UNIVERSITY of GLASGOW

The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 06365
Date: 26 September 1848
Author: Anna Matilda Whistler[1]
Place: St Petersburg
Recipient: JW
Place: [Portishead[2]]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler W361
Document Type: ALS


In my room. St Petersburg

tuesday evening
Sept 26th 1848

My own precious Jemie[3]

I know you will be very glad to get the news of our safe arrival I left at Cronstadt last Saturday, but then I had not met dear father, therefore I write as soon as possible again to tell you how he is. As Bairds steamer[4] was slowly bearing us within sight of the quai[5], we looked up to our balcony of course, & there was the dear one[6], who had, we found afterwards, been watching for us[7] two days, I waved my handkerchief & it was not very long before the front door was opened & dear father was soon among those assembling at our landing place, but we were not allowed to rush into each others embrace, passports were again to be examined & another record made of who, & for what we had come to St P. for the sake of order I suppose ours being the only American, was put at the last of the pile, yes, every steerage passenger was liberated before us! dear father looked as tho he thought no trifle should separate us soon, when he at last gained possession of us. but he forgot the custom-house officers, who very cooly [sic] denied him entrance, & yet insisted upon the necessity of my going in to have my baggage examined, however their bark is worse than their bite, for tho they insisted upon each being opened, they inspected nothing very closely, & pretended not to see my books, so by six oclock myself, goods & chattels [p. 2] all once more [were] housed in the 3rd story of Dom Ritter[8], I could gaze at dear father & tho so thankful to be beside him again, I found him sadly changed by his late severe attack, & it made me sad to think how very ill he must have been. then I rejoiced that I had not delayed my return, for he still needs much care & good nursing, altho health is generally restored to the city of St P yet thro the imprudence of the lower classes[9], who will eat raw turnips, rotten apples & all such trash, cases still occur. We are very careful you know, in proof of which, the pair of lobsters I brought from Copenhagen, father would not have brought to table, you know he has not seen any since he left Boston, & I did not put his prudence in the balance when I ordered the novelty, to surprise him, as we ate them with impunity every day on our voyage from Copenhagen. but fathers diet is rice, dry toast & tea, with very little meat. How much we have talked of you my darling Jemie & it is now that we realize the sacrifice we have been obliged to make, but for your profit we fondly hope, & when we begin to hear from you regularly we shall be better reconciled to our diminished fire side circle. Now that father has me back again, he does not talk of sending me to America next year, but I promise both you and Mary[10] we shall send for you to come to us, to spend your mid-summer vacation at least, provided you are benefitting by Portishead, & if you go back, Willie may accompany you, at home I realize sadly my privations in the vacant places around fire side [p. 3] & table, but ah Jemie dear this world is only a school to discipline us (children of a larger growth[11]) for eternity! it is good for me to have my heart kept soft by thoughts of you & dear Sis[12], to our Heavenly Father I commit you both continually. Oh what a comfort it is to me to look at your portrait now my boy! would that I had as good a likeness of her to turn to, but there are truer impressions of you both upon Mothers heart, & sweet sounds of words of your affection echoing from her fond memories. And when letters bring me intelligence of how you are passing your days I can at least in imagination follow you thro the routine of all that interests you. "Good night, sleep well, pleasant dreams."

Wednesday 27th.

I wrote most of the foregoing, last night after our guests who came to tea (the Armisteads[13] my fellow passengers) and Ben Prince[14] had left father & I [at] our drawing room fire side, now I must hasten to finish my good morning to you dear Jemie as the mail for the Lubeck steamer will be closing in an hour, dont follow my example in your writing I beg, I have some excuse for hurrying, because so much must be accomplished by my own pr [i.e. pair] of hands, but you need never be in a hurry unless you put off till the last moment which I hope you will never do; in writing letters to parents or friends dear Jemie you wish to give, as well as to receive pleasure; & it pains us to see words mis-spelt, or letters mis-shapen. Dear father has grieved to see your calligraphy so careless, but now you are settled we shall expect attention to this most useful as well as pleasing branch of English exercise.

[p. 4] Say to Mr & Mrs Phillot[15] with my kindest regards I hope to address myself to them next time, but really I have scarcely had time to unpack my trunk or to take the reins as house keeper, so many flock in to welcome us back & so many of our country men come to our house without ceremony to breakfast dine & sup, but you know I have a knack for getting into order by here a little & there a little & I do not despair, of attaining to a system out of which I shall gain time for all I ought to do. I am quite well, & dear father feels well & looks better already for having me back to take care of him. he joins me in more love than I can express to you & offers his respects to Mr & Mrs P. he means to write your kind guardian himself soon. We have beautiful bright weather. The steamer we came in leaves on saturday I shall try to send your few books &c. by Capt Knocker[16] - whom we are to meet at Mr Ropes[17] at dinner tomorrow, they move in from the country today. We dined at Mr Gillibrands[18] datcha on monday, & found them all looking so well, what a lovely family of children Mrs Ropes has, little Willie[19] your pet is such a good boy! & the baby is so sweet, such a laughing cooing good tempered & pretty fairy she well deserves to be called a dove.

This is my birthday Jemie, I have completed my 44th & feel as young (in activity) as when in my teens, I know you would wish me every happiness if at my side darling & you have it in your power dear boy always to add to, or diminish the happiness of your devoted Mother

I hope you have finished the Dentists[20]!

I[21] say nothing of dear Willie as he is writing you. father has some idea of placing him at Baxters[22], by the next time I write it will be decided. Mons Biber[23] called on Monday. he has no situation yet. Willie is going to see Karitzky[24] [sic] soon. Wm Mirriellees[25] was so glad to get your letter he will answer it soon

A M Whistler


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Notes:

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

2.  Portishead
JW's boarding school, Eldon Villa, was at Portishead.

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

4.  Bairds steamer
Probably a steamer owned by the Baird family of St Petersburg.

5.  quai
Fr., quay.

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

7.  us
AMW was with William McNeill Whistler (1836-1900), physician, JW's brother [more].

8.  Dom Ritter
AMW's residence in St Petersburg, situated across the river from the Academy of Fine Arts.

9.  imprudence of the lower classes
1848 was a difficult year for St Petersburg and Russia. Cholera and maybe the worst ever harvest in Nicholas's reign, combined with bad domestic and foreign trade led the economy into a catastrophic decline. Livestock had to be killed because there was nothing to feed them on during the winter months; the planting of winter wheat could not be undertaken; and untold numbers of peasants, the producers of Russia's major export commodities, were dying from cholera. Out of the total population of 46,867,701 in the portions of the Empire where cholera appeared, 1,671,324 contracted the disease and 666,887 died. In July 1848 100,000 left St Petersburg and trade ceased completely. See W. Bruce Lincoln, Nicholas I Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias, Illinois, 1989, p. 272-77.

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

11.  children of a larger growth
'Men are but children of a larger growth,' John Dryden, All for Love; or, The world well lost, , 4.50, ed. by Charles W. Eliot, New York, 1909-14.

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

13.  Armisteads
Armistead and his wife, unidentified.

14.  Ben Prince
Ben Prince, a friend of AMW, of St Petersburg.

15.  Mr & Mrs Phillot
Phillott, JW's tutor at Portishead [more], and his wife.

16.  Capt Knocker
Captain William Knocker (b. ca 1809), sea captain.

17.  Mr Ropes
William Hooper Ropes (1811-1891), merchant [more]; also present would have been Mary Ann Ropes, née Codman, wife of W. Ropes, Sr.

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

19.  little Willie
William Ropes, Jr, son of E. H. and W. H. Ropes.

20.  Dentists
Thomson, JW's dentist at Portishead.

21.  I
'I ... Whistler' continues in the left margin of p. 1.

22.  Baxters
William McNeill Whistler's boarding school at St Petersburg.

23.  Mons Biber
Biber, teacher at Peters School, St Petersburg.

24.  Karitzky
Aleksander Osipovich Koritzkii, Professor at St Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts and court painter [more].

25.  Wm Mirriellees
William Spurr Mirrielees (b. 1828), son of A. Mirrielees.