Emily Dickinson Daguerreotype


Emily Dickinson

We learn it in the Retreating
How vast an one
Was recently among us--
A Perished Sun

Endear in the departure
How doubly more
Than all the Golden presence
It was--before--

Here we trace those connections which show that it was indeed in the Otis H. Cooley gallery in which Emily Dickinson's portrait was taken.

The early Emily Dickinson daguerreotype was taken possibly by Josiah Gilbert Holland when he was an operator in a daguerreotype gallery, likely in that of the Springfield, Massachusetts gallery of Otis H. Cooley, some time during February to April 1848.

Until the end of her life, Emily Dickinson wrote long letters to Josiah Gilbert Holland and his wife Elizabeth Chapin, a close correspondence. It is not known precisely when Emily first met Mr. Holland.


Elizabeth And Josiah

Cooley's extensive advertising in the Brattleboro newspaper, the Vermont Phoenix, for his gallery on Main Street from early 1846 through 1849 demonstrate that he left Vermont at the end of January 1848 for Springfield, Massachusetts, and returned in time to re-open in the first week of May.

At this time, Josiah Gilbert Holland had not yet departed for Virginia, and Emily was apparently then in one of her spells of poor health, having left Mount Holyoke Female Seminary during April 1848 for that reason. There are few "windows of opportunity" like this one for the daguerreotype, although there are other possible times.

April 1848 is very shortly after the January 1, 1848 entry by Susan Lincoln Tolman in her Mount Holyoke Female Seminary journal concerning an itinerant daguerreotypist who was making "quite an excitement" nearby. Author Jay Leyda attributes Emily's daguerreotype to this daguerreotypist in South Hadley. Certainly this daguerreotypist may have inspired Emily to seek out another daguerreotypist that following spring.

Josiah Gilbert Holland was distantly related by blood to Seneca Holland and his daughter Sophia - the child whose death by typhus fever on April 29, 1844 had so deeply affected Emily (Alfred Habegger's account pp. 172-3). Dr. Holland was but distantly related to Emily by marriage on her father's side, but she would have been aware of this connection long before their known meeting on October 27, 1852.

If Dr. Holland had been called in to tend to his dying kinswoman, then he may well have first encountered Emily in April 1844.


Dr. Josiah G. Holland

As the editor and founder of the literary journal called the Bay State Weekly Courier, Dr. Holland placed this advertisement in late April, 1847---

Mr. Cooley, the Daguerreotypist, is taking pictures for the Green Mountain people in Brattleboro. He will have to use some of his largest plates for the girls, or our memory does not serve me correctly. Will he not take and preserve a picture of one of Dr. Wesselhoeft's patients in the act of singing "A wet sheet and a flowing sea?"

This ad was soon thereafter reprinted in the April 29, 1847 Vermont Phoenix. Since Josiah Gilbert Holland is known to have been an operator in a daguerreotype gallery, it is likely that he was in business with Otis H. Cooley---given his seeming familiarity with its conditions, displayed in this ad.


Dr. Charles L. Robinson

In Springfield in 1845, Dr. Josiah G. Holland opened a woman's hospital with Dr. Charles Robinson, whom he had met before graduating from the Berkshire Medical Insititution during 1840-1844.

Dr. Robinson had studied at Amherst Academy and for two years at Amherst College before being forced out by an eye affliction. Charles Robinson then walked forty miles to Keene, New Hampshire to see a physician, deciding to study medicine himself.

Commencing then his own medical studies at Woodstock, Vermont, Dr. Charles Robinson graduated with honors from the Berkshire Medical College at Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Dr. Robinson completed his medical studies with the Amherst's Dr. Timothy Jones Gridley. Shortly after receiving his degree he began a practice at Belchertown, Massachusetts.

But in 1845 he removed to Springfield to be a partner of Dr. Josiah Holland.

Emily Dickinson's eye condition is apparent in the early daguerreotype; she may well have been a patient at some time at this woman's hospital with Dr. Charles Robinson, or with Dr. Holland, or with Holland's other known Springfield partner Dr. Charles Bailey---another classmate from the Berkshire Medical Institution in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.


A great deal has been written about Emily repeatedly visiting Dr. William Wesselhoeft in Boston during 1846, 1851 and possibly May/June 1844. William Wesselhoeft from 1845 had a considerable financial interest in his younger brother Dr. Robert Wesselhoeft's Brattleboro Hydropathic Establishment in Brattleboro, Vermont, and he frequently referred his patients to that Water Cure for exercise and treatment.

There is a clear possibility that Emily journeyed with her mother to Brattleboro, in following this Boston doctor's orders, at some time when Otis H. Cooley was maintaining his gallery there on Main Street. Her likeness---and that of her mother---may have been taken along Main Street, or possibily in some room convenient for the purpose at the Water Cure itself on Elliot Street.


Vermont Phoenix, December 3, 1847

That noted and distinctive gallery tablecloth that Cooley used was quite portable and could have been carried easily from Springfield to Vermont.

Unfortunately the names of the five hundred ninety-three patients at the Wesselhoeft Water Cure from May 19, 1845 to the end of 1847 are not now available, and in the list of the 392 named patients during 1848, no Dickinson name is apparent.

It is noted in passing that Thomas Wentworth Higginson's older brother, Dr. Francis John Higginson, was well acquainted with Dr. Robert Wesselhoeft, having a practice in Brattleboro for forty years. Wentworth Higginson later became Emily Dickinson's friend and confidante.

Also in passing, Helen Fiske, later Helen Hunt Jackson, attended the Wesselhoeft Water Cure for two months during 1865, immediately before beginning her writing career. She may have journeyed to Brattleboro long before, from Amherst.

The Brattleboro physician and surgeon in the Eclectic School of medicine, Dr. John Wilson, owned the property directly across the street from the Water Cure. This Dr. Wilson had encouraged the younger Josiah Gilbert Holland to attend the Berkshire Medical College. While Holland was teaching the winter term in the District No. 5 schoolhouse in Guilford, Vermont---just south of Brattleboro---during 1839-1840, he was very near the bounds of Dr. Wilson's rural practice.


Dr. John Wilson

Years later, in 1873, Josiah Holland published his late novel "Arthur Bonnicastle", with its fictional portrait and tribute to Dr. John Wilson---with the dark gray coat and trousers, the white waistcoat, "stock" collar, the gold chain with its massive seal depending from his watch pocket, and the heavy cane.

Dr. John Wilson became infamous after his death in March 1847 from the epidemic erysipelas after tending to his last patient, who had suffered from that condition with fatal results, out the Bonnyvale Road to Guilford. Dr. Wilson was discovered to be the last great British highwayman, called Captain Thunderbolt.


Samuel Bowles

In 1847 Dr. Holland was assistant editor at the Springfield Republican, working for Samuel Bowles, the close family friend that the Dickinsons called "Uncle Sam". Bowles became quite intrigued by the "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot" scandal---especially so, as Dr. Wilson's former partner in crime in Scotland and Ireland in 1816---one Michael Martin---had been captured in Springfield in late 1820 and hanged for highway robbery in Cambridge, Massachusetts the following year.

The Sunday, May 11, 1890 edition of the Boston Globe carried a pen and ink likeness of Dr. John Wilson, said to be taken from a daguerreotype by Benjamin F. Popkins. Otis H. Cooley had trained Popkins in his Springfield gallery, and this operator had made the first arrangements to settle Cooley in Brattleboro in early 1846. This Boston Globe article was written by Walter Scott Carson, a correspondent for the Springfield Republican.

An oil portrait of Dr. John Wilson, showing an aging gentleman wearing spectacles, said to have been painted from a daguerreotype likeness taken by O. H. Cooley, that had been kept for decades in the Brattleboro Free Library, was stolen from the Brooks Memorial Library in August 1995. It has not been recovered.

There is a daguerreotype of Dr. John Wilson in the Newfane, Vermont museum of the Historical Society of Windham County. On the frame backing, in lettered ink, is the message, "This daguerreotype was taken by T. Covil." Could this Covil (Covell) have been an operator for the gallery of Otis Hubbard Cooley?

Research remains to be done in the primary sources for Josiah Gilbert Holland, in the papers and letters of the various physicians, in family histories, in the records of the woman's hospital, and especially in the Bay State Weekly Courier, the Springfield Republican, and Amherst's Hampshire and Franklin Express.

Another promising research lead is Emily Dickinson's fourth cousin, twice removed---Caleb Cooley Dickinson (1804-1882), the Hatfield, Massachusetts farmer who left his fortune for the Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, Massachusetts.

At a time when that man to whom Emily addressed love poems remains with no name, is it responsible to rule out the man who was in all likelihood her doctor, daguerreotypist, teacher, and fellow poet? The man behind the daguerreotype apparatus that the young Emily gazes at so directly, may be the man that she came to love.

Emily Dickinson in poem 1083 may be describing a daguerreotype which has been given to her for remembrance by a close friend. The pun on son/sun and the golden presence perhaps allude to that mystery which their daguerreotypes held for their original contemporaries, that sunlight perishes into a human likeness---

We learn it in the Retreating
How vast an one
Was recently among us--
A Perished Sun

Endear in the departure
How doubly more
Than all the Golden presence
It was--before--



Emily Dickinson, Austin, Lavinia

Portrait By Otis A. Bullard

January 1840


Otis Allen Bullard


Otis Allen Bullard, born in Howard, Steuben County, New York on February 25, 1816, does not seem to be related at all to the Rev. Asa Bullard who married Lucretia Dickinson, Emily's paternal aunt. "Father Bullard" and his parents, Dr. Artemas Bullard and Lucy White, were primarily from Northbridge, and Sutton, Massachusetts.

But if it should prove to be the case, that Otis Bullard and Asa Bullard were acquainted, or related, then this would seem to enforce the notion that Emily's father, Edward, sought familiar faces amongst those who applied for the chance to portray his children, to set them at ease, and to bring out their best selves.

Dr. Josiah Gilbert Holland had that skill.


Thomas St. John

Grew up in Bloomfield, New Jersey, summered in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and graduated from Drew University in 1970. He lived in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, and later removed to Brattleboro, Vermont. His historical essays appear in the University of Utah's Western Humanities Review, the Ball State University Forum, and in Counterpunch.




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