Quote Origin: To Live Is So Startling, It Leaves But Little Room for Other Occupations

Emily Dickinson? Mabel Loomis Todd? Rumer Godden? Apocryphal?

Question for Quote Investigator: Life can be overwhelming. The flow of experience induces intense sensations and emotions. Changes in the world and in each individual are continuous and unavoidable. Here are two versions of a pertinent observation:

(1) To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.
(2) To live is so startling, it leaves but little room for other occupations.

This notion has been attributed to the famous nineteenth-century poet Emily Dickinson. Is this attribution correct? Would you please help me to find the correct phrasing and a citation?

Reply from Quote Investigator: In the winter of 1871 Emily Dickinson sent a letter to Unitarian minister Thomas Wentworth Higginson who was one of her literary mentors. The letter appeared in the 1894 collection “Letters of Emily Dickinson” edited by Mabel Loomis Todd. Boldface added to excerpt by QI:1

To live is so startling, it leaves but little room for other occupations, though friends are, if possible, an event more fair.

Additional details and citations are available in the article on the Medium platform which is located here.

In conclusion, Emily Dickinson deserves credit for the words she wrote to Thomas Wentworth Higginson in the winter of 1871. Often the quotation is truncated. The words after the word “occupations” are omitted. A modified version of the quotation using the phrase “little time for anything else” entered circulation by 1968.

Image Notes: Photogravure of Emily Dickinson by artist Laura Coombs Hill from “The Life and Letters of Emily Dickinson” (1924) by Her Niece Martha Dickinson Bianchi.

Acknowledgement: Great thanks to Prudence Crowther whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.

[1] 1894, Letters of Emily Dickinson, Edited by Mabel Loomis Todd, Volume 2 of 2, Chapter 7: To Mr Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Letter To: Mr. T. W. Higginson, Letter From: Emily Dickinson, Letter Date: Winter 1871, Quote Page 316, Roberts Brothers, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link

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