The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 11426
Date: 6 October [1889][1]
Author: JW
Place: Amsterdam
Recipient: Editor, New York Herald[2]
Place: New York
Repository: Published
Document Type: PLc[3]


SIR, -

I beg that you will kindly print immediately these, my regrets, that General Rush Hawkins[4] should have been spurred into unwonted and unbecoming expression by what I myself read with considerable bewilderment in the New York Herald, October 3[5], under the head of "Whistler's Grievance."

I can assure the gallant soldier that I have no grievance.

Had I known that, when — over what takes the place of wine and walnuts in Holland — I remembered lightly the military methods of the jury, I was being "interviewed," I should have adopted as serious a tone as the original farce would admit of; or I might have even refused to be a party at all to the infliction upon your readers of so old and threadbare a story as that of the raid upon the works of art in the American section of the Universal Exhibition.

[p. 2] Your correspondent, I fancy, felt much more warmly, than did I, wrongs that - who knows? - are doubtless rights in the army; and my sympathies, I confess, are completely with the General, who did only, as he complains, his duty in that state of life in which it had pleased God, and the War Department, to call him, when, according to order, he signed that naïvely authoritative note, circular, warrant, or what not - for he did irretrievably fasten his name to it, whether with pen or print, thereby hopelessly making the letter his own. Thus have we responsibility, like greatness, sometimes thrust upon us.

On receipt of the document I came - I saw the commanding officer, who, until now, I fondly trusted, would ever remember me as pleasantly as I do himself - and, knowing despatch in all military matters to be of great importance, I then and there relieved him of the troublesome etchings, and carried off the painting.

It is a sad shock to me to find that the good General speaks of me without affection, and that he evinces even joy when he says with a view to my entire discomfiture:— "While we rejected only ten of his etchings, the English department rejected eighteen of them, and of the nine accepted, only hung two on the line."

Now, he is wrong! — the General is wrong.

The etchings now hanging in the English section[6] — [p. 3] and perfect is their hanging, notwithstanding General Hawkins's flattering anxiety — are the only ones I sent there.

In the haste and enthusiasm of your interviewer, I have, on this point, been misunderstood.

There was moreover here no question of submitting them to a "competent and impartial jury of his peers" — one of whom, by the way, I am informed upon undoubted authority, had never before come upon an "etching" in his hitherto happy and unchequered Western career.

We all knew that the space allotted to the English department was exceedingly limited, and each one refrained from abusing it. Here I would point out again, hoping this time to be clearly understood, that, had the methods employed in the American camp been more civil, if less military, all further difficulties might have been avoided. Had I been properly advised that the room was less than the demand for place, I would, of course, have instantly begged the gentlemen of the jury to choose, from among the number, what etchings they pleased. So the matter would have ended, and you, Sir, would have been without this charming communication!

The pretty embarrassment of General Hawkins on the occasion of my visit, I myself liked, thinking it [p. 4] seemly, and part of the good form of a West Point man, who is taught that a drum-head court martial — and what else in the experience of this finished officer should so fit him for sitting in judgment upon pictures? — should be presided at with grave and softened demeanour.

If I mistook the General's manner, it is another illusion the less.

And I have, Sir,
the honour to be,
Your obedient servant,

[butterfly signature]


Oct. 6.

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1.  6 October [1889]
Year dated from publication (see below).

2.  Editor, New York Herald
Published in New York Herald, 6 October 1889.

3.  PLc
Transcribed as published in Whistler, James McNeill, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, London and New York, 1890, pp. 273-76 under the heading 'Whistler's Grievance'.

4.  General Rush Hawkins
Gen. Rush Christopher Hawkins (1831-1920), U. S. commissioner for Fine Art at the Paris Universal Exposition in 1889 [more].

5.  October 3
Published in New York Herald, 3 October 1889.

6.  English section
Universal Exhibition, Paris, 1889.