Diana Wagner, Salisbury University
"Pardon the Liberty: Emily Dickinson's Correspondence with Edward Everett Hale, 3 Letters"

Emily Dickinson wrote three letters to Edward Everett Hale between 1854 and 1857. As Sewell and others have pointed out, the Hale letters are unique in that they are among the few surviving letters which Dickinson addressed to a stranger. Dickinson's brief correspondence with Hale began after Dickinson's beloved friend, Benjamin Franklin Newton, died on March 24, 1853. Newton, who had been an intern in Edward Dickinson's law office (1847-49), entered the bar at Worcester in 1850 and, in 1852, became state's attorney for Worcester County. Newton joined the Church of the Unity in Worcester where Edward Everett Hale was pastor. And it was Edward Everett Hale who presided over Newton's 1853 funeral.

None of Dickinson's correspondence with Newton survives, though Newton is mentioned or alluded to in several Dickinson letters, in addition to those cited here (L 17, 30, 44, 110, 261, 265, 457, 750). It is well-documented in the Letters that Dickinson's distress over Newton's death was persistent; her grief was not easily allayed. As late as the 1870s and 1880s—more than twenty years after Newton's death—Dickinson mentions his death to Higginson (L 457) and Otis Lord (L 750).

The Hale-Dickinson correspondence begins nine months after Newton's death, when Dickinson is clearly distressed regarding the circumstances of Newton's last hours.

Letter 1: January 13, 1854
Paper: wove, bifolium
Medium: Ink
Emboss/Watermark: No watermark. Boss in upper left corner unidentifiable. Ms. is very worn and has been repaired numerous times.
Manuscript: Lilly Library, Indiana University-Bloomington
Publishing History: The Autograph Album I (1933), in part; American Literature VI (1935), entire; This Was a Poet (1938), in part; The Letters of Emily Dickinson [L 153] (1958, 1986), entire.

[Leaf 1 of 4]
Amherst Jan 13th
Rev Mr Hale-
Pardon the liberty,
Sir, which a stranger takes in ad-
dressing you, but I think you may
be familiar with the last hours
of a Friend, and I therefore trans-
gress a courtesy, which in another
circumstance, I should seek to observe.
I think, Sir, you were the Pastor of
Mr B.F. Newton, who died sometime
since in Worcester, and I often have
hoped to know if his last hours were
cheerful, and if he was willing to die.
Had I his wife's acquaintance, I w'd
not trouble you Sir, but I have never
met her, and do not know where
she resides, nor have I a friend
in Worcester who could satisfy
my inquiries. You may think my

[Leaf 2 of 4]
desire strange, Sir, but the Dead was
dear to me, and I would love to know
that he sleeps peacefully.
Mr Newton was with my Father
two years, before going to Worcester
in pursuing his studies, and was
much in our family.
I was then but a child yet I was
old enough to admire the strength,
and grace, of an intellect far
surpassing my own, and it taught
me many lessons, for which I
thank it humbly, now that it is
gone. Mr Newton became to me a
gentle, yet grave Preceptor, teaching
me what to read, what authors
to admire, what was most grand
or beautiful in nature, and that
sublimer lesson, a faith in things
unseen, and in a life again, no-
bler, and much more blessed--
Of all these things he spoke--he
taught me of them all, earnestly,

[Leaf 3 of 4]
tenderly, and when he went from
us, it was as an elder brother, loved
indeed very much, and mourned, and
remembered. During his life in
Worcester, he often wrote to me, and
I replied to his letters--I always
asked for his health, and he an-
swered so cheerfully, that while I
know he was ill, his death indeed
surprised me. He often talked of
God, but I do not know certainly
if he was his Father in Heaven--
Please Sir, to tell me if he was wil-
ling to die, and if you think him
at Home, I should love much to
know certainly, that he was
today in Heaven. Once more, Sir, please
forgive the audacities of a Stranger,
and a few lines, Sir, from you, at
a convenient hour, will be received
with gratitude, most happy to requite
you, sh'd it have opportunity.
Yours very respectfully, Emily E. Dickinson

[Leaf 4 of 4]
P.S. Please address your reply to
Emily E. Dickinson--Amherst--Mass

Dickinson signs both this letter and the next as "Emily E. Dickinson." The only other recipients to receive letters signed this way are Henry Emmons (L135), Jane Humphrey (L30), and Abiah Root (L31), all childhood friends.

Dickinson had never met Newton's wife, Sarah Rugg. In Letter 44 to Austin (June 22, 1851), Dickinson reports, "BFN is married." At this point, according to Johnson, Newton was already ill with the tuberculosis ("consumption") which would take his life and send Dickinson into decades-long grief for her friend.

Shortly before Newton left Amherst for Worcester, he gave Dickinson a copy of Emerson's Poems (1847). Dickinson tells Jane Humphrey about the gift in Letter 30: "I had a letter -- and Ralph Emerson's Poems -- a beautiful copy -- from Newton the other day." In Letter 457 to Higginson, Dickinson relates one of Newton's cheerful replies concerning his health: "My earliest friend wrote me the week before he died "If I live, I will go to Amherst -- if I die, I certainly will."

Dickinson's second letter to Hale, discovered in a the late 1990s, closed a previous gap in the Dickinson-Hale correspondence. The content of this letter suggests that Hale responded to Dickinson's initial query and that his reply calmed Dickinson's fears about the circumstances of Newton's passing. One may wonder whether Dickinson purposefully penned this letter on Valentine's Day.

Letter 2: February 14, 1854
Paper: wove bifolium, gray-green rule.
Ink: black ink
Emboss/Watermark: Woman's Head Boss; no watermark
Manuscript: Frost Library, Amherst College
Publishing History: Emily Dickinson Journal (VII, 1, Spring 1998), entire.

[Leaf 1 of 4]
Amherst, February 14th
I thank you for your kindness.
I desired to thank you immediately,
but company occurred.
That you delayed to reply was of no
consequence, tho' I regret the occasion
and trust that those who were ill have [trust is inserted with ^]
quite recovered now.
It is sweet when friends are absent,
to know that they are at home,
and Since your kind assurance, I think
of my Friend so frequently at a
warmer fireside, that it almost
Endears the memory of his release
from this, and I long to know a
blessedness which leads my many
Lost Ones by such a gentle hand.

[Leaf 2 of 4]
I thank you for the desire
that I might have passed
an hour with that departing
Friend. To purchase such an one
I would have offered worlds, had
they been mine to bring, but hours
like those are costly, and most,
too poor to buy.
I thank you when you tell me
that he was brave, and patient,
and that he dared to die.
I thought he would not fear,
because his Soul was valiant,
but that they met, and fought,
and that my Brother conquered,
and passed on Triumphing, blessed
it is to know, and a full heart
of gratitude seems slight indeed
to bring you, remembering your
kindness.
My thanks are very small,
Sir. I wish they were of value,

[Leaf 3 of 4]
and I would bring the
costliest, and offer them to
you, but may I bear them
witness by any word or deed,
I shall be very happy.
Very Sincerely Yours,
Emily E. Dickinson.

The absence of a salutation and the correction on leaf 1 suggest that this letter is a draft. The content, however, points to Hale as the recipient. For a complete discussion of Hale as the recipient of this letter, see "New Dickinson Letter Clarifies Hale Correspondence," Emily Dickinson Journal VII, 1, Spring 1998.

It is not known who in Hale's household was ill. Hale's wife, Emily Perkins, was the granddaughter of Lyman Beecher, and the niece of Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Hale himself was quite well-known as an abolitionist speaker and his famous publication "Man Without a Country" received acclaim as a pro-Union, anti slavery document.

Letter 3: The Lilly Library dates this letter as 1856[?]. See "New Dickinson Letter
Clarifies Hale Correspondence, Emily Dickinson Journal, VII, 1, Spring 1998, for the possibility that this letter is from Spring 1857.
Paper: Wove, 1 page. Possibly torn from a larger, folded sheet (jagged left edge); paper very foxed.
Medium: Ink.
Emboss/Watermark: Upper left boss, possibly same as 1854 letter.
Manuscript: Lilly Library, Indiana University-Bloomington
Publishing History: The Life of Emily Dickinson (1974, 1980), entire; Emily Dickinson Journal (VII, 1, Spring 1998), entire. Amherst

My dear Mr. Hale.
Perhaps you
forget a Stranger maid, who
several springs ago -- asked of
a friend's Eternity, and if
in her simplicity, she still
remembers you, and culls
for you a Rose and hopes
upon a purer morn, to pluck
you buds serener -- please par-
don her, and them.
With sweet respect
Your friend,
Emilie E. Dickinson

Dickinson had used this signature only one other time, to Emmons (L119). The transcription here differs from Sewall's. Dickinson's misplaced cross-strokes are transcribed here as cross-strokes, not as dashes.

This letter has been dated both as 1856 (Lilly) and 1857 (Wagner and Tanter). The "several springs" reference indicates that Dickinson wrote this at least three years after her last letter to Hale. If this letter is chronologically next in the known sequence of three letters to Hale, "several springs" after 1854 would place this letter at 1857. The reference to buds would suggest that this letter was written in the spring. The handwriting of this manuscript letter does not eliminate 1857 as a possibility.

That Dickinson would send a second thank you letter to Hale three years after his reply is not surprising, considering her lengthy preoccupation with Newton's death (remembering her mention of Newton decades later to Thomas Higginson and Otis Lord. And because her "full heart of gratitude seems slight indeed," Dickinson would be likely to let Hale know that her heart had not lost its gratitude even long after he showed her the kindness of a response.

By 1857, Hale had left Worcester and was minister at South Congregational Church, Boston, where he remained until 1899. It is important to note that Hale was, in his own right, a considerable celebrity by this time. (In addition to his distinguished relations by marriage, Hale was the great-nephew of Revolutionary hero, Nathan Hale.) His fame as an abolistionist by this time had grown and he had a wide following as we spoke and wrote for the Emigrant Aid Society. In 1854, he published Kansas and Nebraska, in which he proposed mass immigration from the North into the territories, should Kansas and Nebraska be admitted to the Union. In 1858, Hale became a contributor to the Atlantic Monthly, so Dickinson almost certainly followed Hales literary (and later, military) celebrity after their correspondence ended.

Works Consulted

Adams, John R. Edward Everett Hale. Boston: Twayne, 1977.

Dickinson, Emily. The Letters of Emily Dickinson. 3 volumes. Ed. Thomas H. Johnson and Theodora Ward. 3 volumes. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of the Harvard UP, 1958.

Franklin, Ralph. The Manuscript Books of Emily Dickinson. 2 volumes. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of the Harvard UP, 1981.

Johnson, Thomas. Introduction. The Letters of Emily Dickinson. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of the Harvard UP, 1958.

Sewell, Richard. The Life of Emily Dickinson. 3rd ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1994.

Wagner, Diana and Marcy Tanter. "New Dickinson Letter Clarifies Hale Correspondence." The Emily Dickinson Journal VII.1 (1998).

Wolff, Cynthia Griffin. Emily Dickinson. 2nd ed. Radcliffe Biography Series. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1988.


Copyright 1994 by Martha Nell Smith, all rights reserved
Maintained by Rebecca Mooney <rnmooney@umd.edu>