A Boston rare book seller has discovered two lost pages of the diary of Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), America’s virginal, reclusive poet. The leaves were folded inside a tattered copy of the 19th-century potboiler “Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk.” The diary pages provide both literary scholars and the average reader a tantalizing glimpse into the mind of the writer famed for her quiet, retired existence. The stained pages (tear-stained for an unrequited passion?) have proved to be in Dickinson’s hand. Although several words are obscured, they provide a rare glimpse into the quiet, reserved life of the poet.
Sunday, March 16, 1850
Today is the twentieth anniversary of my matriculation from Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. Oh, the sweet memories of carefree girlhood days! Celebrated the sacred anniversary of this signal event by (word obscured, “masquerading”?) in my room all afternoon. Dead to the world by supper.
(Editors note: the Dickinsons were rather worldly for New England Puritans. “Masquerading” may refer to a home-grown Mardi Gras celebration.)
Monday, March 17, 1850
I am so cross with Annie! Fairly wore her out when she returned home late with my blessed laudanum and bracing brandy. Drank paint thinner to tide me over. Fear that Annie’s attention to the Hibernian fete may have obscured her duty to her mistress. Wrote a little when I settled down.
(Ed: the writing here is particularly shaky. Was this minor household problem what was really bothering Emily? Annie was the Dickinson’s Irish maid, Annie O’Flaherty. Laudanum was often used to soothe “female complaints” at this time. Even teetotalers like the Dickinsons would have kept brandy for making fruitcake at Christmas. Perhaps a local shortage made it necessary to secure the brandy in March. “Paint thinner” may have been an amusing family usage for barley water or lemonade.)
Shrove Tuesday, March 18, 1850
The Reverend Israel Beecher Lyman (itinerant Unitarian preacher, 1814-1880) had tea downstairs with father today. He came to see me quite alone in my room, and boldly gave me six inches where I (word crossed-out, “sit”?). I’ve had better. Wrote two short poems, “Amherst Elegy” and “Izzy Lyman is a (words obscured, “Shifty Rover”?).
(Ed: Lyman apparently gave Emily the thoughtful gift of at least two reams of writing paper for her poems. But, she seems to question the quality of the paper. The curious, punning “Amherst Elegy” survives in her collected works. “Elegy” is cleverly paired with “leg”, l-e-g. “Izzy Lyman is a Shifty Rover” has yet to be found.)