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

the on-line edition

System Number: 11432
Date: [13 October 1886][1]
Author: JW
Place: [London]
Recipient: Edmund Yates[2]
Place: [London]
Repository: Published[3]
Document Type: PLSc

...."QUITE true - now that it is established as an improbability, it becomes true!

They tell me that December has been fixed upon, by the Fates, for my arrival in New York[4] - and, if I escape the Atlantic, I am to be wrecked by the reporter on the pier.

I shall be in his hands, even as is the sheep in the hands of his shearer[5] - for I have learned nothing from those who have gone before - and been lost too!

What will you! I know Matthew Arnold[6], and am told that he whispered truth exquisite, unheeded in the haste of America.

And these others[7] who have crossed the seas, that they might fasten upon the hurried ones at home and gird at them with wisdom, hysterically acquired, and administered, unblushingly, with a suddenness of purpose that prevented their ever being listened to here, - must I follow in their wake, to be met with [p. 2] suspicion by my compatriots, and resented as the invading instructor?

Heavens! - who knows! - also in the papers, where naturally I read only of myself, I gather a general impression of offensive aggressiveness, that, coupled with Chase's monstrous lampoon[8], has prepared me for the tomahawk on landing.

How dared he, Chase, to do this wicked thing? - and I who was charming, and made him beautiful on canvas[9] - the Masher of the Avenues.

However, I may not put off until the age of the amateur has gone by, but am to take with me some of those works[10] which have won for me the execration of Europe, that they may be shown to a country in which I cannot be a prophet, and where I, who have no intention of being other than joyous - improving no one - not even myself - will say again my "Ten o'Clock[11]," which I refused to repeat in London - J'ai dit![12]

This is no time for hesitation - one cannot continually disappoint a Continent!

[butterfly signature]

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  13 October 1886
Date of publication in The World. There are two undated drafts of this letter (#07113, #07114).

2.  Edmund Yates
Edmund Hodgson Yates (1831-1894), novelist, 'Atlas' columnist and editor-proprietor of the World [more].

3.  PLc
This transcription is taken from the letter as published in Whistler, James McNeill, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, London and New York, 1890, pp. 184-85, under the heading 'Nostalgia'. It was also published, with minor variations, in the Pall Mall Budget, 28 October 1886, p. 25 (this starts 'It is quite true, and now that').

4.  my arrival in New York
JW never did go back to America. This letter was a response to a report, 'Whistler coming to America', New York Tribune, 12 October 1886 (Getscher, Robert H., and Paul G. Marks, James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent. Two Annotated Bibliographies, New York and London, 1986, B38).

5.  sheep in the hands of his shearer
'He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.' (Isaiah 53: 6-8).

6.  Matthew Arnold
Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), writer [more].

7.  these others
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wilde (1854-1900), writer, critic and playwright [more], had made an extensive lecture tour of the USA.

8.  Chase's monstrous lampoon
W. M. Chase, Portrait of Whistler (z188). His portrait is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

9.  beautiful on canvas
Portrait of William M. Chase (YMSM 322). The portrait was never completed to JW's satisfaction, although he intended to complete it in New York.

10.  those works
JW did not go to the United States or take pictures for an exhibition, although he made attempts to borrow pictures from patrons.

11.  Ten o'Clock
JW's Ten O'Clock lecture was first delivered in February 1885.

12.  J'ai dit!
Fr., I have spoken.