Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 11 March 1891

Date: March 11, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02465

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 | May 30 | 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
Mar 11th 1891

My Dear Walt Whitman,

Your kind p.c. of Feb 26th2 to hand & my best thanks to you for it!

I note that you were then "about the same," & though we cannot but feel disappointed at the news & wish it were better still we are thankful that under the circumstances it is no worse

This prolonged "bad spell" must have told upon your strength & exhausted you very considerably; & yet, despite the physical exhaustion & the severe bodily pain which we know you are almost constantly suffering, and which in an ordinary person would be regaded as a sufficient reason for not replying to any letters, you write to us by nearly every mail!

For this continued thoughtfulness & marvellous loving-kindness we thank you from the bottom of our hearts, beloved Master generous Benefactor and kind hearted Friend.

God bless you & grant that you may ere long have relief from the wearying pain & distress that have been yours for so long!

As the attendance at the last meeting of "the College"3 was limited to three—R.K. Greenhalgh,4 Wentworth Dixon,5 & myself—we had a select little "Whitman Evening" all to ourselves. After reading over our Whitman correspondence of the past week R.K.G. read a long & most interesting letter from "dear J.W.W."6 as you call him—he is a dear fellow—to a friend of his, Mr Goldstraw.7 It was in reply to some of G's objections on his first attempt to read L. of G. & proved to be a really splendid letter entirely worthy of J.W.W. We have kept a copy of it. Then R.K.G. read "The Song of the Universal," W.D. read "The Song of Prudence," & I read "To Think of Time"—& a very good time we had.

In this month's National Review8 I came across a quotation from Stedman9 and Kay'10 "Library of American Literature" to the effect that "American Literature began with Walt Whitman and has yet got no further."

This morning I had the pleasure of reading another beautiful letter from J.A. Symonds11 to J.W.W. In it he gives many interesting details of personal history & we purpose sending you a copy of it. He also pays J.W.W a high compliment upon his caligraphic skill by asking "if Dr. Johnston keeps a forger!" because the facsimiles of some of your post cards—the work of J.W.W.—which we sent to him were almost as like the originals as if they had been photographed.

During the past few days the Midlands & South West of England have been visited by a very severe storm with an exceptionally heavy snow fall & we read of railway trains being buried in snowdrifts, a lifeboat capsized, shipwrecks, people being frozen to death but with the exception of frequent snowshowers we in the North have seen nothing of the "blizzard"

This is a truly glorious day here—an easterly wind with bright sunshine, a beautiful blue sky with great snow-white masses of cumulus clouds like sunlit mountains of the purest cotton wool, sailing majestically across it—a day to make the heaviest heart buoyant, the saddest rejoice, & all the sons of men unite in one grand paean of thanksgiving to the All Good. If I only knew for certain that you were better I should be ever so much more at ease. However I must hope for the best, & we know that whatever happens is for the best.

When next you see H.L.T.12 please convey to him my cordial regards; & with a heartful of love & good wishes 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: Bo [illegible]on | [illegible] | M [illegible] 11 | [illegible]1; PAID | G | [illegible]; New Yo [illegible] | Mar | 18; Camden, N.J. | Mar | 19 | 6 AM | 1891 | Rec'd. Johnston wrote his initials, "JJ," in the bottom left of the envelope. [back]

2. See Whitman's February 26 postal card to Johnston. [back]

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

4. Richard Greenhalgh, a bank clerk and one of Whitman's Bolton admirers, frequently hosted annual celebrations of the poet's birthday. In his March 9, 1892, letter to Traubel, Greenhalgh wrote that "Walt has taught me 'the glory of my daily life and trade.' In all the departments of my life Walt entered with his loving personality & I am never alone" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, March 20, 1892). James Wallace described Greenhalgh as "undoubtedly a rich, royal, plain fellow, not given to ornate word or act" (Sunday, September 27, 1891). For more on Greenhalgh, see Paul Salveson, "Loving Comrades: Lancashire's Links to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, vol. 14, no. 2, 57–84. [back]

5. Wentworth Dixon 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. Dixon communicated directly with Whitman only a few times, but we can see in his letters a profound sense of care for the poet's failing health, as well as genuine gratitude for Whitman's continued correspondence with the "Eagle Street College." See Dixon's letters to Whitman of June 13, 1891 and February 24, 1892. For more on Dixon and Whitman's Bolton disciples, see Paul Salveson, "Loving Comrades: Lancashire's Links to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, vol. 14, no. 2, 57–84. [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. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

8. The British magazine, The National Review, was co-founded in 1883 by the English poets Alfred Austin (1835–1913) and William Courthope (1842–1917) in 1883. The magazine was an organ for the British Conservative Party's views. Austin was the sole editor from 1887 to 1896, when he was appointed the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom. [back]

9. Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833–1908) was a man of diverse talents. He edited for a year the Mountain County Herald at Winsted, Connecticut, wrote "Honest Abe of the West," presumably Lincoln's first campaign song, and served as correspondent of the New York World from 1860 to 1862. In 1862 and 1863 he was a private secretary in the Attorney General's office until he entered the firm of Samuel Hallett and Company in September, 1863. The next year he opened his own brokerage office. He published many volumes of poems and was an indefatigable compiler of anthologies, among which were Poets of America, 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1885) and A Library of American Literature from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, 11 vols. (New York: C. L. Webster, 1889–90). For more, see Donald Yannella, "Stedman, Edmund Clarence (1833–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

10. Ellen MacKay Hutchinson (1851–1933) was a pioneering woman journalist who worked for the New York Tribune for twenty–five years and coedited A Library of American Literature with Edmund Clarence Stedman (Karin L. Hooks, "Ellen MacKay Hutchinson ([1851]–1933)," Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers 30:2 (2013), 369–381. [back]

11. 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]

12. 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]


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