Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 14 October 1891

Date: October 14, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02523

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, and Stephanie Blalock



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54 Manchester Road
Bolton England
Oct 14th '91

My Dear Old Friend

Your kind pc of Oct. 3rd '911 reached me today along with two good letters from Horace2 full to the brim & running over with—well with himself for surely he is sui generis3 & I bless the day that brought me within the circle of friendship & community with him.

My best thoughts to you for your p.c. & for its affectionate message to Fred Wild4 which I will convey to him at once.

I am sorry to hear that you are again having "bad times" & I sincerely hope that by this time your bad spell will have again passed off or at any rate moderated so as to leave you in comparative comfort

We dont quite know where J.W.W.5 is at present but we shall be hearing shortly I daresay.6

Many thanks to you for sending off the L. of G. to Humphreys7 I have not yet heard of its arrival but will let you know, as doubtless H. himself will, when he receives it.

We have had a terrible storm here & are just getting thro it. The papers tell of great damage done both on land & sea. This morning was one of drenching rain but the afternoon cleared up & the good sun smiled again upon the grimy town. Alas that it is so grimy! Truly God made the country and man the town!

We shall all be glad to see J.W.W. again but we hope he will not hurry away from you this time & we are anxious that he shd stay as long as possible for his health's sake. He seems in good spirits & is having a real good time all through

With kindest regard to all your house & with best love to yourself

I remain
Yours affectly
J Johnston

P.S. Many thanks to you for mentioning my dear old Annan8 on your p.c.


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. Johnston is referring to Whitman's postal card of October 3, 1891[back]

2. 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]

3. Sui generis comes from Latin and means "unique" or "one-of-a-kind." [back]

4. Fred Wild, a cotton waste merchant, was a member of the "Bolton College" of Whitman admirers, and was also affiliated with the Labour Church, an organization whose socialist politics and working-class ideals were often informed by Whitman's work. [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. Wallace visited both Whitman and the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke in the fall of 1891. Dr. John Johnston visited Whitman in the summer of 1890. Accounts of these visits can be found in Johnston and Wallace's Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–91 (London, England: G. Allen & Unwin, ltd., 1917). [back]

7. Little is known about the millwright and machine-fitter George Humphries, who was a member of the Bolton College group of Whitman admirers. [back]

8. Johnston was from Annan, a town in Dumfries and Galloway, in southwest Scotland. [back]


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