Emily Dickinson's Latin Textbook Returns to Amherst
Director of Media Relations
AMHERST, Mass.-The Amherst College Library has acquired a Latin textbook that American poet Emily Dickinson used when she was a student at the Amherst Academy.
Dickinson shared her copy of Publii Virgilii Maronis Opera, or The Works of Virgil, published in 1838, with her childhood friend and schoolmate Abby Wood when the book was relatively new. The two schoolgirls made numerous notes in it, perhaps communicating with each other as they studied.
Abby Wood married Daniel Bliss, an 1852 graduate of Amherst College, in 1855. The couple went on a mission to Beirut in 1856, where Daniel founded the Syrian Protestant College, which later became the American University in Beirut. The Bliss family has had a long association with Amherst College, and the College Archives and Special Collections holds many of the family papers. Until the college acquired it, the book was held by the descendants of Abby Wood Bliss.
Dickinson's schoolbook offers fascinating opportunities for biographers and scholars. On a front flyleaf, Dickinson has copied out line 23 in Book I of the Aeneid, followed by this interpretation of the text:
Afterwards you may rejoice at the remembrance of these (our school days)
She then added an inscription to her friend, who was about to depart:
When I am far far away then think of me - E. Dickinson
Scholars will also want to consider carefully the numerous pencilled marginalia. Dickinson's signature, the inscription and some other writing have been identified as the poet's, but it remains necessary to interpret the scores of pencil marks in the text, many of which are not in Dickinson's hand. These markings can be simple: a list of lines to be read and a comment: "1 week from Monday-how mean," or humorous, such as "I'm mad" or a sketch of faces. Quotations from such poets as Browning and Cowper may offer insights into Dickinson's mind and reading.
The existence of the volume has been widely known to scholars since 1986, when Grace E. Perkinson, who had borrowed the book from its owner, published a pamphlet titled "Latin Scholars at the Academy." The volume itself is now available to scholars everywhere.