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Samuel Fowler Dickinson
In the last issue of the Newsletter, the summary of Polly Longsworth's talk, “'Abyss has no Biographer': Researching the Hidden Life of Emily Dickinson,” included many quotations from the talk. Some of the sentences including quotations relating to Alfred Habegger's biography, My Wars Are Laid Away in Books: The Life of Emily Dickinson, were ambiguous and could be interpreted as quoting from Habegger's book rather than Longsworth's talk. The editor regrets any confusion that may have resulted.
Alfred Habegger writes:
Last year's Newsletter of the Friends of the Amherst College Library has a summary of Polly Longsworth's library talk that appears to misquote my recently published biography, My Wars Are Laid Away in Books: The Life of Emily Dickinson. The passages in question concern Samuel Fowler Dickinson, grandfather of the poet and a founder of Amherst College.
At one point the summary of Longsworth's talk refers to my “interpretation that Fowler had 'foolishly involved himself in Strong's affairs.'” At another point I am said to have “concluded that S. F. Dickinson ... 'callously demolished the fortunes of ... his siblings' families along with his own.'” Because these passages can be read as quoting my work, I wish to point out that my biography does not say that Samuel Fowler Dickinson acted "foolishly" or "callously," or that he "demolished" anyone's fortunes. These quoted words are not mine.
Perhaps a single sentence from my book can convey some of the mixed flavors in my treatment of Dickinson's grandfather: "Quite simply, there was no way out for [Samuel], who had to continue borrowing larger and larger amounts, in the process corroding the fortunes of his relatives ..." (My Wars 19).
Polly Longsworth responds:
I freely own that the phrases cited above are mine, not Mr. Habegger's, and am sorry if my words were mistaken for his, for I quoted him nowhere in my talk. To defend against the implication that I've misinterpreted Habegger's nuanced but persistently negative characterization of Samuel Fowler Dickinson, I should point out that my remarks stemmed from two studies Habegger has published concerning the man. One is his article titled "How the Dickinsons Lost Their Homes" (ESQ 44:3 , 161-197) and the other is his 2001 biography.
In the article, Habegger wrote in detail of the poet's grandfather "... bringing disaster on some of his siblings as well as his own immediate family:" (164), calling that effect "lastingly corrosive" (172). He argued that SFD "risked others' wealth as well as his own, and he was a habitual and reckless meddler in others' affairs" (165). This conclusion recurs in Habegger's biography as "Samuel jeopardized his in-laws' wealth along with his own and recklessly intervened in others' affairs" (21). In this latter instance the affairs referred to are SFD's altercations with H. W. Strong.