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

Yesterday I passed an hour & a half at the National Gallery. I have been there repeatedly before but I am just now beginning to see clearly & understand understandingly. Hitherto my mind has been confused and my eyes dazzled by a multitude of objects which I am learning to separate & reduce to their several individualities. My impressions are becoming distinct. Yesterday there was a fine light for the pictures and especially for those in the large end room. I seated myself opposite the great picture of the Gallery, the “Resurrection of Lazarus,” by Sebastian del Piombo, with the aid of Michael Angelo. This, Dr Waagen considers the best picture of the Italian school in England. I have just come into possession of Dr Waagen’s book, which I had in my hands for a short time last summer, but it is only now that I have secured a copy of my own. I visited the rich collections of Chatsworth, the Bridgewater Gallery, the Dulwich Gallery, Lord Ashburton’s, Mr Hope’s & Chiswick without guide or even Catalogue. The consequence was that being ignorant of art, having a limited time for examination, and with no companion who understood things much better than myself, I gained few ideas and perhaps none that were accurate. I experienced most varying emotions, brought away delightful impressions and not many distinct images. I shall now study Dr Waagen and try to associate his criticism with my recollections. But to return to the National Gallery and the “Resurrection of Lazarus.”—Cardinal Giulio de Medici, afterwards Pope Clement 7th, whilst he was Archbishop of Narbonne, caused two pictures to be painted for the Cathedral of that City. One was the Transfiguration by Raphael, the other the Raising of Lazarus by Sebastian del Piombo. To this picture Michael Angelo furnished perhaps the whole composition, but certainly, say the Connoisseurs, the figure of Lazarus could have been drawn by no hand but that of Michael Angelo, the painting being by S. del P. who excelled in colouring. The picture remained in Narbonne until purchased by the Regent, Philip of Orleans, for the sum of 24.000 francs. From the Orleans Collection, sold by Egalité, it passed into the hands of Mr Angerstein who paid for it 3500 guineas. He refused to part with it to Mr Beckford for 20.000 pounds sterling. At Mr Angerstein’s death, his whole collection of pictures, thirty eight in number, was purchased by the nation for £56.000. and formed the foundation of the National Gallery.

Knowing the high reputation of this great picture, I have been sorry and mortified not to feel more admiration in looking at it. Yesterday the light was very favorable, and I began, for the first time to acknowledge it’s merits. I account for my previous disappointment in this way. The Scripture account of the miracle which restored Lazarus to his family is one of the most beautiful & touching things on record. Save only the impatient, and in our translation the coarse expression of the impetuous Martha, there is not an image but of tenderness, love and pity. The mind dwells on the Saviour as he stands supreme, conscious of his own power, with unlimited faith and trust in God, yet with a heart full to overflowing with compassion and deep affection. He weeps over his friends, even at the moment when by an exertion of miraculous power, he is about to restore to them that object of their love wh for whom they have themselves shed so many bitter tears. Then the sisters of Lazarus, their faith, their submission, their tenderness—the whole picture is so exquisite that we forget every thing but it’s moral & spiritual beauty—the dead man four days buried, the grave, the shroud, the ghastly images of disease and death do not come before our eyes, and therefore, I think it was that I was shocked not pleased by the dark, unearthly figure, grim from the tomb, his head still bound about with the napkin, his feet fettered by the grave clothes, a heavy shadow over his face, whilst his eye gleams wildly with returning life, and his whole body and limbs are of the wan and ghastly hue of a four days burial. I had never dwelt upon the necessity of such appearances, and when it was forced upon me I turned away almost with a shudder. Little by little the judgment corrects the errors of the imagination, and I am now awakening to the truth, the justness of the representation which the combined genius of two great artists has given of this great subject. I will return to the Gallery and study it till farther—I will say to myself, this is the death from which we have been rescued, this is the grave over which faith is victorious.

The other pictures which I looked at with most interest were,

1st The vision of St. Jerome by Parmegiano painted in the year 1527. “This,” says Waagen, “was probably the picture over which the painter was so absorbed in his work that he did not know any thing of the taking of Rome by the troops of the Constable de Bourbon, till some German soldiers entered his work room with a view to plunder, but were so astonished at the sight of the picture, that they themselves protected the artist against the ill behaviour of the other Soldiers. Parmegiano was at this time only twenty four years old. This picture is 11 feet 6 inches high, by 4 feet 11 inches in width, and consists of four figures, the Virgin in glory with her son, a child of a few years old, whilst St. John, a full grown, vigorous, young man, in a somewhat constrained attitude, is in the fore ground, and St. Jerome, the figure ungracefully foreshortened, is asleep on the ground. The effect, notwithstanding these blemishes, is noble in the extreme.

2nd The “Ecce Homo” by Correggio, of which Waagen says that it is one of the best pictures done by this artist.

3. “The Education of Cupid”—Corregio three figures. Mercury, Cupid & a Venus with wings.

4. Correggio. A small Madonna & child.La Vierge au Panier

5. Ganymede borne away by the Eagle. (Octagonal)Titian

6. Bacchus & Ariadne with Bacchantes & Satyrs.Titian

7. Venus & Adonis (which Waagen pronounces to be a school copy.)Titian

8. Christ among the Doctors (Injured by injudicious repairs.) Leonardo da Vinci

Waagen considers this a work of Bernardino del Luini

9. Cardinal Hippolito de Medici & Sebastian del Piombo. (Portraits) Sebastian del Piombo

10. French portrait (a saint) Colossal & beautifulSebastian del Piombo

This is called a portrait of Julia Gonzaga, but Waagen doubts.

11. Consecration of St. Nicholas—Very largePaul Veronese

12. Pope Julius 2nd (Waagen calls it a school copy)Raphael

13. La Madonna del GattoBaroccio

14. Virgin & Child, St. Joseph, the Holy Ghost, the Father, angels—Murillo

15. Susanna & the Elders. (Waagen doubts if it be really by—)Ludovico Caracci

16. Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba. ExquisiteClaude Lorraine

17. Narcissus—Still water, rocks & trees—Claude

18. Embarkation of St Ursula & the Eleven thousand VirginsClaude

19. Sinon brought before PriamClaude

20. Cephalus & ProcrisClaude

21. Italian Seaport at SunsetClaude

22. Isaac & Rebecca—not noticed by WaagenClaude

All these works of Claude are beautiful1 as landscapes—the figures comparatively unimportant, give names to the pieces.

I went home from the National Gallery and dressed to dine with Mrs Searle. Among the company I found Mrs Annesley & Miss Ainsworth. The toryism of the English women, especially such as consider toryism as a mark of Caste, amuses me by it’s unreasoning violence. What a pity that women will meddle with politicks, for they will not take the trouble to understand any of the great questions in politicks. I am a bit of a Conservative myself, yet I feel that this is a matter of taste & feeling rather than of principle. It is no great matter, after all, in the present times, what a woman’s politicks are. She may make herself impertinent & disagreeable, by an unfeminine display of her prejudices in such matters, but scarcely dangerous. I must say however that the ladies who talk radicalism render themselves more than ridiculous,—absolutely disgusting—There is a something in the boldness & bravado of this party singularly unpleasant in a woman. The petulance and namby pamby of tory ladies is a thousand times more lady-like.—Upon the whole it is a pity,

when charming women
Talk of what they do not understand.

Female writers even on political economy are very apt to be made tools of by men to serve party purposes. Witness Lord Brougham & Miss Martineau. Women are too imaginative and emotional for subjects which admit of neither fancy nor feeling, and they are moreover, as a general rule, far more rational in action than in discourse. I heard from Mrs Annesley what interested me far more than her politicks—some account of the lives and fortunes of some of my mother’s old friends in Paris & the Abbaie Royal de Panthemont.

Miss Anneslay became Lady Farnham; Lady Elizabeth Tufton is living & unmarried; Lady Caroline Tufton married Mr Barham and is dead—killed about three years ago, coming home alone in the dusk, knocked down in crossing a street—what an extraordinary death for a woman of rank & fortune! How singular that she should have been out, at that hour, in the streets of London, alone and on foot. I suppose that ladies of great wealth & high station take the same pleasure in descending a little from both, that little girls do in playing washerwoman, or making believe scour or scrub. Lady Caroline Tufton was an intimate friend of my mother who spoke of her as a most amiable & excellent person, less beautiful than Lady Elizabeth but far more attractive & agreeable. They were the nieces of the Duke of Dorset who was English Ambassador in Paris at the time my grandfather was American Minister there.

I take great interest in all details relating to my dear mother’s early friends. She remembered her residence in France as the brightest part of a life much shaded & saddened by care & sorrows. Her girlhood was however a very happy one. She went abroad when only twelve years old, & was placed for education in the convent, the Abbaie de Panthemont, where she remained four years. Then, from sixteen to seventeen years old, she lived in her father’s house in Paris, and went freely into society both French & English.

Her recollections of the Convent were in the highest degree pleasant & favorable. She always spoke with the greatest approbation of the system of education pursued there—of the attention paid to the morals and manners of the girls, and of the care which was taken to train them to habits of neatness, modesty and scrupulous regard to purity and propriety. The superintendants were watchful to prevent any species of indecorum. Lessons of truth, justice, charity, & piety a little too Roman Catholic in it’s complexion, were sedulously taught, and many of the pupils profited in no small degree, by the great moral advantages which they enjoyed. They were instructed in all elegant accomplishments by the best masters in Paris, and the useful branches of education, arithmetic, geography, history and modern languages were taught with the utmost care. Housewifery indeed, and needle-work, formed no part of the educational system of Panthemont, for the élèves, being in general daughters of wealthy & considerable persons, were considered as above the necessity of attention to such homely matters. An omission which my mother, destined to become wife, mother and mistress in a Virginia family, afterwards felt severely, having to acquire with painful conscientiousness, a knowledge of many matters certainly not taught in the Abbaye Royal de Panthemont, Faubourg Saint-Germain, Paris.

If I could take my mother, however, as a sample of convent education I should say that, in most respects, it formed a beau-ideal of moral & intellectual training. But this would not be fair, for she was a person richly & rarely endowed by Nature with talents of a superiour order, a temper of unrivalled sweetness and cheerfulness, and a heart overflowing with all warm & good affections. But she certainly did honour to the schooling of Panthemont. She was graceful in figure and movement, an accomplished musician, well acquainted with several modern languages, well grounded in all the solid branches of a woman’s education, save only the arts of housewifery, to which she afterwards attained with pain & difficulty, by untiring perseverance, so soon as she was placed in a situation which rendered a knowledge of them essential for the comfort of others. After living and moving for one year in the gay circles of Paris, she accompanied her father on his return to the U.S. in 1789, married very soon and settled down in the country in Virginia. And there certainly could not be well imagined a greater contrast than between her single & her married life! But she bore the change with true female heroism, which is made up of resistance to small evils and cheerful courage and patient endurance under domestic grievances. And she had too her full share of heavier calamities. Not only petty trials but great ones. She was equal to all. Yet she seemed born not only to bless but to shine. She was not only excellent, but captivating to all who came within the sphere of her manifold attractions. And she is gone, with her deep affections, her high principles, her generous & magnanimous temper, her widely diffused benevolence, her sound judgment and glowing imagination, her highly cultivated understanding and fascinating manners! She has passed away and the world has not known her. She has left no memorial but in the recollection of her friends & the hearts of her children, and they will soon disappear as she has done. A few short years and perhaps all record, all remembrance of her name, her qualities will be gone, lost like so much else of what is best worth preserving. It may be told for a while in the neighbourhood of her and her father’s home, that a daughter of Thomas Jefferson sleeps by his side in that neglected burying ground at Monticello; but of who or what she was, otherwise than the daughter of a well known Statesman & great political leader, no tradition will, after one generation remain, and by and by, perhaps, the very fact be forgotten that she lies near him, on the same spot where her only sister preceded her, and whither her mother had gone many years before! But I can never think, speak, or write of my mother without forgetting, for the time, all other things. It is of some of her early friends that I was talking with Mrs Annesley.

Miss Annesley was a beautiful & very proud girl, a granddaughter by the mother’s side, of Lord Lyttelton. The Ladies Elizabeth & Caroline Tufton my mother reckoned among her most pleasant associates. For a while after she parted from them some intercourse was maintained across the Atlantic, but family cares & more engrossing affections soon interfered to put an end to it. Their uncle, the Duke of Dorset, was an amiable & gentlemanly man, with none of the “Morgue” or reserve of his countrymen. His acquaintance with my grandfather with whom his diplomatic functions brought him into contact was of a pleasant & cordial description. I have often heard my mother say that during the time that she was abroad, notwithstanding the recent war between England & America, the still excited feeling on the subject of the American Revolution, and the fact that my grandfather had been an active promoter of what the English called Rebellion, and was even the author of the Declaration of Independence, that she had personally never experienced anything like unkindness or coldness on the part of the English whom she met in Paris. She was received into their society, invited to their parties, and treated with uniform courtesy & attention. In one instance only had she found herself an object of prejudice or neglect from the fact of her being an American. The person who condescended to remember against a young girl the sins of her country, was Lady Radnor, the wife or mother I know not which, of that Lord Radnor who had served against the Rebels. Among the persons who were in Paris during the time that my mother was there were the celebrated Dutchess of Devonshire & her successor Lady Elizabeth Foster, the Countess now Countess Duchess of Sutherland, Mr Coutts the Banker with his vulgar, old wife, Maria Cosway the engraver, & others of less note. All these are now dead, except the Countess Duchess of Sutherland, of whom I often hear Mrs Stevenson speak, and whose castle of Dunrobin I should dearly like to see. When on a visit of curiosity to Knowle Park the old Housekeeper pointed out to me the portraits of the Duke of Dorset, his Duchess & his son afterwards killed by a fall from his horse, I felt a degree of interest which I could hardly have anticipated, simply from the fact that I had heard my mother speak of the Duke, an unmarried man when she knew him, and had seen her wear an enamelled ring which he had given to her as a young girl and the friend of his nieces.

My mother was fond of telling us stories of her school-days & of her subsequent residence, (one short happy year,) in her father’s house in Paris. Should I ever go thither I will seek out the site of this house, and that of the Convent of Panthemont. The Convent was in the Faubourg Saint-Germain. If the buildings no longer remain I should like the see the place where they stood.

How well I remember the two Abbesses who reigned at Panthemont whilst my mother was there. One a kind-hearted, good-hearted, venerable woman but so old, & latterly so almost doting, that she was necessarily superseded by her chosen successor, a dignified & Queen-like person, at whose table mamma dined during the last year of her residence in the Convent. The dinner hour was one o’clock, whereas at the school table it was 11. A.M.!! I was likewise familiarly acquainted with many of the lady-like & aristocratic Nuns, who received I think, the title of Madame, and with several of the good lay sisters who took care of & waited on the girls. One of them, a kind, rough, half scolding, half laughing, honest, sort of good fellow, called by the young ladies Papa, was always a special favorite of theirs & mine. Then came the pupils themselves, French, English, West-Indian & Anglo American (of these last I believe there were only about three,) how I entered into their characters, habits, studies, sports & adventures! The history of their convent lives furnished my mother with an ample fund of anecdote and illustration for the pleasure & profit of her own children, and her recollections were so vivid and her manner of narrating so lively & delightful that [. . .] we hung upon her words and listened eagerly to her stories. The English Misses and French Mademoiselles became to us objects of emulation or warning as effectually as if they had been placed bodily before our eyes and observation. The industry of one, the Sweet temper and obliging disposition of another, the firmness and high principle of a third, the good breeding of a fourth used to stimulate our ambition to be industrious, kind, honorable, true, polite as they were—whilst on the other hand, Miss such a one was idle and dirty (dreadful to say), Mademoiselle Une Telle was selfish & greedy, and we should have blushed to resemble persons so disagreeable & disgusting.

Children are much moved by examples. If you draw objects of comparison from their contemporaries and companions you cultivate an evil spirit of uncharitableness, and encourage a habit of evil speaking, on the one hand, or you run the risk of exciting envious feelings on the other. Children do not like to hear their friends praised at their own expence, and unfortunately they do not dislike to hear their companions disparaged. For this reason it is better to offer to their imitation fictitious characters to which their active imaginations give reality & effect. Such tales as Miss Edgeworth’s are, I think, invaluable in the education of children & young people. Beginning with “Early Lessons” and going up through the “Parents’ Assistant” & “Moral Tales” to the crowning climax of “Tales of Fashionable Life,” these most entertaining volumes form a body of practical morality in a very captivating form.My mother’s tales of her Convent school combined for us, all the interest of fiction with the force of truth. The facts were undoubted and the persons so far removed from us by time and distance that although we had, as it were, an intimate personal acquaintance with them, we could have no feelings personal to ourselves when they were held up before us as patterns and warnings. We were certainly educated with great care & wisdom, and if my mother’s children were not as good as she was, it was no fault of hers, but partly our own, and partly Nature’s.

I have let my pen run away with me, but why should I not dwell upon recollections which no time can efface, recollections of my early years and of my mother’s love, as well as upon those late impressions which I wish to rescue from their own evanescence. When at some future day, (should future days lie before me, my life may be even now bounded to a span,) I may chance to glance over this idle record of idle hours, how natural it will appear to me that the acquaintance of a person who, like Mrs Annesley, could speak to me of my mother’s old school fellows & friends, should turn my thoughts to them and to her.

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), 155–66.

Gustav Friedrich waagen’s book was Works of Art and Artists in England, published in 3 volumes in 1838. when charming women ... do not understand is from The Charming Woman, one of numerous songs and verses published anonymously by Helen Selina Sheridan Hay Blackwood (1807–1867), Lady Dufferin and Claneboye. The Charming Woman criticized the over-educated, and therefore immodest and impractical, woman (ODNB).

1Manuscript: “beatiful.”