At the opening of the Morgan Library & Museum’s new exhibit, I’m Nobody! Who Are You? The Life and Poetry of Emily Dickinson, Mike Kelly, head of Archives and Special Collections at Amherst, had a surprising announcement: the College had just acquired two previously unknown Dickinson items.
The news was fitting, since the New York exhibit brings together 100 Dickinson items, ranging from the rarely seen to the never-before-shown. A number of these are from the College: a lock of hair, daguerreotypes, silhouettes.
Amherst’s newly acquired items include the personal notebook of a friend of the poet, with transcriptions of Dickinson’s poems, and a long-lost piece of a manuscript already held by the College.
“No one imagined these pieces of paper would be reunited,” says Kelly. Bookseller Steve Finer found the fragment among the effects of Cheryl Needle, a fellow bookseller who died last year. Leslie Morris, a Harvard curator, spotted the item in Finer’s catalog and contacted Amherst. Finer delivered the manuscript to the College on Jan. 12, a week before the Morgan opening.
How the fragments became separated will likely always remain a mystery, Kelly says. Scholars have, over the years, attributed the mutilation to such possible culprits as Mabel Loomis Todd, Austin Dickinson and Lavinia Dickinson.
The 4.5-inch-by-3.25-inch scrap has segments of two poems, one on each side: “I’ve got an arrow here” and “‘Lethe’ in my flower.”
The second acquisition belonged to Dickinson’s friend Gertrude Lefferts Vanderbilt, who, in a small notebook, recorded favorite poetry and prose, including texts by Dickinson. It provides “vital evidence for how Dickinson’s poems were circulated among her many friends and admirers during her lifetime,” Kelly says.
Amherst already holds Dickinson’s manuscript of “Dying! To be afraid of thee,” which she wrote to Vanderbilt after an accidental pistol shot in 1864 left the Brooklyn socialite near death.