Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 4 April 1891

Date: April 4, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02472

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 Aug 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 4th 1891.1

Another post card from you, my dear, kind, old friend on the 2nd inst2—the third I have received from you in four days!

This embarras de richesse3 is truly overwhelming & your immense kindness touches me very deeply indeed.

My best thanks to you for it!

We are heartily glad to know that at the time of writing your condition was "no worse at any rate" tho' this last received p.c. was dated Mar 214 & that of the 24th5 (received before that of the 21st) said that you were "easier," and we hope sincerely that the improvement has continued up till now.

I notice that one of your old friend, W.D. O'Connor's6 stories—"The brazen android"7—is begun in this month's Atlantic. There is an extract from it in this week's Literary World which I send you.

I also send you this week's Black & White8 wh: contains a portrait of and article on Bismarck9—one of Europe's "Grand Old Men"—now in his 78th year and a number of The Young Man10 with portrait and notice of Rudyard Kipling11—one of Europe's coming grand young men.

At the next meeting of "The College"12 (Ap 6th) Fred Wild13 is to give us his "International Club" paper & read Ingersoll's14 oration15 on you; and on Ap 10th J.W.W.'s16 address upon your first edition (1855)17 comes off at my house.

We have had a very stormy week here—bitterly cold, east winds, with snow, sleet & rain—quite a relapse into winter after the touch of spring we had.

J.W.W. are both pleased to learn that you "have been much interested in the 'Holland' book."18

Pardon my writing more at present. My horse is ill so I do most of my round on foot & I am tired tonight.

I should be glad if you wd kindly convey my kindest regards to H.L.T.19 & to all the members of your household.

Again thanking you for all your unique kindess to me & with my heart's best affection

I remain
Yours devotedly
J Johnston

To Walt Whitman

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; Camden, NJ | Apr | 13 | 6AM | 1891 | Rec'd; PAID | K | ALL; New [illegible]or [illegible] | Apr | 12. Johnston has written his initials "JJ," in the bottom left corner of the front side of this envelope. [back]

2. See Whitman's March 21, 1891, postal card to Johnston. [back]

3. Johnston uses the French phrase "embarras de richesse," which means "embarrassment of riches." [back]

4. Johnston is referring to Whitman's postal card of March 21, 1891[back]

5. See Whitman's March 24, 1891, postal card to Johnston. [back]

6. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. First written in 1862 but not published until 1891, William D. O'Connor's story "The Brazen Android" appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in two installments: Part 1, vol. 67, no. 402, April 1891, pp. 433–454; Part 2, vol. 67, no. 403, May 1891, pp. 577–599. The story also appeared in the collection Three Tales: The Ghost, The Brazen Android, The Carpenter (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1891), for which Whitman wrote the Preface (which he later included in Good-Bye My Fancy [Philadelphia: David McKay, 1891], 51–53). For more on O'Connor's story, see Brooks Landon, "Slipstream Then, Slipstream Now: The Curious Connections between William Douglas O'Connor's "The Brazen Android" and Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days," Science Fiction Studies 38.1 (March 2011), 67–91. [back]

8. The Black & White: A Weekly Illustrated Record and Review was an illustrated British weekly periodical founded by the English novelist and travelogue writer Charles Norris Williamson (1859–1920) in 1891. In 1912, the Black & White was incorporated with another periodical, The Sphere[back]

9. Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898) was the first Imperial Chancellor of the German empire from 1871–1890. [back]

10. The Young Man was an illustrated British monthly magazine edted by Frederick A. Atkins (1864–1929), an English author and editor of publications on moral and religious subjects. [back]

11. Joseph Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936) was an English novelist, poet, and short-story writer. India, the country of his birth, inspired his most remembered literary works, such as The Jungle Book (1894) and Kim (1901). Kipling was just beginning his rise to international celebrity in the early 1890s. He married Carolina Starr Balestier (1862–1939) in 1892. [back]

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

13. 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]

14. 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]

15. On October 21, 1890, at Horticultural Hall in Philadelphia, Robert Ingersoll delivered a lecture in honor of Walt Whitman titled Liberty in Literature. Testimonial to Walt Whitman. Whitman recorded in his Commonplace book that the lecture was "a noble, (very eulogistic to WW & L of G) eloquent speech, well responded to by the audience" and the speech itself was published in New York by the Truth Seeker Company in 1890 (Whitman's Commonplace Book [Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.]). [back]

16. 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]

17. Whitman's first edition of Leaves of Grass was published by the Rome brothers in a small shop at the intersection of Fulton and Cranberry in Brooklyn. For the cover, Whitman chose a dark green ribbed morocco cloth, and the volume included an engraving of a daguerreotype of Whitman, a full-body portrait, in working clothes and a hat. The book included a preface and twelve poems. For more information on the first edition of Leaves of Grass, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books / Books Making Whitman[back]

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

19. 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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