The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
Home > On-line Edition > Search for People > Document Display

return to search results

Documents associated with: Wake, Baldwin Arden
Record 5 of 6

System Number: 00498
Date: 24 December [1867][1]
Author: JW
Place: London
Recipient: William Boxall[2]
Place: [London]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler B281
Document Type: ALS

(p. 1) 2 Lindsey Row.
Old Chelsea -

Dec. 24th

My dear Mr Boxall -

The Burlington Club[3] called a General meeting on Friday Dec. 13. for the purpose of considering the inexpediency of my remaining a member, because of certain charges[4] brought to their notice by Mr F. S. Haden[5]; commencing with one in which he himself was the aggrieved party, and fortified by several others which he had collected from various sources! -

In spite of various appeals made to me to justify myself, I felt so strongly, as in common with several friends I had done from the first, that the matter was one with which the club was in noways [sic] authorized to meddle, (in this we were (p. 2) perhaps mistaken, but cannot even now think so,), that I declined point blank to entertain the charges at all, unless some expression of regret was first offered by the Committee, for the affront of such informal and summary proceedings! - In short I felt that if I could not, at the hands of the Committee, meet with the courtesy common among Gentlemen, it became impossible for me to discuss with them any subject whatever! -

The result, as you know, was my expulsion - but I am happy to know that this has not altered the good opinion of my friends, but has on the contrary brought (p. 3) me the strongest proofs of confidence and esteem from those whose regard I seek, and has led two Gentlemen like Mr Gabriel Rossetti and Mr William Rossetti[6] openly to leave the Club with me, as a proof of their disapproval of the verdict -

Now, what I refused to the Club on principle, I am most pleased to offer to you as my proposer at ellection [sic], as at his request I have done to Mr Huth[7] [approx. fifteen words deleted and illegible] namely a full explanation of my conduct -

This I do in as few words as possible and could only wish that I had before me the Committee's collected table of Charges, in order that I might answer (p. 4) each particular - This however I believe I shall do in the main. -

No. 1. "Assault upon a person in charge of a building in Paris, with summary punishment"

This, which occured [sic] about three years ago, was a case in which I was roughly pushed from the pavement by a mason, for such was the "person", in charge of repairs, with the insolence familliar [sic] to every one in the smallest Parisian Official. - In the heat of the moment, I instantly punished him - and afterwards the magistrates, on the voluntary evidence of respectable shopkeepers in the street, of passers by, and even of a fellow workman, practically expressed his sympathy on my side, by saying that as (p. 5) the man's cap had been lost, I might if I pleased give a few francs in consideration of that fact - which were handed by him to the mason, accompanied with severe reprimand for brutal rudeness - Using the words "Il faut[8] être poli! et vous ne saurez jamais trop l'être!" - The absurd misrepresentation here will be obvious, and is willful on the part of my accuser, inasmuch as the source from which he had this story was .... myself! in an unguarded moment at his own table!!! - Little dreaming (p. 6) that my brother-in-law was making notes on this and the other matters which follow for future occasion of private revenge! - He will remember the lightness with which it was told, and the annecdotes [sic] it elicited from him of former prowess on his own part!! -

No. 2. "Assault on a passenger on the Steamer Shannon"

This "passenger" was simply a Negro, among several forced upon our company on board. -

The degree to which he offended my prejudices as a Southerner who for the first time found Negros at the same table, led finally to our coming into (p. 7) collision - His afterwards rushing out with a drawn sword led to the Captain's courteously, for safety's sake, requesting me to remain in my cabin, which I at once acceeded [sic] to. -

In this affair, the good opinion of the Military and Naval Officers and Gentlemen on board, was heartily with me; and my cabin filled with them, expressing openly that the black scoundrel deserved his kicking - The Captain himself calling and smoothing pleasantly all matters, and with a view to my comfort, sending full permission to smoke in my cabin, an unusual (p. 8) courtesy on shipboard! -

This story also is the bitter fruit of pleasant but imprudent after dinner talk at my brother-in-laws fatal table! - Thus too he was enabled to open a correspondence with Capt. Wake[9], whose case follows. -

No. 3. "Assault on Captain Wake -"

This is in nowise [sic] the "plucky Wake" of the famous Bulldog! nor was he, as appeared to be the impression on friday night, the Captain of the Steamer[.] He was the Mail Agent only - and had no right whatever of interference on board - (p. 9) His sole powers were confined to the demanding [of] a boat, in which to carry back and forth bags supposed to contain letters, when stopping at any port. - The morning after the Negro affair was Sunday - and we were to reach Southampton that afternoon - Capt. Wake in full uniform came to my Cabin. - I received him with cold politeness, imagining that he came to apologize for insulting language used towards me, by him on the (p. 10) previous day, by him alone among those on board, he being a strong abolitionist. -

I had refused to notice this at the time, as I told him, because of the difference in our ages - Judge then of his conduct: - He served me with a long and impertinent sermon, in which Providence and the Negro race played equal parts, the whole thing being of a Sabbath Baptist Meeting tone! - After listening patiently, at his request, to it all, I said: This is all very well, but not to the purpose! I supposed that you came to (p. 11) apologize for your ungentlemanly language to me yesterday." - Hereupon my preacher changed his style, and forgetful of peaceful missions, loudly proclaimed that it was perfectly true that he had insulted me, and had done so deliberately! - and wished it to be understood that he then did so again! - Moreover that nothing but cowardice on my part would have prevented me before or could now prevent me from resenting it! - and upon my again, even then asserting that I must not strike an old man, he called out "That is nonsense! and if you were not (p. 12) a coward you would strike me now!" - Whereupon unable to stand these repeated outrages I slapped his face with my left hand, my right being utterly maimed and disabled since the day before! - I being forced to wear it in a sling - a fact patent throughout the whole saloon - and which probably brought the valliant [sic] Captain to the charge! -

He thereupon rushed at me and beating down easily my disabled arm, struck me a violent blow in the eye with what must have been a ring on his finger - The Marine on (p. 13) Guard, immediately sprang in and hauled him off, - when two Gentlemen who were present at the whole affair, came up to express their loud indignation at this foolish and outrageous conduct - This indignation and disgust was so thoroughly participated in by the officers and gentlemen on board, that they showed it openly at the dinner table; and Dr Crosbie[10], a naval officer returning from Jamaica, went to the Captain of the Ship and stated distinctly that Capt Wake (p. 14) had by his proceedings, disgraced the cloth he wore! -

I was by them all strongly begged to carry the matter before the authorities through the American Consul, that Capt. Wake might be punished and removed. - For this purpose Major Smith[11] of the Peruvian Artillery, one of the Gentlemen who were eyewitnesses, accompanied me to the Consulate at Southampton; and the other, Mr Shepheard[12], gave me a written statement, of which I still possess. -

Again this story, was one of the passing solaces of our (p. 15) joint leisure over my brother-in-law's dangerous wine and walnuts!! -

No. 4. "Assault on Capt. Doty[13], with seduction[14] - etc . . etc. also ejection from a Club in Valparaiso!"....

This Affair is beneath all contempt, and it may even be recollected that a comment of the kind was immediately made by members new to the question who were present at the meeting on Friday night - where it was openly stated with sudden indignation, that "any one could see, that that was not a letter written by a (p. 16) Gentleman!" -

To the Gentlemen in Valparaiso such as Admiral Tucker[15], and his staff, Captains McCorkle[16], Butt[17], Hunter Davidson[18], and Edenborough[19], Mr Doty became by his conduct and his charges against me, an object of scorn and jest - and they one and all withdrew their intercourse from him -

Moreover his charge of seduction I was at first disposed to meet seriously with full satisfaction such as is usual among a society of Officers; from which position however he hurriedly retreated, and the whole thing became too ridiculous for any treatment (p. 17) but after dinner banter! -

First however Mr Doty publicly begged to withdraw all his allegations against me, which were as numerous and heterogeneous as the many people among whom he has gab[b]led! They have been heard equally in Valparaiso in the privacy of a sollicited [sic] interview with an Officer in high position for the alledged [sic] purpose of seeking his aid as "second", - and again, much more recently by perfect strangers in maudlin outpourings at the casual table of a (p. 18) London Music Hall! -

In short Mr Doty is known to every one only as a liar and a humbug; - and as such I leave him to Mr Haden. -

I cannot but ask in conclusion, whether any one can wonder after the proofs I bring, of his worth, that the astounding impudence he displayed in speaking to me on my arrival in London, should have been met as it was by a sudden outburst of passion! - I struck him then an[d] there - so far his statement is correct - the (p. 19) other details are culled from his ordinary conversation over the bottle! -

In dismissing the matter, I may say that the ejection from a club in Valparaiso is a lie, only differing from the others, in that I believe it is a new one! -

Herewith I enclose the copy of a letter[20] received from Captain Edenborough to me - the original I have sent to Mr Huth - On reading it, I think you will find that Mr Doty's case requires no further comment -

No. 5. "Assault on Mr Legros[21]"

This is a simple matter of (p. 20) provocation, and I can only trust to the probability of your own sense in such a matter coinciding with mine, when I add that what I did followed immediately on the words "Ce n'est pas vrai![22]" insultingly addressed to me regarding a statement I had just made -

Mr Legros seems to forget in his further details when he says that he was kept to his room for four or five days, that he appeared the same evening at athe house of some friends, where he even thought himself proper to be seen by the ladies of the family! -

I shall leave you to judge whether it be "the right thing" for (p. 21) for [sic] him to offer his griefs together with his doctor's diagnosis to a club months afterwards as a means of satisfaction! -

No. 6. "Assault on Mr Haden in a Café in Paris" -

I must here remind you again to my humiliation, that Mr Haden is my brother-in-law - and the final quarrel between us in Paris, brought to a conclusion years of insufferable insolence and insult endured at his hands, as he knows well, for family peace; and through family intercession - Having said this, the Club must at last (p. 22) perceive how utterly out of their province is Mr Haden's vengeance! - On the occasion in Paris, already deeply grieved by the coarse and brutal way he spoke of a dear friend[23] just dead, I was at last roused beyond endurance by the insults he chose to address to myself -

I struck him - and he knows well that the issue of the conflict was quite different from what he represents - but into this I care not to enter, as it is no part of my present undertaking - Stopping only to denounce as utterly false, what it appears he has said, but did not venture (p. 23) to bring forward at the meeting - namely the calumny that my brother who was present, and tried to seperate [sic] us, had lent his aid to me - This was confuted on the spot, and afterwards, when before the magistrate, Mr Haden after making a half attempt at asserting it, was compelled to say finally: "Je n'oserai pas dire celà![24]" -

My brother's[25] conduct in General Lee's[26] army is a sufficient answer to any slanders of this order - if indeed they needed any refutation -

I may add, in ending (p. 24) that my brother and I were simply discharged, when the case came before the authorities - and that when finally, when the Magistrate said, as we were leaving the office "Seulement[27] Messieurs je vous previens ceci est une mauvaise note contre vous," and I objected to this as at variance with his having himself dissmissed [sic] the charge, he added with a bow, the explanation "Ah! c'est[28] à dire une mauvaise note pour tous les trois!!" -

This then, is the real sum total of the mass of offence which Mr Haden (p. 25) would have brought to bear dishonorably upon me; gathered as I have shown from careless conversation at his own table! and through subsequent means, praiseworthy perhaps in Bow Street!! -

I leave it to you whether upon such grounds as these the Club should have lent it's [sic] aid to my brother-in-law's vengeance even if in an Official sense it could properly have been (p. 26) made the channel for such a purpose! -

And with many thanks, before hand, for the friendly patience it must have needed to reach this point in my letter, believe me

My dear Mr Boxall
Yours sincerely

J A McN Whistler -

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  24 December [1867]
Year date from references to Burlington Club.

2.  William Boxall
William Boxall (1800-1879), portrait painter, Director of the National Gallery [more].

3.  Burlington Club
The Burlington Fine Arts Club, a club for artists and connoisseurs.

4.  charges
In April 1867, JW quarrelled with Francis Seymour Haden (1818-1910), surgeon and etcher, JW's brother-in-law [more], over Haden's treatment of James Reeves Traer (ca 1834 - d.1867), partner in F. S. Haden's medical practice [more]. Traer died on a trip to Paris, allegedly after visiting a brothel. Haden arranged for Traer's burial with what JW and his brother William regarded as unseemly haste. Haden later claimed that in the resulting confrontation JW had pushed him through a plate glass window. Both JW and Haden were members of the Burlington Club and in the aftermath of the Traer affair Haden campaigned for JW to be excluded, having brought to the club's attention several alleged previous incidents of assault involving JW. He was asked to resign on the threat of expulsion in June 1867 (see R. N. Wornum to JW, #10442). Despite his protests, he was expelled on 13 December (see note below). However, on 16 December, determined to carry on his defence, he declared his intention to draw up 'an explanation and refutation of the charges brought against me [...] which I shall give to Boxall and Huth - that they may hand it in to the Committee' (JW to W. M. Rossetti, #09390). This letter was the result. It is very similar to one sent to L. Huth, #02240, and also the first part of JW's letter to the Marquis d'Azeglio #00448, dated 6 January 1868.

5.  F. S. Haden
Francis Seymour Haden (1818-1910), surgeon and etcher, JW's brother-in-law [more].

6.  Mr Gabriel Rossetti and Mr William Rossetti
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), artist and poet [more]; and William Michael Rossetti (1829-1919), civil servant and critic [more].

7.  Mr Huth
Louis Huth (1821-1905), collector [more].

8.  Il faut ...
Fr., You must be polite! and you can never be too much so.

9.  Capt. Wake
Captain Baldwin Arden Wake (1813-1880), officer in the Royal Navy [more].

10.  Dr Crosbie
Dr Alexander Crosbie, assistant naval surgeon [more].

11.  Major Smith
Major Smith, officer in the Peruvian Artillery.

12.  Mr Shepheard
Shepheard, a witness to JW's brawl with Captain Wake.

13.  Capt. Doty
Captain Horace H. Doty (b. 1824 or 1825), officer of marines, specialist in signal lights and lighthouse illumination [more].

14.  seduction
i.e., relating to Astive Doty (b. 1840 or 1841), née Froidure, wife of H. H. Doty [more].

15.  Admiral Tucker
Rear-Admiral John Randolph Tucker (1812-1883), naval commander [more].

16.  Captains McCorkle
Captain David Porter McCorkle (b. 1822/1824), staff officer to Admiral Tucker, Peruvian Navy [more].

17.  Butt
Commander Walter Raleigh Butt (1830/1839-1885), staff officer to Admiral Tucker, Peruvian Navy [more].

18.  Hunter Davidson
Captain Hunter Davidson (1827-1913), Senate of the General Assembly of Maryland [more].

19.  Edenborough
Henry B. Edenborough (b. 1840?), Captain of Corvette, Peruvian Navy [more].

20.  letter
See letter from Edenborough to JW, 20 December 1867, #01040.

21.  Mr Legros
Alphonse Legros (1837-1911), painter, etcher and art teacher [more].

22.  Ce n'est pas vrai!
Fr., That is not true.

23.  friend
James Reeves Traer (ca 1834 - d.1867), partner in F. S. Haden's medical practice [more].

24.  Je n'oserai pas dire celà!
Fr., I shall not venture to say that.

25.  brother's
William McNeill Whistler (1836-1900), physician, JW's brother [more].

26.  General Lee's
General Robert Edward Lee (1807-1870), Superintendant of USMA, West Point, and later Commander-in-Chief of the Confederate States of America [more].

27.  Seulement ... vous
Fr., Only gentlemen I advise you that this is a bad mark for you.

28.  c'est ... trois
Fr., That is to say, a bad mark for all three.