Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 21–28 February 1891

Date: February 21–28 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02463

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
Feb 21st 1891

My Dear Old Friend

I was indeed delighted to receive your kind p.c. of the 8th1 inst which, together with that2 to J.W.W3 & the cablegram from H.L.T.4 greatly relieved our anxiety regarding you. I am very glad to learn that at the time of writing you seemed to be getting over your bad time—"a bad two months" & I fondly hope that by this time the attack has passed off & left you in comparative comfort

Sorry to hear of Dr B's5 illness. Hope that he has now quite recovered from it

Things are going on with us here much as usual—my time being chiefly occupied with my professional work, with, as you will see from the Bolton Journal which I send you, an occasional social diversion.

During the last three weeks my wife has been on the sick list—suffering from a rather severe attack of spasmodic bronchial catarrh & neuralgia, which I am glad to say seem to be slowly subsiding now.

I presume you have recd the Feb No. of the Review of Reviews6 containing a facsimile of one of your p.c's & a portrait.7 I am sorry the latter is such an unsatisfactory one & I don't like that "foxy" portrait to go before the English people as your counterfeit presentiment, but it seems to be the only one that the London folks have of you. I thought of sending the editor of the Rev of Rev (Mr Stead)8 a copy of the one you sent to J.W.W but he & I think it best not to do so until after the publication of yr "2nd Annex"9 of which it will be one of the attractions.

I have secured the copyright of that portrait in this country so that it cannot be reproduced without my permission.

Should you wish me to send a copy (?Notes as well) I will do so but not without your express desire or should you send him one perhaps you would kindly mention the fact of its [having?] being copyrighted by me.

At the next exhibition of my American photographic slides—which will be on Mar 5th on the occasion of the opening of the Photographic Society's new rooms—I intend throwing a fac simile of one of your p.c's by the lime light on to a 10 ft screen. I enclose a copy of it for your inspection.

During the last few days we have had mild but rather murky weather—some fog wh: King Sol has struggled to pierce—with a touch of frost at nights covering every thing with its beautiful white rime, & this afternon the birds were carolling gaily.

Pardon this hastily written letter as I am rather busy & am initiating my new assistant unto his duties

With best love to you & with kindest regards to all your household

I remain
yours affectionately
J Johnston

P.S Anderton Nr Chorley
Feb 28/91

Since writing the foregoing I have received the March no. of Lippincott's Monthly Magazine direct from the London publishers—a favour for which I am indebted to the kindness of yourself & H.L.T. & for which I now desire to return my best & warmest thanks to you both.

Never, in my opinion did the house of Lippincott do itself greater honour than when it issued this "Whitman number" which, with its new poems, new memoranda, new portrait, & new H.L.T. article & postscript by "the old man himself," is a veritable storehouse of precious "Whitmaniana"10—a bonne bouche which I have devoured with eager delight not resting until I had swallowed the last morsel.

Oh how good it tasted as I ruminated, absorbed & assimilated it on my professional round this morning!

With what graphic & realistic fidelity have you pictured that "rather large 20-by-20 low ceiling'd room, something like a big old ship's cabin" with its literary chaos11—really kosmos to you—its stove its "bed with snow white coverlid"—possibly the counterpane that we sent you—its rattan seated & backed armchair & its "hundred indescribable things besides." As I read your words I seem to be sitting there beside you listening to your sweet voice, looking into your eyes & feeling the warm grasp of your hand in mine, & my heart fills & dilates with conscious laudable pride at the thought that I too am one of your friends—not by correspondence merely but by personal acquaintance—to whom the "breath of your heart goes over the sea-gales across the big pond."

Thanks & again thanks to you & H.L.T. whose splendid article I purpose reading to the College12 probably at its next meeting

As you will see by the heading of this sheet I am writing this at Anderton in JWW's house. He is sitting near me writing the postscripts of his letter to you & to H.L.T.13

Your portrait looks down upon us from its frame over the mantelpiece & I am using L of G as a writing desk! Out of doors the silence is only broken by the voices of a few children down the road & the song of a thrush; the sun is obscured & a beautiful soft grey haze hangs over the distant fields & trees.

With best love
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 February 8 postal card to Johnston. [back]

2. Johnston is probably referring to Whitman's February 10 postal card to James W. Wallace. [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. 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]

5. 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]

6. 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]

7. The February 1891 issue of The Review of Reviews included an illustration, drawn from a photograph of the poet by Napoleon Sarony taken in July 1878, and a facsimile of a manuscript postal card written and signed by Whitman. See The Review of Reviews: An International Magazine. American Edition, 5 (1892), 11. [back]

8. William Thomas Stead (1849–1912) was a well-known English journalist and editor of The Pall Mall Gazette in the 1880s. He was a proponent of what he called "government by journalism" and advocated for a strong press that would influence public opinion and affect government decision-making. His investigative reports were much discussed and often had significant social impact. He has sometimes been credited with inventing what came to be called "tabloid journalism," since he worked to make newspapers more attractive to readers, incorporating maps, illustrations, interviews, and eye-catching headlines. He died on the Titanic when it sank in 1912. [back]

9. 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]

10. In March 1891, Lippincott's Magazine published "Old Age Echoes," a cycle of four poems including "Sounds of the Winter," "The Unexpress'd," "Sail Out for Good, Eidólon Yacht," and "After the Argument," accompanied by an extensive autobiographical note called "Some Personal and Old-Age Memoranda." Also appearing in that issue was a piece on Whitman by Horace Traubel. [back]

11. See The Walt Whitman Archive's Image Gallery, especially the three photographs (zzz.00121, zzz.00120, zzz.00122) depicting the "litter of books, papers, magazines, thrown-down letters and circulars" that covered the poet's floors in Camden, New Jersey. [back]

12. Johnston is referring to the "Bolton College," a group of English admirers of Whitman, that he and Wallace co-founded. [back]

13. The only extant letter from Wallace on or after this date is his letter of March 6. [back]


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