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Walt Whitman to Dr. John Johnston, 23 December 1890

Y'r letter comes this evn'g: & I write a line at once.2 Matters are ab't as usual—had my 2d meal for the day at 4, a bit of broiled chicken, some bread & prunes, & a cup of tea, with relish—am sitting here (in the room you know) very comfortably—storming out—Shall have a stout massage3 in abt an hour & then go to bed—Shall not forget to send you, (or at the worst notify you) of any thing by or ab't me may interest you.

Best remembrances to the friends all— Walt Whitman

Have sent the book4 to F[red] W[ild]5

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: Dr Johnston | 54 Manchester Road | Bolton | Lancashire England. It is postmarked: Ca(?) | Dec 24 | 12 M | 90; Philadelphia, Pa. | Dec 24 | 2 PM | Paid. [back]
  • 2. Johnston's letter of December 13, 1890, like most of his notes, abounded in the sentimental vitality of an idealistic little group of men who frequently for evenings of poetry reading, good fellowship, and edifying injunctions—"rousing us to a sense of the value & importance of our little Society of Friends & urging upon us the necessity for strengthening the bonds of mutual manly love & true Comradeship & the cultivation of the Higher Self." [back]
  • 3. Whitman's nurse at the time, Warren Fritizinger, regularly gave the poet massages. [back]
  • 4. For more on the gift copy of Leaves of Grass to Fred Wild, a member of the Bolton group, see James W. Wallace's January 9, 1891, letter to Whitman and Johnston's January 17, 1891, letter to Whitman (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]
  • 5. Fred Wild (d. 1935), 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. A painter and scholar of Shakespeare, he was also a lively debater. With James W. Wallace and Dr. John Johnston, Wild formed the nucleus of the Bolton Whitman group. For more on Wild and Whitman's Bolton disciples, see Paul Salveson, "Loving Comrades: Lancashire's Links to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 14.2 (1996), 57–84. [back]
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