letters from dickinson to abiah root

7 and 17 May 1850

Dear Remembered.

The circumstances under which I write you this morning are at once glorious, afflicting, and beneficial - glorious in ends, afflicting in means, and beneficial in trust in both. Twin loaves of bread have just been born into the world under my auspices - fine children - the image of their mother - and here my dear friend is the glory.

On the lounge asleep, lies my sick mother, suffering intensely from Acute Neuralgia - except at a moment like this, when kind sleep draws near, and beguiles her, here is the affliction.

I need not draw the beneficial inference - the good I myself derive, the winning the spirit of the patience the genial house-keeping influence stealing over my mind, and soul, you know all these things I would say, and will seem to suppose they are written, when indeed they are only thought. On Sunday my mother was taken, had been perfectly well before, and could remember no possible imprudence which should have induced the disease, everything has been done, and tho' we think her gradually throwing it off, she still has much suffering. I have always neglected the culinary arts, but attend to them now from necessity, and from a desire to make everything pleasant for father, and Austin. Sickness makes desolation, and "the day is dark, and dreary," but health will come back I hope, and light hearts, and smiling faces. We are sick hardly ever at home, and dont know what to do when it comes, wrinkle our little brows, and stamp our little feet, and our tiny souls get angry, and command it to go away. Mrs Brown will be glad to see it, old-ladies expect to die, as for us, the young, and the active, with all longings "for the strife," we to "perish by the road-side, weary with the march of life" no-no my dear "Father Mortality," get out of our way if you please, we will call if we ever want you, Good-morning Sir, ah Good-morning! When I am not at work in the kitchen, I sit by the side of mother, provide for her little wants - and try to cheer, and encourage her. I ought to be glad, and grateful that I can do anything now, but I do feel so very lonely, and so anxious to have her cured. I hav'nt repined but once, and you shall know all the why. While I washed dishes at noon in that little "sink-room" of our's, I heard a well-known rap, and a friend I love so dearly came and asked me to ride in the woods, the sweet-still woods, and I wanted to exceedingly - I told him I could not go, and he said he was disappointed - he wanted me very much - then the tears came into my eyes, tho' I tried to choke them back, and he said I could, and should go, and it seemed to me unjust. Oh I struggled with great temptation, and it cost me much of denial, but I think in the end I conquered, not a glorious victory Abiah, where you hear the rolling drum, but a kind of a helpless victory, where triumph would come of itself, faintest music, weary soldiers, nor a waving flag, nor a long-loud shout. I had read of Christ's temptations, and how they were like our own, only he did'nt sin; I wondered if one was like mine, and whether it made him angry - I couldnt make up my mind; do you think he ever did?

I went cheerfully round my work, humming a little air till mother had gone to sleep, then cried with all my might, seemed to think I was much abused, that this wicked world was unworthy such devoted, and terrible sufferings, and came to my various senses in great dudgeon at life, and time, and love for affliction, and anguish.

What shall we do my darling, when trial grows more, and more, when the dim, lone light expires, and it's dark, so very dark, and we wander, and know not where, and cannot get out of the forest - whose is the hand to help us, and to lead, and forever guide us, they talk of a "Jesus of Nazareth," will you tell me if it be he?

I presume you have heard from Abby, and know what she now believes - she makes a sweet, girl christian, religion makes her face quite different, calmer, but full of radiance, holy, yet very joyful. She talks of herself quite freely, seems to love Lord Christ most dearly, and to wonder, and be bewildered, at the life she has always led. It all looks black, and distant, and God, and Heaven are near, she is certainly very much changed.

She has told you about things here, how the "still small voice" is calling, and how the people are listening, and believing, and truly obeying - how the place is very solemn, and sacred, and the bad ones slink away, and are sorrowful - not at their wicked lives - but at this strange time, great change. I am one of the lingering bad ones, and so do I slink away, and pause, and ponder, and ponder, and pause, and do work without knowing why - not surely for this brief world, and more sure it is not for Heaven - and I ask what this message means that they ask for so very eagerly, you know of this depth, and fulness, will you try to tell me about it?

It's Friday my dear Abiah, and that in another week, yet my mission is unfulfilled - and you so sadly neglected, and dont know the reason why. Where do you think I've strayed, and from what new errand returned? I have come from "to and fro, and walking up, and down" the same place that Satan hailed from, when God asked him where he'd been, but not to illustrate further I tell you I have been dreaming, dreaming a golden dream, with eyes all the while wide open, and I guess it's almost morning, and besides I have been at work, providing the "food that perisheth," scaring the timorous dust, and being obedient, and kind. I call it kind obedience in the books the Shadows write in, it may have another name. I am yet the Queen of the court, if regalia be dust, and dirt, have three loyal subjects, whom I'd rather relieve from service. Mother is still an invalid tho' a partially restored one - Father and Austin still clamor for food, and I, like a martyr am feeding them. Would'nt you love to see me in these bonds of great despair, looking around my kitchen, and praying for kind deliverance, and eclaring my "Omar's beard" I never was in such plight. My kitchen I think I called it, God forbid that it was, or shall be my own - God keep me from what they call households, except that bright one of "faith"!

Dont be afraid of my imprecations, they never did anyone harm, and they make me feel so cool, and and [sic] so very much more comfortable!

Where are you now Abiah, where are your thoughts, and aspirings, where are your young affections, not with the boots, and whiskers; any with me ungrateful, any tho' dropping, dying? I presume you are loving your mother, and loving the stranger, and wandered, visiting the poor, and afflicted, and reaping whole fields of blessings. Save me a little sheaf - only a very little one! Remember, and care for me sometimes, and scatter a fragrant flower in this wilderness life of mine by writing me, and by not forgetting, and by lingering longer in prayer, that the Father may bless one more!

Your aff friend,


It's a great while since I've seen your cousins, they were all very well when I did. When will you come again - Speedily, will you?

Vinnie is still at school, and I sit by my lonely window, and give bright tears to her memory. Tears are my angels now.

Do you hear from our dear Jennie Humphrey, do you know who's staying now? I feel impatiently, very it's so long since I've heard about her. When her father was sick she wrote me, and as soon as I could I replied; I afterwards saw his death, the day that my letter reached her. She must be bereaved indeed, and I wish I could do, and console her. She has the "Great Spirit" tho', and perhaps she does'nt need me. Do you know how she bears her trial. She is a very dear friend to me, and all of these things I think of.

What a beautiful mourner is her sister, looking so crushed, and heart-broken, yet never complaining, or murmuring, and waiting herself so patiently! She reminds me of suffering Christ, bowed down with her weight of agony, yet smiling at terrible will. "Where the weary are at rest" these mourners all make me think of - in the sweet still grave. When shall it call us?

thomas johnson's note on letter 36 | index to dickinson/root letters

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Last updated on February 25, 2008