Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 13 December 1890

Date: December 13, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02453

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, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock



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54, Manchester Road,
Bolton.
Lancashire, England.
Decr, 13th 1890.

Dear Walt Whitman,

Thanks to you for your kind p.c & for your long & interesting letter both of which I received yesterday1

I am much grieved to hear of the death of your brother Jefferson2 which must have been a heavy blow to you & one which I am sure you would feel most acutely. On behalf of the friends here & myself I desire to tender you our sincere & heartfelt sympathy in your sore bereavement. May the Great Healer & Consoler pour His balm into your wounded heart & give you of his sweet Peace & Comfort!

I am also extremely sorry to hear of your continued indisposition & I hope that by this time things have taken a more favourable turn with you & that your strong faith & your vast store of long suffering patience, indomitable pluck and hopeful joyousness may bear you through these "gloomy blue days" as they have done so often before.

I received a good letter from Dr Bucke3 yesterday in which he gives me some professional details of your illness which were very welcome from a brother medico.

I am glad that you like & endorse my Notes4 & I thank you cordially for your kindly remarks concerning them—

It may interest you to know that "the boys"5 gave me a "surprise party" on the evening of Dec. 8th—my birthday—& presented me with a handsome "Literary machine"—a reading & writing stand—bearing a brass plate engraved "To John Johnston, Esq. M.D., 'Something for a token' From the Boys of the College. Bolton, Dec. 8th 1890."

After the presentation & speeches R K Greenhalgh6 consecrated the stand by reading aloud from it a Manifesto written by J. W. Wallace7—characterised as a Chieftan's call to arms—rousing us to a sense of the value & importance of our little Society of Friends & urging upon us the necessity for strengthening the bonds of mutual manly love & true Comradeship & the cultivation of the Higher Self. The rest of the evening was spent in merriment—songs recitations & social converse—two original humourous songs about "the Doctor" being contributed by W. Dixon.8

By this mail I am sending a parcel of Christmas literature for you & some of the other members of your household; also a copy of this week's Bolton Journal containing a short paragraph anent a pleasant evening we had at the Bolton Art Club when I gave the members & their friends an account of my visit to you9 &c, & exhibited your photo & those I took in America10 upon a 10 ft screen.

I saw Fred. Wild11 last night. He sends his love & his sympathy to you & asked me to order a copy of the pocket book Edition of L. of G.12 for him. His address is—Mr Fred. Wild, 24, Arrowsmith Terrace Bolton, Lancashire, England. & I should be obliged if you would kindly send the book to him direct.

Many thanks to you for kindly sending Mr Johnstone's13 copy.

I shall have great pleasure in sending a copy of my Notes to each of the friends whose names & addresses you have kindly favoured me with.

With best love to you & kindest regards to all the members of your household & wishing you all a "Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year!"

I remain
yours affectionately
J Johnston

P.S. I have just heard that J W W has recd Lippincott's Magazine14 from you


Correspondent:
Dr. John Johnston (1852–1927) of Annan, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, was a physician, photographer, and avid cyclist. Johnston was trained in Edinburgh and served as a hospital surgeon in West Bromwich for two years before moving to Bolton, England, in 1876. Johnston worked as a general practitioner in Bolton and as an instructor of ambulance classes for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways. He served at Whalley Military Hospital during World War One and became Medical Superintendent of Townley's Hospital in 1917 (John Anson, "Bolton's Illustrious Doctor Johnston—a man of many talents," Bolton News [March 28, 2021]; Paul Salveson, Moorlands, Memories, and reflections: A Centenary Celebration of Allen Clarke's Moorlands and Memories [Lancashire Loominary, 2020]). Johnston, along 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 (1852–1927)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).

Notes:

1. It is uncertain which letters are being referred to here. [back]

2. Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890), known as "Jeff," was Walt Whitman's favorite brother. As a civil engineer, Jeff eventually became Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis and a nationally recognized figure. For more on Jeff, see Randall Waldron, "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. 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]

4. Johnston published (for private circulation) Notes of Visit to Walt Whitman, etc., in July, 1890. (Bolton: T. Brimelow & co., printers, &c.) in 1890. His notes were also published, along with a series of original photographs, as Diary Notes of A Visit to Walt Whitman and Some of His Friends, in 1890 (Manchester: The Labour Press Limited; London: The "Clarion" Office, 1898). Johnston's work was later published with James W. Wallace's accounts of Fall 1891 visits with Whitman and the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke in Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–91 (London, England: G. Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1917). [back]

5. This is a reference to the "Bolton College," a group of Whitman admirers located in Bolton, England. The group was co-founded by Johnston and the architect James W. Wallace (1853–1926). [back]

6. Richard Greenhalgh, a bank clerk and one of Whitman's Bolton admirers, frequently hosted annual celebrations of the poet's birthday. In his March 9, 1892, letter to Traubel, Greenhalgh wrote that "Walt has taught me 'the glory of my daily life and trade.' In all the departments of my life Walt entered with his loving personality & I am never alone" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, March 20, 1892). James Wallace described Greenhalgh as "undoubtedly a rich, royal, plain fellow, not given to ornate word or act" (Sunday, September 27, 1891). For more on Greenhalgh, see Paul Salveson, "Loving Comrades: Lancashire's Links to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, vol. 14, no. 2, 57–84. [back]

7. James William Wallace (1853–1926), of Bolton, England, was an architect and great admirer of Whitman. Along with John Johnston (1852–1927), 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]

8. Wentworth Dixon (1855–1928) was a lawyer's clerk and a member of the "Bolton College" of Whitman admirers. He 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]

9. Johnston visited Whitman in the summer of 1890. Accounts of Johnston's visits can be found in Johnston and James W. Wallace's Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–91 (London, England: G. Allen & Unwin, ltd., 1917). [back]

10. Johnston is referring to the photographs he took in Camden, in July 1890. See The Walt Whitman Archive's Image Gallery, especially the three photographs of Whitman and his nurse Warren Fritzinger (zzz.00117, zzz.00118, zzz.00119). [back]

11. Fred Wild, a cotton waste merchant, 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. [back]

12. Whitman had a 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]

13. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

14. Lippincott's Monthly Magazine was a literary magazine published in Philadelphia from 1868 to 1915. Joseph Marshall Stoddart was the editor of the magazine from 1886 to 1894, and he frequently published material by and about Whitman. For more information on Whitman's numerous publications here, see Susan Belasco, "Lippincott's Magazine." [back]


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