Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 27 February 1891

Date: February 27, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02464

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.

Editorial note: The annotation, "see | notes | June 23 | 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ian Faith, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock



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54 Manchester Road
Bolton
Lancashire England1
Feb 27 91

My Dear Old Friend,

Just a few lines to acknowledge the rect, by last mail, of your kind p.c & letter containing slip of Sloane Kennedy's2 article3 in the Conservator4 about you.

My best thanks to you for all & for your loving benediction & "heart full of good wishes & affectionate regards" to JWW5 & myself.

The same mail brought me a good letter from Warry6 & J.W.W received one from H.L.T7 both of which were cordially welcomed on a/c of the details concerning yourself which they contained. H.L.T's we are proud to have not only for these but for the renewed expression of your love for us & for this I desire to send you my warmest thanks & I should like you to convey my gratitude to him for his dear good letter.

I hear too that J.W.W has also received a paper with the S.K. article from you. A letter, post card, & slip from you, a paper & slip from you, a letter from H.L.T. & a letter from Warry all by one mail! What a jubilee we've had this week!

I believe it is JWWs intention to write to JA Symonds8 next week & to send him copies of HLT's & Warry's letters so as to put him au courant with the latest first hand news concerning you

S.K's article is extremely interesting & valuable from the side light it throws upon your character and personality.

In this week's Literary World there is a long notice of an Italian book on Holland9 & as I thought the extracts given might interest you I send you the paper in which you will also see that a new poem by Tennyson10 is announced

We are looking forward with pleasure to seeing the March no of Lippincott11 which by the way is published in England as well as America I believe.

I much regret to hear that your health continues so unsatisfactory & I fear that this long continued spell of illness may tell even upon your mastery & indomitable spirit. Of my sympathy you are already assured & what can I say but renew the expression of my personal affection & reverence for you & send you a "heart full of good wishes" & hopes for the dawning of brighter days for you. May God grant that it may be so is my heart felt prayer. But as you say—"it will be all right either way."

We have had remarkably fine weather here lately—frosty nights & foggy mornings followed by days of brilliant sunshine—& today I read of a butterfly having been seen—a harbinger of the coming spring.

With kindest regards to all the members of your household & with fondest 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. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle St | Camden | New Jersey | U.S. America. It is postmarked: Bolton | 57 | FE28 | 91; Camden, N.J. | Mar | 10 | 6AM | 1891 | Rec'd; New York | Mar | 9; Paid | F | All. Johnston initialed the envelope, "J.J." [back]

2. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and later published biographies of Longfellow and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography). Apparently Kennedy had called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [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]

3. See Whitman's February 14 postal card to Dr. Johnston. The letter and postal card that Johnston refers to may be the postal card and the slip enclosed in one envelope. No correspondence from Whitman of letter length, dated on or around the 14th, is extant. The slip referred to is Kennedy's "Quaker Traits of Walt Whitman," which originally appeared in the Conservator of July 1890. [back]

4. Horace Traubel founded The Conservator in March 1890, and he remained its editor and publisher until his death in 1919. Traubel conceived of The Conservator as a liberal periodical influenced by Whitman's poetic and political ethos. A fair portion of its contents were devoted to Whitman appreciation and the conservation of the poet's literary and personal reputation. [back]

5. 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]

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. 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]

8. 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]

9. Johnston is referring to Edmondo de Amicis, Holland and Its People, translated by C. Tilton. The book was published in several editions. [back]

10. 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]

11. In March 1891, Lippincott's 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." [back]


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