Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 14–15 August 1891

Date: August 14–15, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02509

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: Ethan Heusser, Cristin Noonan, Brandon James O'Neil, and Stephanie Blalock



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54 Manchester Road
Bolton, England1
Aug 14th 1891.

My Dear Walt Whitman

I have just finished writing a letter to Mrs Andrew Rome2 of Brooklyn & one to a little Canadian cousin (at Smith's Falls Ontario) & now for a li[ne] or two to you before I go to bed; tho' I have really nothing particular to sa[y], but I wish to send you a word of cheer from across the sea & to tell you that I am thinking of you, 3,000 miles away.

I was pleased to learn from your kind p.c. to J.W.W.3 that things were at least no worse with you & we keep on hoping that a change for the better will come soon.4

From your mentioning having received two letters from me I presume the missing one5 has reached you but as I find that I omitted enclosing the copy of it in my last I send it herewith tho' it is not worth much.

I daresay Wallace will tell you that he has asked Dr. Bucke6 to give us an address when he comes again & that the meeting is to be at Rev. F.R.C. Hutton's7 house where the Dr. will stay all night.

The rest of the time he will stay with Wallace at Anderton, as arranged before he left for London.

I send you a few copies of the Bolton rep[rint?] of the article in the Camden Post8—1 dozen for yourself, o[ne] each for Warry9 & Mrs. Davis10 & the rest for Traubel.11

I cannot tell you how deeply that report has affected us but we feel that our dear friend rank[s] us higher than we deserve.

But we thank him from the bottom of our hearts.

August 15th '91 This is the Bolton operatives general holiday—all the factories, foundries & workshops being closed (producing a notable change in the town atmosphere)—& thousands of the working people leaving town for the seaside & other holiday resorts

This afternoon Wallace & I have had our photographs taken at by a professional. You may see the result someday

As I write a great crowd of folks is tramping past. They are coming from seeing Prof Baldwin12 drop a mile from a baloon, with a parachute!

Later

Since writing the foregoing I have received your pc. of Aug 6th13 for wh I thank you most cordially. Also a good long letter from H.L. Traubel—the dear good fellow that he is; God bless him!

It is good news to learn that you were then rather better—"some favourable features (& g't easements & reliefs they are)"—& that you had been able to take "a fair breakfast."

God grant that this improvement may continue & advance!

I expect Wallace in again tonight— he has gone to Dixon's14 to tea— & will shew him your p.c & Traubel's letter.

I am glad you like the pictures of Dr Bucke, but I mean to have another shot at him next week! I do no[t] often get such a good subject. How I wish I had the opportunity of "firing off" at you again my dear good old friend!

By the way I notice that Stead15 has reproduced my photo of you on Camden wharf in this month's no of the Review of Reviews16—wh I now send you—& a wretched thing he has made of it! I am glad he has not put my name to it, as it does no one credit as it is tho' the original has some resemblance to you while this is about as bad as it could be.

I also send you a copy of the group of Parish church choir boy friends taken at Rivington a fortnight ago and now as I am rather pressed for time I must stop.

With my hearts best love to you always

I remain
Yours affectionately
J. Johnston

To 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 N.J. | U. S. America. It is postmarked: Bolton | 57 | AU15 | 91; New York | Aug | 28; A | 91; Paid | J | All; Camden, N.J. | Aug 28 | 4pm | REC'D. Johnston wrote his initials, "JJ," in the bottom left corner of the front of the envelope. [back]

2. Andrew Rome, perhaps with the assistance of his brother Tom, printed Whitman's first edition of Leaves of Grass (1855) in a small shop at the intersection of Fulton and Cranberry in Brooklyn. It was likely the first book the firm ever printed. [back]

3. 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]

4. Johnston is likely referring to Whitman's August 2–3, 1891, postal card to Wallace. [back]

5. Johnston is referring to his July 18, 1891, letter to Whitman. [back]

6. 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]

7. Reverend Frederick Robert Chapman Hutton (1856–1926) was the Vicar of St. George's Church, Bolton, and St. Paul's, Astley Bridge. [back]

8. Johnston is referring to Horace Traubel's article, "Over-Sea Greeting: Walt Whitman's Fame Abroad," which was published on the front page of the Camden Post on August 1, 1891. The article discusses the Bolton College of Whitman admirers and prints Johnston's letter of May 16, 1891, and Wallace's letter of May 14, 1891, both of which sent Whitman warm greetings in advance of his upcoming 72nd (and last) birthday on May 31, 1891. Both letters were read at Whitman's birthday celebration in Camden. Traubel also wrote about the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke's trip England in July and August of 1891, during which Bucke visited Johnston and Wallace in Bolton. The article even includes a song that the Bolton College sang in honor of Bucke's arrival: "The College Welcome to Dr. Bucke, 17th of July 1891." [back]

9. 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]

10. 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]

11. 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]

12. Thomas Scott Baldwin (1854–1923), also known as Professor Baldwin, was a pioneering balloonist and the first American to descend from a balloon with a parachute. He toured England, performing as an aeronaut and entertaining crowds with his balloon and parachute stunts. He later became a major in the U.S. Army in World War I. [back]

13. See Whitman's postal card to Johnston of August 6, 1891. [back]

14. 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]

15. William Thomas Stead (1849–1912) was a well-known English journalist and editor of The Pall Mall Gazette in the 1880s. He was a proponent of what he called "government by journalism" and advocated for a strong press that would influence public opinion and affect government decision-making. His investigative reports were much discussed and often had significant social impact. He has sometimes been credited with inventing what came to be called "tabloid journalism," since he worked to make newspapers more attractive to readers, incorporating maps, illustrations, interviews, and eye-catching headlines. He died on the Titanic when it sank in 1912. [back]

16. The Review of Reviews was a magazine begun by the reform journalist William Thomas Stead (1849–1912) in 1890 and published in Great Britain. It contained reviews and excerpts from other magazines and journals, as well as original pieces, many written by Stead himself. [back]


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