Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 6 February 1891

Date: February 6, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02462

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
Lancashire, England
Feb 6th 18911

My Dear Old Friend

Just a few lines to acknowledge receipt by last mail of the copy of Ingersoll's2 Address3 which you so kindly sent & to thank you very cordially for it.

I have read it through with intense interest and pleasure & I regard it as a valuable contribution to "Whitman Literature"—from Ingersollism the best that has yet been given—significant both from what he has said & left unsaid for he has left untouched what I regard as the main & vital element in L of G vis the spirituality which permeates & animates every page, every line & is the inspiring element in your teaching. But as we could not expect him to recognise this we must be thankful for what we have got, as, apart from this, the address is really a wonderful bit of work & will, I think, rank as one of his most brilliant oratorical achievements. I shall prize the pamphlet very highly for its own sake, but more so because you have sent it to me & I again thank you for your great kindness in doing so. It is the intention of "the boys"4 to have the whole of it read aloud at the next meeting of the "College" (Feb 9th).

During the last week I have been a little uneasy about you, wondering at times how you were, & I accepted the pamphlet as a message that all was well with you. But today I have been grieved to read the following par: in the London Daily Graphic:—

A post card5 received from Walt Whitman says "Am having an extra bad spell these days. May blow over may not"

This is indeed bad news for me & for all your friends here & I sincerely hope that by this time the "extra bad spell" is blowing over & that you are through the worst of it. We shall be most anxious until we receive some more definite news & I have asked Warry6 to send me word in case you are unable to do so.

There has been a great change in the weather here—all the frost & snow have gone & we have lately had a continuous spell of "open" weather.

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

I remain

Yours affectionately
J. Johnston

P.S. J.W.W.7 suggests that the p.c. referred to in the D.G. par may not be a recent one. If not all the better!

I enclose a cutting from the Literary World about your friend Tennyson8 which may amuse you.



London | Literary | World | Jan 30/919

—Lord Tennyson is said to be contemplating a voyage in the Mediterranean, if he can find a vessel in which he can be protected from his fellow-passengers. The dread of being mobbed is said to interfere even with the Poet Laureate's country walks, and a good story is told of his surprise on one occasion when a fellow-creature passed him without taking any notice of him whatever. "The fellow seems not to know who I am!" is said to have been his exclamation.


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 | 5B | FE 7 | 91; Paid | B | All; New York | Feb | 15; Camden, N[J] | Feb | 16 | 7AM | [illegible] | [illegible]. Johnston has written his initials, JJ, in the left corner of the recto of the envelope. [back]

2. 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 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" (Horace 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]

3. The "Address" refers to the lecture event in honor of Whitman, which took place October 21 at Philadelphia's Horticultural Hall. Robert Ingersoll delivered the lecture. See Ingersoll's October 12 and October 20 letters to Whitman. [back]

4. The "Bolton College" was a group of Whitman admirers located in Bolton, England. Founded by Dr. John Johnston (1852–1927) and James William Wallace (1853–1926), the group corresponded with Whitman and Horace Traubel throughout the final years of the poet's life. 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). 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]

5. It is uncertain which letter is being referred to here. [back]

6. 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. [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. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) succeeded William Wordsworth as poet laureate of Great Britain in 1850. The intense male friendship described in In Memoriam, which Tennyson wrote after the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, possibly influenced Whitman's poetry. Tennyson began a correspondence with Whitman on July 12, 1871. Although Tennyson extended an invitation for Whitman to visit England, Whitman never acted on the offer. [back]

9. Johnston has written the citation information in ink on the right side of the enclosed newspaper clipping. [back]


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