Ellen W. Randolph (Coolidge) to Nicholas P. Trist
|Monticello May 3d 1823.|
My conscience begins to reproach me, my ever dear Nicholas with having neglected to reply to your last letter, which was the best you have ever written me, in as much as it was the longest. I have been reading it over again, and am at a loss whether to enter into a grave argument with you upon the subject of “self command” & “self-dependence”, or just to let myself drop down the stream of my own thought, which happens to be flowing lazily along another channel. certainly now, to collect my ideas, and force myself to talk reason, would be the best means of proving to you that I am not deficient in self-command, for I never in my life felt less inclined to exercise it, but when I reflect that this exertion would after all fatigue myself, without benefiting you, I believe I might as well let it alone, & avail myself of that precious privilege of my sex, to talk nonsense without being thought fools, so remember you are to take it for granted that I could have been very wise if I had pleased, & that if I do play the fool, it is only ‘a way I have’. and yet I shall probably do that but awkwardly; folly to render it agreable must be set off by sprightliness, & for me, I may truly say with the psalmist “I am become like a pelican in the wilderness, and like an owl that is in the desert.” and so my dear Nicholas I will even relinquish all hope of pleasing you in any other way, than by giving you news of your friends, & assuring you of their never failing affection.—
We have all been as quiet as could be for a long time past, the return of the fine season has not produced the usual influx of company. some ‘honorable’ members of Congress had promised us a visit, which “electioneering business” prevented them from paying. the Visitors met as usual but with a pleasant addition to their Board. Gen. Taylor has been replaced by Mr Loyall of Norfolk, who made such way in my good graces during his stay with us, that I would fain have had Cornelia fall in love with him, a thing which she flatly refused to do, or to take any sort of pains to make an impression upon him. he is to be sure neither young nor handsome nor witty nor wealthy, but a man of sense and merit, a traveller and a gentleman. and pleased me so well that had I not been both sick & sorry & sworn against love, [. . .], I should have made “doux yeux ” at him myself. although I am told that his heart is a rock, against which, since the loss of a former wife, all female arts & attractions have wrecked themselves. Mrs Madison who is you know almost a regular attendant of these worshipful meetings, remained several days with us. there is something in the constant sunshine of mind which she seems to enjoy, the absence of all regret for the past or anxiety for the future, which communicates itself insensibly to those around her, & gives an agreableness to her society, it might not otherwise possess. The General KOK was on this occasion an absentee having hurried down to Richmond to give his vote as a member of the Board of Public Works for somebody, I do’nt know who, but against your Capt. Crozet, who has proved however a successful candidate for the scientific honour of the State.—
Can you tell me anything of that little Jefferson Vail who was your fellow traveller to the South? I have been always intending to ask you about him, & always forgetting to do so. what kind of genius is he & how does he acquit himself as a soldier and a man? I feel interested in knowing, because I became very well acquainted with his family & carry on a correspondence with one of his sisters. a spirited little frenchwoman, whose letters amuse me the more that she laughs at every thing and every body, herself & myself not excepted. she writes in french and some of these days when I feel more than usually stupid I shall transcribe some of her gaieties instead of inflicting upon you my own dullness.—I hear from Aunt Randolph now and then who makes inquiries touching your health and well-being; she is seems [. . .] satisfied with her situation & very fond of Washington and it’s [. . .] she has changed her residence since I left her and removed into a small wooden house, which looks just big enough for a little girl’s doll, but which she assures me is every way a more comfortable abode than the old one. there is a garden about the size of this sheet of paper attached to it, in which she rears all sorts of vegetables fruits & flowers. it the house is in the same neighbourhood, in which she formerly lived, very near Mrs Vail ’s & Mr Wirt ’s, and quite within reach of your good friends the Freemans, and a certain Mrs Mitchell who with her husband paid you a visit two days after you left the city, and wept “tears of salt and sorrow,” when she found you gone.
Adieu, ‘mon tres cher frere,’ take good care of yourself during this hot weather. we are all as well as usual. Grandpapa’s hand is still stiff but I think it improves a little. I presume Virginia will be making up despatches for you by this same mail or the next, if that dreadful housekeeping does not interfere with her arrangements. once more adieu my dear Nicholas, love to Browse & a kiss for your little fairy sister.