Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: John Newton Johnson to Walt Whitman, [19 February] 1875

Date: February 19, 1875

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01849

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, Eder Jaramillo, John Schwaninger, Nima Najafi Kianfar, Caterina Bernardini, Jonathan Y. Cheng, and Nicole Gray

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Meltonsville, Al
[illegible] 1875. Mr. Whitman—

[illegible] was received a few days ago. I had [illegible] [examined?] [that?] writing for a while [illegible] [correspondence?] except my son in [illegible] I would [wait?] a good long spell, I [illegible] to learn how much of purely [spontaneous?] [illegible] you do [fear?] in the (of choice) humble [illegible] strange manner living down here in [illegible] also was curious to see if you would [graciously?] be sending me and little Walt the new volume which you are to bring out this summer. But getting with yours the picture of [John?] Burroughs, I suppose it will be perhaps [illegible] [enough?] to write [now?]. ☞ I have no faith in [Physiognomy?] Physiognomy as a practical [illegible] if in any way, but the [illegible] the book seem [fully?] indicative of talent [illegible] tho' perhaps [illegible] strongly expresses [illegible] than an [illegible] greater share of [illegible] which I glory in [illegible] trust in [illegible]. Perhaps tho' he is [illegible] way. [illegible] sometimes doubted this [illegible] some[thing?] [illegible] well, he is too [illegible]", [other?] times "well, he is [illegible] very [honest?]."—However, if [illegible] now, or about to be [illegible] "on the banks of one of the [noblest and most?] fruitful rivers" ([poetical?] [illegible] namesake of our old [illegible] son) there is a [illegible] ["similarity?] [illegible] and J.B.—I had the honor [to say?] [illegible] introducing fine [Apples?] and [Pears?] [illegible] backwoods county. [illegible] Bartlett, [illegible] Lucrative, and L.B. [illegible] Jersey [illegible] unknown 'till [Williams?] came to the [illegible]. Ah! Those fine fruits were the only [illegible] I could have for some years after the end of the war. They and "Leaves of Grass" have stood alone in making me Jubilant. My [interest?], profit and pleasure have been much [distracted?] by fruit-rotting so generally [illegible] years. But memory's pleasures can [illegible] some degree.


But getting [illegible] you and me, dear comforter [illegible]ughs hints at you [illegible]ing to [illegible]low, whenever you [illegible] go, and [illegible] [meetings?] with friends [illegible] or letters [illegible] or sights of "show [illegible] [(Centennial ?] [illegible] or what not) or [illegible] [illegible] sort or source—to [illegible] you still [illegible] [and?] can yet love [illegible] that [illegible] case for between [illegible] this [illegible] while I earnestly and [illegible] you [should?] take no interest [illegible] that [which?] cause you one bit [illegible] [or?] anxiety if bad luck should [befall?] [illegible] [in any?] way— [illegible] still, myself, children [illegible] my not [enthusible?] and mostly [illegible] wife are delighted, flattered, and feel ourselves highly distinguished any time we get anything of any sort from Uncle Walt or big Walt Whitman as the children say. (My & Wife's dreadful "tempers" may wreck us any time—so care not much for us. We are doing finely in all [our?] farming operations. Health [tolerably?] good. Little Walt came to us after [illegible] about twice the usual [illegible] [may?] have [helped?] some, but mostly [illegible] lingered over so long and [illegible] caused us all to [illegible] [threefold?] pride and [illegible] of what [illegible] had to get over—the [illegible] [and?] a "back-heart [illegible]—

If I [shall not?] write much again for a good long time, please excuse me, and [illegible] [on the other?] hand (looking at the [illegible] be so foolish as to write too much (which I hope I shall not) then excuse that, and your [illegible] shine conspicuous.


Since writing the above, I first notice the red chalk mark alongside the lines where Burroughs invites "George" (who is "George?") to come there [and?] look at a [illegible] that is for sale. Knowing how some of [you?] northern people wish to [run?] from [your?] [illegible] winters, I will say is "George" [illegible] of a Southern [illegible] as a [illegible]? I would not recommend my section [illegible] for a Northern man to [illegible] a fortune [except in?] raising clover or other [hay?]. But a Whitman would find many friends and fine [illegible] nothing very or extra healthy [illegible] striking in scenery.

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.


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