The Life and Letters of Emily Dickinson

by her niece, Martha Dickinson Bianchi. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 8vo. Illustrated. x+387 pp. $4.00.
IT is full time that the American public had its attention sharply recalled to one of the most original poets and especially one of the subtlest, most suggestive, most startling letter-writers that this country has produced. Mrs. Bianchi, who is far better qualified than anyone else now living to speak of her aunt’s shy, strange, elusive, fascinating personality, has prefixed to this edition of the letters a biographical study which sets Emily as clearly and intelligibly in her New England background as can be done with one who so constantly threatens to fly out of it. It would perhaps have been fairer to make plain how little has been added in the way of actual letters to the original collection made by Mrs. Todd. Even some things that are very characteristic, like the larger portion of the letter to Mrs. Holland, written in 1853,have been omitted. On the other hand, Mrs. Todd’s unfortunate arrangement of the correspondence by recipients, instead of in chronological order, has been abandoned, so that it is possible to follow the unfold ing of the spirit in its natural sequence. Also, Mrs. Bianchi has adopted the plan — which cannot be too much commended to all editors of letters — of putting her own comments in her introduction and printing the text by itself, uninterrupted by any explanation or qualification whatsoever.
For what counts, above all, in the letters of Emily Dickinson is Emily herself: that subtle, glittering, iridescent, evasive spirit which puzzles and perplexes and fascinates more and more, the more one studies it. You think at one moment that she was bare, strict, trenchant, definite New England. Then she smiles that strange smile, shakes a mocking finger, and slips away from you into some fantastic world.
Mrs. Bianchi insists that she was not eccentric. Of course she was not, in the sense of willful pose. She was the simplest, most direct of human beings, and just because she shuffled off convention she seems different from the humdrum rest of us, and perhaps might be called eccentric; but there was not a shadow of pretense about it.
And as she herself is a strange blend, so the whole world becomes a strange blend under her fingers. Now it is round, hard, substantial, so you can shiver your heart against it; warm, vital, caressing as a lover’s touch. Now it melts, fades, quivers away, made subtly unreal by the constant, penetrating, acid application of Eternity. And always — through life, through death, through love, through hate, through hope, there is the august, pervading, terrible, lovable, inexhaustible immanence of God, and Emily has words for interpreting it: just brief words, fleeting touches, as immensely significant in her letters as they are in her poetry, such as no other American writer except Emerson, and few other writers in any literature, has commanded.
‘I cannot tell how Eternity seems: it sweeps around me like a sea.’ What can you add to that?