RECORD: Smalley, George Washburn. 1891. [Recollection of Darwin's funeral and the unveiling of the Darwin Memorial]. In Smalley. London letters and some others. 2 vols. New York: Harper & Brothers, vol. 1: 69-80.

REVISION HISTORY: Text prepared by Kees Rookmaaker, edited by John van Wyhe 11.2010. RN4

NOTE: See the record for this item in the Freeman Bibliographical Database by entering its Identifier here.

[page] 69


[LONDON, April 26, 1882.]

"Laid in death among his peers in Westminster Abbey by the will of the intelligence of the nation," is the remark of Darwin's greatest pupil upon the burial of his master. Undoubtedly that is a true account of the matter. Professor Huxley knows, as we all know, that the Dean of Westminster and the advisers of the Dean gave a willing assent to the proposal that Darwin's body should rest beneath the arches of St. Peter's. But the Dean was only the official mouthpiece of the nation. The solemnity of to-day was appointed with one mind by all classes of men, by men of all creeds and schools of thought. Of recent funerals in the Abbey none has been more notable than this in circum stance and character. Perhaps few were ever known any where to which the sincere grief and reverence of a greater number of high-minded men and women lent a deeper impressiveness.

Four policemen guarded the closed gateway into Dean's Yard. At the entrance to the cloisters more policemen; at each angle, at each doorway, and at the foot of the stairway leading up to the chapter-house there were both police and officials of the Abbey. In company with a friend I found my way through this thicket of constables a little past eleven this Wednesday morning. Everybody was expected to show his card pretty frequently. Similar precautions were taken at the other entrances to the Abbey. The number of admissions issued was carefully restricted necessarily so, I suppose and a rigid order was maintained in the distribution

[page] 70

of visitors throughout nave and aisles and choir. There was much eagerness to be present and the precautions against a rush of the unprivileged public were the usual ones. If for no other reason, Westminster Abbey stands in a neighborhood capable of pouring forth at any moment the human contents of some of the foulest slums in London.

The hour of the funeral was noon. Holders of chapter-house tickets were expected to arrive not later than half past eleven. At that hour a company of perhaps 200 people had assembled. The coffin was placed in the cloister arcade through which lay the approach to the chapter-house- a coffin of plain oak, one heard, but of which all one could see was a pall of black velvet and thick wreaths of flowers. The passages of the Abbey, never well lighted on the best of days, were obscure with the dull gray haze of an air soaked with moisture. A true London morning - no rain, but the constant menace of rain; no glimpse of sun between the soft masses of cloud; hardly a gleam of daylight through the latticed windows, or within the gray-green enclosure of the cloisters or past the smoke-stained buttresses and pinnacles of the chapel.

One's first look at the group in the chapter-house showed how brilliant - if one may use such a word - was the company gathered to pay the last tribute to Darwin. Some of the greatest names in England belonged to the men who clustered at the top of the steps. The ten nearest are the pall-bearers; life-long friends and disciples of Darwin some of them: Mr. Huxley, whose resolute face is softened by the sense of a double bereavement, by the loss of his leader and his comrade; Sir Joseph Hooker, Mr. Spottiswoode, President of the Royal Society; Sir John Lubbock, the Duke of Devonshire, the Duke of Argyll, the American Minister, Lord Derby, Mr. A. R. Wallace, and Canon Farrar. The last name gives rise to the same reflections which come to everybody who thinks for a moment of the significance of the burial of Darwin in Westminster Abbey. What has Darwin to do with the Abbey or the Abbey with him?

[page] 71

What place has a dignitary of the Church of England by the coffin of the foremost man of science of his age? Dean Stanley used to say the Abbey was something more than a church, that it was the fitting tomb of the heroes of England - their resting-place and monument; and so it is. England, or so much of England as is modern and liberal, would have cried out at the exclusion of Darwin from the national shrine. And I suppose we may take Canon Farrar's presence and his share in the ceremonial as an act of personal respect and of ecclesiastical compensation. It is not twenty years since divines of the Church of England anathematised Darwin as a heretic to use no harsher term. Her advocates said then what a Roman Catholic advocate has said since Darwin's death that a man capable of inventing a theory which led straight to atheism must be knave or fool or both. The relative intelligence of the devotees of the two Churches of Rome and of England may be measured by the breadth of their divergence to-day on this point.

The Duke of Argyll, all orthodox as he is in religion, has hold enough on science to explain his presence here. But what does Lord Salisbury's homage mean? The Tory statesman concerns himself with chemistry but he belongs to the Middle Ages none the less, and to the party of mediaevalism. His presence may be deemed an honour to Darwin ; it is certainly honourable to himself. Nor were Lord Salisbury and the Canon the only distinguished persons whose presence at this solemnity gave rise to comment. At least three other members of the late Lord Beaconsfield's Cabinet were there: Sir Stafford Northcote, Sir Richard Cross, and Mr. W. H. Smith. Both the members of each of the two great Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, all four Conservatives, were among the mourners for Darwin. This is no place for politics and still less for theology, but how happens it that Conservatism in public life bestows this marked regard on the greatest Radical of the age? This is, as a German writer has aptly said, Darwin's century. "What makes it Darwin's century if it be not the discovery of a

[apge] 72

great principle or law, the truth of which can by no ingenuity be reconciled with the theories affirmed by the Church? The staunchest defenders of Church and State are nevertheless here- nay, Oxford herself is here in the persons not only of her two members of Parliament, but of her Chancellor (none other than Lord Salisbury himself), her Vice-Chancellor, and the most eminent of her heads of colleges, the Master of Balliol not a few of her best professors as well. Is this the Oxford "steeped in sentiment, whispering from her towers the last enchantments of the Middle Age, the home of lost causes and forsaken beliefs and impossible loyalties," on which Mr. Arnold pronounced his imperishable panegyric? Again I say, it is honourable to these types and incarnations of Tory reverence for the past and Tory dread of the future that they seek thus to offer their tribute to Darwin. But this is a tribute which is more than a token of homage; it is a token of defeat, and the visible sign of the ascendancy of the new over the old.

Our Minister is here as representative of the United States, and General Merritt, our Consul-General, stands near. Mr. Lowell is representative of literature also, one may say, of which the representatives are fewer than might have been expected. There were many men who have a high place in letters, but a higher out of it, whom I do not include; but of the men one thinks of instinctively as above all things writers and among the foremost of living writers, there were not many. I saw neither Mr. Tennyson nor Mr. Browning, neither Mr. Froude nor Mr. Trevelyan, neither Mr. Ruskin nor Mr. Matthew Arnold. When I have mentioned Mr. Lecky, Mr. John Morley, and Sir Henry Maine, I have named all whom I saw who can be described as in the front rank. The exception to this remark is again that of a man at least as eminent in the domain of science as of literature, Mr. Herbert Spencer. That Mr. Spencer should take any part in, or even be present at, a religious ceremony might well surprise his friends. But his personal attachment to Darwin, his loyal admiration for him as a teacher, his strong

[page] 73

wish to leave no mark of reverence unshown, overcame in the end his well-known scruples against ecclesiastical observances. It is almost needless to add that deputations attended from great scientific societies, and that men of science came from all parts of the kingdom to the funeral of the one man of science in whose presence all jealousies and all rivalries were silent. It was thought odd that but two members of the Cabinet, Lord Spencer and Mr. Childers, represented the Government. Lord Sherbrooke, Lord Aberdare, the Speaker of the House of Commons, and many another political notability walked side by side with the presidents of the College of Surgeons, and of the Physical Society, the Geographical, the Geological, the Linnaean I suppose all the great scientific bodies.

The one great representative body conspicuous by its absence was the Royal Family. In life, as Professor Huxley says, they had ignored Darwin, and they ignore him now that he is dead. Continents vie with each other in doing honour to the great man who is buried to-day. In England everything that is illustrious pays him a last tribute of reverence, royalty excepted. Sometimes a king or queen who cannot be present in person sends a lord-in-waiting, a gold stick, an aide-de-camp some sort of functionary or other to be respectful by proxy. Not even that cold civility was thought due to Darwin by the Queen, or by the Prince of Wales, or by any single member of the family which occupies the throne. It does not matter to Darwin. It matters a little to them not perhaps very much, but it is one thing left undone the doing of which would have strengthened, as the omission of it weakens, in whatever degree, the attachment of Englishmen to their rulers.

At twenty five minutes to noon the coffin was taken up, the pall-bearers ranged themselves on either side of it, the procession formed in the rear and moved round the aisle of the cloisters leading to the Abbey. At the entrance came a long halt, and we were permitted to stand where a draft of air swept keenly through the corridor. The coffin and pall-bearers

[page] 74

had passed on; some church officials appeared to be arranging themselves in the gap which their advance had left. Presently the great men in front, Lord Salisbury, Lord Spencer and the rest began to cover themselves, and soon the whole procession was covered and stood, not very much at ease, looking out through the arches into the green court. This lasted for a quarter of an hour, but just at the stroke of twelve the head of the column passed through the narrow doorway and into the south aisle.

The south aisle and the centre of the nave and choir had been kept clear; everywhere else was a throng of humanity, almost all in black. Between these dense masses the procession slowly took its way, along nearly the whole length of the nave, entering the choir through the door of the screen which divides and degrades the church. The coffin was placed beneath the lantern at the steps of the altar; the pall-bearers took seats on either side, the rest of the followers passed on and into the chancel and stood there during the service. Daylight as it was, of the London sort, the gloom between the walls of the choir was heavy and throughout the choristers' seats candles were lighted; with the effect of mingling daylight and candlelight in the most singular manner. From where we stood in the chancel looking past the open space beneath the lantern the choir beyond looked like a lighted tomb; or like the chapelle ardente which is so marked a feature of Catholic burials on the Continent.

The service was the usual one for the burial of the dead, in its most elaborate form, with choral music and processional chants and deep-voiced canons intoning the given sentences. Then the company reformed, the coffin was borne back, and about the grave at the extreme eastern end of the north aisle gathered most of the mourners of the family, and of the greater circle of friends and followers of the dead. The organ played Beethoven's Funeral March, then another by Schubert, and another canon read the re mainder of the service. There were phrases here and there

[page] 75

which fell strangely on the ear, but the swell of the deep notes of the organ soon covered them. The men who composed the burial literature of the Church of England did so in a spirit of sincere belief, and the sincerity saves it even when the belief is less than it was. The inscription on the coffin plate read: "Charles Robert Darwin. Born February 12, 1809. Died April 19, 1882." That too was sincere; the simple record of the beginning and ending of a simple and noble life. If there be anything to add to it, let me quote again from Mr. Huxley:

"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 re vile but dare not. "What shall a man desire more than this?"
Not much, perhaps, unless it be that his epitaph should be written in just such words as these; echoed as they are through a world which with rare unanimity decrees to Darwin a pure and permanent fame.

[page] 76


[LONDON, June 14, 1885.]

Even amid the excitement of the Ministerial crisis people in London have found time to be interested in one or two matters which have no relation to politics. Chief among them was the ceremony of unveiling the Darwin Memorial Statue last Tuesday. The ceremony was a simple one. There was no pageantry, nor any of the outward splendour which attracts a smart company or a great multitude of sightseers. But few spectacles have been more impressive.

The memorial is the complement of the honour paid to Darwin at his burial in Westminster Abbey; itself a scene of the most singular attractiveness. That was three years ago. Immediately afterward, as Professor Huxley reminded us on Tuesday, a public meeting was held in the rooms of the Royal Society, to consider what further steps should be taken "to honour the memory of the man who, without fear and without reproach, had successfully fought the hardest intellectual battle of these days." The meeting resolved to ask for subscriptions for a statue and their appeal went out over all the world. There is hardly a country, great or small, in Europe which did not respond; nor were the United States backward. Mr. Huxley tells us that Sweden sent in more than two thousand subscriptions, from all sorts of people, from the bishop to the seamstress, and in sums from £5

[page] 77

to twopence. So the order was given for the statue, the execution of which was intrusted to Mr. Boehm. The memorial committee proposed to the Trustees of the British Museum to set up this image of Darwin in the great hall of the Natural History Museum at South Kensington. The Trustees accepted the offer. The statue was put in its place, and this meeting of Tuesday was convoked to receive it with due homage to the memory of the illustrious dead.

Invitations were addressed to all the chief men of science in England, and to many whose fame has nothing to do with science. Professor Huxley was there on Tuesday as chair man of the committee, perhaps also as President of the Royal Society, to hand over the statue to the Trustees. The Prince of Wales, one of the Trustees, was there to receive it on be half of his colleagues. Among the company that clustered on the steps and platform were the Lord Steward (Lord Sydney), Lord Cadogan, whom rumour appoints to the Vice royalty of Ireland; Lord Sherbrooke, Lord Houghton, Lord Acton, Sir Henry Rawlinson, one of the greatest Orientalists of his time; Mr. Browning, Mr. Flower, the superintendent of the Museum; Sir Richard Owen (who can hardly have enjoyed all the arrangements), three sons of Darwin, and the Master of Christ's College, Cambridge Darwin's college. I break in upon the enumeration of names to ask you to notice how carefully they had been chosen, and with what utter disregard of mere rank or fashion this assemblage had been made up. The men of rank above named are all men who have an official connection with the Museum, or other claims to be present wholly irrespective of their rank. Next came Admiral Sir B. J. Sullivan and Vice Admiral Mellersh, two of the three surviving officers with whom Darwin sailed in the memorable cruise of the Beagle; Sir Joseph Hooker, ex-President of the Royal Society and I suppose the first of English botanists; Lord Aberdare; Professor Newton, the classical archaeologist; Mr. Bond, Principal Librarian of the British Museum; Sir William Gull, one of the most fashionable and, notwithstanding that, one of the

[page] 78

best physicians in London; Sir Joseph Lister, the most original surgeon of the day, and author of the antiseptic treatment of wounds, the discovery which has revolutionised surgery; Sir James Paget, perhaps the most gifted operating surgeon in England; Mr. Lecky, and Mr. Herbert Spencer.

Besides all these, there were three men whose presence is even more worthy of note. Archdeacon Farrar was one, whose Life of Christ is said to have surpassed Uncle Tom's Cabin itself in circulation. The second was the Dean of Westminster. The third was the spiritual Head of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury. There he stood on the platform, by the side of the Prince, and at the very feet of Darwin. He had an air of apostolic humility which sat well on him, and which suited well the circumstances in which he appeared. All men must have felt the significance of his coming, but not one word was publicly said which could seem ungracious in the presence of this act of homage from the Church to the great man of science who has shaken to its foundations the authority of the Church. If it be a step toward that reconciliation of which so much is said between Science and Religion, it is, so far as the Church of England is concerned, an act which savours more of submission than of toleration. It is a recantation of the anathemas once pronounced on Darwin; it is, at least, a recognition of his rightful position in the intellectual world. It is, I am tempted to say, a concession to Darwin of co-ordinate authority in matters of faith, or which were once of faith. This time it is the Church which has gone to Canossa. The great hall of the Natural History Museum is less inclement than the snow-covered courtyard of the Castle where Hildebrand kept Henry three days waiting, and so much softer are the manners of modern days that the Archbishop stood something less than half an hour before the marble effigy of his victorious foe. But the light which beat upon him has made him a visible figure for centuries to come.

The whole ceremony was among the shortest on record.

[page] 79

Punctually at noon the Prince of Wales walked up the hall amid cheers, mounted the steps, accompanied by Mr. Huxley and others who had gone to the front door to receive him, shook hands with others of the company, and signified his readiness to begin. Mr. Huxley unfolded his sheet of printed proof and read his brief address. The veil fell from the statue. The audience applauded. Mr. Huxley in a few closing sentences committed the memorial to the care of the Museum Trustees. The Prince of Wales, in sentences not less few, accepted it, and the solemnity of the day was over before the clock had struck the quarter.

Professor Huxley's address is much too condensed to be condensed again. He is one of the not too numerous men of science with a definite sense of literary form, and with a power of expression which places him, quite independently of his scientific position, among the first writers of his generation. He has summed up the case for Darwin in a sentence. Darwin was one of those rare ministers and interpreters of nature whose names mark epochs in the advance of natural knowledge. "Whatever be the ultimate verdict of posterity upon this or that opinion which Darwin has propounded, whatever adumbrations or anticipations of his doctrines may be found in the writings of his predecessors, the broad fact remains that since the publication and by reason of the publication of the Origin of Species, the fundamental conceptions and the aims of the students of living Nature have been completely changed." Then upon the uncovering of the statue came these words: -

It only remains for me, your Royal Highness, my Lords and Gentlemen, Trustees of the British Museum, in the name of the Darwin Memorial Committee, to request you to accept this statue of Charles Darwin. We do not make this request for the mere sake of perpetuating a memory; for so long as men occupy themselves with the pursuit of truth the name of Darwin runs no more risk of oblivion than does that of Copernicus or that of Harvey. Nor, most assuredly, do we ask you to preserve the statue in its cynosural position in this entrance hall of our National Museum of

[page] 80

Natural History, as evidence that Mr. Darwin's views have received your official sanction, for science does not recognise such sanctions, and commits suicide when it adopts a creed. No; we beg you to cherish this memorial as a symbol by which, as generation after generation of students of Nature enter yonder door, they shall be reminded of the ideal according to which they must shape their lives, if they would turn to the best account the opportunities offered by the great institution under your charge.

The dignity of that is worthy of all admiration, while as for the diction, the whole passage may be commended to the student as a model. What the Prince of Wales had to say was said with tact and good feeling, very audibly, in the slight German accent which is one of the peculiarities of the heir to the English throne. After that there was no further ceremony, unless the conversation which broke the gathering on the platform into groups may be called a ceremony. The Prince said a word, as his way is, to everybody whom he knew; singling out Mr. Boehm to congratulate him on the success of his work. Mr. Huxley had already expressed his admiration of the power of artistic divination which enabled the sculptor to place before us so characteristic a likeness of one whom he had not seen. The statue deserves that praise and something more. There is in it that sculptural quality without which a statue may be a good portrait but cannot be a work of real art. The seated figure, with its bent head and easy pose, has the power which comes of simplicity ; as Darwin himself had. Mr. Boehm's greatest success is perhaps to be seen in the stamp of patient observation and reflection which the face bears; it is the record in marble of Darwin's intellectual life.

George Washburn Smalley (1833-1916), American journalist.

This document has been accessed 4220 times

Return to homepage

Citation: John van Wyhe, ed. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

File last updated 17 April, 2023