Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Johnston, John H. (1837–1919) and Alma Calder
Author:
Roberson, Susan L.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

J.H. Johnston was a New York jeweler who befriended Whitman and provided personal and financial support for the aging poet. Johnston often opened his house to Whitman. During a month-long visit in February 1877, Whitman was introduced to a variety of people, among them Richard Watson Gilder. Whitman's visit was marred, however, by the sudden illness and death of Johnston's first wife on the day he planned to leave. After Johnston's marriage to his second wife, Alma Calder Johnston, Whitman returned in June 1878 to visit the Johnston home, now on upper Fifth Avenue. During August 1881, Whitman stayed with the Johnstons at their summer home at Mott Haven on the Harlem River to finish editing his new Leaves of Grass. Whitman apparently felt at home with the Johnstons, whose children referred to him affectionately as "Uncle Walt."

Johnston was also instrumental in organizing fund raisers for Whitman's benefit. He was the chief organizer of the 1887 benefit for Whitman in conjunction with the Lincoln lecture at Madison Square Theater. In October 1890 Johnston arranged the benefit lecture by Robert G. Ingersoll in Philadelphia, which realized $870. Whitman trusted Johnston's financial acumen, finding him to be acute in business matters.

Alma Calder Johnston's literary endeavors include a recollection of Whitman (1917) and a story, Miriam's Heritage (1878).

J.H. Johnston, the jeweler, is not to be confused with Dr. John Johnston, an English medical doctor and admirer of Whitman.

Bibliography

Johnston, Alma Calder. "Personal Memories of Walt Whitman." Whitman in His Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of His Life, Drawn from Recollections, Memoirs, and Interviews by Friends and Associates. Ed. Joel Myerson. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1991. 260–273.


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