Monday, April 19, 2010

Charles Darwin Died on this Day in 1882

Charles Darwin died at Down house during the afternoon of April 19, 1882. Janet Brown describes the moment in her biography (Charles Darwin: The Power of Place p. 495).
He died on the afternoon of 19, April 1882, after sinking very low for two or three days beforehand and suffering what Emma called "fatal attack" at midnight on the 18th. There was no deathbed conversion, no famous last words. "I am not the least afraid to die," he apparently murmured to Emma. "Remember what a good wife you have been." Allfrey signed the death certificate giving "Angina Pectoris Syncope" as the cause of death, the gradual ceasing of the heart. He was seventy-three.
The subtitle of Janet Browne's book (The power of Place) alludes to the remarkable status that Darwin achieved following publication of On the Origin of Species. Darwin was buried in Westminster Abbey at a huge funeral held on Wednesday, April 26, 1882. He was buried next to Sir John Herschel near the tomb of Sir Isaac Newton, "... an honorable place but not as close to [Charles] Lyell as Emma had hoped" (Browne, p. 497).

Here's a list of the pallbearers from
George Campbell - The 9th Duke of Argyll
William Cavendish - The 7th Duke of Devonshire
Edward Henry Stanley - The 15th Earl of Derby
James Russell Lowell - The American Ambassador to Britain
William Spottiswoode - Mathematician, physicist, the Queen's Printer, and friend of Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker - Darwin's close friend and champion of his Theory of Evolution
Thomas Henry Huxley - Darwin's close friend and champion of his Theory of Evolution
Alfred Russel Wallace - Darwin's friend and the co-founder of Natural Selection
Sir John Lubbock - The 1st Baron of Avebury, Darwin's next door neighbor and close friend
Here's the report of the funeral published in The Times on Thursday, April 27, 1882 [Wikisource].

The Funeral of Mr. Darwin

The mortal remains of Charles Robert Darwin were interred in the Abbey at Westminster yesterday with marks of respect due to one whose name has been for many years familiar as a household word to his countrymen, and whose works have shed so much distinction upon English science. The coffin containing the body was brought to the Abbey late on the previous evening and borne through the cloisters, Mr. Darwin's five sons following, into the Chapel of St. Faith. This is a portion of the Abbey little known to casual visitors. It is a long narrow apartment, with a groined and vaulted roof, situate between the end of the south transept and the vestibule of the Chapter House, and was until a few years ago used as a store room, and for some time was mistakenly called the Chapel of St. Blaize. Sir Gilbert Scott, however, discovered at the east end, where traces of an alter are found, a mural painting of a female figure, evidently a saint, holding in her hands a book and an iron rod — the emblems of St. Faith. The western portion of the room formed of old a revestry. Into this bare chapel, which, to the eyes of of the greatest architect seemed "a picturesque and beautiful room," the coffin was carried on Tuesday night, and, seen by the dim light from two old-fashioned lanterns, the place seemed gloomy and tomb-like in contrast with the lofty, nobly proportioned interior of the Abbey which could be seen through the glass door opening into the south transept. The presence of death was more painfully forced on the mind even than during the solemn ceremonial of yesterday, when the great building was again peopled with the living. Soon after 11 in the morning those who were to follow the body as mourners began to assemble in the Chapter House. The Embassies of France, Germany, Italy, and Spain were represented, and among those invited through Messrs. T, and W. Banting to be present or to send representatives nearly all those who received invitations were present, were:—

The Marquis of Salisbury, K.G., Chancellor of the University of Oxford; Lord Aberdare, President of the Geographical Society; the Speaker of the House of Commons, M.r. Childers, M.P., Sir Stafford Northcote, M.P., Mr. Fawcett, M.P., Mr. Mundella, M.P., Sir T Brassey, M.P., Sir Charles Dilke, M.P., Lord Kensington, M.P., Mr. A. J. Beresford, M.P., and Mr. Spencer Walpole, M.P., the two members of the University of Cambridge; Sir J. R. Mowbray, M.P., and Mr. J. G. Talbot, M.P., the members for the University of Oxford; Mr. J. A. Campbell, M.P. for the Universtiy of Glasgow and Aberdeen; Lord Arthur Russell, M.P., Mr. Plunket, M.P., and Mr. Edward Gibson, Q.C., M.P., the members for the University of Dublin; Dr. Lyon Playfair, M.P., for the Universities for Edinburgh and St. Andrew's; Sir Farrer Herschell, Q.C., M.P., Sir David Wedderburn, M.P., Sir Henry Holland, M.P., Mr Nevil Story Maskelyne, M.P., Mr. H. Broadhurst, M.P., Mr. T,. Burt, M.P., Professor Bryce, M.P.; the vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, the Master of Balliol, the Regius Professor of Medicine (Dr. Acland), and the Linacre Professor of Zoology, as representing the University of Oxford; the President of the College of Surgeons, the President of the College of Physicians, the Council of the Royal Society, the Council of the Linnean Society, the Council of the Royal Geographical Society, the council of the Geological Society, the Master of Christ's College, Cambridge, the Head-Master of the Grammar School, Shrewsbury; the Rev. Professor Kennedy, the Rev. Professor Pritchard, F.R.S., Professor Humphry, F.R.S., Professor Max Müller, Professor Henry S. Smith, F.R.S., Professor Prestwick, F.R.S., Professor Hirst, F.R.S., Professor Mosely, F.R.S., Professor Babington, F.R.S., Professor De Chaumont, F.R.S., Sir William Thomson, F.R.S., Sir John Hawkshaw, Dr. W. B. Carpenter, C.B., F.R.S., Mr. Ray Lankester, F.R.S., Sir Henry Maine, Mr. John Simon, C.B., Professor W. Chandler Roberts, F.R.S., Mr. John Murray, Captain Douglas Galton, secretary to the British Association for the Advancement of Science; Mr. W. Onless, R.A., Professor W. B. Richmond, R.A., Mr. George Atherley, Mr. W. Dallas, Mr. H. W. Bates, Mr. Walter White, Mr. J. W. Judd, Mr. G. A. Spottiswoode, Mr. R. C. Hankinson, Mr. John Morley, Mr. R. H. Hutton, Mr. W. C. Leckie, Mr. Frederic Harrison, Captain Abney, R.E., Mr. Frederick Pollock, Mr. W. R. S. Ralston, the Hon. Robert Winthrop, Professor Flower, F.R.S., and Mr. Herbert Spencer, F.R.S.

The Anthropological Institute appointed a deputation to attend, composed of the following members of the Society:— Sir John Lubbock, Mr. John Evans, F.R.S., Mr. E. B. Tylor, F.R.S., Professor Busk, F.R.S., Mr. Hyde Clarke, Professor W. H. Flower, Mr. Francis Galton, F.R.S., Dr. Allen Thomson, F.R.S., Mr. F. W. Rudler, F.G.S., Mr. F. E. W. Brabrook, F.S.A., Mr. J. E. Price, F.S.A., Lieutenant-Colonel H. H. Godwin-Austen, F.R.S., Professor Huxley F.R.S., Mr. R. R. Martin, M.P., Mr. Alfred Tylor, F.G.S., and Mr. George W. Bloxam, M.A., assistant secretary.

At about 20 minutes to 12 the body was brought out of the Chapel of St. Faith, through the Chapter-house vestibule, into the west cloister, and the procession was formed. The coffin was covered with a black velvet pall edged with white silk, On it were laid many wreaths of beautiful white flowers, one of the wreaths having been sent by members of scientific societies in Liverpool, represented by Mr. Isaac C. Thompson, F.R.M.S., honorary secretary of the Microscopical Society of Liverpool. The pall-bearers were the Duke of Devonshire, the Duke of Argyll, the Earl of Derby, Mr. J. Russell Lowell, the American Minister; Mr. W. Spottiswoode, LL.D., President of the Royal Society; Sir Joseph Hooker, Mr. A. R. Wallace, Professor Huxley, Sir John Lubbock, and the Rev. Canon Farrar. Proceeding slowly along the south cloister those heading the procession were met at the west entrance by members of the family and others, whose names follow:—

Mr. William Erasmus Darwin, chief mourner; Mr. George Darwin, F.R.S., Mrs. William Darwin, Miss Darwin, Mrs. Litchfield, Mr Francis Darwin, Mr. Leonard Darwin, Mr. R. B. Litchfield, Mr. Horace Darwin, Mr. Leonard Darwin, R.E., Mr. Darwin of Elston-hall, Mr. F. Alvey Darwin, Captain Charles Darwin, Mr. Reginald Darwin, of Buxton, Mrs. Vaughan Williams, Miss Wedgwood, the Rev. Charles Parker, Mr. Robert Packer, Mr. H. F. Bristowe, Q.C., Mr. Francis Galton, F.R.S., Mr. Ernest Wedgwood, Mr. Hensleigh Wedgwood, Mr. T. H. Farrer, Secretary of the Board of Trade, Mrs. Farrer, Mr. Godfrey Wedgwood, Miss A. Wedgwood, Mrs. Ruck, the Rev. Arthur Wedgwood, Mr. J. C. Hawkshaw, Mrs. Hawkshaw, Mr. George Allen, Mr. Henry Allen, M.P.; servant, Mr. William Jackson, and Mr. Joseph Parslow.

Within the Abbey a large congregation was assembled, filling the seats on the south side of the nave, the seats in the choir and such as were not reserved for the mourners in the transepts, while a large number admitted without tickets stood on the north side of the nave. Among those present were the Baroness Burdett-Boutts and Mr. Burdett-Coutts, the Lord Mayor, and Lady Mayoress and Miss Ellis, Mr. Sheriff Ogg, the Rev. R. C. Billing, Mr. Mark H. Judge, Mr. L. T. D'Eyncourt, and the Head Constable of Westminster. Masters and Queen's scholars of the Westminster School also attended. At the West Cloister door the mourners were met by the Rev. Canon Prothero, as senior canon in the absence of the Dean, who is abroad. Canon Prothero having read the opening sentence of the Service for the Burial of the Dead, the choir changed the other processional sentences to the music of Croft, as the procession moved down the south aisle to the west end of the church and then up the nave into the choir. Following the choristers came the Rev. J. H. Cheadle and the Rev. J. Troutbeck (minor canons of Westminster), Canon Rowsell, Canon Barry, Canon Duckworth, and the Rev. S. Flood Jones (precentor), and near the senior canon the Chapter Clerk, Mr. C. St. C. Bedford. The body was placed in front of the Communion rails during the first portion of the service. The Psalms were chanted to Purcell's music, and after the Lesson, which was read by Canon Duckworth, an anthem composed for the occasion by Mr. Bridge was sung to the words from the Book of Proverbs, "Happy is the man that findeth wisdom. and getteth understanding. She is more precious than rubies, and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her. Length of days is in her right hand, and in her left hand riches and honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace." The soft and subdued ending of the composition, which was sung with much feeling by the choir, prepared the mind for the last sad duty that remained to be performed. The body was not removed to the grave, which is at the north-east corner of the nave next to that of Sir John Herschell, Dr. Bridge playing first Beethoven's Funeral March and then a more plaintive march by Franz Schubert in B minor, while the mourners proceeded to the grave, and the rest of the service was impressively read by Canon Prothero, the choir singing their part to Croft and Purcell's music. Near the grave and just beneath the monument to Sir Isaac Newton stood a remarkable and representative crowd of distinguished men, such as only an occasion of deep and general would bring together. Leaders of men and leaders of thought; political opponents, scientific co-workers; eminent discoverers, and practitioners of the arts. To name only a few as representative, there were Lord Spencer, President of the Council, who represented Her Majesty's Ministers at the funeral; the Marquis of Salisbury, Viscount Sherbrooke, Sir William Jenner, Sir Stafford Northcote, Sir Charles Dilke, Mr. Moncure D. Conway, Dr. Siemens, Sir William Gull, Mr. Childers, Professor Marshall, Sir John Hawkshaw, Mr. Ernest Hart, Mr. W. H. Smith, Mr. Herbert Spencer, Dr. Farquharson, Professor Flower, Mr. Robert Winthrop, and Mr. Ellis. The anthem by Handel, "His body is buried in peace, but his name liveth evermore," was sung, and the senior Canon having pronounced the Benediction, the mourners left, and the public were then allowed to pass round the grave. The inscription on the plate of the white, unpolished oak coffin read, "Charles Robert Darwin. Born February 12, 1809. Died April 19th, 1882."

In an article in to-day's Nature on the late Mr,. Darwin, Professor Huxley writes as follows:— "Not only in these islands, where so many have felt the fascination of personal contact with an intellect which had no superior, and with a character which was even nobler than the intellect, but in all parts of the civilized world it would seem that those who business it is to feel the pulse of the nations and to know what interests the masses of mankind were well aware that thousands of their readers would thin the world poorer for Darwin's death, and would dwell with eager interest upon every incident of his history. In France, in Germany, in Austro-Hungary, in Italy, in the United States, writers of all shades of opinion, for once unanimous, have paid a willing tribute to the worth of our great countryman, ignored in life by the official representatives of the kingdom, but laid in death among his peers in Westminster Abbey by the will of the intelligence of the nation. One could not converse with Darwin without being reminded of Socrates. There was the same desire to find some one wiser than himself; the same belief in sovereignty of reason; the same ready humour; the same sympathetic interest in all the ways and works of men. But instead of turning away from the problems of nature as hopelessly insoluble, our modern philosopher devoted his whole life to attacking them in the spirit of Heraclitus and of Democritus, with results which are as the substance of which their speculations were anticipatory shadows. The due appreciation or even enumeration of these results is neither practicable nor desirable at this moment. There is a time for all things—a time for glorying in our ever extended conquests over the realm of nature, and a time mourning over the heroes who have led us to victory. None have fought better, and none have been more fortunate than Charles Darwin. He found a great truth, trodden under foot, reviled by bigots, and ridiculed by all the world; he lived long enough to see it chiefly by his own efforts, irrefragably established in science, inseparably incorporated with the common thoughts of men, and only hated and feared by those who would revile, but dare not. What shall a man desire more than this? Once more the image of Socrates rises unbidden, and the noble peroration of the 'Apology' rings in our ears as if it were Charles Darwin's farewell:—'The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways—I to die and you to live. Which is the better God only knows.'"

We are requested to state that the absence of the Vice-Chancellor and members of the Council of the Senate of the University of Cambridge from the funeral of the late Mr. Darwin was occasioned by the circumstance that it was impossible for them to attend in consequence of the approaching election to the Regius Professorship of Hebrew. By the statute regulating the election it is imperative on the Vice-Chancellor and the members of the Council, who are the electors, to be present during the whole time each of the candidates for the Professorship delivers his exposition on the portions of Hebrew books assigned to him. The times for the delivery of these dissertations had been fixed nearly a month ago, and it was impossible to postpone them and to defer the election. Consequently, much to the regret of the Vice-Chancellor and the members of the Council, none of them could attend as representing the University of Cambridge.

[Photo Credit: Funeral of Charles Darwin: The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online, Invitation: English Heritage Prints]


  1. As Marc Kirschner writes in his "The Plausibility of Life", it is perhaps good Darwin died when he did considering how he was edging close to Lamarckism

  2. Note that Campbell was the author of The reign of law an attack on Darwinian unguidedness. Such was the age where critics would honor opponents...

    Also, Darwin was never Lamarckian. But that's another myth...

  3. It's a myth that it's a myth that Darwin was never Lamarckian (!) - see for example the following paper

  4. Notwithstanding, Darwin was not a Lamarckian in that sense, as the category of "Lamarckian inheritance" was not even invented until well after his death. Darwin held that inheritance was biased by use and disuse, but never adopted a soft inheritance model in Lamarck's sense. He was often confused on heredity, but he was in no sensible manner a "Lamarckian", any more than Wallace, prior to 1889 or so, was a "Weismannian".

  5. Thanks for this, Larry. I've been working with a student this semester reading OOS and other works by and about Darwin, and somehow I missed the anniversary. This is our last week of classes, and this Huxley's obit is nice way to wrap things up.

  6. Nice post, and timely.

    I understand that there were a couple of hymns written just for the occasion, at least one featuring scripture from the Book of Proverbs. You didn't happen to come across any mention of those, did you?

    Does anyone else know what they were?


    Ed Darrell

  7. @Ed Darrell:

    The words of the hymn from proverbs are buried within the "Times" funeral account, above. I have no idea where (if) the music might be found.

    Poxy Howzes

  8. Interesting to note that William was the chief mourner. As Freeman 2007. Charles Darwin: A companion. 2d online edition p. 119 records,
    "He had felt the top of his head cold at his father's funeral in Westminster Abbey and balanced his black gloves there."

    A splendidly informal family.