The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Record 10 of 11

System Number: 08194
Date: 21 December 1897
Author: Elizabeth Robins Pennell[1]
Place: London
Recipient: Robert Underwood Johnson[2]
Place: [London]
Repository: Library of Congress
Call Number: Manuscript Division, Pennell-Whistler Collection, PWC
Document Type: ALS

Dec. 21st 1897

'[hdg?] 600'



Dear Mr. Johnson,

You letter has given me a great deal to think about - and I am not sure that I have thought it out satisfactorily yet. I may tell you that it is not the first time I have been asked to do this very thing. On the occasion to which I refer, I refused absolutely, though the offer came from one of the leading publishers. There are several reasons for my hesitation. We have seen a great deal of Mr Whistler during the last few years [p. 2] and he has possibly talked to us more freely than to most people. We therefore hesitate, as I see you realize, to make any use of this fact without his knowledge or consent. And my acquaintance with him has shown, as I can tell you without any breach of confidence, though please do not make use of this in any way[,] that Mr. Whistler has sometimes thought of doing the thing himself; if it were [done?] by him, the result would most certainly equal Cellini. Whether it will be done, however, is quite another matter. This makes me feel that if you want the sort of record you suggest, and quite agree with you as to its value, it would be infinitely better [p. 3] if Mr. Whistler were consulted about it. At least that is my feeling - In the article[3] I wrote for Scribners on his lithographs he gave me the greatest possible assistance, and I am rather of the opinion that if he were approached on the matter he would do a large amount of the work himself - For example, he did not really object to the article which he still has about his West Point life[4], but he objected to the way it was done - and as I have heard the same stories from his own lips - I understand that it did not give their real character, while it contains the same old tradition, which is just [p. 4] what you do not want, of the man the world likes to imagine is Whistler and who is not Whistler at all. I do think the thing ought to be done - that the real Whistler should be known, though he would be shown in quite a new light to most people. I shall of course do nothing until I hear from you. But - if you want, I should be very glad to speak to him on the subject - I cannot help feeling that it would be such a splendid thing for the Magazine to have something direct from him - or with his sanction - In the meantime - I shall go on thinking about it, and if you do not care to consult him, perhaps I [p. 5][5] I [sic] can see my way to doing what you want. I need not say I would rather do it for you than for any one else, and, indeed, I promise that I will only do it for you. But I feel it would be better to have his sanction[.] And I feel too that once this was obtained, and that he knew he was to be presented to the world properly that he would place much that would be helpful at your disposal. I shall be glad to hear how this strikes you. He is still in Paris, after having knocked Sir William Eden[6] into a cocked hat!

It is such a pleasure to me to have your poems. [p. 6] and I much appreciate your sending me the new volume. The English I have always found are rather apt rather not to see what they do not want to see, but I think you will find that in the right quarters your "Hands Across Sea" will be understood and appreciated. Why do you not send a copy to Mr. Henley[7]? He, alas! for he is one of this most honest of the English critics, has no longer much chance to say in public what he thinks. He has just given up the editorship of the New Review which has come to an end, and, as far as I know, he is doing very little [p. 7] if anything for the papers and reviews. It is delightful to see good verses brought out in such dainty form. Your book is as charming to look at, as it is inspiring to read.

With my sincerest thanks and Christmas Greetings from us both to Mrs. Johnson[8] and yourself believe me
Cordially Yours

E. R. Pennell

P. S. We have heard nothing yet about our "Over the Alps" article[9][.] Mr. Unwin[10] would like to bring it out as a booklet and for this, and for another reason which is far more important [p. 8] to you, we have asked Mr. Gilder[11] if it could not appear in April or May. Mr. Gilder wanted it for a midsummer number - but, as there is a good deal of practical information in it for cyclers, it seemed to us it would be more timely if published in the spring, as tourists, who now come over in shoals with their machines might then get some tips from it; while if published in midsummer, they probably would not see it at the time of its appearance

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1.  Elizabeth Robins Pennell
Elizabeth Robins Pennell (1855-1936), née Robins, JW's biographer [more].

2.  Robert Underwood Johnson
Robert Underwood Johnson (1853-1937), poet, writer, diplomat, associate editor of Century Magazine (Scribner's) [more].

3.  article
See Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, 'The Master of the Lithograph - James McNeill Whistler,' Scribner's Magazine, vol. 21, no. 3, March 1897, pp. 277-289.

4.  West Point life
Gustav Kobbé (1857-1918), writer on music and art [more], wrote several articles relating to JW including Kobbé, Gustave, 'Whistler at West Point,' The Chap Book, VIII, no. 11, 15 April 1898, pp. 439-42 [GM, K.23]. A draft of this is at #02437; in late January JW still had the article in his possession (see Gilder to JW, 27 January 1898, #00574).

5.  [p. 5]
The printed address header appears at the top of this page, as on p. 1.

6.  Sir William Eden
Sir William Eden (1849-1915), painter and collector [more]. Pennell was referring to JW's recent dispute with Eden over a portrait of Eden's wife. JW had just won the case on appeal in Paris.

7.  Mr. Henley
William Ernest Henley (1849-1903), journalist, poet and writer [more].

8.  Mrs. Johnson
Katharine Johnson (d. 1925), wife of Robert Underwood Johnson (1853-1927), editor of Century Magazine [more].

9.  article
An article by Elizabeth Robins Pennell with the title 'Over the Alps on a Bicycle' appeared in the Century Magazine in April 1898 (pp. 837-52). The book, E. R. Pennell and J. Pennell, Over the Alps on a Bicycle, was published by Unwin in 1898.

10.  Mr. Unwin
Thomas Fisher Unwin (1848-1935), publisher [more].

11.  Mr. Gilder
Richard Watson Gilder (1844-1909), editor of The Century Magazine from 1881 [more].