Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

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

Date: March 27, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02470

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
Mar 27th 1891.

My Dear Old Friend,

Sitting here on the evening of Good Friday—a general holiday—I thought I wd give myself the pleasure of sending you a line or two.

This morning I recd a letter from J.W.W.1 inviting me to spend the afternoon with him & enclosing a facsimile of your kind p.c. of the 14th2 inst to him. Your reference to his "affectionate fervid letter of Mar 3rd"3 which you had "read twice and absorbed" pleased him greatly.

I have just returned from his house where our mutual friend Wentworth Dixon4—one of "the boys" & a splendid fellow—with his wife & boy have also been spending the afternoon Leaving the boy—a fine sturdy little chap—behind we all went for a two hours' walk through beautiful Rivington, & much did I enjoy the pure, sweet and exhilirating air, the lovely landscape picture & all the magnificent shows of earth & sky—for today has been exceptionally splendid in its atmosphere effects—great masses of sunlit fleecy clouds towering high into & scudding across the deep blue empyrean. At times the entire sky became overcast & we had blinding showers of snow & sleet which were swept along by the high wind like flying wraiths or mist-ghosts.

On the 25th the Bolton International Club had a "Whitman Evening" when Fred Wild5 read a short paper & selections from Ingersoll's6 Oration7 upon you. The reading provoked a good deal of criticism—some of it very shallow—to which Fred replied in a vigorous table speech. I also took part in the discussion, read extracts from L. of G & shewed some of my "Whitman photos," post cards &c. The room was draped with the flags of different nations—English, French, German, Swiss &c. Fred also exhibited his just finished oil painting of an American mail steamer ploughing her way through the moonlit heaving waters of the Atlantic. The picture wh' is really a fine one was much admired.

On Monday evg last we had another Whitman reading at the College & we anticipate a great treat upon Ap 10th when J.W.W. gives us his address upon your 1855 Edition.

I am deeply sorry to hear that you have "no cheery or favourable news" to send us about yourself—May the next be better!

God bless you my dear, old friend, & send you better times!

Please give my kindest regards to HLT8 & to all your household. With fondest heart love to you I remain

yours affectonately
J Johnston

To Walt Whitman

P.S I send you this weeks' Literary World with a marked par re J.A. Symonds.9


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. 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]

2. See Whitman's March 14 postal card to Wallace. [back]

3. The letter is dated March 6th, not March 3rd. Whitman refers to it as a March 3rd letter in his March 14 postal card to Wallace. Only a typescript of Wallace's March 6 letter survives. [back]

4. 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]

5. Fred Wild, a cotton waste merchant, 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. [back]

6. 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]

7. John H. Johnston (of New York) and Richard Maurice Bucke planned a lecture event in Whitman's honor, which took place October 21 at Philadelphia's Horticultural Hall. Robert Ingersoll delivered the lecture. See Ingersoll's October 12, 1890 and October 20, 1890, letters to Whitman. Planning for the event had been underway for about a month. In his letter to Whitman of September 17, 1890, Bucke quoted a letter from Johnston: "This morning an hour talk with Ingersoll and I got his promise and authority to proceed and get up a lecture entertainment by him for Walt's benefit—in Phila I guess—Shall I put you on committee?" [back]

8. 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]

9. 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]


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