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Darwin's Diary

Introduction | 1809-1825 | 1826-1829 | 1831 | 1832 | 1833 | 1835 | 1836
1837 | 1838 | 1842-1854 | 1856 | 1858-1859 | 1881 | 1882


April 1882 (Darwin's Struggle with Faith)

On Wednesday, April 26, 1882, the body of Charles Darwin is laid to rest in Westminster Abbey.

Initially Darwin was to be buried near his family home in the countryside. After persuading Emma, Darwin's scientific friends lobbied for a place in Westminster Abbey. The London papers chimed in; one editorial urged, "His proper place is amongst those other worthies whose reputations are landmarks in the people's history, and if it should not clash with his own expressed wishes, or the pious feelings of the family, we owe it to posterity to place his remains ... among the illustrious dead."

Britain's leading politicians, scientists, and clergy have tickets to the funeral. The doors are also open to the public at large, and the Abbey is packed with mourners.

"The nation's grandest temple of religion opened its gates and lifted up its everlasting doors and bade the king of science come in."

Countless tributes, like the one above from a Unitarian preacher, reflect the profound change that has taken place in Britain in the decades since On the Origin of Species was published. Now, the Church of England and society at large no longer see evolution as anathema to faith.

Darwin himself stressed that evolution and religion were not incompatible. He pointed to his dear friend Asa Gray, who fought to have the theory of natural selection accepted in America, as an example of "an ardent theist and an evolutionist." Yet Darwin knew that he himself lacked the comfort of a steady faith. In some of his last words, he wrote

"A man who has no assured and ever present belief in the existence of a personal God or of a future existence with retribution and reward, can have for his rule of life ... only to follow those impulses and instincts ... which seem to him the best ones ... I believe that I have acted rightly in steadily following and devoting my life to science."

As Darwin's coffin is carried through the Abbey, white-robed choristers sing a hymn composed for the occasion, with words adapted from the Book of Proverbs.

"Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.
"She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her."

As the coffin is lowered, in a place of honor near a monument to Sir Isaac Newton, the choir sings

"His body is buried in peace, but his name liveth evermore."


Introduction | 1809-1825 | 1826-1829 | 1831 | 1832 | 1833 | 1835 | 1836
1837 | 1838 | 1842-1854 | 1856 | 1858-1859 | 1881 | 1882

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