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Student Lexicographers and the Emily Dickinson Lexicon Cynthia L. Hallen JCjmily Dickinson is an ideal subject for lexical studies because her diction derives in important respects from the lexicographical work of Noah Webster, the founding father of American philology and lexicography . Dickinson's poems are rich in synonyms, antonyms, metaphors , definitions, etymologies, allusions, and Americanisms. In P[oem] 48,1 an allusion to the prophet Noah embedded in "Patriarch's bird" probably points toward Webster just as the allusion to Enoch in P 1342 points toward her deceased father, Edward Dickinson. The description of Noah's ark as a "floating casement" may allude to Webster's dictionary. And the allusion to Noah's dove in "Columba" suggests the distinctive American or Columbian quality of Webster's lexicon: Once more, my now bewildered Dove Bestirs her puzzled wings Once more her mistress, on the deep Her troubled question flings — Thrice to die floating casement The Patriarch's bird returned, Courage! My brave Columba! There may yet be Land! When Webster published his plan of "Dictionaries of the American Language" in 1800, William Dutton objected to the "Columbian diction1 All references to and quotations from Dickinson's poems and letters are taken from die Johnson editions. Reprinted by permission of die publishers and die Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Thomas H. Johnson, ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright « 1951, 1955, 1979, 1983 by die President and Fellows of Harvard College. ________Student Lexicographers and the Emily Dickinson Lexicon101 ary, in which the vulgar provincialisms of uneducated Americans" would be quoted as language authorities (Warfel 1953, 289, 297). To express disapproval of Webster's American dictionary, Dutton proposed a title: "Let, then, the projected volume of foul and unclean things bear his own christian name and be called NOAH'S ARK" (Moss 1984, 99).2 Whether or not Dickinson was aware of the Noah's Ark epithet has not been established, but her familiarity with Noah Webster's dictionary is incontestable. She used Webster's 1844 An American Dictionary of the English Language (ADEL) as a source of poetic inspiration (Benvenuto 1983). In choosing the word patriarch for P 48, Dickinson probably noticed Webster's definition of Noachian 'relating to the time of Noah, the patriarch'. The "mistress" of the poem may be a poet, whose big dictionary is 'suggestive of the Ark in respect of size, shape, etc. esp. a large, cumbrous, or old-fashioned trunk or vehicle' (OED Noah's Ark 2). From a menagerie of words, the poet sends out a question into the unknown, hoping to find "land" like an ancient Noah,3 or hoping to establish meaning like a Noah Webster. Not only was Webster a "patriarch" or founding father of American lexicography (OED patriarch 4), he was also a venerable father in Emily Dickinson's hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts (OED patriarch 5). Not long before Dickinson's birth in 1830, Webster moved to Amherst to work on his 1828 dictionary (Leavitt 1947, 28). During a tenyear residence, he helped establish Amherst Academy where Dickinson went to secondary school with Emily Ellsworth Fowler Ford, Webster's granddaughter and biographer (Sewall 1974, 369). Webster was also a co-founder of Amherst College with Samuel Fowler Dickinson, Emily's grandfather (King 1951, 82). Webster prepared and published the new 1841 edition of the ADEL before his death in 1843 (Miles 1991, 2), which was reissued in 1844 by the J. S. and C. Adams company of Amherst (Miles 1993). In 1844, Emily Dickinson's father Edward purchased, signed, and dated a copy of the 1844 reprint, which is now a part of the Dickinson family collection in Harvard's Houghton Library (Buckingham 1977). Austin Dickinson reports seeing Webster's big dictionary on the kitchen table where his sister would sometimes compose (Sewall 2 See the reference to "Noe" and the Ark in the 1911 Punch tribute to a new edition of Webster's dictionary (Ford 1912, 2. 490). Note also the tide of Robert Leavitt's 1947 book, Noah's Ark, New England Yankees, and the Endless Quest, published by the Merriam company for the centennial of the 1847 edition of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 100-116
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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