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Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 27 September 1890

 loc.02447.001.jpg Dear Walt Whitman

Many thanks to you for your kind letter dated Sept 13th 18901 and for the two letters2 from Dr Bucke3 to you which I will return by next mail.

I am glad to hear such a good account of your health and I hope it may continue to improve

Thanks too for the domestic details and glimpses into your daily life which you favour me with, all of which possess a genuine and deep interest for me and which serve to vivify and deepen the ever-present and loc.02447.002.jpg ineradicable image & memory of yourself and your surrounding and to recall the numerous & unexampled kindnesses you have shewed me

Dr Bucke's letters are extremely interesting but two paragraphs are of especial interest to us here The first is that "Horace"4 (? H. L. Traubel) is preparing a new book about you—"W W to date."5 Will you please kindly order two copies for me & I will forward the cash when I know the price?

The second is that he (Dr B.) will probably be in England before so long6 & will call & see "Johnston Wallace & Co! (It shd be W. J. & Co!) This is news indeed! There is none of your friends whom I would like more to see than he &  loc.02447.003.jpgthere is no place where he would receive a warmer welcome than in Bolton among "the boys."7 We are none of us wealthy but such as we have would be at his disposal during his stay among us. We have had many "Whitman evenings" but a "Whitman Evening" with Dr. Bucke in the rostrum would be the climax of all & a life long remembrance. The thought of it is almost enough to take one's breath away—Let us hope it may not prove "too good to be true"!

Our birthday "Surprise party" came off very successfully on the 25th and it proved to be a veritable surprise to our victim loc.02447.004.jpg The Revd F. R. C. Hutton M.A.8 who had not the slightest suspicion of our intentions although his own wife9 was in the plot and had prepared a grand supper "on the sly." Our arrival in a body surprised him, the giving of a reading-machine inscribed—

"To the Revd F. R. C. Hutton M. A.—'Something for a token' from the boys of the College"

astonished him; but the presentation of the pocket book copy of L. of G.10 with an inscription—

"To the Revd F. R. C. Hutton MA with all good wishes from the boys of the College and from Walt Whitman"

fairly overwhelmed him.

The inscription is a most artistic piece of work and the bordering is a beautifully executed design in leaves of grass, wild flowers & "straw coloured & other psyches" the whole being the work of W. M. Law11 one of "the boys" & a clever draughtsman12

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. See Whitman's letter to Johnston of September 13, 1890. [back]
  • 2. It is uncertain which letters Johnston is referring to here. [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. 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 late 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]
  • 5. Horace Traubel's article, "Walt Whitman at Date," was published in the May 1891 issue of the New England Magazine 4.3 (May 1891), 275–292. The article is also reprinted in the first appendix of the eighth volume of Traubel's With Walt Whitman in Camden. [back]
  • 6. Bucke was planning to travel to England in order to establish a foreign market for the gas and fluid meter he was building with his brother-in-law William Gurd. Bucke would not make the trip until July and August 1891. On the trip, he spent time with Dr. John Johnston and James W. Wallace, the co-founders of the Bolton College of Whitman admirers, and visited the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson. [back]
  • 7. Johnston is referring to the "Bolton College," a group of English admirers of Whitman, that he and Wallace co-founded. [back]
  • 8. Reverend Frederick Robert Chapman Hutton (1856–1926) was the Vicar of St. George's Church, Bolton, and St. Paul's, Astley Bridge. [back]
  • 9. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]
  • 10. Whitman had a limited pocket-book edition of Leaves of Grass printed in honor of his 70th birthday, on May 31, 1889, through special arrangement with Frederick Oldach. Only 300 copies were printed, and Whitman signed the title page of each one. The volume also included the annex Sands at Seventy and his essay A Backward Glance O'er Traveled Roads. See Whitman's May 16, 1889, letter to Oldach. For more information on the book see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]
  • 11. Little is known about W. M. Law, one of the members of the "Bolton College" of Whitman admirers. [back]
  • 12. Johnston's letter ends here with no closing or signature; there are likley additional pages of his letter that have yet to be located. [back]
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