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THE MAIL FROM TUNIS KENNETH MACLEAN T HE love story in Emily Dickinson's life has been told by Professor George Whicher of Amherst College in his memorable study, This was a Poet. After attending Mary Lyon's Seminary in South Hadley, where she distinguished herself partly by a refusal to make a public declaration of her faith, Emily Dickinson returned to her family's home in Amherst where she saw something of a young man who was a student in her father's law offices. It would seem that to Ben Newton she owed much of her intellectual awakening, for he gave her the better books, among them the Poems of Emerson whom she was perhaps to see shortly when he came to Amherst on the first of several visits. Ben Newton soon left her father's office to begin his own practice in Worcester. Here he was married to a woman some~ what older than himself. Not long after he succumbed to an illness. Hearing of his death, Emily Dickinson wrote a letter to his minister in Worcester to ask in what state of mind her thoughtful friend had died. In the spring of the year following Newton's death, she, now a girl of twenty-three, went to Washington to visit her father who was then a member of the Congress. The trip may have been planned with the intention of giving a lift for her spirits. On her way back from Washington she visited with friends in Philadelphia who, it would appear, took her to the Arch Street Presbyterian Church where she heard one of the notable preachers of the day, the Reverend Charles Wadsworth. She met this minister, and though he was much older than herself and a married man, she fell in love with him. During the next years she saw him perhaps only the few times when, during visits with friends in nearby Northampton , he came over to Amherst to call on uhis distant parishioner." When one day in 1860 he appeared in the Dickinson drawing-room wearing mourning, Emily may for an ironic moment (her biographer supposes) have thought that there was a chance for her. In the following year Wadsworth was called from Philadelphia to a church in California. The personal tragedy had no brighter background than the Civil War, then in its initial year. She sang, she said, "off charnel steps." The death-blows were a life-blow, for she wrote poetry constantly in the winter of 1861 and 1862. Now began that withdrawal from the world which in ten years' time was to be made absolute. "I do not cross my father's ground to any house or town." Fortunately, the grounds of her family's hand27 UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, vol. XX, no. 1, Oct., 1950 28 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY some red-brick mansion were comfortably extensive. Her Gibraltar was not tiny. Her one concession to society in tbese years was to appear at the teas her father gave on Wednesday of Commencement week. Dressed in the white gown of tbe "nun of Amherst," she would sweep quickly tbrough tbe parlour among the guests and as quickly disappear . The years tbat saw her confirmed in her retreat brought her friend back from tbe Pacific to Philadelphia, and notes now went to him in letters redirected by a friend. "Going to him! Happy letter!" But she did not see him again until a summer evening in 1880, in Amherst. When she asked how long it had taken him to make tbis journey, he answered in good humour, "Twenty years." This was tbeir last meeting. She died six years later. The poetry written out of this experience is surely not exceeded in passion and in imaginative discovery hy any poetry in English. Its multiple effects are perhaps in some way dependent upon tbe use of vast images in frequent combination with silence, giving us something at once as moving and as complete as tbe world itself. Why do I love tbee, Sir? BecauseThe wind does not Require the grass To answer 'wherefore, when He pass, She cannot keep her place. The lightning never asked An eye Wherefore she...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 27-32
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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