System Number: 07209
Date: 19 December 1892
Recipient: Edward Guthrie Kennedy
Place: [New York]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler W1197
Document Type: ALdS
110. Rue du Bac. Paris.
Dec. 19. 1892 -
Dear Mr Kennedy -
It is too bad of you to drag me away from my work, beside which nothing is of importance, in order that I may listen to the tiresome recapitulations of the baffled Bancroft!
Dear me! if you only knew how precious is every moment, and what future occasions for yourself you are impeding, you would regret indeed that such crass nonsense as the "rights" of this tentative speculator shall have urged you to call me away! -
Well! well! - in God's name send him to me! What so simple! what have you to do with Mr Bancroft? -
You bought pictures of Mr Cavafy - a very Greek gentleman - who having given £30. a piece for them some years ago, was now unwisely anxious to sell them for only twenty times that price - thus accomplishing the true mission of the London Patron of Art - - Also with a view to increasing their bulk of attraction, and making a Jew job lot, he threw in my present.
Now mark you how strong a thing is instinct - how beautiful is the mystery of blood! - Even as the Negro throws back, and after periods of pale Quadroon, and blonde Octoroon, reappears black and bold as the accursed Ham, so here do we find our Greek, after ages of intercourse with a more respectable Nation of shopkeepers, repeating the history of his own people, and, according to classic tradition, bringing his presents to the Market - "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes!" - Most interesting, isn't it? -
Bon! You then buy these beautiful pictures from our delicate friend Doctor Cavafy, upon my recommendation, thereby outflanking the tardy Bancroft, and by a brilliant movement carrying off his baggage waggons and bolting with his Quartermaster's department! - Indeed "the race is not always to the slow"!! - Herein furthermore, you not only enthusiastically aid the Gods in their retribution, but, as I prophecied [sic], very properly do a good stroke of business -
In the whole of this transaction [p. 2] you show yourself again the loyal and sturdy friend I knew you to be, and promptly return me the long absent gift, rescued at length from unseemly greed. - L'incident est clos - and we are all satisfied. - you with your purchase, the clearheaded Cavafy with his sale, I myself with the general triumph of the upright, and even the troublous and metrograbolising [sic] Bancroft writes to say that
all is for the best! - "every thing turns out for the best"!! -
Your present attitude of uncertainty then, frankly I confess I am wholly unprepared for. However I enclose my lawyers' opinion upon the case. - *
* Here I am reminded that you have sold the "Balcony" - a most delicious complication - Does then our disappointed diletante [sic] propose that you should hand him over the money, to console him, for this picture that he has never owned - never even seen! - Stupendous!
If then you have lost heart, and are unable to tackle these
responsibility of complications in the care of theseyour pictures, your duty simple course -, as he Messrs Webb points out, & I [ acquire?] with them, is to return them to me (the two you have left(!)) who painted them, and through whom alone you obtained them - Nothing would more delight me than dealings with Bancroftian details, "legal" or other!
also that we are writing history - and let it not be said to your everlasting reproach that, after much staunchness, you, in a moment of bewilderment, [ we?] gave Whistler away to his enemies! -
And this one - such a casual interloper! - His very reappearance at this late hour is a self stultification & damns him! - for Have we not read his letter, in which he "acknowledges God", and protests that his only motive in "responding" to my proposal was to please me - and promises that he "will not say a word that should detract from my enjoyment"! - Why then does he? - Can we have no faith in him?
Are we to be distressed by these improper clamouring's [sic] now that the piece is played, and the curtain
has gone down on this moral and amazing drama? / -
Mr Bancroft's role might have been a noble one, as was your own - He had the chance of distinguishing himself, as you afterwards did -
When of my own free will I gave him the occasion of acquiring, for a small sum the three pictures, and advised him to offer £600. for "the Balcony", the "Westminster Bridge", and the "Battersea Reach", his unpleasant nature was filled with doubts, and in lieu of good fellowship & sympathy, I was met with suspicion! - You tell me yourself that he makes a point of his "not having seen the pictures that he was to buy" at my "sollicitation". [sic] - My "sollicitation"! - this because it was my desire to house my poor dear pictures in the home of a friend - a transaction by which I could in no monied way profit. -
When the complete indecency of the Cavafy business was revealed, and it became known, that he had thrust my present to himself in [p. 3] with the other three on the market, then I was glad indeed, secure in the good faith of my friend Bancroft, never dreaming that he would not immediately restore to me, my misplaced and regretted picture -
"Fair play!" I cried out to him, "fair play! - my dear Bancroft! - For a song you have your three Masterpieces, and yours also is the privelege [sic] of giving me back my own!" - And now came the débacle - "I shall keep them all,["] he said, ["]and consider myself lucky in making a better bargain than I expected"!! - (sic.)
The rest is simple - I took from him the chance, as I had given it to him, and that was the end of it! -
In the exercise of his own sharpness, as in his friendship, he was an absurd failure. He was late with his letter, and his cheque, and we were enabled to go £50- more, and wipe up the Greek before him. -
Poor ridiculous John Bancroft! - he meant ill, but was unfortunate - Like Charles Reade's Pirate, he has been "out fought! out manoeuvred! and out sailed!" - and be hanged to him! -
Let him tell his story - in the Broadways of New York, I doubt there is
but oneno other creature in this world who shall at all sympathize with his uneasy condition - save one - the Greek he left behind him ! -
J McNeill Whistler
The second son of Noah, who was sometimes said (by a radical misinterpretation of the Biblical text, Gen. 9.20-25) to be the ancestor of black races.
6. Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes!
Lat., Beware the Greeks even when they bring gifts!
7. l'incident est clos
Fr., the incident is closed.
'Here ... stupendous' is written on p. 4.
16. Charles Reade's Pirate
Charles Reade (1814-1884), novelist [more]; his novel Hard Cash, London, 1863, chapter 9, includes an episode involving the destruction of a pirate vessel that was about to attack another ship. It is also possible that the reference is to a rather confusing tale by Reade, The Jilt. - A Yarn. See http://www.blackmask.com/jrusk/hc/hc_ndx.htm ; and http://www.blackmask.com/jrusk/jilt.htm (accessed 2004.04).