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Walt Whitman to John H. Johnston, 31 December [1876]

 yal.00248.001_large.jpg My dear Johnston

Supposing you may receive this Monday morning, I feel to say to you & Mrs. J.1 & all the childer too, Happy new year, for the first thing—& you take this home to Mrs. J to read the printed letter on the other side—(it is one I sent to Rossetti2 in London, & he had some copies printed as a sort of circular)3

The watch4 came last evening, & I received and examined it this forenoon—I think it is going to do just right—thanks—very cold here, the gale whistling & blowing about the house, as I write—but the sun shining bright enough. Note in the box rec'd & welcomed—I am feeling quite well for me—If you see J Miller5 tell him I like much his piece to me in the January Galaxy6—it is full of the fieriest horses, held well in hand—tell him to write to me—I shall send you a newspaper to-morrow with some little poems to me extracted, Miller's among them—When you read it & are through, give it to J M—

Walt Whitman  yal.00248.002_large.jpg

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. 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]
  • 2. William Michael Rossetti (1829–1915), brother of Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, was an English editor and a champion of Whitman's work. In 1868, Rossetti edited Whitman's Poems, selected from the 1867 Leaves of Grass. Whitman referred to Rossetti's edition as a "horrible dismemberment of my book" in his August 12, 1871, letter to Frederick S. Ellis. Nonetheless, the edition provided a major boost to Whitman's reputation, and Rossetti would remain a staunch supporter for the rest of Whitman's life, drawing in subscribers to the 1876 Leaves of Grass and fundraising for Whitman in England. For more on Whitman's relationship with Rossetti, see Sherwood Smith, "Rossetti, William Michael (1829–1915)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. Whitman wrote this letter on the back of the circular he references. William Michael Rossetti had made some copies printed of a March 17, 1876, letter that Whitman had sent, and Whitman intended this printed copy as an enclosure for Alma Calder Johnston, the wife of John H. Johnston. Whitman had sent the original letter to Rossetti on March 17, 1876. [back]
  • 4. Whitman had ordered a "a gold watch, hunting case, middling showy in appearance" for $35 from Johnston in a December 20, 1876, letter. The watch was intended either for Harry Lamb Stafford (1858–1918), whom Whitman met in 1876, or for Edward Cattell, a hired hand at the Stafford family's New Jersey farm, who became close to Whitman. See the letter from Whitman to Cattell of January 24, 1887). [back]
  • 5. 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]
  • 6. Whitman is referring to Joaquin Miller's poem "To Walt Whitman," which was published in The Galaxy 23 (January 1877), 29. [back]
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