Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Dr. John Johnston, 10–11 September 1891

Date: September 10–11, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08080

Source: Henry S. Saunders Collection of Walt Whitman Papers, 1899–1913, 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), 5:241. 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, Andrew David King, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden N J—U S America1
Thursday sunset
Sept: 10 '91

Two perfect days—fine for travelers—Wallace2 & Dr [Bucke]3 went off at 8½ last evn'g—& are probably home by this moment—all well when starting—thanks for your photos4—I dwell upon them long—thanks for the noble underclothing wh' is just what I wanted—I thank Mr Hoskins heartily5

Sept: 11—Fine weather still—am feeling much same—Warry6 has gone off on a day's visit 30 miles country to his grandfather—apples are coming in ripe & large—had two roasted for my breakfast—two visitors just call'd down stairs—didn't see them—what they call the "political cauldron" is beginning to bubble & agitate all over the United States, as our great Presidential election7 comes off next year, preceded by great blare & all sorts of what we call wire pulling, ("fortunate is that country that has no history" says some (?Quakerish) political economist—But I don't know)—It is ab't noon—all quiet—& I am sitting alone—the Lord bless you & the friends—& love to all—


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 R'd | Bolton Lancashire | England. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Sep 11 | 8 PM | 91. [back]

2. 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]

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. Dr. Johnston had taken several photos when he visited Camden, including photos of the inside of Whitman's house and photos of Whitman in his wheelchair on the Camden docks. They are reproduced in Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–91 by Two Lancashire Friends (1917). [back]

5. The underwear was a gift from Sam Hodgkinson, a hosiery manufacturer; see John Johnston and J. W. Wallace, Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–1891 by Two Lancashire Friends (1917), 104, and note 2650. [back]

6. 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]

7. In the 1892 Presidential election, former Democratic President Grover Cleveland (1837–1908) defeated the incumbent Republican President Benjamin Harrison (1833–1901). This election was a rematch of what had been a close presidential election in 1888. [back]


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