The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
Home > On-line Edition > Transcription/Database Record

the on-line edition

System Number: 10985
Date: [4 November 1898][1]
Author: JW
Place: [Paris]
Recipient: Elisabeth Lewis[2]
Place: London
Repository: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford
Call Number: Department of Western Manuscripts, MS Dep. c. 838, fols 100-104
Document Type: ALS[3]

Miladi Bettie! -

My case in your pretty fingers - and I know that nothing more need be said -

This may possibly reach you at table tonight - and Heinemann[4], whose telegram was late - will be with you -

[p. 2] A line then, of greeting to you all - that you may be in the best of spirits - for if I always win, what should I not do now with you for my advocate! beside whom the fair Portia[5] lady was merely a dull person - old fashioned - and quite out of it! -

Tell the great George[6] that we begin by admiting [sic] all he says - for who else should know as he does the natives among whom he lives - but say also that we would have fought upon the principle of "the greater the truth, the greater the libel" no longer holding - Nous avons changé tout cela[7]!

Tell him the story of the foreman of the Jury in the Pennell case[8]! - Tell him that I would have taken both Judge and Jury into our innermost sympathy - and left the Baronet[9] a degraded object before them. -

Tell him that all this would have been simple - for not only do we sail well - clipper built! with masts well raked! - but we are going straight as we always do and right before the wind - -

Ours is a case of "good faith" - and one where even the British Jury and certainly the Judge (whom I have found inteligent!) cannot fail to see in the end that the "unsuspecting" gentleman has been basely played and tricked by the common thimble rig welcher - Cheating at cards is as I have noticed in England the one crime never forgiven! - and I could have made clear that Sir William Eden the Studio sneak, is of the same stuff as [p. 3] the worst of detested rooks and blacklegs -

Point out dear Lady Bettie how he had been trusted implicitly - how no doubt and no thought of gain could ever enter my head! - How all question of money was left outside at the back door, through which they came, as they entered! - Make clear that what with the Briton has appeared the weak point, is in reallity the strong, or rather the triumphant move on my part - I mean the taking of the cheque of course - which was masterly and proved the cheque mate to this shortsighted scamp - Say that I could have shown all this, and even have made them feel that the wiping out of the portrait (which George thought hopeless for the Jury) was the only thing left for a distinguished Gentleman and great artist who had been outraged in his intercourse with a common imposter - Let George look again at the way in which this was understood by the "Avocat General", and [p. 4] remember that he represents the Government watching the case - and in no way held a brief for me! -

His statement then surely would bare the greatest weight with an English Judge of high repute -

In short say that I should have felt [sure in?] an enviable position before the court - for I would have pointed out that my name and reputation in England (even!) were dear to me, and that I found this matter completely misunderstood [p. 5] so that even the most kindly inclined believed me to have been deeply in the wrong - and indeed to have only escaped punishment by my lucky chance -

It therefore became necessary to put before the public the truth of the case - and when this would could be done by the simple publication[10] of the trial itself, as taken down in the Court, by the Court's own official shorthand writer, surely[11] I could have no reason for hesitating - If this exposure of things be injurious to the Baronet, it is because of his role in the tragedy - and it is [his] own fault if he acquire the execration of his countrymen! and fall under their ridicule - Surely again, it cannot be exacted even by old laws that I should be sacrificed?? -

However we are not going to fight! and now we only want to know whether the great George still thinks that Eden will -

This must go at once -

so Adieu for the nonce dear Lady Bettie,
and with kindest regards to all,
accept the assurance of my highest consideration and devotion -

J McNeill Whistler

This document is protected by copyright.


Lady Lewis -
88. Portland Place
London -
[postmark:] PARIS-80 / R. DU BAC / 3E¦ 4 / NOV / 98


1.  [4 November 1898]
Dated from the postmark.

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

3.  ALS
Written on deep bordered mourning stationery.

4.  Heinemann
William Heinemann (1863-1920), publisher [more].

5.  the fair Portia
The rich heiress of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. The name is sometimes used allusively for a female advocate.

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

7.  cela
Fr., We have changed all that!

8.  Pennell case
The libel action between Joseph Pennell (1860-1926), printer and illustrator, JW's biographer [more], and Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942), artist and writer on art [more]. Sickert had alleged in the Saturday Review that Pennell's lithographic method of drawing on transfer paper instead of directly onto the lithographic stone could not be regarded as true lithography. The trial took place in April 1897. JW supported Pennell who won the case (see Sickert, Walter, 'Transfer Lithography,' Saturday Review, 26 December 1896, pp. 667-68; #08480; #13493).

9.  Baronet
Sir William Eden (1849-1915), painter and collector [more]. JW is discussing Eden v. Whistler, his dispute with Eden over the completion of Brown and Gold: Portrait of Lady Eden (YMSM 408), a portrait of Eden's wife. Eden commenced legal proceedings against him in 1894 but the case was not resolved until several years later.

10.  publication
It seems that JW wished to get George Lewis's approval for the publication of JW's account of the case: Whistler, James McNeill, Eden versus Whistler: The Baronet and the Butterfly. A Valentine with a Verdict, Paris and New York, 1899 [GM, A.24]. See also JW's letter to W. Heinemann, #08505.

11.  surely
Double underlined.