Guests in Eden


My first actual contact with Madame Martha Bianchi began in the October of 1941, before we entered the war. My mother and closest companion had recently died and I had under­ taken to write a book on Emily Dickinson for my publishers, Dodd, Mead and Company, as much to divert my mind as anything else. That firm had generously provided the means for a week's stay at Amherst, where I might meet Madame Bianchi and perhaps gather needed material. It happened that many years before, at a meeting of the Poetry Society, I had heard her speak. On the strength of her suggestion at that time to "let her know, should I ever come to Amherst", I called her on the long distance telephone. Her reply was so cordial that I felt less trepidation though I had suffered qualms. What would Emily's niece say when she learned that I was ap­proaching a subject as intimate and precious as her aunt?

My fears were soon dispelled. On the evening of my arrival at the Lord Jeffrey Inn, I received a message to call at THE EVERGREENS; the house that Edward Dickinson had built for his son Austin when he married Susan Gilbert, Martha Bianchi's mother. That she was living there seemed strange to me. Why was she not in Emily's house? This home, I soon learned, had been sold. Taxes had been heavy on the acres of the Dickinson property. That dark night, having discovered the high fence and the gate, I stumbled about over muddy flower beds, and finally set my feet on the path to the house. Light soon streamed through a door that was flung hospitably open and Mr. Alfred Hampson greeted me cordially and ushered me into rooms as familiar, no doubt, to Madame Bianchi as her very self. Then she came forward, a fine, dis­tinguished figure with penetrating dark eyes and dark hair, in features a blend of Dickinson and Gilbert, though probably resembling her mother’s family. A grand dame personified. But the voice was sweet and welcoming and I at once felt at home with her and spoke to them both quite frankly of my plans for my book.

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

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