December 17-23, 1862: Second Crossroads Collaboration

On Monday, December 10th, we journeyed down the Connecticut River Valley in a large yellow school bus with Steve Glazer and his 7th grade class from Crossroads Academy. Our destination was Amherst, Massachusetts, where we would celebrate Dickinson’s 188th birthday in her home town. This week, we describe that visit, explore some children who were crucial in Dickinson’s life, and admire more of the students’ projects from their portfolios on Dickinson.

Overview
This Week in History
This Week in Biography
This Week's Poems
This Week's Reflection – Eliot Cardinaux
Sources

Emily Dickinson by Jedi Noordegraaf
Emily Dickinson by Jedi Noordegraaf

Dickinson Day!

On Monday, December 10th, we journeyed down the Connecticut River Valley in a large yellow school bus to Amherst, Massachusetts, to celebrate Dickinson’s 188th birthday in her home town. It was a bright, cold day and, as we like to say in the “Upper Valley,” “at least it wasn’t snowing!”

 

 

 

The thirteen students in Steve Glazer’s 7th grade class from Crossroads Academy, in Lyme, New Hampshire, were restless with anticipation. As the Pioneer Valley opened up and flattened out, dotted with farms and old tobacco drying sheds, Steve tried to focus the students’ attention with his characteristic call and response: “Where was Emily Dickinson born?” he called through cupped hands to be heard over the rattling bus. “In Amherst, Massachusetts,” the children called back. “What year?” – “In 1830” and so on.

 

 

 

We stopped first at Special Collections in the basement of the Frost Library at Amherst College. Archivist Michael Kelly had a stunning display of objects and manuscripts laid out for us, including a lock of Dickinson’s hair, which is surprisingly ruddy. He showed us manuscripts of poems from early, middle and late in Dickinson’s writing career to illustrate the palpable changes in her handwriting. He was surprised and impressed when he held up the manuscript of a poem, announced its first line and, as if on cue, the entire class recited the poem with one voice. “I see I can up my game with this group,” he responded.

In Amherst College Special Collections
In Amherst College Special Collections

We then walked over to the Homestead for tours of the house and Dickinson’s bedroom. Perhaps the highlight of the day occurred next door at the Evergreens, where one of the students played her original piano composition inspired by the poem, “ ‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers.” The Museum graciously allowed her to use the Evergreen’s Steinway and we all crowded into Sue and Austin’s parlor to hear it. You can see a video of this performance and more of the students’ projects in the Poems section of this week’s post.

West Cemetery with Crossroads 7th graders

Then, back to the Homestead where students recited the poems they had memorized in the double parlor with the doors thrown open, under the watchful eyes of the Dickinson children’s group portrait. And, finally, a quiet walk through West Cemetery, flooded with winter afternoon light, to the Dickinson family plot, where we surrounded Dickinson’s gravestone and sang, “This is my letter to the World.” I think, I hope, Emily was listening.

“The Reverent Faith of Childhood”

Springfield Republican, December 20, 1862

Review of the Week, page 1
“Disappointment and disaster cover the week’s history. The march to Richmond by any of Fredericksburg has begun and ended. Our army is in camp again on the north side of the Rappahannock, but weaker by the loss of fifteen thousand men and by the consciousness that it has failed in one of its greatest efforts.”

The National Currency System—Its Advantages to New England, page 2
“[A currency] is designed as a medium of exchange to facilitate the business intercourse [of the people], enabling them to buy and sell, and to receive and make payments. The most indispensable qualities for this medium are, that it should be simple, uniform, and of undoubted value. The local paper currencies of the United States have not these qualities.”

The Reconstruction Puzzle, page 4
“The true way to settle the question as to how the South shall be got back into the Union is to destroy the rebel armies. When the rebellion is ‘crushed out,’ the theoretical difficulties of the problem will disappear. But the theoretical difficulties have very little reality to them. They are chiefly got up by those ingenious amateurs in state craft who think in some way to circumvent the stubborn facts of the situation and get rid of the hard necessity of fighting down the rebellion. The territorial lines, the constitutions and laws of the states in rebellion still exist. South Carolina is still a state, and her state officers elected legally are her rightful state authorities. The act of secession is null and void, and all the acts connected with it—if we can make it so by success in the war.”

Bransby Williams (1870-1961) British comic actor who played Dickens's Mr. Gradgrind
Bransby Williams (1870-1961) British comic actor who played Dickens's Mr. Gradgrind

Books, Authors, and Arts, page 6
“This is a literal age. While seeking to master material forces, they have well-nigh mastered us, leading us to rest content with physical facts, instead of regarding them as the lowest and coarsest forms of subtle spiritual truth. We have lost the reverent faith of childhood; we are like raw schoolboys, who, knowing a little, fancy they know all. Our juvenile libraries contain no fabulous legends or fairy tales; they seem to have been selected by clerical Gradgrinds and offer only ligneous lessons and ferruginous facts.”


Hampshire Gazette, December 23, 1862

Poetry, page 1 [Bayard Taylor (1825-1878) an American poet, literary critic, translator, travel author and diplomat.]

Poem by Bayard Taylor

A New Cabinet, page 2
“The entire cabinet of President Lincoln, with the exception of Secretary Stanton, is said to have resigned. It seems well established that Secretary Seward has resigned the position of Secretary of State, and his son that of assistant secretary. These statements will take the country by surprise, as there had been no previously well-founded rumors of any proposed changes in the cabinet.”

Atlantic Monthly, December 1862

from Lyrics of the Street (Part III) by Julia Ward Howe [links to earlier parts of the series]

III.
The Charitable Visitor.


She carries no flag of fashion, her clothes are but passing plain,
Though she comes from a city palace all jubilant with her reign.
She threads a bewildering alley, with ashes and dust thrown out,
And fighting and cursing children, who mock as she moves about.

Why walk you this way, my lady, in the snow and slippery ice?
These are not the shrines of virtue, — here misery lives, and vice:
Rum helps the heart of starvation to a courage bold and bad;
And women are loud and brawling, while men sit maudlin and mad.

I see in the corner yonder the boy with the broken arm,
And the mother whose blind wrath did it, strange guardian from childish harm.
That face will grow bright at your coming, but your steward might come as well,
Or better the Sunday teacher that helped him to read and spell. …

Harper’s Monthly, December 1862

Love by Mishap, page 47 [by Edward Howard House]
“There is nothing in the world like the beautiful devotion of a woman to the sick. She feels no toil, nor pain, nor timid terrors. If she has grief, she hides it, lest it add one feather’s weight to the afflictions of her charge. Her courage rises as her hopes recede. The grim spectre that hovers and threatens may appall her, but she gives no sign. Her eye is clear and gentle; her voice soft and sweet as the breath of summer; her touch so tender that the simplest kindly office soothes like a caress. The dawn of her smile chases away suffering as light dispels the mists of the universe. In her weakness she is stronger than the strong.”

 

“This Slew all but Him”

Besides the neighborhood urchins, with whom (as we learned in the earlier post on Children) Emily Dickinson was reputedly a popular figure, she had a few young people in her daily world. Notably, the three children of Sue and Austin, who proved to be crucial to her life, writing, and reputation.

Edward (Ned) Dickinson (1861-1898)
Edward (Ned) Dickinson (1861-1898)

The eldest of these was Edward, called “Ned,” (image 1861-1898), a difficult child who was plagued with illness, eventually became a librarian at Amherst College, but died at age 37 of heart problems. Shortly after he was born, Dickinson sent this arch poem to Susan:

Is it true, dear Sue?
Are there two?
I should'nt like to come
For fear of joggling Him!
If you could shut him up
In a Coffee Cup,
Or tie him to a pin
Till I got in –
Or make him fast
To "Toby's" fist –
Hist! Whist! I'd come! (F189, J218)

But by early March 1866, Dickinson wrote to her friend Elizabeth Holland:

We do not always know the source of the smile that flows to us. Ned tells that the Clock purrs and the Kitten ticks. He inherits his Uncle Emily’s ardor for the lie (L315).

Despite Dickinson’s early fears of being displaced in Susan’s affections, she and nephew Ned became cheerful companions, sharing a love of words. Ned’s sister Martha recalled, in her soft-focus memoir:

His love of books kept him near her, and his sense of humor delighted her. He saved all his funniest stories, his gift of mimicry, his power of offhand description for her; and if his Aunt Lavinia went to a neighbor’s for an evening chat, Ned was usually to be found in front of the fire with his Aunt Emily, perched on the edge of a stiff-backed chair, the light of the flames flickering over her white dress, her hands crossed for permanence, but in easy position for flight should their talk be broken by an unwelcome knock.

Martha Dickinson later Bianchi (1866-1943)
Martha Dickinson later Bianchi (1866-1943)

Martha, called “Mattie” by her intimates, was the family memoirist, a poet and an early editor of Dickinson’s works. She was the middle child of Susan and Austin. In a letter to Susan away on holiday in Europe, Aunt Emily described her as “stern and lovely –literary they tell me–a graduate of Mother Goose and otherwise ambitious’” (L333, autumn 1869). Caught in the middle of her parents’ tumultuous relationship, Mattie was a staunch supporter of her mother. After her own failed marriage to an erstwhile “count” Bianchi and her mother’s death, Martha resided at the Evergreens and in 1913 began publishing Dickinson’s poetry and her reminiscences of Dickinson and the family. She eventually published eight volumes of Dickinson’s writings.

Although scholars have sharply criticized her editing of the poems and her sentimentalized recollections, which contributed to the myth of Dickinson as a woman in white who renounced the world because of frustrated love, Bianchi was the first editor to try to faithfully reproduce Dickinson’s original lineation as it appeared in the manuscripts. As Jonathan Morse notes in his helpful essay on the complicated publication history of Dickinson’s work, Bianchi was “ahead of her time” in this regard. The 1924 Complete Poems, which she edited, though in no way “complete,” brought more of Dickinson’s poetry into the world than ever before.

Thomas Gilbert (Gib) Dickinson (1875-1883). Todd-Bingham Picture Collection, Manuscripts and
Thomas Gilbert (Gib) Dickinson (1875-1883). Todd-Bingham Picture Collection, Manuscripts and

Last but not least is the third child of Susan and Austin, Thomas Gilbert, called “Gib” by the family. Born to his parents in their middle years and much younger than his siblings, Gib was adored by all, especially his aunt. Biographer Alfred Habegger recounts this story about them:

Once, when little Gilbert was in kindergarten and boasted about a beautiful white calf that proved to be imaginary, his teacher reprimanded him for the sin of lying and made him cry. Sue tried to convince the benighted woman of the validity of the imagination, but Aunt Emily, as her niece [Martha Bianchi] recalled, was too indignant for reasoning and “besought them one and all to come to her, she would show them! The white calf was grazing up in her attic at that very moment!” A note she drafted for the wounded boy to take to his teacher had a poem on “The vanity . . . / Of Industry and Morals” (Fr1547B) and pointedly contrasted the punitive Jonathan Edwards with Jesus.

When Gib, barely 8 years old, died suddenly from typhoid fever, Dickinson reportedly rushed over to the Evergreens to be with the family, the first time she had visited there in fifteen years! She wrote to Elizabeth Holland about this death ( L873, late 1883) and wrote several poems and letters of condolence to Susan about Gib (see L886, F1624, F1666), one which asserted:

Some Arrows slay but whom they strike –
But this slew all but him …  (F1666)

Gib’s death deeply affected the family and apparently precipitated Austin’s affair with the young and alluring Mable Loomis Todd, who, with Thomas Higginson, was the first editor of Dickinson’s poetry. Their affair caused further divisions and enmity among the already hostile parties.

Although Dickinson would suffer other losses around this time–the death of her mother and Judge Otis Lord, a man whom she loved (but refused his offer of marriage) – it was Gib’s death that, some say, contributed to her final illness. There is nothing like the death of a child to reinforce the blighting existence of frost as perennial threat to the youth and innocence of the earthly garden.

Read this week's poems

Credit: Emily Dickinson Museum

 

Reflection
Eliot Cardinaux

Have you ever come across an ED poem about Disillusionment? Anxiety? Reality? About how words themselves can be affected by life’s challenges, at least within us, as we grow into and out of and recede from them?

I wonder because her ideals were so wrapped up in her status as a woman at that time, there’s often a bite to what she says.

 

I was thinking of the way in which words can be struggled with, the way meanings wrap around their things, in language and without, how certain words can produce in us, personally, the need to grapple with how we live, the questions they provoke in us.

 

While their letters remain the same, each of these words, like tattoos, reel in the years or cause us to, in both senses of the word. A tattoo can change its meanings over time, acquire new ones, and shed those that life has caused us to question, their validity.

 

A tattoo of a gull caught by a fishing hook might be a good analogy, because to reel, to be struck, for example, like an eagle in flight by a crow, is to lose all sense of balance, and yet fishing for something down below the surface, we can never possess it — whatever mystery that fish holds, the weight of its bite, the force of its pull — without reeling it in. Some violence there, perhaps, in pursuit of the unknown.

 

Some thoughts on a cold, wet Monday as the snow thaws.

 

This ― Illusion― Meant

in the loop ― and out
it’s nothing ― personal if
you stay ― calm ― you
stay ― an anxious ― wreck

did you want me ― to scorn
the ear ― did you need
my throat ― to sing
did you want me ― here

to live ― in an unknown
word ― meanings coil ― around
their things ― havoc rings ― my head
a hydra’s ― lizard’s tail ― expendable

wrap ― your tongue ― around
a dash ― in the way ― I need you
there ― this way ― to go
did you want me ― dead

adapting ― hand in
hand ― with blindness
to the drug ― is the score
the truth ― that ― malleable

out the loop ― and in
it’s nothing ― special
you stay ― calm ― to
stay ― an anxious ― wreck

 

bio: Eliot Cardinaux
Poet, Pianist, Multimedia Artist

Sources

History
Atlantic Monthly, December 1862
Harper's Monthly, December 1862
Hampshire Gazette, 
December 23, 1862
Springfield Republican, December 20, 1862

Biography

Bianchi, Martha Dickinson. Emily Dickinson Face to Face: Unpublished Letters with Notes and Reminiscences by Her Niece, Martha Dickinson Bianchi. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1932, 169.

Habegger, Alfred. My Wars Are Laid Away in Books: The Life of Emily Dickinson New York: Random House, 2001, 548.

 

Morse, Jonathan. “Bibliographical Essay.” A Historical Guide to Emily Dickinson. Ed. Vivian Pollak .New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 255-83, 258-60.

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December 3-9, 1862: Language, Wonder, Freedom

For the past few weeks, we have been collaborating with the 7th grade class at the Crossroads Academy in Lyme, NH, on an amazing month-long unit on Emily Dickinson developed by Steve Glazer. This week we showcase the marvelous projects by his students in the Poems section and also explore Dickinson’s relation to children and how her poetry was originally marketed to a young audience in a watered-down form.

Overview
This Week in History
This Week in Biography
This Week's Poems
This Week's Reflection – Steve Glazer
Sources

Emily Dickinson by Jedi Noordegraaf
Emily Dickinson by Jedi Noordegraaf

First Week of the Crossroads Academy Collaboration

 

Overview: For the past few weeks, we have been collaborating with the 7th grade class at the Crossroads Academy in Lyme, NH, a few miles down the road from Dartmouth College, taught by our friend Steven Glazer. Steve has developed an amazing month-long unit on Emily Dickinson that culminates with a trip to Amherst, MA on December 10th, Dickinson’s birthday! The class visits the archives at Amherst College to view Dickinson’s manuscripts and takes a tour of the Homestead at the Emily Dickinson Museum, where students recite the poems by Dickinson they have memorized—in the parlor! It concludes with the requisite visit to Dickinson’s grave in the cemetery down the street from her house.

Class at Crossroads Academy
Class at Crossroads Academy

At the beginning of the unit, I journeyed to Steve’s class twice to introduce the many digital tools and websites on Dickinson, including White Heat, and especially the Emily Dickinson Archive that makes the manuscripts of Dickinson’s poems accessible to everyone. Steve’s challenging unit on Dickinson has several related themes: the power of language, the power of wonder and the question, what is freedom? Steve will explain his project-approach to Dickinson in more detail, and for this week and the week of December 17th we will showcase the marvelous and varied projects by his students in the Poems section, so you can see what they achieved and what about Dickinson captivated and absorbed them.

 

We will also use the occasion of this collaboration to explore Dickinson’s relation to children and how her poetry was originally marketed to a young audience in a watered-down form. These 7th graders are reading an undiluted Dickinson. It is a thrill watch them rise to this challenge and share their unabashed enthusiasm for Dickinson and poetry.

 

 

“Rise in your Might then, Women of the North!”

Springfield Republican, December 6, 1862

Progress of the War, page 1
“Reports of warlike movements during the week have been few and unimportant, leaving public attention free to occupy itself with the assembling of Congress, the president’s annual message, and the reports of the various departments, now more than ever important and interesting to the people from the vast war on our hands and its immense draft upon our resources.”

Official and General, page 1
“The president’s annual message has been generally read this week. The only important feature is a proposition for amendments to the constitution, authorizing payment from the national treasury for slaves emancipated by any state previous to the year 1900. This measure the president puts forward as the best means of procuring permanent peace. He does not propose to compel emancipation by it anywhere, but only offer government aid as an inducement to it.”

Original Poetry: from "The Women of ’62," page 6

Poor seem these tasks and lame, but we shall find
Enough in them to till the noblest mind,
Warring with right ‘gainst wrong;
Rise in your might then, women of the North!
Rise in your might, and send your dearest forth,
And bid your men be strong.

Hampshire Gazette, December 9, 1862

Amherst, page 2
“The benevolent citizens of Amherst sent a good dinner to many a poor family in that town on Thanksgiving Day. S.F. Cutler and B.W. Allen were first in the good work and Whipple & Ward also gave liberally from their markets.”

The Atlantic Monthly, December 1862

"Life in the Open Air" by Theodore Winthrop (1828-1861), page 691

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful is dawn in the woods. Sweet the first opalescent stir, as if the vanguard sunbeams shivered as they dashed along the chilly reaches of night. And the growth of day, through violet and rose and all its golden glow of promise, is tender and tenderly strong, as the deepening passions of dawning love. Presently up comes the sun very peremptory, and says to people, "Go about your business! Laggards not allowed in Maine! Nothing here to repent of, while you lie in bed and curse today because it cannot shake off the burden of yesterday; all clear the past here; all serene the future: into it at once!”

Harper’s Monthly, December 1862

Random Recollections of a Life: Charles Dickens by J.H. (Joachim Hayward) Stocqueler (1801-1886), page 79

Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts, 1st Baroness Burdett-Coutts (1814–1906)
Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts, 1st Baroness Burdett-Coutts (1814–1906)

“Of Charles Dickens whose family I had known in his boyhood, I saw but little excepting when he was in public. His incessant literary occupations, his amateur theatricals, his operations as chief agent for the execution of Miss Burdett Coutts’s charitable actions, his visits abroad, and the necessity he was under of being much at the service of strange visitors gave him but little time for tête-à-têtes with old friends. We were all surprised at the announcement which he published in Household Words regarding his domestic déménage, but the ultimate separation from Mrs. Dickens occasioned no astonishment.

Catherine Thomson
Catherine Thomson "Kate" Dickens (1815-1879)

Never were two people less suited to each other. He, ardent, sanguine, energetic, full of imagination and animated by powerful human sympathies; she, supine, frivolous, commonplace passing her time between the nursery and the drawing-room.”

“Laughing Goddess of Plenty?”

BasketWhat was Dickinson’s attitude towards and relationship with children? According to Burleigh Mutén, children’s author and tour guide at the Dickinson Museum, the neighborhood children, including Ned and Mattie, Dickinson’s nephew and niece living next door in the Evergreens, cheered when they realized it was “Baking Day” at the Homestead. Because if they played pirates or gypsies in the orchards behind the big house, “Miss Emily” would load up a basket with cookies or slices of cake, often gingerbread, go to the window at the rear of the house (“so their mothers wouldn’t see,” explains Mutén) and lower the basket down to them with a rope.

The source of this story is MacGregor Jenkins, the son of a pastor who lived across the street from the Dickinsons and was a regular recipient of Dickinson’s largesse. In a reminiscence first published in the Christian Union in October 1891, and later collected in his book, Emily Dickinson, Friend and Neighbor (1930), Jenkins described his neighbor as the children’s “laughing goddess of plenty” who offered the children "dainties dear to our hearts" and included notes that begged, "'Please never grow up." Jenkins reported that even as Dickinson became reclusive and narrowed her circle of intimates, children were always welcomed if they knocked at the back door. Mutén concludes:

They did not see their loyal friend as eccentric, but as one whose humor, generosity and loyalty was ever-present.

In an essay about the short-lived attempt to recast Dickinson as an author for children, Ingrid Satelmajer tells a different, less charming story. Dickinson’s first editors both knew the value of periodicals in spreading the reputation of writers. In his “Preface” to the first edition of Dickinson’s Poems (1890), Thomas Higginson captured the public’s imagination by casting Dickinson as a “recluse by temperament and habit,” comparing her to someone who "dwelt in a nunnery." To counter this daunting impression, Mabel Loomis Todd began to give lectures as early as April 1891 in which she told audiences, "to children … she was always accessible." To bolster this version of Dickinson, Todd began to send Dickinson poems, heavily edited and regularized, to children’s magazines in what Satelmajer calls “a marketing ploy gone awry.”

Two poems, “Morning” (Will there really be a “morning?” F148, J101) and “The Sleeping Flowers” (Whose are the little beds F85, J142 ) appeared in St. Nicholas, a popular and widely circulating magazine for children, which published work by such prestigious authors as William Jennings Bryant, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, and Frances Hodgson Burnett.

The setting of “Morning” as the lead poem on a page opposite an illustration of "Spring Blossoms" by George Wharton Edwards, a “marquee name” at the time according to Satelmajer, “gives the speaker the decided lisp of a precocious child.” This version of Dickinson served to counter the scandal that ensued when the Christian Register published Dickinson’s somewhat blasphemous "God is a distant – stately Lover -", which compares God’s use of Christ to “woo” humans to Miles Standish’s use of John Alden to woo Priscilla Mullins, a subject taken up in the famous poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It was also good publicity for the next volume of posthumous poems, which would appear in 1891. Todd continued to claim Dickinson’s child friendliness, citing the publication of the two poems as proof that "[m]any of Emily Dickinson’s daintiest verses are for children,” without disclosing the radical surgery they underwent at her hands.

Still, Satelmajer concludes, there is no evidence that this campaign produced a children’s market for Dickinson. The same is not true today. There is a busy market for collections of Dickinson’s verse curated, though not edited, for children. For example, in 2016 Susan Snively edited Emily Dickinson, the premier title in the Poetry for Kids series. The publisher’s description reads:

Each poem is beautifully illustrated by Christine Davenier and thoroughly explained by an expert. The gentle introduction, which is divided into sections by season of the year, includes commentary, definitions of important words, and a foreword.

There are also a raft of YA novels and books that promote Dickinson to the young set, especially to eager smart girls and boys like the Crossroads 7th graders, who bristled at the notion that Higginson and Todd changed so much as a dash in a Dickinson poem.

One point of attraction for them may be the many poems in which Dickinson adopts the child’s voice. Several scholars write extensively about this strategy, including biographer Cynthia Wolff, and see it as a proto-feminist critique of women’s infantilization in 19th century American culture. In 2003, Claire Raymond studied Dickinson’s child personas who speak posthumously and concluded that this strategy

is a mode of reclaiming the spent self, and perhaps also a critique of domination refracted through the prism of the voice deemed too small to be heard. There is a poignancy granted many of Dickinson’s more powerful child-spoken poems
which belies the notion that she took up the child’s voice mainly as an ironic commentary on woman’s place in culture. Rather, the poems engage a palpable erasure of the self, both as name and as body.

In Schoolroom Poets: Childhood, Performance, and the Place of American Poetry, 1865-1917, Angela Sorby examines Dickinson’s child-voice poems and links the history of her reception in the 1890s to the

discourse of infantilization and pedagogy that dominated American popular poetry of the period and, to a great extent, continues to do so today.

Read this week's poems

Credit: Emily Dickinson Museum

 

Reflection
Steve Glazer

“What is freedom?” This is a powerful question for many adults; it is also a question that begins to percolate through the minds of adolescents during the middle school years. This question is also the essential question for my seventh-grade students at Crossroads Academy.

During the summer before seventh grade, the students read The Call of the Wild. As they fall in love with Buck, they gain insight into what freedom means for Jack London. As the school year begins, they contrast London’s fantasy with Frederick Douglass’s reality. They read the full text of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, by Frederick Douglass along with excerpts from Caleb Bingham’s Columbian Orator, the text that taught Douglass the rhetoric of freedom.  

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Columbian_Orator
A copy of The Columbian Orator at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN

Later in the fall, we analyze the table of contents of Realms of Gold, our English 7 anthology. The students learn to see what is largely missing from this text: works by women. This allows us to ask an important question: “Why are women under-represented?” After a heated discussion, we begin a new unit, “Raising our Voices.” We read across seventy-five years and five genres: a political document, “The Declaration of Sentiments” by Elizabeth Cady Stanton; a work of nonfiction, “A Red Record”by Ida B. Wells; a short story, “The Yellow Wall-paper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman; a poem, “Are Women People?” by Alice Duer MIller; and an essay, the “Shakespeare’s Sister” section of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One’s Own. Time and time and again, we return to our essential question. What is freedom for the women gathered in Seneca Falls?  What is freedom for Gilman’s nameless protagonist? What does Woolf mean when she says that for so many years, “anonymous was a woman”? 

The unit concludes with a four-week unit focusing on the life and work of Emily Dickinson. How did Emily Dickinson’s work come to appear in Realms of Gold? What are the individual and social circumstances that led to her being able to “raise her voice”? How was her unique and powerful voice edited and corrupted by three generations of editors?  How does Dickinson’s room differ from Gilman’s room? Can we come to recognize that our rich understanding of Emily Dickinson’s life and work is, in fact, a fulfillment of Virginia Woolf’s dream? Contemporary scholarship, the Emily Dickinson Museum, and www.edickinson.org enable my middle school students to work directly with Dickinson’s letters, manuscripts, envelope poems, fascicles, and herbarium. We can almost—but not quite—=touch the hands that “cannot see,” the hands that seek to “gather paradise.”

Over four weeks, the students learn about Dickinson, poetry, scholarship, and literary criticism as they construct a “Letter to the World” portfolio. The portfolio includes a wide array of reading, writing, research, and record-keeping challenges. In just a few weeks, the students develop a level of intimacy and mastery that very few students (or adults) have. And after freedom, mastery is something that so many adolescents crave. The project culminates with a visit to Dickinson’s hometown on her birthday, December 10. We visit the Dickinson archive at Amherst College, we tour the Homestead and the Evergreens, we recite poems in Emily Dickinson’s parlor, and we sing “This is my letter to the World” at her gravestone.

Bio: In 1985, I graduated from Union College in Schenectady, New York, with a BA in English Language & Literature. I continued my studies at the University of Chicago, where I earned a master’s degree in English & American Literature. I am the author or editor of five books, including The Heart of LearningBest of Valley Quest, and Questing: A Guide to Creating Community Treasure Hunts. In 2015, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History recognized me as the “New Hampshire History Teacher of the Year.” Before joining the Crossroads Academy faculty in 2013, I directed the Valley Quest program for a decade. I have also served as an adjunct faculty member at Antioch New England Graduate School (Heritage Studies), Plymouth State University (Education), and the Center for Whole Communities (Community Facilitation). It is my pleasure and privilege to help students grapple with classic texts, learn to express their ideas with precision and eloquence, and struggle with the essential questions of English 7 and 8: “What is freedom?” and “What is justice?”

Sources

History

Atlantic Monthly, December 1862
Harper's Monthly, December 1862
Hampshire Gazette, 
December 9, 1862
Springfield Republican, December 6, 1862

Biography

Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. "Preface," Poems by Emily Dickinson. Eds. Mabel Loomis Todd and T. W. Higginson. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1890; reprint Gainesville, Fla.: Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints, 1967), iii, v.

Jenkins, MacGregor. "Reminiscences of Emily Dickinson," in Emily Dickinson's Reception in the 189os. Ed. Buckingham, 141-42, 141; first published in The Boston Evening Transcript, 2 May I891, 9.

Mutén, Burleigh. “Cook’s Cook: Emily Dickinson, Poet and Baker.” 10-2017

Raymond, Claire. “Emily Dickinson as the Un-named, Buried Child.”
Emily Dickinson Journal 12. 1, 2003: 107-122, 108.

Satelmajer, Ingrid. “Dickinson as Child's Fare: The Author Served up in "St. Nicholas." Book History 5 (2002): 105-142, 107, 113, 124, 127.

Sorby, Angela. Schoolroom Poets: Childhood, Performance, and the Place of American Poetry, 1865-1917. Hanover: University of New England Press, 2005.

 

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July 9-15, 1862: Astronomy

This week, we take our cue from the Springfield Republican for July 13, 1862, which reported the sighting in New England of what would eventually be called the Comet Swift–Tuttle, to explore why Dickinson turned often to astronomy and found it so hospitable to her metaphorical imagination.

Overview
This Week in History
This Week in Biography
This Week's Poems
This Week's Reflection – Ivy Schweitzer
Sources

“Comet Swift-Tuttle”

 Comet Swift-Tuttle, captured by astronomer Jim Scotti of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, through a Spacewatch telescope at Kitt Peak on Nov. 24, 1992 during the comet's last close approach to Earth.

Comet Swift-Tuttle, captured by astronomer Jim Scotti of the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory through a Spacewatch telescope at Kitt Peak on Nov. 24, 1992 during the comet’s last close approach to Earth.

This week, we take our cue from the Springfield Republican for July 13, 1862, which reported the sighting in New England of what would eventually be called the Comet Swift–Tuttle. A ball of ice, dust, and debris whose nucleus is 16 miles wide, this comet is notable because, though it only passes by Earth every 133 years, its constituent debris creates the Perseid meteor shower every year when Earth moves through the trail of its orbit. This spectacular display was first seen in 1862, a particularly active year for comets.

Two astronomers discovered this comet independently in the following week: Lewis Swift on July 16, 1862 and Horace Parnell Tuttle on July 19, 1862. These kinds of astronomical discoveries were big news in the nineteenth century, which was a period of enormous expansion and growing popularity of the field of astronomy. Developments in optical technology led to advancements in telescopes and photography and were abetted by new concepts about the origins of the universe, the speed of light, and expanded ability to do calculations. The nineteenth century saw the discovery of 36 asteroids, four satellites, a planet—Neptune, a new ring around Saturn, and several comets, including the Swift-Tuttle comet.

Although Dickinson does not mention this sighting, biographer Richard Sewall notes how frequently Dickinson uses astronomical language, references, and motifs in her writing. We know Dickinson studied astronomy as one of her subjects at both Amherst Academy and Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in the 1840s. She not only mentions planets, heavenly bodies, and constellations in her writing but knowledgeably references astronomical phenomena like eclipses, angular measurement, and solstices. Scholars who study these references suggest that Dickinson had a deep engagement with astronomy and that her very conception of poetry is astronomical: Brad Ricca claims that

Dickinson uses poetry as a sextant,

an instrument for celestial navigation that measures the angular distance between an astronomical object and the horizon. This means of finding one’s way or connecting two points “slantwise” conforms to Dickinson’s recommendation to “Tell all the truth/ but tell it slant” (F 1263A, J1129) .

This week, we explore why Dickinson turned often to astronomy and found it so hospitable to her metaphorical imagination. One explanation is that the “new sciences” of this period were radically challenging older conceptions of the world and Dickinson wanted to participate in these exhilarating new ideas. Specifically, Dickinson’s engagement with astronomy occurred at the moment of a decisive shift away from religious explanations of science. Astronomy allowed her to focus on the universe, on perception and cognition, and explore the limits of scientific knowledge. It would also have a staggering personal effect on members of her family.

“The Waning of the Comet”

Springfield Republican, July 13, 1862

Review of the Week, page 1
“Doubt and hesitation are at an end. Congress, the executive, the patriot army and the people are ready, and the first crash of the grand onset which is to overwhelm the gigantic and infamous rebellion of 1861 now begins.”

The Waning of the Comet, page 2
“The comet that flashed so suddenly upon our vision a week and a half ago, is now visibly seen on the wane, and will soon be out of sight, lost among the constellations of the north. It has been in view just long enough to convince the astronomers that their knowledge is not infallible, and to furnish fireworks for the millions on the evening of the 4th, and now it leaves as suddenly as it came. It seems smaller and less bright from night to night, and it will soon be invisible to the naked eye. Then it will rapidly fade from the sight of the telescope, and be gone, probably never again to be seen by this generation.”

Great Battle in Missouri Recalled, page 4
“On the morning of the 5th, [1861] Col. Siegel attacked a body of 6,000 rebels about seven miles east of Carthage on a prairie. Col. Siegel began the attack at 9:30 a.m., breaking the enemy’s center twice. After an hour and a half of fighting, he silenced their artillery.”

Literary Anniversaries: Amherst College, page 5
“Notwithstanding the absence of strangers and the presence of the heat, a large and intelligent audience assembled in the village church Sunday afternoon to listen to the Baccalaureate Sermon by President Stearns, founded on Revelations XXI:7— ”He that overcometh shall inherit all things.’”

Hampshire Gazette, July 15, 1862

Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887)
Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887)

Amherst, page 3
“In the afternoon of Wednesday, Henry Ward Beecher addressed the literary societies. He said it might be expected, perhaps, that he would choose a literary subject, but we are so near the edge of revolution that public questions must take the precedence.”

“Astronomy  is a Science which has, in all Ages, Engaged the Attention of the Poet, the Philosopher, and the Divine”

As mentioned in the Overview, astronomy became increasing popular during the nineteenth century but also experienced a decisive shift. It was a subject on the curriculum at Amherst Academy and Mount Holyoke Female Seminary when Dickinson studied there in the 1840s. The Dickinson family library included several books about astronomy, including Felix Eberty’s Stars and the Earth (1854) and Denison Olmsted’s Introduction to Astronomy (1861). Eleanor Heginbotham notes that Elijah H. Burritts Geography of the Heavens and Class Book of Astronomy (1838), a textbook used at  Amherst Academy, linked the study of astronomy directly to Dickinson’s art. Burritt announced:

Astronomy is a science which has, in all ages, engaged the attention of the poet, the philosopher, and the divine.

Maria Mitchell (1818-1889)
Maria Mitchell (1818-1889)

Astronomy also became a field in which women could and did excel. In 1839, William Mitchell and his daughter Maria observed Halley’s comet from their observatory on Nantucket, off Cape Cod. In 1847, Maria Mitchell discovered a comet on her own, which was named for her, and received a medal for her discovery from King Frederick VI of Denmark, which earned her international recognition and gave needed status to American astronomy. Mitchel was the first woman to be professional astronomer. She was appointed professor of astronomy at Vassar College, director of the Vassar College Observatory and, with much fanfare, became the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1848.

Dickinson’s exposure to astronomy was largely thanks to Edward Hitchcock, Professor of Geology and Theology at Amherst College and author of The Religion of Geology (1851), a book also  in the Dickinson family library. An eminent “geological theologian,” as he called himself, Hitchcock influenced the curriculum at both schools Dickinson attended. Although Hitchcock avidly embraced new scientific discoveries and encouraged an attitude of wonder, he supported the position, prevalent in the early part of the century, that sciences like astronomy and geology confirmed the existence of God and were compatible with Christian theology.

At Mount Holyoke Seminary, Dickinson used the textbook Compendium of Astronomy (1839) by Olmsted, which supported such a view. But after the publication in 1859 of Charles Darwin’s On the Origins of Species, which was reviewed favorably by Asa Gray in the Atlantic Monthly in 1860, scientific discoveries began to have a destabilizing effect on religious belief and signaled the beginning of a decisive shift away from a teleological trend in scientific thought. Joan Kirkby notes:

Between 1859 and 1873, New England was “the main battle-ground” of the confrontation between science and theology. … Emily Dickinson herself was imbricated in a unique web of affiliation with Darwin and darwinian ideas; the key New England figures in this debate were all known to Dickinson either through her family, her schooling, her library or the libraries at Amherst Academy and Mount Holyoke, or through the pages of the New England periodicals to which the Dickinsons subscribed.

Dickinson, too, was swept up in the excitement about the changing view of the world, though Sabine Sielke argues that Dickinson’s

take on science is critical and engaged rather than positivist and affirmative.

Woods Cabinet and Lawrence Observatory at Amherst College (Jones Library, Amherst)
Woods Cabinet and Lawrence Observatory at Amherst College (Jones Library, Amherst)

While astronomy was an important element in Dickinson’s intellectual world, we could also argue that it had a devastating effect on Dickinson’s family. One of the consequences of astronomy’s increasing popularity was the building of observatories; more than 170 were built across the country in the nineteenth century. This included the Lawrence Observatory at Amherst College, built in 1847. The addition of a larger telescope in 1854 helped the Lawrence Observatory to build a reputation for innovation. And this reputation attracted more students, which required more faculty.

Mabel Loomis Todd and David Peck Todd
Mabel Loomis Todd and David Peck Todd

In 1881, a young academic named David Peck Todd was hired as an assistant Professor of Astronomy at Amherst College and brought along his young wife, Mabel Loomis Todd. Mabel assisted David with his work, traveling with him to Japan to see a total eclipse in August 1896 and writing a book about it titled Corona and Coronet. Her importance to this story lies in her affair during the 1880’s with Austin Dickinson, many years her senior, which led to the bitter divide between the families that would prevent the publication of a “complete works” until Thomas Johnson’s edition in 1955. In 1890, Mabel began co-editing Dickinson’s poetry. The same year Mabel brought out a collection of Dickinson’s letters, she published Total Eclipses of the Sun, a survey of the history, science and characteristics of eclipses with a poetic epigraph from Dickinson (included in our poems for this week).

Read this week's poems

Credit: Emily Dickinson Museum

 

Reflection
Ivy Schweitzer

Planetarium

Thinking of Caroline Herschel (1750—1848)
astronomer, sister of William; and others.

A woman in the shape of a monster   
a monster in the shape of a woman   
the skies are full of them
 
a woman      ‘in the snow
among the Clocks and instruments   
or measuring the ground with poles’
 
in her 98 years to discover   
8 comets
 
she whom the moon ruled   
like us
levitating into the night sky   
riding the polished lenses
 
Galaxies of women, there
doing penance for impetuousness   
ribs chilled   
in those spaces    of the mind
 
An eye,
 
          ‘virile, precise and absolutely certain’
          from the mad webs of Uranusborg
 
                                                            encountering the NOVA   
 
every impulse of light exploding
 
from the core
as life flies out of us
 
             Tycho whispering at last
             ‘Let me not seem to have lived in vain’
 
What we see, we see   
and seeing is changing
 
the light that shrivels a mountain   
and leaves a man alive
 
Heartbeat of the pulsar
heart sweating through my body
 
The radio impulse   
pouring in from Taurus
 
         I am bombarded yet         I stand
 
I have been standing all my life in the   
direct path of a battery of signals
the most accurately transmitted most   
untranslatable language in the universe
I am a galactic cloud so deep      so invo-
luted that a light wave could take 15   
years to travel through me       And has   
taken      I am an instrument in the shape   
of a woman trying to translate pulsations   
into images    for the relief of the body   
and the reconstruction of the mind.
 
Adrienne Rich, "Planetarium"  from Collected Poems: 1950-2012. Copyright © 2016 by The Adrienne Rich Literary Trust.  Copyright © 1971 W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Reprinted by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc..
Source: The Fact of a Doorframe: Selected Poems 1950-2001 (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 2002)
 
***
Since I first read this poem, in the early 1970s, it has moved me profoundly, moved me to tears I could not totally account for, until today. I understood  back then, during the second wave of feminist movements, that Rich was borrowing the language of astronomy and alluding to the extraordinary life of the first woman professional astronomer, who had to get out from her brother's shadow, to describe her 20th century sense of constraint as a woman with ambitions, as a woman who appeared monstrous to her culture because of those ambitions. It’s the monstrosity, being punished, disfigured, constellated for embodying  power, that choked me up. As a brainy girl growing up in the 1960s, I identified with it on a visceral level.

Dickinson’s engagement with astronomy came as a complete surprise to me. Yes, she wrote about moons, stars, eclipses, Pleiades, but it is her excitement about astronomy, how it opens up the cosmos, acts as a lens to an infinite world linking the heavens and Heaven, and, perhaps most importantly, how it puts the human female eye/I at the center of perception … I hadn't grasped how powerful that was for Dickinson, stargazing late into the night from her southwest window, orchard, or garden, communing with the universe—one can almost see how her “father's grounds,” which in the 1860s she claimed to never leave, might be sufficient given such a penetrating means of scrutiny. For her, the Astronomer’s obsessive searching “for his Pleiad's face,” such an intimate turn of phrase, represents the unending commitment to process, to searching and desire, to life itself.
 
From studying Dickinson’s engagement with astronomy, I now see that Rich gets the deeper point:
What we see, we see / and seeing is changing …
The masculine dominance of the ocular — seeing as dominating and dominating the gaze — has always been an issue for women and others. Rich’s speaker stands “in the direct path of a battery of signals” that are “untranslatable” but impossible to miss (monstrosity), and from that pommeling and bombardment she becomes “a galactic cloud so deep     so involuted ”that the wound is invaginated and blossoms into strength. It turns her into “an instrument,” like the sextants and telescopes of Caroline Herschel and Maria Mitchell, but now, for relief and reconstruction: the monster will resolve into a thinking woman.

 
bio: Ivy Schweitzer is Professor of English and Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Dartmouth College, and the editor of White Heat.
 

Sources:

Overview
Ricca, Brad. “Emily Dickinson: Learn’d Astronomer.” Emily Dickinson Journal 9.2 (Fall 2000): 96-109, 103.

Sewall, Richard. The Life of Emily Dickinson. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980, 354.

Sielke, Sabine. “Natural Sciences.” Emily Dickinson in Context. Ed. Eliza Richards. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013, 236-245.

Williams, Sharone E. “Astronomy.” All Things Dickinson: An Encyclopedia of Emily Dickinson’s World. Ed. Wendy Martin. 2 vols. Santa Barbara: Greenwood: 2014, 55-59.

History
Hampshire Gazette
, July 15, 1862.

Springfield Republican, July 13, 1862

Biography

Heginbotham, Eleanor. “Reading in the Dickinson Libraries.” Emily Dickinson in Context. Ed. Eliza Richards. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013, 25-35 29.

Kirkby, Joan. “[W]e thought Darwin had thrown ‘the Redeemer’ away": Darwinizing with Emily Dickinson. Emily Dickinson Journal 19,  1, 2010: 1-29, 7.

Sielke, Sabine. “Natural Sciences.” Emily Dickinson in Context. Ed. Eliza Richards. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013, 236-245, 237.

"Why an Eclipse Can Only Last Eight Minutes, by Mabel Loomis Todd." New England Historical Society.

Williams, Sharone E. “Astronomy.” All Things Dickinson: An Encyclopedia of Emily Dickinson’s World. Ed. Wendy Martin. 2 vols. Santa Barbara: Greenwood: 2014, 55-59.