Documents associated with: Wilde, Oscar
Record 17 of 154
System Number: 08103
Date: 22 March 1882
Recipient: Samuel Wreford Paddon
Repository: Library of Congress
Call Number: Manuscript Division, Pennell-Whistler Collection, PWC 2/20/1
Document Type: PLS
13, Tite Street,
Received 23rd March, 1882.
If there is anything I hate in this world, my dear Paddon, it is a long dragging letter. A short crisp encounter you know I rather like, but I fear I soon tire, and even cruelty to an "Owl" begins to pall upon me. Besides, I am afraid you have a little failed me as an audience, for unless your two letters are excellent jokes themselves - which would be delightful, and would score one to you - unless in short you could reproach me with dulness - I am obliged to suppose you have not perceived that it has been my joy to roast this wicked though tough, old bird before you - thus joining, ingeniously, amusement with moral instruction.
For this reason I have put him through his facings both at my table and your own. I offered him the Gerard Lee case, about which you can readily inform yourself, and I turned on the Beaconsfield tap in order that you might clearly appreciate the angel you were entertaining unawares.
I am not absolutely surprised at the upshot of all this. It is not perhaps altogether sportsmanlike, but it is certainly what might be called completely "Howellian". - You see we all know him so well!
Howell has "run the shows" of the lot of us. You say that he does not run yours. In this we may congratulate you, but if you want to join business with the wild farce of the pantomime, in which the clown steals the clock and sits on it while it strikes, you should connect the owl with your establishment. Meanwhile, certainly Frank Miles assures us that Howell had stated that you had appointed him your executor, or were about to do so, in which case look out for larks!!
And here I might, perhaps, forestall a natural question. How is it, if I know our friend to be so unmitigated a rogue, I tolerate his acquaintance - even intimacy? Perhaps I am not going too far in supposing that Howell himself is hereat puzzled and greatly exercised.
Well, first, I fear me, in truth I must acknowledge a pernicious taste for low company, and I think that criminally speaking, the "Portuguese" is an artist, though lately he has disappointed me in his resources, and has been dull; but beyond the fact of his having hitherto had a right to my indulgence as the best bad company going (and "rogue" itself has become a species of title of endearment), I really have chosen to cleave to him, rather than to simply quarrel with and sulk away from him, like so many others.
When I returned from Venice, having comparatively time and money, I devoted myself with the pertinacity of the Redskin to the scalping of Howell. For this reason I never left him, and in continuance of my plan I accompanied him to Paris where, as you put it tersely, he introduced me to you, - I think I would like you to notice that had I introduced you to Howell, I should really have been without excuse indeed!
I never dream of presenting Howell to any one unless in the same breath I were to explain - "The owl, bird of prey;" as General Ripley used to say of Surrat - with whom he crossed the Atlantic, and for whom he formed an affectionate toleration - "Mr Surrat, private assassin!"
I may be reproached with recklessness, and I suppose I am the only one who has dared to walk down Bond Street, or a portion of it, in broad daylight with this entertaining scamp. I believe, do you know, that I like to shock my best friends, it is such a pleasure to be pardoned as a privilege! Often have I been remonstrated with, and one of the most brilliant things I ever said - at least I am told so - was to Berty Mitford, when he rebuked me for going about with Howell. "My dear Whistler," he said, "even you cannot brave the people longer, Howell, you know, is a robber!" "Well, my dear Mitford," I said, "so was Barabbas." When I point out to you that Mr. Mitford is the son-in-law of Lord Airlie, whose death Howell wept over in Paris, I think I give you the straight tip to some of my most exquisite enjoyment during that visit. Possibly you remember, as a key to our relations, that when you said to me one evening at the Hotel Continental, in your new-born enthusiasm, "What a splendid fellow is Howell!" I consented, slightingly, "Yes, he is an amusing cuss," which, doubtless, at the time you put down to ungenerous envy.
And now, though I fear we are running into much paper, let us quietly look at this last correspondence. As far as you and I go, and the rest of the clique, it would be a pity that there should be any arrière pensée, and therefore I will put on no gloves to tell you that you are scarcely as nice as you mean to be, judging from the genial tone of your first letter throughout, when you say to me that my account to Mr. Jack McNay is not, as far as your memory serves you, a true record of what occured between Howell and myself in the matter.
After so startling an opening, I acknowledge that I looked forward to a greater discrepancy in my quoted statement than the mere distinction you point out between Lane's Hotel and a tavern I said the group were in the habit of frequenting. I did not remember the particular inn, or whether the suppositious Hughenden was in London or the provinces; and therefore left it to Jack McNay's own identification. This seems to be all you have to object to in my version, unless you mean to infer that Howell alone - in fancy free - named Lane's Hotel Hughenden, in which case one would wonder at this folly in writing to anybody else about what they could not possibly understand.
Are you not, my dear Paddon, slightly hypercritical in refusing the hotel as a tavern, while accepting it as Hughenden? Is it not rather straining at my careless little gnat, and swallowing Howell's camel whole - hump, hoofs and all?
[p. 3] Altogether your letter is more one of kind feeling (through which we have all passed) than of simple logic. In this phase you propose sentiment in lieu of reason - and strangely enough, like Howell himself, you continually suggest ill feeling as sufficient explanation of all the difficulties in his possible justification - so you say that I have written in such a way to Mr. McNay, as to put him in a most awkward position, and to cause him to give anything but an impartial reply.
Now how in heaven's name shall it matter! his reply must compass the fact that Howell had or had not the habit of calling Mewburn, "Beaconsfield;" and Lane's Hotel, "Hughenden;" no partiality can alter that, and its avowal cannot possibly put any gentleman in an awkward position!
By the way, you think it unkind of me to drag in Mr. Mewburn, but I fancy he would think it more unkind were he left out of the running altogether, though, as you say, he is not called upon to confirm anything.
Now, about the bet. You acquiesce with me, you say, from my point of view - not from your own; do tell me my dear Paddon, what is your own view?
You suggest that I have hinted at your not being as good an authority as myself on matters of etiquette. Heaven forbid! You found fault with me for not consulting with you before writing to Mr. Jack McNay - I suppose you might possibly have meant this from a sporting point of view, and I made this clear by wondering that otherwise you should not trust me.
Suddenly you say that you will receive no answer from Mr. McNay or Mewburn. Eh, my dear Paddon! is not this quite without precedent? You propose yourself that I should write, and thereby suggest that we all are to abide by the answer - and now you reject a result of your own choosing, upon what plea? Would you not really care to think this over again?
Of course all this is now almost a matter of the past, for I have allowed myself to become fatigued, and you have slightly spoiled my fun by refusing "to play any more." The Hughenden instance was one of many, though a good one; but I was going to treat you to an amazing game under the title of "The incredulity of Morse or the sensitive Owl - story of a Cabinet," too simply lovely, my dear fellow! I have told it with great éclat at all the dinner tables in London. I have had the fiendish pleasure of making Howell lie about it over and over again for the past six months! - bringing with me others to listen! - carrying all the while in my pocket signed papers to expose the whole - until even Oscar said it was "really too brutal." However, it is out now. Howell knows about it, and shall prepare you; but still I give him points, and will hang him on them to your satisfaction, when it so pleases you to come and be again of the merrie companie of Tite Street!
You will beyond all this like to know, I fancy, that I have completed and varnished my beautiful black lady and sent her to the salon; indeed, but for all this, you might perhaps before now have had this, I would fain believe, not unentertaining letter.
Always very sincerely yours,
J. McNeill Whistler.
Published in Whistler, James McNeill, Correspondence. Paddon Papers. The Owl and the Cabinet, London, , pp. 3-4, Letter V. There is a draft of this letter (#04366). For detailed notes on the publication, see JW to S. W. Paddon, 10 March 1882, #09519.
5. Gerard Lee
Gerard Lee, unidentified.
Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1882), Prime Minister of Great Britain [more]. This relates to an incident recorded by JW in Whistler, James McNeill, Correspondence. Paddon Papers. The Owl and the Cabinet, London, . It concerned Howell's rather ill-judged boast that he knew Disraeli.
After his bankruptcy in February, JW left for Venice in October 1879 and was back in London by November 1880.
John H. Surratt (1842-1916), son of Mrs Surratt, whose Washington boarding house was the headquarters of the conspirators who assassinated President Lincoln [more]. His mother, Mrs Surrat was consequently executed. Surrat escaped to Rome, Italy, was apprehended, escaped again, to Egypt, was arrested and returned to America in 1867 for trial. Charges were dropped in 1868 and he lived in Baltimore until his death.
The condemned thief released at the Passover in place of Jesus (Matt. 27.16).
Home of Disraeli.
The dispute concerned a chinese cabinet (now in Leighton House, London).
20. black lady
Arrangement in Black: Lady Meux (YMSM 228) was exhibited in 100th exhibition, Ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, architecture, gravure et lithographie des artistes vivants, Palais des Champs Elysées, Paris, 1882.