Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge to Martha Jefferson Randolph, with a Postscript by Joseph Coolidge
|Boston August 7 1831|
Your letter has remained long unanswered, my dearest mother, but you know how little time I have for writing, and since I last heard from you both Mrs Coxe and Armine have been [. . .] away on visits to their friends; during their absence my hands were unusually full, I have moreover, myself, spent a week at Nahant, and as I went expressly for the benefit of sea air and bathing, I did nothing whilst I remained but ramble over the rocks and ride on the beach. I came home with the ocean-mania stronger than ever, so that I think of all the fanciful beings whose imaginary and beautiful existences I have so often admired, there are none whom I envy more [. . .] than the nymphs of the sea, those salt-water goddesses who passed their immortal lives in playing on the surface of the ocean, riding it’s waves or rambling through it’s coral groves and rocky caves. to love the sea is a duty of gratitude with me, for I feel new life in every limb and every vein as soon as I come within breathing distance of it’s air. [. . .]ing atmosphere. Nahant is, you know, a narrow and rocky peninsula, surrounded on all sides, except just where it is connected with the main land by the grand ocean, whose waves beat incessantly against the iron-bound shore. Every morning, by six o’clock, I was sitting or walking where the spray dashed upon my feet, or the tide rolled almost over them, or else perched upon some huge rocky cliff I looked down upon the waters chafing and foaming far below. then the breeze coming in fresh from the sea is equalled in pureness and elasticity only by the mountain air wind that blows from the blue-Ridge or Alleghany. Since my return to Boston, where the crowd and dirt of a great city completely changes the character of the atmosphere, I try to console myself for the change the loss of Nahant by walking frequently to the Western Avenue, where there are floating baths. in one of these I plunge up to the throat holding by the ropes which enable me to keep my feet whilst the motion of the advancing or retiring tide is threatening to sweep them from under me, the green sea-weed washing up against me, and I refraining from looking too close lest my eyes be offended by the sight of an eel, creatures which I hold in some dislike inspite of their birth-place. “en defaut” of being a goddess I think I could put up with the life of a mer-maid or the sea-serpent.—at Nahant I lodged in the village, preferring it greatly to the noisy Hotel; my good fortune placed me very near Mrs Otis, who treated me more as if I had been her own daughter, than a simple acquaintance with no earthly claim upon her benevolence. she kept her own carriage and horses in preference to being dependent upon those belonging to the place, and among other acts of civility called always once, sometimes twice a day for me to ride with her over the beach or round among the cottages which the rich men of Boston have built for their summer retreats. some of these are beautiful. Sam Eliot has one which from it’s external appearances and romantic situation always reminds me of an engraving in Anacharsis, the temple of Minerva on the promontory of Sunium. Mrs Otis frequently spoke of you, regretted that she had been able to do so little towards rendering your visits to Boston pleasant, and begged to be remembered to you. Mrs Ritchie is at Long Branch in Jersey where she expects her husband to join her, the Rosses are gone to Kaat’s kill, Mrs Greenwood whose health has been affected by two or three fortunate accidents in succession, is staying at Nahant, all the fashionable houses are emptied of their inhabitants, so that I have all the city to myself. even Susan Elizabeth runs about from Nahant to Nantusket and Elizabeth Swett alone “keeps cool” by never changing her place. Mrs Bulfinch I see very little of, Mrs Barrel and myself change cards every now and then, Mrs Gorham is one of the Birds of passage too often on the wing to be counted upon as a neighbour. by the way her successor in office, Mrs Nathan Appleton, will carry with her to Washington next winter a young daughter whose first season here has been a very brilliant one. she is thought beautiful, (not by me) and is certainly intelligent and highly educated. she is I believe, really a fine woman, but, like many of the northern belles, deficient in what Lady Morgan calls witchery. she is [to]o sensible and prosaic for my southern taste, but is all the rage here. her father is very wealthy, her mother still rather young, and handsome if she would only dress like five and thirty instead of seventy-five. I have often thought it a pity so much blonde lace & silk-velvet should be employed in making the good lady look like her own grand-mother. I presume you will not visit them as they have never paid the compliment to you. Mrs Appleton is on my list and invites me to her parties, but she is sickly, and nervous and orthodox, and over-neat, and spends her life in nursing imaginary disorders, patronising the Church “par excellence,” and keeping her house cleaner than ever house was kept [. . .] before, and this alone, considering she has one of the finest in Boston and most magnificently furnished, is enough of itself to occupy her time and thoughts, to the exclusion of most other things. however these little matters are between ourselves, so far at least as to prevent their returning by rebound to Boston. I believe I am in debt now to the two girls but I wish they would be less ceremonious with me. I hoped to renew my intercourse with my friends in Albemarle through their means, but the summer is wearing away and I have only received about three letters from all together. Mary transmitted to me a message from Jane, partly of [. . .] condolence, and partly of exhortation to bear my own hard fate by comparing it with hers. but, alas! I think the cases bear no comparison. she, after a marriage of sixteen years, is the mother of eight children, whilst I have had five in six years. she has some one or other of her nearest relations and best friends always with her, to assist her in health and comfort her in sickness, whilst I am alone.—I have heard nothing of George but his safe arrival in at Gibraltar, and nothing more of the sale of Monticello. I almost wish this could take place that your mind might be relieved from suspense, and you be enabled to say “farewell hope, but with hope farewell regret.” I do not think you will ever be tranquil, my dear mother, in your present home whilst there remains a chance of returning to the former one. and yet could you pass, even your summers, in any comfort where you would be liable to such perpetual inroads of unexpected and unwelcome guests. no feeling of delicacy has ever restrained the crowds of idle and curious visitors from intruding themselves upon you when you lived at Monticello before, and now I fear your time, your health, your quiet would be sacrificed without scruple and without remorse to the gratification of the vulgar impulses which have turned the dwelling-[. . .]house of Thomas Jefferson into a shew-place, a puppet-dance or a caravan of wild animals; for let not Virginia or Virginians dare to ascribe any better motive to their lawless curiosity. let them not presume to talk of national feelin[gs of gra]titude, or patriotism. they have [tram]pled on the memory of their [. . .] [bene]factor, driven his children [. . .] sorrowful exile, and let them not add effrontery to ingratitude and meanness, by pretending to venerate ought that remains of him. individuals have formed honorable and generous exceptions to the general rule, fe but and a few individuals do not constitute the State.
Adieu, dearest mother, my little ones are well and send much love, twinnies are fine looking fellows, not large but well shaped and strong, they seem small and delicate in comparison with the fat children one commonly sees, but in my eyes at least, they look like antelopes among buffaloes. I am not afraid of saying this to you. I have not told you I believe that Mr & Mrs Farrar are gone for a year to Europe and Uncle & Aunt Storer occupying their house, my old and well-beloved home. Mary Stearns is much better and gone a journey. Elizabeth Higginson is going to be married to an episcopal clergyman of the name of Keith, a New Englander settled in Alexandria, and I believe from all I can hear the very Mr Keith who [es]corted me from Richmond to Monticello, if so, (and I hope in any case) a [. . .] man. she will be quite a neighbor [. . .]
Susan E. is in daily expectation of a visit from her father Mr Goldsborough. I believe there is no news, but if there were I have left myself no room for it. give much love to Jefferson, Jane, and their young ones. if any thing new turns up among the fashions I shall apprize Cornelia. at present I believe the only important change is in the width of the hem. I shall answer Mary’s letter as soon as I can. Ellen & Septimia will I hope carry a fresh stock at of country roses to town with them. once more farewell dearest mother. kind remembrances to all friends.
bien des complimens de ca part tres affectionné—
love to the boys, young gentlemen I mean