Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 30 September 1891

Date: September 30, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02521

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, Lancs.1
Sept 30th '91

My Dear Old Friend,

Again have I to acknowledge the receipt of a most welcome missive from you—this time in the shape of a letter written2 on the margin of the "Title & backing p.p. of the forthcoming & really last & complete ed'n of L. of G.3 with portrait of "Rollins, the best Catcher in the State."4 For all of which I thank you most cordially.

Glad indeed am I to know that you continue better—"all goes doubtless as fairly as could be expected with me" you say—& that you had been "out just a little in wheel'd chair."5

Long may this improvement continue & increase!

J.W.W.6 seems to be having a good time7—quiet & unexciting, wh. is best for him for as you truly say "he has excitement enough in himself." I hope he is taking your advice to "tie up," & "lie fallow"

Dr Bucke 8 has written to Costello9 re "clayhead"10 but I have heard nothing more about it yet. I do hope it can be got for us!

What a treasure it will be!

I am sending copies of my "notes"11 to Professor Brinton12 & to Mr Harned13 at the request of H.L.T14 through J.W.W

Pardon this brief letter—I am just called out to a lady who requires my services. May she have a good time & good luck to the coming stranger!

My love to you & to HLT & his winsome wife15 now & ever

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. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328, Mickle St. | Camden, | New Jersey, | U. S. America. It is postmarked: Bolton | 56 | SP 30 | 91; New York | Oct | [illegible] | Paid | [illegible] | Camden, N. J. | Oct 10 | 6AM | 91 | Rec'd. Johnston has written his initials, "J.J," in the bottom left corner of the front of the envelope. [back]

2. It is uncertain which letter is being referred to here. [back]

3. 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]

4. As yet, we have no information about "Rollins, the best Catcher in the State," but it seems that Whitman has sent Johnston a photo of a baseball player. [back]

5. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889[back]

6. 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]

7. 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]

8. 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]

9. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." For more information about Costelloe, see Christina Davey, "Costelloe, Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

10. Johnston is referring to one of the four plaster busts of Whitman that were sculpted by Sidney Morse. [back]

11. Johnston published (for private circulation) Notes of Visit to Walt Whitman, etc., in July, 1890. (Bolton: T. Brimelow & co., printers, &c.) in 1890. His notes were also published, along with a series of original photographs, as Diary Notes of A Visit to Walt Whitman and Some of His Friends, in 1890 (Manchester: The Labour Press Limited; London: The "Clarion" Office, 1898). Johnston's work was later published with James W. Wallace's accounts of Fall 1891 visits with Whitman and the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke in Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–91 (London, England: G. Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1917). [back]

12. Daniel Garrison Brinton (1837–1899) was a surgeon in the Union Army during the American Civil War, and then practiced medicine in Pennsylvania. He went on to become a professor at the Academy of Natural Sciences, where he taught archaelogy and ethnology, and, later, he worked as a professor of linguistics and archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania. Whitman admired Brinton, who would speak at the poet's funeral. [back]

13. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, later, one of Whitman's literary executors. His wife, Augusta Anna Traubel Harned (1856–1914), was Horace Traubel's sister. [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. Anne Montgomerie (1864–1954) married Horace Traubel in Whitman's Mickle Street house in Camden, New Jersey, in 1891. They had one daughter, Gertrude (1892–1983), and one son, Wallace (1893–1898). Anne was unimpressed with Whitman's work when she first read it, but later became enraptured by what she called its "pulsating, illumined life," and she joined Horace as associate editor of his Whitman-inspired periodical The Conservator. Anne edited a small collection of Whitman's writings, A Little Book of Nature Thoughts (Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher, 1896). After Horace's death, both Anne and Gertrude edited his manuscripts of his conversations with Whitman during the final four years of the poet's life, which eventually became the nine-volume With Walt Whitman in Camden[back]


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