The Dickinson Feud

"Well," said Calvin, "if her grandfather was Treasurer, and her father was Treasurer, I think the College has done enough for that family."

Martha got her degree, but Coolidge's joke circulated with it.

Martha died in New York, after a brief illness, in December, 1943. I was present at the funeral service, which took the form-amazing in her case-of a requiem mass at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin. She was always allergic to dogma and ritual, and how she got into St. Mary's, I cannot imagine. As the incense enveloped her and the priest sprinkled holy water, I watched the casket somewhat nervously, half expecting a tall figure to push the cover away and sit up and make a few Dickinsonian remarks.

She is buried in the modern cemetery at Amherst, with Austin and Susan, her parents, and quite near Mrs. Todd.

If you are hasty you might think the feud at an end-both feuds, the one between Martha and the Todds, the other between Martha and the village. But the editing feud is not yet completely out of everybody's system; and when Martha's will was read, the town knew she had got even, in a regrettably savage way. To recapitulate: she gave Mr. Hampson her father's famous house and everything in it-all of Emily's manuscripts in her possession, with full power to dispose of them-Emily's piano, and everything else connected with her. Two of the executors named in the will declined to serve, and even the least malicious of Martha's critics asked why she would destroy, by scattering the manuscripts, her last chance to prove that her editing had always been competent and in good faith.

Now, since Mrs. Bingham published Ancestors' Brocades and it companion volume, Bolts of Melody, New Poems by Emily Dickinson, we know that Mrs. Bingham had in her possession all along, and still has, manuscripts of Emily's poems, the existence of which was concealed from Martha, who had good reason to think she inherited all the manuscripts at her Aunt Lavinia's death. Amherst residents, those who look hopefully for another spicy chapter in the feud, wonder what rights in the Bingham manuscripts Mr. Hampson has, and whether he will care to claim them. At the present writing, so far as it is known, he has made no disposition of the property. One Amherst opinion is that the Austin Dickinson house should become a museum or shrine, and that all of Emily's papers, those that Mrs. Todd and those that Martha had, should rest in safe peace in one place.

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Transcription and commentary copyright 2000 by
Martha Nell Smith, all rights reserved.
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Last updated on March 10, 2008

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