Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 20–21 March 1891

Date: March 20–21, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02469

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
March 20th 1891

My Dear Old Friend,

Two post cards from you1 and a letter from Warry,2 by one mail made me a proudly happy man yesterday!

My heart's best thanks to you for them as for all the manifold kindnesses you are continually heaping upon J.W.W.3 and myself!

Surely never were two more fortunate friends than we! We daily congratulate ourselves upon our good fortune in being honoured with your personal friendship & upon receiving such frequent proofs of your great & enduring love—"the measureless ocean of love within" you which you have so "freely poured forth" upon us.4

Heaven's best blessing upon you, great-hearted Lover & Benefactor!

We had hoped for better reports concerning you than those contained in your kind p.c., as well as in Warry's letter to me & H.L.T.'s5 to J.W.W., but we are grateful for the small mercy of "a suspicion of a shade of betterment" of which you speak & we devoutly trust that by this time the dark cloud has shewn its silver lining.

Warry's letter was a "real nice" one—full of domestic details which I value very highly. It also reveals your "sailor-boy's" tenderly sympathetic heart & the genuine affection he has for you.

I have just read Mrs M.L. Rayne's6 article upon you in the London Edition of the Detroit Free Press for March 21st which shews a rather superficial and not altogether accurate acquaintance with you and your work; while the accompanying portrait is a downright libel upon you. It is evidently a copy—& a very poor one—of one of "those smart, professional, foxy prints" which you do not like.7

As soon as your 2nd Annex8 is published we must get the 1890 picture out; but seeing that it will be one of the attractions of the book we deem it best to withhold it till after its publication there & I thank you cordially for your kind permission to "give it out as I like."

In this week's Literary World your "Sounds of the Winter" are quoted in full.9

You will have noticed that Tennyson10 cannot promise to write a Song for your "World's Fair."11 Why dont they ask you?

I have read & like much your article in this month's N.A. Review.12

It is remarkable how much en evidence you have been of late. You are no longer "rejected of the great magazines" as you were & we now see the beginnings of that universal recognition which will surely be yours one day.

Your old friend Andrew Rome13 kindly sent me the March no of Lippincott14 & the Conservator15 containing Sloane Kennedy's16 article17 on you.

March 21st

The first day of Spring! Morning magnificent—Easterly wind, bright sunshine, & blue sky with white clouds.

Afternoon sun clouded over. Have just returned (7 pm) from short visit to J.W.W. at Anderton. He shewed me his highly-prized copy of L. of G. & read me the last poem in it—"Great Are the Myths"18—which you have omitted from your later editions

We then went for a delightful walk in Rivington, round by the lake, & much did I enjoy the air—so fresh & invigorating after the town—the peaceful serenity that broods over the landscape, the beautiful scenery and my dear friends' sympathetic companionship. As we walked we talked much & lovingly of you dear Master.

I picked up a few harbingers of spring—a bit of yellow gorse, a twig of "palms"—tomorrow is "palm sunday"—& a coltsfoot flower—wh I enclose w the Detroit Free Press.

With the best heart-love & all good wishes

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. See Whitman's March 8 and March 10 postal cards to Johnston. [back]

2. 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]

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. Johnston is quoting from section 10 of Whitman's Calamus cluster, which would eventually become "Recorders Ages Hence." [back]

5. 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]

6. Martha Louise Rayne (1836–1911) was an American journalist. [back]

7. Whitman elsewhere comments on "foxy" pictures of himself. See, for example, Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, December 26, 1889[back]

8. 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]

9. Johnston is referring to Whitman's poem "Sounds of the Winter." [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. The World's Columbian Exposition was initiated by an Act of Congress in 1890, when Chicago was chosen as the site for the event celebrating the four hundredth anniversary of Christopher Columbus's "discovery" of America. Planners requested a commemorative poem from Alfred Lord Tennyson, who declined; the request angered many in the U.S., who felt that Whitman should be asked instead. Despite a number of attempts to get Whitman to write a poem for the event, Whitman declined, and he died seven months before the exposition finally opened (a year late) in May of 1893. It is possible that the poem Whitman was working on during the last months of his life–published posthumously as "A Thought of Columbus"–was an effort to write a commemorative poem. See Andrew Vogel, "Whitman's Columbia: The Commemoration of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in 'A Thought of Columbus,'" Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 29 (2011), 1–18. [back]

12. See Whitman's "Have We a National Literature?," North American Review (March 1891): 332–339. [back]

13. Andrew Rome, perhaps with the help 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]

14. 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." Also appearing in that issue was an autobiographical prose essay by Whitman ("Some Personal and Old-Age Memoranda") and another piece on Whitman by Traubel. In his January 7, 1891, letter to the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke, Whitman referred to the March issue of Lippincott's as "a Whitman number." See also Whitman's January 20–21, 1891, response to Kennedy. [back]

15. 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]

16. 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]

17. William Sloane Kennedy's "Dutch Traits of Walt Whitman" was published in The Conservator 1 (February 1891), 90–91. It was reprinted in In Re Walt Whitman, ed. Horace Traubel, et al. (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893), 195–199. [back]

18. Johnston is referring to Whitman's poem "Great Are The Myths," which was (in its untitled form) the final poem in the 1855 (first) edition of Leaves of Grass[back]


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