The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 06400
Date: 16 September [1851][1]
Author: Anna Matilda Whistler[2]
Place: Pomfret
Recipient: JW
Place: West Point[3]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler W396
Document Type: ALS


tuesday p-m Sept 16th

Jemie[4] my own loved son

you know not how much power you have to wound or to comfort your widowed Mother! I have just risen from prayers in my lonely chamber & my tears still blind me because you forgot your poor mother. the portrait of your departed father[5] looks sympathising, & I ought to thank God he no longer suffers the anxiety which bows my bereaved spirit. Your silence I cannot condemn for I have been prevented writing you since my return to Pomfret by unavoidable claims upon my time, tho my letter from Stonington[6] you have not noticed. The Sisters of Frank Vinton[7] cheered me by relating the contents of his to them last week & so loth am I to think you indifferent to your poor Mother I have attributed your neglect of me to your obligation to study with all your energy, hoping soon you would get into so good a system, as to make time for writing me regularly. But I have by todays mail received such a proof of your heedlessness from the Dept at Washington, as to urge me to warn you ere it be too late to arrest the disgrace you are threatening us with & become attentive to the rules of the Military Academy. You are aware, [p. 2] Jemie I suppose, that you are limited to 200 demerits a year, yet at the rate you are indulging 40 in two months, your number for the 1st quarter ending this month will exceed the limit. I will extract the line from Genl Tottens communication[8] to me which he finished with a mark of surprise! "His demerit for the month of August is 21 And since the commencement of the academic year 40!"

I had found a report from the Genl T for July on my table (19 demerits) upon my return home. but you had said to me at West Point when I warned you there, "This will be a period for my resolving to have fewer." I have always had faith in the promises of my children, & I should never have alluded to the past had you not disappointed me since. Pause my dear Jemie, & ask yourself what is to be your harvest, if you waste the season of youth thus. Oh bring not upon yourself the blight of remorse for breaking a widowed mothers heart. Reform your conduct & let the quarter preceding your January Examination be such as that you may have your appointment conditional a confirmed one for completing the four years creditably. Think how many you will mortify by your abuse of your present opportunity to improvement! too many to enumerate even all those whose good opinion you [p. 3] most value. In Russia - In England & in your fathers land! Are you following the example of the cadets you most admire? Can you stoop so low as to waste your hours in amusing the idlers? or have you imbibed contempt of orders from the fool hardy? Think Jemie of the triumph of those who wish your place, so few vacancies, so many candidates! Should you not rather be among the few who are able to graduate, than to excuse your self for want of exertion upon the plea that ¾ths are rejected? Ah it is just so with us all in our temporal course. "Many are called but few are chosen[9]"

Our Captain tells us we must strive to enter in! but we scorn warnings while human pride gives assurance that in our individual case we may be allowed to defer & yet must be secured at last! Do you know Jemie that you have lost ground from want of humility & faith? I fear so! I tremble to think it possible that you have adopted the course of the gay & presumptuous, & that prayer & the bible are each dispensed with till a convenient season for renewing your vows to God. Remember the sign He instituted keeping holy the day appointed for spiritual improvement! I heard by chance & it made me tremble for your future my dear son, that you thought it excusable to require your laundress to wash a garment for you, as a military custom. Trifles make up the sum of a worldlings life! Reflect ere the frivolities of heedless youth become confirmed habits, harden not your heart against the warnings of a tender Mother! While I have been industriously employing the needle in the hope of accomplishing another brief visit to you ere Jack Frost could bar me out, Mary[10] & I have talked of our Cadet so fondly! so partially! "I could do anything to serve Master James" has this faithful servant reiterated, & your mother has flattered herself that you would be manly enough [p. 4] to overcome self & vanity to wear the laurels of affection in your holiday at home. Brother George[11] surprised us by arriving at tea time yesterday. We talked hopefully of you around our snug fireside, while he recounted his late visit to you. tho he said your room - mate did not hesitate before your face to report your indolence as not yet overcome.

I am thankful that the monthly report from Washington had not come to mar my brief enjoyment of your brothers visit, he left us after a 6 oclock breakfast for Boston. I told him I thought of running up to West Point to take you a bundle of linen, flannel & hosiery, persuading myself it would be my duty, as my comfort to visit you soon again but unless you write me now dear Jemie that you really intend to try to retain your place, I shall neither send or take your clothing which would only increase your task of packing to bring away from West Point. Willie[12] said (as he looked shocked at the 40! demerits today) "Jim will never be able to visit West Point if he turns himself out of the Corps of Cadets!" it would disgrace us all!

How shall I bear to be enquired of about my Cadet as I am by everyone - until you inspire me to answer with confidence again - that you are fulfilling my hopes, Doctor Parks[13] shall not hear from my mouth how many black marks stand out against our name, but Sam[14] will talk of them at school to make poor Willie feel vexed & our fireside comfort will be embittered.

It is in your power Jemie to restore gladness to us. I shall have to take Eliza[15] to N Y to send her by sea to Florida, my promised reward was to have been a walk & talk with my Cadet! must I abandon it? you know I cannot meet Prof B[16], & Capt B[17] without feeling humbled, unless your having turned over a new leaf, might be their subject of gratulation.

School here has re - opened this afternoon. I entreat Willie to avoid any black marks during these finishing Terms. he would write you but says you will not answer his letters. he has not shewn that he felt dull since Jacks[18] left here, to[19] save time in looking up a stamped envelope directed I enclose another.

Indeed Willie & mother exert themselves for each other. If we were not of one mind, the ripe peaches & nice corn would not make us in one breath wish Jemie here, to eat his fill as we do.

Oh my dear Jemie, do not let the short distance make you forget your brother & Mother


Imploring you to write soon to comfort your poor Mother

I had news for you, but you must raise my head first, it aches in sympathy with my heart

I hope you avail of the privilege of going on Saturdays to where I beg you will take my love

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1.  [1851]
Dated with reference to AMW's letter to JW, 27 August 1851, #06399.

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

5.  portrait of your departed father
George Washington Whistler (1800-1849), engineer, JW's father [more]. Chester Harding's oil portrait of G. W. Whistler is now in the Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow (GLAHA 54134). Another, painted by William S. Elwell (1810-1881), portrait and landscape painter [more], is in the Whistler House Museum of Art, Lowell, MA.

6.  my letter from Stonington
AMW to JW, 27 August 1851, #06399.

7.  The Sisters of Frank Vinton
Louise Clare Vinton (1832-1891), was the only living sister at this time of Francis Laurens Vinton (1835-1880), room-mate of JW at West Point, later Professor of mining and engineering. It is possible that AMW meant his cousins, the daughters of Alexander Hamilton Vinton (1807-1881), Eleanor Vinton (b. 1838), and Mary Vinton (1840-1930).

8.  line from Genl Tottens communication
General Joseph Gilbert Totten (1788-1864), military engineer [more]. General Tottens' communication with AMW has not survived. JW collected 137 demerits in his first term, a score that kept him in good standing. See Gordon H. Fleming, The Young Whistler 1834-66, London, 1978, p. 85.

9.  Many are called but few are chosen
'For many are called, but few are chosen,' Matt. 22.14.

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

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

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

13.  Doctor Parks
Rev. Roswell Park (1807-1869), minister of the Protestant Episcopal Church, Principal of Christ Church School [more].

14.  Sam
Sam Holbrook, son of James Holbrook, and brother of J. B. Holbrook.

15.  Eliza
Eliza (d. 1856), a servant of Kate Livermore [more]. See AMW to JW, 6 August 1851, #06398, and AMW to JW, 27 August 1851, #06399.

16.  Prof B
Professor William Holmes Chambers Bartlett (1804-1893), mathematician [more].

17.  Capt B
Captain Perry Bowers, Sr (1794-1870), of Pomfret, CT [more].

18.  Jacks
Patrick T. Jackson ('Jacks') McNeill (1835-1898), accountant, JW's cousin [more].

19.  to
'to ... another' continues in the left margin of p. 1; 'Indeed ... A M W' continues in the left upper margin of p. 1, cross-written; 'Imploring ... Mother' continues in the right margin of p. 1; 'I had ... heart' continues in the right margin of p. 2; 'I hope ... love' continues in the right margin of p. 2.