On Saturday, December 8, 1956, the Paris
Herald reported that "Miss Julia (sic) H. Thompson, a
portrait painter for nearly half a century, who painted such notables as
President Woodrow Wilson and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge, died Tuesday." Some of
us, then living as Bahá'í pioneers in Salzburg, Austria,
learned in this way of Juliet's passing, at home in New York.
Juliet, a Virginian by birth, was related to Edward
Fitzgerald, translator of The Rubáiyát. Her father,
Ambrose White Thompson, was a close friend of Lincoln. Both a series
artist and a great beauty, Juliet was well known in Washington society and
was listed in the Social Register, although, as she pointed out, as a
For many years Juliet and Daisy Pumpelly Smythe, also an
artist, shared a house in Greenwich Village, at 48 West 10th Street. They
made their home a famous gathering place for people of many races and
religions; and visits there, and fireside meetings, were almost continual.
They especially welcomed members of the black race, often quoting
'Abdu'l-Bahá's words that unless America healed black-white
tensions her streets would run with blood. Juliet's friend and companion,
Helen James, a black woman, also shared the house. So close did Juliet
feel to the black race that, shortly before her death, she asked that her
funeral cortège be led through Harlem, and this was done. Many guests
stayed there at "48," some for days or weeks. At one time Dimitri
Marianoff, the former son-in-law of Albert Einstein, was writing a
Bahá'í book on the third floor, Juliet herself was revising
her "I, Mary Magdalen" (a story inspired by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Whom she
visited, as told in her Diary, in the Holy Land, Switzerland, and New York
City) on the floor below, while I was in the basement sitting room,
finishing "Persia and the Victorians." Every room of the old house had
been blessed by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and Juliet said that He particularly
approved of her studio-room. He said that it was eclectic part
Eastern, part Western, and that He would like to build a similar one. In a
corner of the downstairs living room, with a cord across it, stood the
fragile antique arm chair in which He used to sit.
It was on April 6, 1943, in her studio-room, upstairs at the
front of the house, that Juliet shared with me and a few other guests,
these memories of Kahlil Gibran.
"He lived across the street from here," said Juliet Thompson, "at 51 West
10th. He was neither poor nor rich in between. Worked on an Arab
newspaper; free to paint and write. 1
was all right in the early years. He was terribly sad in the later years,
because of cancer. He died at forty-nine. He knew his life was ending too
"His drawings were more beautiful than his paintings. These
were very misty, lost things mysterious and lost. Very poetic.
"A Syrian brought him to see me can't even remember his
name. Kahlil always said I was his first friend in New York. We became
very, very great friends, and all of his books The Madman, The
Forerunner, The Son of Man, The Prophet I heard in manuscript. He
always gave me his books. I liked The Prophet best. I don't believe
that there was any connection between 'Abdu'l- Bahá and The
Prophet. But he told me that when he wrote The Son of Man he
thought of the 'Abdu'l-Bahá all through. He said that he was going
to write another book with 'Abdu'l- Bahá as the center and all the
contemporaries of 'Abdu'l-Bahá speaking. He died before he wrote
it. He told me definitely that The Son of Man was influenced by
"He wrote his books in the studio across the street. Then he
would call me up and say come over and hear a chapter.
"He was from an old Syrian family. His grandfather was one
of the Bishops. I think he always remained a Greek Christian.
"I've seen Armenians and Syrians kiss his hand and call him
Master. It was very bad for Kahlil. He had hundreds of followers. He kept
that place closed to all except his intimate friends and his work.
"He was in love with a friend of mine but he just loved
me, and I loved him but it wasn't that kind of love. He just wasn't a
lover. He wasn't that kind of a man.
"He had a high, delicate voice and an almost shyly modest
manner, until he came out with something thundering. I don't know how to
describe him except to say he was the spitting image of Charlie Chaplin. I
used to tell him so. It made him frightfully mad.
"How Gibran got in touch with the Bahá'í
Cause: I'll just frankly tell you the story, just as it was. I hastened to
tell him; he listened. He got hold of some of the Arabic of
Bahá'u'lláh. He said was the most stupendous literature that
ever was written, and that He even coined words. That there was no Arabic
that even touched the Arabic of Bahá'u'lláh.
"And then Kahlil, "The Master," got a following. He told me
that he belonged to the Illuminati in Persian. He would rise up and say,
What do we need a Manifestation of God for? Each one of us can come into
direct contact with God. I am in direct contact with God.
"I wouldn't say anything. I'd just let him talk.
"He wore American business clothes. Had lots of black hair,
"Time passed. I told him the Master was coming. He asked me
if I would request the Master to sit for him. The Master gave him one hour
at 6:30 one morning. He made an outstanding head. It doesn't look like the
Master very faint likeness. Great power through the shoulders. A
great radiance in the face. It's not a portrait of the Master but it's the
work of a great artist. I do consider him a great artist. 2
"He was very modest and retiring in his personal life. He'd
never met the Master before, and that began his friendship. He simply
adored the Master. He was with Him whenever he could be. He would come
over here to this house (48 West 10th) to see the Master. In Boston, he
was often with the Master. All that's sort of blurred because it's so long
ago. He told me two stories that I thought priceless: One day when he was
driving with the Master in Boston, 'Abdu'l-Bahá said: 'why do they
build their houses with flat roofs?' Kahlil didn't answer for a moment,
and then the Master answered Himself: 'Because they themselves are
domeless.' Another time he was with the Master when two women came in.
They were women of fashion, and they asked trifling questions. One of them
wanted to know whether she was going to be married again. The Master was
pacing the floor. Drawing in His breath, expelling it, His eyes turning
from side to side. When they left, 'Gilded dirt!' He said.
"The Master went away and Kahlil settled down into writing
his books. But he often talked of Him, most sympathetically and most
lovingly. But the only thing was, he couldn't accept an intermediary for
himself. He wanted his direct contact. 3
"Then one night, years afterward, the Master's motion
picture was going to be shown at the Bahá'í Center.... He
sat beside me on the front row and he saw the Master come to life again
for him in that picture. And he began to sob. We had asked him to speak a
few words that night. When the time came for him to speak, he controlled
himself and jumped up on the platform and then, my dear, still weeping
before us all he said : 'I declare that 'Abdu'l-Bahá is the
Manifestation of God for this day!' Of course he got it wrong but....
4 He was weeping and he didn't say anything
more. He got down and he sat beside me, and he kept on sobbing and sobbing
and sobbing. Seeing the picture it brought it all back. He took my
two hands and said, 'You have opened for me a door tonight.' Then he fled
"I never heard anything about it again. He never referred to
"Poor Kahlil! The end isn't so good. I was away. When I came
back he was very sick. He asked me if I wouldn't come every day to see
him. He was in bed. These were his last days. I want to give you all I can
while I can. He would pour out the story of his life. So much of it was
"He told me: 'When snow begins to fall it always wakes me
up. One time at three in the morning I decided I'd like to go out and walk
in the snow and get my thoughts together. So I went up to Central Park. I
was walking with a little notebook in my hand. I was finishing The
Earth Gods (an early book but his last). I was writing in my notebook
in the snow. A big policeman came along.'
"'Writing? Are you an Englishman?'
"'Are you a Frenchman?'
"'What are you?'
"'Oh. Know anything about that Syrian think his name is Kayleel
Guibran fellow who writes books?'
"'Well, since he came into the life of our home
there's never been any peace in it. I used to have a good wife. Now she
don't do nuthin all day long but read that Kayleel Guibran....'
"Those last days he just wept and wept and wept. His head on my shoulder.
He never said he was dying. He never said a word. Except that one thing:
'I want to give you all I can while I can. So come every day.' His
followers stayed with him. He's quite a cult. Buried in Boston.
"Large, tragic brown eyes. The eye was very important in his face. His
forehead was broad very high very broad, and he had almost a
shock of black hair. Short, slender, five foot two or three. Very
sensitive mouth drooped a little at the corners. Very sad man who had a
reason for it. Little black moustache, like Charlie Chaplin.
1. For more data on the life
of Gibran see recent publications.
2. Barbara Young, in This
Man from Lebanon: A Study of Kahlil Gibran (New York: Knopf, 1945), p.
68, has written: "In his later years he liked to talk about the years in
Paris and the early years in New York, of his first studio, which he
called 'my little cage' and then the spacious one, higher up in the
building, a great room where he felt a new freedom, where he said, 'I can
spread my wings.'
"It was in this studio that the drawing was made of the
revered 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1912. The saintly man had indicated that
seven in the morning was the hour at which we would consent to sit for his
portrait. Telling about it, Gibran said 'I remained awake all night, for I
knew I should never have an eye or a hand to work with if I took my
3. The Bahá'í
teaching, like the Christian is that the Manifestation of God is the way
to God. Jesus said, "I am the door...." (John 10:7).
and the Báb are the two Manifestations of God for today.
'Abdu'l-Bahá is the Exemplar and Interpreter of the