Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Dr. John Johnston, 1 December 1891

Date: December 1, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08245

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, 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), 5:269. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Ryan Furlong, Amanda J. Axley, Cristin Noonan, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden NJ—U S America1
Dec: 1 '91

Y'rs rec'd—also J W W[allace]'s2—thanks—(I can see you all with y'r home-reception to dear W. & the jolly time—so mote it be)3—Dr B[ucke]4 & H T[raubel]5 well—sunny & cold weather—bad & depress'd physical condition night & day—no hour without suffering—get a new book "Modern Authors, by Arthur Lynch,6 pub'd London, Ward & Downey, 12 York St. Covent Garden."7


W W


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 the architect 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 posmarked: Camden, N.J. | Dec 1 | 6 PM | (?). [back]

2. James William Wallace (1853–1926), of Bolton, England, was an architect and great admirer of Whitman. Wallace, along with Dr. John Johnston (1852–1927), a physician in Bolton, 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. Johnston's letter of November 18, 1891 provided a sixteen-page report of Wallace's arrival in Bolton following his trip to visit Whitman in Camden and the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke in London, Ontario, Canada. Whitman also mentions having received a letter from Wallace; Wallace had written to the poet on November 14, 1891 and November 20, 1891. [back]

4. 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]

5. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the mid-1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Arthur Lynch (1861–1934) was a writer and politician who served twice in the UK House of Commons. Born in Australia to an Irish father and Scottish mother, Lynch was educated at the University of Melbourne and worked as a civil engineer before relocating to Galway, Ireland. During the Second Boer War, he raised an Irish brigade that fought against the Crown; as a result, he was convicted of treason, sentenced to death, and subsequently pardoned. Upon his release, Lynch attended St. Mary's Hospital Medical School and became a general practitioner. Lynch wrote prolifically in several genres, including fiction, poetry, and philosophy; the "little book" alluded to in this letter may refer to Lynch's Modern Authors: A Review and a Forecast (London: Ward and Downey, 1891). The book devotes much attention to Whitman, and Lynch writes that Whitman "has the true poet's largeness of soul" but "lacks a little the singing faculty, though the divine afflatus at his best carries him safely along" (41). For more information on Lynch, see Stephen Due, "Arthur Lynch: Parliamentarian, Physician and Author," Journal of Medical Biography 7.2 (May 1999), 93–99. [back]

7. Whitman is referring to Modern Authors: A Review and a Forecast (London: Ward and Downey, 1891) by the English writer and politician Arthur Lynch (1861–1934). The book devotes much attention to Whitman, and Lynch writes that Whitman "has the true poet's largeness of soul" but "lacks a little the singing faculty, though the divine afflatus at his best carries him safely along" (41). For more information on Lynch, see Stephen Due, "Arthur Lynch: Parliamentarian, Physician and Author," Journal of Medical Biography 7.2. (May 1999), 93–99. [back]


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