The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 06357
Date: 8 and 10 June 1847[1]
Author: Anna Matilda Whistler[2]
Place: Steamer Nicolai
Recipient: George Washington Whistler[3]
Place: [St Petersburg]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler W353
Document Type: MsLc[4]

Steamer Nicolai

Tuesday Morning June 8th 1847

Immediately upon dear boys[5] dear father leaving us Saturday night I acted upon his remonstrance "not to forget that I was the head of the party", I hurried myself in arranging for their comfort. Willie was soon lodged snugly in the upper berth, & Jemie not so soon in the lower, & as I could not consent to our faithful Mary[6] lying on the floor as she wished to do. for everything left so damp. I made a complete rib of myself, & after Jemie was asleep crept in by him, obliging him to occupy the sofa. Sunday morning was bright, our dear boys up & drest & on Deck some time before breakfast (at 9 oclock) I discovered thro the remarkable attention bestowed upon a fair little girl & her brother of perhaps four years old them to be the children of my neighbour (the state room next ours being occupied by the Princess Dalgoroukie[7] - they speak English, Mary soon became very friendly with their English nurse, & when I descended again to the privacy of my state room for the study of God's Word & prayers I sent up by Willie some good Little books for the group, tho I doubt not the youngsters were more attracted by some fine books belonging to a very nice German...

Our boys were as sedate as I could have expected on Sunday, James was shocked at the card playing in the round house [p. 2] & said "that is lost time indeed, & listen mother how they lose their tempers! And one is that German Doctor with such a cough they say he is in a consumption" We had all been so disgusted by a Gourmand at dinner, I think the impression will be deep on Jemie who seems determined to do all his dear father would have him to do: His epicure proves to be a Chen 'machiff'[8] I think he owns a beautiful domain with a chapel attached to it on the 12th verst Peterhoff road. We have taken seats at the other table to avoid his remarks on eating.

Although we made no complaint of our close stowing in our state room the attentive steward allotted the corresponding cabin on the side the stair to James & Willie as the state room adjoining ours is appropriated to the Princess' wardrobe; she is such an interesting lady but being a cripple was not on deck yesterday Mary ascertains thro her English nurse her admiration of our boys whose father she knows, as the fame of the order[9] has reached her.

The sea was so rough yesterday we could scarcely any of us weather the deck & tho we made the effort to seat ourselves at breakfast we had to return to our reclining position, each one of us a little sea sick, Willie & James ashamed of such weakness mastered it manfully & were ready for dinner...The fare is abundant but very plain; I have never known [p. 3] our boys with such excellent appetites. Mary say the steward is very attentive to her; she prefers her meals in our state room. Mary is not spoiled dearest. I find her modest humble & trying to anticipate all our wants she rises early even to be in waiting for Willie who is the next eager to be up & will not leave her post till she has attended to us by turns then she puts both our state rooms in order for she cannot approve of men being chamber maids. I thought as I watched our Willie yesterday just after his sea sickness striding about the deck holding the Capts' hand & talking German so eagerly with him, how pleased father would be with his manliness. he is a lovely Combination of gentleness & determination to do what is right; he often comes to me nestling his head fondly upon me, & when I was obliged to go to my berth yesterday little Willie was oftenest as if to ask how do you feel now Mother? I felt as if he were prompted by his dear father whom he is so much like. Dear Jamie had diverted his thoughts from squeamishness by drawing, but at sunset he was seated at my elbow in the round house at our books, we walked the deck together & he listens to my advice as tho he would be governed by it. When I examine my own life, dearest, I am brought to see how much patience I ought to have towards Jemie, & you who are so forbearing to Annies' [p. 4] failing will not be despairing about conquering those of this noble minded boy, for all his faults he inherits from his mother. If Jemie & I could take time to think before we act, or speak how much mortification we should save both you & ourselves and I am sure the care you bestow upon him beginning early & never wearying will not be in vain. I shall hope by Gods blessing to supply his dear father's place during our separation & that you may find him improved in every respect when we are restored to our home. You will be pained to know dearest how severely I have reproached myself upon reflecting on my rudeness in not retaining your Birth day gift, you have forgiven us, but I shall never forgive myself for not thinking in time to have spared myself this remorse, it is one of my false steps which can never be retraced - ah, dearest, old as I am how much I have yet to learn! but I bless God every da[y] of my life for giving me such a husband & tho I often appear restive yet believe me your advice & example are not lost upon your fond wife...

[p. 5] "Staat Hamburg" Lubec[10]

June 10th 1847

I hope my own dearest Whistler you have today received such a delightful report of our darling Debo[11]'s voyage as I did upon our steamers reaching Travimunde[12] at noon, it would cheer you & make you hopeful for us also. How highly favored they were when we were fancying the Naslednich[13] buffeting thro head winds, the Baltic Debo writes me was like a mirror, she does not say she had even her usual share of sea sickness, it was a very short but more - affectionate note, you will be vexed that I did not profit by it in the way intended tho no one could be blamed when the clerk to whom you committed us, had he been as attentive as was the good Capt afterwards we should have been first served with a carriage instead of having to wait at Travimunde an hour for one, When the man with Debo's letter went on board a gentleman took it promising to hand it to me, W Barker[14] who was a fellow passenger had advised me not to be in a hurry as the man would be sure to wait, & I had better wait till the bustle was over, when Jemie whose impatience as usual could scarcely be restrained received my consent to go ashore to look for the driver every conveyance had been secured & we were so chagrined, the pleasant aspect of Travimunde was almost lost upon us tho on our own first approach I had thought what a sweet spot. that where our friend Mr Gellibrand[15] had lodged would be for the little Gwyers[16]? All is well that ends well dearest, the trial to our patience was [p. 6] good for us & I had said to the boys we ought to be too thankful for our prosperous voyage to murmur at delays. I shall never cease to be grateful to the Captain for the exertions he made to get us a carriage, his family live at Travimunde he told us if we had only mentioned to him about our arrangements he could have been the first to step ashore & find the driver, as he knows every one there, he did succeed to get one an hour after our landing & at the same price W Bliss[17] had agreed, so that we reached Lubec by 4 ½. We had taken some refreshments at Travimunde & were provided immediately by your very attentive picture dealer Mr Hukes[18] with a valet de Place[19] who soon took us to the wonderful church[20] which bears the date of three centuries & is indeed a curious & most venerable looking edifice.

When we returned to our hotel we had such a nice tea à la fourchette[21] to meet our excellent appetites since which Willie & Mary have been walking again about this picturesque old town & Jemie visiting for the 3rd time Mr Hukes gallery. I saw enough to satisfy me of the town in driving hither & oh how much we were delighted with the farms & pretty country houses on our way from Travimunde so many flowers in bloom, fields of grain &c. Jemie said he wanted to look at both sides of the road at once! It is only tantalizing to express the wish constantly uppermost dearest that you only could be travelling in our own party! how long the Summer will appear to us before we are restored to each other! then may God grant us a happy [p. 7] reunion. I am so cheered by darling Debo's report of her prospects that I shall keep looking to the bright side of every thing for her, as you will for us all I am sure, for I know it is your wont to hope what you wish. Mr Hukes remembers you well & is most attentive to us; he has engaged a carriage to take us to Hamburg & we must rise at 6 in the morning, so good night my own precious Whistler. I leave this to pray for you & for blessings on our children, you will never sleep without praying for us at the footstool of Mercy. God bless you this night & ever.

Note On the envelope containing these letters is "No 1. June 11th the address (no stamp) George W Whistler Esq. Esquires &c of Moscow & St Petersburg Railroad, St Petersburg"

I know dearest you will think of me in "The Poor Mans Portion[22]" you it was who years ago led me to the study of that valuable work by bringing me a copy of it in your trunk from Philadelphia & now I beg you to appreciate the loan of mine. You will give my annual subscription to the missionary cause I know my own dear Whistler & go to Chapel[23], as I meant [sic] to have done every Sunday ere we meet in prayer daily God bless you


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1.  8 and 10 June 1847
In June 1847, AMW travelled on the steamer Nicolai from St Petersburg to England with her sons and servant, due to JW's bad health. The steamer (592 tons.) was built by H. Murray & Co. for K. Jakouleff, Sergejeff Kroguis & Co.

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

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

4.  MsLc
Written in and unknown hand.

5.  boys
James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), artist [more], and William McNeill Whistler (1836-1900), physician, JW's brother [more].

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

7.  Princess Dalgoroukie
Vera Gavrilovna Vishnevskaja Mihailovich, wife of Prince Dolgoruki [more].

8.  Chen 'machiff'
There were no words in the Russian language of the middle of the 19th century, that bore a resemblance to 'Chen 'machiff.' The domain at 12 verst (unit of length, used in Russia, equal to 1.067 kilometres (0.6629 miles) was probably the 'Alexandrino' estate that used to belong to the counts Chernyshov. Peterhof Road is a road leading from St Petersburg to Peterhof, the suburban seaside Royal Residence on the Southern coast of the Gulf of Finland (20 miles from St Petersburg). 'Chen machiff' might have been a version of the family name 'Chernyshov' (or 'Tchernychoff' in French, which was more common in Russia at the time). Most famous of the Chernyshovs at the time was Count Alexander Chernyshov (1768-1857), an important military and diplomatic figure during the Napoleonic wars. In 1847 he was the Military Minister of Russia. Later on he was appointed Chairman of the State Council (the highest legislative body in Imperial Russia before the transfer to a constitutional rule in 1907), the post he held until his death (information from Andrei Samartsev, St Petersburg, Russia).

9.  fame of the order
In March 1847, George Washington Whistler received the order of St Anne, Second Class for his work on the building of the St Petersburg-Moscow railroad, from Nicolas I Romanov (1796-1855), Tsar of Russia from 1825-1855 [more]. See Parry, Albert, Whistler's Father, Indianapolis, 1939, p. 286.

10.  Lubec
Lübeck, city and major seaport of the Land (state) of Schleswig-Holstein, northern Germany. It is located on the Trave and Wakenitz rivers, about 9 miles (14 km) from the Baltic Sea.

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

12.  Travimunde
Travemünde, a city located at the bay of Lübeck at the head of the Trave River estuary, is a ferry port for Copenhagen and Sweden and combines the functions of a seaport and tourist resort.

13.  Naslednich
Naslednich, Russian bark. In 1847 (some time after the date of this letter), the river boat Sitka, was off-loaded in pieces from the Naslednich and reassembled at Yerba Buena, San Francisco, CA.

14.  W Barker
W. Barker, unidentified.

15.  Mr Gellibrand
William Clark Gellibrand (b. ca 1791), merchant [more].

16.  little Gwyers
Probably Paul Robert Gwyer (b. 1846), and William Keate Gwyer (b. 1843), sons of Mr and Mrs Gwyer of St Petersburg.

17.  W Bliss
W. Bliss, unidentified.

18.  Mr Hukes
Hukes, picture dealer.

19.  valet de Place
Fr., A manservant who attends to the requirements of patrons in an hotel, passengers on board ship etc.

20.  wonderful church
Probably the Marienkirche (St Mary's Church), Lübeck, built in the 13th - 14th century in the Gothic style. It is possible that AMW's reference to a later building date, refers to the conversion of the church to Protestantism, in 1543.

21.  à la fourchette
Fr., à la fourchette, high tea - a meat dinner requiring a fork.

22.  The Poor Mans Portion
Robert Hawker, The Poor Man's Morning Portion: [and Evening Portion] Being a Selection of a Verse of Scripture with Short Observations for Every Day in the Year, London, 1840.

23.  Chapel
English Church, or 'Chapel of the English Factory,' English Quay, St Petersburg, Russia.