Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

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

Date: January 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02461

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.

Notes for this letter were created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Contributors to digital file: Ethan Heusser, Cristin Noonan, Alex Ashland, Stephanie Blalock, and Amanda J. Axley



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54, Manchester Road
Bolton, England.1
Jan 1891.

My best & warmest thanks to you, my dear good old friend, for your kind & most welcome p.c. of Jan 9th,2 from which I was delighted to learn that you were then "getting along fairly, even well," and I devoutly hope that this improvement in your health still continues.

I am pleased to know that the celluloid negative is giving such satisfactory impressions—"curiously good & fine, no better work"3 —and I shall much like to see one when there are any to spare

Glad, too, that J.A.S.'s4 letter pleased you5 ("It is beautiful["]). Last week I forwarded you a copy of my second one from him which I hope you have received. By the way I have since discovered an error in the copy—"magnetic pole" should read "magnetic force."

The following is the list of friends to whom you wished me to send copies of my "Notes."6



U.S.A7
Mrs O'Connor,8 Mrs. Van Nostrand,9
Miss Whitman,10 Mrs. H. L. Heyde,11
R. G. Ingersoll,12 Sloane Kennedy,13
David McKay,14 Talcott Williams15


Bernard O'Dowd,16 Melbourne
R Pearsall Smith17 London
Ed. Carpenter18 Chesterfield
M. Gabrl Sarrazin,19 Nouméa
Lord Tennyson,20 WM Rossetti21 & J. A. Symonds.22

In addition to these I have sent copies to John Burroughs,23 Dr Bucke,24 Herbert Gilchrist,25 Andrew Rome26 Captain Nowell,27 Mrs Harrison28 & of course to my relatives & such of my personal friends as I thought likely to be interested in you.

Would you like me to send copies to any others?

I intend having a few bound in leather & interleaved with specially printed copies of the photographs & will send you one, tho' it may be a little time owing to the bad printing weather here.

I am greatly pleased & flattered at the reception the little pamphlet has met with among your friends & I am indeed proud to receive your kind praise & approval. Little did I think when I sat in the "West Jersey Hotel," Camden, on those broiling hot July days, scribbling down—mainly for private reference—my impressions after being with you, that that hastily written & imperfect sketch wd receive such commendation from & result in my being honoured with the friendship of so many of your personal friends & lovers.

And it is to you, my most generous benefactor, that I am indebted for this as for so many other blessings with which you have dowered my life!

My heart's gratitude & love go with you, now & always & the blessing of the All-Good abide with you ever!

With kindest regards to Warry29 Mrs. Davis30 Harry31 & little Annie32 & with best love to yourself

I remain
Yours affectly
J Johnston

P.S. I send you some "Graphic" first sketches along with JWW's33 art journal


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 I 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 the architect 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] | JAN | [illegible]; New Y[ork] | Feb | 2; A | 91; Camden, N.J. | Feb | 2 | 3 PM | 1891. The recto of the envelope is endorsed: "J.J." [back]

2. See Whitman's postal card to Johnston of January 9, 1891[back]

3. Johnston is referring to photographs that he took on his July 1890 visit to Whitman in Camden. See The Walt Whitman Archive's Image Gallery, especially the three photographs of Walt Whitman and his nurse Warren Fritzinger (zzz.00117, zzz.00118, zzz.00119). Whitman acnknowledged his receipt of the photos in his September 8, 1890, postal card to Johnston. Whitman also mentions that he wants to use the photos for his "forthcoming little (2d) annex," which would become Good-Bye My Fancy (1891). In his January 9, 1891, postal card to Johnston, Whitman mentioned having received "curiously good & fine" impressions from a plate printer that had been working from Johnston's "celluloid negatives." [back]

4. 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 C. Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Johnston included in his December 27, 1890, letter some of his verses, a copy of the Annandale Observer, and a typescript of a letter he had received from Symonds dated December 22, 1890, a tender and moving piece in which Symonds wrote: "For a broken & ageing man of letters up here among the Alpine snows [in Davos Platz], these particulars . . . bring a film before the eyes, through which swims so much of life, of the irrecoverable past, of the unequal battle with circumstances, of spiritual forces wh' have sustained, & of the failures wh' have saddened. I do not know whether you have seen a short piece of writing by me, in which I said that Whitman's work had influenced me more than any thing in literature except the Bible & Plato. This expresses the mere fact, so far as I can read my inner self, though perhaps my own industry in life, on the lines of author mainly, may not seem to corroborate my statement." [back]

6. Johnston visited Whitman in Camden in the summer of 1890. He published (for private circulation) his account of the visit, titled 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]

7. Johnston has written "U.S.A." to the left of the list of names that are to receive a copy of his "Notes," and included brackets that are intended to separate the American recipients from the international ones. [back]

8. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor (1830–1913) was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated African Americans, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. Three years after William O'Connor's death, Ellen married the Providence businessman Albert Calder. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]" and Lott's "O'Connor (Calder), Ellen ('Nelly') M. Tarr (1830–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. Mary Whitman Van Nostrand (1821–1899) was the daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walt Whitman's younger sister. She married Ansel Van Nostrand, a shipwright, in 1840, and they lived in Greenport, Long Island. Mary and Ansel had five children: George, Minnie, Fanny, Louisa, and Ansel, Jr. For more information, see Paula K. Garrett, "Whitman (Van Nostrand), Mary Elizabeth (b. 1821)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 786. [back]

10. Jessie Louisa Whitman (1863–1957) was the youngest daughter of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother and sister-in-law. Jessie and her older sister Manahatta ("Hattie") (1860–1886) were both favorites of their uncle Walt. [back]

11. Hannah Heyde (1823–1908), Walt Whitman's youngest sister, resided in Burlington, Vermont, with husband Charles L. Heyde (1822–1890), a landscape painter. For more information about Hannah, see Paula K. Garrett, "Whitman (Heyde), Hannah Louisa (d. 1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). For more on Charles Heyde, see Stevem Schroeder, "Heyde, Charles Louis (1822–1892)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

12. 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 Horace 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" (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]

13. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and the Boston Transcript; he also published biographies of Longfellow, Holmes, and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933], 336–337). Apparently Kennedy called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [London: Alexander Gardener, 1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

14. David McKay (1860–1918) was a Philadelphia-based publisher, whose company, founded in 1882, printed a number of books by and about Walt Whitman in the 1880s and 1890s, such as the 1891/1892 editon of Leaves of Grass, Whitman's November Boughs, and Richard Maurice Bucke's 1883 biography of the poet. [back]

15. Talcott Williams (1849–1928) was associated with the New York Sun and World as well as the Springfield Republican before he became the editor of the Philadelphia Press in 1879. His newspaper vigorously defended Whitman in news articles and editorials after the Boston censorship of 1882; see Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1964), 3:296–97n. Rees Welsh became Whitman's publisher after Osgood & Company could not stand up to the scurrilous and sanctimonious blasts of Anthony Comstock and his associates. [back]

16. Bernard Patrick O'Dowd (1866–1953) was an Australian poet, lawyer, activist, and journalist. He and his wife, Evangeline Mina Fryer, began a weekly discussion club with secular and Whitmanesque inclinations called the Australeum. His letter of March 12, 1890, began a correspondence with Whitman that lasted until November 1, 1891, and assumed the character of a religious experience, always saluting Whitman with reverential appellations. For more, see Alan L. McLeod, "Whitman in Australia and New Zealand," J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

17. Robert Pearsall Smith (1827–1898) was a Quaker who became an evangelical minister associated with the "Holiness movement." He was also a writer and businessman. Whitman often stayed at his Philadelphia home, where the poet became friendly with the Smith children—Mary, Logan, and Alys. For more information about Smith, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Robert Pearsall (1827–1898)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

18. Edward Carpenter (1844–1929) was an English writer and Whitman disciple. Like many other young disillusioned Englishmen, he deemed Whitman a prophetic spokesman of an ideal state cemented in the bonds of brotherhood. Carpenter—a socialist philosopher who in his book Civilisation, Its Cause and Cure posited civilization as a "disease" with a lifespan of approximately one thousand years before human society cured itself—became an advocate for same-sex love and a contributing early founder of Britain's Labour Party. On July 12, 1874, he wrote for the first time to Whitman: "Because you have, as it were, given me a ground for the love of men I thank you continually in my heart . . . . For you have made men to be not ashamed of the noblest instinct of their nature." For further discussion of Carpenter, see Arnie Kantrowitz, "Carpenter, Edward [1844–1929]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

19. Gabriel Sarrazin (1853–1935) was a translator and poet from France who commented positively not only on Whitman's work but also on Poe's. Whitman later corresponded with Sarrazin and apparently liked the critic's work on Leaves of Grass—Whitman even had Sarrazin's chapter on his book translated twice. For more on Sarrazin, see Carmine Sarracino, "Sarrazin, Gabriel (1853–1935)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

20. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892), among the best-known British poets of the latter half of the nineteenth century, wrote such poems as "Morte d'Arthur," "Ulysses," "The Charge of the Light Brigade," and In Memoriam A.H.H.. In 1850, the same year In Memoriam was published, Tennyson was chosen as the new poet laureate of England, succeeding William Wordsworth. The intense male friendship described in In Memoriam, which Tennyson wrote after the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, possibly influenced Walt Whitman's poetry. Tennyson began a correspondence with Whitman on July 12, 1871July 12, 1871. Although Tennyson extended an invitation for Whitman to visit England in a July 12, 1871July 12, 1871, letter, Whitman never acted on the offer. [back]

21. William Michael Rossetti (1829–1915), brother of Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, was an English editor and a champion of Whitman's work. In 1868, Rossetti edited Whitman's Poems, selected from the 1867 Leaves of Grass. Whitman referred to Rossetti's edition as a "horrible dismemberment of my book" in his August 12, 1871, letter to Frederick S. Ellis. Nonetheless, the edition provided a major boost to Whitman's reputation, and Rossetti would remain a staunch supporter for the rest of Whitman's life, drawing in subscribers to the 1876 Leaves of Grass and fundraising for Whitman in England. For more on Whitman's relationship with Rossetti, see Sherwood Smith, "Rossetti, William Michael (1829–1915)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

22. 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 C. Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

23. 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 decades-long 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]

24. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1901), a Canadian physician and psychiatrist, was the Head of the Asylum for the Insane in Ontario, Canada, and a close friend of Whitman. In 1867, Bucke read Whitman's poetry for the first time and became a devoted follower; he visited Whitman in Camden in 1877. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883). As Whitman notes, Bucke left for Europe on July 8, 1891, and returned in early September 1891. He served as one of Whitman's literary executors after Whitman's death in 1892. Bucke also provided a date (usually the year) for many of Hannah's letters to Whitman. For more information, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice (1837–1901)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

25. Herbert Gilchrist (1857–1914), the artist-son of Anne Gilchrist, was a frequent visitor with Whitman to the Stafford farm. For more on him, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden (1857–1914)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed., (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

26. Andrew Rome, perhaps with the assistance of his brother Tom, printed Whitman's first edition of Leaves of Grass (1855) in a small shop at the intersection of Fulton and Cranberry in Brooklyn. It was likely the first book the firm ever printed. [back]

27. Little is known about Samuel Nowell, the captain of the SS British Prince, except that he did make arrangements for J. W. Wallace to gain passage on the already fully-booked British Prince for Wallace's 1891 journey to the U.S. to meet Whitman; see Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman (August 19, 1891). Nowell clearly had some interest in Whitman’s work: see James W. Wallace to Walt Whitman (March 13, 1891). [back]

28. Probably Mrs. H. M. Harrison, daughter of Wentworth Dixon (1855–1928), a member of the "Bolton College" of Whitman admirers. [back]

29. 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. A picture of Warry is displayed in the May 1891 New England Magazine (278). See Joann P. Krieg, "Fritzinger, Frederick Warren (1866–1899)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 240. [back]

30. Mrs. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908), Whitman's housekeeper, moved into Whitman's house on Mickle street on February 24, 1885, and lived in a small apartment in the rear of the house. She was a widow and had been married to a sea captain. See Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes," in Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 163–164. [back]

31. Walt Whitman met the 18-year-old Harry Lamb Stafford (1858–1918) in 1876, beginning a relationship which was almost entirely overlooked by early Whitman scholarship, in part because Stafford's name appears nowhere in the first six volumes of Horace Traubel's With Walt Whitman in Camden—though it does appear frequently in the last three volumes, which were published only in the 1990s. Whitman occasionally referred to Stafford as "My (adopted) son" (as in a December 13, 1876, letter to John H. Johnston), but the relationship between the two also had a romantic, erotic charge to it. In 1883, Harry married Eva Westcott. For further discussion of Stafford, see Arnie Kantrowitz, "Stafford, Harry L. (b.1858)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

32. On his 1890 visit to Whitman in Camden, New Jersey, Dr. Johnston met Annie Dent, whom he described as "a little coloured girl," who cleaned what she called "Mr. Whitman's wheeled chair." See J. Johnston and J. W. Wallace, Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–1891 (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1917), 42. [back]

33. James William Wallace (1853–1926), of Bolton, England, was an architect and great admirer of Whitman. Wallace, along with Dr. John Johnston (1852–1927), a physician in Bolton, 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]


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