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. This volume brings the full text of her diary to publication for the first time, opening up her text for today’s reader with carefully researched annotations that provide the historical context.
London’s clocks, 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 over 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. Across the spectrum of her observations, Coolidge’s diary is always strikingly vivid and insightful – and frequently quite funny.
Edited by Ann Lucas Birle and Lisa A. Francavilla. Hardbound, 464 pages, 20 color and 10 black and white illustrations. Copublished by the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.