Was it dollars, Theodore, that did it? or were they shekels of the 'Haute Juiverie'? - and was it at the old price?
In the environs of Paris, on the Buttes Montmartre or at Ramponneau, shall you yet find an unused Potter's field? And will the [p. 2] thirty pieces of silver now hire it for the night, as they did in simpler times?
If not, where will you go with your rope, that your bowels may come out within ken of the police? - that while the cocks of Chelsea, whither you made your humble pilgrimage, still crow, something be done quickly - lest, like 'Arry, neglected by the parish, you lie 'stinking many days.'
1. [1/12 January 1887?]
Published in Truth, vol. 21, no. 524, 13 January 1887, p. 55. This is a response to an article in the New York Sun, 12 December 1886. There are two drafts of this letter (#00610 and #00611).
Transcribed as published in Whistler, James McNeill, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, ed. Sheridan Ford, Paris, 1890, pp. 149-50. See Getscher, Robert H., and Paul G. Marks, James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent. Two Annotated Bibliographies, New York and London, 1986, B. 44.
4. Haute Juiverie
Fr., High Jewry (meaning moneylenders).
5. Buttes Montmartre or at Ramponneau
Montmartre, on the outskirts of Paris, was on the edge of wasteland. Rue Ramponneau was also on the outskirts, in Belleville in the 20th Arrondissement, a low class area.
6. Potter's field
Biblical allusion: 'When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death: And when they had bound him, they led him away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor. Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood. And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value; And gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord appointed me' (Matthew 27:1-10).
7. thirty pieces of silver
'And the LORD said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord' (Zechariah 11:13). Judas Iscariot received this sum for betraying Jesus Christ (Matthew 26:14-16). JW's letter is full of biblical symbols of portrayal.
8. your bowels may come out
'Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out' (Acts 1:18).
9. cocks of Chelsea
The cock crowed thrice when Peter denied knowing Jesus (Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22; John 13).
11. the parish
The local parish councils were responsible for burying paupers or unclaimed bodies.
12. stinking many days
John 11:39 - 'Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days'.