Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Dr. John Johnston, 26 June 1891

Date: June 26, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07979

Source: Henry S. Saunders Collection of Walt Whitman Papers, 1887–1923, 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), 5:219. 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, Stephanie Blalock, and Alex Ashland




Camden N J—U S America1
10½ a m June 26 '91

Another hot wave on us—am sweating freely—but feeling not badly—the fac similes are perfect2—thank heartily—the Rev[iew] of Reviews3 rec'd—the good full report of the birth anni: is to go in August Lippincott4—(a day after the fair, but glad to get it at that)—Dr B[ucke]5 leaves N Y on the 8th in the Britannic6—When entirely conv: send me 6 or 8 more fac similes—regards & love to you, W[allace]7 & all the boys8


Walt Whitman


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: Dr. Johnston | 54 Manchester road | Bolton | Lancashire England. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Jun 26 | 6 PM | 91; Philadelphia, Pa. | Jun 26 | 8 PM | Paid. [back]

2. Whitman is referring to his June 1, 1891, letter to Johnston, which included Whitman's description of his seventy-second birthday dinner. Johnston had a facsimile of the letter made, and he distributed copies to many of Whitman's friends and admirers. See Johnston's letter to Whitman of June 11, 1891[back]

3. 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]

4. Horace Traubel's article "Walt Whitman's Birthday, May 31, 1891," was published in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in August 1891. It offered a detailed account of Whitman's seventy-second (and last) birthday, which was celebrated with friends at the poet's home on Mickle Street. [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. As Bucke's letters in May and June 1891 both to Whitman and Horace Traubel make clear, he was going abroad to establish a foreign market for his gas and fluid meter, a subject to which he referred constantly in his communications but which the poet studiously ignored. [back]

7. James William Wallace (1853–1926), of Bolton, England, was an architect and great admirer of Whitman. Along with John Johnston (1852–1927), 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]

8. Whitman is referring to the "Bolton College," a group of English admirers of Whitman that was co-founded by Wallace and Johnston. [back]


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