The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Documents associated with: Weir, Robert Walter
Record 1 of 9

System Number: 06416
Date: 29 and 31 July [1852[1]]
Author: Anna Matilda Whistler[2]
Place: Scarsdale
Recipient: JW
Place: West Point[3]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler W411
Document Type: ALS


Thursday p - m July 29th

How shall I concentrate my thoughts of my dear Jemie[4] to induce him to read them & reply? A most thrilling dread of calamity in the Bartlett family[5] he may calm by prompt report of their uninterrupted happiness, if the newspaper rumor in the detail of destruction of life in the burning of the N R Steamer Henry Clay[6] be averted from the circle of our valued friends. But until I hear from West Point I shall have a heavier heart than usual. Perhaps Jamies tent mate who often resorts to the library for reading will be so ready to do good as to devote a half hours leisure to the widowed mother at Scarsdale cottage, who longs to hear from her own cadet, & who is so alarmed by the sad tidings of yesterday's calamity that "the wife[7] of Proff Bartlett is among the victims in the destruction of the N River steamer, Oh that it may be contradicted for her husbands sake! for her children! their loss of such a mother would be irreparible [sic], but for herself we should have no fears even tho the gate to eternal life were thro fire she was clad in the whole armour of God & would not be consumed[8].

I was intending to write dear Mrs Bartlett last week to try to induce her coming to my quiet cottage, she had seemed exhausted by the warm weather at W Point, while here we have perpetual breezes. When I hear persons [p. 2] complain of the desertion of the city because of the heat & dust, I wish my friends to come to this retreat. My first guests will be Eliza & Mr Flagg[9], to arrive at tea time Saturday. I spent tuesday with them at N Haven & invited them to pass a week here on their return route to Norwich, the baby was christened Wm MacNeill[10] to be called by the family name - its Gt Grandmama Cammann[11], its Godmother, he is really a remarkably fine infant, I hoped they might have come today & had prepared sweet curd & cream[12] for this evenings meal, but a note came instead to decide for Saturday.

I met George[13] in the train each way on tuesday, he had been out from four o'clock in the morning, it is not right to let business absorb all our time. George is anxious about the baby's[14] health, but I urged him to bring him to the cottage, knowing as Jemie has tested - the benefit in change of air tho the Doctor at Georgetown thinks baby is too delicate for the journey. George will go on for them & by the blessing of God I trust he will not be sorry to have preferred my judgement. George will if possible set out on Saturday for Balt, & Georgetown, & by early next week return to the cottage with the precious cargo. so I shall not feel so desolate as I did last evening! Willie[15] is either studying at home or [p. 3] in Mr Olssens[16] study all day, & when released he of course joins Lou Popham[17] in farm wagon drives down to the sea beach &c for the mutual gratification of a band of nymphs, whose grace is unfettered by fashion. They are told that his brother will spend his furlough in their favored circle next summer if! Oh life is so uncertain! we must not plan for next year. The only safe resolve is that all your competitions in the race for an immortal crown be diligent. If you have dear Jemie taken that little neglected vol[18] out of its case, it has all the rules you need for success, for it directs you to be subject to those who have lawful authority, & to redeem time & occupy talents in a word to keep Gods holy commandments, seeking to honor Christ before men for without the divine blessing, you will lose all present & eternal joys. I hope you attend the chapel of the Holy Innocents[19] & that you will regularly. Then probably your demerits will lessen for I know Jemie dear you will not be inconsistent. George deplores that you stand so low on the list[20]! indeed Jemie you are mortifying all of us. Willie is coming into order & so I trust will you dear, When your brother goes to spend a day or two with you I shall not neglect your wishes, for choosing materials[21] &c. I'll refer to your letter to have all right. I made the lemon cheese cake to have ready for an app[22] to you, hosiery &c I shall not forget, And now I must rest a while before tea.

[p. 4] Saturday morning 31st

Watchman[23] how speeds time with you? This the last day of another month what record does it bear to the judgment seat of Christ of talents for which you must give an account! Jemie dear these thoughts are solemnly impressed on my mind & I pray when none may speak to you on guard you will listen to the "still small voice[24]" now in mercy whispering entreaties to you, but in eternity to utter judgement & justice. Oh Jemie be happy by choosing the people of God for your friends. "A man is known by his friends[25]" be decided, to redeem your time & then all will go smoothly on. Willie is finishing a letter to Phila[delphia] to take down with mine before 9 oclock this delicious morning, how we talk of Jemie enjoying our sweet cottage next summer! perhaps Sis[26] will be here to make you feel your diligince [sic] rewarded, you surely will not let sloth & indifference prevent your seeing the Words Fair in N York[27] with us! I'll send you some remarks in our last paper upon it to shew you it is really to be. If we are well we shall go! but I could not be induced except to share my cadets delight in works of art. I hope you will await for Mr Wiers[28] wish for you to go without a further invitation to his studio, you would have appreciated such a privilige [sic] in Europe & I beg you to go often, he told me how much he wanted such a sympathiser as you & he has some fine subjects[29]. In pity to me write without delay of Mrs Bartlett I love her as a sister it made me faint when Willie read[30] the details of the loss of the steamer in yesterdays paper! Oh if Capts & Pilots would fear God they would not dare risk life. I have only room to beg you at once to write your fond & anxious Mother


Remember me to Mr Childes[31] very particularly, I hope to see him in my house. I expect Mr Flagg to bring Eliza this evening to spend some days here. I wish you could see how sweet & elegant the tout ensemble of my home!

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1.  1852
Dated with reference to the loss of the steamer Henry Clay on 28 July 1852 (see below).

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

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

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

5.  Bartlett
The family of Professor William Holmes Chambers Bartlett (1804-1893), mathematician [more].

6.  N R Steamer Henry Clay
Steamer Henry Clay (owned by Thomas Collyer), was burned on 28 July 1852, when on a race with the steamer Armenia (owned by Isaac Smith), in the Hudson River, resulting to the death of 80 people. See Carl Carmer, The Hudson, London, 1951, pp. 280-292.

7.  the wife
Harriet Bartlett, née Whitehorne, wife of Prof. W. H. C. Bartlett. The name 'Emily Bartlett' appeared in the list of dead published in the New York Daily Times, New York, 31 July 1852, vol. 1. Emily was the wife of Prof. Bartlett, of the Collegiate Institute, Poughkeepsie, and not the wife of Prof. William H. C. Bartlett of West Point.

8.  gate to eternal life were thro fire she was clad in the whole armour of God & would not be consumed
AMW is thinking of several biblical references to 'eternal life' in, for example, Mark, Mathew, Luke, John, Romans, Timothy, Titus, Jude; and 'Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil' Eph. 6.11.

9.  Eliza & Mr Flagg
Eliza Flagg (1830-1855), née McNeill, and her husband Rev. Edward Octavius Flagg (1824-1911).

10.  Wm MacNeill
William McNeill Flagg (b. 1852), son of E. and Rev. E. O. Flagg.

11.  Gt Grandmama Cammann
Maria Margaretta Cammann ('Grandma C') (1774-1862), mother-in-law of William Gibbs McNeill [more].

12.  sweet curd & cream
'Sweet curd' cottage cheese, has a rather mild (sometimes bland) flavor because the curds are washed to remove most of the cheese's natural acidity.

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

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

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

16.  Mr Olssens
Rev. William Whittinghame Olssen (1827-1911), Rector at Scarsdale, NY [more].

17.  Lou Popham
Lewis ('Lew') Charles Popham (1833-1899), son of E. C. and W. S. Popham.

18.  neglected vol
There are several relevant references to 'lawful authority' in, for example, Ephesians, Galatians, Hebrew, and Proverbs; and 'And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.' Col. 3.17.

19.  chapel of the Holy Innocents
Church of the Holy Innocents, 112 Main Street, Highland Falls, NY; it was built ca 1846.

20.  low on the list
Cadets at the Academy were expected to compete for higher rank, based solely on their academic standing and demerits. The principle of pure competition, the fighting for higher standing and rank, permeated every aspect of Academy life. The difficulty and the thoroughness of the curriculum added to the keenness of the competition. JW did not conform to the academy's mold, and was finally discharged in June 1854 for deficiency in chemistry. See Stephen E. Ambrose, Duty, Honor, Country: A History of West Point, Baltimore, 1966, pp. 131-156; Gordon H. Fleming, The Young Whistler 1834-66, London, 1978, pp. 104-106.

21.  materials
Probably materials for the drawing class.

22.  app
Probably apport, an 'offering' or something produced out of nowhere.

23.  Watchman
Probably Christian Watchman, Boston, 1819-1850s.

24.  still small voice
'But the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?' I Kings 19.12-13.

25.  A man is known by his friends
Proverb quoted in Miguel de Saavedra Cervantes, Don Quixote, 1605-15, first translated into English in 1612. First cited in the USA in Journal of Proceedings in Georgia, 1737.

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

27.  Words Fair in N York
The first World Fair in the USA, which took place in New York in 1853.

28.  Mr Wiers
Robert Walter Weir (1803-1889), artist and art teacher at USMA, West Point [more]. He taught JW art, and held him in high esteem; see Elizabeth Robins Pennell & Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, Philadelphia, 1908, p. 31.

29.  some fine subjects
Robert W. Weir was a painter of portraits, landscapes, and historical works; see Gordon H. Fleming, The Young Whistler 1834-66, London, 1978, pp. 95-98, 105, 106.

30.  read
'read ... A M W' continues in the left margin of p. 1; 'Remember ... house' continues in the right margin of p. 1; 'I ... here' continues in the left margin of p. 2; 'I ... home' continues in the left margin of p. 2.

31.  Mr Childes
Frederick Lynn Childs (ca 1831 - d.1894), room-mate of JW at USMA, West Point [more].