Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 4–5 December 1891

Date: December 4–5, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02535

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.
England1
Dec. 4th '91

My Dear Old Friend

Your kind & most welcome p.c. of Nov. 22nd2 came by last mail & glad indeed was I to receive it from your dear hand

My best thanks to you for it.

I note that you were then "much the same" tho' "in depressed condition." That you are no worse is good news though I long to hear better & eagerly anticipate it. But I suppose we must be thankful even for small mercies. God grant that your long night of physical depression will soon brighten & pass away.

I am sorry to hear that Mrs. Davis3 continues to suffer & I hope that she too will soon be well again.

I have recd a good long letter from Warry4 containing lots of most welcome bits of interesting things about you & others. By the way wasnt that a compliment wh. Sir E. Arnold5 paid to him in his book "Seas & Lands"6 (given in the Academy I sent you)?

At the station bookstall today I picked up Literary Opinion Xmas no. & in the American correspondents letter it was stated that Sir Edwin Arnold had touched the heart of every patriotic American by his action in visiting you. He has a new poem in the Lady's Pictorial Xmas no. wh. I will send you by this mail.

Sat Dec 5th '91 This aftn I stole a couple of hours from my work & went over to see J.W.W.7 at Anderton where we had a good talk—mainly about you of course—& he shewed me the various mementos of his visit to America & Canada, including a portrait of O'Connor8 wh. I am going to copy & gave me some grasses & stones from the beach at Peashore.9

George Humphreys10 has just been in & he sends his love to you & his thanks for the autograph portrait you kindly sent him by Wallace

With best love to you
I remain
Yours affectly
J Johnston

to Walt Whitman


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: G | PAID | B | 4 [illegible]; [illegible] J. | DEC 5 | [5?] AM | 91 | REC'D; BOLTON | [illegible] | DE 5 | 91. [back]

2. Johnston is referring to Whitman's letter of November 22, 1891. [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. 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. [back]

5. Sir Edwin Arnold (1832–1904) was a British poet and journalist best known for his long narrative poem, The Light of Asia (1879), which tells the life story and philosophy of Gautama Buddha and was largely responsible for introducing Buddhism to Western audiences. Arnold visited Whitman in Camden in 1889. For an account of Arnold's visit, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, September 12, 1889 and Saturday, September 14, 1889: "My main objection to him, if objection at all, would be, that he is too eulogistic—too flattering." Arnold published his own version of the interview in Seas and Lands (1891), in which he averred that the two read from Leaves of Grass, surrounded by Mrs. Davis, knitting, a handsome young man (Ned Wilkins), and "a big setter." There are at least two additional accounts of Arnold's visit with Whitman; "Arnold and Whitman" was published anonymously in The Times (Philadelphia, PA) on September 15, 1889, and a different article, also titled "Arnold and Whitman" was published anonymously in The Daily Picayune (New Orleans, LA) on September 26, 1889.  [back]

6. Arnold's Seas and Lands, in which he records his visit to Whitman's Camden home in 1889, appeared in 1891; in the book, Arnold talks of meeting "a very handsome brown-faced boy of nineteen in shirt-sleeves," and Dr. Johnston believes this must refer to Warry, but in fact it refers to Whitman's former helper Ned Wilkins. [back]

7. 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]

8. 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]

9. Pea Shore was an area north of Camden on the Delaware River that Whitman often enjoyed traveling to in his carriage. [back]

10. According to Dr. Johnston's letter on July 10, 1891, Humphreys, a machine fitter, was the "latest convert" to the Bolton College group of English admirers of Whitman. On February 2, 1892, Wallace termed Humphreys a socialist, the founder of "the Cooperative Commonwealth," and an inspiration to fellow workers. [back]


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