The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 03713
Date: [2 February/August 1878?][1]
Author: W. Macdonald[2]
Place: Manchester
Recipient: John Ruskin[3]
Place: [Coniston]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler M47
Document Type: ALd

To Mr - J Ruskin -
Professor of criticism &c
the fine arts - &c -

I have been for the last half-century engaged in the business of House painting[;] my particular department of that business has been what is known by the tittle [sic] of [Grainer?] & marbler & Sign Writer wherein I have seen much scope for men of artistic taste & talent & been intimate with several who could not be denied the possession [of] a large portion of original genius

But this art has almost perished out of the land and the very name [scouted?] by a new race of professors who bring strange doctrines to our ears and seem to be inspired greatly by yourself as the high priest or dictator over all who theorise or practic[e] high or humble art -

(p. 2) Now a self elected dictator is one whose athority [sic] is not reddily [sic] acknowledged nor his precepts obeyed neither in church or state & none but inspired men should assume that your lofty tone without giving practical prooff [sic] of their ability before all

We pay less respect to the teacher of Religion & morals if his life & conversation does not correspond therewith[.] He is merly [sic] like the guide post that points the way without moving one a step Zionward

If you had produced some great Architectural mansion or painted a splendid Historical picture or a first class model & taken your place beside the leading Artists of the time then your claims to attention would have been * recognised[4] but as the new Testament 'says faith without works is dead being alone[5]'

By practical men of talent & genius the mere critic is held to be (p. 3) little more than a disappoi[n]ted or unsuccessful adventurer in poetry or the fine Arts - nor have I heard of any of your pupils who have arrived at distinction under your fostering care - While every now & then the prises [sic] are awarded to the best student in school or College we hear also of his teacher who always shares the honours of reflected from the distinguished pupil - I must acknowledge however that you have not failed as a writer your literary fame is quite established & If you have not trained your followers to work, at least you have a great army of teachers at your back of considerable talent in words; but if any of your doctrines are not sound that is rather a mis fortune than a benefit - You cannot be unaware that all the fallacies & false doctrines in theology science & politics that do prevail or have been believed in has have been propgated [sic] (p. 4) by some great & leading characters in society & society is suffering the most severe penalties for being so led astray - -

The high price of your works as well as the misty metiphiscal [sic] transcendental style of thought has prevented them from falling into the hands of those who could most test their value & render them useful to the community - The knowledge of true art should be known felt in the cottage as well as the palace

And I beleive [sic] you have spent a moderate fortune in dissemating [sic] them your works & yet they are practically unknown to the artists & art workman of this country

This in the present days of cheap litterature [sic] is one wonderful problem & is only explained by the suggestion that your prejudices determined you against letting any publisher get the lions share of the profits to be expected from the circulation of your works -

[p. 5] 'Ruskin / [illegible word][6]'

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  [2 February/August 1878?]
This draft was sent to JW with #03712, which must have been written after the publication of an enclosed letter to the Manchester City News, dated 1 February 1878.

2.  W. Macdonald
W. Macdonald, a Manchester house painter [more].

3.  John Ruskin
John Ruskin (1819-1900), critic, social reformer and artist [more].

4.  * recognised
Written at the bottom of the page.

5.  faith without works is dead being alone
James 2.17 - 'Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.'

6.  Ruskin / [illegible word]
Written by JW.