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The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Whistler 2003 - Centenary Journal

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1st April 2003 - A Dreary National Joke

The custom of playing practical jokes upon friends and acquaintances on the first day of April is an old tradition, but not one that Whistler found particularly amusing.

This is partly understandable due to an event that occurred in the late 1870s. Whistler received a letter purporting to be from a lady, Mrs Georgiana Horne Payne, requesting that he send to her a package of etchings for her perusal and/or purchase. Whistler duly acted upon the request, only to receive a letter (GUL Whistler P182) from the real Mrs Payne a day or so later, returning the said parcel, and claiming to know nothing of the letter written in her name. Whistler's reply makes clear his feelings on the matter:

"Dear Mrs. Payne...

Though I thought that by this time I was tolerably familiar with the customs of the country in which it is my privilege to live, I had yet to learn it seems, that any one in the disguise of a gentleman ... could permit himself on a special day of the year to take an unwarrantable liberty with the name of a lady for the purpose of perpetuating a dreary National joke -

With us the Calendar offers no such license - and I am afraid we should confound the amusing man with a blackguard -

I need not say how pained I am that I should have been however unconsciously, a means of annoyance to you..."

(GUL Whistler P183)