Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to John Johnston, 13 September 1890

Date: September 13, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07836

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 5:84–85. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ryan Furlong, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden New Jersey U S America
Sept: 13 '901

All as usual with me—Sit here in the big ratan heavy-timber'd old yellow chair much the same as when you were here—pleasant weather (frequent showers)—Warry2 is somewhere down in the cellar with the wood-fuel preparations & cleaning up—the massage book came safe (valuable book)—I have sent a 2d copy of p'k't-b'd L of G.3 to our friend Wallace4—enclosed letters f'm Dr Bucke5 to me rec'd lately—(I just send letter to Dr B who writes me ab't twice a week—welcome)—Warry has just come in & made the bed—A sudden quite heavy shower—Loving salutation to you, to Wallace & to all the friends6


Walt Whitman


Correspondent:
John Johnston (d. 1918) was a physician from Bolton, England, who, 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 (d.1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).

Notes:

1. This letter is addressed: Dr Johnston | 54 Manchester Road | Bolton | Lancashire | England. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Sep 13 | 3 PM | 90. [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.  [back]

3. The poet had the special pocket-book edition printed in honor of his 70th birthday, May 31, 1889, through special arrangement with Frederick Oldach. Only 300 copies were printed, and Whitman signed the title page of each one. The volume also included the annex Sands at Seventy and his essay A Backward Glance O'er Traveled Roads. See Whitman's May 16, 1889, letter to Oldach. For more information on the book see Ed Folsom's Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary[back]

4. James William Wallace (1853–1926), of Bolton, England, was an architect and great admirer of Whitman. Along with John Johnston (d. 1918), 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]

5. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Johnson's gratitude in his letter of September 27, 1890 was overwhelming: "Thanks too for the domestic details and glimpses into your daily life which you favour me with, all of which possess a genuine and deep interest for me and which serve to vivify and deepen the ever present and ineradicable image & memory of yourself and your surroundings and to recall the numerous & unexampled kindnesses you had shewn me." Johnston appended the following note to Whitman's letter: "In the gummed envelope of this Letter there is a white hair which was probably detached from the beard of Walt Whitman." On December 16, 1890 Wallace related with the sobriety of his devoton that a friend had set this discovery (or revelation) to music in a line reading, "[Dr. Johnston] triumphantly has shown us a hair from off your beard!" [back]


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