Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

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

Date: September 26, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02512

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
Sept 26th 1891

My Dear Old Friend

Upon my arrival home yesterday from Annan I found a p.c. (Sep 15th)2 & a copy of The Critic3 (for Sept 5th)4 awaiting me & today I have received your kind p.c. of Sept 18th5 (referring to W. Dixon's6 report of our meeting) for all of wh. I send you my heartiest thanks.

I am greatly pleased to know that things were then "fairly well" with you & I trust that you are still continuing on the better side.

I somehow think that Dr Bucke's7 visit (& perhaps Wallace's8) did you good9: for Warry10 tells me that you generally seem better after the Dr. has been to see you.

My best thanks to you for your kind offer to send me a copy of the "Complete Edition of L of G"11 wh. you are now preparing. You may be sure it will be supremely prized [illegible] by me.

Glad to know that you like the report of our farewell to Dr Bucke & J.W. Wallace.12 I will convey your compliments & thanks to W. Dixon & T. Shorrock.13

The following extract from the letter of an old schoolfellow of mine (Walter Hawkins14) received this week will interest you.

"Now respecting Whitman, I am anxious to spread his name & fame as much as I can & I am desirous of lecturing or reading an essay on him. To do this I want to read & digest as much as possible of him & about him" . . . . . . . .

"He is a bulging figure in this age of ours & his greatness will grow with the years. There is such a boundless store of love in the man such a wealth of wisdom & prophetic foreshadowing that I marvel men have not made him more welcome"

I think we shall have to elect Walter Hawkins a member of the College!15

A letter just recd. from J.W.W. says all's well with him & that he is having a good time.

A sweet good night to you & God bless you!

With kindest regards to Mrs Davis16 Warry & Harry17 & with best heart love to you now & always I remain

Yours affectionately
J. Johnston.

PS Please thank Warry for his 2 letters


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 | SP 26 | 91; New York | OCT | 5; F | 91; Paid | H | All; Camden, N.J. | OCT 6 | 6AM | 91 | REC'D. Johnston has written his initials, "J.J," in the bottom left corner of the front of the envelope. [back]

2. Johnston is referring to Whitman's letter of September 15, 1891[back]

3. The Critic (1881–1906) was a literary magazine co-edited by Joseph Benson Gilder (1858–1936), with his sister Jeannette Leonard Gilder (1849–1916). Whitman's poems "The Pallid Wreath" (January 10, 1891) and "To The Year 1889" (January 5, 1889) were first published in The Critic[back]

4. The Critic of September 5, 1891 included a review of Whitman's Good-Bye My Fancy (1891). Good-Bye My Fancy was Whitman's last miscellany, and it included both poetry and short prose works commenting on poetry, aging, and death, among other topics. Thirty-one poems from the book were later printed as "Good-Bye my Fancy 2d Annex" to Leaves of Grass (1891–1892), the last edition of Leaves of Grass published before Whitman's death in March 1892. For more information see, Donald Barlow Stauffer, "'Good-Bye my Fancy' (Second Annex) (1891)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. See Whitman's letter to Johnston of September 18, 1891[back]

6. Wentworth Dixon (1855–1928) was a lawyer's clerk and a member of the Bolton Whitman Fellowship. [back]

7. 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]

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. 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]

11. The 1891–1892 Leaves of Grass was copyrighted in 1891 and published by Phildelphia publisher David McKay in 1892. This volume, often referred to as the "deathbed" edition, reprints, with minor revisions, the 1881 text from the plates of Boston publisher James R. Osgood. Whitman also includes his two annexes in the book. The first annex consisted of a long prefatory essay entitled "A Backward Glance O'er Travel'd Roads" and sixty-five poems; while the second, "Good-Bye my Fancy," was a collection of thirty-one short poems taken from the gathering of prose and poetry published under that title by McKay in 1891. For more information on this volume of Leaves, see R.W. French, "Leaves of Grass, 1891–1892, Deathbed Edition," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

12. Johnston describes the farewell wishes for and the departure of Bucke and Wallace for the United States in his August 26, 1891, letter to Whitman. [back]

13. Thomas Shorrock was a clerk in the Bolton police court. [back]

14. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

15. The "Bolton College" was a group of Whitman admirers located in Bolton, England. Founded by Dr. John Johnston (1852–1927) and James William Wallace (1853–1926), the group corresponded with Whitman and Horace Traubel throughout the final years of the poet's life. 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). 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]

16. 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]

17. 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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