Thursday, October 13, 2011

Emily Dickinson's $77,000 Bomb

by Stephen J. Gertz


A first edition publisher's presentation copy of Emily Dickinson's collection of poetry, The Single Hound (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1914), recently came to market. It was snapped up almost immediately: tipped-in was an autograph leaf of Dickinson manuscript for the poem beginning, "To love thee year by year..."

"To love thee year 
by year
May less appear
than sacrifice and
Cease -
However, dear,
Forever might 
be short
And so I pieced
it with a flower -
now.
Emily"

Dickinson's autograph signature to manuscript leaves is highly unusual. The poem, as published, is number 434 in the Johnson edition of the Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson, and found on page 131 of The Single Hound. Another extant manuscript copy of this poem rests in Harvard's Houghton Library.

On the half-title, Dickinson's niece, Martha Dickinson Bianchi (1866-1943) - who was responsible for publishing much of her aunt's unpublished work in collections, this, The Silent Hound, the first - has inscribed, "To Cousin Kate from Martha D. Bianchi - Christmas 1914."


"Bianchi...is best known for her work editing her aunt's poetry. After her mother Susan and her aunt Lavinia died, Bianchi inherited the Dickinson manuscripts that remained in her family (the other significant portion of the manuscripts was held by Mabel Loomis Todd). In 1914 Bianchi published The Single Hound: Poems of Emily Dickinson, which helped revive interest in her aunt's work. She published several more books of Dickinson’s poetry and letters as well her own reminiscences about her aunt. Bianchi and her secretary, Alfred Leete Hampson, like editors before them, edited Dickinson's poetry with the intent of making it easier to read by removing dashes and changing line breaks" (Emily Dickinson Museum).

Due to the unusual circumstances of Emily Dickinson's poetic career - an entirely private endeavor conducted in a vacuum - no presentation copies of her work are known; there weren't any published collections while she was alive. At her death in 1886 only ten of her poems had been published, seven of which appeared in the Springfield Republican, her local newspaper.

Emily Dickinson.

Three posthumous collections were issued in the 1890s but they presented Dickinson as an eccentric and the poems as weird. It was not until Bianchi published her collections of her aunt's poems in the early twentieth century that Dickinson's poetry came to be appreciated and her reputation established.

A very good-near fine copy of A Single Hound is currently being offered for $2,000. The example under notice, a presentation copy with signed autograph manuscript leaf, was offered for £50,000 ($77,790) and instantaneously sold.  It's the bomb, courtesy of the Belle of Amherst.
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Images courtesy of Peter Harrington Rare Books, with our thanks.
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