The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 67 of 188

Charles Darwin to Miss Susan Darwin.

London, Friday Morning, September 9, 1831.

My dear Susan,

I have just received the parcel. I suppose it was not delivered yesterday owing to the Coronation. I am very much obliged to my father, and everybody else. Everything is done quite right. I suppose by this time you have received my letter written next day, and I hope will send off the things. My affairs remain in statu quo. Captain Beaufort says I am on the books for victuals, and he thinks I shall have no difficulty about my collections when I come home. But he is too deep a fish for me to make him out. The only thing that now prevents me finally making up my mind, is the want of certainty about the South Sea Islands; although morally I have no doubt we should go there whether or no it is put in the instructions. Captain Fitz-Roy says I do good by plaguing Captain Beaufort, it stirs him up with a long pole. Captain Fitz-Roy says he is sure he has interest enough (particularly if this Administration is not everlasting–I shall soon turn Tory!), anyhow, even when out, to get the ship ordered home by whatever track he likes. From what Wood says, I presume the Dukes of Grafton and Richmond interest themselves about him. By the way, Wood has been of the greatest use to me; and I am sure his personal introduction of me inclined Captain Fitz-Roy to have me.

To explain things from the very beginning: Captain Fitz-Roy first wished to have a Naturalist, and then he seems to have taken a sudden horror of the chances of having somebody he should not like on board the vessel. He confesses his letter to Cambridge was to throw cold water on the scheme. I don’t think we shall quarrel about politics, although Wood (as might be expected from a Londonderry) solemnly warned Fitz-Roy that I was a Whig. Captain Fitz-Roy was before Uncle Jos., he said, “now your friends will tell you a sea-captain is the greatest brute on the face of the creation. I do not know how to help you in this case, except by hoping you will give me a trial.” How one does change! I actually now wish the voyage was longer before we touch land. I feel my blood run cold at the quantity I have to do. Everybody seems ready to assist me. The Zoological want to make me a corresponding member. All this I can construct without crossing the Equator. But one friend is quite invaluable, viz., a Mr. Yarrell, a stationer, and excellent naturalist. (William Yarrell, well-known for his ‘History of British Birds’ and ‘History of British Fishes,’ was born in 1784. He inherited from his father a newsagent’s business, to which he steadily adhered up to his death, “in his 73rd year.” He was a man of a thoroughly amiable and honourable character, and was a valued office-bearer of several of the learned Societies.) He goes to the shops with me and bullies about prices (not that I yet buy): hang me if I give 60 pounds for pistols.

Yesterday all the shops were shut, so that I could do nothing; and I was child enough to give 1 pound 1 shilling for an excellent seat to see the Procession. (The Coronation of William IV.) And it certainly was very well worth seeing. I was surprised that any quantity of gold could make a long row of people quite glitter. It was like only what one sees in picture-books of Eastern processions. The King looked very well, and seemed popular, but there was very little enthusiasm; so little that I can hardly think there will be a coronation this time fifty years.

The Life Guards pleased me as much as anything–they are quite magnificent; and it is beautiful to see them clear a crowd. You think that they must kill a score at least, and apparently they really hurt nobody, but most deucedly frighten them. Whenever a crowd was so dense that the people were forced off the causeway, one of these six-feet gentlemen, on a black horse, rode straight at the place, making his horse rear very high, and fall on the thickest spot. You would suppose men were made of sponge to see them shrink away.

In the evening there was an illumination, and much grander than the one on the Reform Bill. All the principal streets were crowded just like a race-ground. Carriages generally being six abreast, and I will venture to say not going one mile an hour. The Duke of Northumberland learnt a lesson last time, for his house was very grand; much more so than the other great nobility, and in much better taste; every window in his house was full of straight lines of brilliant lights, and from their extreme regularity and number had a beautiful effect. The paucity of invention was very striking, crowns, anchors, and “W.R.’s” were repeated in endless succession. The prettiest were gas-pipes with small holes; they were almost painfully brilliant. I have written so much about the Coronation, that I think you will have no occasion to read the “Morning Herald”.

For about the first time in my life I find London very pleasant; hurry, bustle, and noise are all in unison with my feelings. And I have plenty to do in spare moments. I work at Astronomy, as I suppose it would astound a sailor if one did not know how to find Latitude and Longitude. I am now going to Captain Fitz-Roy, and will keep [this] letter open till evening for anything that may occur. I will give you one proof of Fitz-Roy being a good officer–all the officers are the same as before; two-thirds of his crew and [the] eight marines who went before all offered to come again, so the service cannot be so very bad. The Admiralty have just issued orders for a large stock of canister-meat and lemon-juice, etc. etc. I have just returned from spending a long day with Captain Fitz-Roy, driving about in his gig, and shopping. This letter is too late for to-day’s post. You may consider it settled that I go. Yet there is room for change if any untoward accident should happen; this I can see no reason to expect. I feel convinced nothing else will alter my wish of going. I have begun to order things. I have procured a case of good strong pistols and an excellent rifle for 50 pounds, there is a saving; a good telescope, with compass, 5 pounds, and these are nearly the only expensive instruments I shall want. Captain Fitz-Roy has everything. I never saw so (what I should call, he says not) extravagant a man, as regards himself, but as economical towards me. How he did order things! His fire-arms will cost 400 pounds at least. I found the carpet bag when I arrived all right, and much obliged. I do not think I shall take any arsenic; shall send partridges to Mr. Yarrell; much obliged. Ask Edward to BARGAIN WITH Clemson to make for my gun–TWO SPARE hammers or cocks, two main-springs, two sere-springs, four nipples or plugs–I mean one for each barrel, except nipples, of which there must be two for each, all of excellent quality, and set about them immediately; tell Edward to make inquiries about prices. I go on Sunday per packet to Plymouth, shall stay one or two days, then return, and hope to find a letter from you; a few days in London; then Cambridge, Shrewsbury, London, Plymouth, Madeira, is my route. It is a great bore my writing so much about the Coronation; I could fill another sheet. I have just been with Captain King, Fitz-Roy’s senior officer last expedition; he thinks that the expedition will suit me. Unasked, he said Fitz-Roy’s temper was perfect. He sends his own son with him as midshipman. The key of my microscope was forgotten; it is of no consequence. Love to all.

Chas. Darwin.

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