Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to John H. Johnston, 19 December [1876]

Date: December 19, [1876]

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02553

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.

Editorial notes: The annotations, "1876," and "J.H.J.," are in an unknown hand.

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Kathryn Kruger, Zachary King, Eric Conrad, Alex Kinnaman, Cristin Noonan, Erel Michaelis, and Stephanie Blalock

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Dec 19/18751

My dear Johnston,

Yours of yesterday rec'd.2 Every thing will suit me just that way—would like to come during or before the close of January—would like to have a room where I could have a fire, table, &c. My nephew3 & I when traveling always share the same room together & the same bed, & would like best to do so there. I want to bring on a lot of my books, new edition,4 & sell them, so I can raise a little money (—& that is what my young man is for.)

Fix the time to suit Waters5 & yourself, that way.6

Thanks & affection
Walt Whitman

John H. Johnston (1837–1919) was a New York jeweler and close friend of Whitman. Johnston was also a friend of Joaquin Miller (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, August 14, 1888). Whitman visited the Johnstons for the first time early in 1877. In 1888 he observed to Horace Traubel: "I count [Johnston] as in our inner circle, among the chosen few" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, October 3, 1888). See also Johnston's letter about Whitman, printed in Charles N. Elliot, Walt Whitman as Man, Poet and Friend (Boston: Richard G. Badger, 1915), 149–174. For more on Johnston, see Susan L. Roberson, "Johnston, John H. (1837–1919) and Alma Calder," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


1. The letter itself reads "Dec 19/1875" but an editorial marking crosses out 1875 and suggests instead that the letter is dated 1876. [back]

2. This letter has not been located. [back]

3. Walt Whitman met the 18-year-old Harry Lamb Stafford (1858–1918) in 1876, beginning a relationship which was almost entirely overlooked by early Whitman scholarship, in part because Stafford's name appears nowhere in the first six volumes of Horace Traubel's With Walt Whitman in Camden—though it does appear frequently in the last three volumes, which were published only in the 1990s. Whitman occasionally referred to Stafford as "My (adopted) son" (as in a December 13, 1876, letter to John H. Johnston), but the relationship between the two also had a romantic, erotic charge to it. In 1883, Harry married Eva Westcott. For further discussion of Stafford, see Arnie Kantrowitz, "Stafford, Harry L. (b.1858)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. During America's centennial celebration in 1876, Whitman, reissued the fifth edition of Leaves of Grass in the repackaged form of a "Centennial Edition" and "Author's Edition," with each copy personally signed by Whitman. Around the same time, Whitman also brought out, as part of the nation's centennial celebration, his Two Rivulets, an experiment in prose and poetry, with (in the first section of the book) poetry printed at the top of the page and separated by a wavy line from the stream of prose at the bottom of each page. For more information on these books, see Frances E. Keuling-Stout, "Leaves of Grass, 1876, Author's Edition" and "Two Rivulets, Author's Edition [1876]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. George Wellington Waters (1832–1912) was a portrait and landscape painter from Chenango County, New York. John H. Johnston commissioned Waters to paint Whitman's portrait. Johnston arranged for Waters to stay at the Johnston home in March 1877, when Whitman visited the Johnstons. Waters made two portraits of Whitman from this sitting. For more information on the portraits, see See Ruth L. Bohan, Looking into Walt Whitman [University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006], 69–71. [back]

6. According to the letter from Whitman to John H. Johnston of December 12, 1876, Whitman had agreed to sit for a portrait by noted landscape painter George W. Waters. [back]


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