Martha Jefferson Randolph and Virginia J. Randolph Trist to Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge
|Dear Ellen||[ca. 7 Mar. 1832]|
Your last letter had has disturbed us all so much, that although in the midst of preparation for one of the most brilliant parties that ever was given in Washington, no less than a fancy ball at which all must appear in character, I have thrown aside Mary’s sun, & Septimia’s dew spangled vail, to write to you. although Cornelia‘s insisting upon answering your letter was the first cause of delay, yet I acknowledge that nothing can even paliate the continuance of our silence when we found she did not do it; particularly as you[r] it letter mentioned the coming of dear little Nell and Mr Coolidge, an event that I hope I need not at this day say what unqualified pleasure it would have given us all; and a change in Joseph’s plan has disturbed us the more as appearing connected with our unpardonable silence under such circumstances—yet I think dear Ellen you ought both to know us and our bad habits in writing too well to have thought seriously of our doing now what we have so often done before; the only thing in my mind that made it worse than common was the circumstance of Joseph’s promised visit; the pleasure it [. . .] would have given us was a self evident truth; but one that [. . .] ought to have been repeated; and the heart being right ought not to be accepted as an apology for the indolence which neglects “the small sweet courtesies of life.” if any thing could cure an inveterate habit brought on by living in crouded together as we do children and all during the winters in one room the uneasiness this business has given us all would do it but while the days are short and the whole family ocupy one room which serves for a nursery as well as work shop, and each in turn, but more particularly my self particularly acting as nurse we can not be punctual: in writing this page I have put my letter down six times, three of which I had to take the child up in my arms to quiet his [. . .] crying, and three more to attend to some childish sport. Ellen has a baby of her own, consequently the nurse & nursery are nominal luxuries only my room being the real nursery and my self the nurse, not from any want of will in the girls to releive me but because as [. . .] Nell did & Tom would have done if I had had more to say to him, Jefferson has attached himself to me so exclusively that even Tim his next favorite is but endured by him in any attempt to tend him. we have no good Mrs Coxe to releive us in any thing but washing and dressing the children, that Ellen still do continues to do, and with the addition of the monthly nurse & a white workwoman in the house also working in my room we are nineteen persons in family servants included: still that would not have interfered with Joseph’s visit we have a spare room that has only been occupied since V—s confinement and Lewis could have occupied Nicholas’s book room and Joseph have had his room Nell of course would have slept in my roo mine or with one of her Aunts the house is a large three story one with 5 rooms 20 feet square and 4 smaller besides two large good garret rooms one of which only is occupied by our servants, their being an out building. and there are two very nice yards, one common to the two tenements with the pump in it, the other private but large and well turfed surrounded with a good [. . .] pavement and large enough to ride the children and exercise them in any way. we pay 4000 $ for it this year & N. hopes to get it for 350 here after should we keep it the neighbourhood is good & even fashionable, we are next door to the english chargé whom however we do not visit, a stones throw from Mrs Lear & her young daughter in law a sweet light hearted girl, very near the Serruriers and almost equidistant between the 6 & 7 buildings perhaps a little nearer to the former. Old Baron Stakelburg is also [. . .] only three doors from us but N.. dislikes him so that there is no communication I do not know if the girls mentioned that Ben was settled in Hallifax county near Danville. poor fellow he writes with a good deal of feeling at the distance at which he is thrown from his friends and early haunts. he says “it is a black day in a young mans calendar, the one of separation from his friends to fix amongst Strangers totally indifferent whether he fails or succeeds, lives or dies” to one who has been accustomed from childhood to live in a large family where, I may say with truth in ours all interests are in common, and every one feels so deep an interest in the affairs of the other. it is in itself a cause in youth when the feelings are warm it is a real misfortune to be throw[n] off to a distance from [. . .] one’s friends amongst strangers to whom you & yours affairs are matters of perfect indifference, and who for the most part look upon a poor young man strugling with [. . .] poverty as a needy adventurer possessing nothing in common with them. of George I hear very good accounts. Mr Hodgson who went out with him tells me that although the youngest midshipman on board, the others being 18 & upwards, he is said to be the best informed amongst them, and has a character of undaunted intrepidity & integrity—I know him better than they do, he has weak nerves, & such are always liable to alarm; but he has a pride and quick sensibility of character that would make him rush in to the mouth of a cannon rather than disgrace him self. he has a great deal of observation and a desire for information which makes him visit every thing worth seeing he wrote to me twice from Constantinople where however they were not suffered to land twice once from Vourla Smirna and Gibraltar which last I never received Mr Hog Hodgson will leave us immediately after the fancy ball to return to Constantinople if he sails from Boston I will give him a letter to you he [. . .] is a virginian I beleive from Fluvanna, or Orange perhaps, a little too much of the dandy but a very genteel and rather handsome young man; his having seen so much George will make give him an interest in your eyes as it did in mine—and now to tell you a word of this fancy ball which engrosses every thing in the shape of a [. . .] taylor mantua maker &c. & and as the first ever attempted occupies all minds you will naturally wish to know the Costume of your own family Lewis goes as Robin hood, a green coat cap bow, & arrows all of which have been well enough described to imitate. Noels dictionary which has an article of Iconology gives the Costume of every character. the girls have chosen the four parts of the day, Ellen as night will be dressed in black with a very long black veil spangled with stars of brilliant gold paper gummed or pasted on I think they ought to be silver [. . .] and that a crescent shoul[d] be added but Noel says nothing of the crescent and the Grand Mistress of the toilet Cornelia has decided for gold. Septimia will be Aurora or the dawn. a saffron coloured frock with white & silver sandals the morning star made of 6 of Mrs Morris’s jewel buttons really as brilliant as diamonds in her hair with a long white veil spangled in immitation of dew. Mary will be noon her dress will be a poppy coloured gause over a white silk petticoat white & gold shoes a gold belt her hair dressed with a beautiful little gold handkerchief lent her by Mrs Stewart confined with a golden sun. her fresh complexion will make the dress a becoming one to her. Cornelia goes as evening with a white dress a long white veil a silver crescent in her hair the ornaments all silver the dresses are all strickly classical, taken from the Iconological dictionary nothing [. . .] has been bought but the poppy coloured gause at 37 cts 6 qts wide & the gold & silver tinsel which Mrs Abbot let us have very cheep. Louisa Lear & the Miss Vails will form the party. the peasants & flower girls say they ought to form the suite of the Goddess Aurora who calls them to their labours the company will generally go in groups after the ball you shall hear more in the mean time between this and thursday the great days they have 3 invitations which must be accepted by some members of the family Tim has taken the paragraph relating to her most tragically she has been in hysterick ever since how could Sister Ellen think so meanly of me? how can she know me so little. “Lord how can you say so brown Sally Green said, you must [. . .] think mighty meanly little of me.[”]1
It is said Mrs H. Otis means to go as Priscilla Tomboy and a little insignificant frenchman Garechée as Watty Cockney first & then as Rosina & Count Almaviva in the barbier de seville but I can not [. . .] vouch for the truth of any thing that is said of her. adieu beloved I write in noise & hurry give My love to Joseph & kiss all the darlings for me excuse & burn this scrawl as soon as you have read it
I can not bear to leave you a moment longer than necessary, My Dearest Sister, under so false an impression as Cornelia’s letter seems to have made on your mind respecting our feelings for you. the truth is that I should have written to you immediately on Mr. Barrels arrival, & returned my thanks for the beautiful frock you sent my baby, but when I spoke of writing Cornelia claimed it as her privelege to write the next letter to you, and I gave up to her, having first desired her to leave room for me to add a P. S. week after week passed, and I continually urging her to write, and she telling me she was writing a letter and promising to finish it every day. at last Mama wanted to write and was prevented in the same way by Cornelia’s promises, and she finished her letter the morning I was confined and I comforted myself for not being able to add the few lines I wished, with the pleasure I felt of at your being informed in the very first hour of the safe arrival of my fine boy, but I believe she her letter lay a day or two on the mantlep[iece] before it was sent to the office. My Baby is a fortnight old this morni[ng] he weighed [. . .] nine pounds when the day he was born, and has been, so far, a thriving healthy child; and (as usual at first) I have an abundant supply of milk. I have been very fortunate in my nurse, she is very judicious in her management both of the baby & myself, and the most attentive creature in the world. Her knowledge is derived from Dr. Lovell, whose wife she has nursed in seven confinef confinements. She has left me a little while this morning, and the baby is crying in the cradle and I am his nurse until Mrs. Gates comes in. [. . .] I have never been able to hear any very direct accounts of Cousin Ann’s [. . .] family. Mrs. Bennet Taylor told Sister Jane that cousin Ann’s youngest child died, and two of Mr. Jones’s daughter’s, & as Mrs. Barton (Fanny Jones) is still living I suppose Jane & Anna Maria are the two, who died of Scarlet fever. Marshall Jones (the elder son) is on trial for life, having had the misfortune to kill a man in Lynchburg. I have written to cousin Ann without further information & in a few lines she wrote C. in answer to a letter announcing the babies baby’s birth. She promised to write soon to me. She says it is two years since She got a letter from you, and that you must send her messages Sometimes when you write to us. the letter is sealed with black, & some allusion made to what She has gone through, but nothing from which we could form a conjecture as to the particulars. Aunt Lucy says in a letter to some of her friends in Florida that Cousin Ann had borne her misfortunes like a true Christian, but E. who mentioned it, took for granted that we knew all about it. I am doing well, but not yet quite strong, & subject to head ache. the baby seems to have caught a cold & yesterday & to day has been fretful & uneasy. he has hitherto been a very good child. adieu dearest Sister, I feel fatigued, & fear my writing is very illegible.
noels dictionary was François Noel, Dictionnaire de la Fable, Ou Mythologie Grecque, Latine, Egyptienne, Celtique, Persanne, Syriaque, Indienne, Chinoise, Scandinave, Africaine, Américaine, Iconologique, etc., 2 vols. (1801). lord how can you say so is from “Giles Jollup the Grave, and Brown Sally Green,” by Matthew Gregory Lewis, Tales of Wonder (1801).