Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Dr. John Johnston, 30–31 March 1891

Date: March 30–31, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07905

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), 5:184–185. 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
March 30 early P M '91

Pleasant sunny day out & I am getting on fairly considering—the long fearful obstinate bowel-block seems to be edged upon, even started, (or suspicion of it)— have pretty good nights—must have five or six hours sleep—no vehement pain night or day that I make acc't of—bladder trouble not pronounced at present—use the catheter most every day—eat my two meals daily or something of them, farina, roast apple, rare fried egg, mutton & rice, &c. &c.—Dr Longaker,2 (652 north 8th st: Philadelphia) comes every 2d day, & I like him & his doings—there has been some little correspondence bet'n him & Dr Bucke3—the latter is well—I got letter to-day.4 Wish you to pass this scrawl to J W W[allace],5 as he may like to know particulars—the Nat[ional] Review6 comes to-day & I have been looking at W Sharp's7 piece—(all guessing ab't future American National Literature seems to me guessing on the weather of years f'm now)—the proofs of "Good-Bye My Fancy"8 are slowly getting along—have sent back 31 pp: to be corrected—(there may be ab't 45)—don't you look out for anything stirring—it is small any how, & mostly to untune (let down) clinch what I have said before, pass the fingers again carelessly over the strings & probably some parrot-like repetitions & to close the book avoiding any thing like trumpet blasts or attempts at them—intend it to be bound in with "November Boughs"9 & make it supplementary part.

Tuesday 31st 1 pm—Dr L has just been—thinks matters are going along satisfactorily—Dark glum day—& I am too, but it is blessed to be no worse, & even indication of turning better—am sitting here same way in big chair alone &c:—drizzling out—God bless you & all10


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 (?) | Apr 1 | 6 AM | 91. [back]

2. Daniel Longaker (1858–1949) was a Philadelphia physician who specialized in obstetrics. He became Whitman's doctor in early 1891 and provided treatment during the poet's final illness. Carol J. Singley reports that "Longaker enjoyed talking with Whitman about human nature and reflects that Whitman responded as well to their conversations as he did to medical remedies" ("Longaker, Dr. Daniel [1858–1949]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R.LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings [New York: Garland Publishing, 1998]). [back]

3. 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]

4. Whitman is referring to Bucke's letter of March 30, 1891. [back]

5. 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]

6. The British magazine, The National Review, was co-founded in 1883 by the English poets Alfred Austin (1835–1913) and William Courthope (1842–1917) in 1883. The magazine was an organ for the British Conservative Party's views. Austin was the sole editor from 1887 to 1896, when he was appointed the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom. [back]

7. William Sharp (1855–1905) was a Scottish poet, literary biographer, and editor. Sharp visited the poet at his Mickle Street home two months before Whitman's death. For Whitman's reaction to the visit, see (see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, January 23, 1891)  [back]

8. Whitman's book Good-Bye My Fancy (1891) was his last miscellany, and it included both poetry and short prose works commenting on poetry, aging, and death, among other topics. Thirty-one poems from the book were later printed as "Good-Bye my Fancy 2d Annex" to Leaves of Grass (1891–1892), the last edition of Leaves of Grass published before Whitman's death in March 1892. For more information see, Donald Barlow Stauffer, "'Good-Bye my Fancy' (Second Annex) (1891)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. Whitman's November Boughs was published in October 1888 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. For more information on the book, see James E. Barcus Jr., "November Boughs [1888]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

10. Dr. Johnston was especially grateful for this long letter. When he replied on April 14–15, 1891, he recalled "the sound of your 'valved voice,' and I seem to live over again those two red letter—nay rather epoch-making—days of my life which I spent with you, my dear, old Camerado & Elder Brother." [back]


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