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Walt Whitman to John H. Johnston, 1 September 1887

 sal.00004.001_large.jpg My dear friend

I wish you could take half an hour if possible & go around for me to Mr Cox2 photographer cor: 12th St. & Broadway. He advertises (Century, Sept. number3) to sell my photo, with autograph. The latter is forged, & the former illegal & unauthorized. When in N Y last April I was taken there by Miss Gilder4 & sat for pictures under promise that I should see them in specimens & decide wh' should be printed & put forth, & wh' not. Since, all requests to have them (proofs or specimens) sent me here have been ignored. The whole thing is cool, very. Go round & see if C will immediately send me copies of the pictures & follow my requests ab't them—Or will it be necessary for me to clap a legal injunction on the issue?—wh' I shall certainly do—You can show this note to Mr Cox5

Walt Whitman

Take Alma6 with you, if she likes.


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. This letter is addressed: J H Johnston | Jeweler | 150 Bowery cor: Broome | New York City. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Sep 1 | 6 PM | 87. [back]
  • 2. George Collins "G. C." Cox (1851–1903) was a well-known celebrity photographer who had taken photographs of Whitman when the poet was in New York to give his lecture on Abraham Lincoln (his Lincoln lecture) in April 1887. "The Laughing Philosopher," one of the most famous photographs of Whitman, was taken by Cox in 1887. [back]
  • 3. The photographer George Cox (1851–1903) proposed selling signed copies of his photographs of Whitman. However, when the September 1887 issue of Century appeared with an advertisement, Whitman still had not seen proofs, much less signed the photographs. The disagreement Whitman describes here was quickly resolved, and he signed photographs for Cox and returned them. Cox had taken multiple photographs of Whitman in April, 1887, including the image known as "The Laughing Philosopher." [back]
  • 4. Jeannette Leonard Gilder (1849–1916) helped her brother, Richard Watson Gilder (1844–1909), edit Scribner's Monthly and then, with another brother, Joseph Benson Gilder (1858–1936), co-edited the Critic (which she co-founded in 1881). For more, see Susan L. Roberson, "Gilder, Jeannette L. (1849–1916)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 5. As letters to Cox (September 15), the writer and editor William Carey (September 15), and Johnston (September 29) later in the month indicate, Whitman was needlessly concerned about the sale of his photographs with a forged signature. On September 3 he noted: "Johnston went to see Cox, photographer—J thinks 'it is all right.' "Although Johnston wrote on September 10 about a suspected forgery (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.), Carey, who handled the financial arrangements (see the letter from Whitman to Johnston of September 29 1887), forwarded from Cox to Whitman $2 on October 3, $16.50 on November 2, and $15.50 on December 2 (Whitman's Commonplace Book). See also Horace Traubel, ed., With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, June 19, 1889. [back]
  • 6. 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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