Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 10 October 1891

Date: October 10, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02522

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: Kara Wentworth, Ian Faith, Andrew David King, and Stephanie Blalock



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54, Manchester Road
Bolton, England.1
Oct 10/91

My Dear Old Friend:

My best thanks to you for your kind letter2 written on the back page of one of Dr Bucke's3 to you & for JWW's4 letter5 to you all of wh came to hand two days ago.

Glad to know that things continue on the better side with you—"the same subject continued, perhaps a little plus" says your letter—& I sincerely trust that your discomforts are really & permanently lessened.

I had a dear good letter from H.L.T.6 the other day in wh he says that you "bear your world (not Atlas-like) without a bent shoulder"—a very apt phrase wh exactly pictures you in your old age bearing worlds of trouble, distress, pain &c wh. would crush ordinary mortals earthwards.

What a lesson are you to us all & how thankful we ought to be for all that you have been to us!

I have had a busy week of it & this has been an exceptionally busy day—two midwifery cases & an inquest in addition to my ordinary round of visiting, prescribing, consulting & dispensing for heaps of patients—more or less ill & more or less grateful for the services they receive.

What a tale does my Ledger tell!
The doctor's an angel of light when
we're ill.
But the devil himself—when
he sends his bill!
Blest is the doctor who gets his fee
When the tear is in the ee!

No news of the clay head yet.7 I suppose I shall be hearing one of these days. Hope it has not been disposed of beyond recovery.

I presume J.W.W. is at Camden now enjoying the hospitality & society of H.L.T. & his winsome wife8 & an occasional talk with you. How I do envy him his good luck!

My love to you! Best respects to all your household.

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 | New Jersey | U.S. Amer [illegible]. It is postmarked: BOLTON | OCT 10 | 91; NEW YORK | OCT | 19; PAID | H | ALL; CAMDEN, N.J. | Oct 20 | 6 AM | 91 | REC'D. [back]

2. Johnston may be referring here to Whitman's letter dated October 6, 1891[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 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. It is uncertain what letter from Wallace to Whitman is being referred to here. Only a letter sent in September 1891 or earlier would have been received by the poet in time to post it along with his October 6, 1891, letter to Johnston. [back]

6. 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]

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

8. 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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