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Dr. John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 13 January 1891

 loc.02458.001_large.jpg My dear old friend,

I was greatly pleased at receiving your kind post card of Decr 31st1 this morning & I thank you most cordially for it & for the thoughtful consideration which prompted you to write it.

I was extremely sorry to learn from it, though, that there was then so little real improvement in yr physical condition—"health points much the same, (not favourable)," so says the p.c.—but I am glad to know that you were in "fair spirits" & able to sit up & "write a little."


My best thanks to you, too, for your kind offer to "send, or notify" me of, any thing you may write

I wish from the bottom of my heart that I could do something to really help you; & it grieves me to think how powerless I am; for I can do nothing but write to you & try to shew you something of a personal affection for you which is almost filial in its intensity & of the gratitude with which my heart is filled to overflowing, for all your great & countless benefactions to me.

God bless & keep you now & always, my life's Blessing, my Soul's Guide, Philosopher, Friend & Comrade Perfect!


By last mail I received a kind letter from Mrs O'Connor2 acknowledging the receipt of the copy of my "Notes"3 sent at your request. In it she informs me that her late husband's story, "The Brazen Android," is to appear in the Atlantic Monthly for April & May & the volume containing all the seven stories later.4

I have also had a friendly & affectionate letter from John Burroughs5 in wh: he says that he is pleased with the pamphlet, & compliments me upon my sketch of you.

I send you a Bolton paper containing an account of a serious railway collision to which I was called professionally. It was a distressing scene but fortunately  loc.02458.004_large.jpg it has not been attended with any fatal results—

Today there are signs that our long frost is breaking up as a thaw, which seems general, has fairly set in—

I enclose a par., cut from the Family Herald6 (London), in which your name occurs.7 It shews that you have a reader on the staff of that paper.

I hope, when this reaches you, that you will be freed from the ailments which have troubled you for so long or at least that you may be relieved from the pain & able to enjoy your life in comparative comfort.

With kindest regards to all the members of yr household & with best love to yourself

I remain yours affectionately J. Johnston To Walt Whitman

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 postal card has not been located. [back]
  • 2. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor (1830–1913) was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated African Americans, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. Three years after William O'Connor's death, Ellen married the Providence businessman Albert Calder. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]" and Lott's "O'Connor (Calder), Ellen ('Nelly') M. Tarr (1830–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. Johnston published (for private circulation) Notes of Visit to Walt Whitman, etc., in July, 1890. (Bolton: T. Brimelow & co., printers, &c.) in 1890. His notes were also published, along with a series of original photographs, as Diary Notes of A Visit to Walt Whitman and Some of His Friends, in 1890 (Manchester: The Labour Press Limited; London: The "Clarion" Office, 1898). Johnston's work was later published with James W. Wallace's accounts of Fall 1891 visits with Whitman and the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke in Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–91 (London, England: G. Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1917). [back]
  • 4. First written in 1862 but not published until 1891, William D. O'Connor's story "The Brazen Android" appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in two installments: Part 1, vol. 67, no. 402, April 1891, pp. 433–454; Part 2, vol. 67, no. 403, May 1891, pp. 577–599. The story also appeared in the collection Three Tales: The Ghost, The Brazen Android, The Carpenter (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1891), for which Whitman wrote the Preface (which he later included in Good-Bye My Fancy [Philadelphia: David McKay, 1891], 51–53). For more on O'Connor's story, see Brooks Landon, "Slipstream Then, Slipstream Now: The Curious Connections between William Douglas O'Connor's "The Brazen Android" and Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days," Science Fiction Studies 38.1 (March 2011), 67–91. [back]
  • 5. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a decades-long correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 6. The Family Herald: A Domestic Magazine of Useful Information & Amusement (1843–1940) was a British weekly story paper begun by George Biggs, who served as the proprietor, and then re-launched with James Elishama Smith. When Biggs died in 1859, the paper continued with a new proprietor, William Stevens. [back]
  • 7. This enclosure has not been located. [back]
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