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"Except the smaller size no lives are round." ~ Emily Dickinson  
Emily Dickinson
< Early Feminist Essays   |   Emily Dickinson's Nature Mysticism >
"Emily Dickinson's Letters" by Thomas Wentworth Higginson -- (pg.8)
text pub. Atlantic Monthly, October, 1891
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(page 8)
Sometimes there would be a long pause, on my part, after which would come a plaintive letter, always terse, like this : --

    "Did I displease you? But won't you tell me how?"

Or perhaps the announcement of some event, vast to her small sphere, as this:

    AMHERST.
        Carlo died.
        Would you instruct me now?
    E. DICKINSON.                

Or sometimes there would arrive an exquisite little detached strain, every word a picture, like this : --

          THE HUMMING-BIRD.

     A route of evanescence
     With a revolving wheel;
     A resonance of emerald;
     A rush of cochineal.
     And every blossom on the bush
     Adjusts its tumbled head; --
     The mail from Tunis, probably,
     An easy morning's ride.

Nothing in literature, I am sure, so condenses into a few words that gorgeous atom of life and fire of which she here attempts the description. It is, however, needless to conceal that many of her brilliant fragments were less satisfying. She almost always grasped whatever she sought, but with some fracture of grammar and dictionary on the way. Often, too, she was obscure and sometimes inscrutable; and though obscurity is sometimes, in Coleridge's phrase, a compliment to the reader, yet it is never safe to press this compliment too hard. Sometimes, on the other hand, her verses found too much favor for her comfort, and she was urged to publish. In such cases I was sometimes put forward as a defense; and the following letter was the fruit of some such occasion: --

        DEAR FRIEND, -- Thank you for the advice. I shall implicitly follow it.
        The one who asked me for the lines I had never seen.
        He spoke of "a charity." I refused, but did not inquire. He again earnestly urged, on the ground that in that way I might "aid unfortunate children." The name of "child" was a snare to me, and I hesitated, choosing my most rudimentary, and without criterion.
        I inquired of you. You can scarcely estimate the opinion to one utterly guideless. Again thank you.
            YOUR SCHOLAR.                

Again came this, on a similar theme:

        DEAR FRIEND, -- Are you willing to tell me what is right? Mrs. Jackson, of Colorado [" H. H.," her early schoolmate], was with me a few moments this week, and wished me to write for this. [A circular of the "No Name Series" was inclosed.] I told her I was unwilling, and she asked me why? I said I was incapable, and she seemed not to believe me and asked me not to decide for a few days. Meantime, she would write me. She was so sweetly noble, I would regret to estrange her, and if you would be willing to give me a note saying you disapproved it, and thought me unfit, she would believe you. I am sorry to flee so often to my safest friend, but hope he permits me.

In all this time -- nearly eight years -- we had never met, but she had sent invitations like the following: --

    AMHERST.

        DEAR FRIEND, -- Whom my dog understood could not elude others.
        I should be so glad to see you, but think it an apparitional pleasure, not to be fulfilled. I am uncertain of Boston.
        I had promised to visit my physician for a few days in May, but father objects because he is in the habit of me.
        Is it more far to Amherst?
        You will find a minute host, but a spacious welcome.
        If I still entreat you to teach me, are you much displeased? I will be patient, constant, never reject your knife, and should my slowness goad you, you knew before myself that

          Except the smaller size
          No lives are round.
          These hurry to a sphere
          And show and end.
          The larger slower grow
          And later hang;
          The summers of Hesperides
          Are long.

Afterwards, came this : --

    AMHERST.

        DEAR FRIEND, -- A letter always feels to me like immortality because it is the mind alone without corporeal friend. Indebted in our talk to attitude and ac- cent, there seems a spectral power in thought that walks alone. I would like to thank you for your great kindness, but never try to lift the words which I cannot hold.
        Should you come to Amherst, I might then succeed, though gratitude is the timid wealth of those who have nothing. I am sure that you speak the truth, because the noble do, but your letters always surprise me.
        My life has been too simple and stern to embarrass any. "Seen of Angels," scarcely my responsibility.
        It is difficult not to be fictitious in so fair a place, but tests' severe repairs are permitted all.
        When a little girl I remember hearing that remarkable passage and prefer- ring the "Power," not knowing at the time that "Kingdom" and "Glory" were included.
        You noticed my dwelling alone. To an emigrant, country is idle except it be his own. You speak kindly of seeing me; could it please your convenience to come so far as Amherst, I should be very glad, but I do not cross my father's ground to any house or town.
        Of our greatest acts we are ignorant. You were not aware that you saved my life. To thank you in person has been since then one of my few requests.... You will excuse each that I say, because no one taught me.

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