My dear James -
I have been told that Balzac continually received written appeals from excited readers interceeding [sic] in behalf of a favourite - a Rastignac - a Bixion or a Rubempré - who had become dear to them through the finesse of their fascinating creator -
I quite [p. 2] understood this as I read your beautiful book! -
And as the Frenchmen were wont to pray that ruin should be averted, or life spared, notwithstanding the errors or youthful faults of their hero, reminding the Master of qualities of character, or charms that should outweigh mere justice in the fairyland of Fiction, so I would have begged for the dear lady who had only robbed, and lied a bit, and burgled in the glorious cause of Old Blue!
She was delightful! - and the girl charming! -
But this means that the workmanship itself must have been so marvellously cared for and refined in its polish, that the Painter's sweet morality alone would be
unconscious of dull to all effort of either vice or virtue in his joy at the exquisite finish of it all! -
There may be more English - I said to Heinemann - possibly, but none more perfect! -
[p. 3] I am so glad that I am to see you tomorrow -
J McNeill Whistler
1. [22 February 1897]
Dated from James's reply, on 25 February 1897, #02404, and from the deep bordered mourning paper; Beatrix Whistler (1857-1896), née Beatrice Philip, artist [more] and JW's wife, died on 10 May 1896.
Eugène de Rastignac, an aristocratic fortune hunter and politician in Honoré de Balzac's Père Goriot (1834) .
Jean Jacques Bixion (b. 1797), fictional character, a caricaturist and malicious joker.
Lucien Chardon de Rubempré (1800-1830), impoverished aristocrat and journalist, a character created by Honoré de Balzec, in Illusions Perdues, 1837-1843. Oscar Wilde wrote 'One of the greatest tragedies of my life is the death of Lucien de Rubempré', (Ellmann, Richard (ed.), The Artist as Critic: Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde, New York, 1969, p. 299).
The Spoils of Poynton originally appeared in the Atlantic Monthly from April to October 1896 under the title 'The Old Things'. It was published in book form in February 1897 by Heinemann in Britain and Houghton Mifflin in the USA.
8. dear lady
In the novel, Mrs Gereth removes valuable furniture and objets d'art (the 'spoils') from her home, Poynton Park, to prevent them falling into the hands of her prospective daughter-in-law, who has no appreciation of art. 'Old Blue' refers to blue and white china.
Fleda Vetch, who Mrs Gereth thinks would be a far more suitable wife for her son as she appreciates the artworks of Poynton.
William Heinemann (1863-1920), publisher [more]. Heinemann was James's English publisher; and publisher of Whistler, James McNeill, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, 2nd ed., London and New York, 1892.