Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Dr. John Johnston, 3 October 1891

Date: October 3, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08327

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), 5:250. 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, Stephanie Blalock, and Breanna Himschoot




Camden N J—US America1
Sunday Noon
Oct 3 '91

Word yesterday2 f'm J W W[allace]3 f'm Fenelon Falls, Canada4—Expect him here in a few days5—Y'rs f'm Annan6 &c: rec'd—thanks—Traubel7 just in—matters much the same—Dr. B[ucke]8 doubtless back home—Aff: regards to Fred Wild9—bad times with me—constipation & bladder trouble to the fore—


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 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. | Oct 4 | 5 PM | 91; Philadelphia, Pa | Oct 4 | (?) | Paid. [back]

2. Whitman is referring to James W. Wallace's letter of September 30, 1891. [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 Fenelon Falls because it was the former home of his school friend Fred Wild, who was also a member of the Bolton College of English Whitman admirers. Wild lived in Fenelon Falls when he arrived in Canada at the age of twenty, and while he was there, he worked in a shingle mill and became close friends with Tom Rutherford, a farmer. See Wallace's letter to Whitman of September 20, 1891[back]

5. 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]

6. Johnston's last letter sent to Whitman from Annan was dated September 23, 1891, with a postmark indicating it was received in Camden on October 2. [back]

7. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was a close acquaintance of Walt Whitman and one of the poet's literary executors. He met Whitman in 1873 and proceeded to visit the aging author almost daily beginning in mid-1880s. The result of these meetings—during which Traubel took meticulous notes—is the nine-volume collection With Walt Whitman in Camden. Later in life, Traubel also published Whitmanesque poetry and revolutionary essays. He died in 1919, shortly after he claimed to have seen a vision of Whitman beckoning him to 'Come on'. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. (1858–1919), Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed., (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 740–741. [back]

8. 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]

9. Fred Wild, a cotton waste merchant, was a member of the "Bolton College" of Whitman admirers, and was also affiliated with the Labour Church, an organization whose socialist politics and working-class ideals were often informed by Whitman's work. [back]


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