Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: John H. Johnston to Walt Whitman, 23 September 1890

Date: September 23, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02576

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, "16.05," and "W.H. Neidlinger," are in an unknown hand.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ian Faith, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock



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John H. Johnston. Albert Edw. Johnston.
J. H. JOHNSTON & CO.,
Diamond Merchants and Jewelers.
17 Union Square, New York.
Cor. Broadway & 15th St.
———
Established, 1844.
Telephone Call: 916 21st Street.
New York,1
Sept 23 1890

Dear Walt:

Your postal2 is rec'd—I sent the material3 you mailed me to Ingersoll,4 and have no doubt he will find it useful—

Now then; If you can get to Phil for an even'g—What is to hinder your being wheeled into a car and being whisked over here in two hours, then after three days good solid rest, with Mrs Davis5 & your nurse6 to help, you will be able to go to one of our great Halls or Opera house & listen to Ingersoll.7

In other words—If the thing comes off here, it will knock Phil. right out—I believe you can stand it easy—

Alma8 says "We will give Uncle Walt our floor and he will be as comfortable as any one possibly can be"9

We live in Stuyvesant Square, 4 story wide house 3 rooms deep, so you see you can sling cats if you want to.

Think this over, and lets see if we cannot teach the owners of your Academy a lesson.

Sincerely Yours
JH Johnston


Correspondent:
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 [New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1915], 2:139). 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).

Notes:

1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | Camden | N.J. It is postmarked: New York | Sep 24 | 7 PM | D; [illegible]Y | [illegible]-24-90 | 8 PM | 5; Camden, N.J. | Sep | 25 | 6 AM | 1890 | Rec'd. The envelope has a printed return address: J. H. Johnston & Co., | Diamond Merchants and Jewelers, | 17 Union Square, New York. | Cor. Broadway & 15th St. [back]

2. Johnston is referring to Whitman's postal card of September 23, 1890. Johnston's letter is also dated the 23rd, suggesting that he wrote his reply upon receiving the poet's card, and then posted his letter the next day. [back]

3. See the second of Whitman's two September 20, 1890, letters to Johnston. [back]

4. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]

5. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Frank Warren Fritzinger (1867–1899), known as "Warry," took Edward Wilkins's place as Whitman's nurse, beginning in October 1889. Fritzinger and his brother Harry were the sons of Henry Whireman Fritzinger (about 1828–1881), a former sea captain who went blind, and Almira E. Fritzinger. Following Henry Sr.'s death, Warren and his brother—having lost both parents—became wards of Mary O. Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, who had also taken care of the sea captain and who inherited part of his estate. [back]

7. Johnston is referring to the idea of holding a lecture event in Whitman's honor. The event took place on October 21 at Philadelphia's Horticultural Hall. Orator and agonostic Robert Ingersoll delivered the lecture, which was titled "Liberty in Literature. Testimonial to Walt Whitman." See Ingersoll's October 12, 1890, and October 20, 1890, letters to Whitman. [back]

8. 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]

9. Whitman later recorded in his Commonplace Book his impressions of Ingersoll's October 21, 1890, speech: "Well the Ingersoll lecture came off last evn'g in Horticultural Hall, Broad st: Phila:—a noble, (very eulogistic to WW & L of G) eloquent speech, well responded to by the audience. There were 1600 to 2000 people, (choice persons,) one third women (Proceeds to me $869.45)—I went over, was wheeled on the stage in my ratan chair, and at the last spoke a very few words—A splendid success for Ingersoll, (& me too.) Ing. had it written, & read with considerable fire, but perfect ease" (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]


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