Ellen W. Randolph (Coolidge) to Martha Jefferson Randolph

My dear Mother

I received your letter of the 19th only this morning, but as I have written regularly without waiting for answers, you have not been a sufferer by this delay, and as Papa got down day before yesterday, I knew that you were all in good health—I am truly sorry for V.s disappointment, and I regret it the more as I am certain she would reap very solid advantages from a year’s schooling with Aunt Hackley, who appears to me admirably calculated for the task she has undertaken—this is a case in which I think economy is morally wrong, for when the complexion of a whole life may be changed by a little pecuniary sacrifice, when there is such a promise of happiness & improvement, it is really more than cruel, to blast by ill judged economy [. . .]prospects which look not to the present but extend to the future—

I am writing to you in great haste, for the of tide of gaiety has returned with such force, that we are completely born away by it and have scarce a moment to call our own—in the last eight days we have been to six great parties, and are engaged to another for this evening—Cornelia begins really to enjoy herself, and will I hope go away with favorable impressions—as for myself, the climate and the change in my manner of life has agreed with me so very badly that I begin to attribute the decline and fall of my influence, to the pale cadaverous face which I carry into company, and the coldness and restraint of manner produced by almost constant indisposition; my appetite and strength have been gradually failing, but although, the country air would probably have restored both, yet such is my infatuation in favor of a town life that except for the pleasure of seeing you, I have seldom wished to return to my native mountains—the balance of comfort is so decidedly in favor of my present situation, and after all it is perhaps a degrading confession, but the highest intellectual enjoyments, may be sacrificed for a time without regret if by this sacrifice we can purchase those things which most conduce to the “enjoyments of the animal”—at Monticello I live in the almost constant exercise of my heart and understanding—having constantly before me objects of the warmest affection and highest admiration—the conversation I hear there is completely the feast of reason—and I would not permanently change my situation with any one living—here there are few objects of either affection or admiration, nothing can exceed the folly and frivolity of the beings with whom I associate, and I sometimes think that were I condemned to a perpetual intercourse with them, that my mind would sink to a level with theirs, so contagious is stupidity, so benumbing the influence of fashion and example—but here there are so many of the comforts of life, so much warmth and ease, so few duties to perform, so many hours of indolence and luxury, that I feel mortified and ashamed to think that these gratifications sometimes make me forget the higher ones I enjoy when among my own bleak mountains—At the same time my dear mother, I have found every absence from home only serves to make me appreciate it more highly and when I am listening to insipid conversations and wearisome remarks, when I compare the range of intellect in most of the persons I am [. . .] acquainted with here, to that of my friends, I bless God for having been born at Monticello, your daughter, and so much the object of my dear Grand father’s care.

I intended this for a letter of business merely as whilst I am writing a very charming beau (and one to whom I should have almost lost my heart, if I had not known him engaged) Mr Nivison is waiting to go with me to the German toy shop to look at some engravings, & that I may expect exercise my taste in the choice of a snuff box for him, having taken the liberty to criticize hi one which he had chosen himself—in these circumstances I intended to have written a few lines only, but I find that always impossible—

Mrs Trist’s shawls and stuff were certainly sent up some time ago—Aunt Randolph says by Harry—her ribbon and pelisse cloth were put in a box, containing Grandpapa’s Angola hares three packages for Ashton, and a keg of anchovies sent to you by Aunt Randolph—this box was intrusted to a man by the name of Claxton in of whose honesty we were assured, and whose boat left Richmond four days ago—he had also your box of china, and a band box containing Lucy’s bonnet—your curtains should have been sent also, but there was a difficulty in the choice of them—they shall follow the [. . .] articles, by the first convenient opportunity—

Of The small stock which I had remaining of Grandpapa’s’s money, I had appropriated to purchase some articles for the girls, but the number of parties, brought with them so many new wants, that I am ashamed to acknowledge I sacrificed this little hord hoard, (except Les Chots debt) and like the prodigal son I shall return to you, having sinned not against heaven I hope but against my family, in squandering on my own person, the sum which I had laid aside for their gratification in this however my dear mother you are excepted, for no temptation, I hop[e], could have induced me to buy spend the money laid aside for your china in any other way—thank heaven that is bought and paid for—and I mention these things that the girls may be prepared for the meanness of my returning to them, after so long an absence empty handed—I know them too well to suspect for an instant that this will be a matter of regret to them, but it is a very serious one for me—

If this letter contain more than a usual quantum of nonsense, Mr Nivison must [. . .] assist in bearing the blame, for I have written in a great hurry—I should not have permitted myself to be hurried in writting to you, by any beau in Christendom, had I not been under a positive promise—my pen has never once left the paper, except to be dipped in ink, and you have exactly the train of ideas that hashave been passing through my mind, expressed [. . .] with a nervous rapidity, unrevised, uncorrected, and submitted to your [. . .] with the hope that they will meet no other, and that the paper which contains them will be immediately committed to the flames. my pen is like my tongue, & it would be perhaps to the credit of my understanding, if their rapid career was oftener checked by the influence of a little fore thought—Adieu my dearest Mother, inconstant as I am in most of my desires & affections, my love & admiration for you are so completely “twined about the springs of life” that it is only in laying down the one that I could lose the other, and I fondly hope, not even then—

RC (ViU: Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge Correspondence); unsigned; in the hand of Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge; torn at seal; addressed: “Mrs T. M. RandolphMonticello near MiltonAlbemarle”; stamped; postmarked Richmond, 30 Jan.; endorsed by recipient: “1817. 18.”

feast of reason comes from Alexander Pope’s works in imitation of Horace (Pope, The First Satire of the Second Book of Horace [London, 1733], 39).