UNIVERSITY of GLASGOW

The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
Home > On-line Edition > Transcription/Database Record

the on-line edition

System Number: 06385
Date: [7 January / 18 February 1849[1]]
Author: Anna Matilda Whistler[2]
Place: St Petersburg
Recipient: JW
Place: [London[3]]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler W381
Document Type: ALS[4]


As an Ambassador from one Court to another is public property, I wonder if it is reprehensible in a private humble individual to indulge in remarks at his expense? But Mr Bagby[5] exposes his eccentricities to strangers & we his countrymen have a right to condemn his practises entre nous we shall not harm him. As he presented himself to the Emperor[6] without his Sec.[7] last Sunday for the first time, we are not in the secret of the interview, he only repeated one remark worthy recording, it was upon the weather, the Emperor told him that the friday of last week was the coldest in St P for the past thirty years! But we heard all the details of the visit of our Ambassador & Sec. to the Winter Palace[8] on the 6th when there was a Court Circle, & dejeuner after the blessing of the Waters[9], for poor Ingersoll was mortified by the exposure of his chiefs brusqueness, & he confides in us all his feelings, for he would be forlorn indeed in the great world of this city, without one friendly fireside - as ours is to him! Well, on this extraordinary occasion Mr B sent to the stand for a coach & four, but despising pomp, would have no other Chasseur than his valet, whose trousers were too short as usual, I mean Whitaker[10], whom Sis[11] & you will not have forgotten. it would detain us too long to tell about their entering in the wrong door[,] about the tittering of all the Coachers & lacqueys [sic] before the Grand entrance - suffice it, that when in the drawing room of majesty surrounded by the Court, Mr B rejected aloud every proposal which was made thro his Sec. for any of the other Ambassadors to be introduced to him, saying if they wished to know him they might call upon him at his hotel. He refused aloud to go to the breakfast when invited to take his place in the ranks, saying, in his country [p. 2] they ate not at royal tables! Mr Ingersoll mortified & angry then proposed to His Excellency that they should return to their hotel, of course it took Whitaker some time to find their hack! imagine the American Ambassador growing huffy at this & swearing he would not wait even in a palace! this was at the hall of entrance where attendants were staring & tittering & making remarks in Russ or French, so off he set in his chapeau[12] & uniform & walked thro the Nevsky[13] to the Michel St where is his hotel! Ingersoll sprang into an Ishvostics[14] sledge, glad to cover his court trappings with the apron, tho not able to hide his cocked hat! - I have never seen Mr B. but he makes me an exception when he talks to his Sec. about the Yankees abroad & says he means to call on Mrs W. do you think I wish to receive such a man Jemie? He has this moment sent me up his card, for the second time, I hope he may never have courage to come nearer to my sanctum. Now laugh at this or lament over the disgrace to our country, then tear up my evidence against the man.

To dear Jemie[15] from Mother


This document is protected by copyright.


Notes:

1.  7 January /18 February 1849
Dated with reference to the Blessing of the Waters on 6 January 1849 (see below), and AMW's letter to JW, which reveals JW's response to the episode caused by the US Ambassador, Arthur P. Bagby (AMW to JW, 19, 20, 22, 24 February 1849, #06387; see below, and JW's reply, #06667).

2.  ALS
Incomplete letter.

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

4.  London
JW extended his Christmas and New Year's stay at his sisters (Deborah Delano Haden) London house; see AMW to JW, 19, 20, 22, 24 February 1849, #06387.

5.  Mr Bagby
Arthur Bagby (1794-1858), senator and U. S. minister in Russia from 1848-1849 [more]. He resigned on 14 May 1849.

6.  Emperor
Nicolas I Romanov (1796-1855), Tsar of Russia from 1825-1855 [more].

7.  Sec.
Colin Macrae Ingersoll (1819-1903), secretary of the American Legation at St Petersburg [more]. He had become the Chargé d'Affaires after the resignation of his father as US minister until the arrival of Arthur P. Bagby, his successor, in 1848.

8.  Winter Palace
Winter Palace (1754-62), designed by C. B. Rastrelli (1700-1776) under the reign of Elizabeth empress of Russia from 1741 to 1761. The period is often referred to as Elizabethean Baroque. See R. Auty, and D. Obolensky, eds., G. H. Hamilton, The Art and Architecture of Russia, The Pelican History of Art, London, 1975, p. 178.

9.  blessing of the Waters
According to the old Calendarist Style 6 January 1849 would have been the Russian Christmas. See N. Dershowitz and E. M. Reingold Calendrical Calculations, Cambridge, 1997.

10.  Whitaker
Whitaker, valet to Arthur P. Bagby.

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

12.  chapeau
Fr., hat.

13.  Nevsky
Nevsky Prospekt is the most western broad avenue intersecting the concentric system of canals of St Petersburg. It ends at the Alexander Nevsky Lavra on the Neva river. It became the principal thoroughfare of St Petersburg and one of the most famous avenues in Europe.

14.  Ishvostics
Russ., Izvozshchik, coachman.

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