Eliza Tuckerman
Eliza Tuckerman with a letter, circa 1865.

A transcription of a previously unknown verse by Emily Dickinson has been found in a letter from Martha A. Cushing Esty (Mattie) to her sister Sarah E. S. Cushing Tuckerman (Eliza or Lizzie). The letter is part of the Cushing-Tuckerman-Esty Family Papers at Amherst College and was written in 1873 while Eliza and Professor Edward Tuckerman were in Europe and Mattie was taking care of their home, Applestead.  Although the poem isn’t in Dickinson’s hand, it offers instead a rare glimpse of a recipient’s reaction to a Dickinson note.  It shows, for example, that even among her contemporaries Dickinson’s handwriting was sometimes difficult to read, and that reading and interpreting it might become a family affair.  It’s also interesting that Mattie mentioned it to Eliza at all, and made the effort to transcribe it for her, since she doesn’t usually describe her correspondence for her sister.

The manner in which Dickinson is mentioned in the letter is typical of the way she appears in the collection in general: very occasional, random references to a visit or gift from her.  This is what we would expect to see, as Mattie’s sons weeded out Dickinson manuscripts (all or almost all are notes to Eliza) about a hundred years ago and ultimately gave them to Amherst College, where they are part of the Emily Dickinson Collection. 

Domhnall Mitchell, Professor of English at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, has written about the new poem in the 23 January 2024 issue of “Notes and Queries.” Here, then, are digital images of the full letter that do not appear in Mitchell’s article.  The Dickinson section begins on the bottom of Mattie’s page 3 (“I received a box of lovely flowers the other day”) and continues on her page 4.

pages 1 and 4 of handwritten letter from Martha A. Cushing Esty, 1873

pages 2 and 3 of handwritten letter from Martha A. Cushing Esty, 1873