letters from dickinson to higginson

Thomas Johnson's Note on Letter 405

MANUSCRIPT: BPL (Higg 84). Ink.

PUBLICATION: L (1894) 325‹326, in part; LL 304‹305, in part; L (1931) 306-307, entire. One prose passage is printed as verse.

Higginson's volume of sketches, Oldport Days, had been published in 1873. With this letter ED enclosed one poem: "Because that you are going." On 3 December 1873 Higginson had been invited to lecture at Amherst. While there, he called on ED for the second (and last) time, though the occasion was not significant enough for him to make record of the fact in his diary (HCL). After his return to Newport he wrote a letter (HCL) to his sisters on 9 December:

. . . the boys are numerous & hearty & better taken care of physically than at Harvard‹all being obliged to exercise in gymnasium. I saw my eccentric poetess Miss Emily Dickinson who never goes outside her father's grounds & sees only me & a few others. She says "there is always one thing to be grateful for‹that one is one's self & not somebody else" but [my wife] Mary thinks this is singularly out of place in E.D.'s case. She (E.D.) glided in, in white, bearing a Daphne odora for me, & said under her breath "How long are you going to stay." I'm afraid Mary's other remark "Oh why do the insane so cling to you?" still holds. I will read you some of her poems when you come.

AB 129). Since ED clearly had not written Higginson after his call, one conjectures that she presented the poem to him during his visit, and that the acknowledgment is made in the following letter.


Dear friend

This note shall go as a New Year's gift & assure you that you are not forgotten. I am glad to remember my visit to Amherst, & especially the time spent with you. It seemed to give you some happiness, and I hope it did;‹certainly I enjoyed being with you. Each time we seem to come together as old & tried friends; and I certainly feel that I have known you long & well, through the beautiful thoughts and words you have sent me. I hope you will not cease to trust me and turn to me; and I will try to speak the truth to you, and with love.

Today is perfectly beautiful, all snow & azure‹our snow is apt to be dingy, but today the Amherst hills can hardly be whiter. Such days ought to give us strength to go by all the storms & eclipses unmoved. Your poem about the storm is fine‹it gives the sudden transitions. While there is anything so sudden in the world as lightning, no event among men can seem anything but slow.

I wish you could see some field lilies, yellow & scarlet, painted in water colors that are just sent to us for Christmas. These are not your favorite colors, & perhaps I love the azure & gold myself‹but perhaps we should learn to love & cultivate these ruddy hues of life. Do you remember Mrs. Julia Howe's poem "I stake my life upon the red."

Pray read the enlarged edition of Verses by H.H.--the new poems are so beautiful. She is in Colorado this winter, & enjoys the out-door climate.

I always am glad to hear from you, and hope that your New Year may be very happy.

Your friend
T. W. Higginson

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Last updated on September 10, 1998