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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Henry Matthew   [March or April 1831]1

Kilve, Bridgwater

My dear Darwin,

Do not think me the most forgetful and the most ungrateful rascal in this world of heartlessness on account of my long silence. Till this last week I did not know where you were to be found and I am not at all certain that this will reach you. If it ever does come into your possession I hope you will believe the assurances of my undiminished regard which it brings with it. Our friendship (I hate the term it sounds so like cant) but I must use it for fault of a better, our friendship was the growth of a day but I trust it will bear fruit for years. Once for all I do love you and shall ever come what may to either of us.

I am now at home in the bosom of my family, (as the novel writers have it) and I know of no bosom which I had not rather lie in.— I came here like the prodigal son but was received more like a fatted calf. My Father is fierce my brother cold and my sisters in tears. Every post brings a Dun, and every Dun a scene. My Father abuses me for wasting my Talents, though he never discovered that I had such things till they were irrecoverably thrown away. But such is the trick of Governors. My reviewing scheme did not succeed to my wishes— I was too much bothered by my w—e2 when in London to write much, and I have been too much bothered by my Father here to write at all. I sent some poetry as I told you written to the young Lady six years since to one of the Magazines and received a civil note in reply beginning with compliment and concluding with “Sorry that the poetical department was occupied. What a phrase poetical department. Who ever heard of the department of Apollo. I sent besides a humourous description of my own condition to another rascal but got no money for it. I received much praise indeed and an entreaty to write again with assurances of prompt attention et cet. But that would not feed me, so weighing the “solid pudding” of home against the “empty praise” of a garret, I pawned my clothes for my coach hire and here I am. This last week however I have taken more heart, and this morning I commenced writing again— Do you know of any one who is in want of a private tutor in your part of the world, a household drudge, I mean— This is the situation I am now looking out for Meanwhile, How do you go on old Fellow. Have you bottled any more beetles, or impaled any butterflies. Are you delighted at the prospect of reform,3 or weeping over the pres〈ent〉 deca〈de〉 of abuses. Or are you still old quiet poco c〈uran〉te Darwin4 caring for nought but your gin bottle and its constant accompaniment philosophy. Dost thou not see symptoms of a rejected Scribbler in this my letter? The artificial liveliness of a writer in a magazine the vain attempts of one who has much small talk on hand, because his stock will not sell— You think from all this that I am in uproarious spirits but you were never more mistaken in your life. I am a wretch.

I have been at H—— lately, and I have seen her who makes all others little worth seeing, Oh God what a woman; and then to feel myself tied to a fool. The chain drags heavily.

Are you yet become inspired by the Spirit of Shelley I say inspired, for to enjoy him is a sort of inspiration Read the Cenci and the Spirit of Solitude, and confess that Virgil is a driveller and Byron a copyist.

So the widow flung Cameron after all?

God bless you my dear fellow | Ever your most sincere friend | H Matthew5


The date assigned is a probable one. The letter clearly was sent after 14 February 1831 (when Matthew wrote from London) and as it is directed to Shrewsbury Matthew may have known CD to be at home between terms. Easter term began 13 April 1831.
Lord John Russell had introduced the first Reform Bill on 1 March 1831. CD, a Whig, was pro-Reform.
A reference to Samuel Butler’s ‘poco curante’ censure of CD’s extra-curricular interest in chemistry while at Shrewsbury School (see Autobiography, p. 46).
William Makepeace Thackeray, who was also a friend of Matthew, visited him in July of 1831 and wrote to Edward Fitzgerald as follows: ‘he is improved in mind, & appearance for he does not look the rake he used—& has met with some very sad & trying experience since last I saw him’ (Ray 1945–6, 1: 151). In a later letter (17–19 May 1849) he refers to Matthew as ‘that friend of my youth whom I used to think 20 years ago the most fascinating accomplished witty and delightful of men— I found an old man in a room smelling of brandy & water at 5 o’clock … grown coarser and stale somehow, like a piece of goods that has been hanging up in a shop window. He has had 15 years of a vulgar wife’ (ibid., 2: 541).


Autobiography: The autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809–1882. With original omissions restored. Edited with appendix and notes by Nora Barlow. London: Collins. 1958.

Ray, Gordon Norton, ed. 1945–6. The letters and private papers of William Makepeace Thackeray. 4 vols. London: Oxford University Press.


In London HM was too harassed by his wife to write; has gone home and is much bothered by his father. Looks for a place as a private tutor. Remains CD’s devoted friend.

Letter details

Letter no.
Henry Matthew
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 204: 39
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 95,” accessed on 28 July 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 1