Ellen Wayles Coolidge arrived in London in June 1838 at the advent of Queen Victoria’s reign—the citizens were still celebrating the coronation. During her nine-month stay, Coolidge kept a diary that reveals the uncommon education of her youth, when she lived and studied at Monticello with her grandfather, Thomas Jefferson. London’s docks, theaters, parks, public buildings, and museums all come under Coolidge’s astute gaze as she and her husband, Joseph Coolidge Jr., travel the city and gradually gain entry into some of the most coveted drawing rooms of the time.
Coolidge records the details of her conversations with writers such as Samuel Rogers, Thomas Carlyle, and Anna Jameson and activists including Charles Sumner and Harriet Martineau. She gives firsthand accounts of the fashioning of the young queen’s image by the artists Charles Robert Leslie and Sir Francis Chantrey and takes notes as she watches the queen open Parliament and battle the first scandal of her reign. Her love of painting reawakened, Coolidge chronicles her opportunities to view more than four hundred works of art held in both public and private collections, acknowledging a new appreciation for the modern art of J. M. W. Turner and a fondness for the Dutch masters.
As rich as her experience in England proves to be, Coolidge often reflects on her family in Boston and Virginia and her youth at Monticello. As she encounters her mother’s schoolgirl friends and recalls the songs her grandfather sang while working in his study, Coolidge’s thoughts return to Monticello and the lessons she learned there.
Distributed for the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation
This fastidiously edited, colorfully illustrated diary is filled with gems of description. It can be read in a number of ways: as the recreation of a lost world, a tour of an uncommon mind, or a piece of history that centers on the life of a proud American in the company of a people who, in 1838-39, still refused to give credit to the revolutionary energy that Jefferson unleashed....Reading the diary, one gets caught up in the gossip of Victorian times, while making the acquaintance of one whose rich life in a way symbolizes both intellectual and emotional aspirations of the founders' offspring.
Ann Lucas Birle is a scholar at the International Center for Jefferson Studies. Lisa A. Francavilla is Managing Editor of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series.