When I went to Amherst I had read some of Emily Dickinson's poems, but I knew nothing of the important position the Dickinson family held in the history of the town and of the College, and I knew even less of the feud which had grown up over the editing of Emily's poems. But now I could remain ignorant no longer. On the northern side of Main Street, some two hundred yards east of the Maison Marsh, was the former home of the exclusive Emily, who in her poems was on easy terms with Nature and God, but in life held converse with her fellow man only if she couldn't help herself. There was the garden where once the poet's white-clad form was glimpsed without enthusiasm by the neighbors she ignored or scorned-by Mrs. Marsh, for example. I asked Mrs. Marsh for her opinion of Emily. It was not high. She said Emily never set foot outside her father's place, which was small. She understood Emily had written a good deal, but she had been too busy to read any of it. She doubted if Emily ever did anything useful. In every small place, she reminded me, there were likely to be a few queer people.
At Mrs. Davis' boarding establishment I gathered my first real information about Emily and the feud. Mrs. Davis had known Emily slightly, and Emily's sister Lavinia more intimately. She had also known the old Squire Dickinson, Emily's father, and Austin, Emily's brother; and even more intimately, Austin's widow Susan and his daughter Martha, who during my first Amherst year were traveling in Europe. Mrs. Davis disliked scandal, and I learned directly from her nothing about the incipient
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Martha Nell Smith, all rights reserved.
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