Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson make a decidedly odd couple; an enduring, epistolary friendship between a reclusive, oracular poet and a gregarious magazine writer with an unfailing appetite for public life is at best unlikely. They met only twice, though their correspondence lasted, with vicissitudes, from 1862 until Dickinson’s death in 1886. Brenda Wineapple stakes the friendship on Dickinson’s bold letter of entreaty to Higginson, a man she had met only in the pages of the Atlantic Monthly: “Are you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive?”. Born of Dickinson’s urgent query, the friendship survived on her fevered insistence that Higginson deserved the precious gift of her poems. A bookish youth, rapt by Emersonian “Newness”, as he called it, Higginson shuttled between divinity school and journalism, looking for a way to remake the world. He found it in two causes: abolitionism and women’s suffrage, both of which he embraced with a radical’s fervour and a reformist’s optimism. Willing to use violence in the cause of freedom, he twice attempted to free escaped slaves from Boston jails and in 1859 became one of the “Secret Six”, long-distance accomplices to John Brown in his ill-fated attack at Harper’s Ferry. As Colonel Higginson, he took command of the First South Carolina Volunteers, the first official regiment of freed slaves.
more from the TLS here.