Educator, author, b. 8 March, 1822, at Powellton, Georgia, U.S.A.; d. at Baltimore, Maryland, 23 September, 1898. His father was a Baptist minister, and his early education was received at a country school and finished at Mercer College. After graduating there he spent a year teaching and then took up the study of law and was admitted to the Bar in 1843. In 1857, he accepted an appointment to the chair of belles-lettres in the State University of Georgia, retaining it until the opening of the Civil War, when he began a school for boys on his farm near Sparta. This he kept going during the war, serving also for a time on the staff of General J.E. Brown, and helping to organize the state militia. At the close of the war he moved to Maryland, where he opened the Penn Lucy School for boys near Baltimore. One of his teaching staff here was the poet Sidney Lanier, who persuaded him to begin to write for publication, although he was then over fifty years old. His first stories were sent to the "Southern Magazine"; others to "The Century" followed, and became immediately popular. He had the knack of story-telling that depicted the homely children of the soil, quaint characters that filled the memories of his youth, and he embalmed their fading images with facility and a faithful regard to accuracy that preserved the bourgeois type of old Middle Georgia. His style was serene and facile, mingling humour with moral philosophy. As a critic he had poetic sympathy with wise discrimination.
Johnston became a Catholic in 1875, accepting the truth after long hesitation. His wife Frances Manfield, of old New England stock, had been received into the Church six months previously. He relates that he was thirty years old when he first saw a priest, and that his first investigations into the Faith were during the "Know-Nothing" campaign of 1855, when he read some of Bishop England's and Newman's works to confute a political opponent. With his conversion the attendance at his school, which was long associated with Baptist patronage, declined, and he gave it up and devoted himself entirely to literature — his popularity as a story writer having steadily increased — and to lecturing on literary topics. His published works include: "Dukesborough Tales" (1871-81), in which the impressions of his early school days in Georgia were elaborated; "Old Mark Langston" (1884); "Two Gray Tourists" (1885); "Mr. Absolom Billingslea and Other Georgia Folks" (1888); "The Primes" (1891); "Widow Guthrie" (1890); "Ogeechee Cross Firings" (1889); "Old Times in New Georgia" (1897); a "Life of Alexander H. Stephens" with whom he had been associated in law practice (1878). A collection of "Essays" was published in 1881 and he prepared a "Historical Sketch of English Literature" (1872), a text-book for advanced students, used in Johns Hopkins University, and other institutions at which he gave lecture courses.
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