Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 13 May 1891

Date: May 13, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02475

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 note May 22 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Ethan Heusser, Cristin Noonan, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock



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54 Manchester Road
Bolton, England1
May 13th 1891
830pm

My Dear Walt Whitman

I have just finished the work of a busy day & I thought I would write you a line or two by this mail (which goes in half an hour) just to send you a word of affectionate sympathy & loving greeting.

Two hours ago I received another good kind letter (of May 2nd) from our mutual friend H.L.T.2 in which he tells me that there was then "no change" in you, & that you had not been out, of late. This we are sorry to hear & it grieves us much to know that you are not gaining strength as we expected. But as that letter was written 11 days ago it may not represent your present condition by any means; & we devoutly hope that by this time things are better with you, that the weather & other circumstances have favoured you & allowed you to get out a little now & then. God grant that this may be so, my dear brave old Friend!

I met Wallace3 in the street this afternoon & we had 10 minutes' talk—a good deal of it about you, wondering how you were &c.

I send you a Manchester paper in which you will see your name quoted.

There is nothing very new with us here. The weather keeps very changeable—one day bright, sunny, warm & genial & the next cool & dull,—but the vegetation is progressing wonderfully; the beautiful green fans expanding and covering the bare branches, the grass greening, the flowers opening &the birds carolling in vernal-born ecstasy.

If only we could be assured of your recovery how glad our hearts would be today! But we cease not to think of you & to hope for you—

Good night to you & God bless you now & always! is the heartfelt & oft repeated prayer of

Yours most affectionately
& devotedly
John 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 | 56 | MY 13 | 91; Bolton | 56 | MY 13 | 91; Bolton | 56 | MY 13 | 91; Bolton | 56 | MY 13 | 91; New York | May | 22, Paid | D | All; A | 91; Cam[den, N.J.] May | 24 | 1891 | Rec'd. [back]

2. 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]

3. 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]


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