Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Dr. John Johnston, 18 September 1891

Date: September 18, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08092

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), 5:244–245. 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 Breanna Himschoot




Camden N J—U S America1
Sept: 18 '91

Word rec'd every day or two f'm Dr B[ucke]2 or J W W[allace]3 f'm Canada—The latter keeps well & is evidently having a good time.4 The deeply interesting (& to me far too complimentary) Report of Meeting of Aug: 24 rec'd f'm friends5 T Shorrock6 and W Dixon,7 to whom I send aff: respects & thanks—I continue on fairly—I have just read the Report a second time ("Hold y'r horses, Bolton")—


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 18 | 3 PM | 91. [back]

2. 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]

3. 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]

4. Wallace visited Whitman in Camden, New Jersey, and the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke at Bucke's home in London, Ontario, Canada, in the fall of 1891. He also spent time in New York during the trip. Accounts of Wallace's visit can be found in Dr. John Johnston and Wallace's Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–91 (London, England: G. Allen & Unwin, ltd., 1917). [back]

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

6. Thomas Shorrock was a clerk in the Bolton police court. [back]

7. Wentworth Dixon (1855–1928) was a lawyer's clerk and a member of the "Bolton College" of Whitman admirers. He was also affiliated with the Labour Church, an organization whose socialist politics and working-class ideals were often informed by Whitman's work. Dixon communicated directly with Whitman only a few times, but we can see in his letters a profound sense of care for the poet's failing health, as well as genuine gratitude for Whitman's continued correspondence with the "Eagle Street College." See Dixon's letters to Whitman of June 13, 1891 and February 24, 1892. For more on Dixon and Whitman's Bolton disciples, see Paul Salveson, "Loving Comrades: Lancashire's Links to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, vol. 14, no. 2, 57–84. [back]


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