It is rare that an artist is accorded, in his lifetime, such an ovation as that tendered to Mr Whistler, when on Wednesday evening last the large and representative body of distinguished men offered him the banquet in honour of his election to the Munich academy, and the conferring upon him of the Cross of the Royal Order of St. Michael. What made the gathering unique in its way, was the entire absence of official formalism. It was the heartfelt tribute of true English artists to a master whose work and worth are justly rated by all whose opinion is authority. This appreciation found fitting expression in the speeches 'of the Chairman, Mr. Underdown Q C,'
of Sir Coutts Lindsay, Mr W. Q. Orchardson, R. A., Mr Alfred Gilbert, A. R. A., Mr Edmund Yates, Mr Stuart Wortley and Mr Symons. As one of them took occasion to point out it was the unanimous expression of the obligations which the artists present felt that they owed to one who had done more for the advancement of the true art of England than any living man.
When the Chairman in a singularly brilliant and felicitous speech led up to the toast of the evening, the feeling of the company found vent in a tempest of applause which lasted long after Mr Whistler had risen to reply. He never looked better in his life, and the [
feelings?] vibrations of his voice showed how this testimonial 'enthusiastic demonstration' had touched the deeper chords of his always sympathetic nature.
"You must feel that for me," said Mr Whistler, "it is no easy task to reply under conditions of which I have so little habit.
We are all even too conscious that mine has, hitherto I fear, been the gentle answer that sometimes turneth not away wrath!"
Falling however for a moment into his accustomed skin he startled his hearers with some of those glittering paradoxes which they have learned to expect. "Gentlemen," said he, "this is an age of rapid results, when remedies insist upon their diseases, that science shall triumph and no time
shall be lost - and so have we also rewards that bring with them their own virtue! It would not ill become me to call in question my fitness for the position it has pleased this distinguished [p. 2] company to thrust upon me." The rounds of applause and laughter with which this was received can be imagined.
With a smile whose pathos was not lost Mr Whistler closed his speech: "It has before now been borne in upon me that in surroundings of antagonism I may have wrapped myself, for protection, in a species of misunderstanding - as that other traveller drew closer about him the folds of his cloak the more bitterly the winds and the storm assailed him on his way. - But [
he?] as with him, when the sun shone upon him in his path his cloak fell from his shoulders so I, in the warm glow of your friendship throw from me all former disguise and making no farther attempt to hide my true feeling, disclose to you my deep emotion at such unwonted testimony of affection and faith!" -
1. [2 May 1889?]
This was written immediately after 1 May 1889, when a dinner was held at the Criterion in London to celebrate JW's recent awards, the Cross of St Michael of Bavaria and a first-class medal at Munich.
Although written in the hand of Charles James Whistler Hanson (1870-1935), engineer, son of JW and Louisa Fanny Hanson [more], stylistically speaking JW seems most likely to have been the author. It may have been dictated by JW to Hanson. Minor additions to the text have been made in JW's hand. A final version of the text appeared in The Sunday Times, 4 May 1889 (see #09656).
The dinner at the Criterion on 1 May 1889.
'of the Chairman ... Q C' was written in the left margin in JW's hand.
12. enthusiastic demonstration
Added in JW's hand.
13. the gentle answer...
Alluding to Proverbs 15.1, 'A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger'.
14. other traveller
An allusion to Aesop's fable 'The North Wind and the Sun': "The North Wind and the Sun disputed as to which was the most powerful, and agreed that he should be declared the victor who could first strip a wayfaring man of his clothes. The North Wind first tried his power and blew with all his might, but the keener his blasts, the closer the Traveler wrapped his cloak around him, until at last, resigning all hope of victory, the Wind called upon the Sun to see what he could do. The Sun suddenly shone out with all his warmth. The Traveler no sooner felt his genial rays than he took off one garment after another, and at last, fairly overcome with heat, undressed and bathed in a stream that lay in his path. Persuasion is better than Force."