Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 26 August 1891

Date: August 26, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02511

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 Sept 3 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 Rd
Bolton
England1
Aug 26: 91

My Dear Old Friend

Well, they're off! Dr Bucke2 by the Majestic & Wallace3 by the British Prince4

I have just returned from Liverpool where Wallace Senr5 Fred Wild,6 S. Hogkinson7 Will Law8 & I have been seeing them on board & wishing them Bon voyage & tho we have just passed thro a violent storm of wind & rain I am glad to say that at the present moment everything looks favourable for their having a good time of it

I cannot tell you how I felt parting with J.W.W, but I introduced him to the Captain, the officers & some of the ship's company whom I know from having crossed in the same vessel. & I felt that he was among friends. & we hope that his voyage may be pleasant & enjoyable

Oh how I longed to go with him!

God bless him & bring him safely back to us!

I have written a long letter to H.L.T9 wh he will perhaps read to you

Pardon more at present as it is close on mail time

Fred Wild has just come in & sends his love to you as does

Yours
affectionately
J Johnston

PS Wallace wished me to say that he intended writing to you but had no opportunity

JJ

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: New York | Sep | 2; D | 91; Paid C | All; Camden, N.J. | Sep 3 | 6AM | 1891 | REC'D. The part of the envelope that includes the Bolton postmark has been torn away. Johnston has written his intials "J.J." in the bottom left corner of the recto of the envelope. [back]

2. 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]

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. In September 1891, following two months of travel in England, Bucke returned to the United States. After arriving in New York, Bucke went to Camden to see Whitman. James W. Wallace, co-founder of the Bolton College of Whitman admirers, followed shortly behind Bucke, arriving at Philadelphia on September 8, 1891 (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, September 8, 1891). After spending a few days with Whitman, Wallace returned with Bucke to London, Ontario, Canada, where he visited with Bucke's family and friends. [back]

5. Little is known about James Wallace, Sr., who was a millwright. Wallace, Sr. and his wife Margaret Thornburrow Wallace, were the parents of James William Wallace, an architect in Bolton, England. [back]

6. Fred Wild, a cotton waste merchant, was a member of the "Bolton College" of Whitman admirers, and was also affiliated with the Labour Church, an organization whose socialist politics and working-class ideals were often informed by Whitman's work. [back]

7. Sam Hodgkinson, a hosiery manufacturer, was a friend of both Wallace and the Bolton physician Dr. John Johnston (Johnston and Wallace, Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–1891 by Two Lancashire Friends [London : G. Allen & Unwin, ltd., 1918], 104). [back]

8. Little is known about Will Law, who was part of the Bolton College group of English Whitman admirers. Johnston describes Law as the group's "comic man" in a July 18, 1891, letter to Whitman. [back]

9. 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]


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