To Blodwen Davies, Toronto, Ont., c/o Toronto Daily Star
Dear Miss Davies:
I see by the Toronto Star of the 31st, you are at work on a memoir of Tom Thomson. I have been looking for something of the kind for some time and hope to be able to secure a copy of it when it is published. Tom and I were raised within two miles of each other. He a mile south of Leith and I mile north. We went to school together for about 8 years, from 1882 or ’83 until 1890, and my brother Dave Ross, or “D.M.” as every one called him in later years, who was 3 years my junior and died April 1st while in his 51st year at Swan River, Man., was Tom’s inseparable companion. At Leith school, wherever you found Tom, Dave was always with him or within hailing distance, and if he were living would be the person above all others to whom you could apply for a succinct and truthful narrative of Tom’s earlier years.
Tom and I last saw each other in October, 1910, when I was home from the Southwest (Oklahoma) on a visit and he was up at Owen Sound from Toronto on the same kind of business. I was in Dubuque, Iowa, when he was drowned and will always remember what a profound shock the news gave me. I think that with the exception of his brother Ralph, of Seattle, Wash, he was the most generous and open-hearted man it has ever been my fortune to know. However, he had strange antipathies, and the few people he did dislike he hated most cordially; he was not at all diplomatic in concealing it either. I never dreamed while back in the days we used to be together that he would one day be famous - and what a pity it is that he is not living to enjoy his fame! Posthumous honors are rather empty things after all. I have been with him on several occasions when I am now sorry to say that neither of us was very sober, but it is in such times men exchange real confidences and it was on one such occasion that I discovered how deeply sensitive he was and how he resented anything like public ridicule. (I think it was Charles II who said of one of his courtiers that he had tried him drunk and tried him sober but could make nothing of him.) As for myself, I always seemed to get more secretive the drunker I became, but Tom was different. I remember one night in 1901, in Meaford, when he unbosomed himself, lamenting his lack of success in life in terms that rather astonished me. I began to think then that he realized his powers and that he also had secret ambitions. But one never knows.
He was not particularly bright at school, neither was he dull at all, just an average pupil. He used to make me pen and ink sketches of famous authors, statesmen, soldiers, etc. which I only wish I had preserved. They had the true Thomson touch. I used to write amateur poetry which I suppose was no more atrocious than that of others of my kind and on several occasions we collaborated, he taking the illustrating end, and the finished product must sometimes have been a fearful and wonderful thing. One of them, the Battle of Dargai Hill, hung for years in Leith school, if memory serves correctly. Long years afterward my sister collared it and wrote me asking permission to keep it. I answered yes, but to store it somewhere where nobody would ever see it. That was before Tom's death, I think.
I remember well, too, one occasion in October of 1898 when Tom and I both had the narrowest possible escape of drowning. It was at Vail's Point, during the trout trolling season there, and for about an hour our lives were not worth five minutes purchase - but it is a long story. The fishermen ashore told us when we arrived there at last that they never expected to see us alive again. That, and one other occasion when I was struck by an auto on Michigan Ave. Chicago just after coming out from a long seance in the Art Gallery, were the only two occasions when I faced death at close quarters. About 50 yards from shore, at the time of the first event, our boat swung into the trough and over we went, lines, oars, lunch basket, fish, fishing tackle - everything - all rolled up on the beach on the big combers that were sweeping in, while we were wading to dry footing up to our waists in water. My brother Dave and two others were there waiting for us and they received us as though we were returned from the dead. We had pulled for about 4 miles through one of the worst blows I ever saw on Georgian Bay, in an 18 foot skiff, and I noticed at the time that Tom, who was rowing in the bow, never once spoke. He never would speak about such things, even afterwards, but I have always noticed that that kind do the most serious thinking.
Was his end accidental or premeditated? I have heard it debated by his friends until they were simply exhausted. Anything said on the subject will be regarded as confidential. None of his brothers, George, Henry, Ralph and Fraser were extraordinary readers, and I never remember seeing Tom with his nose between the pages of a book. But more than all the others Tom had what is vulgarly known as the artistic temperament, and one can never tell what that kind will do.
The constant reviving of old memories is a pretty sure sign of advancing age. It is something like introspection, it does not pay, and is apt to make one morbid. But the memory of Tom will always remain a precious thing with me and it is my fervent wish that your memoir, when it appears, may carry with it all the success you desire and be worthy of the man who inspired it. Correct the grammatical other errors as you read; this has been written in a hurry.
I am yours Sincerely,
Alan H. Ross, A.H.R.
(LAC, MG30 D38 'Blodwen Davies fonds', Vol. 11)