The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Documents associated with: Palmer, Emma Woodbridge
Record 7 of 15

System Number: 06441
Date: 27 [April[1]] 1854
Author: Anna Matilda Whistler[2]
Place: Stonington
Recipient: JW
Place: West Point[3]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler W436
Document Type: ALS


Thursday afternoon 27th1854

It is an indulgence to me to come up to my snug little Attic to write to either of my own precious boys.

Yesterday I answered dear Willies[4] - now enclosed to you dear Jemie[5], it has cheered my heart, for his last before it required my reproof at his murmurings. I told him he had run his head into a noose & to be restive wd. [i.e. would] only bring him a tighter rein, for he was very rebellious because George[6] had told him he could not come north again this year. I bade him earn a holiday to spend with me! ah Jemie I could not bring my heart to this tone of severity, until weeping had believed it, & prayer calmed my wounded spirit. I have not heard from George since the first week in April, then he expected to have spent Good Friday[7] with you, but Miss Julia[8] was in the city & we see by Wills letter, he must have gone with her to Balt[imore], tho he wrote me he should be too busy in N Y to leave it this month. I am so pleased that your flannels were in time to shield you from the storm & that you approved of my selection, the white, so soft & thin are for Summer, you know dear Jemie, your good Doct C[9] said you might never go without. I wonder if you ever think now of your last spring[10] - on the sick list - and of that Cadet you interested me in so much, who was in the room next to yours at the hospital? he taken! you spared, to acquaint yourself with God before entering on eternity. And soon it will be the anniversary of the Norwalk disaster[11]! which George was so appalled by. And he was exposed to sudden death! You who cheer me by your presenting me the bright side of your experience may think "Mother is not doing as she'd be done by" but indeed my dear Soldier, I do look above the "clouds & darkness around[12]" & above the mercy which time after [p. 2] time has been exercised towards us, I only wish you not to abuse it. I suppose you will be if your health admits, very devoted to your preparation for the June Examination. I must not tax your time, or divert your attention, but hope it may not retard you, to write me once more. When I know more of my prospect of visiting Balt, you shall have a directed envelope to hail my welcome at Mr Perines datcha[13]. I hope Mrs Winans[14] may not fancy the change in my position has induced me to prefer the hospitality of another roof to hers. I promised these friends of Anna McNeill when I spent a day with them last Oct, that my next visit to Maryland should be to them, I had not been among them since Debo[15] was my little one, they had not in all these years lost interest in us! Mr P remarked that too much sorrow was revived by my return for a day merely! And Mrs P, an invalid but so warm hearted depends upon my staying long enough to talk freely. To draw Willie into this family circle will be accomplishing a very important object of my going. I certainly shall feel it an effort to be among the Winans[16], tho of course I must not appear to have made a convenience of Alexandroffsky Villa[17]. Most grateful was I last May for their welcome to their hospitality, & never can I forget my emotion as I saw my Willie just from St James[18]! coming to meet me there! But we can only be together by snatches, except on the blessed day when the shop[19] is closed! I told Mary B[20] yesterday when she was so disconsolate, I should take her with me, but her indignation is so great! she fears to meet any linked with our breaking up. Emma[21] has been brides maid at Norwich, Aunt Kate[22] intends to keep a wee box of dreaming cake[23] to send our Cadet! I rather think you'll secure the dream by making a bonne [p. 3] bouche[24] of it, with your chum. I recd a delightful letter from Cousin Kate[25] yesterday in which she expresses her usual love for my dear boys. Willie is hoped for in Bath as my escort in Augt. Topsy[26] is quite a comfort now. What a contrast to the Eliza who used to make you ask shelter in Mrs Searles "Keeping room[27][.]" You will I fear envy Mr James Prince[28] a voyage to England next month, tho it is by advice of Doctor "Doughdle" as you used to call Dr Green[29], in your one year old attempts.

Sis[30] will be right glad to chat over her youthful term with this son of good old Father Prince[31], but ah if it were her own Jemie what a jubilee there'd be at 62[32]! But I dare say your niece & nephews[33] at first would be disappointed, at such a shadow of Mr Boxalls portrait[34]. Dont despair about your crop when you come out, my fairy wand will soon restore what your artistic taste values. And what for auld lang syne[35] Mother fancies whenever Willie allowed my fingers to pass thro his hair a charm attended it. I cannot express the comfort, tho often gazed at thro tears, of the St P pastile [sic] likenesses of my boys[36]. Your father called it his, so the association is precious to me. yes I often think this, expediency will scarcely deprive me of. tho I hold even the wreck of home by an uncertain tenure. If we are permitted after the June Exam of 55 to be in the same abode long enough I shall get you to clean the glass of this pastile, My friend Miss Margaret[37] writes me of the Bleechers[38] being quite settled at the Cottage, she says, however dear they are, she could not bear to think of any tenant but her old cronie for whom it was built, were it not she hopes I may build a nest in Locust Grove[39] within hearing of each others voices & sight of her room window! All here are very glad to have me & very considerate to make me feel at home, & for the present I thank God that I can make myself useful in a family.

[p. 4] I have most influence in regulating the quartette harmoniously. Georgie & Donie[40] are dear boys. they rise at 5½ as I rap against the wall which divides their little room from mine. That is more than you would do at sound of your mothers voice, but I do not like to be later than I know you & Willie have to be up at the call of the duty. You must write me of your old Uncle the Col.[41] & tell him if I had had a home I should have way laid him too. I wrote him when I first returned - a widow! but I attribute not his silence to want of sympathy - just the contrary - And now it is near tea time, that is part of my duty to make it & pour it out. 5½ is the hour, so you can think of the tea table chat then & kind Uncle Palmer[42] hoped my boys might both be added to his hospitable board this Sumr. till I explained to him, your sick leave had swallowed up all other furloughs. All here including Mary join me in love & thanks for "the stolen" treats your pen sends[43] your loving Mother


Remember my regards at the Bartletts[44]. I was glad to think of your going there, Continue to improve this old friendship, a part of your inheritance. The weather has cleared up & I can speak above my whisper again.

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1.  April
Dated with reference to the Perpetual Calendar Whitaker's Almanac, and the anniversary of the Norwalk disaster on 6 May 1853 (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.  Willies
William McNeill Whistler (1836-1900), physician, JW's brother [more].

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

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

7.  Good Friday
14 April 1854.

8.  Miss Julia
Julia de Kay Whistler (1825-1875), née Winans, JW's sister-in-law [more].

9.  Doct C
Dr George Philip Cammann (1804-1863), physician [more].

10.  your last spring
In May 1853 JW suffered from an attack of rheumatism; see Robert Edward Lee's letter to AMW, 20 May 1853, #12608.

11.  Norwalk disaster
A fatal accident which took place at the Norwalk Bridge, at South Norwalk, CT. The Norwalk bridge was a wooden span which pivoted on a central pier to create two 60-foot openings for the passage of ships. At 10.15 on the morning of 6 May 1853, Captain Byxbie of the steamboat Pacific whistled for passage through the draw at South Norwalk. The bridge tender listened to make sure he heard no train coming from either direction and then opened the bridge to admit the Pacific. The bridge tender was just preparing to close the span after the vessel had passed through, and he was horrified to see the express train from New York to Boston sweep around the curve at an estimated speed of 25 mph and, with no more than a last minute effort to check its momentum, plunge into the stream. This train was the only one on the line not scheduled to stop at Norwalk. Most of the 40 victims perished by drowning. Some managed to save themselves by jumping. Robert B. Shaw, A History of Railroad Accidents, Safety Precautions and Operating Practices, New York, 1978, pp. 189-190.

12.  clouds & darkness around
'it was a cloud and darkness (to them),' Exod. 14.20; 'with darkness, clouds and thick darkness,' Deut. 4.11; 'Clouds and darkness (are) round about,' Ps. 97.2.

13.  Mr Perines datcha
David Maulden Perine, Sr (1796-1882), merchant [more] and owner of Homeland, a country estate in Baltimore. 'Datcha,' Russ.: country house.

14.  Mrs Winans
Probably, Celeste Winans (1823-1861), née Revillon, wife of Thomas De Kay Winans [more].

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

16.  the Winans
The family of Thomas De Kay Winans (1820-1878), locomotive engineer and collector [more].

17.  Alexandroffsky Villa
'Alexandroffsky' in Baltimore was the villa owned by Thomas De Kay Winans; see AMW to JW, 15, 16 and 18 September 1848, #06363.

18.  St James
St James College was located near Williamsport, Maryland, on the upper reaches of the Potomac River; see AMW to JW, 12 September 1852, #06419.

19.  shop
Winans Locomotive Works in Baltimore owned by Ross Winans (1796-1877), locomotive manufacturer, father of JW's sister-in-law [more]; see AMW to JW, 16 November 1853, #06430; AMW to James H. Gamble, 3 April 1854, #06438.

20.  Mary B
Mary Brennan (b. 1825), AMW's servant [more].

21.  Emma
Emma Woodbridge Palmer (1835-1912), JW's step-cousin [more].

22.  Aunt Kate
Catherine ('Kate') Jane Palmer (ca 1812 - d.1877), née McNeill, AMW's sister [more].

23.  dreaming cake
Derives from the 'groom's cake,' which originated in England. According to legend, any female guest who placed a piece of the groom's cake under her pillow would have dreams about her future husband.

24.  bonne bouche
Fr.: bonne-bouche, a luscious morsel; a touthsome tit-bit; see AMW to JW, 16 December 1853, #06433.

25.  Cousin Kate
Kate ('Cousin Kate') Livermore (1820-1907), née Prince, wife of A. Livermore [more].

26.  Topsy
Eliza (d. 1856), a servant of Kate Livermore [more]; see AMW to JW 27 August 1851, #06399, and AMW to JW, 16 September 1851, #06400.

27.  Mrs Searles Keeping room
Mrs Searles, AMW's neighbour at Pomfret, CT. In the 17th and 18th centuries, 'keeping room' was another term for 'Sitting room' descendent of the great hall of medieval Europe, where a large open space held the cooking fire, dining tables, seating for conversation, and plentiful space for jostling and entertainment. In the 19th century the multi-functioned character of the 'keeping room' changed, resulting to the creation of separate spaces such as Kitchen, living room etc. with the exception being perhaps the country farm kitchen, which functioned much like the Colonial keeping room.

28.  Mr James Prince
James Prince, son of J. D. Prince.

29.  Dr Green
Dr John O. Green, physician, of Lowell, MA; see 1836 Supplement to Lowell, Massachusetts Directory, Boston, p. 75.

30.  Sis
Deborah Delano Haden.

31.  Father Prince
John Dyneley ('Father Prince') Prince, engraver and printer [more].

32.  62
62 Sloane Street, the London residence of Deborah D. Haden.

33.  niece & nephews
Annie Haden (1848-1937), later Mrs Charles Thynne, Francis Seymour Haden (1850-1918), and Arthur Charles Haden (1852-1910), musician; AMW's grandchildren.

34.  Mr Boxalls portrait
William Boxall (1800-1879), portrait painter, Director of the National Gallery [more]. Boxall painted Deborah's portrait in 1851, Portrait of Deborah Delano Haden (z.229), and JW's portrait in 1848, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1849, Portrait of J. Whistler (Z.76). See Eric Denker, In Pursuit of the Butterfly, Seattle, 1995, p. 24; see also AMW to Joseph Harrison, 25 June 1849, #07633, and AMW to JW, 25 November 1851, #06407.

35.  auld lang syne
'Auld Lang Syne' traditional Scottish song, first penned by Robert Burns (1759-1796) in 1788, and first published in 1796.

36.  St P pastile [sic] likenesses of my boys
Émile-François Dessain (1808-1882), painter and printmaker [more] did a pastel drawing of JW and his brother, Portrait of William McNeill Whistler and James McNeill Whistler (z.221); see AMW to Margaret Getfield Hill and Alethea Blanchard Hill, 21 and 22 February 1853, #07640.

37.  Miss Margaret
Margaret Getfield Hill (1802-1881), a friend of AMW, of Scarsdale, NY [more].

38.  Bleechers
The family of L. Bleecher of Scarsdale, NY; see AMW to JW, March 1854, #06436.

39.  Locust Grove
Locust Grove, Scarsdale, NY.

40.  Georgie & Donie
George Erwin Palmer (1843-1909), and Donald McNeill Palmer (b. 1845), JW's cousins.

41.  old Uncle the Col.
Probably Captain William Henry Swift (1800-1879), brother-in-law of JW's father [more].

42.  Uncle Palmer
Dr George E. Palmer (1803-1868), physician, AMW's brother-in-law [more].

43.  sends
'sends ... AMW' continues in the right margin; 'Remember ... inheritance' continues in the left and upper margins of p. 1; 'the ... again' continues in the right margin of p. 3.

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