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Walt Whitman to John Johnston, 29 May 1887

Your good affectionate letter, with the welcome carte pictures & the handsome birthday present, safely rec'd this morning2—& thank you for all most sincerely—I am living here comfortably enough, but a paralytic bodily—As I write I sit by the open window of my room, the birds singing & summer bursting—Again thanks—

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 letter is addressed: John Johnston M D | 54 Manchester Road | Bolton | England. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | May 2(?) | 3 PM | 87. [back]
  • 2. Johnston and James W. Wallace, two fervid admirers from Bolton, England, wrote to Walt Whitman for the first time May 18, 1887, and sent a birthday gift of £10 ($48.70) (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.). "We, two friends chiefly united by our common love of you, wish to congratulate you on your birthday, and express to you personally our very best wishes and love. To you we owe not only affection but endless gratitude and reverence. One of us, a doctor, owes to you entirely his spiritual enfranchisement and deliverance from soul-be-numbing scepticism, into which—not without pain—he had gradually fallen. Your books are his constant companions, his spiritual nourishment, his continual study and delight. . . ." The other in many obstructions and difficulties is strengthened and comforted by your example and words. In past heavy bereavement (of a mother to whom he has often mentally applied the words you use of yours) your words have best tallied his deepest experiences and hopes . . ." (County Borough of Bolton (England) Public Libraries). [back]
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