Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 30 December 1891

Date: December 30, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02538

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, "JJ," is in an unknown hand.

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



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54 Manchester Road,
Bolton.
England1
Dec 30th 1891.

My Dear Old Friend

As no cablegram came this morning we conclude that "no news is good news" & our anxiety is greatly relieved & tho' we fear what the morrow may have in store for us we hope & trust that it may bring us nothing but good news, about you. What a terrible time you must have had no one but you can know but we sincerely hope that the crisis is past & that you are now recovering from the frustrating attack & regaining a portion of your lost strength.2 God grant that this may be so & that out of the darkness may come forth light & Blessing for you & for us Crown your affliction!

It has deeply grieved us to think what a poor sort of Christmas you must have had: but we rejoice to know that you are still with us & we pray that the New Year may begin auspiciously & find you fairly on yr. way to convalescence—God bless you now & always!

Some of the Boys3 were here on Mon: Evg: by invitation. Mrs Teare4 of Ballacooil—The farm house in the Isle of Man where I stayed last summer—sent us a big fat goose & the boys came to help us to dispose of it. We spent a good time tho' it was overshadowed by the knowledge of your illness & we read from Carpenter's5 "Towards Democracy"6—a copy of wh: he kindly presented to me—Burns7 &c.

The boys all send their continued love & sympathy to you & hope to hear better news of you.

My best heart love to you now & always.
Yours affectionately
J. Johnston.

PS Please tell Warry8 & Mrs Davis9 that I send my affectionate regards & best wishes for a happy new year to them. They must have had a trying time.


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: Bolton | 56 | DE 30 | 91; New York | [J]AN 9; [illegible] | 92; Paid | K | All; Camden, N.J. | Jan 11 | 6 AM | 92 | Rec'd. [back]

2. On December 17, Whitman had come down with a chill and was suffering from congestion in his right lung. Although the poet's condition did improve in January, he would never recover. He was confined to his bed, and his physicians, Dr. Daniel Longaker of Philadelphia and Dr. Alexander McAlister of Camden, provided care during his final illness. Whitman died on March 26, 1892. [back]

3. Johnston is referring to the "Bolton College," a group of English admirers of Whitman that he co-founded along with the architect James W. Wallace. [back]

4. Little is known about Mrs. Teare, who seems to have been the prorpietor of a boarding house and farm near the town of Peel on the Isle of Man. The Johnston family, as well as the Bolton architect James W. Wallace had stayed at Mrs. Teare's house during their visits to the Isle. For a description of the location of the Teare property, see Wallace's letter to Whitman of July 31–August 1, 1891[back]

5. Edward Carpenter (1844–1929) was an English writer and Whitman disciple. Like many other young disillusioned Englishmen, he deemed Whitman a prophetic spokesman of an ideal state cemented in the bonds of brotherhood. Carpenter—a socialist philosopher who in his book Civilisation, Its Cause and Cure posited civilization as a "disease" with a lifespan of approximately one thousand years before human society cured itself—became an advocate for same-sex love and a contributing early founder of Britain's Labour Party. On July 12, 1874, he wrote for the first time to Whitman: "Because you have, as it were, given me a ground for the love of men I thank you continually in my heart. . . . For you have made men to be not ashamed of the noblest instinct of their nature." For further discussion of Carpenter, see Arnie Kantrowitz, "Carpenter, Edward [1844–1929]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Towards Democracy was a book-length poem expressing Carpenter's ideas about "spiritual democracy" and how to achieve a more just society. The work was influenced by Whitman's Leaves of Grass and the Bhagavad Gita, the work of Hindu scripture. [back]

7. Robert Burns (1759–1796) is remembered best as the national bard of Scotland. His poetry and use of the Scots dialect made him the first poet in the English-speaking world to be treated as a national celebrity in his lifetime, and he is often viewed as the first of the English-speaking Romantic poets. His political and religious views were seen as controversial, and after his death he became a source of inspiration for liberalism and socialism (Robert Crawford, The Bard: Robert Burns, A Biography [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009]). [back]

8. 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]

9. 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]


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