Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: John Newton Johnson to Walt Whitman, 3 April [1875]

Date: April 3, [1875]

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01842

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Elizabeth Lorang, Nima Najafi Kianfar, John Schwaninger, Caterina Bernardini, Marie Ernster, Noelle Bates, Amanda J. Axley, and Stephanie Blalock

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[illegible] [Bluff?] Home
April 3 1875

Walt [Whitman?]

[illegible]—[oo?] big date man up [dear?] oo dood [illegible] Poet what name like me! me write oo [illegible] letter—it sall be "fresh and modern" [illegible] me is Modern Man, ony bout four five monfs old—but me is not "Average Man"—oo tall me Average Man, oo lie!—Average Man is blame rascal—him not wuf pickin up in de road if him be tannin tip-toe! May-be if oo work him ober free four times, him be wuf sumtin—but way him is now, him teal, him cheat, him beg, him tell lies—but me is fine ittle "secesh," [tuf?] boy man—me "boo bood"! me dot penty [bood?] F. F. V.,1—me not teal—me not cheat—me not beg—me not tell lies[—?]back lies [illegible] white lies" is all back to me[—?]me ittle [illegible]es man bout dat—maybe me is ittle [illegible] foolish bout dat, but when me say yes it be yes and when me say no it be no—dats p [illegible] fun sometime but me tant help it—me will [illegible] to some "white lies" [illegible] fun [illegible] some nice Poetry. But [illegible] do dem [dear?] fings, me tan fight and [illegible] [tanfoun?] de back-heart bobolitions! [illegible] wooly head niggers! what em dood for [but?] [illegible] torn and totton for chibalry white [mans?]?

Uncle Walt: me is been treat bad—papa not gib me no name 'till me mos' free monfs old—him not like name him babys for live mans—him faid live mans do bad fings and make babies shamed—but me fink oo neber do no bad fings, man what talk dood like oo wont neber do no bad fings—papa not like bobolitions neider, but may-be oo not bobolitions, may-be oo ony make-believe, may-be ony also dust in [illegible] of dem bobolitions roun bout oo, for fatter em, and rake in der money, (dat [illegible] money [illegible] de Tariff teal from dood [illegible] mans gib to back-heart bobolitions [illegible] [dat?] case [illegible], me say "go head Uncle Walt [fatter?] em [illegible] fatter em, an' fatter em [illegible] big pile money from em'—den oo [illegible] here afer oo f [illegible] dat line, an' build dood house on [illegible] top an' me an' oo will [illegible] togedder [illegible] laugh to de old bobolitions bout how oo [illegible] em out of der money—den we put [illegible] my boo flag) on top [our?] house an' [illegible] fap, an' fap, an' fap—an' we will [bin?] big fiddles too, for play Dixie! Den if noder war tomes we will be taptains of Ku Klux banditti, an' me go east, an' oo go west, an' we will clean out all bobolitions an' wooly head niggers. Tause me is dood fightin tock; me fight bery well when me dot no place for run to; me hunt for last ditch, but if em catch me fore me get dere, me will say me is old womans!                But Uncle Walt: me dont know if me wants see oo—tomebody say oo not talk [much?] tomebody say oo let oder folks do mos talking—what oo dat way for? ittle [secesh?] man [tould me [illegible] dat?] long wid oo dat way—him mighty [illegible] talk, but him fink ittle bit first, but [illegible] not see much books, him [illegible] lazy [farmer?] [illegible], him not dot big pile [books?], nor fine [illegible] fine close, nor big [money?] ittle secesh man ony dot [mos?] [illegible] dood sense, [sheriff?] brave heart, an' ittle [illegible]. [What?] for oo want see ittle [illegible] man? Does [oo?] want hug him neck? [does oo want?] hold him by him hand? Uncle Walt: [illegible] oo mus' not be tongue-tied.—

Me is not been sick none, ony [de tolic?], till me four monfs old—den big ittle boy take me in wind an' me hab told an' feber free days, but me tonquer him—what for me dot "gymnastic" mudder if me tant tonquer told an' feber? me bully ittle boy—any ittle Jersey-boo-coat boy say "union" to me me tan whip him quicker'n him Banner an' Pennant tan say "fap," "fap," "fap"—oo bet!

Me not want presents what money tan buy—oo mus gib dat sort to oder ittle Walt Whitmans—but oo mus gib [illegible] love to ittle secesh mans. Now, me [illegible] me name

Walt Whitman [XX?]≠IIXX

Oh! me pile him [something?] [illegible] may be him [illegible] dood nuff.

The2 [Amana?] [illegible] one need wish to see. He has been so idle or lazy [illegible] destitute of acquired knowledge that [about?] [illegible] [of?] paper would suffice to [illegible] him [illegible] of "Philosophy" and Wit.

Dont be [illegible]

John Newton Johnson (1832–1904) was a colorful and eccentric self-styled philosopher from rural Alabama. There are about thirty letters from Johnson in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919 (Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.), but unfortunately there are no replies extant, although Whitman wrote frequently for a period of approximately fifteen years. When Johnson wrote for the first time on August 13, 1874, he was forty-two, "gray as a rat," as he would say in another letter from September 13, 1874: a former Rebel soldier with an income between $300 and $400 annually, though before the war he had been "a slaveholding youthful 'patriarch.'" He informed Whitman in the August 13, 1874, letter that during the past summer he had bought Leaves of Grass and, after a momentary suspicion that the bookseller should be "hung for swindling," he discovered the mystery of Whitman's verse, and "I assure you I was soon 'cavorting' round and asserting that the $3 book was worth $50 if it could not be replaced, (Now Laugh)." He offered either to sell Whitman's poetry and turn over to him all profits or to lend him money. On October 7, 1874, after describing Guntersville, Alabama, a town near his farm from which he often mailed his letters to Whitman, he commented: "Orthodoxy flourishes with the usual lack of flowers or fruit." See also Charles N. Elliot, Walt Whitman as Man, Poet and Friend (Boston: R. G. Badger, 1915), 125–130.


1. Johnson uses the abbreviation "F. F. V." to refer to the First Families of Virginia. [back]

2. Johnson wrote this postscript at the top of the first page of the letter. [back]


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