The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 06412
Date: 3 March 1852
Author: Anna Matilda Whistler[1]
Place: Pomfret
Recipient: JW
Place: West Point[2]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler W407
Document Type: ALS


March 3rd 1852.

My own dear James[3],

If Grandmother[4] had not been so very sick, for a week now confined to her bed - I should have written you, I think of my absent ones at all times, but most especially when family sorrows make it natural we should wish to be together, I wish daily now poor brother George[5] home might be under my roof; for he needs domestic comforts. This morning fulfills a week since the Angel of his bosom was received into heavenly mansions, dear Mary[6] suffered exceedingly & patiently without murmuring! and at the approach of death was calm, for she had lived prepared to die! every world & action showed that she sought the honor of our Lord & Master Jesus Christ. You would miss this gentle Sister sadly were you to go to N Haven now dear Jemie. she loved you & was kind to you, let her from the grave speak to you & advise you early to make your choice as to whom you will serve, the world, or God? it is so easy if we in youth decide to follow Christ, so difficult if we yeild [sic] to sensual pleasures first! think how lovely she was in appearance but often the most attractive are selected by death, as our family circle proves. I see the mercy of God that He has taken those from among us first who [p. 2] were most assimilated to Jesus! 'The little ones' of such is the Kingdom of heaven[7], those whose light (as your dear father[8] & now dear Mary) shone more & more, their aim was high, even above all earthly principalities[9], their principle to honor & serve God, and to do good to men. May our term spared for repentance be devoted to our duty, but we must not neglect the means of grace, prayer, study of the bible, if we cannot learn more than one verse a day, it is you know the bread of life, manna in the wilderness[10]! I know dear Jemie this world does not look like an unsatisfying portion to you but neither did it to George, & your experience will be as mine & as your brothers, you will find religion not gloomy my dear Son & health & youth the most favorable for lasting good impressions, dont you remember how difficult you found it to pray in your last illness at Dom Ritter[11]? say now while all your faculties are restored 'Not on a prayerless bed I'll lay my weary head, for they alone are blessed whom Angels keep[12]' and let not your bible any longer be shut up in its case! If the Cadets discover that you try to devote part at least of the Sabbath to the study for Eternity they will respect you for it & [p. 3] as gentlemen if not Christians, they will not intrude upon your private hours. Remember while you are preparing for the June Examination, to prepare for death & judgement, one is certain, the other not and take my experience dear James, our heavenly Father is a loving one, His service is a cheerful one, and the world is deceitful, you will be a slave if you enter the wide gate[13]. And now you ought to decide.

I have not ventured to tell Grandmother of Marys death, she is too feeble yet, I have thought some nights she would never rally again, but today the doctor speaks encouragingly of her recovery, tho she may not be able to reach the corner house[14] before the end of this month, instead of this week as she had hoped! Willie[15] may then if God so order it, see Doctor Park, Sam & Mason[16] on board of the Arctic[17], the 20th is the day of its sailing, he is using up his leisure hours upon a leather frame as a parting gift to Mrs Bowers, her daughters[18] have given each of us some of their neat handy work, and we ought not to appear indifferent. Anna embarked for N Orleans last Saturday with her brother Perry & his wife[19], we passed that night awake because of the storm that raged; if the gallant ships weather such a gale, Anna must at least have been sea sick, which was not in her calculations! Willie drove up to the school house this morning with Lloyd[20] for their books. Messrs Sessions, Burton & Morris[21] occupied the scene of your pranks, helping Doctor P pack his apparatus &c. The Rectory is only a place for packing boxes now, it [p. 4] will be vacant on Friday, when the good Rector bids adieu to his wife & children[22] for his Summer tour, he goes first to Washington, Sam & Mason[23] are to meet him in N Y on Monday to visit our Metropolis. I must not forget to enclose you the love of Aunt Alicia[24] & also of Mrs Sandland[25], having just recd their letters and they are so interested in you and Willie, I shall write Sis[26] today, at my post in this sick room, to be in time for next Saturdays Steamer. Offer my love to all at Mr Bartletts[27], they will be sorry to hear of my fresh afflictions - at a time too when my own health is impaired, but I know that the purposes of God are all of Mercy, I kiss the rod[28], & pray we may all feel how much we need these warnings, that we may try[29] to be also ready for death - Winter has not let go his hold upon March, deep snows carpet these hills nailed fast by ice, but today the sun has influence & by the end of the month, the roads & weather may be favorable for my removal. Write me if you love your Mother to cheer her with good news of yourself. God bless you my dear dear James. I wish to make you happy


Mary B is always talking of Master James and pleased you do not forget her

Willie is attending Mr Spaldings[30] school Examinations, or would unite in sending you love with me.

How gratified I should be by your writing George a few lines! he has returned to his office in N Haven. The baby[31] was well & in Balt [i.e. Baltimore] of course. Jemie! go to your desk & write without delay your sympathy to poor George, he writes me how desolate he feels!

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1.  Anna Matilda Whistler
Anna Matilda Whistler (1804-1881), née McNeill, JW's mother [more].

2.  West Point
United States Military Academy, West Point, NY, opened in 1802; see AMW to JW, 10 June 1851, #06396.

3.  James
James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), artist [more].

4.  Grandmother
Martha McNeill (1775-1852), née Kingsley, mother of AMW [more]; she died on 7 April 1852.

5.  brother Georges
George William Whistler (1822-1869), engineer, JW's half-brother [more].

6.  Mary
Mary Ann Whistler (ca 1826 - d.1852), née Ducatel, JW's sister-in-law [more]; she died on 25 February 1852.

7.  dear father
George Washington Whistler (1800-1849), engineer, JW's father [more].

8.  'The little ones' of such is the Kingdom of heaven
'Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.' Matt. 18.4-6.

9.  earthly principalities
This phrase may be derived from 'For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him,' Col. 1.16.

10.  manna in the wilderness
'And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat,' Exod. 16.15.

11.  last illness at Dom Ritter
JW's last illness in St Petersburg was pneumonia, and occurred in the Spring of 1848. As a result JW moved to Portishead, England, in the summer of the same year. See AMW to GWW, 8 June 1848, #06358, and AMW to JW, 9 September 1848, #06359. Dom Ritter was AMW's residence in St Petersburg, situated across the river from the Academy of Fine Arts.

12.  Not on a prayerless bed I'll lay my weary head, for they alone are blessed whom Angels keep
'Not on a Prayerless Bed,' Margaret Mercer, published later in The Ladies' Repository: A Monthly Periodical, Devoted to Literature, Arts, and Religion, Cincinnati, 1872, vol. 10, p. 98.

13.  wide gate
'Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat,' Matt. 7.13.

14.  corner house
The house owned by Dr George E. Palmer (d. ca. 1867/1868), husband of Catherine ('Kate') Palmer, built in 1787, situated in the corner of Main and Wall Streets at Stonington, CT.

15.  Willie
William McNeill Whistler (1836-1900), physician, JW's brother [more].

16.  Doctor Park, Sam & Mason
Rev. Roswell Park (1807-1869), minister of the Protestant Episcopal Church, Principal of Christ Church School [more], and his pupils Sam Hammond (b. 1835) and Mason Hammond.

17.  Arctic
Steamer Arctic (1850), Collins Line (2,856 tons.). It was one of the four steamships built for the New York and Liverpool United States Mail Steamship Company, better known as Collins Line. One passenger described the ship as having an air of almost Oriental magnificence. The ship was known as the 'Clipper of the Seas.' It sank on September 1854, leaving only 85 survivors out of about 350 people. See Lincoln P. Paine, Ships of the World, Boston, 1997, pp. 31-32; see AMW to Deborah Delano Haden, 10 Decemberm 1855, #06470.

18.  Mrs Bowers, her daughters
Betsey Bowers (1796-1896), wife of Captain P. Bowers, Sr [more], and her daughters, Anna and Ellen Augusta Bowers (1834-1890).

19.  brother Perry & his wife
Captain Perry R. Bowers, Jr (b. 1821), of Pomfret, CT [more], and his wife ('Netty') of Pomfret, CT.

20.  Lloyd
Lloyd Henry Bowers (1836-1886), son of Captain P. Bowers, Sr [more].

21.  Sessions, Burton & Morris
Eliakin Sessions (b. 1795), and Olney Burton (1810-1887), of Pomfret, CT. Mr Morris; unidentified.

22.  his wife & children
Mary Park (1815-1854), née Brewster Baldwin, wife of Rev. R. Park [more], and her children Roswald, Nelly (1848-1855), and Mary Park (b. 1839).

23.  Sam & Mason
Sam Hammond (b. 1835), and Mason Hammond, fellow-students of JW at Pomfret, CT.

24.  Aunt Alicia
Alicia Margaret Caroline McNeill (1786-1863), JW's aunt [more]; she lived in Scotland, UK.

25.  Mrs Sandland
Betsey Sandland of Liverpool, friend of AMW.

26.  Sis
Deborah ('Debo' or 'Sis') Delano Haden (1825-1908), née Whistler, JW's half-sister [more].

27.  Mr Bartletts
Professor William Holmes Chambers Bartlett (1804-1893), mathematician [more].

28.  I kiss the rod
The meaning of death seen in connection with a rod is reflected in: 'Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me,' Ps. 23.4. Brewer defines its meaning in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, revised edition by Ivor H. Evans, London, 1981, p. 957, 'to Kiss the Rod' to submit to punishment or misfortune meekly and without murmuring.

29.  try
'try ... A M W' continues in the left margin of p. 1; 'Mary B ... her' continues in the right margin of p.1; 'Willie ... me' added in the left margin of p. 2; 'How ... he has' continues in the right margin of p. 2; 'returned ... course' continues in the right margin of p. 3; 'Jemie ... feels' continues on p. 4.

30.  Mr Spaldings
Spalding, a school teacher.

31.  The baby
George ('Georgie') Worthen Whistler (b. 1851), JW's nephew [more].