Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 22 August 1891

Date: August 22, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02513

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



page image
image 1
page image
image 2
page image
image 3
page image
image 4
page image
image 5
page image
image 6


54 Manchester Rd
Bolton
England1
Aug 22nd 1891

My Dear Walt Whitman,

Just a few lines to send you my love across the sea & a message of cheer & joy with it.

You are much in our thoughts now amid the preparations for dear JWW's2 departure next week.3 For by the time you receive this you will know that he is coming to see you—nay, more, that he is going across the Atlantic on purpose to see you, our dear good old friend

How I wish that I were going with him! But that is out of the question & I am overjoyed at the thought that he is going

May God bless him, overshadow him with His Continual Presence, guard him from all the perils of sea & land & bring him safely back to me again!

Tis the first time that we have been separated so long for a great many years & I feel his departure very keenly. But that feeling is at once swallowed up by the great thought that it is you he is going to see—to us, the supreme earthly friend, lover & comrade.

We have received the Camden Post for Aug. 7th with the 2nd article, upon Dr B's4 visit5 to us.6 What an enthusiast H.L.T7 is!

I blushed to see my poor scribblings, written off hurriedly & without premeditation, arrayed in all the glory of printer's ink, & lauded by H L T's facile pen!

We are anticipating another good time on the evg of 24th with the Dr at FRC Hutton's8 where he will stay for the night. & where we expect a goodly muster of the boys9

I hope you are keeping better & are freer from your physical discomforts.

My best love to you now & always!

God bless you!

Yours affectionately
J Johnston

PS Kindest regards to Warry10, Mrs Davis11 & to Harry.12


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 | 55 | AU22 | 91; Paid | N | All; New [York] | AUG [illegible] | [illegible]; Camden, N.J. | AUG 30 | 9A.M. | [illegible] | REC'D. Johnston has written his initials, "JJ," in the bottom left corner of the front of the envelope.  [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. 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]

4. 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]

5. During the months of July and August 1891, Bucke traveled in England in an attempt to establish a foreign market for the gas and fluid meter he was developing with his brother-in-law William Gurd. While in England, Bucke visted Johnston, Wallace, and their fellow English Whitman admirers. [back]

6. Johnston is referring to Traubel's article, "Walt Whitman Abroad," Camden Post (August 7, 1891), 1. Traubel's piece focuses on the warm reception Bucke received from Johnston, Wallace, and the members of the Bolton College, as well as the English admirers' reverence for Whitman. [back]

7. 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]

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

9. Johnston is referring to the "Bolton College," a group of English admirers of Whitman, that he and Wallace co-founded. [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. 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]

12. Harry Fritzinger (about 1866–?) was the brother of Warren Fritzinger, who would serve as Whitman's nurse beginning in October 1889. Harry worked as an office boy in Camden when he was fourteen. He also worked as a sailor. Later, he became a railroad conductor. Mary Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, took care of both Harry and Warren after the death of their father, the sea captain Henry W. Fritzinger. Davis had looked after Capt. Fritzinger, who went blind, before she started to perform the same housekeeping services for Whitman. Harry married Rebecca Heisler on September 15, 1890. [back]


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.