A Letter from Emily Dickinson

100thq_bandEmily Dickinson Letter

The January 1926 issue of the Alumnae Quarterly featured a fold-out reproduction of a letter written by Emily Dickinson, class of 1849, to her childhood friend Abiah. A full transcript of the letter—still one of the College’s Archives and Special Collections’ most prized items—was also printed in the pages of the magazine. We have opted to share it again here:

Mt. Holyoke Seminary, Nov. 6, 1847

My dear Abiah,

I am really at Mt. Holyoke Seminary and this is to be my home for a long year. Your affectionate letter was joyfully received and I wish that this might make you as happy as yours did me. It has been nearly six weeks since I left home and that is a longer time, than I was ever away from home before now. I was very homesick for a few days and it seemed to me I could not live here. But I am now contented and quite happy, if I can be happy when absent from my dear home and friends. You may laugh at the idea, that I can not be happy when away from home, but you must remember that I have a very dear home and that is my first trial in the way of absence for any length of time in my life. As you desire it, I will give you a full account of myself since I first left the paternal roof. I came to S. Hadley six weeks ago next Thursday. I was much fatigued with the ride and had a severe cold besides, which prevented me from commencing my examinations until the next day, when I began.

Everything is pleasant and happy here and I think could be no happier at any other school away from home.

I finished them in three days and found them about what I anticipated, though the old scholars say, they are more strict than they ever have been before. As you can easily imagine, I was much delighted to finish without failures and I came to the conclusion then, that I should not be at all homesick, but the reaction left me as homesick a girl as it is not usual to see. I am now quite contented and am very much occupied now in reviewing the Junior studies, as I wish to enter the middle class. The school is very large and though quite a number have left, on account of finding the examinations more difficult than anticipated, yet there are nearly 300 now. Perhaps you know that Miss Lyon is raising her standard of scholarship a good deal, on account of the number of applicants this year and on account of that she makes the examinations more severe than usual. You can not imagine how trying they are, because if we can not go through them all in a specified time, we are sent home. I can not be too thankful that I got through as soon as I did and I am sure that I never would endure the suspense which I endured during those three days again for all the treasures of the world.

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson. Daguerrotype photo: public domain

I room with Cousin Emily, who is a Senior. She is an excellent room-mate and does all in her power to make me happy. You can imagine how pleasant a good room-mate is for you have been away to school so much. Everything is pleasant and happy here and I think could be no happier at any other school away from home. Things seem much more like home than I anticipated and the teachers are all very kind and affectionate to us. They call on us frequently and urge us to return their calls and when we do, we always receive a cordial welcome from them. I will tell you my order of time for the day, as you were so kind as to give me yours. At 6. o’clock we all rise. We breakfast at 7. Our study hours begin at 8. At 9. we all meet in the Seminary Hall for devotions. At 10¼ I recite a review of Ancient History in connection with which we read Goldsmith and Grinshaw. At 11. I recite a lesson in “Pope’s Essay on Man” which is merely transposition. At 12. I practice Calisthenics and at 12¼ read until dinner, which is at 12½. After dinner from 1½ until 2. I sing in Seminary Hall. From 2¾ until 3¾ I practise upon the Piano. At 3¾ I go to Section, where we give in all our accounts for the day, including Absence—Tardiness—Communications—Breaking Silent Study hours—Receiving Company in our rooms and ten thousand other things, which I will not take the time or place to mention. At 4½ we go into Seminary Hall and receive advice from Miss Lyon in the form of a lecture. We have supper at 6, and silent study hours from then until the retiring bell, which rings at 8¾, but the tardy bell does not ring until 9¾, so that we don’t often obey the first warning to retire.

Perhaps you know that Miss Lyon is raising her standard of scholarship a good deal, on account of the number of applicants this year and on account of that she makes the examinations more severe than usual.

Unless we have a good and reasonable excuse for failure upon any of the items, that I have mentioned above, they are recorded and a black mark stands against our names. As you can easily imagine, we do not like very well to get “exceptions” as they are called scientifically here. My domestic work is not difficult and consist in carrying the knives from the 1st tier of tables at the morning and noon and at night washing and wiping the same quality of knives. I am quite well and hope to be able to spend the year here free from sickness. You have probably heard many reports of the food here and if so I can tell you, that I have yet seen nothing corresponding to my ideas on that point, from what I have heard. Everything is wholesome and abundant and much nicer than I should imagine could be provided for almost 300 girls. We have also a great variety upon our tables and frequent changes.

Seminary Building circa 1860–1870

Seminary Building circa 1860–1870

One thing is certain and that is, that Miss Lyon and all the teachers seem to consult our comfort and happiness in everything they do and you know that is pleasant. When I left home I did not think I should find a companion or a dear friend in all the multitude. I expected to find rough and uncultivated manners, and to be sure I have found some of that stamp, but on the whole, there is an ease and grace, a desire to make one another happy, which delights and at the same time surprises me very much. I find no Abby or Abiah or Mary but I love many of the girls. Austin came to see me when I had been here about two week and brought Viny and Abby. I need not tell you how delighted I was to see them all, nor how happy it made me to hear them say that “they were so lonely.” It is a sweet feeling to know that you are missed and that your memory is precious at home.

This week, on Wednesday I was at my window when I happened to look towards the hotel and saw Father and Mother, walking over here as dignified as you please. I need not tell you that I danced and clapped my hands, and flew to meet them for you can imagine how I felt. I will only ask you do you love your parents? They wanted to surprise me and for that reason did not let me know they were coming. I could not bear to have them go, but go they must and so I submitted in sadness. Only to think Abiah, that in 3½ weeks I shall be at my own dear home again. You will probably go home at Thanksgivingtime and we can rejoice with each other. You dont know how I laughed at your description of your introduction to Dan”-Webster and I read that part of your letter to Cousin Emily. You must feel quite proud of the acquaintance and will not I hope be vain in consequence. However you dont know Gov”-Briggs and I do so you are no better off than I. I hear frequently from Abby and it is a great pleasure to receiver her letters. Last eve. I had a long and very precious letter from her and she spoke of rec”-a letter from you. You probably have heard of the death of O. Coleman. How melancholy!! Eliza has written me a long letter giving me an account of her death, which is beautiful and affecting and which you shall see when we meet again. Abiah, you must write me often and I shall write you as often as I have time. But you know I have many letters to write now I am from home. Cousin Emily says, “Give my love to Abiah.”

From you aff EMILY E. D—

View more content from the Winter 2017 100th anniversary issue of the Alumnae Quarterly.

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