Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: John H. Johnston to Walt Whitman, 14 March 1887

Date: March 14, 1887

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02569

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 note: The annotation, "see notes oct 4 1888," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, Stephanie Blalock, Marie Ernster, and Amanda J. Axley

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New York,
Mar 14 1887

Dear Uncle Walt:

Over two weeks ago I determined to let Major Pond1 manage your lecture.2

He is "up" in that kind of business and knew just how to do it. He paid I might calculate $350, as the cost—the output, and he would guarantee to fill a hall. I at once assumed the responsibility & became security for the $350—

He then tried to get Chickering Hall but it was engaged for April 14th & also for every afternoon & evening about that date. We have at last settled upon the Madison Square Theater for the afternoon (4 o'clock) of April 14. I must pay the $75. for the Theater the moment it is engaged, & I will do so, the moment I receive a telegram from you tomorrow saying "all right, go ahead."3

Please wire me at once on receipt of this.

Alma4 is here with me & is well & says "Lots of love & thanks for the nice letter rec'd at Equinunk"5 —Ever yours

J H Johnston

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. James Burton Pond (1838–1903) was a famous lecture-manager and printer. He was also awarded the Medal of Honor for his services in the Civil War. In his 1900 autobiography Eccentricities of Genius (G. W. Dillingham Co: New York), he writes of Whitman: "Whitman gave a few readings under my management during his life. They were mostly testimonials from friends, and benefits given in the theatres of New York City"; Pond concludes with an anecdote about the poet's meeting with Sir Edwin Arnold (497–501). [back]

2. This is a reference to Whitman's lecture entitled "The Death of Abraham Lincoln." He first delivered this lecture in New York in 1879 and would deliver it at least eight other times over the succeeding years, delivering it for the last time on April 15, 1890. He published a version of the lecture as "Death of Abraham Lincoln" in Specimen Days and Collect (1882–83). For more on the lecture, see Larry D. Griffin, "'Death of Abraham Lincoln,'" Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed. (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. The event took place and was apparently a great success. James B. Pond recounts it as follows: "It was indeed a picturesque spectacle at Walt's last appearance in the Madison Square Theatre, on Lincoln's birthday. Just as he was about to recite 'My Captain,' a little girl, the granddaughter of Edmund Clarence Stedman, walked out upon the stage and presented him with a beautiful bouquet of roses" (Eccentricities of Genius, G. W. Dillingham Co: New York, 1900, 497). [back]

4. Alma Calder Johnston was an author and the second wife of John H. Johnston. Her family owned a home and property in Equinunk, Pennsylvania. For more on the Johnstons, 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). [back]

5. See Whitman's letter to Alma Calder Johnston of March 3, 1887[back]


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