Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge to Virginia J. Randolph Trist

A letter which I received yesterday from Mary, dearest Virginia, gave me the first feeling of anxiety on the subject of Papa’s health. my impression has hitherto been that it was probably a case of dyspepsia (a complaint inherent in the Randolph constitution) & the idea of it’s being at all serious never crossed my mind until yesterday. Mary’s account was a considerable shock to me & I have felt uneasy ever since. I shall hope to hear again very soon, & pray you to give my love particularly to Papa & tell him how much grieved I am to hear of his illness, say something kind also for Joseph, who is more unwell himself than he has been for a long time, besides being driven to death by the difficulty of raising money to make his regular payments. the people here are almost beside themselves, even the wealthy are in straights straits, & persons of moderate means scarcely know whither to turn. this must be my apology to Mama for not having executed her little commissions, & purchased the articles she requested for Mrs & Miss Stearns & Septimia’s friends. at the end of George’s last quarter Mr Welles called on all the parents of his pupils for a quarter in advance, Joseph paid $128. instead of $62. so that the whole of the $100. sent by Capt. Peyton was swept & $28. over. Mrs Stearns’ ring I will have made immediately, as I have an account with Jones the Jeweller, but the other things must lie over until better times. the freight of the pictures has not yet been ascertained but Joseph will let Mama know the amount in due time. he has received Mama’s her letter enclosing the hair, & will write when he feels a little better than at present.

Your letter of the 8th & Mary’s of the 16th have made me feel very sad about you all, & I would give a great deal to leave my babies with Joseph, & go to you for a little while, to assist you in nursing your invalids & keeping up your own spirits. but this alas! is impossible. the distance, & the expense of the journey put it out of the question, & I can only “sit in my solitary tent” & think of those I love and am parted from. the history of our family has been a melancholy one, & their sorrows seem to be transmitted as an inheritance, but in such circumstances as these, when the past present & future were are all enveloped in the same mantle of gloom, there is but one resource which if we only resolutely adhere to has never yet been known to fail; confidence in Providence &, a determination not to be driven from this confidence by any force that can be brought against us; & how ever weak we may be, & however surrounded by obstacles, & temptations to abandon what may seem an untenable post, yet have I the most complete conviction that if we only hold out to the last, & exert honestly & bravely courageously all our powers & means be they greater or smaller, that relief will as surely come as that the sun will continue to rise. It is one of those cases in which we should keep the example of the Arabian Princess before our eyes. press forward to the summit of the mountain, let nothing behind us nor before us, at the right hand nor at the left, compel us to turn back. You know there were stumbling blocks in her path, which was of itself rugged & steep, & voices screaming in her ears, voices of reasoning & remonstrance, & scorn & mockery, but all in vain. she persevered & obtained the reward of her perseverance. this may seem a light & almost irreverent exemplification of a subject so serious, but I am not afraid to make it. I do not wish to preach you a sermon but merely to revive your attention if it has a moment failed when you should keep it steadily fixed. I consider it as the greatest advantage of my change of situation, that it has placed me where Religion is to a great degree divested of mummery & intolerance, & the Clergy from their talents, learning, irreproachable1 lives & gentlemanly manners, qualified for diffusing a respect for their profession, & confidence in themselves, through all classes of society. the educated & refined, as well as the ignorant & the vulgar.But I must hasten to a conclusion as the day is growing old, & I have, as usual, more to do than I have time to do it in. I congratulate you on Pat’s walking, not that I do not think she will be more troublesome than ever, but because it was full time she had learned the use of her legs. Ellen is slowly finding that of her tongue. she now & then adds a word to her vocabulary, the last acquisition is munner for mother, & she stands at the nursery door & shouts it until the h[ouse] rings with the noise Bess is well & good & pretty as ever. Tell Cornelia that Lucy Ann [. . .]ly is expecting a promised letter from her. [. . .] as Boston news in which she will be interested, that William Otis’s engagement with Miss Marshall is out & the marriage expected soon to take place, & that George Bulfinch’s with Miss Joy is broken, to the great regret of his friends. with regard to the last fashions in dress, the latest prints give a plain waist with a point before, & a full skirt, like her white cambric, & a sleeve immensely large at top, having confined by a band round the thick part of the arm, swelling out again & having another band just above the elbow, & then going down almost tight to the arm, or at any rate in the proportion of the gigot, until it reaches the wrist, where it terminates in a broad tight band with points or scollops turning back from it. a single deep flounce ⅜ or even ½ yd wide according to your height, materials, or fancy with a beading of some kind or other, is the trimming most in vogue just now, though very broad, bias bands are also much worn. the material is almost ‘ad libitum’ as the musicians say. gros de naples, barege & palpesine for the street white cambric, fine calicoes & french ginghams for the house & white cambric for both. battastes are still worn by those who have them. then there are innumerable new stuffs of which I scarcely know the names. I have not bought a gown, except my morning wrappers, for the last eighteen months but find it full as expensive (& a great deal more troublesome) to have my old-fashioned things put into wearing trim as it would have been to get new.

My letter is a strange medley, but I have yours with postscripts from C. & M. laying open before me, & have tried to answer all. Alston has examined the paintings & confirms the judgment of the other appraisers, as to their ruinous state. I have not been to Cambridge for some time. Joseph’s horse has become so utterly unmanageable in harness that I can no longer ride with them him; & he is to be sold, partly on this account, but partly also to save the expense of keeping him. I was surprised & frightened at reading in a letter from Jefferson to Joseph that he had spoken to Mr Johnson about the purchase of a Virginia horse. in my first letter to Mama which she received in Richmond, I countermanded the order, praying Mama in Joseph’s name to tell Jefferson that he no longer wanted this horse. a most useless expense which we can ill afford. You must not let Mama make herself sick by drudging at her needle, or exhausting her strength by too close attendance on the invalids. love most affectionate to her & to all including Nicholas. tell Septimia I saw Lucia Swett yesterday who says she promised to write to her, & I believe Louisa Higginson claims something of the same kind. I believe I have written all I had to say. at any rate I have exhausted my time & paper, & yet perhaps after I have sealed & sent my letter I shall remember that I have forgotten the most important part of my intended communications.

Unalterably yours.

love to Jane & her family

RC (ViU: Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge Correspondence); mutilated at seal; addressed: “To Mrs Nicholas P: Trist Monticello near Charlottesville Virginia”; stamped; postmarked Boston, 24 June.

ad libitum: “from whatever pleases.”

1Manuscript: “irreproahable.”