Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 22 July 1891

Date: July 22, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02500

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 note 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, Lancashire
England.1
July 22nd 1891.

My Dear Old Friend,

I now take up the thread of my narrative about Dr Bucke2 & his doings amongst us3 at the point where I left off in my last letter4

Sunday morning (July 19th) he stayed indoors resting, reading & writing letters. After dinner the Dr, W Dixon5 & I took train out to Wallace's6 place where we spent the rest of the day.

It was a grand afternoon—cool & pleasant (after a wet morning) & with some magnificent cloud effects.

After a talk in the house we strolled out through the field & lanes of beautiful Rivington & enjoyed the sight & show of that rural paradise & the sweet converse of friend with friend, returning, with JW Thompson,7 to Anderton where we all had tea (—bread & butter, nice fresh country eggs & delicious strawberries & cream—)

I had to leave early but the rest stayed there till 9 pm when they came on here & were joined by Fred Wild,8 RK Greenhalgh,9 Thos Shorrock10 & Mrs Dixon11 and W. Gass12—another friend but not of the inner circle who gave us a Lancashire reading—& we talked & joked—where Fred is there do jokes abound—till bedtime—

On Monday morning the first event was the arrival of letters from you13 & from H.LT.14 which were heartily welcomed & eagerly read—the more so because they contained what was on the whole good news of you

After breakfast the Dr, J.W.W. & I drove in my phaeton round the town visiting the Town Hall where T. Shorrock accompanied us through the really very fine building as I think the Dr. will tell you.

At 11.20 a.m we saw him off to London & I have not yet heard from him.

On his return journey he will probably stay with Wallace for a day or two

I need not tell you how much we have all enjoyed the Dr's visit, how much we like and appreciate him for his cordiality & bonhommie & what extremely pleasant impressions he has left behind him in Bolton.

We feel, too, that his visit has done us good It has seemed to bring you nearer & it has certainly made you dearer than ever to us.

Nay more to some of us it has almost seemed as if you yourself had been here; for the resemblance between the Dr & you was remarked upon—Fred told him that if ever you wanted to have your photograph taken and couldn't go you might send the Dr! And then Dr B told us the story about the Camden Hackman who asked him where he was to drive to—"Oh," said the Dr, "you know well enough."

"All right sir" said the man "I suppose you want to go to your brother's!"

He very kindly gave us your letter to him in which you referred to us in such high terms—I could see that it cost him a wrench to part with it & he did so because he "felt to" & thought it would please us; but of course we are to let him have a copy of it.

We are indeed pleased to have it & we shall prize it very highly indeed as another token of your affectionate regard for us for which we desire to thank you most cordially.

I regret to hear from yr letter that you were suffering from "lassitude & headache"15 & trust that they were only temporary. & that you are now keeping better, on the whole.

Many thanks to you for promising me a copy of the tomb16 picture.

Dr B has of course told us a good deal about the tomb amongst other things. But you are not going there yet awhile, dear old friend! We cant spare you yet. For what should we do without you?—and Wallace has to see you yet! No No! Granite & marble edifice! You must be content to be tenantless for a very long time yet!

Forgive my seeming levity. Upon such a grave subject.

——————————

We have had a good deal of rain here this week wh is bad for the hay crop.

Please convey my warmest regards to all & accept the heart love

of 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. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle St | Camden | New Jersey | U.S. America It is postmarked: Bolton | T | JY22 | 91; New [York] | [illegible]; 91; All; Camden, N.J. | JUL 31 | 4PM | 1891 | REC'D. [back]

2. 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]

3. During the months of July and August 1891, Bucke traveled in England in an attempt to establish a foreign market for the gas and fluid meter he was developing with his brother-in-law William Gurd. While in England, Bucke visted Johnston, Wallace, and their fellow English Whitman admirers. [back]

4. Johnston may be referring to his July 18, 1891, letter to Whitman. [back]

5. 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]

6. 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]

7. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

8. Fred Wild, a cotton waste merchant, was a member of the "Bolton College" of Whitman admirers, and was also affiliated with the Labour Church, an organization whose socialist politics and working-class ideals were often informed by Whitman's work. [back]

9. Richard Greenhalgh, a bank clerk and one of Whitman's Bolton admirers, frequently hosted annual celebrations of the poet's birthday. In his March 9, 1892, letter to Traubel, Greenhalgh wrote that "Walt has taught me 'the glory of my daily life and trade.' In all the departments of my life Walt entered with his loving personality & I am never alone" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, March 20, 1892). James Wallace described Greenhalgh as "undoubtedly a rich, royal, plain fellow, not given to ornate word or act" (Sunday, September 27, 1891). For more on Greenhalgh, see Paul Salveson, "Loving Comrades: Lancashire's Links to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, vol. 14, no. 2, 57–84. [back]

10. Thomas Shorrock was a clerk in the Bolton police court. [back]

11. Possibly Mira (or Myra) Jane G. Dixon (1857–1931), who married Wentworth Dixon in Bolton, England, in 1878. [back]

12. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

13. Johnston may be referring to Whitman's letter of July 8–9, 1891. [back]

14. 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]

15. See Whitman's letter to Johnston of July 8–9, 1891. [back]

16. Whitman was making plans to be buried in Harleigh Cemetery, in Camden, New Jersey, in an elaborate granite tomb that he designed. Reinhalter and Company of Philadelphia built the tomb, at a cost of $4,000. Whitman covered a portion of these costs with money that his Boston friends had raised so that the poet could purchase a summer cottage; the remaining balance was paid by Whitman's literary executor, Thomas Harned. For more information on the cemetery and Whitman's tomb, see See Geoffrey M. Still, "Harleigh Cemetery," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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