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Abstract:
Thompson's recollections of Gibran.

Juliet Remembers Gibran:
As told to Marzieh Gail

by Juliet Thompson

published in World Order, 12:4, pages 29-31
1978
    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 junior.

    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.    

    Marzieh Gail
"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 His health 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 soon.

    "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 'Abdu'l-Bahá.

    "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, wavy.

    "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 the hall.

    "I never heard anything about it again. He never referred to it again.

    "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 evaporated.

    "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.'

    "'Whatcha doin'?'
    "'Writing.'
    "'Writing? Are you an Englishman?'
    "'No.'
    "'Are you a Frenchman?'
    "'No.'
    "'What are you?'
    "'A Syrian.'
    "'Oh. Know anything about that Syrian — think his name is Kayleel Guibran — fellow who writes books?'
    '"I think so.'
    "'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.

Footnotes

        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 sleep.'"

        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).

        4. Bahá'u'lláh and the Báb are the two Manifestations of God for today. 'Abdu'l-Bahá is the Exemplar and Interpreter of the Bahá'í Faith.

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