Ellen W. Randolph (Coolidge) to Nicholas P. Trist
|Monticello Jan. 20th 1823|
I was not aware, my dear Nicholas, when I wrote last that the blues were so strong upon me, or I should have prevented them from tinging my letter with their sombre colours. this is in every body's power, if they must feel uncomfortable themselves, they can at least avoid making others so, and in the present state of your own health & spirits, with so many cares & troubles accumulated around you it was a most unreasonable & unsisterly act, to increase your vexations instead of endeavouring to alleviate them. for a long time you know, I have been suffering from one of those “maladies de langueur ” so common in our country & climate; the disease whatever it is, has for the present settled upon my nerves, but being a fiend of most active & restless temper, it will probably dislodge ere long & seek fresh quarters, and the sooner the better, as it annoys me more from this resting place than any other it has hitherto possessed itself of. I would not have you suppose from this that I am giving myself any fine lady airs, I will assure you that there are no shrieks, nor fits, nor tears, nor tremblings in the case, I have “executed no elegant outrages” nor excited one spark of “tender admiration” by my “fascinating weaknesses” no one from common observation would perceive that anything was the matter with me. I indulge in no lounging or listlessness, my habits are those of steady occupation, and I walk a great deal, this I learnt in Washington. during the fine weather of last spring, I walked several miles every day, and I keep up the habit as far as winter weather and a mountain residence will permit. what then, will you ask, can be the matter, and what is the cause of complaint? it is a general sense of oppression, a wearyness of life, an almost total loss of interest in any thing that I can do myself or that is done around me; it is the perpetual intrusion into all my plans and employments of that harassing & discouraging reflection, which I believe is conveyed by the latin words ‘cui bono’; of what use is all this? I propose to gain such an end; is it worth the gaining? these are the questions I am perpetually asking myself. my occupations are what they have always been, but their “salt & savour” is gone—the experience of a few years past has very much weakened the confidence I formerly felt in the supremacy of mind over matter. my philosophy at one time had something of the Stoic character. I fancied that self-command might be carried to so high a degree as to constitute almost an entire self-dependance, and that the mind in the full possession and free exercise of her powers, enjoyed a controul almost complete over our inward feelings & habits of thought, and that although she could not alter the nature of external circumstances, she so far influenced & modified their effects, as to render us in a very great degree independent of them.—I believe now that our actions may be regulated by Reason, that we may exercise a controul over our feelings, whether they be the effect of constitutional or temporary courses, sufficient in a great measure to prevent their interference with the performance of our duties, and that the mind may be brought to such a state as to regulate the manners, & preserve in them that equanimity necessary for the comfort of our friends and associates. but that even to effect this, implies a vigorous mind and considerable force of character, & that as for regulating the principles on which our own happiness depends “Cette père Raison dont on fait tant de point ” has been too well described by Mde Deshanlières.
|Toujours imperissante et sèvere,|
|Elle s’oppose a tout, et ne surmonte rien.|
But upon my word my dear Nicholas I am afraid you will think me [“] furieusement acharné ” against the quiet of your nerves, and determined to communicate to them a portion of the disease preying on my own. I am apologizing for a dismal letter by one more dismal still, but let me assure you Sir, that the south wind is not blowing now, and that I am not a weather-cock, to be veered about by every blast. I do wonder, so strong is the influence not only of the Sweet South, but of almost every wind that blows, that none of us unfortunate beings afflicted by “the hypochondriacs ” (v. Mrs Watkins) have never fancied ourselves an index to the plate of a weather-cock moving at the will of the wind and pointing to the quarter from which it comes, it would be a much more plausible transformation than into a grain of corn or a barrel of lime. I have heard Mrs Trist speak of two gentlemen of her acquaintance who laboured under these errors with regard to the nature of their beings, and would take to their heels, the one at the sight of a chicken lest he should be swallowed and the other from a gardener's watering pot, in the fear of being slaked.
It was with deep regret I heard that your father would be under the necessity of disposing of his estate, and with no little astonishment, for I had heard him spoken of last winter in Washington, as a rising man, one whose past success was a warrant for future well-doing. I trust in Heaven that it will be a sale and not one of these sacrifices which takes place but too often in Virginia. The Warren estate is a late instance of this kind. I am most particularly anxious that you should leave that country before your constitution is undermined—health is the first of all blessings without which wealth itself is of no avail. I wish I was quite certain you saw it in this point of view, and that in all your calculations were based upon this principle. I trust a good deal to the care you have promised to take of yourself, for the sake of those whose happiness depends upon your well-being, but young men so seldom know how to keep a promise of this kind that it is at best but a limited confidence that can be reposed in their prudence.—Nothing new has lately taken place in our family or neighbourhood. Wilson Nicholas commenced his journey a week or ten days ago to your southern country & will join his brother probably in March. has [. . .] told you how much pleased the Colonel was with his visit to you, h[. . .] handsomely he speaks of your father brother & self, and how enraptured [. . .] was with the beauty & grace of your little sister. I think this gentleman's asperities must be wearing away a little, I did not suppose he had ever been pleased with anything or anybody in his life.—Grandpapa has got his arm freed from the bandages, but still wears it in a sling, and has scarcely at all recovered the use of it. the family are generally well, Mama is complaining a little to day but to morrow I hope will find her well again.
Adieu my very dear Nicholas, my most affectionate recollections wait on Browse. V. does not know I am writing, but is too good a correspondent herself to have any thing particular to say to you through the medium of another.
Jan. 21. Mama is quite well to day.