Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 26–27 June 1891

Date: June 26–27, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02490

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 July 31 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Ethan Heusser, Cristin Noonan, Brandon James O'Neil, and Stephanie Blalock



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54, Manchester Road
Bolton,
England.1
June 26th 1891

My Dear Walt Whitman,

Most heartily do I thank you for yr kindness in sending me the p.c of June 12th2 which I received on June 25th—the same day upon which Wallace3 recd yours of the 16th.4 This looks like another of the "faults of the p.o." of which you complain & thro' which I fear several of your communications have gone astray.

Yes, I recd your letter of June 1st5 & I trust that by this time you have read the two lots of the facsimile copies which I sent to you.6

I note that on June 12th you were "much the same" & that on June 16th you were standing the oppressively hot weather "pretty well, so far."

This is welcome news for us but we hope to receive better before long.

We too, have had a spell of hot weather here lately. The glorious, sunshiney days of the beginning of the week were followed by severe storms of thunder & lightning with heavy rain—the lightning display being exceptionally brilliant & prolonged—

Bolton is now having a respite from the Influenza scourge & I take every opportunity of escaping from the hot & noisy town into the refreshing Country for an hour with nature, alone. One of these sweet hours I am now enjoying in Raikes Wood—the nearest bit of natural wood to my house & one of my favourite haunts—where I draft this letter, sitting upon a fallen tree trunk.

As I write the birds are singing blithely upon the sycamores, oaks and ash trees all around me—a blackbird & a thrush being especially vociferous with their melody; a bonnie wee bird is preening its feathers while another is cheeping plaintively beside it; a corncrake is crake crake-ing in the meadow across the brook which, inky black tho' it alas! is, mirrors the blue sky & its own green tree-fringed banks, where a lot of sparrows are jabbering noisily, a butterfly (a "straw-coloured psyche")7 has just fluttered past me & a tiny ladybird is creeping along the tree trunk on which I am seated.

The wood is carpeted with long slender grass—whose blades are now all diamonded with glistening rain drops—horsetails & wild rhubarb through which I have had to wade knee deep to get to my sylvan throne. Here & there occur blue wreaths of wild hyacinths intermingled with the pretty, pink flowers of the "ragged robin."

There is no sun & hardly any wind to move the lovely arboreal screen which hides me & the air is fragrant with woodland scents so refreshing to a town dweller—

Here I spent a sacredly happy hour—"happiness pervades the open air"8—until a sudden shower of rain came pattering on the leaves, temporarily silencing the birds & sending me home.

I send you a little souvenir of that visit to my wood.

I also send you two copies of my facsimile of your mask photograph, which I hope you will like; as well as two papers in which your name occurs.

Many thanks to you for telling us about the "fuller report of the Birthday Spree"9 that is to appear in Lippincott,10 which we shall read with great interest, & for your kindness in promising me the half dozen copies of "Good Bye,"11 the price of which I expect you will let me know.

June 27th 1891

This morning I met with what might have been a serious accident. While driving in the phaeton one of the shafts became loose frightening the horse into running away & upsetting the coachman & me on to the pavement.

Fortunately beyond a severe shaking for us both a cut arm & bruised shoulder for him & a bruised hip & leg for me we did not sustain any serious injury. The trap was damaged but the horse escaped unhurt & I am thankful things are no worse with us.

I sincerely trust that the next news we hear of you will be favourable

God bless you now and always!

With kindest regards to all your household & with best heart love to yourself

I remain
Yours affectionately
J Johnston

PS I return H.L.T's12 letter, omitted from my last to you—

PPS. Please convey my kindest remembrances to H.L.T. when you see him


JJ

Lord Tennyson13 and Princess Christian.14

Yesterday afternoon, at Buckingham Palace, representatives of the matrons, sisters and nurses of the United Kingdom presented Princess Louise of Schleswig-Holstein with a diamond crescent and a set of the Poet Laureate's poems as wedding gifts. Lord Tennyson has written these lines in the first volume of his works:—

Take, lady, what your loyal nurses give,
Their full "God bless you," with this book of song,
And may the life which heart in heart you live
With h im you love, be cloudless and be long.


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 | 57 | JU27 | 91; B | 91; Paid | F | [All]; Camden, N. J. | Jul | 9 | 6[AM] | 1891 | [Rec'd]. The New York postmark is entirely illegible. Johnston has written his initials, "JJ" in the bottom left corner of the front of the envelope. [back]

2. See Whitman's postal card to Johnston of June 12, 1891[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]

4. See Whitman's postal card to Wallace of June 16, 1891[back]

5. See Whitman's letter to Johnston of June 1, 1891. [back]

6. Johnston is referring to Whitman's letter of June 1, 1891, which included the poet's description of his seventy-second birthday dinner. Johnston had a facsimile of the letter made, and he distributed copies to many of Whitman's friends and admirers. See Johnston's letter to Whitman of June 11, 1891[back]

7. Johnston is referring to Whitman's "Straw-Color'd and Other Psyches," published in Specimen Days & Collect (Philadelphia: Rees Welsh & Co., 1882–'83), 121–122. [back]

8. Johnston is referencing Whitman's poem "Song of the Open Road," in which Whitman writes, "The efflux of the soul is happiness, here is happiness, / I think it pervades the open air, waiting at all times, / Now it flows unto us, we are rightly charged." [back]

9. Johnston is referring to the article "Walt Whitman's Birthday, May 31, 1891," by Horace Traubel, which would be published in the August 1891 issue of the magazine. The article was a detailed account of Whitman's seventy-second (and last) birthday, which was celebrated with friends at the poet's home on Mickle Street. [back]

10. Lippincott's Monthly Magazine was a literary magazine published in Philadelphia from 1868 to 1915. Joseph Marshall Stoddart was the editor of the magazine from 1886 to 1894, and he frequently published material by and about Whitman. For more information on Whitman's numerous publications here, see Susan Belasco, "Lippincott's Magazine." [back]

11. 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]

12. 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]

13. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) succeeded William Wordsworth as poet laureate of Great Britain in 1850. The intense male friendship described in In Memoriam, which Tennyson wrote after the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, possibly influenced Whitman's poetry. Tennyson began a correspondence with Whitman on July 12, 1871. Although Tennyson extended an invitation for Whitman to visit England, Whitman never acted on the offer. [back]

14. Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein (1872–1956) was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. She was the daughter of Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein (1831–1917) and Princess Helena of the United Kingdom (1846–1923). Princess Marie Louise was married to Prince Aribert Joseph Alexander of Anhalt (1866–1933) in 1891. The marriage was annulled in December 1900. [back]


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