This passage appears in Housman's autobiography, The Unexpected Years, where he discusses his time at Art School at Kensington. — George P. Landow.


y one meeting with Whistler was a nightmare. I met Whistler, about whom Ruskin made one of his biggest mistakes, at Ricketts and Shannon's one evening. Walter Sickert had fortunately just gone for at that time Whistler was full to flatulence of his quarrel with Sir William Eden over his wife's portrait, and Sickert, for many years Whistler's devout disciple, had not given his master all the backing that was expected of him. Whistler sprawled into the room with a slow defiant swagger, and almost without preliminary greetings started upon his grievance. What? Have you heard the news? No? Oh, yes! Walter has been seen walking down Bond Street with the Baronet . . . This in a slow nasal drawl. 'Walter's mistake, he went on, is that he began life as an actor. On the stage there is always an exit; now Walter is going to find that there's no exit: he's been seen walking down Bond Street with the Baronet. This evidently-prepared phrase became the burden of a monologue which did not permit of interruption. In a momentary pause, when Shannon was inviting him to say when to a whisky-and-soda, I asked Ricketts to show me a drawing which he was then doing for The Pageant. Whistler turned and pounced: Hey? What's that? What's that? Oh, yes! Walter has been seen walking down Bond Street with the Baronet. When the tedium of it became too much for me, I left; and as I went down the passage to the door, I heard Whistler still at his refrain: Oh, yes! Walter has been seen walking down Bond Street with the Baronet!

No doubt it was all calculated; Whistler knew that Ricketts and Shannon had not cut Sickert for his disgraceful association with the Baronet, as they should have done; perhaps he had seen Sickert leaving the house. And so they also were to be taught that there was no exit for those who did not take up his quarrels and share his antagonism as he expected of them.

Great men are not always nice, or even interesting to meet; and it is not my intention to follow the example of those who, in writing their reminiscences, give a list of all the notable people with whom they have had contact or acquaintance; who tell you of dinner-parties at which they met so-and-so, and so-and-so; and inform you that the conversation was Very brilliant and interesting, but of the brilliance and interest convey nothing leaving you intellectually on the doormat: since for them the main interest is to tell you that they were of the company. And what interest has that, except to themselves? [125-27]

Bibliography

Housman, Laurence. The Unexpected Years. London: Jonathan Cape, 1936.


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Last modified 17 November 2012