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Emily Dickinson letter to Mrs. Henry Hills

Identifier: M 235

Scope and Content

This letter is from Emily Dickinson to her neighbor Mrs. Henry Hills (Adelaide Spencer Hills). The letter is unsigned and undated. It reads:

Vocal, is but one

form of remembrance,

dear friend.

the cherishing

that is speechless,

is equally

warm -

The letter was first published in 1894, in the two-volume The Letters of Emily Dickinson edited by Mabel Loomis Todd. After the death of Adelaide Hills in 1910, the letter passed into the hands of her children, specifically her daughter Susan Clapp Hills Skillings. According to Dickinson scholar, Thomas H. Johnson, a transcript of the text of this letter, and others in Mrs. Skillings possession, was made by George Frisbie Whicher. In Johnson's The Letters of Emily Dickinson (1958), this letter, listed as "letter 614," is given a possible date of 1879, and the original is listed as missing. The original letter remained with Mrs. Hills' heirs, until it was obtained by Seven Gables Bookshop from Mr. Hills Skillings.


  • circa 1879

Language of Materials


Access Restrictions

Access to the original letter is restricted. Permission to view the original must be granted by the head of Special Collections and Archives. Inquire at the reading room desk or send an email to for assistance.

Use Restrictions

There are no restrictions.

Biographical Information

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson, daughter of Edward and Emily Norcross Dickinson, was born 10 December 1830, in Amherst, Massachusetts. She attended Amherst Academy and Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. Dickinson lived most of her life in the family home on 280 Main Street in Amherst. After the death of her parents she remained in the home with her sister, Lavinia. Aside from a few trips to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Boston, by her late 20s Dickinson rarely left home and was known for her reclusiveness. Despite this she maintained close relationships with family and friends via correspondence, in which she often included poems. Very few of Dickinson's poems were published in her lifetime. After Dickinson's death in 1886 at age 55, Lavinia discovered nearly 1,800 poems in Emily's room. Eventually all of Dickinson's poetry was published posthumously.

Mary Adelaide Spencer Hills was born in 1840, to Owen Spencer and Mary Pitkin in South Manchester, Connecticut. Adelaide, as she was known, married Henry Francis Hills of Amherst, Massachusetts in 1863. As a wedding gift, Hills built her a house on 360 Main Street (now renumbered as 38 Gray Street) in Amherst, making the couple neighbors with the Dickinsons. The Hills lived in New York and summered in the house in Amherst. The Hills were friendly with the Dickinsons and Adelaide was a frequent correspondent with Emily. Adelaide died in 1910.


1 Items

Custodial History

This letter was purchased by the Associates of the James Branch Cabell Library on 16 June 1972, from Seven Gables Bookshop located in New York City. Per notes written on the invoice for the transaction, the bookshop states it acquired the letter as follows: "It came to us, with one intermediary, from Mr. Hills Skillings, acting for the heirs of Mrs. Henry Hills."

Acquisition Information

The letter was donated to Special Collections and Archives by the Associates of the James Branch Cabell Library.

Alternative Form Available

The letter is available in digital form via the VCU Libraries Gallery. A facsimile of the letter is available in Special Collections and Archives.

Related Material

For more information about the Hills family see the finding aid for the Hills Family Papers, Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, Amherst College Library.

A Guide to the Emily Dickinson letter to Mrs. Henry Hills, circa 1879
A Collection in Special Collections and Archives, James Branch Cabell Library M 235
Margaret T. Kidd
© 2015 By Virginia Commonwealth University. All rights reserved
Language of description
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Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Description is in English

Repository Details

Part of the VCU James Branch Cabell Library Repository

Special Collections and Archives 901 Park Avenue
Richmond Virginia 23284 USA US
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