letters from dickinson to higginson
Thomas Johnson's Note on Letter 476
MANUSCRIPT: BPL (Higg 76). Pencil.
PUBLICATION: AM LXVIII (October 1891) 451; L (1894) 321-322; LL 301; L (1931) 299.
To explain this letter it is necessary to go back to the summer. ED during this year was in correspondence with Mrs. Jackson, and received from
her a letter (HCL), dated Princeton, Mass/Aug. 20./1876:
It seems to answer a letter from ED inquiring why Mrs. Jackson had
not written. The first of the poems in Helen Jackson's possession were probably copies she had made of those sent to Colonel Higginson. The enclosed
circular dealt with the "No Name Series" of books soon to be issued by
Roberts Brothers of Boston, under the editorship of Thomas Niles. They
were to be anonymous, each, according to the circular, to be written by "a
great unknown." The first was Helen Hunt Jackson's Mercy Philbrick's
Choice, published in September. ED evidently withheld reply, and Mrs.
Jackson visited Amherst on 10 October and paid a call. ED's letter to Higginson written shortly thereafter drew this response from him (HCL),
dated: Newport, R. I./Oct. 22. 1876:
My dear Miss Dickinson,
How could you possibly have offended me? I am sorry that such
an idea should have suggested itself to you.
I have often and often thought of sending you a line, but there are
only sixty minutes to an hour. There are not half enough.
I enclose to you a circular which may interest you. When the
volume of Verse is published in this series, I shall contribute to it:
and I want to persuade you to. Surely, in the shelter of such double
anonymousness as that will be, you need not shrink. I want to see
some of your verses in print. Unless you forbid me, I will send some
that I have. May I?‹It will be some time before this volume appears.
There ought to be three or four volumes of stories first, I suppose.‹
My husband is here with me: and we are enjoying this lovely
N. England country, very much: but we shall be here only a few days
longer, having that great "chore" of the Exposition to do.
Care of Messrs Roberts Bros. Boston
will always find me, wherever I am:‹and I am always glad to get a
line from you.
Thank you for writing in such plain letters! Will you not send me
Truly your friend
P.S. If you ever see Dr. Cate, pray give my love to him;‹mine &
Mr. Jacksons also.
Higginson misunderstood, thinking the circular spoke of stories only.
The following letter (HCL) Helen Jackson wrote from Ashfield shortly
after her call [part has been cut away]:
My dear friend
My wife wishes to thank you very much for your note & sweet
little rosebuds. We are quite busy, as we are just going to housekeeping, which pleases us very much; we have a nice American woman
who is to keep house for us, & we both prefer it. (For six years we have
been boarding.) When you come to Newport, my wife says, you must
come & see us.
Now as to your letter of inquiry; It is always hard to judge for
another of the bent of inclination or range of talent; but I should not
have thought of advising you to write stories, as it would not seem
to me to be in your line. Perhaps Mrs. Jackson thought that the change
& variety might be good for you: but if you really feel a strong unwillingness to attempt it, I don't think she would mean to urge you. The
celebrated prison-reformer, Mrs. Fry, made it one of her rules that
we must follow, not force, Providence; & there is never any good in
If you like to do it, I should be glad to be remembered to your
brother & sister, and to your sister-in-law.
Ever your friend
T. W. Higginson
PS My wife thought you might like to have this photograph of me,
unless you have it; as it is in some respects the best I have ever had
taken, though the expression is not altogether true.
My dear friend,
I [keep] my promise so [promptly] that I am w[riting] you before bre[akfast, but] it is simply a [post]script to my [call the other]
day; which re[ally I] found as mu[ch too] short as you [may] possibly have [felt it.]
I am ver[y sorry if] I have seemed [neglectful] and I hope [to
hear from] you again. [I feel] as if I ha[d been] very imperti[nent
that] day [in] speaking to you [as] I did,‹accusing you of living
away from the sunlight‹and [telling] you that you [looke]d ill,
which is a [mor]tal price of ill[ness] at all times, but re[al]ly you
look[ed] so [wh]ite and [mo]th-like[!] Your [hand] felt [l]ike such
a wisp in mine that you frigh[tened] me. I felt [li]ke a [gr]eat ox
[tal]king to a wh[ite] moth, and beg[ging] it to come and [eat]
grass with me [to] see if it could not turn itself into beef! How
This morning I have read over again the last verses you sent me:
I find them more clear than I thought they were. Part of the dimness
must have been in me. Yet I have others which I like better. I like
your simplest and [most direct] lines best [page cut away]
You say you find great pleasure in reading my verses. Let somebody
somewhere whom you do not know have the same pleasure in reading
yours: [strip cut away]
Goodbye. Whenever you like to send me a word, I shall always be glad to hear: and for all the verses you send me, I shall thank you.‹
[Roberts Bros. Boston] is the address which will always find me wherever I am.
Most truly yours
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