About a month ago, I ran across a reference to Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium. I was startled. Emily Dickinson had made a herbarium? I had to see it! As it turns out, Harvard University Press has published a facsimile edition of the herbarium–that was the good news. The bad news was that it was $145! So at our Library, I requested it through Inter-Library Loan, and within a week, I held the volume in my hand.
At first, I was every so slightly disappointed. I’m not sure what I expected, but there were page after page of blossoms faded to brown, and I couldn’t understand the cryptic numbering system. Than I came to my senses. Pressing flowers was considered to be a suitable entertainment for young ladies of that era (in the 1840s), as was learning the “language of flowers.” It was all very genteel. Emily Dickinson, at the ages of 14 and 15 had collected specimens of every plant (there are 424 of them) within walking distance of her home, and had systematically pressed and mounted them in an album. It is through such things that we gain a moment’s insight into another person’s mind. The steadiness of purpose and perception–as well as her love for each flower–behind this herbarium is astonishing. Long after the other girls had moved on from pressing pansies, Emily had created an herbarium of every flowering plant in her world. Following are a few pages from the herbarium, but if you want to see everything, there is an online version. You can see each page up close, as well as an array of thumbnails.
I have been making my own version of the herbarium, using a big notebook of nice drawing paper for mounting the specimens. I’m not sure my herbarium will be as all-encompassing as hers–she even included poison ivy!
When much in the Woods as a little Girl, I was told that the Snake would bite me,
that I might pick a poisonous flower, or Goblins kidnap me,
but I went along and met no one but Angels.
Emily Dickinson, in a letter to a friends, 1862.
And, to learn more about EmilyDickinson’s garden, there is an excellent book called The Gardens of Emily Dickinson, by Judith Farr.