The Dickinson Feud

would have been glad to engage him for a reappearance. Martha never forgave Amherst. From that day she had on her hands not only the major quarrel over Aunt Emily's manuscripts, but a private vendetta with those who had taken one look at her romance and laughed. The Captain did not last long. He disappeared, having made heavier inroads on the Dickinson patrimony than ever Emily's editor could have meditated. But perhaps Martha clung to her infatuation. Years later she went abroad for what she told her friends would be a short rip, but she stayed indefinitely, in the Alps. When asked why she did not come home, she answered that a distant relative was dying of tuberculosis, and since she had no other obligation in the world, her mother being then dead, she would stay where she was needed. If this distant relative was the Captain, the kindness was entirely like her, but it was also like her to insist on being addressed as Madame Bianchi, to the perplexity of etiquette experts in Amherst and elsewhere.


At the beginning of my second Amherst autumn, she and her mother were back in their house, living quietly, as though the Captain had never upset them. I was surprised one day to get a note which, as I learned later, was from Martha. No Dickinson ever wrote so that more than two words out of three could be deciphered, but I solved the puzzle; I had been invited to lunch with Mrs. Austin Dickinson and her daughter. I went of course, and for the rest of my years at Amherst I prized the Dickinson hospitality with a correct premonition that I should meet nothing quite like it again.

It was as much as anything a hospitality to ideas. Martha and her mother could be found any evening in the library reading before the open fire, ready for visitors who brought something for the mind. The long library table was covered with current magazines of the most formidable kind, journals of philosophy and history, quarterly reviews. The library was a small room on the right as you entered the large hall. It was crowded with books, and so was every other room on the ground floor-the large parlor on the left, the various offices which disclosed themselves as you penetrated deeper into the house. Austin Dickinson's home was altogether a library. There were many paintings, but the books impressed you most. And they were a true library, for use rather than

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Martha Nell Smith, all rights reserved.
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Last updated on March 10, 2008

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