Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Dr. John Johnston, 15 April 1891

Date: April 15, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08030

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), 5:192. 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, Ryan Furlong, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden N J—U S America1
April 15 evn'g '91

Perhaps the best self-news to send you is that I have to-day got out (little but decided) in the open air on wheel chair2 propell'd by Warry3—the first time for four months—was so confused & blinded & excited tho', I soon came back & have been unsettled since—but am now feeling easier—the sculptor f'm N Y is here4 & begins on me to-morrow—


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. | Apr 15 | 8 PM | 91. [back]

2. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889[back]

3. 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]

4. William Rudolph O'Donovan (1844–1920) was an American sculptor. He was an associate of American artist Thomas Eakins and accompanied Eakins to Whitman's Camden home and fashioned a large bust of Whitman. Whitman liked O'Donovan but did not care for the bust, which he found "too hunched" and the head "too broad" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, July 15, 1891). [back]


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