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Walt Whitman to John H. Johnston, 13 December [1876]


Thanks, my dear friend, for your cheery letter, & for your warm & hospitable invitations2—I am though crippled as ever perhaps decidedly better this winter—certainly in the way of strength & general vim—& it would be very pleasant to me to come on & stay at your house for about a week, if perfectly convenient, & if you have plenty of room—My (adopted) son,3 a young man of 18, is with me now, sees to me, & occasionally transacts my business affairs, & I feel somewhat at sea without him—Could I bring him with  loc.02552.002_large.jpg me, to share my room, & your hospitality & be with me?—

Glad to hear in your note from Joaquin Miller4— first news of him now for three months—Will sit to Mr Waters5 with great pleasure—& he & you shall have every thing your own way—

—I am selling a few copies of my Vols, new Edition, from time to time6—most of them go to the British Islands—

—I see Mr Loag7 occasionally—

Loving regards to you, my friend, & to Mrs Johnston8 no less— Walt Whitman

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. The year is established by an entry in Whitman's Commonplace Book (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.), as well by the fact that Whitman visited Johnston for the first time early in 1877. [back]
  • 2. This letter has not been located. [back]
  • 3. Whitman met the 18-year-old Harry Lamb Stafford (b. 1858) in 1876, beginning a relationship which was almost entirely overlooked by early Whitman scholarship, in part because Stafford's name appears nowhere in the first six volumes of Horace Traubel's With Walt Whitman in Camden—though it does appear frequently in the last three volumes, which were published only in the 1990s. Whitman occasionally referred to Stafford as "My (adopted) son" (as in this letter), but the relationship between the two also had a romantic, erotic charge to it. For further discussion of Stafford, see Arnie Kantrowitz, "Stafford, Harry L. (b.1858)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 4. Joaquin Miller was the pen name of Cincinnatus Heine Miller (1837–1913), an American poet nicknamed "Byron of the Rockies" and "Poet of the Sierras." In 1871, the Westminster Review described Miller as "leaving out the coarseness which marked Walt Whitman's poetry" (297). In an entry in his journal dated August 1, 1871, the naturalist John Burroughs recorded Whitman's fondness for Miller's poetry; see Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1931), 60. Whitman met Miller for the first time in 1872; he wrote of a visit with Miller in a July 19, 1872, letter to his former publisher and fellow clerk Charles W. Eldridge. [back]
  • 5. George Wellington Waters (1832–1912) was a portrait and landscape painter from Chenango County, New York. John H. Johnston commissioned Waters to paint Whitman's portrait. Johnston arranged for Waters to stay at the Johnston home in March 1877, when Whitman visited the Johnstons. Waters made two portraits of Whitman from this sitting. For more information on the portraits, see See Ruth L. Bohan, Looking into Walt Whitman [University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006], 69–71. [back]
  • 6. During America's centennial celebration in 1876, Whitman, reissued the fifth edition of Leaves of Grass in the repackaged form of a "Centennial Edition" and "Author's Edition," with each copy personally signed by Whitman. Around the same time, Whitman also brought out, as part of the nation's centennial celebration, his Two Rivulets, an experiment in prose and poetry, with (in the first section of the book) poetry printed at the top of the page and separated by a wavy line from the stream of prose at the bottom of each page. For more information on these books, see Frances E. Keuling-Stout, "Leaves of Grass, 1876, Author's Edition" and "Two Rivulets, Author's Edition [1876]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 7. Samuel Loag was a Philadelphia printer and a friend of both Johnston and of Horace Traubel. [back]
  • 8. Alma Calder Johnston (1843–1917) was an author and the founder of a charity called the Little Mothers' Aid Society. The charity funded trips to Pelham Bay Park on Hunter's Island for young girls who served as the primary caregivers for their siblings while their parents worked. Johnston wrote for the New York Tribune and Harper's Weekly ("[Obituary for Alma Calder Johnston]," in "New York Notes," The Jewelers' Circular-Weekly [May 9, 1917], 85). Her "Personal Memories of Walt Whitman" was published in The Bookman 46 (December 1917), 404–413. She was the second wife of the jeweler John H. Johnston, and 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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