Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 7 November 1891

Date: November 7, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02527

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.

Editorial note: The annotation, "see notes Nov 17 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Cristin Noonan, Andrew David King, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock



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54 Manchester Road,
Bolton.
England1
Novr 7th, 1891

My Dear Walt Whitman,

I send you my best thanks for your kind p.c. of Oct 27th2 telling me about J.W.W.'s3 return "from a pleasant visit to the Staffords,"4 & that "O'Connor's5 book, 'Three Tales' is out."6 I will order copies of it thru H. L. T.7

I much regret to hear of your "bad spell" & send you my warmest sympathy & my best wishes for its speedy abatement.

I have also to thank you for the Philadephia Record with the marked paragraph, part of which appears in the Bolton Chronicle I am forwarding.

The paragraph was somewhat alarming & Fred Wild8 came down here last night to see me about it. He was surprised to know that I had received a p.c. from you (he thought you might be too ill to write) & upon my shewing it to him he exclaimed—

"Oh, th'owd chap's not dead yet! A chap as can write like that's a long way off deein' ! His hand's nearly as steady as ever, & that "Whitman" is written as well as I could do it myself!"—(a playful allusion to the fact that his handwriting is not copperplate;—neither Fred nor I can boast of the "beautiful caligraphy" of Wallace).

Your special references of late to Fred have made him a proud man; & in the course of our talk last night he said that he felt it a "tremendous honour" & one wh. he appreciated very sincerely— We are, indeed, all proud of your special recognition of the worth of our leal-hearted Comrade.

In a letter I received yesterday from your friend Prof. Brinton,9 in acknowledging the receipt of a copy of my "Notes,"10 he says:—"Your appreciation of his (Whitman's) broad & sympathetic humanity is peculiarly welcome. Would that many others had the same gift as yourself to understand the strength of his grasp on humanity."

I send you this week's Black & White11 & Christian Commonwealth12 containing portraits of & articles on two of our grand old men, Ruskin13 & Blackie,14 wh. may interest you to glance over.

We have no definite knowledge of Fred W's departure from America, but presume he sailed on Novr 4th. Bon Voyage to him!

I haste this to you in the hour between my morning & my afternoon's round of visits.

My heart's best love to you always,
Johnston

Kind regards to all.

P S Later

Since I wrote this letter I have recieved a p.c.—& a letter from JWW. On the former written on ferry boat he says that H.L.T would kill him outright with kindness if he stayed at Camden much longer & in the latter he tells me that you have given him a copy of the '76 Edition of L. of G.15 as a present for me! The mere announcement of the fact stirs my heart to its depths with feelings of grateful affections & I long to clasp your dear hand in expressing my thanks to you for this last token of your great & abiding love. To thank you adequately I feel I cannot but I know you will take the will for the deed. When I saw the Vol. you Kindly sent to Geo. Humphries16 I was envious of his possession of it; but now that you have kindly given me the two volumes17—now on the Atlantic in the City of Berlin18 with J.W.W.—I can but say I thank you from the botton of my heart & assure you that they shall be prized as among my most precious possessions. J.W.W says that while in Camden he was always "on the band wagon or walking with the drum major!"


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 N.J | U.S. America. It is postmarked: CAMDEN, N.J. | NOV 16 | 8 PM | 91 | REC'D; NEW YORK | NOV | 16; PAID | H | All; BOLTON | O | NO 7 | 91. [back]

2. Johnston is referring to Whitman's postal card of October 27, 1891[back]

3. 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]

4. "The Staffords" refers to the family of Harry Lamb Stafford (1858–1918), a young man who Whitman befriended in 1876 in Camden. Harry's parents, George (1827–1892) and Susan Stafford (1833–1910), were tenant farmers at White Horse Farm near Kirkwood, New Jersey, where Whitman visited them on several occasions. In the 1880s, the Staffords sold the farm and moved to nearby Glendale. For more on Whitman and the Staffords, see David G. Miller, "Stafford, George and Susan M.," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Three of William D. O'Connor's stories with a preface by Whitman were published in Three Tales: The Ghost, The Brazen Android, The Carpenter (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1892). Whitman's preface was also included in Good-Bye My Fancy (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1891), 51–53. [back]

7. 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]

8. 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]

9. 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]

10. 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]

11. The Black & White: A Weekly Illustrated Record and Review was an illustrated British weekly periodical founded by the English novelist and travelogue writer Charles Norris Williamson (1859–1920) in 1891. In 1912, the Black & White was incorporated with another periodical, The Sphere[back]

12. The Christian Commonwealth was a weekly newspaper edited by the pastor, educator, and historian William Thomas (W. T.) Moore (1832–1926). He also edited The Christian Quarterly (1869–1876). [back]

13. John Ruskin (1819–1900) was one of the leading art critics in Victorian Great Britain. Whitman sent Leaves of Grass and a "couple of photographs" to Ruskin via William Harrison Riley in March 1879 (see the letter from Whitman to Riley of March 18, 1879). Ruskin, according to Whitman, expressed "worry [...] that [Leaves is] too personal, too emotional, launched from the fires of [...] spinal passions, joys, yearnings" (see the letter from Whitman to William O'Connor of October 7, 1882). Whitman, late in life, said to Horace Traubel: "[I] take my Ruskin with some qualifications." Still, Ruskin "is not to be made little of: is of unquestionable genius and nobility" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, January 24, 1889). [back]

14. John Stuart Blackie (1809–1895) of Glasgow, Scotland, was a scholar, intellectual, and translator. Following the publication of his translation of Aeschylus in 1850, Blackie was appointed to the professorship of Greek at Edinborough University, a position he held for thirty years. [back]

15. During America's centennial celebration in 1876, Whitman, reissued the fifth edition of Leaves of Grass in the repackaged form of a "Centennial Edition" and "Author's Edition," with each copy personally signed by Whitman. For more information, see Frances E. Keuling-Stout, " Leaves of Grass, 1876, Author's Edition." [back]

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

17. Whitman presumably gave Johnston not only the 1876 Centennial Edition of Leaves of Grass, but also the companion volume Two Rivulets (1876). [back]

18. At this time, Wallace was returning to England after traveling in the United States and Canada. Wallace visited both Whitman and the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke in the fall of 1891. 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]


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