The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 06469
Date: 2-5 November 1855
Author: Anna Matilda Whistler[1]
Place: Pomfret and Stonington[2]
Recipient: JW
Place: [Paris[3]]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler W464
Document Type: ALS[4]


Nov 2nd 1855. friday.

Jemie my precious son

how it rejoiced my heart, here on your sweet Sisters[5] birth-day, to hear of your safe arrival in London! Hami's father [6] had directed the glad tidings to Stonington very promptly, as he always does what he may thro his office to relieve my anxieties. Probably a letter from you[7] would have added to my thankfulness ere now had I not been detained on the hills, it is a fortnight since Aunt Kate [8] left me to the hospitalities of kind Doctor & Mrs Williams[9], she spent two or three delightful days under their roof & my plan was to have returned home with her, but as part of my object had been to consult my dentist here, I concluded not to defer for a winter the re-fitting my "artificials," as they had been getting more & more loose, while my obligations in others demands had made my personal comfort seem unimportant, but Uncle Winstanleys[10] seasonable gift enables me to attend to what ought not to be neglected for health & respectability. I am sure my dear boys will be glad of Mothers bestowing somewhat for her renovation. I have benefitted by rest & reading, at intervals, while my sweet little hostess has attended to her routine of domestic duties so gracefully, so unobtrusively it seems truly fairy-like, she drives as well as she sews, or makes all sorts of nice things for her table - a pr of brisk beautiful ponies, and we have thus gone the Drs rounds in his visits to patients, if Willie[11] decides to be of his fraternity he ought to choose such a wife, she reads "The London Lancet"[12] or any of his other medical authors with lively interest, we talk often of Seymour[13], & I know he & Sis would respect & admire these Yankee specimens. I wished in my heart in watching an exquisite sunset with these lovers of nature[14], Seymour could see just such! tho I never have except in this pure atmosphere. The places we [p. 2] are familiar with in Pomfret look improved. The Church, Rectory & school house painted & the shrubbery grown & trees luxuriant. The vacancies death had made, filled up by new occupants, except Frank Wilkinsons[15] home, that is closed by the sudden death of his father in Sept., sad as it must be to the orphan, it is safer for Frank, he is in Bristol with his mothers family, under refining influences, he will have a motive for steadiness, as it is known his poor father's profligacy wasted his property. Frank can only keep the farm by industry. It rejoices me (as his Mothers friend) to hear his wild oats were soon sown & that her sowing in tears[16] he may now reap in joy. But the blessing depends upon his establishing his reformation.

The Grinnell[17] place was desolated by the suicide & bankruptcy of Mr. G, another owner has repaired & beautified house & grounds. Your school mate Lloyd B.[18] was ambitious in his ideas of farming, if his father had purchased that place & settled it on him, he would not have gone to California to farm! he writes dutifully to his parents, & perhaps may be glad to come back to work his fathers farm when he realizes how much greater his privations are in his separation from his legitimate calling. Oh how "Young America" rebels & breaks parents hearts by presumption & obstinacy. The kind old Capt[19] pines for his youngest, tho he went with him last Feb to N Y & pd his passage in a Steamer to California & now his yearning for the steamers mail is equal to mine. The young Capt Bowers[20] took what was Miss Abby Allens[21] house for his nice gentle wife who has a pet little daughter just beginning to prattle & run to Gdpapa, these cheer & amuse in the absence of the two branches. Anna[22] stays with "Netty"[23] while the papa is on his voyage to India[.] she has improved in every way & does not make her visit to Hamburg, Berlin, Rome, Paris &c too prominent in the experience she has gained, Ellen[24] is the dutiful daughter at home.

[p. 3] If you were on a visit here, the beauty of Miss Helen Eldridge[25] would attract you, she is talented & has profitted by advantages in the best schools. But dear Jemie I have only seen her at church, except a social tea at Capt B-s & at Mrs Searles[26] and neighbourly calls among the lowly members of our church, I have been sympathising with Doct & Mrs Williams in their sorrow, two letters have come from Racine last week & this startling & preparing them for deeper anxiety. Little Nelly Park[27] died on the 14th. of Oct. she was as sunshine in her fathers[28] home, at 7 years old so matured in character she was really companionable. Yesterday we heard that five days after, her infant brother died! and now Mary & little Roswald[29] are all spared to their sorrowing father. You know how attached I am to the memory of Mrs Park[30] & interested in all she loved.

Now I will only add the cordial remembrance of our neighbours here & a message from Mr Tucker[31], in his field he found last May, a trap[32], with the name of James Whistler, he says tell him if he will come for it he shall have it! he laughed at the very idea, Capt B & his wife delight to talk of your capers.


Monday Nov 5th.

Aunt Kate regrets & so do I her having mailed the Sloane St[33] letter so late in the week that it did not reach Pomfret ere I left on Saturday. Oh I hope dear Jemie some note of your own expression of affection may be united to that Sister so uniformly expresses, so I will thank you both & beg you to continue to add your thought of Mother in her envelopes. Aunt Kate & the good Doctor[34] speak of Jemie so indulgently, their love must excite yours gratefully. I found Caroline & Minnie & little Cora[35] on a visit here, really Williams wife is a jewel, polished & cultivated, & has benefitted him in every way, he arrived yesterday by the Plymouth Rock[36] & they are all to go home by the same tonight. he saw George[37] in his Uncle Corts[38] office a day or two since, looking well & in good spirits, Wm [39] says George is his best friend & that now he offers his interest to promote him on the Illinois R R if he will move West, but Wm for this season prefers remaining on the N H[40]. he will report to George my remaining here until next Monday, that he may write me here. I have not known where to direct to him, but hope he may run up to Scarsdale next week.

I wrote dear Willie[41] as soon as the glad news of your arrival reached me, promising he should immediately share the first letter from you. he writes of having resumed mathematics & his hopes of getting on a par with his class by Xmas holiday, then, he & Jacks[42] hope to meet at GdMa C-s[43]. Cousin Donald[44] is now at the Navy Yd on duty in Brooklyn, he found Ginnie[45] at Washington on his return from sea in affliction, so of course he could not leave her, she is at the Mansion House & he at the Navy Yd, he writes Aunt Kate that it is double duty, for he has his four hours watch to keep regularly night & day, on board the Potomac[46], & can only spend brief intervals with his lonely Ginnie, their beautiful infant "Henry McNeill"[47] he never saw, it died 7 weeks old. [p. 4] he makes a proposal in Ginnies name to come & board with Aunt Kate while he must go in the Potomac to Cuba. she thinks she should be happy & would be glad to be useful in any way. She fell in love with Aunt K & never changes! alas for her prejudice[48] against me. I will yet keep a share of my heart for dear Donalds wife when she makes overtures for it, but will not invite her to Scarsdale lest it annoy her, neither can I go to Brooklyn. I suppose Mary R[49] is on her voyage to N O [i.e. New Orleans]. I wish I could have heard her little Alice[50] prattle. she is so like Charlie[51]! Cousin Julia[52] now has an infant brother for her Louloo & little Adolfe[53] to delight in with her. It will not be in my power to go to Staten Island for the winter. I shall scarcely wish to journey after making the Cottage[54] snug enough to read, write and quietly pursue my routine of duty, tho I may go to the City to procure what we lack for heating & lighting it. Tell dear Sis I shall be better able to answer her letter there at my old desk in the library. I have my wee portfolio on my lap now, & I am feeling all the while I ought to fulfil my promise to dear Aunt Kate to make flannels for her boys & girls. I have reserved as a bonne bouche[55] the cluster of delights you must have with Sis & Seymour, the darling children[56]! music, drawings books & social intercourse. I think I can hear the laugh you will excite & oh how I long to hear what Seymour & Sis find in my Jemie, of the pet brother they bestowed so much affection upon! My heart is too full in its realization that we may never meet again! tears come to its relief & prayer soothes. Be advised by your gentle loving Sister & write me all that engages your time. Day by day seek your Heavenly Fathers blessing in prayer with the faith of Charlie & your Mother.


As I travelled alone on the 3rd. my wedding 24th. anniversary[58], memory was, mingling sweet & aching bygones. Oh Jemie - dear! cheer & comfort your widowed Mother, by exercising prudence in all. Aunt Alicia[59]'s letter closed cheerfully in the acknowledgment of an affectionate letter from Jemie. Send her this to read & to convey my love to the trio in Preston[60] daily in your Mothers prayers. I shall have to defer writing them till I redeem five weeks absence!

All well & write in love to all.

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

2.  Pomfret and Stonington
JW's family moved to Stonington, CT, in 1837 when AMW's husband George Washington Whistler (1800-1849), engineer, was put in charge of the Providence to Stonington Railroad. Catherine ('Kate') Jane Palmer (ca 1812 - d.1877), née McNeill, AMW's sister [more], and her family still lived there. JW went to school in Pomfret, CT, from 1849 to 1851.

3.  Paris
JW arrived at Le Havre on 2 November 1855.

4.  ALS
The letter bears an embossed stamp 'PARIS'.

5.  Sisters
Deborah ('Debo' or 'Sis') Delano Haden (1825-1908), née Whistler, JW's half-sister [more]; her birthday was on 24 October.

6.  Hami's father
John Hamilton ('Hami' or 'Hammy') Jaffray (1837-1900), and his father Richmond Woodriff Jaffray (1813-1862), merchant. J. H. Jaffray and JW travelled together from New York to London on the Amazon, which sailed on 3 September 1855; see JW to AMW, 10 October 1855, #06466.

7.  letter from you
When this letter (#06469) was written, JW's letter of 10 October (#06466), the first written after his arrival in London, had not arrived. JW does not seem to have replied to this letter.

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

9.  Doctor & Mrs Williams
Lewis Williams (b. 1815), physician, of Pomfret, CT [more] and his wife; see AMW to JW, 12-15 October 1855, #06468.

10.  Uncle Winstanleys
John Winstanley (1776-1859), solicitor, JW's uncle [more].

11.  Willie
William McNeill Whistler (1836-1900), physician, JW's brother [more]. He enrolled at Trinity College, Hartford, CT, as a pre-medical student, by mid-March 1855; see AMW to JW, 13 February 1855, #06452; 15 March 1855, #06454; and 18 July 1855, #06461.

12.  The London Lancet
The principal London medical journal, edited by Thomas Wakley.

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

14.  nature
Haden stressed the importance of drawing from nature. See JW's letter to Deborah Haden in October 1858, #01912.

15.  Frank Wilkinson
Frank Wilkinson, and his father who died in 1855 in Pomfret, CT.

16.  sowing in tears
Psalm 126.5 - 'They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.'

17.  Grinnell
Grinnell (d. 1855?), an acquaintance of AMW.

18.  Lloyd B.
Lloyd Henry Bowers (1836-1886), son of Captain P. Bowers, Sr [more].

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

20.  Capt Bowers
Captain Perry R. Bowers, Jr (b. 1821), of Pomfret, CT [more].

21.  Miss Abby Allens
Abigail ('Abby') Allens, an acquaintance of AMW in Pomfret, CT.

22.  Anna
Anna Bowers (b. 1831), daughter of Captain P. Bowers, Sr.

23.  Netty
Netty Bowers, wife of Captain P. Bowers, Jr.

24.  Ellen
Ellen Augusta Bowers (1834-1890), daughter of Captain P. Bowers, Sr [more].

25.  Miss Helen Eldridge
Helen Grosvenor Eldridge (b. 1838), daughter of Hannah Eldridge.

26.  Mrs Searles
Mrs Searles, AMW's neighbour at Pomfret, CT.

27.  Nelly Park
Helen ('Nelly') Park (1848-1855), daughter of Rev. R. Park [more].

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

29.  Mary & little Roswald
Mary Park (b. 1839), daughter of Rev. R. Park. Roswald Park, son of Rev. Roswell Park.

30.  Mrs Park
Mary Park (1815-1854), née Brewster Baldwin, wife of Rev. R. Park [more].

31.  Tucker
Tucker, a neighbour of AMW, of Pomfret, CT.

32.  trap
Possibly a bag.

33.  Sloane St
The house of Francis Seymour Haden (1818-1910), surgeon and etcher, JW's brother-in-law [more], in London.

34.  Doctor
Dr George E. Palmer (1803-1868), physician, AMW's brother-in-law [more].

35.  Caroline & Minne & little Cora
Caroline Palmer, née Cahagan, wife of W. R. Palmer, and their daughters Cora, and Minnie Palmer.

36.  Plymouth Rock
Plymouth Rock (1854), Commodore Vanderbilt (1607, 58 tons); see AMW to JW, 12-15 October 1855, #06468.

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

38.  Uncle Corts
Courtland ('Uncle Court') Palmer, Sr (1800-1874), merchant, brother of Dr G. E. Palmer [more].

39.  Wm
William Rhodes Palmer (b. 1828), JW's step-cousin [more].

40.  N H
Probably New York and Harlem Railroad; see AMW to JW, 11 July 1855, #06463, and AMW to JW, 27 August 1851, #06399.

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

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

43.  Gd Ma C
Maria Margaretta Cammann ('Grandma C') (1774-1862), mother-in-law of William Gibbs McNeill [more].

44.  Donald
Donald McNeill Fairfax (1821-1894), naval officer, JW's cousin [more]. In 1855 Fairfax was ordered to flagship Potomac, Home Squadron, Brooklyn Navy Yard, and acted as her executive officer for eighteen months.

45.  Ginnie
Virginia ('Ginnie') Carry Fairfax (d. 1878), née Ragland, wife of D. McN. Fairfax [more].

46.  Potomac
William M. Lytle in Merchant Steam Vessels of the United States, 1790-1868, Baltimore, 1975, p. 177, has documented a number of vessels named 'Potomac.' They were all (4) built between 1820 and 1855 and they weighed between 54 and 818 tons; their first home ports were Norfolk, Va., Pittsburgh, Pa., Cincinnati, Ohio, and Cleveland, Ohio. They were built in Norfolk, Va., Beaver, pa., Kanawha, Va., and Cleveland, Ohio.

47.  Henry McNeill
Henry McNeill Fairfax (d. 1855), son of V. and D. McN. Fairfax.

48.  prejudice
Virginia Fairfax and AMW got on badly; see AMW to JW, 21 March 1855, #06455.

49.  Mary R
Mary Isabella Rodewald (1823-1867), née McNeill, JW's cousin, wife of J. F. Rodewald [more].

50.  Alice
Alice Rodewald (1854-1923), daughter of M. I. and J. F. Rodewald [more].

51.  Charlie
Charles Donald Whistler (1841-1843), JW's brother [more].

52.  Julia
Julia Catherine Rodewald (1825-1897), née McNeill, JW's cousin, wife of A. Rodewald, Sr [more].

53.  an infant brother for her Louloo and little Adolfe
Frederick Rodewald, Mary Louise (Louloo) Rodewald, and Adolfe Rodewald.

54.  Cottage
AMW lived intermittently at Scarsdale, NY between September 1851 and November 1857 in a cottage owned by her friends Margaret G. and Sarah Hill.

55.  bonne bouche
Fr., a luscious morsel; a toothsome tit-bit; see AMW to JW, 16 December 1853, #06433.

56.  children
Harry Lee Haden (1855-1877), Arthur Charles Haden (1852-1910), musician, and Francis Seymour Haden (1850-1918), JW's nephews.

57.  5th
'5th ... prudence in all' continues in left margin of p. 2; 'Aunt ... absence' continues in left margin of p. 1; 'All well ... to all' continues in right margin of p. 1.

58.  wedding 24th. anniversary
On 3 November 1831 AMW had married George Washington Whistler (1800-1849), engineer, JW's father [more].

59.  Aunt Alicia
Alicia Margaret Caroline McNeill (1786-1863), JW's aunt [more].

60.  trio in Preston
Eliza Isabella Winstanley (1788-1857), née McNeill, JW's aunt, AMW's half-sister [more], and her husband John Winstanley (1776-1859), merchant in Preston. The third person might be Alicia Margaret Caroline McNeill, or Elizabeth Pickard (1800-1875), sister of John Winstanley.