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13 July 2012

Let others – show this Surry’s Grace –

Let others – show this Surry’s Grace –
Myself – assist his Cross –
                                                            F290 (1862)

This couplet concluded a letter to Samuel Bowles written in 1862. The paragraph prior reads:
Perhaps you tire – now – A small weight – is obnoxious – upon a weary Rope – but had you Exile – or Eclipse – or so huge a Danger, as would dissolve all other friends – ‘twould please me to remain –
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, Hans Holbeinc.1542
            The letter in general is protesting that although Dickinson did not visit with Bowles when he paid a call it was only that she wanted Vinnie and Austin (her sister and brother) to have more time with him. That may not sound very convincing, but she says, perhaps a bit testily, “Forgive me if I prize the Grace – superior to the Sign.” She prefers, in other words, his favor and goodwill over the “Sign” of pleasantries in the family parlor. She wants a higher order relationship.
            The couplet itself is a bit puzzling. Surrey probably refers to Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-1547) who was a poet noted for his sonnets and translations. He was also first cousin to Anne Boleyn, one of the unfortunate wives of that changeable monarch Henry VIII. The king became convinced that Surrey was plotting treason and had him beheaded. I think Dickinson is saying that other people might make their claims to Surrey’s favor (and by Surrey Dickinson no doubt means Bowles), but when he  is faced with “so huge a Danger” that former friends distance themselves from him, she will be there even in the last hours to help him carry his cross as Joseph of Arimathea helped Jesus carry his cross.

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