by G. W. Foote and A. D. McLaren
critically edited by Cliff Walker, 2002
Darwin, the great evolutionist, whose fame is as wide as civilization, was born at Shrewsbury in 1809. Intended for a clergyman, he became a naturalist; and although his bump of reverence was said to be large enough for ten priests, he passed by gentle stages into the most extreme skepticism. From the age of forty he was, to use his own words, a complete disbeliever in Christianity. Further reflection showed him that Nature bore no evidence of design, and the prevalence of struggle and suffering in the world compelled him to reject the doctrine of infinite benevolence. He professed himself an Agnostic, regarding the problem of the universe as beyond our solution, "For myself," he wrote, "I do not believe in any revelation. As for a future life, every man must judge for himself between conflicting vague probabilities." Robert Lewins, M.D., knew Darwin personally, and had discussed this question with him. Darwin was much less reticent to Lewins than he had shown himself in a letter to Haeckel. In answer to a direct question "as to the bearing of his researches on the existence of an anima, or soul in man, he distinctly stated that, in his opinion, a vital or spiritual principle, apart from inherent somatic (bodily) energy, had no more locus standi in the human than in the other races of the animal kingdom" (What is Religion? by Constance Naden, p. 52). Yet the Church buried him in Westminster Abbey "in the sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection."
Darwin died on April 19, 1882, in the plenitude of his fame, having outlived the opposition of ignorance and bigotry, and witnessed the triumph of his ideas. His last moments are described by his eldest son Francis: --
No special change occurred during the beginning of April, but on Saturday 15th he was seized with giddiness while sitting at dinner in the evening, and fainted in an attempt to reach his sofa. On the 17th he was again better, and in my temporary absence recorded for me the progress of an experiment in which I was engaged. During the night of April 18th, about a quarter to twelve, he had a severe attack and passed into a faint, from which he was brought back to consciousness with great difficulty. He seemed to recognize the approach of death, and said "I am not the least afraid to die." All the next morning he suffered from terrible nausea and faintness, and hardly rallied before the end came.
No one in his senses would have supposed that he was "afraid to die," yet it is well to have the words recorded by the son who was present. In the second edition of Infidel Deathbeds this notice ended with the words: "Pious ingenuity will be unable to traduce the deathbed of Charles Darwin." But "pious ingenuity" is not easily slain. Sir Francis Darwin as recently as January, 1916, had to refute a lying story about his father's agonizing deathbed, and the story cropped up again, with embellishments, in The Churchman's Magazine for March, 1925.