Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 20 June 1891

Date: June 20, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02489

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: Andrew David King, Cristin Noonan, Brandon James O'Neil, and Stephanie Blalock



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54 Manchester Road
Bolton
England
June 20th, 1891.

My Dear Old Friend,

My heartiest thanks to you for your letter with enclosures recd by last mail.1

How kind & considerate of you it was to write your letter upon Prof. Buckwalter's!—thereby endorsing the professor's eulogistic references to me & my "Notes,"2 & enhancing its value a thousand fold.

My best thanks to you for that.

I am sending the Profr a copy of the "Notes" with your photograph & a copy of your facsimiled letter, as some slight acknowledgment of his kindness

I was extremely pleased to note that on June 9th you were "more free from excessive lassitude" that you "retain pretty buoyant spirits" & were able to "sit up ⅔rd of the day."

This is certainly an improvement upon the former report & I sincerely trust that the advance has been maintained & that you can now get out into the benignant sunshine & fresh air.

Wallace3 has shewn me the really pretty sketches which A. H. Cooper4 has done of Rivington & which he is sending to you.

I return H.L.T's5 most interesting letter, as I thought you wd like to keep it: but I retain the marriage announcement6 as a souvenir of the happy event.

Pardon my not writing more at present—I have had a busy & tiring day in the heat (two tedious acchouchements & two surgical operations in addition to a long list of cases) & I have still a letter to write to my dear old mother7 for her birthday tomorrow.

My best love to you now & always & my warmest greeting!

God bless you!
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. The letter from Whitman that Johnston references here may be lost. "Prof. Buckwalter" is Geoffrey Buckwalter (1849–1912), a Camden teacher and friend of Whitman's, who helped organize and fund the purchase of a wheeled chair for the poet, as well as arranging the poet's photo session at Frederick Gutekunst's Philadelphia studio in 1889. It is also possible that Johnston is referring to Whitman's letter of June 9, 1891, which Whitman wrote on a letter from "Prof. Brinton who wanted to read the Notes." "Prof. Brinton" is Daniel Garrison Brinton (1837–1899), a professor of linguistics and archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania. If this is the case, then Johnston has confused "Prof. Buckwalter" with "Prof. Brinton." [back]

2. Johnston published (for private circulation) Notes of Visit to Walt Whitman, etc., in July, 1890. (Bolton: T. Brimelow & co., printers, &c.) in 1890. His notes were also published, along with a series of original photographs, as Diary Notes of A Visit to Walt Whitman and Some of His Friends, in 1890 (Manchester: The Labour Press Limited; London: The "Clarion" Office, 1898). Johnston's work was later published with James W. Wallace's accounts of 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]

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). 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). [back]

4. Alfred Heaton Cooper (1863–1929) was an English landscape artist. On June 19, 1891, Wallace sent to Whitman four watercolor sketches of Rivington by Cooper. In a postscript he wrote "If Traubel fancies any of them I shall be glad to arrange with Cooper for a painting . . . I wanted to send T. something & can think of nothing better." This picture of the lakes at Rivington, near Bolton, was commissioned by the members of the Bolton Whitman Fellowship for presentation to Horace and Anne Traubel in 1892. Cooper, then resident in Bolton, was a friend of the English physician Dr. John Johnston and Wallace, and he later gained fame for his Lakeland paintings and book illustrations. In 1948 Anne Traubel presented it to the Bolton Public Libraries as being of special interest to the Bolton Whitman Fellowship. [back]

5. 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]

6. Horace Traubel married Anne Montgomerie on May 28, 1891 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). After Whitman's birthday celebration on May 31, the couple went to Canada with Richard Maurice Bucke, physician at the Insane Asylum in London, Ontario, and returned to Camden on June 14, 1891. [back]

7. Little is known about Dr. John Johnston's mother Helen (sometimes listed as Ellen) Roxburgh (1821–1898). Helen married William Johnston (1824–1898), a builder in Annan, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, in 1847. The couple had three children. [back]


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