Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 1 July 1891

Date: July 1, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02498

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, and Stephanie Blalock



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54 Manchester Road, Bolton, England.
July 1st, 1891.

My Dear Old Friend

Again have I to thank you for your kindness in writing to me. Your p.c of June 18th1 reached me on the evening of June 29th while J.W.W2—who had dropped & had tea with me—& I were sitting here talking about you; thus realizing the old proverb—"Speak of the Angel & you hear the flap of his wing!"

Its arrival then was doubly welcome & we thank you most cordially for it.

Wallace at once took a rough facsimile of it for himself.

We are especially pleased with the brightness & cheeriness wh: pervades it—W. called it "a reamer!"—& for the good spirits in which you evidently were at the time of writing & to which the presence of those "two dear little boys" & "their delicious chatter" no doubt contributed.

God bless them for cheering you with their childish prattle; & may it be long before their young hearts lose their freshness and charming naiveté.

And they are fortunate little boys too, though of course they cannot know that; but some day when they are grown up they will perhaps think so & be able to tell their little boys that they were friends of Walt Whitman!

We rejoice to hear that you were "emerging as before" from the prostration of those "fearful, unprecedented, three days' hot spell" which "pulled you down like a pack of hounds" & we hope soon to hear of your getting out & enjoying the fresh air with all its delights.

Do you know that this is the anniversary (by the day of the week, tho' it is tomorrow by the calendar) of my sailing from England to America, last year?3 Today I have been pondering over the events of that ever memorable month of July 1890; beginning with the long sea voyage, during which you were so often the topic of talk on board & you were my chief object of desire for so many days; thinking of the time when I sat for countless hours [illegible] the ship's prow, facing America & watching our steel Leviathan wedging her way thro' the green waters of the broad Atlantic, & every moment bearing me nearer and nearer to you; when, anchored in the Delaware I lay in my berth and looked across the water at the gleaming lights of Camden where I knew you were; when, next morning I ferried the River, booked at the West Jersey Hotel & with a palpitating heart made my way to 328, Mickle St. & was at length shewn up stairs by Warry,4 heard your welcoming words:—"Come in, doctor! Come right in!" and was received by you with such open-hearted loving-kindness, not once but many times.

When I think of those two happy, happy days I spent with you & all you have been to me since, my heart swells with reverential grateful love to you, my Benefactor, my dearest & best friend.

How appropriate are your words!—

"Out of the rolling ocean the crowd
came a drop gently to me
Whispering I love you, before long
I die,
I have travel'd a long way merely
to look on you, to touch you,
For I could not die till I once
looked on you,
For I feared I might afterwards
lose you.
Now we have met we have look'd,
we are safe
Return in peace to the ocean
my love
I too am part of that ocean
my love, we are
not so much separated
Behold the great rondure, the cohesion
of all, how perfect!
But as for me, for you, the irresistable
sea is to separate us
As for an hour carrying us diverse
yet cannot carry us diverse for ever."5

Though we shall probably never see each other again with mortal eyes, yet "we shall surely meet again"!'6

Later

A good letter just to hand from H.L.T.7 from wh. I am glad to note that he thinks you are "much better this last ten days"—letter dated Jn 22nd & wh I took to the train by wh. JW.W leaves town. Had a few minutes there with him & have since recd a telegram from him wh. says that he has recd the "Good-Bye,"8 & the Pictures & asks me to thank you & Traubel for all—

I am glad to say that the effects of my accident are passing off.

Disappointed at not finding H.L.T's articles in July Lippincott9

My best love to you now & always,
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. Johnston may be referring to Whitman's postal card dated June 18, 1891[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. Johnston visited Whitman in the summer of 1890. Accounts of Johnston's visits can be found in Johnston and James W. Wallace's Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–91 (London, England: G. Allen & Unwin, ltd., 1917). [back]

4. 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]

5. Johnston is quoting Whitman's poem "Out of the Rolling Ocean, the Crowd." [back]

6. Johnston is quoting from Whitman's poem "Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night." [back]

7. 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]

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. Johnston is looking for the article "Walt Whitman's Birthday, May 31, 1891," by Horace Traubel, which would be published the following month, 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]


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