Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 27 August 1890

Date: August 27, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02439

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Kirby Little, Ian Faith, Breanna Himschoot, Zainab Saleh, and Stephanie Blalock



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54 Manchester Road
Bolton
Lancashire.
England1
Aug 27th 1890

Dear Walt Whitman,

Last evening Mr Wallace2 shewed me your post card,3 from which I was extremely sorry to learn that you had been a little uneasy about me. By this time you will know from his cablegram and from our letters that all is well with me but I regret that I did not write to you sooner or cable to you immediately upon my arrival. Through not doing so I feel I have been guilty of a seeming lack of courtesy to you. You will need no assurance that this has not been intentional on my part; for I can never forget your great kindness to me—the homely, cordial & sponteneous reception you gave me not only to your house but into your heart which you seemed fairly to open to me in a way that has touched me very deeply indeed.

By your loving kindness, your sympathy and your open-handed generosity you have enriched my life with treasures which I would not exchange for all the wealth of Golconda for you have given me "yourself" as "a living impulse"4

"We convince by our presence."5 Your presence has haunted me ever since I left you and at times the sense of propinquity is so strong that I find it difficult to realize that we are separated by more than three thousand miles!

"What is it then between us? Whatever it is it avails not,—distance avails not, and place avails not."6

The words of Mr Wallace that I seem to have had a spiritual visitation are no exaggeration for I am conscious of having received a something from you which has infused itself into my being and which eludes my senses and baffles my judgment to explain.

And now you crown your goodness by shewing such a sympathetic concern about my welfare as no other man save my own, dear, good father could have done.

For all this and more I desire you to accept of my heartfelt thanks.

I am glad to hear that your health is fairly good & I trust it may continue to improve now that the intensly hot weather has gone.

I am taking the liberty of writing to Dr Bucke7 to explain my not visiting him as I intended. It was simply impossible for me to do so & deeply do I now regret it.

I hope Warren8 has received the book on "massage."

I send you a few photographs—the first I have done & hope you will like them.

With kindest regards to Mrs Davis9 & Warren & love to yourself

I remain
Yours affectionately
J. Johnston

to Walt Whitman
Camden

JJ


Correspondent:
Dr. John Johnston (d. 1918) was a physician from Bolton, England, who, with James W. Wallace, founded the "Bolton College" of English admirers of the poet. Johnston and Wallace corresponded with Whitman and with Horace Traubel and other members of the Whitman circle in the United States, and they separately visited the poet and published memoirs of their trips in John Johnston and James William Wallace, Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–1891 by Two Lancashire Friends (London: Allen and Unwin, 1917). For more information on Johnston, see Larry D. Griffin, "Johnston, Dr. John (d.1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).

Notes:

1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle St | Camden | New Jersey | U. S. America. It is postmarked: Bolton | AU27 | 90; Paid | C | All; New York | Sep 5 | 90; Camden, N.J. | Sep | 6 | 6AM | 1890 | Rec'd. [back]

2. James William Wallace (1853–1926), of Bolton, England, was an architect and great admirer of Whitman. Along with John Johnston (d. 1918), a physician from Bolton, he founded the "Bolton College" of English admirers of the poet. Johnston and Wallace corresponded with Whitman and with Horace Traubel and other members of the Whitman circle in the United States, and they separately visited the poet and published memoirs of their trips in John Johnston and James William Wallace, Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–1891 by Two Lancashire Friends (London: Allen and Unwin, 1917). For more information on Wallace, see Larry D. Griffin, "Wallace, James William (1853–1926)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. On August 26, 1890, Whitman wrote Wallace to thank him for sending a cable message notifying him of Dr. Johnston's safe return. [back]

4. Johnston is quoting from Whitman's poem "Myself and Mine." [back]

5. Johnston is quoting from Whitman's poem "Song of the Open Road." [back]

6. Johnston is quoting from Whitman's poem "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry." [back]

7. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. Frank Warren Fritzinger (1867–1899), known as "Warry," took Edward Wilkins's place as Whitman's nurse, beginning in October 1889. Fritzinger and his brother Harry were the sons of Henry Whireman Fritzinger (about 1828–1881), a former sea captain who went blind, and Almira E. Fritzinger. Following Henry Sr.'s death, Warren and his brother—having lost both parents—became wards of Mary O. Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, who had also taken care of the sea captain and who inherited part of his estate. [back]

9. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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