I recently gave an orientation to the Amherst College Emily Dickinson Collection to a group of fresh docents from the Emily Dickinson Museum which included a lively discussion of the poems that were published during her lifetime. Our collection includes copies of nearly all of the original publications in which Dickinson poems appeared, but today I’m going to focus on two publications and their ties back to Amherst College.
Karen Dandurand dedicated much of her career to the question of Dickinson’s relationship to publication during her lifetime, and we have her to thank for discovering the poems featured here. Her 1984 article “New Dickinson Civil War Publications” includes all the details to accompany this brief illustrated tour.
The Drum Beat was edited by R. S. Storrs, Jr. and published just thirteen issues during the duration of the Long Island Fair for the Benefit of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, 22 February to 5 March, 1864. A bonus issue was published on 11 March 1864. Karen Dandurand was the first scholar to discover that three of Dickinson’s poems appeared during this paper’s very brief run: “Blazing in Gold and quenching in Purple” in the 29 February issue, “Flowers–Well–if anybody” in the 2 March issue, and “These are the days when the birds come back” in the 11 March extra issue.
Dandurand is confident that Dickinson was at least aware that her poems were included in the newspaper, though there is no record of her giving (or refusing) permission. The question of how a New York paper would have had access to Dickinson’s unpublished poetry is easily answered. The editor of the paper was Reverend Richard Salter Storrs, Jr., a prominent minister and a graduate of Amherst College, class of 1839.
Storrs maintained close ties to Amherst College for his entire life, serving as a Trustee from 1863-1898. Given the prominent role of the Dickinson family in the business of the college, there would have been many opportunities for Storrs and his wife Mary to solicit poems from Emily Dickinson, either directly or through her father, brother, or sister in-law.
That such a respected editor chose to place three of Dickinson’s poems in a paper that also included Oliver Wendell Holmes, William Cullen Bryant, and Louisa May Alcott, raises interesting questions about how her poetry was received by her contemporaries.
Both the Amherst College network and that of New York City publishing led to another Dickinson poem appearing in a New York paper in 1864. The Drum Beat was edited in office space lent to Storrs by The Brooklyn Daily Union, and the paper was printed on the Union presses. Charles Sweetser, Amherst College class of 1862, had worked on The Brooklyn Daily Union before leaving to start his own paper: The Round Table.
It is highly unlikely that Dickinson was aware that Sweetser published her poem “Some keep the Sabbath by going to Church” under the title “My Sabbath” in the 12 March 1864 issue of his paper. Dandurand suggests that Sweetser’s friendship with the husband of known Dickinson correspondent Emily Fowler Ford may have been the means by which he got his hands on her poem.
It is also interesting to note the timing of The Round Table — “My Sabbath” appears just one day after the third Dickinson poem was published in the last number of The Drum Beat. Was there a network of Amherst friends in New York trying to get Dickinson’s work before the public? What missing correspondence might there have been between Dickinson and Emily Fowler Ford, or Mary Storrs and Sue Dickinson about how to encourage Emily to publish her poetry? This is pure speculation of course, but the evidence that does exist is most tantalizing.
Although not held in the Archives, Dandurand also discovered that “Success is counted sweetest” was published in The Brooklyn Daily Union on 27 April 1864, further thickening the plot.
For more on Sweetser and The Round Table, see: Scholnick, Robert J. “’Don’t Tell! They’d Advertise’ Emily Dickinson in The Round Table” Periodical Literature in Nineteenth-Century America. Price and Smith eds. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1995.