The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 04281
Date: [16 August 1880][1]
Author: JW
Place: Venice
Recipient: Editor[2], New York Daily Tribune
Place: [New York]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler N38
Document Type: ALS

Sir -

In Scribner's Magazine[3] for this Month, there appears an article on Mr. F. Seymour Haden[4], the eminent Etching Surgeon, by a Mr. Hammerton[5] - and in this article I have stumbled upon a curious statement concerning - strangely enough - my own affairs, which I trust you will permit me to correct in your paper -

This is offered pleasantly in the disguise of an annecdote [sic] habitually "narrated'['] by the Doctor himself and printed effectively in inverted commas as here shown :

[ - x 18]

Putting gently aside the question of these plates[6] being superior to all previous or subsequent work, and dealing merely with facts, I have to say: - that these plates were not "originally printed by a steal [sic] plate printer" - that the impressions were not "so bad that the owner thought the plates were worn out" - and flattering as is the supposition that they were "sold for a small sum in comparison to their real value worth", I am obliged to reject even this palatable assertion as I received for the plates the price that I asked knowing full well their exact condition -

Instead of the "steel plate printer" Delâtre[7], then at his prime had himself printed these etchings - a fact which astonishingly enough Mr. Haden admits further on in direct contradiction of his first broad statement. - Moreover I had myself pulled proofs of them all - indeed one in the set of sixteen plates was a dry point called the Forge[8] - (for by the way they were not all of the Thames) - I alone printed -

When these plates left my hands they were not "taken to Goulding[9]", who at that moment, had, I fancy, barely begun his career as "the best printer of etchings in England" - (and a capital printer he certainly is) and it was not found that they were not only perfect but that they produced impressions never before approached even by Delâtre - here we have the contradiction alluded to - No! this theatrical dénouement I must also reject with sorrow -

The plates were brought out by Messrs. Ellis[10] who had them printed by some one in London, whose work was certainly not to be compared to that of Delâtre whom I should undoubtedly have recommended, so that it was only long after [p. 2] the sale had been completed and the plates had ceased to be in my possession that inferior impressions were produced. -

The understanding on my part with those publishers was that the plates were to be destroyed after one hundred impressions had been taken, but very recently they reappeared and were sold to their present possessors who did take them [to] Mr Goulding. - and here I am obliged to explain away the last element of astonishment - for Mr Goulding naturally found the etchings in their original perfect condition - simply because I had had them stealed [sic] in their full bloom when I had satisfied myself by my own proofs .-

Gouldings impressions of these plates are very excellent - but to say they were quite unapproached by Delâtre, is not only needless exageration [sic], but an unkindness to Mr. Goulding. -

Surely there must be some misunderstanding, between Mr. Haden and his Biographer - a misdeal of data - an accident with the annecdotes - because no one was more keenly alive to all relating to these plates in their various states than Mr. Haden himself whose strong sense of the value importance of good printing was acquired during the while watching the during the while watching the progress of proving these same plates & the previous French Set[11] as they were proved by me and printed by Delâtre to whom I introduced him -

Far from me to spoil a good story - but for the life of me I cannot see what any sympathizing raconteur will regret in the destruction of this mere jumble of statistics that Mr. Hammerton calls Mr. Hadens annecdote -

Venice -

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  16 August 1880
This date appears on the published final version of the letter (see Getscher, Robert H., and Paul G. Marks, James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent. Two Annotated Bibliographies, New York and London, 1986, pp. 29-30, B. 12.)

2.  Editor
The letter was published under the title Whistler, James McNeill, [Letter to the Editor], New York Daily Tribune, 12 September 1880, p. 7, col. C, and the signature was then given as 'J. A. McN. Whisttler'. It was republished in Whistler, James McNeill, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, London and New York, 1890, pp. 81-84 (see GM, pp. 29-30, B.12).

3.  Scribner's Magazine
Not identified.

4.  F. Seymour Haden
Francis Seymour Haden (1818-1910), surgeon and etcher, JW's brother-in-law [more]. On 3 October, Haden's response was published under the title 'Letters from the People - Mr. Whistler's Thames Etchings', New York Daily Tribune, 17 October 1880, p. 5, col. f.

5.  a Mr. Hammerton
According to Otto Bacher, who knew JW in Venice, JW made notes on himself and Haden in his copy of Hamerton's Etching and Etchers. (Bacher, Otto Henry, With Whistler in Venice, New York, 1908, pp. 151-3). JW then wrote this letter which irritated Hamerton into a reply, published under the title 'Mr. Whistler's Venice Etchings', New York Daily Tribune, 11 October 1880, p. 5, col. b, and reprinted, Whistler, James McNeill, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, London and New York, 1890, pp. 88-89, under the title 'Conviction'.

6.  plates
JW's etchings were done on copper-plates. When perfected, they were steel-plated, because steel was much longer-lasting for a large edition.

7.  Delâtre
Auguste Delâtre (1822-1907), printer [more].

8.  Forge
The Forge (K.68) was one of A Series of Sixteen Etchings of Scenes on the Thames, 1871 (the 'Thames Set') (K.38-44, 46, 52, 66, 68, 71, 74-76, 95) (excat 4).

9.  Goulding
Frederick Goulding (1842-1909), printer and print-maker [more].

10.  Messrs. Ellis
Messrs Ellis and Green, London.

11.  & the previous French Set
These words were added above the line. Twelve Etchings from Nature, 1858 (the 'French Set', K.9-11, 13-17, 19, 21, 22, 24). (excat 3), was printed by Delâtre, first in Paris in 1858 and then from Haden's house in London, with a dedication to Haden.