Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge to Adolph de Circourt

My dear Count,

So long a time has passed without my writing to you that I fear you may be almost surprised at receiving a letter from me. You will not however have ascribed my silence to change of feeling towards yourself. You know me too well to suspect me of fickleness in my friendships. You will have placed to it’s right account the long cessation of our intercourse._______________________________

But it was not of my children that mother-like I meant to speak, but of one whose memory is too dear to me, too sacred to see it violated as I have lately done, without deep resentment and grief. Mr Cornélis de Witt has lately in the “Revue des deux Mondes. 15. Mai, 1858.” in an article on the Life and Correspondence of Thomas Jefferson, been guilty of such cruel injustice, such bitter misrepresentation that it has roused the friends of Mr Jefferson, and me who am his descendant into a degree of indignation which I feel it necessary to express. And to whom can I go with my complaint so well as to one who, like yourself, have intimate acquaintance with the history of the United States, and who free from prejudice and partiality, can hold the scales even amid the conflict of contending factions and passions.

Of Mr De Witt personally I know nothing, and can therefore come to no conclusion with regard to his motives in the grievous wrong he has been trying to perpetrate. Perhaps he is hasty and deceived, and has gone for his facts and his inferences to the bitter political enemies of Mr Jefferson, to which class belongs Hildreth, the author of a history of the United States named in the title page of the article in question. Perhaps on the other hand, Mr De Witt, actuated by intense hatred of democracy, directs his attacks upon it against one who, in this country at least, may be looked upon as it’s great leader. I blame no one for their speculative opinions, nor for doing their best to defend them and to propagate them within the bounds of reason and justice. I censure no one for disliking democracy, nor for striving within the same bounds to arrest it’s progress. The right of private judgment, of individual opinion and the expression of it is the last which democracy itself should hesitate to acknowledge. But when from hatred of a principle we permit ourselves to do gross injustice to persons, we pass the utmost limit at once of good faith and of good feeling, of honour and of generosity.

The “Revue des deux Mondes” is little known or read by Americans—not so much as it should be—and the article of Mr De Witt will, of course, produce little sensation here. It will give pain to a few, and excite the indignation of every real friend of truth and fairness who may happen to read it—and that whatever his political creed may be. It can gratify only the rabid animosity of disappointed and revengeful partisans, or the diseased love of personalities which is one of the sins of the times.

The article of the 15 Mai is the second on the same subject. The first was not written in a right spirit, but the last, in which is given a history of the formation of the Republican and Federal parties, and the contest between Jefferson and Hamilton deserves the severest reprobation, and to this I would call your attention. It so happens that just at this time has been published a long and not a well written book, a life of Mr Jefferson, but which if somewhat heavy in the reading, well repays the labour to any one interested in American history, by the mass of authentic matter which it contains. It is hardly history, still less biography, but it will furnish rich and ample material for both. The author has intelligence, good faith, devotion, diligence & conscientiousness. He has gone deeply and thoroughly into the subject. Too deeply and too thoroughly for the general reader, particularly as he is sometimes deficient in clearness and almost always in composition, his style with the exception of a few passages being decidedly defective. Still I do not hesitate to say that from his book alone can be obtained an accurate idea not only of Mr Jefferson himself but of that portion of the history of his country in which he was a principal actor.

Not that this Mr Randall is without his own prejudices, and not sometimes carried away by his zeal. But there is in his book, an honesty, a carefulness of research, a thoroughness of investigation and of consequent conviction, which cannot fail to convince the reader and open his eyes to the real facts and to the state of each particular case.

Mr Jefferson if mistaken in theory, this being a matter of opinion, was in practice, without the smallest doubt, one of the most honest, true hearted, and upright of men—more incapable of meanness, trickery, or double dealing than almost any statesman on record. Yet this is the man who in his dealings with the Federal party, Hamilton and even Washington himself, is described by Mr De Witt as a low, base intriguer—a traitor, a hypocrite, a profligate, a false, ungenerous, unprincipled demagogue!

Now my dear Count, knowing as I do what a diligent, rapid and comprehensive reader you are, I am going to ask that you will read or run over the three large and heavy but honest, able and conscientious volumes entitled “The Life of Thomas Jefferson by Henry S. Randall. New York 1858.” I shall take care that you shall receive, by Express, a copy of which I ask the favor of your acceptance, and I shall hope that your love of truth and justice will carry you through the work, “de longue haleine” though it be. Of the perfect faithfulness of the picture of Mr Jefferson in private life I will be the witness. I grew up at his knee, I was a member of his family, an inmate of his house, and a more irreproachable domestic character than his I have never, in my now long experience of life, seen or known.

In the third volume of Mr Randall’s book you will find several letters of my own written in answer to his questions on the subject of my grandfather’s life and manners at home. These are at pages 101_327_330_342_346_347_506. and I assure you that the descriptions I have given there are entirely correct and unexaggerated. Perhaps, my dear Count, that if after running over the volumes, you feel satisfied with the general accuracy of the statements and the truth of the colouring, you may be induced to publish some little notice of the work which may serve as an antidote to the poison of Mr De Witt.

It is sometime since I have heard any thing of Madame de Circourt or yourself. Mr Prescott and Mr Ticknor, your two most regular correspondents in Boston I have lately seen little of. Mr Prescott’s health is weak and Mr Ticknor has retired to the country in one direction whilst I have come to the sea-shore in another—to a wild, secluded spot of magnificent Ocean views and breezes which never cease to blow.

Farewell, my dear Count. Mr Coolidge joins me in most cordial regards to Madame de Circourt, which he offers equally to yourself, whilst I have just given you too strong a proof of the importance I attach to your opinion, and of my confidence in your patience and candour, to make any further assurance of my friendship and high esteem at all necessary.

Most truly yours
Ellen W. Coolidge.
Tr (ViU: Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge Correspondence, Letterbook); in the hand of Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge; dashes in original; at head of text: “To the Count de Circourt. 11. Rue des Saussures. Paris.”

de longue haleine: “lengthy”; “long-winded”

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Adolph de Circourt
Date Range
July 18, 1858