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
[Leaf 1 of 4]
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
[Leaf 1 of 4]
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
My dear Mr. Hale.
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.
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.
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