Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 11 August 1891

Date: August 11, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02508

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 notes Aug. 19 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 England1
Aug 11th 1891.

My Dear, Good, Old Friend,

Again have I to thank you for your kindness in sending us news of yourself—your pc of July 31st2 coming to hand by last mail. We note with pleasure that you were then "getting on about the same as ever" & we are delighted to know that our letters "help to cheer you up." That is the greatest compliment you could pay them & it is a genuine & deep satisfaction & joy to us

I note also that you "half think" that one of my letters—dated Aug 8th3— did not reach you & in case this should be so I now send you a copy of it, from my draft.

Yes, we have received the tomb4 photos & are much pleased to have them. The tomb itself is truly Whitmanic in its design, its proportions, its situation & its surrounding; tho', doubtless, as you say, its "best investments, vines, creepers &c, are yet to come."

I fancy the figure dimly seen through the foliage is that of H.L. Traubel.5

I thank you most cordially for sending such a loving message to George Humphries6 which I know he will be proud to receive, & for your kind offer to send him a copy of L. of G..7 I have mentioned this to Wallace8 & we both think that it would be a good thing if you were to do so, as it would probably be the means of introducing you to a class of men who otherwise would not hear of you; but as we wd prefer to pay for the book I enclose a p.o.o. value 21/-His address is:—

George Humphries
7 Taylor St.
Newport St
Bolton. Eng

This is Wallace's birthday & at his desire we have done nothing in the way of celebrating it beyond sending him letters & making him a few presents—among these being the price of a return ticket to Camden N.J.!9 And we regard it as a good omen that he has accepted it. May he soon be able to use it!

He has written his letter to you here this evening & has just returned to Anderton.

We shall be anxious to hear about the effect of the great heat wave upon you.

God bless you!
My heart's best love to you
now & always
Johnston.

P.S.10 this morning I read a copy of the Scottish art journal11 from Ernest Rhys12 containing his illustrated article upon "The Portraits of Walt Whitman."


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 | [56?] | AU12 | 91; New York | Aug 19 | A | 91; Paid | C | All; Camden, N.J. | Aug | 19 | 4PM | 1891 | Rec'd. Johnston has written his intials, "JJ," in the bottom left corner of the front of the envelope. [back]

2. See Whitman's postal card to Johnston of July 31, 1891. [back]

3. If a letter from Johnston to Whitman dated August 8, 1891 reached Whitman, it has not yet been located. [back]

4. 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]

5. 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]

6. Little is known about the millwright and machine-fitter George Humphries, who was a member of the Bolton College group of Whitman admirers. [back]

7. Whitman offered to send a copy of Leaves of Grass to Humphries in his July 31, 1891, postal card to Johnston. [back]

8. 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]

9. In September 1891, Wallace traveled to the United States, arriving at Philadelphia on September 8, 1891 (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, September 8, 1891). Wallace's arrival was shortly preceded by that of the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke, who had recently returned from two months of travel in Europe, where he had spent time with Johnston, Wallace, and the Bolton College group of English Whitman admirers. Both Bucke and Wallace visited Whitman in Camden, and, after spending a few days with the poet, Wallace returned with Bucke to London, Ontario, Canada, where he met Bucke's family and friends. Wallace's account of his time with Whitman was published—along with the Bolton physician John Johnston's account of his own visit with the poet in the summer of 1890—in their memoir, Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–1891 by Two Lancashire Friends (London: Allen and Unwin, 1917). [back]

10. Johnston wrote this postscript sideways in the left margin of this page of the letter. [back]

11. Johnston is referring to the article, "The Portraits of Walt Whitman" by Ernest Rhys (1859–1946), which was published in The Scottish Art Review (June 1889), 17–24. [back]

12. Ernest Percival Rhys (1859–1946) was a British author and editor; he founded the Everyman's Library series of inexpensive reprintings of popular works. He included a volume of Whitman's poems in the Canterbury Poets series and two volumes of Whitman's prose in the Camelot series for Walter Scott publishers. For more information about Rhys, see Joel Myerson, "Rhys, Ernest Percival (1859–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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