Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: John Newton Johnson to Walt Whitman, 20 December 1876

Date: December 20, 1876

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01854

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, Jonathan Y. Cheng, Elizabeth Lorang, Ashley Lawson, John Schwaninger, Nima Najafi Kianfar, Caterina Bernardini, and Nicole Gray

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To Walt Whitman

This is John Burroughs' Answer to a Card I sent him last of Nov—inquiring about the letter I sent him a year and a half ago—

Please forward him the two pieces written for him after you read them.

We are all about well.

I enclose stamps to pay the letter to Burroughs—"The soul is OF [Touch"?]—how much [meaning?] in that o-f!!

Write when it suits you and boast some on your future prospects.

J. N. Johnson

Esopus, N.Y.
Dec 1st 76

My Dear Sir:

Yes, I received the letter, with the picture & printed slips last year, & meant to have written in reply, but put it off too long, as I am so apt to do. Did you wish me to send the picture to Whitman? I saw "[great?] [illegible]" [illegible] I have [illegible] [since, I think?] [illegible] spared to us many years yet. He promised to come & see me in the spring.

I have a 10 acre farm here on the banks of the Hudson near Po'keepsie, I spend some of my time as National Bank Examiner, but [most?] of here amid homely rural things which suits me best. I have one acre of strawberries, one of cherry currant, one of Red Raspberries & one of grapes. I also have a [illegible] orchard. I like the [illegible] fruits [illegible] hay. I [illegible] sometime take hold myself.

Crops here of all kinds were much injured by the drought,—am sorry to hear of your bad luck & that with the [rest?] death has taken one of your flock.

I have no children & so am exempt from the pain of their loss.—Sorry you did not vote. I think Hayes is the man for all men of progress & ideas. Let me hear from you again. I will not be so dilatory in answering again. [illegible]


[illegible] this morning.


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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