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The Emily Dickinson Journal 10.2 (2001) 43-51



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An Emily Dickinson Manuscript (Re)Identified at the Library of Congress

Morey Rothberg and Vivian Pollak


In 1990, while preparing an edition of the papers of John Franklin Jameson (1859-1937), the American historian, journal editor, and archivist, Morey Rothberg came across an uncatalogued handwritten manuscript in Box 22 of the J. Franklin Jameson Papers in the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress. We believe that the signed manuscript was written by Emily Dickinson. It reads as follows:

Excuse these
Brown Suggestions -
Wisdom is
seldom dressed
in Pink -
E. Dickinson -

Although the manuscript was published in Dickinson Studies in 1991, where it was described as a letter, so far as we can tell it has not attracted further attention. We propose to remedy that deficit and to suggest that, despite its brevity, this ten word utterance amplifies and illuminates one of Dickinson's "missing" correspondences. 1 It also raises interesting questions of genre.

The manuscript itself is a cream-colored piece of paper approximately 5" by 7". Sylvia Albro, currently a paper conservator at the Library of Congress, describes it as fine wove stationary, a half-sheet, scored and torn, machine made. She adds that the writing was produced by a graphite pencil. There is a "Weston" watermark; Byron Weston was a paper manufacturer in Dalton, Massachusetts, during Dickinson's lifetime. 2 The manuscript is in a [End Page 43] [Begin Page 45] folder labeled "Amherst Classmates," one of several folders marked the same way in Box 22. It is not included in the standard concordance of Dickinson's letters. 3

The Jamesons lived across the street from Emily Dickinson, at the corner of Main and Seelye Streets, but Emily certainly was not a classmate of Jameson's at Amherst College, which did not admit women until 1975. The manuscript is undated and was probably intended either for John Franklin Jameson or for a member of his family. There are no other manuscripts signed "E. Dickinson" in the "Classmates" folder and Rothberg, who has examined every box in the extensive Jameson Papers on two separate occasions, has found no other manuscripts to or from Dickinson in the collection.

The Jameson Papers came to the Library of Congress in the mid-1950s. Mostly the collection consists of Jameson's correspondence as director of the Department of Historical Research at the Carnegie Institution of Washington between 1905 and 1928 and as chief of the Division of Manuscripts at the Library of Congress between 1928 and 1937. When two of his associates, Elizabeth Donnan and Leo F. Stock Jr., were preparing an edition of his correspondence, they collected numerous items from his childhood and adolescence, possibly including this manuscript. 4 John Beverley Riggs, who wrote his Yale history dissertation on Jameson in 1955, organized Jameson's papers at the Library of Congress, but there is no mention of the manuscript in the finding aid he prepared.

In our view, this manuscript is best described as a letter or letter-poem whose full meaning depends on a material object, now lost, which was probably a gift from Dickinson either to Jameson or to a member of his family. "These brown suggestions," for example, may refer to something to eat or drink, or to something botanical, such as leaves or fresh or dried flowers, or to something handwritten or printed on brown paper. 5 Based on her other gift exchanges, it seems less likely that Dickinson is referring to a book. Because this material object has not been identified, the meaning of her phrase "brown suggestions" is likely to remain an enigma. More clearly, the aphoristic conclusion identifies wisdom with the passage of time, and it is interesting to note that the contrast between pink (or youth) and brown (or age) was one that Dickinson had used as early as 1858, in the poem "Frequently the woods are pink" (Fr 24). This early meditation on mutability also employs the clothing motif of the Jameson manuscript; the pink and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1096-858X
Print ISSN
1059-6879
Pages
pp. 43-51
Launched on MUSE
2001-11-01
Open Access
No
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