Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge to Henry S. Randall

My dear Mr Randall,

I have your two letters before me—If I have not sooner replied to them my excuse is simply that I could not. A complication of family cares & duties rendered it impossible for me to write till now.

The first Mrs Francis Eppes was a niece of my father’s—the eldest daughter of his sister Jane who married a distant relation of her own, Thomas Eston Randolph, of the English branch of the family. The Randolphs, before the Revolution and for some time after it, were a very wealthy and aristocratic family, as you know. Three of my father’s sisters married men of their own name. Mrs Eppes, whose baptismal name you ask, was Mary Elizabeth Cleland Randolph. She early dropped the Cleland, as making her name of unwieldy length. She was an uncommonly beautiful woman, and remarkable for good sense and sweetness of temper. The second Mrs Francis Eppes I never knew & never saw. She was, I believe, a widow, whom Mr Eppes married after his removal to Florida.

you have got the anecdote of Thomas Moore very nearly correct. This little man and great poet was at once an Irish patriot and a servile worshipper of English rank. I leave it to his friends to reconcile the contradiction.

The truth is that Liberty idealized he adored, Liberty in it’s practical effects he abhorred. He wanted to combine the fastidious elegance, the conventional refinement, the dignified state and polished luxury of an old European aristocratic society, with his fine-spun theories of equal laws & rights. To such a man the United States and it’s practical democracy, even as it was half a century ago, would give more disgust than satisfaction under any circumstances. Then Moore came to this country at a time when party spirit ran higher perhaps than it has ever done before or since; and when parties seemed more entirely to misconceive and misjudge each other’s motives. The great battle between Republican & Federalist (Whig and Tory?) had just been fought and lost by the Federalists. Their hearts were very sore, their tempers terribly exasperated, they were writhing under the bitterness of defeat, and their hatred of their successful opponents was in proportion to the keenness of their own disappointment. It was fierce and implacable. Mr Jefferson was to them the incarnation of all they most detested, he represented at once the principles and the men they most abhorred. at such a moment Thomas Moore appeared. He was then, if I remember right, best known to the world as Thomas Little, the author of a volume of very scandalous poems, so severely reviewed in his own country as to involve him in a ridiculous duel. He had written neither the Melodies nor Lalla Rookh, though in his worst offences against decency and morals these were indications of a power to do better things. If known at all to Mr Jefferson it would of course be unfavorably. He was, as a Briton, even more perhaps than as a man of genius, taken up by the Federalists, and he somewhere says himself that his mind became imbued with their views of persons, and of the state of things in their country. In after times he spoke with disapprobation of the violence of their animosity against their adversaries who were their own countrymen and brethren.

I think these facts are sufficient to explain his attack upon Mr Jefferson, but personal pique envenomed his wrath. I have heard my grandfather tell the story of Moore’s visit to him. When he called it so happened, a thing very likely to happen, that Mr Jefferson did not hear his name, nor recognize a distinguish poet in a small, insignificant man, and he therefore received him only as he would have done any other strange gentleman, paid him no particular compliment and did not talk to him about himself. Moore was a vain little person and having already conceived a dislike for Mr Jefferson’s political character it was easy to pass into hatred for his person. For what he wrote was not, as you term it, a squib, but an outpouring of wrath and venom seldom equalled. So violent, so malignant and so evidently an explosion of mere animosity as I think entirely to defeat it’s own object and destroy it’s power to do mischief. No wonder my grandfather thought it unworthy of notice. My mother, as she has often told me, was very indignant, even exasperated—So was the excellent and honest Mr William Burwell, who had been my grandfather’s private secretary, and who, like all who has ever lived with and known him, was devotedly attached to him. But the injured individual only smiled at their annoyance, & was not himself in the smallest degree annoyed. He was too much accustomed to virulent abuse to pay much attention to it. He knew that it came in general from disappointed and angry men and was prepared for it.

Many years after, when he had ceased to be a public man and was living in retirement he read with much pleasure Moore’s Irish Melodies. I myself put the volume in his hands, for ill as I thought of Moore the man, I greatly admired his poetry. You know how entirely my grandfather sympathized in the wrongs and sufferings of Ireland, and no where are they expressed with more touching pathos and heartfelt sadness than in the Irish Melodies—to say nothing of the many exquisite little poems on other subjects to be found in the same collection.

I believe I have answered your inquiries, and with best wishes for all that most interests you, Very truly yours,

Ellen W. Coolidge.
Tr (ViU: Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge Correspondence, Letterbook); in the hand of Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge.
Henry S. Randall
Date Range
June 11, 1857