Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: John H. Johnston to Walt Whitman, 25 March 1884

Date: March 25, 1884

Whitman Archive ID: loc.05766

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The transcription presented here is derived from Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1953), 3:331. 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, Stefan Schöberlein, and Nicole Gray

New York,
March 25th, 1884.

Dear Walt:

I promised you I would send you fifty dollars four times over for your portrait by Hine,1 but the thought has occurred to me that your moving may make it desirable to have some extra cash just now, and so I send you my check for one hundred dollars and will send the balance before you need it, I trust; if not a gentle reminder from you will fetch it.

As I looked at your things packed up for moving, I wondered if you had in any way by will or otherwise secured their safe care when you have passed away. Some one who loves you should have them to give to the world in proper shape. I do not consider myself the proper one, although I hope some day to tell the world "what I know about Walt Whitman," but the safe care of your literary remains I feel anxious to have in right hands.

Mr. Montgomery2 was wonderfully delighted with meeting you, and talked of nothing else all day and evening. He is a man of very marked ability, who will be heard of before long in politics and literature. I think he has a wonderfully well-balanced mind. Alma3 was sorely disappointed at my not bringing you home with us Sunday and hope you will very soon visit us.

I want you to write me the full history of the painting by Hine—when, where, how, &c &c.

Sincerely 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. Charles Hine (1827–1871) did an early oil painting of Walt Whitman, the engraving of which was the frontispiece for the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass. In 1889 Whitman observed of Hine's portrait: "the best of all" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, March 19, 1889, 378). [back]

2. Mr. Montgomery has not been identified. [back]

3. 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]


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