Friday, February 13, 2009

Guest Blog from Lauri Lebo: Darwin's Pilgrims 3

February 12th 2009
Happy Darwin Day!

Disclaimer: I've been drinking red wine to Darwin's amazing contribution to science tonight. Forgive me if more than a bit of sloppiness creeps into this note. Much fun in Birmingham. However, didn't start out that way. Spent much of afternoon in a science conference at University of Birmingham listening to, among other things, a professor discuss, I think, the snot-like secretions of hagfish and the cell-structures of conodonta as part of the evolutionary history of vertebrates. These events always serve as a great reminder for those times I start to think I have any idea of what's going on.

Cyndi and I visited Westminster Abbey in London yesterday. We paid our respects. Cyndi lit a candle.

We had to wind our way through the maze of the cathedral, the site of which has been a place of worship by Benedictine monks since the 10th Century. We just don't have the long-view concept of history in America. Britain's greatest historical figures - Chaucer, Charles Dickins, Winston Churchill and 17 kings and queens - are all buried here.

Finally, we found it, a gray slab of granite near the exit in what is called the Nave. In simple script, it says only: Charles Robert Darwin. Born 12 February 1809. Died 19 April 1882.

I enjoy this passage from the Abbey's web site:

The Dean of Westminster, George Granville Bradley, was away in France when he received a telegram forwarded from the President of the Royal Society in London saying "…it would be acceptable to a very large number of our fellow-countrymen of all classes and opinions that our illustrious countryman, Mr Darwin, should be buried in Westminster Abbey". The Dean recalled " I did not hesitate as to my answer and telegraphed direct…that my assent would be cheerfully given".

It was a Christian funeral service. Alfred Russel Wallace, who came up with his own theory of natural selection before the publication of On the Origins of Species, was one of the pallbearers (as was the American ambassador to the UK, James Russell Lowell). I'm struck by the naturalist's graciousness. Despite the fact that Darwin's theory of natural selection might easily been Wallace's, he never exhibited any petty jealousy and remained, to the end, one of Darwin's greatest supporters.

Tomorrow: On to Shrewsbury and Darwin's birthplace...

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