Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 2–3 August 1891

Date: August 2–3, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02506

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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Ballacooil Dalby1 Isle of Man
Aug 2nd 1891

My Dear Walt Whitman—

We (i.e. my wife,2 my brother3 a [illegible] friend & I) have been here since Friday last (July 31st) & up to now we have had a good time. A splendid passage across from Fleetwood brought us to Douglas—the favourite Isle of Man resort but now too noisy & rowdy for my liking—whence we travelled 10 miles by tram & 5 by carriage to Ballacooil wh. is a large farmhouse upon the sea coast looking directly across the Irish Sea & from wh. the Mountains of Mourne & the Mull of Galloway are visible—it is the centre of some most beautiful scenery both inland & coast—the latter being an especial feature somewhat resembling that of the West Coast of Scotland tho' on a smaller scale.

We have been favoured with splendid weather & have spent our time in rambling about over the rocks & along by the seashore watching the waves & the sea birds & drinking in all the delights of the sea & sky.

Today we have had a glorious scramble over the rocks to visit the caves which are the haunts of seagulls & cormorants & we discovered a cormorants' nest with a young bird peering out from his lofty & inaccessible cave

I am writing this at sunset (830pm) sitting on a heap of stones in a field along which two long lines of ducks & geese are slowly waddling their way homeward. The cattle are quietly grazing, the sea is beautifully calm & silvered with the waning light from the just-gone sun wh. a few minutes a ago gilded the sky with its sunset glory. The only sound that breaks the solemn hush is the cry of of a corncrake & the continuous roll of the sea over the rocks of the Niarbyle—a promontory of rock jutting far out to sea

The corn now 3 feet high is in full ear the fields are all bordered with wildflowers—yellow & white marguerites, foxgloves bluebelles & buttercups. The hills are clad with the beautiful yellow gorse & the purple heather. (I send you a sprig of the latter & a seagull's feather—)

Aug 3rd 1pm.

A dull hazy morning wh. cleared up by 11am & resulted in a splendid sunny day. Five of us have just had a glorious bathe in the Sea & enjoyed it thoroughly. We have since had a game at "cock-shie" & a climb up the cliffs & are now patiently waiting for dinner—for wh. we are quite ready

I am often wondering how you are getting along these days. Better I hope—& geting out into the open air now & then & at all events keeping your usual good heart

God bless you my dear good old friend is the heartfelt wish of yours affectionately

J Johnston

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 the architect 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).


1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle St | Camden N.J. | US America It is postmarked: Peel E | Au 3 | 91 | Isle of Man; Paid B All; A | 91; Camden, N.J. AUG | 14 | [illegible]AM; 1891; Rec'd. There are two New York postmarks that are illegible except for the city name. [back]

2. 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]

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


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