UNIVERSITY of GLASGOW

The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Documents associated with: japanese art
Record 6 of 10

System Number: 04135
Date: [6 May 1891][1]
Author: Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac[2]
Place: [Paris]
Recipient: JW
Place: London
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler M405
Document Type: ALS[3]


Cher Maître et illustre ami!

(selon deux expressions dont cette fois l'exactitude stricte et la simple sincérité justifient cette remarque de Baudelaire[4] quand il dit: "beauté du lieu commun") -

- Selon aussi l'usage qui permet, même exige qu'on écrive quelque peu après aux hôtes dont on fut l'hôte, me voici, un peu tard, mais mieux que jamais, moi qui fus assez long temps pour cela l'olympien incognito du gentil boudoir des combles, Japonico-Néerlando-Britanniquo Blue and White[5]! ... que dire, hormis, comme Doña Sol[6]:

Vous voyez bien que j'ai mille choses à dire! et je préfère en rester là sous peine d'ouvrir une écluse aux plus indomptables et torrentueux bavardages. Se reculer et recueillir en la réminiscence réfléchie de ce que seuls nous n'ignorons pas! et qui domine tout me semble une occupation plus digne des loisirs que nous font les dieux.

Car à quoi bon souffler mot d'un premier salon (plutôt une antichambre) où la nullité endiguée et canalisée n'offre même plus l'espoir d'une chose tout bonnement mauvaise. La seconde tournée-fournée nous traitera mieux[7], si elle donne décidément à tâter et constater les bons progrès et procédés qui s'opèrent dans les collégiens que je forme!

Non! mieux vaut encore sourire en fermant les yeux au souvenir de nos esthétiques randonnées, de tant de propos historiques et heureux, autour de l'héroique et humoristique gibus de votre R.A. pince-sans-rire! - à la mémoire encore et surtout du "bon tabac" qui n'est pas pour les "fichus nez" et que nous avons dans notre tabatière! L'indiscrétion permise et que vous savez de certain témoin plus fortuné que le boulanger de Lady Godiva[8], m'est utile pour avoir à qui parler de ces glorieux mystères. -

S'amuser encore de la déception des fallacieux augures ayant prédit que nous nous quitterions "brouillés" - et qui ne savent pas à quel point ils se trompent! y en a chez la voisine mais ça n'est pas pour nous!

RMF

mai '91

Se réjouir aussi de tels pourparlers typographiques, entamés sous de précieux auspices, et où votre avantageux silence est requis en faveur du "petit savant qui veut venir au monde" et que vous tenez baptismalement sur ces fontes[9] ... c'est de quoi remplir ici, avec la pause obscure dont parle Shelley[10], ces feuillets roses de réminiscences vermeilles et renouvelables que signe un Cygne[11], meilleur champion que Tom Taylor[12], et qui vous prie de le mettre aux pieds du soyeux boa de plumes noires!


This document is protected by copyright.


Translation:

Dear Master and illustrious friend!

(in accordance with two expressions of which the strict accuracy and the simple sincerity on this occasion justify that remark made by Baudelaire about: "the beauty of the commonplace"

Likewise, in accordance with the custom that permits, even requires that one write shortly afterwards to the hosts of whom one was the guest, here I am, a little late, but better late than never, I who was for some time, for that matter, like a God up on Mount Olympus in the pleasant little attic boudoir of Japanese-Dutch-British Blue and White! ... how should I express myself, other than in the manner of Doña Sol:

I have evidently a thousand things to say! And I prefer to remain in this state, for fear of opening the floodgates to the most uncontrollable and torrential prattling. Standing back to mull over the ever-present memories of what is known to us alone and which dominates everything seems to me an occupation that is more worthy of the leisure given us by the gods.

For what is the good of whispering allusions to a first salon (rather an antechamber) where the contained and channelled hopelessness no longer even offer the hope of something well and truly bad. The second round will serve us better, if indeed it provides us with something on a par with the aspirations I am nurturing, to make people sit up and take notice.

No! It is better to keep smiling and close our eyes to fondly remember our aesthetic forays, of so many happy and historic ideas, surrounding the heroic and humorous opera hat of your deadpan R. A . - and above all the memory of the "good tobacco" that is not for any old nose and that we have in our snuffbox! It is good to be able to indulge indiscreet talk of these glorious mysteries with your permission-with the witness you know about who was more fortunate than Lady Godiva's baker.

To amuse oneself at the fallacious auguries that predicted that we should bid our farewells having "fallen out" - and which do not know how much they are mistaken! there is some of this in the neighbour but that is not for us!

RMF

To rejoice also over such typographical negotiations, opened under precious auspices, and where your advantageous silence is required for the "little scholar eager to be born" and who you are preparing to hold over the baptismal font … this is material to fill up, with the "obscure pause" described by Shelley, these pink sheets with scarlet and repeated reminiscences signed by a Swan, better champion than Tom Taylor, and begging you to put him at the feet of the silky black feather boa (painting)!


Envelope:

Monsieur J. Mac Neill Whistler
21 Chayne [sic] Walk,
Chelsea
London
S. W.
England
[stamp:] POSTE / 25 / REPUBLIQUE FRANÇAISE
[postmark x 2:] PARIS 70 / R. [...] / 6E 6 / MAI / 91
[postmark on verso:] LONDON - S. W / UD / MY 7 / 91

[verso: orange wax seal, with design of a bat, inscribed:] 'ROBERTUS OPERTUS'



Notes:

1.  [6 May 1891]
Dated from postmark.

2.  Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac
Comte Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac (1855-1921), Symbolist writer and poet, and collector [more]. Not surprisingly, JW and his wife had considerable difficulty in working out what Montesquiou was saying, because his calligraphy and his word-play were both very convoluted (see B. Whistler's reply, #03262).

3.  ALS
Published in Newton, Joy, La Chauve-Souris et le Papillon. Correspondance Montesquiou-Whistler, Glasgow, 1990, no. 47, pp. 96-100.

4.  Baudelaire
Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), poet and critic [more].

5.  Bleu and White
JW collected blue and white oriental porcelain, as did Montesquiou, as well as Japanese prints. 'Néerlando' may refer to the etchings in JW's 'Holland set', 1889 (K.402-416) (excat 10).

6.  Doña Sol
Elvira (Doña Sol) in Verdi's opera Ernani or Hernani.

7.  mieux
The first portrait, Impressions de gris perle: Comte Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac (YMSM 397), was felt to be unsatisfactory, and has disappeared, the second, Arrangement in Black and Gold: Comte Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac (YMSM 398), survived. Goncourt recorded: 'Comme j'étais en arrêt devant une eau-forte de Whistler, Montesquiou me dit que Whistler est en train de faire deux portraits de lui: l'un en habit noir avec une fourrure sous le bras; l'autre en grand manteau gris, au col relevé, avec, au cou, un rien d'une cravate d'une nuance qu'il ne dit pas, mais dont son oeil exprime la couleur idéale...' (Journal, 7 July 1891).

8.  Lady Godiva
Although forbidden to do so, one shopkeeper is said to have gazed on the naked figure of Lady Godiva (ca 1040-1080), art patron, equestrienne and tax protester [more].

9.  fontes
See Munhall, Edgar, 'Whistler's Portrait of Robert de Montesquiou: the Documents,' Gazette des Beaux-Arts, vol. 71, no. 1191, 6th series, April 1968, pp. 231-242.

10.  Shelley
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), poet [more]; the reference is to the lines, 'Sweet music, which when the attention fails / Fills the dim pause.' Fragment, Music and Sweet Poetry, line 4, Oxford Standard Authors, edited by T. Hutchinson, p. 586.

11.  Cygne
Another symbol or emblem liked by Montesquiou. An unpublished collection of his poetry called Les Cygnes, is in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris (Fonds Montesquiou, Nouv. Aq. Fr. 15105).

12.  Tom Taylor
Thomas ('Tom') Taylor (1817-1880), civil servant, dramatist, art critic, and editor of Punch from 1874-1880 [more].