The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 11307
Date: [12] April 1898[1]
Author: JW
Place: Paris
Recipient: John Lavery[2]
Place: [London]
Repository: Library of Congress
Call Number: Manuscript Division, Pennell-Whistler Collection, PWC 9/719-22
Document Type: TLc

110, Rue du Bac, - Paris.

April, 1898.

The Vice Chairman, and Gentlemen of the Committee -

Gentlemen -

I beg to present you my compliments - together with my warmest acknowledgments for kind and affectionate expressions of solicitude for my health - which continues to be abominable - and thanks -

It is pleasantly bourne in upon me that the standing and high consideration in which this Society is held abroad, and its consequent autocratic status, and complete independence at home, is, as yet, barely grasped by the members. -

To this conclusion I am driven by various minor details transmitted - which after all are the true means of guidance - the straws, as who should say, that point the wind! -

There comes to me the list of English invitations - and it is clear that the feeling, general in the Society, is that we sue for favour, and toady the commonplace for toleration, as a matter of course, and very properly! -

Time is short - and, in submitting these views for your consideration, I must ask you to forgive abruptness of direction distasteful to myself, and greatly adding to my regret at my continued absence from among you. -

I feel it necessary that all mistaken and limited estimation of our position be immediately lifted from the minds of the (p. 2) Committee - that they may the more freely follow their more noble instincts! -

It is well then we should quite understand that we are an aristocratic body - and absolutely without reference, in our proceedings, to the ungentle methods that govern those about us, whose existence can be of possible importance to themselves, and Whitaker's Almanack only! -

Again I am told, and in this I am to take comfort, that we have the approval of the public, on the assumed faith that we are in opposition to no other exhibiting society in London. How absolutely true this is, by the way, I doubt is scarcely appreciated! - We cannot be opposed to those whose plebian and useful lot in life is quite without our thought - whose efforts we fail to perceive - whose works we never see - and then forget! -

Wherefore all traffic and relation with them, and ordering of our own ways, to tally with their manner of being, were impossible! and derisive! and amasing!

Neither can we admit overture from, or intercourse, of an official kind, with their association - Naturally this does not apply to the Alpine or Bath Clubs - the "Penny Etchers" - or the Survivors in Suffolk Street - but rather to old established and constitutional Corporations - such as the "Royal Academy" - or the "Office of Punch" - Indeed I will frankly admit that we fully merited the snubbing we got from Sir John Sambourne[3], who, I am informed, met our base advances with a certain (p. 3) Charivari hauteur, and dull contempt! -

Here would be occasion, lest animus be imputed, to say at once, that I, in no way, feel Mr. Gilbert's[4] withdrawal to have been at all of the nature of desertion or disloyalty - as is improperly reported.

Rather he might complain that he had been kidnapped and carried off to, what he was led to believe we might be, a picnic party on the Maria Wood!

It was only when the colours were flown, and he found himself on the high seas, that he discovered the intent and fell purpose of the cruise, and the nature of the ricketty craft that had captured him and would enroll him with her officers! - It became his duty to at once declare himself! - He must, in honour leave, and return to his anxious Ancient Mariners in their own water-logged derelict, ere his conscience be further weighted with dangerous knowledge of chart, and letters of Marque and sailing orders.

Moreover, Gentlemen, he had, as I may now confide to you, accomplished his mission! - He had, in full uniform, deliberately piloted our already suspected vessel, beautifully and benignly past the Customs, quieting all questions with his recognised rank and accepted commission, and finally brought to anchor this quick firing, fast sailing, clipper built torpedo carrier in outside clear water - where your own Captain could safely come aboard and take command!

Who else could have so served us? And let us not suppose (p. 4) that one of his great distinction, and fine sense, is not, au fond, perfectly aware of what he has done. - Delicately he shows his sympathy with us, and it would ill become us to reproach him with his unhappy, early, connection, that severs him from a more stupendous career! -

Our distinguished confrère Shannon[5] appears among us under quite other conditions!

With him no regrets - he comes openly - boldly - knowing well the meaning of the step he has taken - for with him there was neither mystification nor mistake - My message of greeting and confidence was clear. Moreover a man of his calibre perceives his occasion - "J'y suis! j'y reste[6]!" he says - and sends forthwith his adieux to the Burlington Officials - and so achieves the most brilliant incident of the season! -

This then Gentlemen is no moment of half measures - and peace is not our preoccupation! - This is a fighting ship by the very fact of its being at [all?]. - Also we carry the very best shots in Europe - who have joined for action!

And I have, Gentlemen,
The Honour to be
Your obedient servant

J. McNeill Whistler.

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1.  [12] April 1898
The date of April 1898 is given on the Pennells' typescript copy, although a note in Elizabeth Pennell's hand states that the date of the postmark was 10 February 1898, but this must be a mistake. See a draft of this letter, dated 12 April 1898, for full annotations, #02298.

2.  John Lavery
John Lavery (1856-1941), painter [more].

3.  Sir John Sambourne
Sir John Sambourne, unidentified; possibly he means Edward Linley Sambourne (1844-1910), Punch caricaturist [more].

4.  Mr. Gilbert's
Alfred Gilbert (1854-1934), sculptor [more]. Gilbert chaired the second meeting of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers on 7 February 1898. However, Gilbert later resigned and JW was elected Chair at the fourth meeting on 16 February 1898.

5.  Shannon
James Jebusa Shannon (1862-1923), genre and portrait painter [more], had already been elected an ARA (Associate Member of the Royal Academy). Given that JW wished to exclude Royal Academicians from the ISSPG, the question of Shannon's membership surfaced several more times (F. Howard to JW, #02319). In the end Shannon was forced to resign from the Executive Council of the Society, although he remained as an Honorary Member.

6.  reste
'J'y suis! j'y reste!', Fr., Here I am, here I stay!