Emily Dickinson's Herbarium: A Facsimile Edition

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9780674023024: Emily Dickinson's Herbarium: A Facsimile Edition

In a letter from 1845, the 14-year-old Emily Dickinson asked her friend Abiah Root if she had started collecting flowers and plants for a herbarium: "it would be such a treasure to you; 'most all the girls are making one." Emily's own album of more than 400 pressed flowers and plants, carefully preserved, has long been a treasure of Harvard's Houghton Library. This beautifully produced, slipcased volume now makes it available to all readers interested in the life and writings of Emily Dickinson.

The care that Emily put into her herbarium, as Richard Sewall points out, goes far beyond what one might expect of a botany student her age: "Take Emily's herbarium far enough, and you have her." The close observation of nature was a lifelong passion, and Emily used her garden flowers as emblems in her poetry and her correspondence. Each page of the album is reproduced in full color at full size, accompanied by a transcription of Dickinson's handwritten labels. Introduced by a substantial literary and biographical essay, and including a complete botanical catalog and index, this volume will delight scholars, gardeners, and all readers of Emily Dickinson's poetry.

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About the Author:

Richard B. Sewall was Professor of English at Yale University.

Leslie A. Morris is Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Judith Farr is Professor Emerita of English & American Literature at Georgetown University.

Ray Angelo is an Associate of the Harvard University Herbaria and Curator of Vascular Plants for the New England Botanical Club.

Review:

Judith Farr, who provided the preface, believes the Herbarium to be "the progenitor of Dickinson's poetry." Its contents, she wrote, "seem to suggest what would become Emily Dickinson's preoccupations, tastes, beliefs, and dreams: the 'germ' of her poet's fancy." As such, the Herbarium offers a unique invitation to Dickinson's work. (Melissa Ozawa House and Garden 2006-09-01)

This exquisite facsimile of the herbarium Emily Dickinson arranged as an adolescent will delight readers and gardeners alike. Emily Dickinson's Herbarium is a true pleasure for those who want to know more about this enigmatic poet--one who made sure that scant biographical traces of her life would remain after her death...In page after page of these richly detailed reproductions, the young Dickinson comes to life--in the delicate flourishes of the hand-written labels that fix the more than 400 specimens to the page, in the graceful and exacting way she arranged the plants throughout the album and in the selection of plants themselves, most of them picked within walking distance of her home in Amherst, Massachusetts. Dickinson sent her friends more than 30 poems accompanied by pressed flowers and bouquets. Flowers, both as physical objects and as the subject of her writing, became one of her primary means of communication. (Elizabeth Schmidt New York Times Book Review 2006-12-03)

Modern photographic techniques (okay, the Digital Age has its uses) have permitted the reproduction, which is large and handsomely bound and includes a protective slipcase. The book offers a direct connection to the poet and the plants that were so formative to her creative life. Assembled when she was just 14, the herbarium contains both decorative flora from her family garden and wildflowers from the surrounding countryside of Amherst, Massachusetts. Collecting and pressing flowers was a common pastime in the 1840s, but Dickinson's herbarium is clearly the work of someone deeply connected to botany at an early age. It contains 424 specimens on 66 pages. In an introduction, Sewall writes, 'Take Emily's herbarium far enough, and you have her.' The care she took with it and her need for plants would manifest themselves in her work...Facsimiles tend to be expensive, and this one is no exception, but for gardeners and fans of Emily Dickinson (a pretty broad lot), this would be a cherished addition to the home library. (Adrian Higgins Washington Post)

The herbarium has long been a part of the Emily Dickinson Collection at Houghton Library, but due to its fragility the original had been in a vault for years--the last significant Dickinson Collection item completely off-limits. Now Dickinson devotees can finally examine what lies inside with a full-size, full-color reproduction of the album published in September...Dickinson, the reclusive poet whose extensive work was discovered and published in its entirety only after her death in 1886, was better known in her lifetime for her expert gardening skills than her poetry. She helped her mother in the garden from a young age and later tended plants in her own conservatory. As Dickinson admirers know, her love of the natural world comes through in her poems, which are full of flower references and themes--making scholars particularly interested in what they might glean from her herbarium. (Jennifer Tomase Harvard University Gazette)

Dickinson followed the Linnaean system of classification when labeling her specimens but nevertheless arranged her collection with more of an eye to aesthetics than to science, reflecting both the prevailing taste for "rich confusion" and the pre-Darwinian sense that plant life represented the fabulous bounty of the Creator. (Peter Parker Daily Telegraph 2007-06-30)

It is a fragile, rarely seen part of the Dickinson Collection that is at last accessible to scholars and to fans and gardeners...it is thrilling to turn the pages, knowing with what joy Dickinson picked the plants in her garden and in the fields and woods around Amherst...Dickinson scholar Richard Sewall provides context in a splendid introductory essay, "Science and the Poet," and Ray Angelo, associate of the Harvard University Herbaria, provides meticulous botanical scholarship. (Patricia Jones Plants and Gardens News 2007-04-01)

Emily Dickinson's herbarium, containing more than 400 flower and plant specimens, pressed and preserved by 14-year-old Dickinson, is now beautifully reproduced in full size and full color. (Emily Dickinson International Society Bulletin 2007-05-01)

Many of Dickinson's pressings seem prophetic of her future preoccupations and themes. For example, the plucky triumph of small flowers, such as the gentian or violet that bloom despite harsh conditions--she pressed nine different violets on page 46 of her herbarium--served her in poems about courage. She wrote tributes to the democracy of the clover and the holy yet merry aspect of lilies of the field, made sacred to her by Scripture...Now that almost 2,000 of Emily Dickinson's poems and more than 1,000 of her letters are accessible, it is clear how truly important flowers were to her. More than a third of her poems and half of her letters take their subject matter, metaphors, and diction from the realm of plants and gardening. The herbarium had been her childhood effort to hallow those flowers she regarded as her "friends," "children," "saints." Her chief theme as a poet was the idea of immortal life; her central concern was whether life after death truly existed. Rising again after long, icy Amherst winters, her perennials seemed to assure her that there was such a thing as eternity. (Judith Farr Nature's Garden 2008-06-01)

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