The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Documents associated with: Mewburn, Frank F.
Record 5 of 11

System Number: 09529
Date: 18 March 1882
Author: Frank Mewburn[1]
Place: Darlington
Recipient: JW
Place: [London]
Repository: Published
Document Type: PLc[2]




My Dear Whistler,

Jack McNay[3] handed me your letter[4] of the 10th inst. to him for perusal - as it refers to me there is no breach of confidence in his doing so. In fact, like their late father[5], the brothers Jack and Tom[6] are models of tact, judgement, control, and truth. I have not seen my friend's reply, and therefore answer independently. In the first place, let me say, from bitter experience, I have not the slightest confidence in anything Mr. Howell[7] says or does - he may mean well, but I judge from results, and the plainest common-sense experience demonstrates.

If you make the acquaintance of my nephew, H. Mewburn Walker[8], he will illustrate Mr. Howell's conduct to me. His address is 12, Furnival's Inn, but he will ask you to dine and discuss the matter. Surprise is a vulgar emotion, and I am not astonished at anything, even by Mr. Howell. After a long interval, 20 or 30 years, Mr Howell never was in Darlington before the early months of last year. He, therefore, could not be here in 1878, when he wrote to Tom, and not to Jack McNay, on the 13th September, as he evidently and falsely asserted. No place, no tavern or club here, ever went by the name of "Hughenden;" to assert so is a miserable lie, and a wretched subterfuge to cloak it. I never had the sobriquet of Beaconsfield, to attribute which is one of those instantaneous subterfuges which knaves invent to their own delight for absurd purposes.

Such a career as Mr. Howell is pursuing must have an end; the marvel is its length of days and nights! My own experience is, that his boasts and promises, inventive assertions, often alas! fascinating and alluring - possibly "fantastic," as you say - are also foolish, because so open to detection. Nothing humiliates one more than the conviction of having mistaken his gaudy opalescent bubbles for gems of solid worth. I hate a lie and despise a liar, while ingratitude, as in the rogue's case, is "sharper than a serpent's tooth." Had Mr. Howell's promises been performed, I should have been rich indeed, instead of the pauper I am - lots of your matchless etchings would have graced my black and white room, which lacks a single example, though the photo of your mother's portrait is to me a day and day delight - you signed. Mind look Jack and me up if you or your friends ever come North, and be sure of a genial welcome. We are very poor but hearty, with a first-rate Scotch cook. You need not bring Mr. Howell with you, for once bitten twice warned. It is my painful experience of the man - no doubt an able, intuitive and inventive genius, full of resource in many tongues - to find him a dangerous friend, a fallacious companion, a subtle and ungenerous guest, as well as one so unscrupulous as to thwart. It is sad that anyone with his powers should so have exposed his hand, or held and played his foul cards.

Faithfully yours,

F. Mewburn.

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1.  Frank Mewburn
Frank F. Mewburn (b. 1820 or 1821), solicitor and collector [more].

2.  PLc
Published in Whistler, James McNeill, Correspondence. Paddon Papers. The Owl and the Cabinet, London, [1882], Letter XI, pp. 7-8; for full annotation of the pamhlet, see JW's letter to S. W. Paddon, 10 March 1882 (#09519).

3.  Jack McNay
John ('Jack') Edward MacNay (1834-1893), General Manager of the Stockton and Darlington Railway [more].

4.  your letter
This is presumably JW's letter to J. E. McNay, dated 9 March 1882 (#08102), and published in Whistler, James McNeill, Correspondence. Paddon Papers. The Owl and the Cabinet, London, [1882], p. 1.

5.  father
Thomas MacNay, Sr (d. 1869), General Manager of the Stockton and Darlington Railway [more].

6.  Tom
Thomas Fothergill MacNay (1836-1907), civil engineer [more].

7.  Mr Howell
Charles Augustus ('Owl') Howell (1840? - d.1890), entrepreneur [more]. The references to Howell relate to an incident recorded by JW in Whistler, James McNeill, Correspondence. Paddon Papers. The Owl and the Cabinet, London, [1882]. It concerned Howell's rather ill-judged boast that he knew Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1882), Prime Minister of Great Britain [more], and the latters country house, Hughenden.

8.  H. Mewburn Walker
H. Mewburn Walker, nephew of Frank Mewburn.