The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 02521
Date: [February 1886/November 1887?][1]
Author: JW
Place: London
Recipient: Elisabeth Lewis[2]
Place: [London]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler L57
Document Type: ALd[3]


I have only just lately heard dear Mrs George to my great indignation, that you were one of the victims of the brutality of "The People[4]" in the Park -

How horrible! - and the poor children too! - I am told that you all behaved with wonderful courage and tact -

George[5] ought to have power to hang the ring leaders of the mob - and among them, do you know I fear I should begin with Master Morris[6]!!

Topsy[7], the dabbler in decoration - [p. 2] I would hang for the mischief he has made - and for his foolish interference in Art with what does not concern him! -

What should this incomplete singer[8] know of wall papers and furniture? - I say 'incomplete' because his songs do not fill his life and overflow it -

No - he has time for other matters! - and so he pastes paper and hangs curtains for huge sums - and proofing proving himself unscientific and unaccomplished, ends by ranting at the rable [sic] and urging them on to destroy, and pillage - other shops than his own - and to attack you in the Park!! - Like Oscar[9] with his babble on about the beautiful! simply! - Would Sarasate[10] think you, want other than his violin - and his whole life to play it that he may be Master! - and would you insult him by asking him to build a bridge or give advice in swimming? -

And now am I right - in what I said to you all that night at 10 of the Clock[11]? plan [two illegible words] for an Ocean Steamer? Would you care to cross the seas in such a ship -

Picture to yourself the complete wisdom of crossing in such a ship with the Comodore [sic] of the [Chriarders?] freely fiddling on the poop - wherever that may be - and yet you have the counterpart of . the fitness of things is no more outraged than by accepting Morris' Dados and listening to Alma Tademas[12] sonnets were he to write them -

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1.  [February 1886/November 1887?]
Dated from references to the Hyde Park march and William Morris (see below).

2.  Elisabeth Lewis
Elisabeth Lewis (1844-1931), née Eberstadt, wife of G. H. Lewis [more].

3.  ALd
Writen at right-angles to the printed address.

4.  The People
This probably relates to the political activity of William Morris and his involvement with the Socialist League. The event may have been 'Black Monday,' 8 February 1886, when a march organised by the Fair Trade League was taken over by the Socialist Democratic Federation. As the crowd passed the Reform Club between Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park, they were jeered at by those inside and some of the club windows were broken as a result. Some looting of shops also occurred in the area. See McCarthy, Fiona, William Morris,London, 1994, pp.526-73, pp. 526-73 and Salmon, Nicholas and Derek Baker, The William Morris Chronology, London, 1996, p. 158.

5.  George
Sir George Henry Lewis (1833-1911), society lawyer [more].

6.  Morris
William Morris (1834-1896), painter, designer, poet and socialist [more]. JW's disapproval of Morris stemmed from his view that Morris had succumbed to the rewards of the market-place through his designs for the firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co., whilst preaching the dignity of simple craftsmanship. He also attacked Morris in the 'Ten O'Clock Lecture' (see below). It is worth noting that he saved a press-cutting reporting on a lecture given by Morris at the Russell Club in which Morris declared that 'if art should fade and die then [...] civilisation would die too' but if socialism took the place of 'competition among men in the conditions of life' art would 'revive.' (see GUL MS Whistler, pc3/55). While Morris was not present at the 'Black Monday' riot, he was a known sympathiser through the Socialist League, which expressed sympathy for the arrested leaders. See McCarthy 1994, op. cit., pp. 526-73.

7.  Topsy
A nickname for Morris.

8.  singer
This may relate to another incident which took place on 20 November 1887 in Hyde Park. A protest condemning police brutality during a previous protest over the right of free assembly (an event known as 'Bloody Sunday') went badly wrong when Alfred Linnell, a Radical law-writer, was fatally injured by a police horse as the demonstration was being broken up. Morris composed a song that was sung at Linnell's funeral on 18 December. See McCarthy 1994, op. cit., pp. 526-73.

9.  Oscar
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wilde (1854-1900), writer, critic and playwright [more]. See JW's attack on Wilde in the 'Ten O'Clock Lecture', especially the passage: 'The Dilettante stalks abroad. The amateur is loosed. The voice of the aesthete is heard in the land and catastrophe is upon us.' See Whistler, James McNeill, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, 2nd ed., London and New York, 1892, p. 152.

10.  Sarasate
Pablo de Sarasate y Navascues (1844-1908), violinist [more].

11.  10 of the Clock
JW's 'Ten O'Clock Lecture,' his major public statement of his aesthetic ideas, was delivered for the first time on 20 February 1885 at the Prince's Hall, Piccadilly. JW may have been thinking of a passage early on in the lecture in which he attacks the idea of art as a means of refinement and moral improvement: 'Art is upon the Town! [...] The people have been harassed with Art in every guise, and vexed with many methods as to its endurance. They have been told how they shall love Art, and live with it. Their homes have been invaded, their walls covered with paper, their very dress taken to task -' (see Whistler 1892, op. cit., pp. 135-36).

12.  Alma Tademas
Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912), painter [more].