Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 20 September 1890

Date: September 20, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02443

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: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ryan Furlong, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock



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54 Manchester Road
Bolton. England
Sept 20th 1890

Dear Walt Whitman

Truly this has been a "red letter day for me! This morning's post brought a letter from Dr Bucke1 & the noon post a post card2 & newspaper from you & a book packet from the good doctor containing a copy of "Man's Moral Nature"3 a newspaper with a story by Dr B. & two pamphlets also by him! Also a copy of the original preface to "L of G" 1855.

First let me thank you most cordially for your kindness & for your kind words of approval of the photo's.4 I am glad you like them and since you thus encourage me I shall take the liberty of sending you a few more before long which I think will interest you I feel very highly honoured by your wish to utilize my copy of the 1890 photo in your forthcoming annex.5 I shall send you the "plate" or negative probably by next mail & you may keep it & use it as you think best. It is not on glass but on the new substitute celluloid which has the advantage of being flexible while retaining its transparency, but it is used exactly in the same way as an ordinary glass negative & any photographer can print from it by inserting it behind a sheet of clean glass in the printing frame

By the way I noticed that Mr Wallace's6 large photo is "Copyrighted" by the photographer. I don't know how this will affect your reproducing my copy of it but you will know best. Pardon my mentioning it.

I am glad to hear that you are keeping "well" from wh' I conclude that you have recovered from your attack of the Grippe7 & I sincerely hope that your health may continue to improve. May the coming Winter treat you kindly & may naught but good be yours.

I had a visit the other day from Captain Nowell8 of the S.S. "British Prince" with whom I went to Philadelphia. He was present, along with Herbert Gilchrist,9 at your Birthday Banquet10 188911 & was introduced to you He sails again on Wed Sept 24th (due Phila. about Oct 6th) & will probably call upon you on account of Mr Wallace & myself, if it will not be troubling you too much to see him for a few minutes.12 He is a downright good fellow—and a handsome fellow into the bargain!

I hope "Warry"13 received the book on "Massage" all right14

Will you please kindly put me down as a subscriber for your new book15 & I will forward the cash as soon as I know the price?

I am extremely pleased with Dr Bucke's most kind letter. He gives me some details of poor W.D. O'Connor's16 illness & death which have a sad interest. His death must have been a great blow to you & a loss to all who knew him. John Burroughs17 told me a good deal about him & of the wordy encounters you & he used to engage in at times. His (O'C's) intellect must have been of an exceptionally high order—J.B. said it was "like a Damascus blade, so keen, incisive & penetrating"—& he must have been an altogether unique man upon whose like we shall not soon gaze again.

I am glad to hear that "Warry" & Mrs Davis18 like the photographs & that they are both well.

Please kindly give my regards to them & to all the household

With continued reverential love to yourself
I remain
J. Johnston

over



To Walt Whitman

P.S The boys are anticipating a pleasant evening on Sept 25th when they mean to give the Revd FRC Hutton MA19 a "Surprise Party" on his Birthday. Our Birthday present is the copy of the Pocket book edition of L of G20 which was ordered by cablegram21

As a little set off to some of those "sharp notices" of which you remark in J.W.W.'s p.c. here is an extract from an article entitled "Carlyle22 & old women" by P.W. Roose23 in this months National Review

"'My imagination like my heart has always been with the women—I mean the young for I cannot separate that adjective from that substantive.' So at that advanced age wrote Landor.24 In dramatically opposite spirit the more homely, yet more imaginative, American bard Walt Whitman sets forth his dictum—

"Women sit or move to & fro some old some young
The young are beautiful but the old are more beautiful than the young"


JJ

P.P.S. Since writing this letter I have been over to Anderton and have spent a delightful afternoon with J.W.W. in charming Rivington—a rural district close to Anderton full of delights for Nature-lovers. It has been a splendid September afternoon—a veritable halcyon day such as we have had many this month—the sun shining with tempered power, a fine fresh breeze blowing in our faces & swaying the great arms of the autumn-tinted, majestic trees, swallows darting & screaming overhead, wagtails running across our path, songsters twittering in the hedgerows. We walked together through the fields & along the highroad round by the bottom of the grass clad Pike—a high-ish hill with a tower on top—skirting the edge of the lake whose purple waters were dappled & ridged & scalloped by the wind, & as we wandered on beneath the azure canopy with its rose tinged cumulus clouds JWW read aloud your "Song for Occupations." Much did I enjoy listening to his valved voice speaking your soul-animating words & their precious message.

In the train I read Dr Bucke's little article "Leaves of Grass & Modern Science" in the Conservator25


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. 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]

2. See Whitman's September 8, 1890, postal card to Johnston. [back]

3. Man's Moral Nature (1879) was Bucke's first book. He dedicated it "to the man of all men past and present that I have known who has the most exalted moral nature—Walt Whitman." [back]

4. Whitman expresses his appreciation for the photographs in his September 8, 1890, postal card to Johnston. [back]

5. In his September 8, 1890, postal card to Johnston, Whitman mentions that he wants to use the photos for his "forthcoming little (2d) annex," which would become Good-Bye My Fancy (1891). [back]

6. 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]

7. Whitman mentioned that the "grip" had "seized" him in his August 30, 1890, postal card to J.W. Wallace, who passed the word along to Johnston. Johnston mentions this in his letter of September 13[back]

8. Little is known about S. Nowell, the Captain of the S. S. British Prince. [back]

9. 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]

10. For Whitman's seventieth birthday, Horace Traubel and a large committee planned a local celebration for the poet in Morgan's Hall in Camden, New Jersey. The committee included Henry (Harry) L. Bonsall, Geoffrey Buckwalter, and Thomas B. Harned. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, May 7, 1889. The day was celebrated with a testimonial dinner. Numerous authors and friends of the poet prepared and delivered addresses to mark the occasion. Whitman, who did not feel well at the time, arrived after the dinner to listen to the remarks. [back]

11. For Whitman's thoughts about his 70th birthday dinner, see his June 4, 1889, letter to William Sloane Kennedy and his June 4–5, 1889, letter to Bucke. See also Whitman's June 2, 1889, letter to Traubel, regarding the published volume of birthday speeches Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1889). [back]

12. On October 8, 1890, Horace Traubel notes that Whitman received a letter from Captain Noell [sic] stating that Johnston and James W. Wallace had given him a blanket of Bolton manufacture to deliver personally to the poet in Camden. Traubel notes a few days later on October 14: "W. said Captain Noell [sic] had been in with the blanket." See the letter from S. Nowell to Whitman of October 8, 1890. [back]

13. 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]

14. Johnston had not yet received Whitman's letter of September 13, 1890, in which he says: "the massage book came safe (valuable book)." [back]

15. Johnston is referring to Whitman's Good-Bye My Fancy (1891). [back]

16. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

17. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a lifelong correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

18. 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]

19. Reverend Frederick Robert Chapman Hutton (1856–1926) was the Vicar of St. George's Church, Bolton, and St. Paul's, Astley Bridge. [back]

20. The poet had the special pocket-book edition printed in honor of his 70th birthday, May 31, 1889, through special arrangement with Frederick Oldach. Only 300 copies were printed, and Whitman signed the title page of each one. The volume also included the annex Sands at Seventy and his essay A Backward Glance O'er Traveled Roads. See Whitman's May 16, 1889, letter to Oldach. For more information on the book see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary[back]

21. On September 11–12, 1890, James W. Wallace explained that he had requested by telegram a copy of the pocket-book edition which was to be a birthday present for a member of the County Borough of Bolton (England) Public Libraries circle, the Rev. F. R. C. Hutton, for which he was enclosing 22 shillings. Johnston describes the presentation of the book to Hutton and Hutton's reaction in his December 20, 1890, letter to Whitman. [back]

22. Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) was a Scottish essayist, historian, lecturer, and philosopher. For more on Carlyle, see John D. Rosenberg, Carlyle and the Burden of History (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1985). [back]

23. Pauline W. Roose was a writer and frequent contributor to Victorian Periodicals, including The Argosy and The Gentleman's Magazine. She often signed these pieces as "P.W. Roose." She was also the author of The Book of the Future Life, assisted by David C. Roose (London: Elliot Stock, 1900) and an essay on Whitman entitled "A Child-Poet: Walt Whitman," The Gentleman's Magazine 272 (January–June 1892): 467, 474, 480. [back]

24. Walter Savage Landor (1775–1864) was an English writer and poet, whose writings included prose, lyric poetry, and political works. He was the author of the multivolume work Imaginary Conversations of Literary Men and Statesmen and the poem Rose Aylmer, among numerous other works. [back]

25. Johnston is referring to Richard Maurice Bucke's "Leaves of Grass and Modern Science," which was published in The Conservator 1 (May 1890): 19. [back]


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