Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: John H. Johnston to Walt Whitman, 24 March 1887

Date: March 24, 1887

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07367

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), 2:431–432. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schöberlein, Kevin McMullen, and Stephanie Blalock

150 Bowery, New York, Mar 24, 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 knows just how to do it. He said I might calculate three hundred and fifty dollars as the cost—the output, and he would guarantee to fill a hall. I at once assumed the responsibility and became security for the three hundred and fifty dollars. He then tried to get Chickering Hall but it was engaged for April 14th and also for every afternoon and evening about that date. We have at last settled upon the Madison Square Theatre for the afternoon (four o'clock) of April 14th.3 I must pay the seventy five dollars for the Theatre the moment it is engaged, and I will do so the moment I receive a telegram from you to-morrow saying, "all right, go ahead." Please wire me at once on receipt of this.

Alma4 is here with me and is well and says: "Lots of love and thanks for the nice letter received at Equinunk.5"

Ever yours sincerely
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 Lincoln lecture was a tremendous success, and Whitman was so showered with adulation that he observed in the Commonplace Book: "If I had staid longer, I sh'd have been killed with kindness & compliments" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

4. Alma Calder Johnston was an author and the second wife of John H. Johnston. [back]

5. Equinunk is a village in northeastern Pennsylvania, where Alma Calder Johnston's family, for much of the nineteenth century, owned a home and large tract of land. [back]


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