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