Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Emily Dickinson´s herbarium

Emily Dickinson´s daguerreotype.

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886) was an American poet. Born in Amherst, Massachusetts, to a successful family with strong community ties, she lived a mostly introverted and reclusive life. (...)Although Dickinson was a prolific private poet, fewer than a dozen of her nearly eighteen hundred poems were published during her lifetime.(...)Although most of her acquaintances were probably aware of Dickinson's writing, it was not until after her death in 1886—when Lavinia, Emily's younger sister, discovered her cache of poems—that the breadth of Dickinson's work became apparent. Her first collection of poetry was published in 1890 by personal acquaintances Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd, both of whom heavily edited the content. A complete and mostly unaltered collection of her poetry became available for the first time in 1955 when The Poems of Emily Dickinson was published by scholar Thomas H. Johnson. Despite unfavorable reviews and skepticism of her literary prowess during the late 19th and early 20th century, critics now consider Dickinson to be a major American poet.(...) Scholar Judith Farr notes that Dickinson, during her lifetime, "was known more widely as a gardener, perhaps, than as a poet".Dickinson studied botany from the age of nine and, along with her sister, tended the garden at Homestead. During her lifetime, she assembled a collection of pressed plants in a sixty-six page leather-bound herbarium. It contained 424 pressed flower specimens that she collected, classified, and labeled using the Linnaean system.The Homestead garden was well-known and admired locally in its time. It has not survived, and Dickinson kept no garden notebooks or plant lists, but a clear impression can be formed from the letters and recollections of friends and family.

And, where is her herbarium? At the New York Botanical Garden.

Emily Dickinson´s herbarium.

From the post by Jane Dorfman at the New York Botanical Garden web page:
At 14 years of age, Dickinson, inspired by her readings and botanical studies at Amherst Academy, gathered, dried, pressed, mounted, and identified over 400 plants for her herbarium. She was enthusiastic about the project. She asked her friend Abiah Root in a letter if she had made a herbarium yet and encouraged her to pursue such a project. Dickinson even enclosed a geranium leaf for her friend to press.
In the Library’s William D. Rondina and Giovanni Foroni LoFaro Gallery exhibition of Dickinson’s life, which runs through August 1 (2010), a digitized version of the poet’s herbarium is on display. Made available through Turn the Pages Technology, visitors can view Dickinson’s original herbarium virtually by “turning” the pages on a touchscreen. A printed version of Dickinson’s herbarium is included in the Rare Book and Folio Room display.
This small exhibit shows how 19th-century botany enthusiasts created herbaria. The collecting tin (known as a vasculum) belonging to the celebrated botanist John Torrey is on display as well as a botany text by noted instructor Mrs. Almira Lincoln Phelps, a text that Dickinson used in her studies.
Also on view are the materials used in creating a herbarium today, including glue, twine, mounting paper, blotting paper, and a herbarium press. In addition, dried specimens of Monotropa uniflora (Indian pipe) and Heliotropium arborescens L. (heliotrope), two of Dickinson’s favorite plants, are presented, courtesy of the Garden’s William and Lynda Steere Herbarium..

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