The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Documents associated with: 1st Summer Exhibition, Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1877
Record 111 of 119

System Number: 02497
Date: 15 December 1878
Author: Henry Martyn Lazelle[1]
Place: Dakota, United States
Recipient: JW
Place: [London]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler L34
Document Type: ALS

Camp Ruhlen Black Hills
Dakota Territory

Dec 15th '78

My dear Whistler

Nearly a quarter of a century has strode by since we said goodbye but you have lived in my memory as freshly as purely and as much admired as when we parted - I have had flitting glimpses of you in this or that part of Europe - have [p. 2] occasionally seen some one who has actually seen you - but for that and the stir that the press keeps up about you I should have been compelled to admit you forever lost, beyond writing, or vision and hold on to those pleasant memories of long ago as all that could be left -

Last night in the N. Y. Herald I read of a tilt between "The celebrated Ruskin[2] [p. 3] and the equally famous James A. M. Whistler" - I read with the greatest interest the whole case[:] your comprehensive and incisive replies - your sarcastic touching up of the Att[orne]y General - I was sure that it was the boy - now the man, and on a grander scale and more perfect developement [sic] than - not that you were once not believed capable of - but than you once promised.

[p. 4] I have always believed you might be famous if you would - Thank God you are so and I have not the slightest doubt but worthily and lastingly - But I wish I could understand your new theory - your departure - How I should love to hear you explain and discourse upon it - How much I should love to see your works and praise understandingly your efforts. [p. 5] But that can never be my happiness, we are too far apart and I am too poor to go to you -

I still have and shall always sacredly keep the little sketch[3] you made for me and if I ever have the opportunity I shall try and get some engraved copies (or others) of some of your pictures - Not long since I read of your delightful breakfasts - Do you know I thought of your penchant for cooking[4] [p. 6] little nice things in your quarters? - So that too - the taste for delightful living has grown into your manhood - But Whistler my dear boy I have heard a sadder side:- that you were for a long time having a hard scrabble with fortune or rather misfortune struggling along either involuntarily or proudly without aid to eminence - If this is so how I should love to have met you [p. 7] then - I would have divided I believe with more pleasure than I should meet you now when so many hundreds run after you -

Well thank God, be this so or not - it is no longer so.

I have stuck to the Army and plodded along as became me:- passed through the war and several Indian campaigns with but one wound - have been slowly promoted and am now a Major:- am grey haired [p. 8] and getting old in years - but am as young in feeling as ever[.] Am married, have two children. - Are you married Whistler? How lovely your wife must be if you are - for you would have none other -

More than one half our class have gone - a few are prominent - Old Comstock, Weitzel and Elliott[5] stick in the Engineers; Vinton[6] is a professor[;] Jimmie Hill, Shoup, and Gregg[7] [p. 9] have sunk out of sight in the swarming of civil life - Old Freedley[8] is crazy - Byr Jim Bryan[9] has joined the great Bryan family with "Guy" at the head - Merrill[10] joined the South Carolina Carpet baggers and got a big steal of many thousands - Reno[11] hugged somebodies wife and has been suspended for two years - "[Sub?]" Ruggles[12] is asst Adjt Gen. and still thinks he should have had a planet of his own. Old Breck[13] has turned into [p. 10] a fossil. [Janius?] Wheeler[14] has shuffled along in Prof. Mahans[15] shoes and hat for three years - the hat too big and his steps uncertain - Little Jim Wheeler[16] is somebodies professor of Mathematics - dismissed [from] army for drunkenness - Childs, Jack Church[17] and many others killed during the war -

How I should love to be boys again at West Point with the experience of a life in my head -

I wonder if we would enjoy it? [p. 11] Do you remember "Mammy Thompson's[18]["] - all dead - None of the old Professors are left at West Point.

Bartlett[19] still lives, is an actuary - Wier[20] [sic] also a fine gentle old man[,] is still painting - I think lives on the Hudson - Dont you remember he predicted great things of you:- provided that you only willed it - and you have - Five years since I wandered into the little gallery at West Point and there hang some of [p. 12] your pictures! - Oh how it carried me back through the long years and vividly it recalled you - Well my dear little Whistler we must part probably never to meet again

You will always live in my memory, the pleasing image I always shall have, as I have had

Send me your carte please and a few lines when you get time

Faithfully and truly
as ever your friend

H. M. Lazelle

(address Major 1st Inf. U. S. A.)

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  Henry Martyn Lazelle
Henry Martyn Lazelle (1832-1917), JW's class-mate and later Commandant at USMA, West Point [more].

2.  Ruskin
Lazelle was referring to the outcome of JW's recent libel case against John Ruskin (1819-1900), critic, social reformer and artist [more]. The case was in response to Ruskin's criticism of JW's works, especially Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket (YMSM 170), in his periodical Fors Clavigera. On 2 July 1877, he accused JW of 'flinging a pot of paint in the public's face' in a review of the I Summer Exhibition of the Grosvenor Gallery, London. See Ruskin, John, 'Letter the Seventy-ninth' Fors Clavigera, 2 July 1877, pp. 181-213. JW won the case but was only awarded token damages of one farthing.

3.  sketch

4.  cooking
JW is remembered at West Point for his fondness for food, especially buckwheat cakes and oysters. This probably refers to a story later related by the Pennells: 'In those days cadets had the custom of taking potatoes from the mess hall to their rooms, cooking them over the gaslight and calling the result hash. Whistler was an adept at this and some other forms of cooking, all of which were prohibited.' See Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908, II, p. 311, Appendix.

5.  Comstock, Weitzel and Elliott
Cyrus Ballou Comstock (ca 1831 - d.1910), army officer [more]; Godfrey Weitzel (ca 1835 - d.1884), class-mate of JW at USMA, West Point, army officer and engineer [more]; and George Henry Elliott (ca 1831 - d.1900), class-mate of JW at USMA, West Point, army engineer [more].

6.  Vinton
Francis Laurens Vinton (1835-1879), room-mate of JW at USMA, West-Point, later Professor of Mining and Engineering [more].

7.  Jimmie Hill, Shoup, and Gregg
James ('Jimmie') Hoffman Hill (ca 1834 - d.1890), class-mate of JW at USMA, West Point [more]; Francis Asbury Shoup (ca 1833 - d.1896), class-mate of JW at USMA, West Point, professor and clergyman [more]; and General David McMurtie Gregg (ca 1833 - d.1883), army officer [more].

8.  Old Freedley
Henry Williams Freedley (ca 1832 - d.1889), class-mate of JW at USMA, West Point, army officer [more].

9.  Jim Bryan
Timothy Matlack Bryan, Jr (ca 1832- d.1881), class-mate of JW at USMA, West Point [more].

10.  Merrill
Lewis Merrill (ca 1834 - d.1898), soldier, class-mate of JW at USMA, West Point [more].

11.  Reno
Marcus Albert Reno (b. ca 1842 - d. 1889), fellow cadet with JW at USMA, West Point, army officer [more].

12.  Ruggles
George David Ruggles (1833-1904), class-mate of JW at USMA, West Point, army officer [more].

13.  Breck
Samuel Breck, Jr (d. 1919), professional soldier [more].

14.  [Janius?] Wheeler

15.  Prof Mahans
Dennis Hart Mahan (1802-1871), Professor of Engineering at USMA, West Point [more].

16.  Little Jim Wheeler
James Wheeler, Jr (b. ca 1830-d.1879), class-mate of JW at USMA, West Point, later Professor of Engineering [more].

17.  Childs, Jack Church
Frederick Lynn Childs (ca 1831 - d.1894), room-mate of JW at USMA, West Point [more]; John ('Jack') Reuben Church (ca 1832 - d.1863), class-mate of JW at USMA, West Point [more].

18.  Mammy Thompson's
Widow of a colonel at West Point who was known for her cooking and with whom JW was allowed to take his meals for a time (see Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908, I, p. 34).

19.  Bartlett
Professor William Holmes Chambers Bartlett (1804-1893), mathematician [more].

20.  Wier
A misspelling of Robert Walter Weir (1803-1889), artist and art teacher at USMA, West Point [more].