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John Newton Johnson to Walt Whitman, 3 April [1875]

 loc_tb.00749.jpg Walt Whitman

[illegible]oo​ big date man up dear oo​ dood​ [illegible] Poet what name like me! me write oo​ [illegible] letter—it sall​ be "fresh and modern" [illegible] me is Modern Man, ony​ bout​ four five monfs old—but me is not "Average Man"—oo​ tall​ me Average Man, oo​ lie!—Average Man is blame rascal—him not wuf​ pickin​ up in de​ road if him be tannin tip-toe! May-be if oo​ work him ober​ free​ four times, him be wuf​ sumtin​ —but way him is now, him teal​ , him cheat, him beg, him tell lies—but me is fine ittle​ "secesh," tuf boy man—me "boo bood​ "! me dot​ penty​ bood F. F. V.,1—me not teal​ —me not cheat—me not beg—me not tell liesback​ lies [illegible] white lies" is all back​ to meme ittle​ [illegible]es man bout​ dat​ —maybe me is ittle [illegible] foolish bout​ dat​ , but when me say yes it be yes and when me say no it be no—dats p[illegible] fun sometime but me  loc_tb.00751.jpg tant help it—me will [illegible] to some "white lies" [illegible] fun [illegible] some nice Poetry. But [illegible] do dem​ dear fings​ , me tan​ fight and [illegible] tanfoun​ de​ back​ -heart bobolitions​ ! [illegible] wooly head niggers! what em​ dood​ for but [illegible] torn and totton for chibalry​ white mans?

Uncle Walt: me is been treat bad—papa not gib​ me no name 'till me mos'​ free​ monfs​ old—him not like name him babys​ for live mans—him faid​ live mans do bad fings​ and make babies shamed—but me fink​ oo​ neber​ do no bad fings​ , man what talk dood​ like oo​ wont​ neber​ do no bad fings​ —papa not like bobolitions​ neider​ , but may-be oo​ not bobolitions​ , may-be oo​ ony​ make-believe, may-be ony​ also dust in [illegible] of dem bobolitions​ roun​ bout​ oo​ , for fatter​ em, and rake in der​ money, (dat​ [illegible] money [illegible] de​ Tariff teal​ from dood​ [illegible] mans gib​ to back​ -heart bobolitions​ [illegible] dat​ case [illegible], me say "go head​ Uncle Walt fatter​ em​ [illegible] fatter​ em​ , an'​ fatter​ em​ [illegible] big pile money from em​ '—den​ oo​ [illegible] here  loc_tb.00752.jpg afer​ oo​ f[illegible] dat​ line, an'​ build dood house on [illegible] top an'​ me an'​ oo​ will [illegible] togedder​ [illegible] laugh to de​ old bobolitions​ bout​ how oo​ [illegible] em​ out of der​ money—den​ we put [illegible] my boo flag) on top our house an'​ [illegible] fap​ , an'​ fap​ , an'​ fap​ an'​ we will bin​ big fiddles too, for play Dixie! Den​ if noder​ war tomes​ we will be taptains​ of Ku Klux banditti, an'​ me go east, an'​ oo​ go west, an'​ we will clean out all bobolitions​ an'​ wooly head niggers. Tause​ me is dood​ fightin​ tock​ ; me fight bery​ well when me dot​ no place for run to; me hunt for last ditch, but if em​ catch me fore​ me get dere​ , me will say me is old womans![no handwritten text supplied here]But Uncle Walt: me dont​ know if me wants see oo​ tomebody​ say oo​ not talk much tomebody​ say oo​ let oder​ folks do mos​ talking—what oo​ dat​ way for? ittle​ secesh man tould​ me [illegible] dat​ long​ wid​ oo​ dat​ way—him mighty [illegible] talk, but him fink​ ittle​ bit first, but [illegible] not see much books, him [illegible] lazy farmer [illegible], him not dot​ big pile books, nor fine [illegible] fine close​ , nor big money  loc_tb.00753.jpg ittle​ secesh man ony​ dot​ mos​ [illegible] dood​ sense, sheriff brave heart, an'​ ittle​ [illegible]. What for oo​ want see ittle​ [illegible] man? Does oo​ want hug him neck? does oo​ want hold him by him hand? Uncle Walt: [illegible] oo​ mus'​ not be tongue-tied.—

Me is not been sick none, ony​ de tolic​ , till me four monfs​ old—den​ big ittle​ boy take me in wind an'​ me hab​ told an' feber​ free​ days, but me tonquer​ him—what for me dot​ "gymnastic" mudder​ if me tant​ tonquer​ told an' feber​ ? me bully ittle​ boy—any ittle​ Jersey-boo-coat boy say "union" to me me tan​ whip him quicker'n him Banner an'​ Pennant tan​ say "fap​ ," "fap​ ," "fap​ "—oo​ bet!

Me not want presents what money tan​ buy—oo​ mus​ gib​ dat​ sort to oder​ ittle​ Walt Whitmans—but oo​ mus​ gib​ [illegible] love to ittle​ secesh mans. Now, me [illegible] me name

Walt Whitman XX≠IIXX

Oh! me pile him something [illegible] may be him [illegible] dood​ nuff​ .

The2 Amana[illegible] one need wish to see. He has been so idle or lazy [illegible] destitute of acquired knowledge that about [illegible] of paper would suffice to [illegible] him [illegible] of "Philosophy" and Wit. Dont be [illegible]

John Newton Johnson (1832–1904) was a colorful and eccentric self-styled philosopher from rural Alabama. There are about thirty letters from Johnson in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919 (Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.), but unfortunately there are no replies extant, although Whitman wrote frequently for a period of approximately fifteen years. When Johnson wrote for the first time on August 13, 1874, he was forty-two, "gray as a rat," as he would say in another letter from September 13, 1874: a former Rebel soldier with an income between $300 and $400 annually, though before the war he had been "a slaveholding youthful 'patriarch.'" He informed Whitman in the August 13, 1874, letter that during the past summer he had bought Leaves of Grass and, after a momentary suspicion that the bookseller should be "hung for swindling," he discovered the mystery of Whitman's verse, and "I assure you I was soon 'cavorting' round and asserting that the $3 book was worth $50 if it could not be replaced, (Now Laugh)." He offered either to sell Whitman's poetry and turn over to him all profits or to lend him money. On October 7, 1874, after describing Guntersville, Alabama, a town near his farm from which he often mailed his letters to Whitman, he commented: "Orthodoxy flourishes with the usual lack of flowers or fruit." See also Charles N. Elliot, Walt Whitman as Man, Poet and Friend (Boston: R. G. Badger, 1915), 125–130.


  • 1. Johnson uses the abbreviation "F. F. V." to refer to the First Families of Virginia. [back]
  • 2. Johnson wrote this postscript at the top of the first page of the letter. [back]
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