Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 29 July 1891

Date: July 29, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02502

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 Aug 14 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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Bolton England
July 29. 91

My Dear Walt Whitman

Our "Whitman mail" this morning was quite a heavy one—a post card1 from you a letter from you (to Wallace2) a letter from Traubel3 & a long letter from Warry!4

Accept of my best thanks for your kind p.c of July 17th announcing your receipt of our cablegram re Dr. B's5 safe arrival & for your loving message to us all.

Sorry to hear though that you continue to have bad days & that your bladder trouble has returned & we hope that these outings that Traubel6 tells us of will do you good.

Warry's letter is full of the homely talk about you wh. we all like and appreciate so much. He also sends me a copy of the "fine" portrait of himself which is good but has suffered from the attempts of the photographer to improve it—art v. nature—

Please thank Warry & Traubel in the meantime for me. I will write soon

The more we know of Warry—& Dr Buck7 told us a good deal—the better we like him & the more thankful are we that you have such an affectionate faithful young fellow to attend on you

I think I will send his letter to Dr. B as it will interest him.

On the 31st my wife8 & brother9 with a lady friend10 intend going for a weeks holiday to Ballacooil—a farm on the west coast of the Isle of Man where is the finest rock scenery of that beautiful little gem of the Irish Sea & we hope to have a real good time amid the delights of the sea & shore of "Lovely Mona."

August 11th is Wallaces birthday & it is proposed to celebrate it by a picnic in the country

I hear that Lippincott11 for August12 is out but have not yet seen it

Wallace has just had tea with me & is sitting now in the next room reading my notes of Dr B. visit to us.

I am sending you a few photos—the group is only so so but it may interest you. The duplicates of Dr B you can give to Traubel, Warry and Mrs Davis13

The N.E. Mags14 sent by Traubel have arrived. Please convey my thanks to him & tell him I will write to him by next mail

With kindest regards to all & wish best love to yourself

I remain
Yours affectly
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. Whitman had written a postal card to Johnston on July 17, 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. 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]

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. 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]

6. 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]

7. 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]

8. Margaret Beddows Johnston (ca. 1854–1932?) of Bolton, England, was the daughter of Thomas Beddows—a wheelwright—and his wife Mary. Margaret was a millinery worker and a dressmaker; she married Dr. John Johnston in Bolton in 1878. The couple did not have any children. [back]

9. William Joseph Johnston (1863–1935), the younger brother of Dr. John Johnston, was a solicitor in Annan, Dumfriesshire, Scotland. [back]

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

11. 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]

12. Horace Traubel's article "Walt Whitman's Birthday, May 31, 1891," was published in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in August 1891. It offered 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]

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. Johnston is referring to the New England Magazine. Horace Traubel's article, "Walt Whitman at Date," had been published in the May 1891 edition of the New England Magazine 4.3 (May 1891), 275–292, and it is likely that Traubel had sent Johnston a copy of this piece. The article is also reprinted in the first appendix of the eighth volume of Traubel's With Walt Whitman in Camden[back]


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