It is not possible to put a record of Emily Dickinson's life into the chronological form used for other authors in this book. There are no dates to be entered for successive volumes of her work, as none were published while she was alive. There are few external events to be chronicled, since most of her life was spent apart from any glare of publicity.
1830 Born, December 10, in Amherst, Mass. Her father, Edward Dickinson, educated at Yale, a lawyer of some prominence, "a gentleman of the old school," was for nearly forty years treasurer of Amherst College. Emily's girlhood winsomely normal, with all the interests of other young people of similar standing, but with a penetrating keenness of mind and vigor of expression that enabled her humorously to puncture many of the little bubbles of social hypocrisy so dear to the traditionally minded. Among her more intimate friends of this period (and throughout life) was Helen Hunt Jackson, daughter of an Amherst professor, author of Ramona, etc.
1847 At Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, where she showed her independent spirit by rebelling against the observance of Christmas as a day of fasting. On her return home the next year she again took up work in Amherst Academy. The year before going to South Hadley she had begun the acquaintance with Susan Gilbert (later " Sister Sue") who was to become the most sympathetic. and comprehending element in her life.
1854 Emily joined her father, then a member of Congress in Washington. She was socially popular, an excellent conversationalist, quick at repartee, and intelligently aware of the political scene of the day, There followed a visit to Philadelphia where she seems to have fallen in love with a young minister already married. Rather than bring unhappiness to another woman, she renounced this love. The extent to which this experience influenced the almost complete retirement of her later years can only be surmised.
1856 Emily's brother Austin and Susan Gilbert married and established their home adjoining the old Dickinson homestead. From this time on her chief outer interests seem to have centered in this new family, and to the wisely understanding "Sister Sue" went a constant flow of epigrammatic prose and poetic conimunication.
1862 Began her correspondence with Thomas Wentworth Higginson, sending him four poems, and asking his criticism and advice. He was at once greatly impressed by their unusual quality and in the ensuing correspondence gave the author suggestions for improving these and other poems sent later. It is significant that she never followed his views in regard to making her verse more nearly approach the traditional forms. Instead of doing that she usually sent some new verses. She knew what she wanted to write and fortunately was not amenable to his criticism. It is of record that she made two revisions at the suggestion of "Sister Sue," but otherwise she made little effort to change the original drafts. That she appreciated Higginson's advice, however, is shown by the fact that she referred to him as her "teacher."
1866 Her poem, "A narrow fellow in the grass," was printed in the Spring field Republican, February 14, under the title "The Snake," A copy had been given to the editor, Samuel Bowles; by "Sister Sue." A poem referred to as a "Valentine Extravaganza" seems to have been printed earlier in the same paper ( February 26, 1852) from a copy that had been given to J. G. Holland. A third poem, under the title "Success," was published by Helen Hunt Jackson in A Masque of Poets ( 1878), one of the volumes of the "No Name Series." These three poems were, apparently, the only ones printed during the author's lifetime, and she never offered any for publication.
1870 T. W. Higginson visited Emily Amherst, August 16.
1874 Her father died. Her mother became paralyzed the next year, dying in 1882. After the death of her father, Emily's retirement became almost complete.
1884 Breakdown in health.
1886 Died, May 15. She had requested that all her manuscripts and correspondence be destroyed, but upon examination of the mass of materials left, those responsible for carrying out her desires decided wisely that her own writings could not justifiably be lost. Her devoted sister Lavinia placed the poems in the hands of some friends, and the story of their posthumous publication appears below. A few more than nine hundred poems have so far been published, and Madame Bianchi may be expected to give the world still others from the material in her hands.

(The two books now available which are of supreme importance for the facts needed in understanding Emily Dickinson are those by her niece and literary executor, Martha Dickinson Bianchi. To these may be added a third, for intimate atmosphere, written by MacGregor Jenkins, who was a friend of the Dickinson family from childhood. See Bibliography below.)


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Major American Poets


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