Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1890. 1st Edition. 12mo, publisher's gray cloth spine over white cloth boards, spine stamped, upper board decoratively stamped in silver and gilt, top edge gilt. Housed in custom clamshell box.
Exceedingly rare first edition of the first collection of poems by "the Belle of Amherst," one of roughly 500 copies issued: "This is my letter to the world, / That never wrote to me, – / The simple news that Nature told, / With tender majesty." Only a handful of Dickinson's nearly 1800 poems were published in her lifetime, with roughly a third of them seen through the press by her sister Lavinia and a cohort of family intimates in the years following her death in 1886. Disputes within the family, however, and with those tasked with editing the work, impeded further publication, with several piecemeal collections issued by the rival factions over the next half century, until the estate passed in its entirety to Harvard University. The present collection (and the subsequent two collections issued in the 19th century) was edited by Mabel Loomis Todd, the mistress of Emily and Lavinia's older brother Austin, who solicited the assistance of prominent abolitionist, Unitarian minister and man of letters Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Higginson had encouraged Emily's efforts when she was alive, but notably passed on the opportunity to publish her poems when it might have made a difference to her. "In many cases these verses will seem to the reader like poetry torn up by the roots, with rain and dew and earth still clinging to them, giving a freshness and fragrance not otherwise to be conveyed. In other cases, as in the few poems of shipwreck or of mental conflict, we can only wonder at the gift of vivid imagination by which this recluse woman can delineate, by a few touches, the very crises of physical or mental conflict" (from Higginson's preface). The cover design, of silver-stamped "Indian Pipes," was taken from a painting Todd had given Dickinson and which hung in the poet's bedroom, becoming her "preferred flower of life," and a recurrent motif in future publications of her work. Binding B (no priority), with first three lines on front cover and wavy vertical rule on front and back covers stamped in gold instead of silver, and printed on thicker paper. Myerson A1.1a. BAL 4655. Expertly re-backed with original spine laid down. Spine dulled, boards moderately soiled, corners gently bumped. Offsetting to front free endpaper, which is tender at the gutter but holding firmly. Overall, a sound, attractive copy of a genuinely scarce landmark in American literature. Item #926