Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 6 June 1891

Date: June 6, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02483

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: Ethan Heusser, Cristin Noonan, Brandon James O'Neil, and Stephanie Blalock



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54 Manchester Road
Bolton, England
June 6th 1891

Just a line or two to send my loving salutation & cordial greeting to you, my dear, good old friend & to thank you for the good letter you so kindly sent to Wallace1—a facsimile of which he kindly made & forwarded to me.2

Sorry indeed were we to learn that your condition at the time of writing (May 23rd) was "the same continued, bad, bad enough."3

In spite of the continued ill reports we keep on hoping for the best.

Meanwhile we take every opportunity of writing to assure you of our heartfelt sympathy & affectionate solicitude for your welfare.

Alas that we can do nothing more!

Our best thanks to you too for kindly promising to send us a copy of that audacious photo.4 We are curious to know what it is & to see it

This morning I recd a letter from Mr Stead5 (Editor of the Review of Reviews)6 in which he says: "I was not able to get the portrait in this month but I shall be delighted in noticing "GoodBye My Fancy7" to use the portrait of Walt Whitman on Camden Wharf."8

I intend lending him the copy of "Good Bye" that you kindly sent to us in case he has not yet seen the book.

I send you the third & concluding part of "Academy Pictures"9 by this mail

Pardon my writing more at present. I have had a fearfully busy week with Influenza cases—I have had a touch of the disease my self lately—and my horse—truest & faithfullest of friends—has been nearly run off his feet.

We are anxiously awaiting some report of your birthday10 proceedings

Please convey my kindest regards to Mrs Davis11 Harry12 & Warry13 Also to H. L. Traubel14 when you see him

With best heart love to yourself I remain
Yours affectionately
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. 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]

2. Whitman wrote to Wallace on May 28, 1891. Johnston may be referring to receiving a facsimile of that letter. [back]

3. Johnston is referring to Whitman's letter to Wallace of May 23, 1891[back]

4. In May 1891, the sculptor and educator Samuel Murray (1869–1941) accompanied another sculptor, William O'Donovan (1844–1920) of New York, to Whitman's home in Camden, New Jersey. Murray photographed Whitman in a profile portrait, which Whitman referred to as "the most audacious thing in its line ever taken" in his May 23, 1891, letter to James W. Wallace. He again commented on the portrait's "audacity" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, May 19, 1891) and proudly described it as "an artist's picture in the best sense" (With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, May 23, 1891). [back]

5. William Thomas Stead (1849–1912) was a well-known English journalist and editor of The Pall Mall Gazette in the 1880s. He was a proponent of what he called "government by journalism" and advocated for a strong press that would influence public opinion and affect government decision-making. His investigative reports were much discussed and often had significant social impact. He has sometimes been credited with inventing what came to be called "tabloid journalism," since he worked to make newspapers more attractive to readers, incorporating maps, illustrations, interviews, and eye-catching headlines. He died on the Titanic when it sank in 1912. [back]

6. The Review of Reviews was a magazine begun by the reform journalist William Thomas Stead (1849–1912) in 1890 and published in Great Britain. It contained reviews and excerpts from other magazines and journals, as well as original pieces, many written by Stead himself. Mary Costelloe on March 14, 1890, had sent Whitman a copy from England. [back]

7. 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]

8. Johnston is referring to the photographs he took in Camden in July 1890. See The Walt Whitman Archive's Image Gallery, especially the three photographs of Walt Whitman and his nurse Warren Fritzinger (zzz.00117, zzz.00118, zzz.00119). [back]

9. This enclosure has not been located. [back]

10. Whitman's seventy-second (and last) birthday was celebrated with friends at his home on Mickle Street. He described the celebration in a letter to Dr. John Johnston, of Bolton, England, dated June 1, 1891: "We had our birth anniversary spree last evn'g—ab't 40 people, choice friends mostly—12 or so women—[Alfred, Lord] Tennyson sent a short and sweet letter over his own sign manual . . . lots of bits of speeches, with gems in them—we had a capital good supper." [back]

11. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

12. Walt Whitman met the 18-year-old Harry Lamb Stafford (1858–1918) in 1876, beginning a relationship which was almost entirely overlooked by early Whitman scholarship, in part because Stafford's name appears nowhere in the first six volumes of Horace Traubel's With Walt Whitman in Camden—though it does appear frequently in the last three volumes, which were published only in the 1990s. Whitman occasionally referred to Stafford as "My (adopted) son" (as in a December 13, 1876, letter to John H. Johnston), but the relationship between the two also had a romantic, erotic charge to it. For further discussion of Stafford, see Arnie Kantrowitz, "Stafford, Harry L. (b.1858)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). Eva M. Westcott (1857–1939) was a teacher in New Jersey. She married Harry Lamb Stafford on June 25, 1883, and together they had three children. [back]

13. 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]

14. 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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