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Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 17 May 1886

 loc.02438.001_large.jpg To Walt Whitman, Dear Sir,

Permit me to offer a word of congratulation and well-wishing upon the attainment of your 69th birthday and to express the hope that you may be spared to see many happy returns of the 31st of May.

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I am prompted to take this liberty by a sense of my indebtedness to you, and I feel sure that you will not refuse the heart-given homage of one who loves you and who is proud to call you "master."

It is one of the desires of my life to look upon your venerable face in the flesh, and to be taken by the hand of my loving Comrade; and I am not without the hope of one day being  loc.02438.004_large.jpg thus honoured by him who has done so much to enrich my life and to rescue my Soul from its quagmire of Doubt and Despondency.

Again wishing you many happy returns of your birthday, & with kindest regards,

Remain, Yours, gratefully, John Johnston

P.S. I trust your health is now quite restored.

JJ  loc.02456.001_large.jpg  loc.02456.002_large.jpg

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 I 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).


  • 1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | Camden | New Jersey | United States of America. It is postmarked: Bolton | 47 | MY17 | 86; CAMDEN | MAY | 29 | 7AM | 1886 | REC'D; NEW YORK |. There is one additional, but illegible postmark. [back]
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