Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 17 February 1892

Date: February 17, 1892

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02540

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: Cristin Noonan, Amanda J. Axley, and Stephanie Blalock



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54 Manchester Road,
Bolton.
England1
Feb 17. 92

My dear Walt,

What a long long time it seems since I wrote to you & what a long dreary time you have spent in bed!2 But, as you [will?] doubtless know, we are & have been in constant communication with Horace3 & Warry4—the faithful Horace & Warry!—& know all about you & your ups & downs. Some of the letters have made my heart ache with sympathy & love for you, my dear good old Friend of friends & your illness has bound me all the closer to you

God bless you & give you peaceful days and restful nights at all times!

Warry told me about your dear little namesake, "Walt Whitman Fritzinger."5 & how you have held him in your arms. That I am sure would delight you. The other evening I read the story of "The Carpenter"6 aloud to some friends who came in to see me & when I got to the part which told how the Carpenter sat crowded all over & around with children who "flocked around him like birds, bloomed around him like flowers, wreathed around him like vines, swarmed around him like bees, & close to his breast he held the little lame girl Lili[an &] read on, the mothers in the group gave way to tears.

This is a snowy day here & the snowflakes are still falling, falling, falling, slowly, slowly, & transfiguring the black & grimy town into a city of beauty & radiance. Oh the blessed, the beauteous snow!

And now I wonder how you are faring over in that upper room in Camden. Better I trust today & freer from pain & distress

The friends here7 all send their warmest love & sympathy as does also

Yours most affectionately
J Johnston

PS I had a brief note from your friend Symonds8 today


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 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).

Notes:

1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman, | 328 Mickle St | Camden | New Jersey | U.S. America It is postmarked: BOLTON | 50 | FE 17 | 92; BOLTON | 50 | FE 17 | 92; NEW Y[ORK] | FE [illegible] | [92]; PAID | L | All | 92; CA[DEN, N.J.] | FEB 25 | 6AM | 92 | REC'D. [back]

2. On December 17, 1891, 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 1892, 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. 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]

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. 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]

5. Walt Whitman Fritzinger (1891–1967) was the son of Harry Fritzinger (ca. 1866–?) and Rebecca Heisler (ca. 1874–?). He was the nephew of the poet's nurse Warren Fritzinger (1867–1899). [back]

6. "The Carpenter" is a story about a Christ-like character based on Whitman, written by Whitman's friend and disciple William Douglas O'Connor; it was originally published in Putnam's Monthly Magazine in January 1868 and was included in O'Connor's posthumous Three Tales (1891), for which Whitman wrote a preface. [back]

7. The "Bolton College" was a group of Whitman admirers located in Bolton, England. Founded by Dr. John Johnston (1852–1927) and James William Wallace (1853–1926), the group corresponded with Whitman and Horace Traubel throughout the final years of the poet's life. 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). 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. John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy, as well as Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), and a translator of Michelangelo's sonnets. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known. See Andrew Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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