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Alma Calder Johnston to Walt Whitman [1890–1891?]

 loc.02431.001_large.jpg Dear Uncle Walt:1

We are so glad that you are able to get into the blessed sunshine once more! When you are in that smile of God, or, to put it scientifically, the shower of iron, sulphur, zinc, copper, cobalt, nickel, calcium, sodium, alumnium, and all the  loc.02431.002_large.jpg other spirits of the metals which we know (or recognize) in this solid state, only, and which the sunbeams pour upon us, I am sure you begin to feel yourself re-created again. Becoming A Man of metal, as it were!

This atomic theory is very pretty as it stands: is it not? One can almost feel the substitution of an atom  loc.02431.003_large.jpg of oxygen for one of hydrogen; one of carbon for another of iron going on in the blood; being pulled out and put in—thro' the pores, as we sit under the rays of the life-giving sun; and inahle huge draughts of the vitalized atmosphere.

How I do long to see you and your rolling chair2  loc.02431.004_large.jpg in Stuyvesant park which is now merry with children, and peaceful for the aged and weary who gather there every day.

Another reason for wanting to have you here is—I have been asked to give a series of studies of Walt Whitman's poems: and at the very outlining, feel the need of instruction from you. Deviations arising as to the  loc.02431.005_large.jpg introduction of the thought which includes All. For it, "Leaves of Grass," is to me the Book of books, expressing or hinting every experience and aspiration; and I hope to open the cover—turn the pages, point to the lines, for my Woman friends, to whom it is a sealed volume. That is all but—that is enough. For you include All. Even as I wrote of the interchange of atoms, comes the lines "Dazzling and tremendous  loc.02431.006_large.jpg how quick the sunrise would kill me If I could not now and always send sun rise out of me."3 Which is a scientific fact as well as a poetic-fancy, you see, the equilibrium of forever. But I will not tire you. If you can you will give us more of yourself; but the world is better, braver, truer and life is easier, sweeter, grander for the words you have written.

Whether we want inspiration, consolation, or justification, we turn to you.

With a longing kiss I am ever yours truly Alma Calder Johnston

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).


  • 1. Johnston's letter is undated, but it may have been written in 1890 or 1891 since Johnston refers to Whitman's "rolling chair" (his wheeled chair). [back]
  • 2. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889. [back]
  • 3. Johnston is quoting, with minor alterations, from Whitman's poem "Song of Myself." [back]
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