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:


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.

The address
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 some verses?

Truly your friend
Helen Jackson

P.S. If you ever see Dr. Cate, pray give my love to him;‹mine & Mr. Jacksons also.

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 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 forcing it.

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.

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,

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 stupid.‹

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
Helen Jackson

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