The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 11301
Date: 12 April 1890
Author: George Ravenscroft Dennis[1]
Place: [London]
Recipient: [none]
Repository: Library of Congress
Call Number: Manuscript Division, Pennell-Whistler Collection, PWC 9/701-4
Document Type: TD/L/Wc

Saturday, April 12, 1890.


Mr. Whistler insists that his hair is still on. Some one of his many kind friends appears to have sent him a copy of last week's RIALTO, with one of the Contents-bills, bearing the line "Whistler's Scalp", for on Thursday morning, to my surprise, I was handed the following telegram:-[2]

"Received your article and poster. Thanks. Charming. You have forgotten the last S.


A neat retort for ninepence! Here, in telegraphic bovril[3], is Mr. Whistler's opinion that the scalp was not his and the book complimentary. But why rush to the telegraph office to contradict? Obviously my appropriate answer might be like this, "Dead for a ducat[4], dead! my dear James: and the rattle has reached me by wire."

But neither the outer or inner lining of Mr. Whistler's skull attracts me. Thank Heaven he was in such a hurry to let me know how hard he was smiling, as otherwise I might have received a letter after the following fashion:-

[p. 2] "You are a miserable creature. You know you are. Bah! Il faut beau temps, ma tante, mais quelle heure est il[5]? Go home, thou wretched one, and read thy Ollendorf[6], but venture not to criticise the greatest painter and completest letter-writer of the age. Remember défense de fumer, défense d'afficher! Diderot[7] learned that lesson, and Paul Potter[8], and Nebuchadnezzar the King[9]. Pensez-vous! Puny and petty in your pusillanimity you are more pitiable than they. Pish! Ha! Ha! Do you wince? Patience! Je suis, tu es, il est, nous sommes, vous êtes, ils sont! Suffer that to sink into your sordid soul and sicken, whereas and notwithstanding. Why more? Eyes front! So long.

Yours always."

[butterfly signature]

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1.  George Ravenscroft Dennis
George Ravenscroft Dennis (fl. 1891-1924), writer [more]. It is not known if and where the report was published.

2.  telegram
See #13789, and another copy, sent by JW to G. R. Dennis, #09059.

3.  bovril
A drink using beef extract, salty, meaty and supposedly promoting energy.

4.  Dead for a ducat
He is quoting both JW and Shalespeare; Hamlet's exclamation, in Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 4, which was parodied in JW's letter to Tom Taylor, 8 January [1879], #05661.

5.  quelle heure est il
The French passages are intended to have a phrase-book simplicity, and mean: 'The weather is fine, my aunt, but what time is it?', 'do not smoke, stick no bills!', 'Think!' and 'I am, he is, you are, we are, you are, they are'. These are presumably intended to parody JW's speech, which was punctuated with French phrases and biblical quotations.

6.  Ollendorf
Heinrich Godefroy Ollendorf (1803-1865), author of primers on European languages [more].

7.  Diderot
Denis Diderot (1713-1784), critic and philosopher [more].

8.  Paul Potter
Paul Potter (1625-1654), animal painter [more].

9.  Nebuchadnezzar the King
Nebuchadnezzar (d. 562 BC), king of Babylonia from ca 605-562 BC.