The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 01071
Date: 22 February 1885
Author: Violet Fane[1]
Place: London
Recipient: JW
Place: [London]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler F2
Document Type: ALS

Sunday 22nd Feby. /85.

S. W.

- I cannot resist O, Master! writing you a few lines to say how charmed, - how more than charmed, - I was with your lecture[2] on Friday evening! - You were witty, eloquent, entirely original, - everything, in fact, - that an orator should be. Your many friends were, of course, enchanted, - but surely you saw, too, - the inane smiles of even those 'poor phantasms' who hover outside the charmed circle of Art, - & heard their mutton-fisted thunders of applause?.. Who am I, however, that I should lift up my horn[3]? (- as I am quoting from Scripture I use this word in the singular - tho' liable to it in the plural, - like the rest of us!) - I am [p. 2] only one of those wretched, rudimentary incompetent creatures who sit at home all day & rake patterns upon the pile of the drawing-room carpet with the best poker - 'Only this, & nothing more!' Perhaps, if I pulled myself together, & took Time by the fore lock, I might manage to breed a poor little gourd-scratcher[4] or mud-pipkin-painter, - & so advance a bit in my posterity - But I fear this is the best I could ever do! - I yearn & hanker after Art, however, nevertheless, whilst Master & Master-piece seem alike precious to me. At this moment, too, my heart goes out towards the dear, despicable, fighting-men as well, - many of whom, - I much fear, will never quaff to us again from either 'The Beautiful' or 'The Cheap' & so, you see, just now, Artist & Philistine are both tugging at my heart-strings, & I am in [p. 3] bad spirits for writing letters - There is one boon, however, that I must crave of you: May not The Discourse be printed & circulated abroad?.. Can I not have it near me to the end, - to guide & solace me in my many moments of Artistic impotency?.. No printing, I admit, could reproduce the graceful gestures of the Great Master, nor set up in vulgar type that little withering, unprintable laugh of appropriate scorn, - These, however, must linger in the memory to all time, - What we must have, besides, is something to hand down to, & enlighten, the Unborn. - This last word reminds me of Oscar[5] (- you will see why presently:) I recognized his pumpkin-head amongst what seemed, by contrast of proportion, - a sea of surging water-melons, - & think, from the expression of his "back-hair", that he was drinking in, & profiting by, - your [p. 4] apt remarks about the women who swathe themselves in strange garments & try to look like crackers. How very large, everywhere, - he has grown since marriage[6]!.. Is there any real reason for this?.. or can it be that he is merely following the custom of those Indians of whom I have read, who, in certain circumstances, simulate the uncomfortable & unbecoming condition of their 'Squaws', & are there other Oscars & Oscaresses lurking in the Womb of the Future, to be let loose amongst us in due time?.. If it is so, these, too, must be taught the truth, so please see that the Lecture be printed without any more delay - & send me one of the earliest copies - - I have only been in London a very short time - but propose to stay here now, so, if you are ever in this direction on Sunday between 3. & 7. do not pass my door - Goodbye until we meet & Believe me to be

Ever ys sincerely admiring

"Violet Fane"

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1.  Violet Fane
Mary Montgomerie Lamb (1843-1905), pseudonym 'Violet Fane', writer [more].

2.  lecture
A reference to JW's 'Ten O'Clock Lecture,' his major public statement of his aesthetic ideas. He delivered the lecture for the first time on Friday, 20 February 1885 at the Prince's Hall, Piccadilly. A version of the text of the lecture may be found at #06791.

3.  I should lift up my horn
Possibly influenced by biblical passages such as Psalm 75.5 - 'Lift not up your horn on high: speak not with a stiff neck.'

4.  gourd-scratcher
Fane was probably thinking of the passage in the Ten O'Clock where JW evoked the first artist: 'In the beginning man went forth each day - some to do battle, some to the chase [...] Until there was found among them one, differing from the rest, whose pursuits attracted him not, and so he stayed by the tents with the women, and traced strange devices with a burnt stick upon a gourd.' See Whistler, James McNeill, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, 2nd ed., London and New York, 1892, p. 139.

5.  Oscar
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wilde (1854-1900), writer, critic and playwright [more].

6.  marriage
Constance Mary Wilde (1858-1898), née Lloyd, wife of Oscar Wilde [more] on 29 May 1884. They had two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan, born in 1885 and 1886 respectively.