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

I have been hoping for some time past to get away from London before the fine season was quite over. It is now decided that we go to Edinburgh. I am overjoyed at the thought. I shall see Scotland, I shall hear the “sweet Doric” of her spoken tongue, and in the home of Burns and Walter Scott do homage to the genius which has in my own distant country, so often warmed my heart and animated my fancy, kindled my imagination and moved my whole inward life. These illustrious men are gone, but their spirit still lingers, still glorifies the land which gave them birth. I have many early recollections connected with the name of Scotland. My father was educated there and retained to the last a kind memory of the years he had lived in Edinburgh. The professor Leslie who has since become so celebrated was engaged by my father as tutor for his father’s children, & was sent or carried to the United States where he lived some time at Tuckahoe. I have often heard my aunt Randolph speak of him—that same aunt, Mrs David Meade Randolph, who, during a summer passed in Newport, secured the services of Dr Channing, then only eighteen years old, as tutor for her own sons. He lived with them in Virginia I think two years. Leslie & Channing are distinguished names in very different ways, but none of their pupils, among my relations at least, became distinguished—

The music of Scotland may be almost called the national music of Virginia.—the simple, plaintive or sprightly airs which every body knows and every body sings are Scotch. We hear Scotch music in our nurseries when we are children. Scotch songs while away the hours of a girl at her needle, and with a simple accompaniment they enable her to cheer and soothe her father’s evening hours. This music is natural, intelligible, comes home to every body’s business & bosom, & supplies the place of that more refined and cultivated art which borrowed from Italy & Germany remains always an exotic. What mother lulls her child with an Italian air, or what father when resting after his days work, asks his daughter for a German song? A taste for foreign music, which when genuine is desirable & enviable, in America is too apt to be a thing of affectation & of cant.

My grandfather was a true lover of music—he enjoyed all that was good of it’s kind—no one had a more true feeling for Italian music, but he likewise had a love of boyhood for the old Scotch songs. “The Lass of Patie’s Mill,” “The Broom of Cowdenows,” “Robin Adair” & “Lochaber” were among his favorites—Among mine were “T’was within a mile of Edinbro’ town,” “Galla Water,” “The yellow-haired laddie” “of a’ the airts the wind can blow” & “Kinloch of Kinloch.”

I shall be very glad to go to Scotland, very glad to leave London. September, a pleasant month almost every where else, is dismal here. The fogs are so thick that we see little more than across the street—the air is heavy, damp, smoky. The sun when visible at all is a dull, red ball; a slow, misty rain is the only change, from bad to worse, which the weather seems capable of, and this gives us streets reeking with black mud & exhalations rising from a wet and filthy earth. The smoke of a hundred thousand chimneys pays constant tribute to the dense cloud which always hangs over London, and fog, rain, smoke, black mud & heavy exhalations combine to make all below & all above equally insupportable. Let us get away as fast as we can.—

The West End is deserted by all that gave it life & brilliancy and this adds not a little to it’s sombre aspect. So many houses shut up, so few carriages, so little passing. St. James’ Street, the street of Club Houses, so near the purlieus of the Court, and which when I first arrived, literally swarmed with splendid equipages, is now dull, desolate and lonely. Every body gone. The Queen at Windsor, the Members of the two Houses of Parliament shooting partridges in the country, the nobility and gentry retired to their estates, strangers & foreigners making tours or visiting their friends in the country, every body glad to get away from London—dismal, dirty, gloomy London. Yet London in July & even in August, is a very pleasant place, the climate not disagreeable, and where there is a great deal to see and a good deal to be done.

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), 71–3.