors' Brocades 158, f. 19). In recounting her mother's dealings with The Youth's Companion, Bingham reprints "In September" in a footnote along with two other poems that were not published elsewhere after their appearance in The Youth's Companion.
The poem next appears in Bolts of Melody (1945) in a section titled "The Round Year," where Bingham collects seasonal poems from the Dickinson poems with which she worked. The book publishes poems that, according to Bingham, Todd had stored "in a camphor-wood chest" (vii) when she stopped working on Dickinson's writing after the publication in 1896 of Poems, third series. In "a volume of previously unpublished poems" (BM viii), "September's Baccalaureate" stands out as one that actually had been published earlier, a fact conveyed by a footnote that Bingham attaches to the poem. In creating this edition, Bingham apparently worked both with manuscripts and with copies that her mother had made from manuscripts. As Bingham claims to have used the copies largely for those poems whose manuscripts Martha Dickinson Bianchi held (BM xi), I have concluded that she at least had the manuscript available when editing the text for this collection since this poem does not appear in any Bianchi editions.
Hereafter, the poem appears first in Johnson's variorum edition of Dickinson's poetry (1955) and next in his reader's edition (1960). Although Johnson works from the manuscript in both cases, he only attempts to adhere to the mechanics of the manuscript and completely ignores the poem's line breaks. The collation of witnesses in the critically-edited text of this poem shows the variants between these printed editions.
To view the larger project that this poem is a part of, please visit a site (still under construction) on Emily Dickinson and The Youth's Companion.
Bingham, Millicent Todd. Ancestors' Brocades: The Literary Debut of Emily Dickinson. New York, London: Harper & Brothers, 1945.
---. "Introduction." Bolts of Melody. Emily Dickinson. Ed. Mabel Loomis Todd and Millicent Todd Bingham. New York, London: Harper & Brothers, 1945.
Buckingham, Willis J., ed. Emily Dickinson's Reception in the 1890s: A Documentary History. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh Press, 1989.
Cutts, Richard. Index to The Youth's Companion: 1871-1929. Vol. 1 of 2. Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, 1972.
Franklin, R.W. The Editing of Emily Dickinson: A Reconsideration. Madison: U of Wisconsin Press, 1967.
Greetham, D.C. Textual Scholarship: An Introduction. New York, London: Garland Publishing, 1994.
McGann, Jerome J. A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism. Charlottesville, London: UP of Virginia, 1983; paperback 1992; 2nd printing 1996.