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Walt Whitman to John H. Johnston, 29 September 1887


Nothing special—Am somewhat under the weather four or five days—cold in the head or malaria—I sent Shiell's the book 16th Sept.1—McKay,2 my Phila: publisher, has just been over—paid me $77 for royalties for the last eight months—I paid the Camden taxes on my shanty to-day $263—The photos come from Cox4 all right, & I sign & return them—Wm Carey,5 at the Century office, seems to be managing the sale & financial part of the matter—I am satisfied with all6—H Gilchrist7 the painter has gone back to England8 & taken his picture with him—Morse9 the sculptor is still here (in Phila)—I think the plaster head10 by him (the 2d head we call it) is the best thing yet. Cloudy & rainy spell of weather here—I havn't been out of the house since last Sunday—have been amusing myself with Pepys' Diary11 (McKay sent it to me, good edn. 4 vols.)—When you come again, don't forget to bring my Stedman12 book American Poets13—Love to Alma14 and Al15 and all of you—

Walt Whitman  yal.00251.002_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. Whitman sent a copy of the 1876 edition of Leaves of Grass to Robert Shiells at the "National Bank, Neenah, Wisconsin" (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]
  • 2. David McKay (1860–1918) took over Philadelphia-based publisher Rees Welsh's bookselling and publishing businesses in 1881–82. McKay and Rees Welsh published the 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass after opposition from the Boston District Attorney prompted James R. Osgood & Company of Boston, the original publisher, to withdraw. McKay also went on to publish Specimen Days & Collect, November Boughs, Gems from Walt Whitman, Complete Prose Works, and the final Leaves of Grass, the so-called deathbed edition. For more information about McKay, see Joel Myerson, "McKay, David (1860–1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. McKay paid Whitman $76.91 on September 22; the exact amount of the city tax was $25.37 (Whitman's Commonplace Book). [back]
  • 4. 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]
  • 5. William Carey (1858–1901) worked for the editorial department of The Century Magazine. The September 1887 issue of the monthly advertised signed photographs of Whitman (taken by George C. Cox earlier that summer). See also Whitman's letter to Cox of September 15, 1887. [back]
  • 6. 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. He wrote John H. Johnston on September 1, 1887, "He advertises . . . to sell my photo, with autograph. The latter is forged, & the former illegal & unauthorized." The disagreement was quickly resolved, and, as this letter indicates, Whitman 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]
  • 7. Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist (1857–1914), son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, was an English painter and editor of Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). For more information, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden (1857–1914)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 8. [back]
  • 9. Sidney H. Morse (1832–1903) was a self-taught sculptor as well as a Unitarian minister and, from 1866 to 1872, editor of The Radical. He visited Whitman in Camden many times and made various busts of him. Whitman had commented on an earlier bust by Morse that it was "wretchedly bad." For more on this, see Ruth L. Bohan, Looking into Walt Whitman: American Art, 1850–1920 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), 105–109. [back]
  • 10. The "plaster head" is the second of Sidney H. Morse's four plaster busts of Whitman. Morse's bust of the poet is reproduced in Edwin Haviland Miller, The Correspondence, Vol. 4, following 278 and in The Artistic Legacy of Walt Whitman (1970), figure 24. [back]
  • 11. Samuel Pepys (1633–1703) was the author of the well-known diary of a decade of his life (1660–1669), which remained unpublished until 1825; an expanded edition was published in 1875–1879. [back]
  • 12. Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833–1908) was a man of diverse talents. He edited for a year the Mountain County Herald at Winsted, Connecticut, wrote "Honest Abe of the West," presumably Lincoln's first campaign song, and served as correspondent of the New York World from 1860 to 1862. In 1862 and 1863 he was a private secretary in the Attorney General's office until he entered the firm of Samuel Hallett and Company in September, 1863. The next year he opened his own brokerage office. He published many volumes of poems and was an indefatigable compiler of anthologies, among which were Poets of America, 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1885) and A Library of American Literature from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, 11 vols. (New York: C. L. Webster, 1889–90). For more, see Donald Yannella, "Stedman, Edmund Clarence (1833–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 13. Whitman had left Stedman's Poets of America at the Westminster Hotel (see Whitman's April 16, 1887, letter to the Proprietor, Westminster Hotel). [back]
  • 14. 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]
  • 15. Albert Johnston was the son of John H. Johnston. [back]
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