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Emily Dickinson Journal


This essay explores the 1882 publication of “Success is counted sweetest” in the Amateur Journal, a newspaper edited by eighteen-year-old Albert E. Barker of Judsonia, Arkansas. The Amateur Journal was part of a fad that swept the United States after the Civil War, when thousands of teenage boys began publishing their own newspapers on diminutive printing presses. At its height in the 1880s, amateur journalism linked boys across the country into tightly knit virtual communities with their own distribution methods, literary conventions, social customs, and vernaculars. Barker likely reprinted “Success is counted sweetest” from the anonymous anthology A Masque of Poets, which had appeared four years before, and Dickinson was almost certainly unaware of her distant adolescent fan. But Barker’s adoption of the poem—and, in a series of intriguing editorial interventions, his adaptation of it—transforms its paean to failure into a manifesto for amateurdom, networking Dickinson into one of the earliest teenage subcultures.


This work is freely available courtesy of John Hopkins University Press and the Emily Dickinson International Society.