Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 19 August 1891

Date: August 19, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02510

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 28 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 19th 1891

My Dear Walt Whitman,

Since Monday afternoon last (Aug 17th) we have been all agog with heart gladdening excitement; for on that day J.W. Wallace2 announced his decision to go to America with Dr. B.3 if possible & asked me to enquire about a berth on the "Majestic" & failing that on the "British Prince."

Unfortunately owing to our late application both ships were full but through the good offices of Capt. Nowell4 of the "Br. Prince" we have now secured a berth for him on her. According to present arrangements, then Wallace will sail on Aug 26th & if all goes well you may expect to see him about Sept 7th. The doctor will sail on the same day for New York where he will be due about Sept 3rd & we hope that he will be able to stay with you until J.W.W. arrives at Camden5

We are all very sorry that they cannot go in the same ship: but as things are it cannot be helped & we are too much rejoiced at the thought of his going at all to mind it much tho' the Dr. & Wallace will. A pc received from Dr says:—"I am disgusted to think that we may be separated on passage."

I am too full of conflicting emotions to write much at present, & I cannot tell you how much I feel this intended visit & all that it implies to me—& to us all here—& more especially to him.

My visit to you was the crown & glory of my life & his will be that & infinitely more.

I sincerely hope that you are keeping better & that your health will permit of your receiving him if only for a short time

Later

Many thanks for your kind p.c. of Aug 11th inst6 just recd J.W.W. has had tea with me—along with R.K.G.7—& we have had a good time talking over his coming trip. He is delighted with your p.c (about his letter re Ballacooil Isle of Man) & intend writing to you but was unable to do so this mail. He & RK Greenhalgh sent their love as does

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 | US America It is postmarked: Camden N.J. | AUG 28 | 4P.M. | REC'D [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. 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]

4. Little is known about S. Nowell, the Captain of the S. S. British Prince. On October 8, 1890, Horace Traubel notes that Whitman received a letter from Captain Noell [sic] stating that Johnston and Wallace had given him a blanket of Bolton manufacture to deliver personally to the poet in Camden. Traubel notes a few days later on October 14: "W. said Captain Noell [sic] had been in with the blanket." See the letter from S. Nowell to Whitman of October 8, 1890. [back]

5. 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]

6. See Whitman's postal card to Wallace of August 11, 1891. [back]

7. 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]


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