Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Dr. John Johnston, 27 January 1891

Date: January 27, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07884

Source: Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The transcription presented here is derived from The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 5:157. 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, Ian Faith, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden N J U S America1
Jan: 27 '91

Y'rs & J W W[allace]'s2 letters3 rec'd & welcomed—also copy of J A Symonds'4 good letter5—thanks for all & to W. for delineation of Fred Wild6—& to him & all, my loving wishes & regards. Rev. of Rev's.7 rec'd, thanks—I continue rather poorly. End uncertain. Have sent copies of Ingersoll's8 little book,9 one to you, one to J W W10—Fine sunny weather—Am sitting here in my den as usual—Show this to Wallace—


Walt Whitman


Correspondent:
Dr. 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. | (?) | (?) | 91. [back]

2. 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]

3. See Wallace's January 16, 1891, letter to Whitman and Johnston's January 17, 1891, letter to Whitman. [back]

4. 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]

5. Johnston enclosed a copy of a letter from Symonds in his December 27, 1890, letter to Whitman, who thanked him for it on January 9, 1891. Whitman might have forgotten that he already thanked Johnston for the Symonds letter, or the poet could be referring to another Symonds letter enclosed with Johnston's January 17, 1891, letter. [back]

6. Wallace's character sketch of his boyhood "chum" Fred Wild on January 16, 1891 was iconic: "not 'literary' at all though he is not without appreciation of the best literature. He has an artist's eye for the beauties of Nature . . . but prefers Nature at first hand. . . . He has a wild native wit of his own, and is frank, outspoken, and free. . . . At the heart of him is a deep constant affectionateness, faithful and unswerving . . . . He has a wife and four children of whom he is fond." [back]

7. The Review of Reviews was a magazine begun by the reform journalist William Thomas Stead (1849–1912) in 1890 and published in Great Britain. It contained reviews and excerpts from other magazines and journals, as well as original pieces, many written by Stead himself. [back]

8. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]

9. Ingersoll's Liberty in Literature. Testimonial to Walt Whitman, an address he delivered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on October 21, 1890, was published in New York by the Truth Seeker Company in 1890. [back]

10. Dr. Johnston noted receipt of the book on February 6, 1891: "He has left untouched what I regard as the main & vital element in L of G viz. the spirituality which permeates & animates every page, every line & is the inspiring element in your teaching." [back]


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