Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 25 November 1891

Date: November 25, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02531

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 note Dec 5 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Cristin Noonan, Jason McCormick, Stephanie Blalock, and Alex Ashland

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Medical Witnesses' Room
Assize Courts
Novr 25th '91 11. am

Dear Walt

From the heading of this letter you will wonder where I am & why.—Well I will tell you.—A patient of mine is suing the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Co. for damages for personal injuries received in a Railway accident, last January & I have been summoned to give Evidence in his favour. The case is not yet on so as I have to wait here I thought I would occupy the time in writing to you. I have just left the great hall with its—crowd of people—witnesses, planitiffs, defendants; spectators, barristers with wig & gown, lawyers law clerks, jurymen beadles, policemen, officials & all the vast assembly of human units who make up the throng & all interested in something going on inside the different courts—from Murder & Manslaughter to theft—a strange & weird scene full of suggestiveness.

The other day I recd a good letter from Warry2 from wh I was glad to learn that you were then about your usual health & I trust that since then it has improved

Sorry to hear of Mrs. Davis's3 illness & hope she too is now better

H.L.T.4 sends me a paper with your letter re the two actors.5

But I must stop now & go into the Court.

Bolton. Later (54 Manchester Rd),

Case over—plaintiffs awarded £350—& I have returned home—A heavy fall of sleet has partially whitened the streets & it has not yet ceased. Very cold today too—A busy day with me—have just got through & am off to testify my sympathy with the object of an entertainment got up on behalf of the widows of 3 Railway men who were killed this year.

My best & warmest love to you always my dear old friend
A sweet goodnight to you & God bless you!
yours affectionately
J Johnston

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: Bolton | 56 | NO 25 | 91; New York | Dec | 5; A | 91; Paid | B | All; Camden, N.J. | Dec 5 | 3 PM | 91 | Rec'd. [back]

2. 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]

3. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was a close acquaintance of Walt Whitman and one of the poet's literary executors. He met Whitman in 1873 and proceeded to visit the aging author almost daily beginning in mid-1880s. The result of these meetings—during which Traubel took meticulous notes—is the nine-volume collection With Walt Whitman in Camden. Later in life, Traubel also published Whitmanesque poetry and revolutionary essays. He died in 1919, shortly after he claimed to have seen a vision of Whitman beckoning him to 'Come on'. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. (1858–1919), Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed., (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 740–741. [back]

5. This letter is unidentified. [back]


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