Extract from Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge’s London Travel Diary

I have been a day & a half in London and it will take me many days to recover from the effects of my voyage. I feel badly & look badly, thin, pale & sunburnt. Three large mirrors in our drawing room, & three more in my bed-chamber leave me no doubt on this subject. I cannot get away from my own image. and my dress costume is in keeping with my looks. A black travelling dress is hardly the thing for London but my luggage is all, save a carpet bag, aboard the Wellington which was expected last night and this morning is said not to have passed the Downs. I am worse off than Sterne with his six shirts and one pair of black satin unmentionables. My maid, the English [. . .] lady’s maid provided by the kind care of my husband, and whom I found waiting for me at Fenton’s, bears the non-arrival of my trunks worse than I do. She is tired of the black travelling dress and keeps brushing my hair for want of something else to do. When I was a girl, living in Virginia, I had an excellent lady’s maid who did every thing for me. When I married and went to New England where every lady is her own maid, and waits upon herself, and dresses her own hair, I felt as if I should never be able to perform such Herculean tasks. Thirteen years of persevering effort, however, made these things so easy to me that I fancied I should never desire to be waited on again, or have a hireling intruding her useless services on the independence & privacy of my toilette. But it was a mistaken thought. In five minutes I had relapsed into old habits—allowed my maid to undress and put me to bed the night of my arrival, and now cannot stick a pin or smooth a hair without her. Will it take me, when I return to Boston, another thirteen years, if I live so long, to learn to take care of myself again? Heaven forefend!

My sitting room is front, overlooking St James’ St. and my eyes are constantly attracted by the curious variety of1 carriages, coaches, coupés, barouches, broughams, britschkas, stanhopes, Tilburies, Dennets, Flys, Cabs (such they tell me are the names) to say nothing of vile hackney coaches, stage coaches carrying four inside and eleven outside passengers, waggons, carts and so on. The Cab Family is a numerous one, including many high-bred & low-bred specimens, as unlike each other as many other individuals grouped together by naturalists who understand their own reasons for doing so. A variety of Cab which it hurts my feelings to look at is an oblong packing box on wheels, the driver, or Cabman I suppose would be the English word, is perched on the top, the door behind, the occupants sit with their sides to the horse, and are jostled along looking like children in a Toss-about, of which machine I have only seen the picture in a Primer. St James’ St. is wide & paved with what I supposed to be large bricks, but which are in fact, I am told, small oblong stones, looking very even and neat.

I am occupying rooms just vacated by Lady Alice Peale, sister-in-law, I believe to Sir Robert Peale. They are not elegant rooms though comfortable. The curtains, sofa, fauteuils & chairs of worsted damask—there are mahogany tables, white marble mantel pieces, Brussels carpets, gilt centre lamps and very large mirrors. But every thing is dingy with London smoke, and the walls papered, which strikes me unpleasantly accustomed as I am to the painted walls of Boston houses. We breakfast about ten and dine at seven, taking coffee immediately after and tea when we call for it—at any hour. Our breakfast consists of black tea, comme ça, butter la la—having no ice upon it; but delicious muffins, light, white, spongy just such as we had, in former days, at Monticello, when the cook happened to be sober. Such as I once heard a little boy desire his mother to “butter on the back, stick holes in with a fork, and squeeze down in the plate till the juice run out.” Add to these, new-laid eggs with the date of their production written on them with a pencil, and very fine, large, ripe strawberries.

Our dinner is served on silver (plated?) dishes. We had, yesterday, first a soup, then fish with lobster sauce & potatos. Next came lamb, pigeons, green peas & again potatos—apparently as obligato here as in Boston. We had then an omelette with sugar and fresh cut lemons followed by Wiltshire and Stilton cheese & bread & butter. We have two waiters, and the master of the Hotel, Fenton, in shorts and black silk stockings, himself poured out the wine, which at my request, was Port.

There is a grand review to-day in Hyde Park which I am too unwell and weary to wish even to see. But the Horse Guards have just passed the window. Superb men on superb horses all black with white housings. Two officers of rank came a few moments after all scarlet & gold in an open Barouche, the box covered with scarlet & gold, the coachman and two footmen in scarlet & gold very fine & very gaudy, more like the figures on a Chinese Tea Chest than any thing else. The only persons I have seen since my arrival here are Mr Higginson, Mr, Mrs, & Miss Bates, Dr Warren of Boston this morning, and just gone Dr Boott and his mother.—

MS (MHi: Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge Diary, Ms N-1027); in Coolidge’s hand. Published in Thomas Jefferson’s Granddaughter in Queen Victoria’s England: The Travel Diary of Ellen Wayles Coolidge, 1838–1839, Ann Lucas Birle and Lisa A. Francavilla, eds. (2011), 20–4.

Coolidge here refers to the first page of Lawrence sterne, A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy (1770). The unmentionables were silk breeches.

1Manuscript: “of of.”