Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 1 April 1891

Date: April 1, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02471

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 14 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, England.
April 1st 1891.1

My Dear Old Friend,

Thank you for your kind post card of March 19th2 wh: came duly to hand on Mar: 30th. Glad to hear that you were then "nothing worse at any rate" & that you find the talk & atmosphere of the Dr3 "cheering"—which is just what a Dr ought to be.

How I do envy that Dr his privilege of attending you and how gladly wd I help you if I could! But alas I must be content with saying this & repeating the expression of my personal affection & solicitude.

I have recd a good letter from H.L.T.4 full of noble courtesy, tender friendliness and warm fellowship.

J.W.W.5 has also recd a letter from him.

I had the pleasure of spending Sunday last (Easter Sunday) at Grange—a beautiful little villa-town on Morecambe Bay, where my dear wife6 is at present staying for her health. It was a glorious Spring day & greatly did I enjoy a tramp over the hills & fells in the stimulating & vitalizing North East wind tempered by the benignant Sunshine now daily gaining in power.

If you continue better it will not be so long before you can get out of doors again; & I am in good hopes that "Dr Air" will restore a great deal of your lost vigour & hearten you once more.

We are glad to hear that the book continues to progress satisfactorily though of course, necessarily slowly. I am sure that H.L.T. must be of great assistance to you in that now. What a dear good fellow he is! And how I wish I had seen him when I was with you! But we shall surely meet!

Things are going on with us here much as usual. We hope the next news from or about you may be better.

God bless you & Good night to you!

My heart's best love & gratitude to you!

Yours, affectionately,
J.Johnston.

To Walt Whitman.

P.S I reopen my letter, at the last moment, to acknowledge the rect. of your kind p.c of Mar 24th7—only 8 days ago!—which says:—"Still no worse & even suspicion of a shade easier, & the long & horrible drain, spell being broken—(that's the consummation most devoutly to be wish'd)."

This is gladsome news indeed & gives me heart of hope that your long night of gloom is coming to a close & the dayspring is at hand.

God grant that this may be so & that you may not only live to see your 73rd birthday8—just two months off now!—but many more

Thanks & again thanks for this last act of thoughtful kindness. I will send the p.c to J.W.W. at once & I know that he will be as rejoiced to read it as I am

Good Luck to you!

Good Health to you and Joy Shipmate Joy!9

Yours devotedly
J. Johnston


Correspondent:
Dr. John Johnston (1852–1927) of Annan, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, was a physician, photographer, and avid cyclist. Johnston was trained in Edinburgh and served as a hospital surgeon in West Bromwich for two years before moving to Bolton, England, in 1876. Johnston worked as a general practitioner in Bolton and as an instructor of ambulance classes for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways. He served at Whalley Military Hospital during World War One and became Medical Superintendent of Townley's Hospital in 1917 (John Anson, "Bolton's Illustrious Doctor Johnston—a man of many talents," Bolton News [March 28, 2021]; Paul Salveson, Moorlands, Memories, and reflections: A Centenary Celebration of Allen Clarke's Moorlands and Memories [Lancashire Loominary, 2020]). Johnston, along 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 (1852–1927)," 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 | 58 | Ap 1 | [illegible]; New Y[or]k | Apr | 11; PAID | E | ALL; Camden, N.J. | Apr | 11 | 9 AM | 1891 | Rec'd. [back]

2. See Whitman's March 19, 1891, postal card to Johnston. [back]

3. Whitman does not refer to the doctor by name in his postal card to Johnston, but, in his March 19, 1891, letter to Richard Maurice Bucke, Whitman mentions that Dr. Daniel Longaker (1858–1949), who, along with Dr. Alexander McAlister, attended Whitman during his final illnesses, had been to see him on that day. Longaker was a Philadelphia physician who specialized in obstetrics. Carol J. Singley reports that "Longaker enjoyed talking with Whitman about human nature and reflects that Whitman responded as well to their conversations as he did to medical remedies," in "Longaker, Dr. Daniel (1858–1949)," in 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. James William Wallace (1853–1926), of Bolton, England, was an architect and great admirer of Whitman. Along with John Johnston (1852–1927), 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. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

7. See Whitman's letter to Johnston of March 24, 1891[back]

8. When Johnston wrote this letter, it was about two months until Whitman's 72nd birthday, on May 31, 1891. Whitman did not live to see his 73rd birthday since he died on March 26, 1892. [back]

9. Johnston is referring to Whitmnan's poem "Joy Shipmate Joy!." [back]


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