Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 8–9 September 1891

Date: September 8–9, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02516

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: Andrew David King, Cristin Noonan, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock



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54 Manchester Road
Bolton, Lancs.
England
Sept 8th 1891.

My Dear Old Friend,

My best thanks to you for your kind p.c. of Aug 28th1 in which you say that you are "delighted" at the prospect of "seeing W.2 & B.3 so soon."4

As I have seen no intimation of the arrival of the "British Prince" up to date, tho' she was due at Phila. yesterday, I presume she has been delayed by the contrary winds & will probably arrive today. In that case Wallace5 will see you face to face for the first time today and perhaps at this moment 7.20 p.m here—about 2.20 pm with you—he is sitting by your side & holding sweetest of sweet converse with you. Somehow I have a feeling that he is either with you or very near to you as I write this, & I should like to know the exact time & date when he does see you first. How memorable that meeting will be & how pregnant with vast issues not only for him but for us all none of us can tell & I love to dwell upon it & I long to participate in its great joys—nay I do participate in them in spirit.

By this time you will have received a copy of W. Dixon's6 admirable report of "The College Farewell to Dr. Bucke & J.W. Wallace"—multiplexed by T. Shorrock7—from which you will be able to gather something of our doings upon that memorable evening—a sort of parallel to your Birthday spree,8 & some of us flatter ourselves that it was nearly as good as yours!

Wed Sept 9. 91 At last we have word of J.W.W's ship's arrival in Phila & glad are we all to hear of it. My heart goes out to you both for now I Know that you have met & are now near each other. God bless you both!

I have my dear good old mother9 staying with me at present & proud indeed am I to be with her

My sister10 & her bonnie wee boy11—4 years old—are also here. He delights me with his delicious prattle & childish ways & is very fond of "Uncle John" who I am afraid spoils him—we have no children of our own.

I send you a paper & a photo wh. I think will interest you. (Please give the duplicates to Warry12 & Mrs. D.)13 Together they form a record of an event of which I am proud—The Society wh made me the unexpected presentation of a testimonial is composed entirely of workmen—factory men foundry men &c.—& to me it is very gratifying to receive this token of their appreciation & respect tho,' as I told them, I do not see why the simple performance of one's duty, for wh they pay me, should merit any exceptional recognition

I trust you are keeping better by this time—Perhaps JWW's & Dr B's visits may give you a bit of a [fillip?].

Please thank HLT14 for his kind letter of 28th Aug15

with kindest regards to him & to all your house & with best love to yourself
Yours affectly
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. See Whitman's postal card to Johnston of August 28, 1891. [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. James W. Wallace of Bolton, England, visited both Whitman and the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke in the fall of 1891. Accounts of Wallace's visit can be found in Dr. John Johnston and Wallace's Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–91 (London, England: G. Allen & Unwin, ltd., 1917). [back]

5. 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]

6. Wentworth Dixon (1855–1928) was a lawyer's clerk and a member of the "Bolton College" of Whitman admirers. He was also affiliated with the Labour Church, an organization whose socialist politics and working-class ideals were often informed by Whitman's work. Dixon communicated directly with Whitman only a few times, but we can see in his letters a profound sense of care for the poet's failing health, as well as genuine gratitude for Whitman's continued correspondence with the "Eagle Street College." See Dixon's letters to Whitman of June 13, 1891 and February 24, 1892. For more on Dixon and Whitman's Bolton disciples, see Paul Salveson, "Loving Comrades: Lancashire's Links to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, vol. 14, no. 2, 57–84. [back]

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

8. The notes and addresses that were delivered at Whitman's seventieth birthday celebration in Camden, on May 31, 1889, were collected and edited by Horace Traubel. The volume was titled Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman, and it included a photo of Sidney Morse's 1887 clay bust of Whitman as the frontispiece. The book was published in 1889 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. [back]

9. Little is known about Dr. John Johnston's mother Helen (sometimes listed as Ellen) Roxburgh (1821–1898). Helen married William Johnston (1824–1898), a builder in Annan, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, in 1847. The couple had three children. [back]

10. Margaret (Maggie) Johnston (ca. 1855–1928?) was the sister of Dr. John Johnston. [back]

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

12. 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]

13. 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]

14. 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]

15. This letter has not been located. [back]


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