Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 17 January 1891

Date: January 17, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02459

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, Bolton1 England.
Jan 17th 1891.

My Dear Old Friend,

The American mail this morning brought me three most welcome letters—one from Herbert Gilchrist,2 one from your dear niece, Jessie Whitman,3 & best of all another kind post card from you,4 for which I thank you very heartily—

From it I was rejoiced to learn that you were (on Jan 5th) apparently so much better in health—"comfortable with me still writing a little for publication"—and in such good spirits.

I sincerely trust that this improvement will continue & that there may be no recurrence of your troubles.

I shewed your p.c. to Thos Sharrock,5 in the Police Court where I had to appear as a medical witness this morning & where T S—who is one of "The Boys"—is Clerk to the Magistrates Clerk & immediately afterwards I took it to J.W.W.'s6 office. He shewed me a long & interesting letter he had just recd from Dr Bucke7 in which the Dr said that he had dislocated his left shoulder but was getting on all right with it. He also shewed me the letter he is sending you by this mail, in which he pays a deservedly high tribute to our mutual & much-loved friend Fred Wild8 In a letter to me Fred says that he takes our gift of L of G9 as a token & a further Link of Love between us. He also says:—"I have sent my warmest love to W.W. by Wallace. Do you also remember me. I pray I may become worthy of being one of his friends & lovers." This desire of Fred's I gladly forward to you, for a more loyal & true hearted friend than he, man never had.

I am glad you like "The Review of Reviews,"10 which J.W.W. have agreed to send you conjointly every month if you will kindly accept of it. The Jan: no. goes by this mail.

I also send you a copy—written by Wentworth Dixon11—of another good letter I have this week received from J.A. Symonds,12 which I think will interest you

Herbert Gilchrist says (on Jan 5th) that he "hoped to see you in a couple of weeks" & I trust you had a good time together

J.W.W. has received the paper you sent (Once a Week I think it) is & thanks you for it

Our second "plum" treat comes off tonight—

The frost, wh: seemed to be going when I last wrote, has returned in all its severity & we have had more snow.

This has been a glorious day here—hard frost, & snow with brilliant sunshine & blue sky. J.W.W. & F.W. intended going for a delightful walk in Rivington & much do I regret that my professional duties have prevented my accompanying them.

Again expressing the hope that you are keeping better & with kindest regards to all your household & best 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. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle St | Camden | New Jersey | U.S. America. It is postmarked: Bolton | [illegible] | JA17 | 91; [illegible]aid | A | [illegible]; Camden, N.J. | Jan | 27 | 6AM | 1891 | Rec'd. Johnston has also written his initials, "JJ" in the bottom left corner of the recto of the envelope. [back]

2. 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]

3. Jessie Louisa Whitman (1863–1957) was the second and youngest daughter of Whitman's brother Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman (1833–1890) and Jeff's wife Martha Mitchell Whitman (1836–1873). [back]

4. See Whitman's January 5, 1891, postal card to Johnston. [back]

5. Thomas Sharrock (b. 1863) was a lower court clerk who lived in Pennington, Lancashire, and was associated with the "Bolton College" group of Whitmanites. [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. 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]

8. 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]

9. For more on the gift copy of Leaves of Grass to Fred Wild, see James W. Wallace's January 9 letter to Whitman. [back]

10. The Review of Reviews was a magazine begun by the reform journalist William Thomas Stead (1849–1912) in 1890 and published in Great Britain. It contained reviews and excerpts from other magazines and journals, as well as original pieces, many written by Stead himself. [back]

11. Wentworth Dixon (1855–1928) was a lawyer's clerk and a member of the Bolton Whitman Fellowship. [back]

12. John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy, as well as Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), and a translator of Michelangelo's sonnets. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known. See Andrew Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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