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The world's largest collention of Emily Dickinson poems-including autograph drafts of 958 of her works-has been presented to Houghton Library. The donor is Gilbert Holland Montague '01, New York lawyer and bibliophile.
The gift to the University also includes all copyrights and literary rights previously vested in the Dickinson heirs.
Purchased for an undisclosed sum from Alfred Leete Hampson, the papers have been kept by the poet's family in Amherst since her death in 1886. Along with the poems, the collection contains letters by and to Miss Dickinson, many of her books and possessions, and family papers accumulated since the arrival of the first Dickinson in the United States.
Will Shed Light
Although nearly all of the poems have already been printed, study of the collection is likely to shed light on several problems of interest to both scholars and ordinary lovers of the New England spinster's poetry.
According to William A. Jackson, Assistant Librarian in charge of the Houghton Library, many of the accepted versions of Miss Dickinson's poems will be changed. "Some of the favorite poems will be altered," he commented, since her poetry has never before been edited.
Thomas H. Johnson '28, co-author of the "Literary History of the United States," who has been named editor of the papers by the University, pointed out that much of Miss Dickinson's poetry was published under family editing, and that whole sentences have been extracted in order not to offend people.
He added that one of the important effects of the collection will be to clear up the confusion which now exists as to the order in which Miss Dickinson's poems were written. A biography will probably be possible in three or four years, once a clear chronological pattern of her poetry-and thus of her emotional development-has been established.
The Dickinson collection will go on exhibition in Houghton Library next June. During the year papers will be sorted an darranged.
Commenting on the acquisition, Howard Mumford Jones, professor of English, and an authority on 19th century American literature, declared:
"By critics and literary historians, Emily Dickinson is regarded as the one unquestionable genius among American woman poets. She is also, the question of sex being waived as irrelevant to art, one of the four or five most remarkable American poets.
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