Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 3 January 1891

Date: January 3, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02455

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, Andrew David King, and Stephanie Blalock



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54 Manchester Road
Bolton
Lancashire, England1
January 3rd 1891

My Dear Old Friend,

I must thank you very cordially for your great kindness in sending me the p.c. of Decr 19th 18902 which I received on New Year's Day.

I cannot tell you how heart-sorry I am to learn that at the time of writing it you were so poorly, & I sincerely hope that by this time you are feeling better, & are freer from the pain & distress of those internal complications which trouble you. While I was saddened by the knowledge that you were suffering physical pain I was deeply touched by the fact that in the midst of it all you should kindly think of me & write me such a tender & loving note, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this act of self-denying thoughtful friendliness which I regard as a signal proof of your affection for me. God bless you for this & for everything else I owe to you!

The other day I received a letter from Mrs Harrison3 of Bideford to whom I sent a copy of my "Notes"—she is a daughter of the late Charles Kingsley4 & writes under the nom de plume of "Lucas Malet"—in which she says:— "It is most interesting to get fresh, first-hand impressions of a man whom one so deeply admires as I admire Walt Whitman. He is too big, too unconventional, ever to become popular, I fancy, either here or in the United States. But his thought, filtered through the minds of those few who admire & love him, may help to 'leaven the lump,' I hope, as time goes on. I read him with increasing sympathy &, I think, profit. But he writes in a language of his own & must be understood in a sense of his own;"

I sent a traced copy of your p.c. to Mr. Wallace5 & he will probably write to you

By the way it may amuse you to know that in consequence of the extent of my "Whitman correspondence" he has jokingly dubbed me "Organising Secretary of the International Whitman Society"!

We had a pleasant New Year's Day here—a hard frost with crisp, clean atmosphere. There is a great Carnival on New Year's Eve among the Bolton people who assemble in thousands on the Town Hall Square—the great central open space in the town—to listen to the band which plays on the Town Hall steps from 11-15 pm until after midnight & upon the last stroke of 12 everybody wishes everybody else a "Happy New Year," the band then playing "Hail, Smiling morn!" & afterwards "Auld Lang Syne," the "Hallelujah Chorus" & "God Save the Queen." Then the "fair" begins and the Saturnalia last three days.

I hope you all received the Christmas papers I sent & that they afforded you a little amusement.

I notice a paragraph in this week's Academy (London) announcing that you are now engaged in the preparation of your new volume, Farewell, My Fancy!6

There is a loan collection of pictures on exhibition at a newly opened museum here & this afternoon our Librarian suggested that I should send Sydney Morse's7 large portrait of you to it.

In the syllabus of the "Bolton Internation Club" I notice that Mr Duncan8 is put down to give a paper on "Walt Whitman" in April next.

Mr Wallace has just been here for half an hour's chat after posting his letter to you. He tells me that he has also sent you a copy of the Manchester Weekly Times containing an article on Bolton which I intended sending to you.

And now as it is close upon mail time I must bring this letter to an end by again expressing the hope that you are keeping better & sending you my heartiest sympathy & good wishes & wishing you all a "Happy New Year"

With best regards to all your household & with heart-love to yourself

I remain
Yours affectionately
J Johnston


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. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle St | Camden | New Jersey U.S. America. It is postmarked: Bolton | [illegible] | JA 3 |; Paid | B | All; [illegible] | JAN | 10 | 91; Camden, N. J. | Jan | 11 | 4PM | 1891 | Rec'd. [back]

2. Johnston is referring to Whitman's postal card of December 19, 1890. [back]

3. Mary St. Leger Kingsley Harrison (1852–1931) of Eversley, Hampshire, England, was the daughter of Reverend Charles Kingsley (1819–1875) and his wife Frances Eliza Grenfell (1814–1891). Lucas Malet was Mary St. Leger Kingsley's pen name, and her most popular novels included The Wages of Sin (1891) and The History of Sir Richard Calmady (1901). In 1876, she married the Reverend William Harrison. [back]

4. Charles Kingsley (1819–1875) was a novelist, a Church of England clergyman, and a controversialist. [back]

5. 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]

6. Whitman's book Good-Bye My Fancy (1891) was his last miscellany, and it included both poetry and short prose works commenting on poetry, aging, and death, among other topics. Thirty-one poems from the book were later printed as "Good-Bye my Fancy 2d Annex" to Leaves of Grass (1891–1892), the last edition of Leaves of Grass published before Whitman's death in March 1892. For more information see, Donald Barlow Stauffer, "'Good-Bye my Fancy' (Second Annex) (1891)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. Sidney H. Morse (1832–1903) was a self-taught sculptor as well as a Unitarian minister and, from 1866 to 1872, editor of The Radical. He visited Whitman in Camden many times and made various busts of him. Whitman had commented on an earlier bust by Morse that it was "wretchedly bad." For more on this, see Ruth L. Bohan, Looking into Walt Whitman: American Art, 1850–1920 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), 105–109. [back]

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


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