Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 6–7 January 1891

Date: January 6–7, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02457

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, Ian Faith, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock



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54, Manchester Road,
Bolton
England
Jan 6th '91

My best thanks to you, my dear, good old friend for your most welcome p.c. of Dec. 23rd1 from which I was more than glad to learn that you were then in impr [illegible] health. I have also received [illegible] good letter from Horace Traubel2 (written on Xmas day) in which he says that Christmas Eve found you in notably good trim & relieved from many of your discomforts of the past few months. This is indeed good news for me, for Mr Wallace3 & for all your friends here, who join me most heartily in congratulating you upon the improvement & in the earnest hope that it may continue—

I have given [illegible] kind message & they send you their love & best wishes.

Mr. Wallace has kindly sent me a copy of your p.c. to him.4 Thanks to you, too, for your kindness in sending the book to F.W.5 I have not yet seen him.

We have had two magnificent days here, [thin?] frost, bright sun shine, blue skies, a slight fall of snow last night following a really fine sunset; luminous starlight nights. I have been longing for a vigorous tramp over the hills & fells, to taste the "caller air"6 & to enjoy the rural delights I love so well. But alas! I am chained to the town by inexorable duty—which you help me to do more than I can tell you—and sick folks are numerous at this time of the year—But my work has its compensations [illegible]obably, nay, certainly, heightens my enjoyment & appreciation of the beauty, the mystery & somewhat of the meaning of the shards of External Nature which you have opened my eyes to see.

Yesterday afternoon I had a walk through our Bolton Park where, save for the flute-like notes of a solitary blackbird and the cheery chirrups of a few sparrows, an ominous silence prevailed in the blackened leafless trees; & I fear that the six weeks' frost & snow have been fatal to a great many of our woodland songsters.

This afternoon I had an hour's skating & very exhilirating was it to glide over the ice upon which the setting sun was gleaming, & reddening the faces of the skaters—

Jany 7th

This morning there was a dense fog & Jack Frost had ornamented our windows with his inimitably beautiful pr [illegible] & hung our hedges & trees with his white rime, transforming them into silver filagree work. The afternoon was beautifully fine & sunny & this evening the children's party I mentioned in a previous letter comes off. About 50 prettily dressed little boys & girls have just had "high tea," to which they have done ample justice, & the general jollification & juvenile revelry are now at their height. There are games, romps, dances, bon bons, crackers, Magic Lanterns, & mirthful fun of all sorts in which I have been participating & what is better, enjoying as much as the youngest of them!

Oh that you could come & join our merry throng, as "the Carpenter" came to old Elkanah Dyzer's place7 & see the gladsome "gales of glee" that sweep around that room. [illegible] hear there re-echoing peals of laughter & see the joyous faces of those happy hearted children from whom I have just escaped in order to finish this letter to you as the mail goes tonight!

With kindest regards to all the members of your household & with best heart love to yourself

I remain

Yours affectionately
J Johnston


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. See Whitman's December 23, 1890, postal card to Johnston. [back]

2. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the mid-1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. 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]

4. See Whitman's December 23, 1890, letter to J.W. Wallace. [back]

5. For more on the gift copy of Leaves of Grass to Fred Wild, a member of the Bolton group, see James W. Wallace's January 9, 1891, letter to Whitman and Johnston's January 17, 1891, letter to Whitman (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

6. "Caller" was an antiquated phrase of English countryside vernacular meaning fresh and invigorating, usually in reference to air and water. Johnston most likely placed the phrase between quotation marks because he came across it in the poetry of Robert Burns or Walter Scott. [back]

7. Johnston is making an allusion to William Douglas O'Connor's short story "The Carpenter: A Christmas Story," which was originally published in 1868 in Putnam's Monthly Magazine[back]


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