RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1882. [Letter to M. T. Masters, 13 April 1860]. [Funeral of Darwin]. Gardeners' Chronicle 17 (29 April): 564.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Christine Chua and edited by John van Wyhe 1.2023. RN1

NOTE: There is a clipping of this in CUL-DAR216.10.


[page] 564

WITH every mark of honour and respect, and in the presence of a very large gathering of representative men of all classes — nobles, clergy, statesmen, judges, men of science — the remains of Charles Darwin have been worthily laid in the only place fitting for the reception of such a man — Westminster Abbey.

The sight was, indeed, a most imposing one. The memories attaching to the place, the last resting-place of so many of the great and good, were striking enough; but the gathering of living men was, if possible, even more noteworthy. The State, the Parliament, the great Universities, the Scientific Societies, the Church, Foreign Nations— all sent their representatives to mourn the loss of a simple country gentleman, plain Charles Darwin. A plain country gentleman indeed, but one who has conferred honour on the nation, contributed directly so much to the stock of knowledge, moulded so powerfully the current of ideas, and set in action the springs of research in so many branches of thought and work. His genius and his labours have been cordially recognised on all sides, the Press of all shades of opinion has borne testimony to the greatness of the man. Foreign nations have vied with ourselves in paying honourable tribute to the memory of the great philosopher. There is, therefore, no need now to point out what it is he has done— its value is recognised, the future will but enhance his reputation.

What we would prefer now to advert to, is the character of the man and his method of working. Such a man is not likely to appear again in our times, but we may learn much from his inspiration and his method of work. Foremost amongst his characteristics we place his absolute love of truth. No one strove more jealously to be accurate in all that he did and said. To get at the truth was the object of all his work, of all his speculations. It was impossible for such a man to stifle his imagination, his constant daily work of necessity suggested free speculation, but that speculation was always curbed and restrained, so that it never outran the basis of the facts that he accumulated with such patient zeal. Whenever tempted to indulge in speculation, it was always so safe-guarded that the reader never was left in doubt as to what was fact and what was inference. In a letter before us relating to some point on the subject of the fertilisation of flowers occurs this passage, "But then I wish this, and how hard it is to prevent one's wish biassing one's judgment." Surely no one more honestly and candidly strove against this bias — surely no one more thoroughly succeeded in overcoming it. The candour and faithfulness with which he pointed out the weak places in his own arguments, the full consideration he gave to the opinions of his opponents, his perfect courtesy to others who thought differently from himself, were all dependent on his absolute love of truth.

Another most striking feature of his character was his modesty, amounting even to diffidence. If others thought him great, no such impression actuated him. In corresponding or conversing with him, one was never made to feel that he was a great master and his correspondent a tyro. In communicating facts or observations the answer one received was couched in such terms as these, "You cannot do me a greater service than by pointing out errors;" or, again, "If at any time anything should occur to you illustrating or opposing my notions and you have leisure to inform me, I should be truly grateful," and this from a master to a mere tyro.

These are no solitary instances; no one who approached him but was treated in the same manner. The encouragement thus held out to vast numbers of people is one secret of the gratitude and respect now shown for his memory, and this considerateness was coupled with an entire freedom from aggressiveness. When he was attacked with rancorous ignorance or shallow ridicule, as was the case at first, he made no retort or reply. Fair argument he was open to consider, and give due weight to. Retaliation and pugnacity such as have characterised some of his disciples had no place in the mind of Charles Darwin, or if they had they were so thoroughly under control that they were never made apparent.

As to his method of work it is transparency itself — simply the accumulation and ordination of facts, the search after evidence, the weighing and computing that evidence, and then the well digested inference as the legitimate outcome of all. Other men perhaps have been as diligent in accumulating evidence, but where shall we find one who arranged that evidence in such logical sequence, where one who so carefully separated the weak from the strong?

In reading his books one is led on insensibly from point to point, the foot made sure at each step, till, warned by the author himself of the pitfalls and doubtful places on the way, the reader is irresistibly led to the same conclusions as those the author himself arrived at. He does not so much impose his opinions on the reader as make him evolve them for himself It is not this detail or this inference — the one may be fallacious the other may be wrong, but the whole body of evidence compels assent. And it must be remembered that it was not as a mere accumulator and digester of facts observed by other people that Darwin is so remarkable. In his quiet home and garden at Down he worked out for himself the solution of many of the problems that occurred to him. Patient experiment and laborious personal investigation were added to careful study of what had been done by others. Thus and thus only has Darwin done his work.

In some sense circumstances were propitious to him— in Darwinian phrase, the "environment" was favourable. The possession of ample means, the opportunity for travel in his youth, of which he availed himself to such good purport; freedom from the trammels of official duties of any kind, or from the necessity of working for his living, with no inclination to enter into what is called society, Darwin had leisure to follow the bent of his mind. Surrounded by his sympathetic friends, with adequate means of study at hand, in a remote and pictural country village, but within reach of the resources of the metropolis, the conditions, for a man endowed with such a temperament, would seem to have been exceptionally favourable but for one flaw — that of ill health. How any man with such weak health (enfeebled if not set up by his five years' travel in the Beagle) can have got through such an amount of mental, ay, and physical labour, is one of the marvels that pertain to this great and good man.

He has gone to his rest, and the lesson of his life is one of encouragement. It may be long ere such a genius again arises; but his method of working, as we have seen, was not mysterious— in its degree, it may be followed by all of us. We may follow in our halting fashion his method — we may strive to imitate his candour, his modesty, his love of truth, and in proportion as we do so, we, too, may advance that knowledge, the progress of which it was Darwin's life-long aim to urge forward.


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Citation: John van Wyhe, ed. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

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