Emily’s secret love for father’s best friend, Otis Phillips Lord

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By the 1870s, the existence of poems by Emily Dickinson had got about, and Miss Emily, then in her 40s, had begun her long career as “the myth.” Curiosity grew about the recluse. The poems were secreted away in the Homestead, the Amherst home she shared with her parents and her devoted younger sister, Lavinia, known as Vinnie.

After the death of their father, Edward, in 1874, the sisters stood closer than ever. In business matters, they now leaned on their brother, Austin, who lived next door and took over his father’s partnership in a law office. He had already assumed his father’s post as treasurer of Amherst College, a position commanding all college decisions.

Another man on whom to rely was Otis Phillips Lord, Edward Dickinson’s old friend and a judge on the Massachusetts supreme court. Lord had studied law at Amherst just before Emily was born and during the first 18 months of her life. He had graduated in 1832, and Amherst had conferred on him an honorary doctor of laws in 1869. He was married to Elizabeth Farley, a high-minded descendant of John Leverett, president of Harvard. They were childless and lived near the Witch House in Salem. The Lords used to stay at the Homestead, and after Edward died, “the dear Lords,” as Emily wrote, continued to visit. The judge appears to have come on his own for a week in October 1875, when Emily, far from reclusive, spoke of his visit as being “with me.”

Since Lord had known Emily all her life, he did not hesitate to inquire after her health in a fatherly way. She was dreaming of her father every night and prone to forget what she was doing during the day, “wondering where he is.” This absence of mind may have troubled her sister, since it was with Vinnie that Lord raised his concern: “. . . Knowing . . . how unwilling [she is] to disclose any ailment, I fear that she has been more ill, than she has told me. I hope you will tell me particularly about her.” Unsure what her sickness was, he wished Vinnie to report fully, though he respected Emily’s reticence.

Full story: Emily’s secret love – The Boston Globe