Joshua Lawrence Chamberlan: The Bowdoin College Site

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From Joshua L. Chamberlain
to "Dear Mother" [Sarah (Brastow) Chamberlain], Brunswick, January 31, 1860.


Chamberlain suffered from ill health most of his adult life, even before the Civil War wounds that would plague him. In this letter to his mother, Chamberlain describes the current health of the family, including his own rheumatism and his wife Fanny’s severe bout of neuralgia. Chamberlain also comments on the medical situation of his children, recently vaccinated against small pox. Chamberlain’s son Wyllys—slightly over a year old at the time of this letter, is referred to as "the boy" as he was not yet named at the time of this letter. Chamberlain also discusses the new position of Professor of Modern Languages, commenting on the "plotting and counterplotting" taking place to attain the professorship. Chamberlain was ultimately selected for the position.

Brunswick Jan 31st 1860

Dear Mother:

Having a purpose to write you, + not finding a proper sheet of paper at hand, I have as you notice, torn a sheet out of a triennial catalogue, which we sometimes have interleaved – to mark changes on, for the next catalogue – such as deaths, entering the ministry, or law, or honorary degrees or stations conferred upon graduates. So that I am not to be easily driven from my purpose of writing, even though I run the risk of you thinking I have a bad sign to begin with, that is, using for such a vital purpose as writing you, a sheet devoted to the record of deaths + Doctor’s degrees.

  To leave all that however I suppose you have concluded from my silence that all

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was well with us – as it is fair in general to conclude and such in good degree is this case with us. Though, my own health has been not at all good + Fanny of late suffers terribly with neuralgia,[1] still we are thankful that as yet the children have escaped the scarlet fever, which is sweeping the town, though not with fatal effect in many cases. We are all done with looking for it yet, + matching with such solicitude as you will easily understand every change of color in their little faces. Daisy[2] was vaccinated yesterday + from her the Dr. is to vaccinate "the boy".

Fanny has been perfectly "filled" with neuralgia- day and night- she has so much to do she cant afford to give entirely up by day – but at night she has been almost

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driven distracted. She is in the midst of that yet.

  As for myself, I was never more plagued by pains + sleeplessness. Rheumatism or some such sort of thing seems to have got a fast hold of me, + has of late struck in to my head in such a way as to make me incapable of doing anything which requires attention or mental effort. I am hoping the powerful remedy I am using will give me some peace soon.

  We have our usual amount of diplomacy this term – plotting and counterplotting. The game now is a professor of modern languages, in which curious developments of human nature appear in full relief + how it will turn out I cant predict. Your friend Prof. Upham[3] still urges it upon me, + argues the point with his customary shrewdness; but that professorship.

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I believe I shall stay where I am, unless some greater inducement than I have seen yet, is offered for the change.

  I ought to have told you before that in the hurry of getting into the cars, I kept your shawl which was wrapped about Daisy’s feet + which afterwards proved very convenient as we were waiting for the cars at Kendall’s Mills.

  Fanny was very thankful for the things you kindly sent, + we both have reason to express our thanks to you all, for your constant + many kindnesses beyond what you are in any way bound to show us.

  I was glad of John’s[4] letter. Have not heard from Sae[5] lately. I received a beautiful letter from Prof. Smith of Bangor a day or two ago.

Hoping that you are all quite well, your affectionate son Lawrence.

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Citation: George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, Bowdoin College, Joshua L. Chamberlain Collection, M27.

Index Terms: Chamberlain, Fanny; Neuralgia; Professor; Modern Languages; Small Pox; Upham, Thomas; Chamberlain, Daisy; Education; Chamberlain, John; Chamberlain, Sae


[1] A painful nerve disorder, often dealing with facial nerves affected by touch, temperature and pressure. Short, painful attacks often result that typically last for less than two minutes.

[2] Grace Chamberlain, Chamberlain’s daughter, who he often referred to as Daisy.

[3] Thomas Upham, Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy at Bowdoin College from 1824-1867.

[4] John Chamberlain, Joshua’s brother.

[5] Sarah Chamberlain, Joshua’s sister, whom he often referred to as Sae.


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