Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Darwin Letter Friday

The writer’s life hasn’t changed much.

Move to the big city, live in a tiny apartment, and get dragged down by all the distractions and frustrations that accompany this process.

When I moved to New York, I had the same demoralizing situation; jobless for several months; interning for free.

So I can relate to Darwin’s buddy from Cambridge, Henry Matthew. Henry was president of the Cambridge Union. The guy had some serious brains. But when he went to London to make it as a writer, things didn’t quite work out, and Darwin had to send him a little cash at one point. His drinking and persistent letters from his wife didn’t help.

February 2, 1831

My dear Darwin

Though I have little or nothing to say which can be of any Interest, yet I am vain enough to think that you will not be sorry to hear from me—

Here I am in London, alone in a crowd, without a human being to exchange a word with, To me this is a situation totally new and I can not describe to you the horrors and depression of spirits to which it subjects me. I have hired Lodgings at 15 shillings per week for which I am furnished with a Study, Sitting Room Bedroom Kitchen and Dressing Room. Is not this a splendid establishment for a single man? There is one circumstance which does however slightly diminish the grandeur of the thing and that is the painful fact that this long enumeration of apartments is only one room with many names. I eat drink sleep study and partly dress my food in a garret about half as large as my Cambridge Rooms.— But remember, this is a mighty secret and I do not wish it to be known in Cambridge that I am in London at all much less in such a degraded condition.

I have this morning penned some sentimental ditties which I mean to get money for from some periodical Publication, if verse fails I shall try prose and not succeeding in either I shall pawn my coat and sell my Books

…and things went downhill from there.

February 14, 1831

I answer your kind letter on the spirits engendered by a pint of Porter, The days of gin are over. I answer your generous remittance with a beggars gratitude with thanks, though I am not yet practised enough in the profession not to feel ashamed while I write. Do not think meanly of me. I assure you I had the hard choice of accepting your kindness or a Jail, for I had already pawned my watch. God bless you. Things will soon I trust be better with me. I have not yet heard from the reviewers, but I have shown my attempts to a man well versed in the profession, and he says all sorts of fine things concerning them I begin to think that I shall be the next Poet Laureate— …. if I succeed I shall write to my Father and tell him I want nothing of him for the next two years except payment of Debts …. I have just completed nine of the most sentimental stanzas ever edited for which I intend to get five guineas, so a sneer at Poetry touches at once my fruits and my fortunes Write soon, like a gentleman as you are—

March, 1831

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 [wife] 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— …. Meanwhile, How do you go on old Fellow. Have you bottled any more beetles, or impaled any butterflies. …

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

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