The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 02298
Date: 12 April 1898
Author: JW
Place: Paris
Recipient: John Lavery[1]
Place: [London]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler I38
Document Type: ALd[2]

110. Rue du Bac - Paris -

April 12th 1898 -

The Vice Chairman & Gentlemen of the Committee - my compliments! - Also with my warmest acknowledgement of kind & affectionate expression of solicitude for my health - which continues to be abominable - & thanks!

Gentlemen -

It is pleasantly bourne in upon me that the standing and high consideration in which this Society is held abroad, and its consequent autocratic status and complete independance at home, is, as yet barely grasped by the members -

To this conclusion I am driven by various minor details transmitted - which after all are the true means of guidance - the straws, as who should say, that point the wind! -

There comes to me the list of English invitations - and it is clear that the feeling, general in the Society, is that we sue for favour and toady the commonplace for toleration - comme de juste[3] - and very properly! -

Time is short - and in submitting these views for your consideration I must ask you to forgive abruptness of direction - distasteful to myself - & adding greatly to my regret at my [p. 2] continued absence from among you. -

I feel it necessary that all mistaken and limited estimation of our position be immediately lifted from the minds of the Committee - that they may the more freely follow their more noble instincts!

It is well then we should quite understand that we are an aristocratic body - herein is our strength - and absolutely without reference in our proceedings to the ungentle methods that govern those about us, whose existence can be of possible importance to themselves - and Whitakers Almanach only!

So again I am told, and in this I am to take comfort, that we have the approval of the public, on the assumed faith that we are in opposition to no other exhibiting Society in London - How prettily true this is by the way, I doubt is scarcely appreciated! We cannot be opposed to those whose plebeian and useful lot in life is quite without our thought - whose efforts we fail to perceive - whose works we never see - and then forget! Wherefore all traffic and relation with them, and ordering of our own ways, to tally with their manner of being, is impossible, & derisive, & amazing! -

Neither can we admit overture from, or intercourse, of an official kind, with these associations. - Naturally this does not apply to the Alpine Club - or the Penny-Etchers - or to the Survivors of Suffolk Street[4] - But rather to old established and constitutional Corporations like the Royal Academy - or the Office of Punch -

And indeed I will frankly admit that we fully merited the snubbing we got from Sir John Sambourne[5], who, I am informed, met our base advances with a certain Charivari hauteur and dull contempt! -

Here would be the occasion, lest animus be imputed, to say, at once, that I, in no way, feel Mr Gilberts[6] early withdrawal to have been at all of the nature of desertion or disloyalty, as is improperly reported -

Rather he might complain, that he had been kidnapped and carried off to, what he was led to believe might be, a picnic party on the "Maria-Wood[7]"!

It was only when the colours were flown, and he found himself on the high seas that he discovered the intent and fell purpose of the cruise, and the nature of the rake-helly craft that had captured him, and would enroll him with her daring officers! -

It became his duty to at once to declare himself! - He must, in honour leave, and return to his honest anxious Ancient Mariners, in their own water logged derelict, ere his conscience be further weighted with dangerous knowledge of chart, and letters of Marque, and sailing Orders. -

Moreover, Gentlemen, he had, as I may now confide to you, fulfilled accomplished his mission! - He had, in full uniform, deliberately piloted our already suspected vessel beautifully and benignly past the Customs, quieting all question with his recognised rank and accepted commission, and finally brought to anchor this quick firing, fast sailing clipper built torpedo carrier in outside clear water - where your own Captain could safely come aboard and take command! Who else could have so served us[8]!

Let us never forget the vast service he rendered us - and do let us not suppose that one of his great distinction, and fine sense, is not, au fond[9], [p. 3] 'perfectly aware of what he has done -

Delicately he shows his sympathy with us and it would ill become us to reproach him with his unhappy early connection that severs him from more brilliant surroundings stupendous career! - ' This then Gentlemen is no moment of half measures - and there is no question of peace is not our preoccupation - We are no barge with potato & harmless potboiler for the Market - This is a fighting ship by the very fact of its being at all! - and we carry the best shots in Europe on [the?] board They have engaged joined for action - & because they could not suppose the Captain chosen for trading sloop! Let us Our distinguished Confrère Shannon[10], comes among us therefore with openly & frankly - with a complete knowledge of the meaning of the ship, he has taken - & the joy & courage of it! - with him there is certainly can be neither mystification nor mistake & for my message was explicit - "You cannot serve two...[11]  [the?]    moreover what so simple! The wisdom of Alma of the wood[12]

He leaves the House of

Our distinguished Confrere Shannon on the oth[er] comes appears among us under quite other conditions! With him no regrets! for he comes he comes openly boldly - knowing with the meaning of the ship he has taken - for with him there was neither mystification or mistake - my message of greeting and confidence was clear - Moreover a man of his calibre perceives his occasion - "J'y suis - j'y reste![13]" he says, and sends back his [checks?] his adieux to the Arcade in Burlington Officials - & so accomplishing acheives the most brilliant incident of the season -


'perfectly aware[15]'

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1.  John Lavery
John Lavery (1856-1941), painter [more]. Lavery was Vice-President of the recently formed International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers.

2.  ALd
This is a draft of #11307.

3.  comme de juste
Fr., as is right.

4.  Suffolk Street
The Alpine Club was a gentleman's club for those with mountaineering interests; JW's estranged brother-in-law Francis Seymour Haden was a prominent figure in the Society of Painter Etchers and JW was a former (and controversial) President of the Royal Society of British Artists.

5.  Sir John Sambourne
Sir John Sambourne, unidentified; JW may mean Edward Linley Sambourne (1844-1910), Punch caricaturist [more].

6.  Mr Gilberts
Alfred Gilbert (1854-1934), sculptor [more].

7.  Maria Wood
A ship caught in a battle during the American civil war.

8.  served us
'Who else could have so ... served us' is written in the left-hand margin, at right angles to the main text.

9.  au fond
Fr., at bottom, basically. 'perfectly aware ... career!' is written in another hand, possibly that of Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958), JW's sister-in-law [more].

10.  Shannon
James Jebusa Shannon (1862-1923), genre and portrait painter [more]; he did not abandon the Royal Academy, and was therefore forced to resign from the Committee of the ISSPG. However, he remained as an honorary member.

11.  You cannot serve two...
'No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.' Matt. 6.24

12.  Alma of the wood
Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912), painter [more], who lived in St John's Wood, London.

13.  J'y suis - j'y reste!
Fr., Here I am, here I stay.

14.  soi
These disconnected notes are not clear. This may be the number 105 written upside-down.

15.  perfectly aware
Written upside down to the main text, possibly by Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958), JW's sister-in-law [more]: it relates to the sentence in her hand at the top of p. 3..