The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 06437
Date: 3 April 1854
Author: Anna Matilda Whistler[1]
Place: Scarsdale
Recipient: JW
Place: [West Point[2]]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler W432
Document Type: ALS

[embossed monogram:] A M W


April 3rd 1854

My own dear Jemie[3]

Pressure of business must account to you for such a scrawl from Mother who certainly wishes by example to enforce precept, to adorn your christian profession in all things. This is the day for my winding up a sadly trying ordeal, but seasonable for Lent, therefore I bow in faith to the chastening & divine rod[4]. Oh that you may be brought by the Spirit Power, to enter into my feelings my precious Jemie, as I do in your daily interests by nature, how do you suppose I could cheerfully mingle in the family circle, as a guest should, if it were not that I derive it from faith in dealings of our heavenly Father, if you were not appalled by your escape from being crushed[5], I was! but I pray God to touch your heart by a sense of His sparing mercy, you do not realize as I who watched & wept over you last June how nearly your life had ebbed away[6]! but God listened to a widowed Mothers prayer to spare you for preparation to die. Jemie I pray that on your Sunday Guard duty you may listen to conscience, what does it say?

[p. 2] I believe I am more sensitive to chilling winds now that you & Willie[7] are exposed to face them, I awake long before dawn, to weep & pray for you, & my own daily calling obliges me to rise before the sun, to accomplish my task, I will not take you thro the sad routine of last weeks at the cottage, desolate now, but soon to be renovated for the happy young couple Mr L Bleecher, lady & two little ones [8] now, the dear friends who make me feel as if I was to leave home tomorrow when I start for Stonington from this sheltering roof. hope that leaving my associations with St P [i.e. Saint Petersburg] our furniture &c in a room here may be prophetic of my residing here again, it seems too calm a prospect for my earthly sojourn, but if I dared cherish such a one I would, that I might make a retreat for you & Willie from the world. Just as I had finished my weary week of toil, came letters from Sis[9]. George[10] & Willie, the latter a very hero in bearing privations & hardships, in the den of iron[11] all day standing & a garret with three beds his lodging! [p. 3] his cheering hope to visit the north in July! George's date was last, his summons to Balt to watch the sinking strength of his invalid[12], the doctor had small hope of the cherub boy lingering much longer! & George thought him rapidly going. I have not heard since the date 28th nearly a week now - Sister was distressed about Willie & me! so natural is it for a daughter to sympathise with a mother, she says how poor father[13] would have wished me to have a settled home! & begs me to remain in this congenial circle! She wrote delightfully of her three[14] & so fondly of you boys. And now Jamie dear you may expect soon as the Express to Mr Bartlett[15] can speed it, two undershirts, I shall try to buy them tomorrow as I propose making cousin Abby Jaffrays[16] house in 14th St my place of refreshment, she I hope will offer herself & carriage to expedite what I must attend to. George I dare say will go to see you this month, how much he will be pressed for time to wind up in N Y! the 1st of May his term of service on the NHRR[17] expires. Jemie dear, will you get a permit, to call at the Bartletts & with my kindest remembrances, tell them I am interested still in the Scarsdale Cottage, tho the same young couple are to occupy it as did while I was in London, Mr B promised me some grape cuttings, if he can easily send them by Express to corner 4th St & B Way [i.e Broadway] N Y directed to W S Popham[18] they will value them.

[p. 4] I trust you have not more demerits! two more months then the June Examinations! go on steadily now in preparation, you pd [i.e. paid] for the forfeit last year for trying to make up at the last for recklessness & waste. How many times I repeated "dear boys" as in the turning down side up of every scrap of paper my eye met either of your "exercise books" with La Roche[19] & other St P memorials of you - or your originals[20]! how touching all to me! they are treasured up of value only to the bereaved & devoted heart of a widowed Mother. Write[21] this week I beg to cheer me. Marys love & mine to you. How very ill poor Bailey has been at St James. Oh none are to [sic] young to prepare to die!

Your own


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

2.  West Point
United States Military Academy, West Point, NY, opened in 1802; see AMW to JW, 10 June 1851, #06396.

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

4.  chastening & divine rod
Probably a reference to the biblical episode of Moses receiving the rod of God: 'And the Lord spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone.' Exod. 7.18. 'And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt: and Moses took the rod of God in his hand.' Exod. 4.20.

5.  escape from being crushed
On 29 March 1854, JW received two demerits for not taking a gallop at the proper pace. From his classmates' recollections of the event, it seems that he went sliding over his horse's head, causing no serious injuries. See Gordon H. Fleming, The Young Whistler 1834-66, London, 1978, p. 101; also see AMW to James H. Gamble, 3 April 1854, #06438.

6.  your life had ebbed away
JW suffered from a serious attack of rheumatism in May and June 1853, mentioned in Robert E. Lee's letter to AMW, 26 May 1853, #12608. The ailment was diagnosed as endocarditis, JW went on convalescent leave, and his year-end examinations were postponed. See Fleming, ibid., p. 99.

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

8.  Mr L Bleecher, lady & two little ones
L. Bleecher of Scarsdale, NY, and his family; see AMW to JW, March 1854, 06436.

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

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

11.  den of iron
William M. Whistler was employed for some time by the locomotive engineering shop in Baltimore owned by Ross Winans (1796-1877), locomotive manufacturer, father of JW's sister-in-law [more]. See AMW to James H. Gamble, 3 April 1854, #06438.

12.  his invalid
Probably Marshall Willey (d. 1854), a small boy. George William Whistler was apparently Willey's surrogate father; see AMW to JW, 24 July 1854, #06440.

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

14.  her three
Annie Harriet Haden (1848-1937), later Mrs Charles Thynne, JW's niece, and Francis Seymour Haden (1850-1918), and Arthur Charles Haden (1852-1910), musician, JW's nephews.

15.  Mr Bartlett
Professor William Holmes Chambers Bartlett (1804-1893), mathematician [more].

16.  Abby Jaffrays
Abbie Snelling Jaffray (1817-1871), née Hamilton, wife of R. W. Jaffray [more]; see AMW to JW, 1 December 1853, #06432.

17.  NHRR
'New Haven Railroad,' common name for the New York and New Haven Railroad. It later expanded to include thousands of miles of track in the northeastern United States, but was constantly plagued with financial problems. George William Whistler was superintendent of the New York and New Haven Railroad.

18.  W S Popham
William Sherbrooke Popham (1793-1885), merchant [more].

19.  La Roche
La Roche, tutor at St Petersburg; see AMW to JW, 29 September 1848, #06366; AMW to JW, 20 October 1848, #06369;

20.  your originals
St Petersburg Sketchbook (M.7); see AMW to JW, 1 December 1853, #06432.

21.  Write
'Write ... AMW' continues in the left and upper margins of p. 1.