letters from dickinson to joel warren norcross

11 January 1850

Dearest of all dear Uncles.

Sleep carried me away, and a dream passed along, a dream all queer, and curious - it was a dream of warning - I ought not to hide it from whom it concerns - God forbid that you trifle with vision so strange - the Spirits of love entreat you - the Spirit of warning guide - and the all helping hold - and prevent you from falling! And I dreamed - and beheld a company whom no man may number - all men in their youth - all strong and stout-hearted - nor feeling their burdens for strength - nor waxing faint - nor weary. Some tended their flocks - and some sailed on the sea - and yet others kept gay stores, and deceived the foolish who came to buy. They made life one summer day - they danced to the wound of the lute - they sang old snatches of song - and they quaffed the rosy wine - One promised to love his friend and one vowed to defraud no poor - and one man told a lie to his niece - they all did sinfully - and their lives were not yet taken. Soon a change came - the young men were old - the flocks had no sheperd - the boat sailed alone - and the dancing had ceased - and the wine-cup was empty - and the summer day grew cold - Oh fearful the faces then! The Merchant tore his hair - and the Sheperd gnashed his teeth - and the Sailor hid himself - and prayed to die. Some kindled the scorching fire - some opened the earthquake's mouth - the winds strode on to the sea - and serpents hissed fearfully. Oh I was very much scared and I called to see who they were - this torment waited for - I listened - and up from the pit you spoke! You could'nt get out you said - no help could reach so far - you had brought it upon yourself - I left you alone to die - but they told me the whole of the crime - you had broken a promise on earth - and now t'was too late to redeem it. Do you wonder at my alarm - do you blame me for running to tell you? It was'nt all a dream - but I know it will be fulfilled unless you stop sinning now - it is not too late to do right. Do you take any hints I wonder - can you guess the meaning of things - not yet aroused to the truth. You villain without a rival - unparraleled doer of crimes - scoundrel unheard of before - disturber of public peace - "creation's blot and blank" - state prison's filler - magnum bonum promise maker - harum scarum promise breaker - Oh what can I call you more? Mrs Caudle would call you "a gentleman" - that is altogether too good. Mrs Partington "a very fine fellow" - neither does this apply - I call upon all nature to lay hold of you - let fire burn - and water down - and light put out - and tempests tear - and hungry wolves eat up - and lightning strike - and thunder stun - let friends desert - and enemies draw nigh and gibbets shake but never hang the house you walk about in! My benison not touch - my malison pursue the body that hold your spirit! Any other afflictions which now slip my mind shall be looked up and forwarded to you immediately. How will you bear them all - will they depress - and make life hang too heavily? Would that they might thus do - but I look for no such results - you will bear them like a Salamander. Old fashioned Daniel could'nt take things more coolly. Does sarcasm affect you - or the sneers of the world? "Burn flame - simmer heat - swelter toad - I have cursed thee - and thou art accursed."

Dont remember a letter I was to receive when you get back to Boston - how long and how broad - how high - or deep it should be - how many cars it should sink - or how many stages tip over - or the shaking of the earth when it rested - Hav'nt the faintest recollection of the hearts to be lighter - the eyes to grow brighter and the life made longer with joy it should give - a most unfortunate mem'ry - the owner deserve our pity! Had you a pallid hand - or a blond eye - we would talk about coming to terms - but you have sent my father a letter - so there remains no more but to fight. War Sir - "my voice is for war!" Would you like to try a duel - or is that too quiet to suit you - at any rate I shall kill you - and you may dispose of your affairs with that end in view. You can take Chloroform if you like - and I will put you beyond the reach of pain in a twinkling. The last duel I fought did'nt take but five minutes in all - the "wrapping the drapery of his couch about him - and lying down to pleasant dreams" included. Lynch laws provide admirably now for wifes - and orphan children - so duels seem differently from what they formerly did to me. Uncle Loring - and Aunt Lavinia will miss you some to be sure - but trails will come in the best of families - and I think they are usually for the best - they give us new ideas - and those are not to be laughed at . How have you been bodily, and mentally since you were up to see us? How do you sleep o nights - and is your appetite waning? These are infallible symptoms, and I only thought I'd inquire - no harm done I hope. Harm is one of those things that I always mean to keep clear of - but somehow my intentions and me dont chime as they ought - and people will get hit with stones that I throw at my neighbor's dog - not only hit - that is the least of the whole - but they insist upon blaming me instead of the stones - and tell me their heads ache - why it is the greatest piece of folly on record. It would do to go with a story I read - one man pointed a loaded gun at a man - and it shot him so that he died - and the people threw the owner of the gun into prison - and afterwards hung him for murder. Only another victim to misunderstanding of society - such things should not be permitted - it certainly is as much as one's neck is worth to live in so stupid a world - and it makes one grow weary. Life is'nt what it purports to be. Now when I walk into your room and pluck your heart out that you die - I kill you - hang me if you like - but if I stab you while sleeping the dagger's to blame - it's no business of mine - you have no more right to accuse me of injuring you than anything else I can think of. That we understand capital punishment, and one another too I verily believe - and sincerely hope - for it's so trying to be read out of the wrong book when the right one is out of sight.

Your friends in town are comfortable - or were at the last accounts - tho' I hav'nt been into the Kelloggs' for several days now. Still I have seen neither Doctor, or Sexton around, and will take the fearful responsibility of assuring you that they live, and are well. You will perceive that the whole stands for a part in this place - it being one of those exceedingly aspeny cases that the bungling had better let alone. Have you found Susannah yet? "Roses will fade - time flies on - Lady of beauty," - the whole hymn is too familiar to you now for me to repeat it. Amherst is alive with fun this winter - might you be here to see! Sleigh rides are as plenty as people - which conveys to my mind the idea of very plentiful plenty. How it may seem to you I don't calculate at all - but presume you can see the likeness if you get the right light upon it. Parties cant find fun enough - because all the best ones are engaged to attend balls a week beforehand - beaus can be had for the taking - maids smile like the mornings in June - Oh a very great town is this! Chorus - a "still greater one than this." "Now for the jovial bowl," etc. You are fond of singing - I think - and by close, and assiduous practice may learn these two before I see you again. Exertion never harmed anybody - it wont begin now.

Are you all well - how are the children - please give the love of all our household to all the members of your's. Dont leave Cousin Albert out in my part! Vinnie has been to see you - she wrote what splendid times she had. We are very lonely without her - hope to linger along till she comes. will you write me before you go hence? Any communications will be received gratefully.

Emilie - I believe.

Mr kind regards to the gentlemen - White - and Leavitt. Heaven's choicest blessings attend them - and evil pass by without turning either to the right hand - or the left. Very particular indeed about the left hand - as they would be a little more likely to be there. "God bless you" to Wm Haskell - and civilized messages to all the rest of my friends.

Austin did'nt get to Boston somehow or other. He spent all but the fag end of vacation reading Hume's History - and it nearly used him up.

Had a long and very interesting letter from Emily [Norcross] a few days since. She seems contented - almost happy - says she will be glad to see us all, tho.

thomas johnson's note on letter 29 | index to dickinson/j. norcross letters

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