Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 23 September 1891

Date: September 23, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02520

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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Carlyle's Place
Sept 23rd 1891

My Dear Old Friend,

I arrived here yesterday & this morning your dear good letter of Sept 10th& 11th2 reached me along with welcome letters from Warry3 & Horace Traubel.4

I cannot tell you what a joy it is to me to receive a letter from you while I am staying in my dear Father's5 house & I thank you most heartily for your kindness in sending it. I am indeed glad to know that you were not losing much ground—that you were "feeling much the same"—for which small mercy tho' it is I am very thankful

Glad also that you like the photos I sent & that the underclothing was "just what you wanted." I will convey your thanks to Samuel Hodgkinson.6

Thanks to you too for your loving salutation & benediction to us all.

I spent three delightful days at Blackpool, which I left on Sept 21st for Corby or Cumberland, on the bank of the beautiful Eden, where my dear sister7 & her husband8 live with their charming little boy9 of whom I am very fond, for he is a dear little chap.

I am writing this sitting in the room in which I was born (still called "John's room") overlooking the little garden where from the apple & plum trees hang great bunches of ripening fruit. A robin is trilling his matins & a red rose—almost the last rose of summer—is peeping in at the window. My dear good old father is in the garden, which is his peculiar care, my brother (a lawyer)10 is reading his morning letters & my dear old mother11 is busy with domestic duties.

Looking far out I can see the top of old Criffel—a hill often mentioned by Carlyle;12 for you will remember that Carlyle received his early education at Annan & taught in Annan Academy which figures in "Sarton Resartus"13 & this is called Carlyle's Place. Annan is also the birthplace of his great friend, Edward Irving14 to whose memory a statue is now proposed to be erected.

I must ask you to pardon my writing more at present as it is nigh mail time

My best wishes for your welfare

Yours affectionately
J Johnston.

PS I return to Bolton on the 26th


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 the architect 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).


1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle St | Camden | New Jersey | U. S. America. It is postmarked: Annan | [illegible] | New York | Oct | 1; B | 91 | Paid | B | All; Camden, N.J. | Oct 2 | 6am | 91 | Rec'd. Johnston has written his initials, "J.J," in the bottom left corner of the front of the envelope. [back]

2. See Whitman's letter to Johnston of September 10–11, 1891[back]

3. 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. A picture of Warry is displayed in the May 1891 New England Magazine (278). See Joann P. Krieg, "Fritzinger, Frederick Warren (1866–1899)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 240. [back]

4. 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]

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

6. Sam Hodgkinson, a hosiery manufacturer, was a friend of both Johnston and the Bolton architect James W. Wallace. Hodgkinson had sent Whitman some underwear as a gift (John Johnston and James W. Wallace, Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–1891 by Two Lancashire Friends (1917), 104). [back]

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

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

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

10. William Joseph Johnston (1863–1935), the younger brother of Dr. John Johnston, was a solicitor in Annan, Dumfriesshire, Scotland. [back]

11. 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]

12. Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) was a Scottish essayist, historian, lecturer, and philosopher. For more on Carlyle, see John D. Rosenberg, Carlyle and the Burden of History (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1985). [back]

13. Johnston is referring to Carlyle's Sartor Resartus, a comic novel that purports to detail the life of a German philosopher named Diogenes Teufelsdröckh. It was first published as a serial novel in Fraser's Magazine from November 1833 to August 1834. [back]

14. Edward Irving (1792–1834) was a Scottish clergyman from Annan, Annadale, Scotland, who was the primary founder of the Christian religious tradition known as the Catholic Apostolic Church, or the Irvingian Church. [back]


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