Ellen W. Randolph (Coolidge) to Francis Eppes
|Monticello April 5th 1821.|
Your letter of Feb. 28th reached me about ten days ago, my dear Francis, and I mention this circumstance to let you see that I have not been very dilatory in replying to, and thanking you for this proof of your friendship. Understanding from your letters to my sisters, that your situation in common with that of your fellow-students, was an embarrassing one I had already ascribed your silence to something like the causes you assign for it, altho’, supposing you to be as closely employed, as I have no doubt you are, a returning message was all, I thought I had a right to expect from you. I was therefore more gratified by hearing directly from you, than I could have been had I possessed better claims to such a mark of attention. But in any case “want of gallantry” is one of the last charges, I should ever seriously bring against any young man whom I considered in the light of a friend, for it is connected in my mind with deficiencies of a more vital nature. the little attentions, “the small sweet courtesies” which the customs of civilized society require to be paid to women, derive their importance not so much from their own intrinsic value, as from being the signs of those feelings with which the strong should regard the weak. they are so many acknowledgements on your part, that, so far from wishing to abuse the power with which Nature has invested you, you are disposed to yield more to our weakness, than the strength or violence of your equals could ever have extorted from you. As the signs of this spirit, we are, and ought to be jealous of the prerogatives you have granted us. I confess that these “outward signs of the inward grace” are of so much importance in my mind, that when I see any instances of rude and boorish conduct, of neglect or indifference towards women of whatever age or rank in life, I am apt to suspect, that the same man with more in his power would be guilty of still greater excesses, that he would be a tyrannical and oppressive master, to all who had the misfortune to depend on him, or at best, utterly neglectful of their comfort and happiness. With such ideas, you may readily suppose that “want of gallantry”1 is not a charge which I would lightly bring, and when I have seen any appearance of it, in those I love, I have been ever ready to ascribe it to some peculiarity of character or manner, which would admit of apology or explanation. to thoughtlessness timidity, the fear of falling into the opposite extreme of officiousness, to any thing, and every thing, rather than a contempt for the established forms of politeness towards women, because this would indicate a like contempt for the principle from which these forms have derived their origin. So my dear Francis, never be afraid of my accusing you of real want of gallantry, and as I do not agree with you in thinking “the apparent want of it, an unpardonable fault,” I dare say our intercourse will never be embittered by my exacting too much, or your according too litte.
I am afraid this “tirade” in favor of gallantry will lead you to suppose, that I consider as it one of the privileges of my sex to intrude as long upon your time and attention, as may suit my own inclinations. but luckily we cannot write as fast as we talk; our pens, nimble enough in all conscience, do not move quite as rapidly as our tongues, and moreover one sheet of paper cannot be made to contain more than a certain quantity, and I promise never to have recourse to a second; thereby shewing a degree of moderation not always to be found in your sex; witness a letter which I received a few weeks since from Dr Watkins, seven pages very closely written, and in a vile cramped hand.
I should have told you my reason for not writing immediately on the receipt of your letter, seeing that, it was so long delayed upon the road, as to claim a speedy answer. the house has been so full of company as to render it difficult for me to find a moment’s leisure. The meeting of the Visiters of the University, you know takes place the beginning of this month; they have just left us, & we have but one guest remaining, an English gentleman who has travelled all over the Northern and Western States, on foot. a pedestrian tour of about 2000 miles, and this from choice, merely to gratify his own curiosity and love of information. he found it, he says, easier to attain an accurate knowledge of the country and it’s inhabitants, travelling on foot, than in any other way. he just stepped a little out of his course and walked from Washington here, to pay his respects to Grandpapa and means to trip it back again as lightly as he came with a change of clothes hung upon his arm.—[the] day before the arrival of the Visiters, Sully, the great portrait painter, left us. He was commissioned by the West-Point Academy to take a likeness of Grandpapa, & has succeeded admirably. the upper part of the face is perfect, the eye is so full of life that you almost expect to see it roll. He is the first painter who has ever succeeded in catching the expression of Grandpapa’s countenance, and rendering that mixture of dignity & benevolence which prevails in it. If the copy is as good as the original (for a full length portrait is required, and Sully carried away with him simply the head & neck on a small bit of Canvas) it will probably be the best representation existing of one to whom [. . .] future ages must—look back with gratitude and admiration. This portrait is defective about the mouth & chin, but the painter seems to be aware of the defect, and will endeavour to correct it.
But my dear Francis, I must remember the french saying, “l’art d’ennuyer, c’est l’art de tout dire” and bid you adieu. whilst you have yet a remnant of patience [. . .] that Grandpapa is well and as usual intent on the University [. . .] will be ready for you I dare say in eighteen years if you [can] [. . .] delay, or maybe in seven—in good truth, I do not believe those “potent grave and reverend signiors,” the Visiters, know themselves when this grand work is to go into operation—Mama and the girls write in love to you. Browse in writing to Mrs Trist makes heavy complaints of you as a correspondent, and desires that they should be transmitted to your ears through our means.
Remember me to Wayles, and write whenever you have leisure to your affectionate friend and cousin.
I can hear nothing of the La Portes, but I will make inquiries concerning them, of the first person I see, likely to give me any information on their subject, and you shall have the result, in the first letter you receive from this place. since you have been away, we have had little or no intercourse with Charlottesville, and hearing nothing of what is going on amongst your old acquaintances—I enclose what at first sight you will take for a ragged scrap of paper, but if you will put it between the leaves of a sheet of paper and hold it to the light of a candle, or simply hold it up for the shadow to fall upon the wall, you will distinguish the dark and agitated countenance, the matted beard and hair of a man under the influence of some terrific passion. The original from which this was taken was cut with a pair of scissors, in the space of a moment, by Mr Sully, who appears to be as amiable a man as he is a great painter, and willing & able to contribute to the pleasures & amusements of any society in which he happens to be thrown. We think that the hand of the master is discernible even in this rude head which has a powerful expression, for the time & materials with which it was executed; there is also a female head, pretty & modest-looking as a lady should be.