While Dickinson rarely left her Amherst home during the year of 1862, she closely followed the European travels of her good friend, Samuel Bowles, editor of the Springfield Republican, who continued to write to her and her family during his absence, and also occasionally published his letters in the Republican. This week in 1862, the Republican published Bowles’s letter dated September 22 from Vevay, Switzerland, in which he sympathizes strongly with the events of the bloody autumn in the United States, describes some remarkable scenery, and announces his departure for home on November 1st. This news must have thrilled Dickinson, whose letters to Bowles, one of which we include in the gathering for this week, are filled with flirtatious affection and barely suppressed longing.
The occasion of Bowles’s letter inspires us to explore what scholars are calling Dickinson’s “global consciousness.” Instead of reinforcing the myth of Dickinson’s quaint reclusivity, scholars continue to find in her poetry a spatial imagination that, according to Li-Hsin Hsu,
responds to the conditions of modernity in an age of modernization, expansionism, colonialism and science.
We explored some of these themes in an earlier post on “Wanderlust” and the imagery of travel and foreign places in Dickinson’s work. Here, we examine the global reach of her imagination through figures of mobility and examine how she accessed that mobility. We find that a “global imagination” was crucial for a poet who declared that she saw “New Englandly,” — that is, her local vantage point was an anchor she used poetically to explore the vast world of possibilities.
“A Picture of Cruelty and Rapacity”
Springfield Republican, October 11, 1862
Progress of the War, page 1
“This has been a week of substantial gains, and public confidence is again at the flood. Gen. Rosecrans has followed up his brilliant victory with a more hardly won and more important success at Corinth, where he repulsed a greatly superior force of the enemy and drove them in disorder southward with great loss. This victory is also of the utmost importance in its relation to operations in Kentucky, as it is now well-known that Price and Van Dorn expected to capture Corinth, to rout our inferior force there, and then to go forward and join Bragg and Kirby Smith in Kentucky.”
General Matters, p 1
“Although no officer has resigned on account of the president’s proclamation of emancipation, it is evident that its discussion in the army has been doing mischief from the fact that Gen. McClellan has issued a special order on the subject, in which he points out clearly the duty of the soldier to obey the commander-in-chief, whatever his private views may be on the course adopted, and insists forcibly that the only legitimate means of molding the policy of the government is the ballet box.”
[This article refers to General Order No. 163 Regarding the Emancipation Proclamation, Head Quarters Army of the Potomac, Camp near Sharpsburg, October 7, 1862. From the description of the document:
Writing after his victory at Antietam that provided the necessary “moral boost” for the issuance of the final version of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, McClellan comments on its ramifications for the army. In part: “… The principles upon which, and the objects for which armies shall be employed in suppressing rebellion must be determined and declared by the civil authorities; and the Chief Executive who is charged with the administration of the National affairs is the proper and only source through which the views and orders of the Government can be made known to the Armies of the Nation. Discussions by Officers and Soldiers concerning public measures … tend greatly to impair and destroy the discipline and efficiency of the troops … The remedy for political errors, if any are committed, is to be found only in the actions of the people at the polls…” McClellan would be relieved of command shortly after this order was issued, taking an early retirement, only to run against Lincoln for President in 1864. The people decided that Lincoln committed no “political errors” and McClellan was roundly defeated.]
Nature, Newspapers, Etc., page 7
“The Atlantic for October would be a capital number if it contained nothing but the opening “Autumnal Tints” by Thoreau and the ending “Battle Autumn” by Whittier. What a sweet, sanctifying influence nature has upon her truest children. The simplicity born of her very self, the calm and the dignity, the purity and tenderness, the soft shadows, the wonderful fragrance, all her most delicate attributes steal into the works of these two men, and through their works we love them both.” [We will explore both of these texts in next week’s post.]
Hampshire Gazette, October 14, 1862
Feminine Society, page 1
“It is better for you to pass an evening once or twice a week in a lady’s drawing-room, even though the conversation is slow, and you know the girl’s song by heart, than in a club, tavern, or the pit of a theatre. All amusements of youth to which virtuous women are not admitted, rely on it, are deleterious in their nature. All men who avoid female society have dull perceptions and are stupid, or have gross tastes and revolt against what is pure.”
“Beethoven was accustomed to sit and dream of music under the shadow of an old tree between Heiligenstadt and Musadorf, near Vienna, and the people, in order to preserve the memory of the place, are about to erect a monument on the spot where the tree stood.”
Cattle Show at Amherst, page 2
“The exhibition of the Hampshire Agricultural Society took place last week Thursday and Friday. We give a few of the more important premiums: —
Single Carriage Horses: Edward Dickinson, Amherst, $3
Cheese: Mrs. Samuel Dickinson, Amherst, $2”
Harper’s Monthly, October 1862
The English in India, page 685
“If Macauley had carried out the magnificent programme of his ‘History of England,’ no chapters would have been as valuable as those which would have told ‘How in Asia British adventurers founded an empire not less splendid and more durable than that of Alexander.’ If these chapters had been written with the truthfulness of the famous article upon Warren Hastings [1732-1818, the first de facto Governor-General of India from 1773-1785 who was accused of corruption, impeached but after a long trial acquitted in 1795] they would have presented a picture of cruelty and rapacity to which the history of the world can show no parallel.
“Struggling, Bleeding America”
This week, the Springfield Republican published Samuel Bowles’s “Travel Letter, Vevay, Switzerland,” dated September 22. It is remarkable for several reasons. First, the opening exemplifies the charming and intimate style Bowles adopted that made his readers—the Dickinsons included—feel as if he addressed them directly and personally. Second, he voices a poignant sense of being cut off from home and the sympathy of Americans at such a period of catastrophe for his nation. Still, he eloquently conveys his conviction that
Switzerland, if you come near to her, lasts, while the rest of Europe is lost in your soul or only remembered as a faint dream:
Two months and a half since we gossiped together, Republican reader! How you have escaped, and how have I the discipline of ministering to “a mind diseased” for insisting on not forgetting you, nor letting the right hand forget its cunning. … – how can we talk gaily of pleasures and palaces, of lazy life in luxurious countries, to men and women whose hearts’ blood is pouring itself out for the sake of our common heritage of country and government? It seems but cruel mockery in us to tell you of sweet Alpine valleys, of snow-covered mountains in mid-summer, of lovely lakes and poetic cataracts, of daily journeyings that have no end but rest for eye and mind, and ease for body–no object but comfort and pleasure–while such things be at home. … It robs the day of its glory, the night of its rest–it puts a blur upon the face of nature. We see everywhere and in everything struggling, bleeding America–friends fallen and falling, hearts desolated and homes despoiled; and we are not there even to give the sympathy we feel or gain that we crave! … Europe is in ignorance or in opposition. England suffers in her only sensitive spot, her pocket, and turns upon the country that she feared in prosperity and hates in adversity. While famished but still blatant southerners flaunt at the hotels and poison the sweet surface of this republican lake of Geneva with the presence of their banner of barbarism.
Bowles goes on to describe the glories of Switzerland in loving detail that would have appealed to Dickinson and fired her imagination. In fact, a passage from this letter seems like a possible inspiration for one of Dickinson’s poems, which we explore in the poems for this week that focus on Dickinson’s global consciousness stoked and made possible, in part, by her following so closely Bowles’s European travel.
He ends his letter with the assurance of imminent return and improved health:
We expect now to return by the Boston steamer from Liverpool, November 1st. These later weeks in Switzerland, it may interest personal acquaintances to know, have told favorably upon my maladies. The brain forgets itself sometimes, and the nights are not all profaned by wakefulness. But well or ill, home is the word now. S. B.
This week’s blog underlines the Springfield Republican’s commitment to offering readers an international perspective that brought the wider world into their daily lives. The paper again presents America not as an isolated country, but as a nation interested in and reliant upon the rest of the world.
America’s inextricable involvement in global networks and relations is emphasized by these news items that refer to Ludwig van Beethoven, Vienna, the British Empire, India, Switzerland, and the Alps. The paper contrasts the palaces, luxuries, and glories of Europe with a “struggling, bleeding America” in the grips of the Civil War. Accounts of travel and far-flung territories offer readers a level of escapism from the realities of conflict and the horrors of war, but also further accentuate the paper’s interconnection of US national strife with social and political frictions in other parts of the world.
The reality of an interrelated world is very apparent to us in the twenty-first century; however, developments in travel, print communication, and technology meant that those in Dickinson’s era were also well aware of how their lives, identities, and values were shaped by worldwide influences.
Although Dickinson didn’t travel much in her life, her access to newspapers, periodicals, literary works, and the visual arts gave her a sense of connectivity with other nations and cultures. For Dickinson, the links between home and away were embodied in this period of her life in the figure of Margaret O’Brien, an Irish immigrant who was the family’s domestic servant from the mid-1850s until 1865. Moreover, when Dickinson’s friends–Samuel Bowles, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and Mabel Loomis Todd–traveled to Europe, she asked them to see and touch its wonders on her behalf.
Of course, the international scope of the human imagination was promoted and popularized by much Romantic poetry. Many of Dickinson favorite poets presented themselves as citizens of the world and wrote poems that celebrated the developmental and educational importance of travel. The popularity of Lord Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812) and Don Juan (1819-24), for example, meant that readers associated poetry with speed and adventure. Such works offered those who couldn’t travel the opportunity to voyage virtually to Europe and beyond. Poems such as William Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”(1807) that sought to stimulate readers to appreciate and immerse themselves in their portion of the natural world concomitantly brought them from their specific environment on imaginary journeys elsewhere, in this case “o’er vales and hills,” “Beside the lake, beneath the trees” to the “golden daffodils.” It is no wonder, then, that Dickinson championed poetry as a form of global transport:
There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry– (F1286).
Although Dickinson's readers are very aware of the symbolic significance and prominence of Dickinson’s imagery of home, this week’s poems remind us of the ways in which her representations of space and mobility are inflected with and transformed by global imagery. Such poems show her recognition that a sense of locatedness is always already allied to the experience of homelessness, and even to the uncanny feeling of being somehow out of place. Her imagination was inspired by location, but Dickinson, like her Romantic precursors, celebrates the human mind’s proclivity for movement, with celerity, beyond its corporeal setting and boundaries. Her house of possibility was one in which dwellers could spread “wide [their] narrow Hands” and grasp the everlasting (F466).
While Dickinson is a poet associated with her Amherst home, Rebecca Patterson’s wonderful exploration of Dickinson’s geographical imagery points to the poet’s cosmopolitanism. In her writings, Dickinson connects domestic and regional singularities with the countries, cities, mountains, volcanoes, rivers, seas, peoples, and, animals of Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa. These international poems are key examples of Dickinson’s presentation of a “Compound Vision” (F830) in which oppositional ideas are interconnected. “Vesuvius at Home,” one of her best-known images, exemplifies the global range of Dickinson and her work. As this poem makes clear, her “Geography” taught her about volcanoes in Sicily and South America and provided her with points of comparison to help her “contemplate” nearer instances of these phenomena (F1691).
In so doing, Dickinson follows the model of her beloved Elizabeth Barrett Browning, a poet whose life and writings embody the spirit of internationalism. This English poet, who lived and died in Florence, Italy, wrote passionately about European politics, Italian reunification, and American slavery; her most famous poem centers on the life story of Aurora Leigh, a half-English, half-Italian poet.
Dickinson’s reclusiveness means she will always be connected with extreme domesticity. Her writings, however, show her celebration of and even participation in forms of migration and travel, as well as the porous and meaningless nature of even the most impenetrable borders and boundaries.
bio: Páraic Finnerty is Reader in English and American Literature at the University of Portsmouth. He is the author of Emily Dickinson’s Shakespeare (2006) and co-author of Victorian Celebrity Culture and Tennyson’s Circle (2013). His next book, Dickinson and her British Contemporaries, is forthcoming from Edinburgh University Press.
Giles, Paul. “‘The Earth reversed her Hemispheres’: Dickinson’s Global Antipodality.” Emily Dickinson Journal 20, 1 (2011), 9.
Hsu, Li-Hsin. Emily Dickinson’s Poetic Mapping of the World. School of Literature, Languages and Cultures: University of Edinburgh, 2012. PhD dissertation, 4.
Hampshire Gazette, October 14, 1862
Harper's Monthly, October, 1862
Springfield Republican, October 11, 186