Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 29 August 1891

Date: August 29, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02514

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, Lancashire.
England.1
Aug 29th 1891

My Dear Old Friend.

Please accept of my warmest thanks for your kind postcard of Aug 16th2 from which I was glad to hear [that] you were "keeping around much as usual," but sorry to know that you were troubled with insomnia & had bad nights. It grieves me to hear of your continued prostration & suffering & to know that I can do nothing for you but write stupid letters, while you are constantly showering Blessings & Gifts upon me.

I have received so many of these from you that I hesitate about accepting your last generous offer to "order the W.W. clay head3 at 40 Grosvenor r'd London" to be sent to me or to Wallace4

You ask me if I "wd care for" it. Indeed, and I would do much more than care for it. I would prize it very, very highly & would give it a place of honour in my home second to none of my possession[s?]

About the time you receive this letter my dear friend, Wallace, will arrive at Phila.5 & will shortly after see you face to face & hold brief & loving converse with you, if you are well enough to see him, as I sincerely trust you will be. The mere thought of his meet[ing?] you fills me with undescribable emotion & my heart fairly wells with love for you both & I long to be with you & to enjoy the sweet communion which will be his.

But I must content myself with retrospective pleasures which to me [illegible] very very precious; & henceforth will be doubly so now that my dear friend can enter fully into them.

God bless you both!

A good letter from him, at Queenstown—all going on well with him—in good spirits & not ill at all.

P.C. from Dr. Bucke6 ditto

I am sending a bundle of photos to Dr. wh. he will let you see & give you first choice out of. Wallace has a lot with him for you all.

With kindest regards to Mrs Davis7 Warry8 & Harry9 & with best heart-love to your self

I remain
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 N.J. | US America. It is postmarked: Bolton | 56 | AU29 | 91; A | 91; PAID | G | ALL; NEW YORK | SEP [illegible]; [CAMDEN], N.J. | [illegible] | 6AM | 91 | REC'D. Johnston wrote his initials, "JJ," in the bottom left corner of the front of the envelope. [back]

2. See Whitman's postal card to Johnston of August 16–17, 1891. [back]

3. Johnston may be referring to one of several reliefs of Whitman by Sidney H. Morse, sculpted in clay and cast in plaster. [back]

4. 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]

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. 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. 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]

8. 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]

9. 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]


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