Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

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

Date: July 10, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02495

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, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock



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54 Manchester Road
Bolton Lancashire
England
July 10th 1891

My Dear Good Old Friend.

How can I thank you for all the tokens of your loving-kindness which you are so constantly sending me? I cannot thank you enough but I can at least shew you that I am grateful & appreciative of your bountiful generosity by writing to you as often as possible & doing my little best to extend your influence & speak about you whenever opportunity offers. My latest convert to the "brotherhood" is a working-man—a machine fitter—named George Humphries1 who lives in a narrow side street, & who has a genuine interest in you personally (through reading my "Notes"2) & I mean to give him a copy of L. of G. one of these days.

The arrival of your good letter of June 27th,3 on July 8th your parcel of photographs on the 9th & of the Lippencott proof4 this monrning has cheered me & brightened these three days for me in a way that I cannot describe & I can only say thanks, dear Friend & Master, a thousand thanks!

Your dear letter says that you were then "getting on fairly." Glad to hear that piece of good news.

God grant that at this moment you are still "getting on fairly" at least, though I hope sincerely that you are gaining strength & getting out into the open air a little now & then, & we shall all rejoice when we hear of your doing this.

What a grand selection of portraits you have sent me! And oh, how I prize them not only for their intrinsic value & interest but chiefly because they have come from you. But I fear that you must have despoiled yourself in parting with some of them. Thanks to you all the more for your munificent kindness!

Wallace5 called here for a few minutes last night, & shewed me your p.c. to him. I gave him the duplicates & a facsimile copy of your letter to me. I am having some of the portraits mounted; & as the large head is fading I shall copy it so as to preserve it. That & O'Connor's6 favourite are my favourites in the "budget"; but each of them is characteristically interesting & I like & value them all very much indeed.

You must have had a wonderfully smart stenographer "on the job" for such a graphic report of the Birthday "Spree"7 to have been sent to Lippincott.8

I read the proof over hurriedly & sent it on at once to Wallace & I could not but admire its fidelity & vivid portrayal of the actual event & much credit is due to H.L. Traubel9 & the reporter for so admirably reproducing & fixing the really able speeches & the interesting proceeding of that memorable evening.

I thank you most cordially for the complimentary reference to my "Notes" wh. you made & for all the good words you said about Wallace & the Boys. My only fear is that, after the laudation we have received, Dr Bucke10 will be disappointed when he sees us!

But I cannot refrain from here giving an extract from a letter I have just received from Wallace. He says:—

"I feel that in coming to see us he (i.e Dr B) does far more than pay us honour on his own person I feel very strongly (whether you will understand me & share my feelings or not) that his visit like all our relations with Walt is a celestial & priceless message of benison & cheer & hope from the Highest. I wish to feel it a consecration too, to better effect in the future to absorb & assimilate & put into practice the teaching & influence of our beloved master and Friend."

Will you please kindly thank H.L.T. for his share in sending us the proof & tell him not to trouble about sending any of the magazines as we can get them here?

With kindest regards to Warry11 Harry12 & Mrs. Davis13 & to H.L.T. & with best love & gratitude to you always

I remain
Yours affectionately
J. Johnston

P.S In today's Athenaeum I notice a par. that next months Lippincott will contain "a poem by Mr Walt Whitman entitled "Good Bye My Fancy.""14


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. Little is known about the millwright and machine-fitter George Humphries, who was a member of the Bolton College group of Whitman admirers. [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. Johnston is referring to Whitman's letters of June 27, 1891 and July 8–9, 1891. [back]

4. Lippincott's Monthly Magazine published Horace Traubel's "Walt Whitman's Birthday" and Whitman's preface to "Good-Bye My Fancy" (his second annex to Leaves of Grass) in their August 1891 issue. [back]

5. 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]

6. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. Whitman's seventy-second (and last) birthday, May 31, 1891, 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—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]

8. Johnston is referring to a proof of Horace Traubel's "Walt Whitman's Birthday, May 31, 1891," an article that was published in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in August 1891. [back]

9. 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]

10. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

11. 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]

12. Harry Fritzinger (about 1866–?) was the brother of Warren Fritzinger, who would serve as Whitman's nurse beginning in October 1889. Harry worked as an office boy in Camden when he was fourteen. He also worked as a sailor. Later, he became a railroad conductor. Mary Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, took care of both Harry and Warren after the death of their father, the sea captain Henry W. Fritzinger. Davis had looked after Capt. Fritzinger, who went blind, before she started to perform the same housekeeping services for Whitman. Harry married Rebecca Heisler on September 15, 1890. [back]

13. 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]

14. Lippincott's Monthly Magazine published in its August 1891 issue not a poem by Whitman but rather his preface to "Good-Bye My Fancy," his second annex to Leaves of Grass[back]


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