Today in History – December 10

Courtesy of our friends at History.com, I am pleased to begin each and every day of the week here at Bulldog Pundit with a snippet of some important event that occurred on this date sometime in the past. Some events might come readily to mind while others may take a bit of effort to recall. Not all are historically portentous and some may even seem whimsical. Nevertheless, each and every one is a grain in the hourglass of human history.

On this day in 1830, Emily Dickinson is born in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Dickinson was a witty and popular student at Amherst Academy and at Mt. Holyoke but was viewed as somewhat unconventional. She made a few trips to Philadelphia and Boston but rarely left Amherst. She preferred her home, where her stern lawyer father, invalid mother, spinster sister, and domineering brother created a colorful, if oppressive, family life. In 1858, Dickinson began collecting the many short poems she wrote into small, hand-sewn books. In 1862, she wrote an editor at the Atlantic Monthly, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, to evaluate her work. He felt her work wasn’t yet ready to publish but became her mentor, and the two corresponded for many years.

Dickinson had only one romance that is known about today, with Judge Otis Lord. Although it looked like the two would marry, the romance ended. Dickinson was increasingly reluctant to leave the house after 1862 and would often decline even to see visitors. Although she wrote 1,775 poems, only seven were published in her lifetime. All were deceptively simple, endless variations on the same pattern. Dickinson died at the age of 56.

In 1890, thanks to her sister’s efforts, Poems by Emily Dickinson was published, followed by more volumes over the next 60 years. In 1955, The Complete Works of Emily Dickinson was published.

In The Children of Cain – the novel I began writing before I turned to blogging – the lead character, Laura Montresor, was a close friend of Emily Dickinson:

Next to the urn lay a stack of old letters, one of which had been removed from its envelope and laid out flat. The intervening years faded the ink, but the text was plainly visible. Unlike the  flowing, nearly perfect script that has become the archetype for all handwriting from this period,  the handwriting in this letter was little more than a hurried scrawl, as if the thoughts of the writer sped at a pace far exceeding the ability of her own hand to record them on paper.

Laura picked up the letter and read it – re-read it, actually, for perhaps the hundredth time. It was a short note, written by a reclusive New England poet whom she considered one of the most extraordinary people who ever lived.

Amherst, 23rd October 1875

Dearest Catherine,

Your letter surprised me, for I had not supposed it, nor had I expected or anticipated the verse it contained. You were not aware when your pen scribed paper that your words were a zephyr cool and calming, soothing a brow furrowed and fevered with foreboding despair. Not long thereafter, inspired by your words, I penned these:

A death-blow is a life-blow to some,
Who, till they died, did not alive become;
Who, had they lived, had died, but when
They died, vitality begun.

You speak kindly of seeing me; could it please your convenience to journey from New York to Amherst? I should very much be delighted that our brief correspondence shall quicken in each other’s company.

I have thought of you often and deeply since my father died. Because you have much business, I pray you will accord me some small measure of hours. Had you a day or even two unencumbered, my joy would be unrestrained. This I ask only and if I ask too much then I ask you to forgive me.

E. Dickinson

Laura sighed and placed the letter back into the envelope. “You didn’t ask too much, Emily,” she said quietly, “I gave far too little.”

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