Saturday, August 7, 2010


For the Art House Co-op Canvas Project, my second word was backslider, another rather interesting one. And one which I have not had occasion to use in a sentence, although, I do understand this one. "How do you illustrate backslider?" I pondered. Until I did some research in The New York Times archives and this is what I found.

James Mortimer, a true renaissance man: chess champion, editor, publisher, writer and photographer was born in Virginia, moved to Paris, and later spent most of his life in London, meeting and befriending members of high society and theatre. A close friend to Napoleon III, Mortimer was the last person to see him alive and helped procure shelter for the exiled imperial family. First article:

January 28, 1877
The New York Times: London Correspondent

One has almost ceased to hope that the moral tone of the theatre can be much changed in our day... The Duke of Newcastle is credited with backing the Royalty management, which has revived "Orphee aux Enfers," with Mme. Dolare and Miss Kate Santley, and the stalls are filled with a crowd of the leering young sprigs of fashion who used to be so constantly devoted to the Gaiety... Unfortunately, as a rule these "patrons" of dramatic art select for distinction some woman who is incompetent as an artist and who possesses no attribute in any other direction that can atone for her usurpation of the place of a respectable woman and an actress. Her next step is to get Mr. Mortimer, of the once decent Figaro, to publish her portrait in one of his catch-penny photographic albums or sketch-books, and then she gives a reception to all the aristocratic riff-raffs and hangers-on of her acquaintance, and she is enrolled as an artiste and a lady to be envied even by the capable women who have to play in the same theatre and perhaps receive their salaries almost from her hands. The truth is these uxorious lords are a public nuisance, and in these, days of new newspapers, started to discover grievances and pluck out abuses from the body politic and social, it is surprising that they are not held up to the nation's scorn and contempt.

This was the response:

February 13, 1877
Letter to the editor, The New York Times

Not a Backslider

Your London correspondent... is good enough to mention "Mr. Mortimer, of the once decent Figaro," and to couple my name with an odd jumble concerning the morale of the London stage... I am accused of publishing, in one of my "catch-penny photographic albums... " the portraits of members of the theatrical demi-monde, and, by implication, of aiding worthless characters to enroll themselves as artists to be envied...

I don't know how nor why I have stirred up the billiary secretions of your correspondent; and a long familiarity with a vile world has rendered me sufficiently callous to opprobrium of all sorts to whisper in your contraternal ear that I don't care. But as I have personal friends in New York who knew me in my virtuous youth, I wish to be allowed to reassure them I am not a backslider, as your London correspondent insinuates. The Figaro is, I flatter myself, as decent as any secular print of this ribald age, and as you will see by the enclosed list the ladies and gentlemen who have favored me by sitting for the photographs which appear weekly in one of my publications include members of the royal family, Lords, Commons, historians, painters, poets, dramatists, and popular actors, not one of which photographs has ever been published through solicitation, or any other motive than my own free will.

So far as the "catch-penny" charge is concerned... If to do this for three pence be a "catch-penny" operation, I must plead guilty to the indictment.
~ J. Mortimer


  1. Even better than "backslider" in those archived articles is the use of "biliary secretions." I'm going to have to start using that. "There you go!" I'll shout, fanning myself on a fainting sofa. "Stirring up my biliary secretions..." Your art, however, stirs up no biliary secretions. It's nice to know you haven't backslid into lazy artistic habits, and are still turning out one magnificent piece after another.

  2. thank you. and what great fun going to the phoenix art museum to see the cezanne exhibit with you and jake today. although, i think there were more marsden hartley paintings than i would have liked to see.

    did that stir up my biliary secretions? or was it the mexican food we ate after we dropped you off?