Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 15 November 1890

Date: November 15, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02449

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, Ryan Furlong, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock



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54 Manchester Road
Bolton
Lancashire, England
Novr 15th 1890.

Dear Walt Whitman

Accept of my best thanks for your kind letter with the enclosed slips of your article on "Old Poets,"1 which I received on the 13th inst. the article is one of great interest to me intrinsically; and extrinsically because of the rigorous mentality it evidences.

By the same mail I received a letter form John Burroughs2 in which he says that he "spent two or three days in Camden, the latter part of Septr" and found you "in pretty good condition" the best for three years he thinks—which is good news for all your friends here. He also says that he has sent your photo (from my negative) "back to England, to a daughter of Charles Kingsley's,3 who wanted one & who is a reader and admirer of Whitman."

By the way I have not heard whether the negative reached you safely or not. If so I hope it may be of use to you.

I will send J. B. another photo of you. He considers it a most excellent one. He has an article in the North American Review4 for Oct. on "Faith and Credulity"5 but I have not read it yet.

Ingersoll6 had an article in the Sept number on "Tolstoi and the Kreutzer Sonata."7

I received a letter form Captain Nowell8 (from Queenstown) respecting our commission & his visit to you.

I conveyed your loving salutation & benediction to J W Wallace9 and in a letter to me in which he tells me of certain worries & troubles he says that it is "like a message of comfort from the skies" to him, & he continues—"God bless him! Say I & my grateful love accompany him always!"—I saw him this morning. He is looking pretty well and sends his love to you, as do all the friends whom I have met since receiving yr letter. At our last meeting (at the house of Wentworth Dixon10) I read "The Carpenter"11—at least the most of it—which took me nearly two hours, and much did they all enjoy that splendid story and the charming glimpses it gives of your personality & influence—some of them being "fetched" by parts of it; and no wonder, for it is a most moving story and powerfully told. At next meeting (Novr 17th) I shall read your letter & your article to them.

We have had some typical English November weather here lately—a good deal of rain and fog—but this has been a truly delightful day of gladsome, benignant sunshine—a welcome "halcyon days" before the winter settles upon us. I have just returned from the Bolton Chrysanthemum Show in our Town Hall where I have spent a very pleasant hour promenading, listening to the strains of our grand organ & looking at the really fine display of gorgeously tinted bloom—quite a pleasant break in my professional work.

I hope you are keeping better & have quite got rid of the cough Warry12 told me of in his letter. I have no cough—& have had none

With best love to you & kindest regards to all your household

I remain
Yours affectionately
J. Johnston

PS I enclose a newspaper cutting of the latest recorded instance of local bravery.

I had a post card from Dr Bucke13 asking me to get him a copy of the Sunday Chronicle which contains the article upon you but I am sorry to say that it cannot now be obtained at the office. We have seen Dr. Bucke's letter in "The Conservator."14


J J


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. On October 3, 1890, Whitman had accepted an invitation to write for The North American Review. He sent them "Old Poets," the first of a two-part contribution, on October 9. "Old Poets" was published in the November 1890 issue of the magazine, and Whitman's "Have We a National Literature?" was published in the March 1891 issue. [back]

2. 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]

3. Mary St. Leger Kingsley (1852–1931), who wrote under the pseudonym Lucas Malet, was the daughter of novelist and Church of England clergyman Charles Kingsley (1819–1875). She, too, was a well-known novelist during her lifetime and admired Whitman, calling him the "prince upon poets" (see Patricia Lorimer Lundberg, "Mary St. Leger Kinsgsley Harrison," in Jennifer Cognard-Black and Elizabeth MacLeod Walls, eds., Kindred Hands: Letters on Writing by British and American Women Authors [Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2006], 137). [back]

4. The North American Review was the first literary magazine in the United States. The journalist Charles Allen Thorndike Rice (1851–1889) edited and published the magazine in New York from 1876 until his death. After Rice's death, Lloyd Bryce (1852–1915) became owner and editor. At this time, William Rideing (1853–1918) was assistant editor of the magazine. [back]

5. Johnston is referring to John Burroughs's article "Faith and Credulity," The North American Review, 151.407 (October 1890), 469–476. The article considers both religious faith and credulity in science. [back]

6. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]

7. Johnston is referring to Robert Ingersoll's "Tolstoi and 'The Kreutzer Sonata,'" The North American Review 151 (September 1890), 289–299. The Kreutzer Sonata was a novella by the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910) published in 1889 and censored by Russian authorities. The novella follows the main character Pozdnyshev who kills his wife in a jealous rage. [back]

8. 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]

9. 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]

10. Wentworth Dixon was a member of the "Bolton College" of Whitman admirers, and was also affiliated with the Labour Church, an organization whose socialist politics and working-class ideals were often informed by Whitman's work. Dixon communicated directly with Whitman only a few times, but we can see in his letters a profound sense of care for the poet's failing health, as well as genuine gratitude for Whitman's continued correspondence with the "Eagle Street College." See Dixon's letters to Whitman of June 13, 1891 and February 24, 1892. For more on Dixon and Whitman's Bolton disciples, see Paul Salveson, "Loving Comrades: Lancashire's Links to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, vol. 14, no. 2, 57–84. [back]

11. Johnston is referring to John Burroughs's article "Faith and Credulity," The North American Review, 151.407 (October 1890), 469–476. The article considers both religious faith and credulity in science. [back]

12. 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]

13. 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]

14. Horace Traubel founded The Conservator in March 1890, and he remained its editor and publisher until his death in 1919. Traubel conceived of The Conservator as a liberal periodical influenced by Whitman's poetic and political ethos. A fair portion of its contents were devoted to Whitman appreciation and the conservation of the poet's literary and personal reputation. [back]


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