Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge to Martha Jefferson Randolph

Mary’s letter of Nov. 10. arrived only yesterday, my dearest mother, when I had been nearly a fortnight without hearing from home, except through a letter to Mr Hilliard from Grandpapa, which, letting me know that all was well, prevented me from the hysterical feelings this unusual silence was likely to have produced. I am grieved to the heart to perceive the tone of melancholy which pervades all I receive from the girls, & my fears sometimes lead me to imagine that they do not tell me the worst, and that the affairs of the family are declining more rapidly than ever. when I look round upon these nabobs, one year of whose incomes, taken separately, would restore tranquility to my dearest friends, & lighten brighten the hopes of so many loved ones, I sigh over the unequal distribution of the gifts of fortune, until the recollection that these very persons have made themselves what they are, & risen superior to all the obstacles which poverty & obscurity & original insignificance could accumulate in their paths, has in turn given birth to the hope that the younger branches of my family may one day achieve the fortunes to which they were born although it has been since snatched from them. for those, who from sex or age are condemned to a passive endurance of whatever may happen, I cannot help hoping that better brighter days are in store, & I believe there is something in the very air of New England which produces or increases a religious tendency in the mind, for I feel a stronger confidence in the doctrine of an immediate providence, & greater trust in the it’s interference with the affairs of men, than, I think, I used to feel. perhaps you will infer from this that I am satisfied with & grateful for my own lot; indeed I am far from being dissatisfied with it, I have much to make me happy in the character & conduct of my husband & the affection which subsists between us, in the kindness of his friends, & the comforts of my situation, which although it might be more splendid, would not, [. . .] perhaps, for that, be happier than it is at present. if things only continue as they are & no change for the worse should take place, I should think it unreasonable to ask for more than I have except on the one point of an easier intercourse with my family. still, such is the influence of my particular dispositions & habits, that I cannot feel secure for myself even when I am hoping most for my friends, & that the superstitious dread of a sort of planetary influence still infects the streams of my thoughts, although I have strength enough power to prevent it from disturbing the current, & rendering it turbid with it’s own dark & heavy flow.

Joseph is naturally sanguine, & I strive constantly to elevate my own spirit to the height of his, rather than make any attempt to depress his to mine, except where I think it necessary to check his too liberal temper & aid him to correct his expensive tastes & habits.—I do not like to say any thing of the loss of the brig Washington, with all my little treasure of long cherished relicks, memorials of past times & past pleasures, connected in my imagination with my best affections & fondest recollections, from childhood up through youth & womanhood, to the period when every woman may be said to begin life anew & to be [. . .]ected with former times chiefly through the mediums of those affections & recollections. I had some fe almost a series of small tokens of the different scenes through which I have passed from my earliest recollections memory of events to the era of my marriage; tokens having the power to conjure up thoughts which, to use one of Moore’s comparisons, were to those scenes what the otto of rose is to the flower, a perpetual mememto, [. . .] of the sweets & the loveliness that have ceased to exist under any other form. but these companions in the past fortunately for me, for the memory of the past lives in the heart independent of all outward signs, & I shall not think the less of times gone by, & the affections & enjoyment of those times, for having lost the little records which like the knots in a Peruvian quipos, were mentally connected with the most interesting feelings & events of my life. I am very very glad that the D. Anville & the Paraclete at least are safe, the girls must keep the first as long as it can be [. . .] at all useful, I do not require it at all, & will only call it mine for the sake of auld lang syne, the little drawing I wish to have by the first perfectly safe opportunity. was the crayon head done by Aaron Vail lost with the rest?—Mary speaks also among other things of that infamous letter written by Browere. I have rarely felt such indignation as upon the sight of it, but I am very glad to have it in my power to contradict his falsehoods at least amongst my immediate acquaintance. they have however, I suspect, gone the circle of the Union, & have been read by all who read the newspapers at all.

Winter is coming upon us here; the thermometer yesterday stood it 18º above zero, & to day there have been threats of snow. I am having a wadded pelisse & cloak made to protect me from the ill effects of the outward air. within doors I am quite comfortable as our house is perfectly well-built & warm. Mrs Derby called to see me this morning in spite of the blustering weather, partly, I believe, to inquire after my health, & partly, I suspect, to be the first to give me the news of Mrs Robert Patterson’s marriage with the Marquis of Wellesley by which she becomes Vice Queen of Ireland—a splendid destiny for a female adventurer. You will smile to hear that M[rs] Ritchie & myself are making something like advances to an intimacy, [. . .] all our old antipathies. I always did justice to her talents & distinguished manners, and now but I am beginning to think that my judgment of her character was not so fair. she is certainly assuredly altered much for the better; she is to a certain degree disappointed in the brilliant hopes of her youth, & is improved by the change in her situation from the glowing prospects of bellehood to the sober realities of married life, with a husband, not so wealthy as was at first believed, & constrained by the nature of his property, West India plantations, to be absent a great deal from home, leaving her in a sort of widowhood the more distressing as she is really attached to him, & makes a most excellent wife. she is an uncommonly fine woman, & there is something so ‘distingué’ in her air & manners, such a stamp of superiority in all she does & says, that it is impossible not to admire her.

I am writing by candle-light & of course with great suffering to my eyes, adieu then, dearest mother, & believe me, with all the deep devoted feeling of which you know me capable your own grateful fondly attached daughter.


Love to all my dear ones from Grandpapa to my darlings Septimia & George; dear children, how often & tenderly I think of them!

Do my neighbours never inquire after me?

I wish to tax each of the girls the writing of an occasional receipt for me on a small slip of paper which can be put in a letter. those I am most in need of are 1st soup. 2. vermicelli soup. 3. coffee. 4. muffins. 5. a charlotte. 6. gingerbread such as Edy makes. 7. rice cakes for breakfast. 8. drop biscuit. & several others which I cannot call to mind. I will send the music paper by the piano. there are two or three pieces which I am very anxious for. particularly Fisher’s minuet & Auld lang syne.

I hope Virginia is well by this time, I conclude it is one of her old attacks she has had, & hope the next post will bring me news of her recovery in her own hand.

RC (ViU: Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge Correspondence); torn at seal; addressed: “To Mrs Randolph Monticello near Charlottesville Albemarle Cty Virginia”; stamped; postmarked Boston 21 Nov.