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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Sarah Harriet Owen   31 [December 1827]

6. Marine Square. [Brighton]

Monday 31st.—

My dear Charles.

I was very glad to receive your letter, though it gave an additional pang to my guilty conscience for not having sooner fulfilled my promise of writing to you, but I hope you do not think that forgetfulness has been the cause of my silence. I have said to myself every day for the last fortnight, “I will write to Charles Darwin.” & every day some awfully sudden event has prevented my doing so, but as to my forgetting you, Mr Charles that is quite out of the question—

I am afraid I have nothing very interesting to tell you, though I have been very gay since came here, & like Brighton very much, we are out almost every night, which I think very wonderful, considering we knew so few people here when we first came. Last week we were at three Balls, besides Parties, & are engaged to four or five more, you make such particular enquries after Red coats & shootables1 that I cannot resist telling you (like Mrs. Mathew) that they are most of them “remarkably frightful,” & the scarlet shootables & Scorpions2 are also remarkably useless as very few of them go out & dance. I had the supreme bliss of chauncing to meet my very favourite shootable yesterday, viz Mr. Charles Jones, we met out walking & were equally surprised to see each other, he fancied I was at Eaton3 , & I thought him safe in London, he turned back & walked with me for an hour by Shrewsbury Clocks4 & of course was very agreeable &c &c &c &c as usual I am afraid he is only here for a day or two, he called on us yesterday but we were out, & did not see him— I have only had one ramrodding excrescence5 since I came here, & that was with the Foxhounds, & excellent sport we had, I wish we could have the Spaniard here, instead of at the Forest, where he is now quite useless, there are very good horses to be hired here, & we intend to have another gallop soon—

Brighton is so horridly windy that there is very little pleasure in walking here, & besides we are in sad want of a walking Chaperon, & I often wish you were here to take pity on two desolate Flams. Caddy6 wrote me word you were to go to the Forest the first hard frost, but I have not yet heard your name amongst the fashionable arrivals, remember you will owe two or three long visits by the time we return, I do not exactly know when that will be, I should think not before the beginning of February, I hope you will not be departed to your “brilliant establishment” at Cambridge—7 We dined yesterday at Sir George Anson’s, & had a very pleasant evening, Francis Anson is very goodnatured & agreeable & a great favourite with us all, he chaunces to drop in every Morning to see what we are about, & enquire if he can be useful in any way, I do not know what we should do without him. Then there is Capt. Fremantle who is very goodnatured & civil, but I do not like him half so well as Francis— As for ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠8

⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ Darwin Hall & believe me, my dear Charles. | ever Yours sincerely | S. H Owen

The quantity of this will I hope atone for the quality, if you ever have patience to read it all—


Presumably officers and other targets for unmarried young ladies. As later letters make clear, ‘shootable’ is also used by the Owen girls generally for ‘suitable’.
In Lister’s popular novel Granby (Lister 1826) the term ‘scorpions’ is used for ‘That detrimental class … younger brothers’ (OED).
Eaton Mascott, near Shrewsbury, home of the Williams family. Sarah Owen married Edward Hosier Williams in 1831.
‘by Shrewsbury clock’, a colloquial phrase lessening or even cancelling the period of time (Partridge 1973, p. 840). Shakespeare used the term in Henry IV Part I, 5. 4. 147 (Arden edition) in Falstaff’s fabricated account of his fighting with Percy for ‘a long hour by Shrewsbury clock’ at the battle of Shrewsbury.
Excursion or outing. Other examples of the Owen–Darwin private language that occur in the correspondence are: broadcloth = man; black broadcloth = clergyman; budget = letter; clandecently = clandestinely; foiblesse = weakness, foible; halter = altar; hare = suitor; insinivating = insinuating; insinivation = invitation; leetle = little; muslin = woman; mystery = rumour, gossip; punchon = penchant; statue = statute (of lunacy).
Probably a nickname for Caroline Owen.
CD had been admitted pensioner to Christ’s College, 15 October 1827 but did not come into residence at Cambridge until January 1828 (Biographical Register of Christ’s College, vol. 2).
At least one page is missing. The final lines are written vertically across the first page.


Lister, Thomas Henry. 1826. Granby. 3 vols. London.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.

Partridge, Eric Honeywood. 1973. The Routledge dictionary of historical slang. Abridged by J. Simpson. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.


They have been having a very gay time. Tells of "Redcoats & Shootables" and several mutual friends.

Letter details

Letter no.
Sarah Harriet Mostyn Owen/Sarah Harriet Williams/Sarah Harriet Haliburton
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 204: 58
Physical description
ALS 4pp inc

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 36,” accessed on 21 May 2024,

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