Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 10 June 1891

Date: June 10, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02485

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 Ro[a]d
Bolton England1
June 10th 1891

My Dear Walt Whitman,

As this is mail night I thought I would send you a word of greeting & cheer once more and I do this the more readily because in your last letter to Wallace2—intended for Wentworth Dixon3—you say that our letters "cheer" you. This is more than ample reward and encourages us to write a[s] frequently as we do for well do I know what a potent influence is "cheer" in a patient's convalescence: it is one of the the most powerful of the physician's armamentarium.

We are gratified to know that at this distance we can help you a little in this way.

My thoughts are daily with you & I find myself often & often wondering how you are keeping.

I am impatient at the unavoidably slow transmission of the messages from & about you, for you seem to be such a long, long way off. And yet not such a great distance after all!—for in a moment I can be with you, in imagination, enjoying your dearly-loved presence, & this I often am, Master, & Elder Brother dear!

W.D. is very proud of his letter & intended writing to you by next mail.

I recd a p.c. from Edwd [Car]penter4 yesterday asking me to send copies of my "Notes"5 to Ernest Rhys6 & to Miss Isabella Ford7—both loyal friends of yours, he says.

And now I hope this scrawl will find you rather better than you have been & free from your old discomforts still.

God grant that this may be so & may His grace, mercy, & peace be with you now & always is the heartfelt prayer of

yours, affectionately,
John Johnston.

I believe J.W.W. has ordered two copies of "Goodbye."8 Please alter this order to six & I will remit the cash when I know the price.

Also I would esteem it a favour if you wd kindly send me a copy of the "portraits from life"9 wh. J.W.W. has ordered & I will remit cash. The money order office is closed here tonight

JJ

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 | US America. It is postmarked: BOLTON JU 10 | 91; PAID | H | ALL; Camden N.J. | JUN 20 | 6AM | REC'D. There is an additional postmark from June 19, but this date is the only part that is legible. Johnston has written his intials "J.J." in the bottom left corner of the recto of the envelope. [back]

2. 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]

3. Wentworth Dixon (1855–1928) was a lawyer's clerk and a member of the "Bolton College" of Whitman admirers. He 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]

4. Edward Carpenter (1844–1929) was an English writer and Whitman disciple. Like many other young disillusioned Englishmen, he deemed Whitman a prophetic spokesman of an ideal state cemented in the bonds of brotherhood. Carpenter—a socialist philosopher who in his book Civilisation, Its Cause and Cure posited civilization as a "disease" with a lifespan of approximately one thousand years before human society cured itself—became an advocate for same-sex love and a contributing early founder of Britain's Labour Party. On July 12, 1874, he wrote for the first time to Whitman: "Because you have, as it were, given me a ground for the love of men I thank you continually in my heart. . . . For you have made men to be not ashamed of the noblest instinct of their nature." For further discussion of Carpenter, see Arnie Kantrowitz, "Carpenter, Edward [1844–1929]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Johnston published Notes of Visit to Walt Whitman, etc., in July, 1890. (Bolton: T. Brimelow & co., printers, &c.) in 1890. Johnston's notes about his visit to Whitman were later published with Wallace's own accounts of his Fall 1891 visits with Whitman and the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke in Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–91 (London, England: G. Allen & Unwin, ltd., 1917). [back]

6. Ernest Percival Rhys (1859–1946) was a British author and editor; he founded the Everyman's Library series of inexpensive reprintings of popular works. He included a volume of Whitman's poems in the Canterbury Poets series and two volumes of Whitman's prose in the Camelot series for Walter Scott publishers. For more information about Rhys, see Joel Myerson, "Rhys, Ernest Percival (1859–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. Isabella Ford (1855–1924) was an English feminist, socialist, and writer. Elizabeth (Bessie) Ford was her sister. Both were introduced to Whitman's writings by Edward Carpenter and they quickly became admirers of the aged poet. [back]

8. Johnston is referring to Whitman's Good-Bye My Fancy (1891). Good-Bye My Fancy (1891) was Whitman's 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]

9. Whitman had planned to publish a group of photographs of himself, but it was never issued. He often discussed the project, which he considered calling "Portraits from life of Walt Whitman," with Horace Traubel; see, for example. Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, August 4, 1889[back]


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