The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 06387
Date: 19, 20, 22 and 24 February 1849
Author: Anna Matilda Whistler[1]
Place: St Petersburg
Recipient: JW
Place: [London[2]]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler W383
Document Type: ALS

St Petersburg

Feb 19th, Monday eve

My own dear Jemie[3]

Father[4] & I were at our frugal 2 oclock dinner when Mussen[5] brought in for dessert (not a darling baby) but a fat envelope directed by Mr Fairbanks[6], imagine with what eagerness it was torn open & how greedy I was for my share, I had just finished reading it to father, when Mrs Mirrielees[7] called; herself & Miss Sarah[8] kindly sympathised in my delight at good news from Sloane St - but Jemie dear I could not shew your report, the caligraphy was so careless, & I did not let them into the secret of your scene painting[9], it would not have been interesting, & do you know my son I am not sorry you succeeded so little to your satisfaction, it certainly was time not well spent & at your age you have none to waste, I would not my own dear boy, that any letter from Mother should disappoint you, as this last one from you did your fond & anxious parents, therefore I abstain from the full condemnation of the subjects of your pen, and thoughts of course, which if you were at my side I should give. Yours has been too long a vacation Jemie, you have not improved it as you would have done by following Seymours[10] advice, and so as an idler you have been at the disposal of those seekers of amusement, whom I am grieved to [p. 2] fancy you among. "Jemie has got among the snobs"! said father when he read your account of the private theatricals. "Why it is like a page out of Punch[11], on childrens parties we were laughing at last week"! remarked your dear little sage brother[12], when he came in from school & was so eager to read Jims letter he forgot he had ate nothing since eleven oclock, Willie was rather startled at first too because he thought the party was on saturday night & that as grown people as well as children performed, it must have been late before you could retire. Jemie dear dont fancy mother severe upon your youthful follies, but oh I love you so tenderly, I cannot divest myself of anxiety, I am such a deeply interested observer of your course, & whether early training is now influencing you not only to know, but to do what is right! Do you ask yourself "would mother or father approve of my joining in this or that pursuit"? when invitations tempt you, do you retire early enough to your bed to think upon it, of all you have done or left undone during the day? That you may resolve by Gods help to redeem your time, to cultivate your talents, to secure the approval of conscience. Ah dear Jemie darling do you pray really, & study your bible every day - and Sunday most of all? I wish [p. 3] you to tell me frankly what satisfaction you derive from mere amusement - You know I live in a city which is even more given to folly & pride than "the big village" but I always refused Mrs F Bairds[13] childrens parties for you, because they were after the model of her own. Shall you not be spoiled think you for unsophisticated hospitality when I invite your young friends to welcome Jamies return home? Oh no! come back to your Mothers embrace artless as when you left her side, at least preferring what is real to all false glitter, tho you have had a peep at the beau monde. It is a proof of my love to you my boy when I point out mistakes youth is liable to, that you may avoid them in future, the terms you applied to Mr Bagby[14] - tho he may merit them - are unbecoming to you - do you know Jemie tho I have never seen him I pity the poor solitary old man from my heart & wish I could warn him from the error of his ways, or shield him from the exposure to public ridicule. Father says he is a talented man. I know young Ingersoll[15] felt proud of the noble head of his chief & thought he would look like a Roman Senator at least at the Imperial Court. Ah Jemie it is wine which has brought our countryman to a level with the brutes that perish! It is safe to pledge ourselves to God that we will be temperate, for we are all by nature weak, & the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Poor Mr B. is now in [p. 4] a most deplorable condition, were I to give you the particulars they would shock or anger you, it is enough to say he has abandoned himself to drink & of necessity he is abandoned by all, for he is like a madman, I often think of his wife [16] & family, and fear pecuniary difficulties must be his legacy to them, if he drinks himself to death here as many fear he will - for he is in debt to all with whom he has dealings here & I fear will be robbed of all personal valuables by the hirelings his attendants, while he is roaring for drink like a madman, helpless & bed ridden! The future how awful to him! remorse thro this life, or, eternal woe! Do you not lament over such a spectacle Jemie? & wish with us, some friend or relation would come to take him home. Mr Ingersoll cannot exercise any control over his senior, tho he daily visits him & does all in his power to restrain him. Do not then my son vent epithets, such as wretch, animal &c. upon any grey head. the language of your own dear father is that of a christian & a gentleman. Seymour & Sis[17] each in theirs set you a proper example of forebearance & gentleness. You are more excitable I know for you inherit the McNeill temper, but you can in your seasons of reflection determine what is proper & habit will be a second & better nature to you. Mrs Ropes[18] has been so flattered by your promises to write her that I regret you did it in a hurry at last, tho I doubt not she will excuse haste, & feel gratified by your[19] writing at all, it is only for your own credit I wish you had done your best. Were I you I should very soon shew her I could do better.

[p. 5] Tuesday 20th.

How interested I felt dear Jemie in the delivery of the daily mail, & think now I shall soon hear from dear Sis or Seymour about the school[20]; you may have entered it ere this. how was it that you kept your note to Mother nearly a week before sending it? it was dated the 3rd. yours to Mrs Ropes the 8th. Mr Fairbanks to father 9th. However I got news from yours next door[21] that soon you were to go to school, would that I might promise for you there, your hours should be so regulated that you never seize time by the bald pate to write home. Oh Jemie dear try to earn leisure by a better system, if you could only know how it delights us to get well written letters from you! your thoughts as they flow naturally are so welcome at the old home, we want to know what you read tho - and we do hope that you will study harder than you ought to play. Now it is blind mans holiday!

Thursday 22nd.

Snowing fast & 9 deg of frost, yet Willie has had so few opportinities for trying the English skating ground this winter he is going from now till dinner time, he does not wish to be there when the gents assemble, for tho father has always been a subscriber they have not sent us the list this season, neither for the ice hills[22], yet we have each of us told the managers, we were as ready as ever to contribute but I suppose they think as we have no young people at liberty to profit by them it would be an imposition. I will not suppose they wish to shut poor little lonely Willie out when he has an odd holiday - he is a very diligent student & I rejoice that he is to have a few days of relaxation this week. [p. 6] I went with father to Alexandroffsky[23] yesterday, there was to have been a meeting of the Commission[24] to inspect one of the Arches of the Neva bridge[25], but after father waited til four p.m. only a Courier arrived, to defer the meeting - Only to think the Government is spending upon merely testing the strength of the Arches of the bridge 200,000 silv rubs [i.e. silver rubles]. They put a weight of iron upon them heavier than the bridge itself. Ben Prince[26] is a most active superintendent of this part of the work. He seems very happy in having plenty to do, Industry is a rare talent now a days, (practice it dear Jemie now while you are acquiring what is to make you a useful member of society) our unassuming country man proves most valuable to H. W & E [27] because he is so interested in his task, his brother George [28] was just starting for Cuba when he wrote father. As you can keep a secret Jemie I'll tell you what is whispered here, G. P. is the fiancé of Miss Marion Hall[29]! but Mrs Ropes has not talked to me about it as she did of her sisters [30] engagement to Mr Miller[31] of Greenock, because I suppose she thinks it uncertain. I think it will be a very suitable match, do not you? & I wish the young adventurer success in his present speculation that his hopes of domestic comfort may not be long deferred. I found Henry Harrison[32] quite sick, of measles yesterday, his trio of sisters[33] all looking unusually healthy, it will be a wonder if they escape, tho every care is observed to keep them from infection. Annie played for me, very prettily, she says does not like dancing, it makes her too tired! Ellen Ropes[34] told me the last dancing lesson they had, she knew the Cachucha[35] quite perfectly & delights in it with Castinetts.You know grown folks never dance at Mr Ropes[36], but it is a healthful exercise for children, therefore they [p. 7] take lessons twice a week this winter, more especially to correct M E's[37] habit of stooping & to teach them to walk well. I approve of Mrs Ropes ideas with her children. her own bright example will lead them to put off frivolities with their other childish things. Ellen really plays very well & is a most useful little girl too. Louly[38] is the most attractive because of her affectionate disposition & so frank, she is the most graceful too & I think will be the prettiest. Mary E is as devoted to her book as ever. The trio are going with Mama, Papa, Auntys - Uncle G. Cousin Ben[39] &c. to the annual feast at Maligins[40] today to eat bleenies[41], it is a risk I think! I have ordered them for the next two breakfasts we have as Will can exercise after them. There is yet too much cholera in the atmosphere of St P to make us take off the restrictions of our table. Dear father has for months never exceeded dry toast & tea morning & evening, Chicken soup beef steaks & rice for dinner, he cannot eat the simplest pudding, but I often have jelly for him. One day last week when I went in to ask after Mrs Ropes little Ailie[42] who has been languishing for a week, for she would eat nothing - I ventured to propose her tasting some of our nice jelly for invalids. do you know she was ravenous for it! her Mama had some made then, but as for baby only 8 months old - without wine, but the cunning tiny one, closed her lips against it - so Mr R laughs, & says, baby approves only of jelly made by the Temperance Society[43]! Mrs R begs me to enclose a note to Sis, she was delighted with the tone of yours to her dear Jemie & would not have liked it more polite, tho I should. I wish you always to write naturally your flow of ideas dear boy, but that they may shew a well regulated mind. You will [p. 8] not be hurt by Mothers pointing out faults when she sees them will you Jemie? for it is her love makes her faithful to you. I hope you will not think me severe upon the parents whose childrens parties you have attended, I only would not let them hold a place of importance in your mind. Mere amusement ought to be secondary, & I feared you were pursuing it too eagerly; of studies or even reading you had nought to tell us, & your letter was written so hurriedly it did not convey to us the usual share of interest, but you will not practice scribbling in future will you dear? for I warn you against careless & procrastinating habits. But here comes a welcome envelope directed by dear Sis!

Saturday noon Feb 24th.

The sun now shines brightly, Willie & I are to have a frugal dinner directly that we may go to see Madme Zagothkin[44] & then he will proceed to the Manége[45] for an hours ride, in the hope that after that dear father will have returned from Alexandroffsky & will go with us to the Ice Hills, he having hired a fine pair of horses & double sledge for the day as Genl[46] invited himself to take a seat with him to A -.

Willie has his satchel ready for Mondays school again, how interesting it will be dearest Jemie when you can compare notes of your progress in your classes! God bless you my Son, & give you the desire to profit by all your advantages; your season of health ought to be made the most of - you will not like to be very far behind your Cousin Willy Wyatt[47] for he is not a year your senior, & he shewed his fondness for reading six years ago! how he must have stored his mind since then. I enclose a scrap from Aunt Kates[48] last letter it will amuse you, & will tell you Amos[49] is to be an M D - All at the Corner House[50] send love to you & to dear Sis - Father received his Commission from Prince M[51] yesterday as Engineer of the Woolwich[52] at Cronstadt, so we will often have to go there. I tell him the Emperor will reward him with an order of the 1st Class for his additional services! he laughs[53] & says he can put decorations on & go round begging. Dear father will write you next week. Take time by the forelock dear Jemie & write us regularly - fully & neatly. Words cannot express Mothers love for her dear absent children. Dont let my lectures intimidate you to report all your thoughts & occupations & recreations to us. All that interests Jemie is interesting in the old home. Adieu dear dear boy. Your fond Mother


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

2.  London
JW extented his Christmas and New Year's stay at his sisters (Deborah Delano Haden) London house.

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

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

5.  Mussen
Mussen, a servant of AMW at St Petersburg.

6.  Mr Fairbanks
Fairbanks, a merchant.

7.  Mrs Mirrielees
Jane Mirrielees (1810-1875), née Muir, wife of A. Mirrielees [more].

8.  Miss Sarah
Sarah Jane Cazalet (b. 1830), née Mirrielees, wife of L. Cazalet.

9.  scene painting
Not extant.

10.  Seymours
Francis Seymour Haden (1818-1910), surgeon and etcher, JW's brother-in-law [more].

11.  Punch
English illustrated periodical published from 1841 to 1992 and revived in 1996, famous for its satiric humour and caricatures and cartoons. The first editors of what was then a weekly radical paper were Henry Mayhew, Mark Lemon, and Joseph Stirling Coyne.

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

13.  Mrs F Bairds
Dorothea Baird, wife of Francis Baird of St Petersburg.

14.  Mr Bagby
Arthur Bagby (1794-1858), senator and U. S. minister in Russia from 1848-1849 [more]; see AMW's letter to JW, [7 January x 18 February 1849], #06385.

15.  young Ingersoll
Colin Macrae Ingersoll (1819-1903), secretary of the American Legation at St Petersburg [more]

16.  wife
Ann Elizabeth Bagby, née Cornell, wife of A. Bagby.

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

18.  Mrs Ropes
Ellen Harriet Ropes, née Hall, wife of William H. Ropes.

19.  your
'your ... best' continues in the right margin of p. 4; 'Were ... better' in the left margin of p. 1.

20.  the school
JW's boarding school at Portishead.

21.  next door
The family of Archibald Mirrielees (1797-1877), merchant [more], were AMW's next door neighbours at St Petersburg; it is possible that they either received news of JW through J. Mirriellees, brother of A. Mirriellees, or through Fairbanks; see AMW to JW, [25 and] 26 December [1848], #06380.

22.  Alexandroffsky
See AMW to JW, 15, 16 and 18 September 1848, #06363.

23.  ice hills
Ice Hills, a winter amuseument for the public, usually held on the Admiralty Square, during Butter Week. They were generally known in Russia as gory, gorki or ledianye gory and in Europe as Montagnes russes. Amelia Lyon, an English woman in Russia in the early 1850s recorded in her diary: 'The custom of making ice hills is very common all over Russia. they are called there 'montagnes anglaises'. I believe this name arose from a society of English gentlemen who had some fine ice mountains annually made on the Neva at St Petersburg where they assembled in large parties and invited the ladies of their acquaintance to join them.' Amelia Lyons, At Home with the Gentry, A Victorian English Lady's Diary of Russian Country Life, edited by John McNair, Nottingham, 1998, p. 119.

24.  Commission
See AMW to JW, 1 and 2 November 1848, #06370.

25.  Neva bridge
The first permanent bridge across the mighty Neva River, currently called the Lieutenant Schmidt Bridge (Most Leitenanta Schmidta); built in 1842-1850.

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

27.  H. W & E
Harrison, Winans and Eastwicks, manufacturers of steam engines and rolling stock made for the first commercial railroad in Russia between St Petersburg and Moscow.

28.  George
George H. Prince, engineer.

29.  Miss Marion Hall
Marion Hall, unidentified.

30.  her sisters
Not identified.

31.  Mr Miller
Miller, of Greenock, unidentified.

32.  Henry Harrison
William Henry Harrison (b. 1837), son of S. and J. Harrison.

33.  his trio of sisters
Annie Harrison (1839-1915), Alicia McNeill Harrison (b. 1845), and Marie Olga Harrison (b. 1847), daughters of Joseph and Sarah Harrison.

34.  Ellen Ropes
Ellen Ropes, daughter of W. H. Ropes.

35.  Cachucha
'La cachucha' was a Celebrated Spanish dance. Fanny Elssler (1810-1884), the famous Austrian ballerina who introduced theatricalized folk dance (character dance) into ballet, became a great success in 'Le Diable boiteux' (1836), by introducing the Spanish dance. See The original castanet Spanish dance La Cachucha, as danced by Madlle. Fanny Elssler, Boston, 1840.

36.  Mr Ropes
William Hooper Ropes (1811-1891), merchant [more].

37.  M E's
Mary Emily Ropes, daughter of E. H. and W. H. Ropes.

38.  Louly
Louisa ('Louly') Harriet Ropes (1844-1903), daughter of W. H. Ropes, later wife of E. A. Cattley.

39.  Auntys - Uncle G. Cousin Ben
Louisa Ropes, sister of W. H. Ropes; George and Ben Prince, W. H. Ropes' cousins.

40.  annual feast at Maligins

41.  bleenies
Russ., blinis, small yeast pancakes made from buckwheat flour, served with salt herring, smoked salmon, or caviar, and sour cream. They were the favourite dish of the Easter festival, and were baked at no other time of the year; see Robert Sears, An Illustrated Description of the Russian Empire, New York, 1855, pp. 547-548.

42.  little Ailie
Ailie Ropes (b. 1848), daughter of E. H. and W. H. Ropes.

43.  Temperance Society
Organization dedicated to promoting moderation and, more often, complete abstinence in the use of intoxicating liquor. Although an abstinence pledge had been introduced by churches as early as 1800, the earliest temperance organizations seem to have been those founded at Saratoga, N.Y., in 1808 and in Massachusetts and Connecticut in 1813. The movement spread rapidly under the influence of the churches; by 1833 there were 6,000 local societies in several US states. The American Society for the Promotion of Temperance was organized in Boston and the South in 1826. Soon, working with evangelical fervor, the society's members had established thousands of local and state auxiliaries. By 1835 temperance organizations across the country counted about 1 million members. See American Temperance Union, Permanent Temperance Documents, New York, 1851-1852; Carol Mattingly, Well-tempered Women: Nineteenth-century Temperance Rhetoric, Southern Illinois University Press, 1998; Anna C. Loveland, Southern Evangelicals and the Social Order, 1800-1860, Louisiana State University Press, 1980.

44.  Madme Zagothkin
Mme Zagothkin, possibly the wife of Leodor Zagoski, chief aide to the engineer, N. O. Kraft. If the name was in fact Zagoskin, she could well be the wife of the engineer Leodor Zagoskin, who was chief aide to Nicolai Osipovitch Kraft (1798-), engineer, AMW's husband's colleague.

45.  Manége
Russ. and Fr., arena where horses are kept and trained.

46.  Genl
General Paul Melnikof (1804-1888), engineer [more].

47.  Cousin Willy Wyatt
William Wyatt McNeill (1833-1853), JW's cousin [more].

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

49.  Amos
Amos Palmer, Jr (1827-1861), JW's step-cousin [more].

50.  Corner House
The house owned by Dr George E. Palmer (1803-1868), physician, AMW's brother-in-law [more], built in 1787, situated in the corner of Main and Wall Streets at Stonington, CT.

51.  Prince M
Probably Michael Pavlovitch Romanov (1798-1849), Grand Duke, brother of the Tsar Nicolas I.

52.  Engineer of the Woolwich
The Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, was the chief military arsenal of UK, containing gun and ammunition factories, laboratories, barracks for artillery, and engineers. It was the birthplace of the Royal Artillery, and the Royal Military Academy. There would have probably been an arsenal at Kronstadt, of which Major Whistler received his title. See O. F. G. Hogg, The Royal Arsenal: Its Background, Origin, and Subsequent History, London, 1963.

53.  laughs
'laughs ... you' continues in the right margin of p. 8; 'next ... neatly' in the left margin of p. 5; 'Words ... children' in the right margin of p. 5; 'Dont ... us' in the right margin of p. 7; and 'All ... AMW' continues in the left margin of p. 8.