Did Darwin Become a Christian on His Deathbed?
By Matt Slick
Question: What about the Lady Hope story? Did Darwin repent of his evolution views and become Christian on his deathbed?
Response: In the midst of all the arguing and disagreements about this, perhaps the best analysis I have found is from Malcolm Bowden, as quoted below. Helen Fryman
Quoted by permission of the author from True Science Agrees with the Bible, Malcolm Bowden, Sovereign Publications, Kent, 1998, section 6.6, pp 259-276
True Science Agrees with the Bible, as well as Bowden’s other books, are available in the United States from The Berean Call, P.O. Box 7019, Bend, Oregon 97708-7019, (541) 382-6210
THE LADY HOPE “STORY”
Many creationists are familiar with the account that a “Lady Hope” gave of her visit to Darwin a few months before he died. Although it has appeared in various books, we present it below for those to whom it is new.
It was one of those glorious autumn afternoons, that we sometimes enjoy in England, when I was asked to go in and sit with the well known professor, Charles Darwin. He was almost bedridden for some months before he died. I used to feel when I saw him that his fine presence would make a grand picture for our Royal Academy; but never did I think so more strongly than on this particular occasion.
He was sitting up in bed, wearing a soft embroidered dressing gown, of rather a rich purple shade.
Propped up by pillows, he was gazing out on a far-stretching scene of woods and cornfields, which glowed in the light of one of those marvelous sunsets which are the beauty of Kent and Surrey. His noble forehead and fine features seem to be lit up with pleasure as I entered the room.
He waved his hand toward the window as he pointed out the scene beyond, while in the other hand he held an open Bible, which he was always studying.
“What are you reading now?” I asked as I seated myself beside his bedside. “Hebrews!” he answered–“still Hebrews. ‘The Royal Book’ I call it. Isn’t it grand?”
Then, placing his finger on certain passages, he commented on them.
I made some allusions to the strong opinions expressed by many persons on the history of the Creation, its grandeur, and then their treatment of the earlier chapters of the Book of Genesis.
He seemed greatly distressed, his fingers twitched nervously, and a look of agony came over his face as he said: “I was a young man with unformed ideas. I threw out queries, suggestions, wondering all the time over everything, and to my astonishment, the ideas took like wildfire. People made a religion of them.”
Then he paused, and after a few more sentences on “the holiness of God” and the “grandeur of this book,” looking at the Bible which he was holding tenderly all the time, he suddenly said: “I have a summer house in the garden which holds about thirty people. It is over there,” pointing through the open window. “I want you very much to speak there. I know you read the Bible in the villages. To-morrow afternoon I should like the servants on the place, some tenants and a few of the neighbours; to gather there. Will you speak to them?”
“What shall I speak about?” I asked.
“Christ Jesus!” he replied in a clear, emphatic voice, adding in a lower tone, “and his salvation. Is not that the best theme? And then I want you to sing some hymns with them. You lead on your small instrument, do you not?” The wonderful look of brightness and animation on his face as he said this I shall never forget, for he added: “If you take the meeting at three o’clock this window will be open, and you will know that I am joining in with the singing.”
How I wished I could have made a picture of the fine old man and his beautiful surroundings on that memorable day!
This is the account that appeared on the 19th August 1915 in the Baptist “Watchman-Examiner” in Washington D.C. (Q29/2:70). In 1922, friends in Los Angeles who knew her wrote an affidavit (L.A. affidavit) (MooreJ:79). In 1940, Prof. Bole released a letter he had received from her in the early 1920’s (Bole letter) (MooreJ:86). These repeated most of the above account with some minor variations and additions, and we will refer to these later.
An initial overview
Several writers have examined the evidence, including this author (Bow88:188). It has been interesting to see how critics of the story have had to retreat step by step. Firstly, it was claimed that Lady Hope did not even exist. When she was identified, it was doubted if she ever had any connection with Darwin. Past issues of the Watchman Examiner were scanned and her account was not found in those available. It was later discovered and reproduced in the CRSQ (29/2:70). Eventually, it was not only admitted that she was in the area of Downe but that she did visit Darwin. She is then accused of “embroidering” her account of what Darwin said.
In view of the early lack of evidence, some creationists have advised that the story should not be used, mainly in view of the strong denial of the whole Darwin family, and the absence of any reference in Darwin’s writings to a return to Christian beliefs.
Gradually, the details of her life became clearer and her presence at Downe at the time she claimed was fully established. She was an evangelical Anglican, very well connected in Brethren circles, and had held evangelistic home meetings in the Downe area about 1881. J.W.C. Fegan, an evangelist, was holding “tent meetings” in Downe at that same time.
By far the most thorough investigation is by Moore who set his evidence out in The Darwin Legend (MooreJ). He concludes that whilst she certainly seems to have visited Darwin, her account is untrustworthy on a number of points. On a brief examination, his evidence initially appeared reasonably convincing, but a discussion with my friend Dr. David Rosevear, Chairman of the Creation Science Movement, prompted a very careful re-reading of Moore’s book. This re-examination of his evidence resulted in a much more careful examination of his evidence.
Another very interesting book is The Life and Death of Charles Darwin by L.R. Croft (Croft) in which he concludes that Lady Hope’s account is accurate.
Lady Hope was a fervent evangelist, particularly involved in the Temperance Movement against drunkenness. Born Elizabeth Reid Stapleton-Cotton in 1842, she married Admiral Sir James Hope in 1877, and after his death in June 1881 eventually married Mr. Thomas Denny in 1893–11 years after Darwin’s death on the 19th of April 1882. She would, therefore, have been recently widowed when she said she met Darwin in the Autumn of 1881. She emigrated to America in 1913 and died in 1922 in Australia on her way back to England.
THE EVIDENCE SUPPORTING THE ACCOUNT
Moore provides a mass of detail, and the following is mainly based upon evidence he provides, for he agrees that Lady Hope did visit Darwin.
1. She certainly must have visited the house and seen Darwin in his upstairs bedroom.
She describes Darwin’s dressing gown exactly, his nervous twitching of fingers, his animated countenance when speaking, the view from his window and the existence of a “summer house;” all known to be perfectly accurate descriptions. How could she have known the precise color of Darwin’s dressing gown and several other personal details if she had never seen him in his home? In the Watchman account, written in 1915, she says he was “sitting up in bed.” In the Bole letter, written in the 1920’s, she describes him “lying on a sofa.” It was a sofa and not a bed as testified by his son (M: 13 1). Here we see her later recollection correcting her first writing even in this small detail. In the Bole letter she also remembers that “It was a large room with a high ceiling”–a further testimony that she had entered his house.
It has been objected that Darwin would not have used such flowery descriptions, such as “grand(eur),” when referring to the Bible, but they were Lady Hope’s phraseology. Yet this word is found in a flattering letter he wrote in 1859 about a book and in another letter in 1873 referring to “this grand and wonderous universe.” This does at least show Darwin used this word to express his high esteem of any matter under discussion. Also, Parslow, his personal servant cum nurse, was converted by Fegan and may have used such phrases as “salvation,” etc., in discussions with Darwin.
2. She told others of Darwin’s conversation shortly after it took place.
One of the most obvious questions is, “Why did she wait until 1915–34 years after the event–and in America–before she told her ‘story’?” This does seem as though she may have fabricated it or embroidered a visit to Darwin to impress her American friends.
One answer is that there were several reports of Darwin’s “recantation” (if we can loosely call it that) circulating here shortly after his death.
(A) Moore’s assertion
Moore, in fact, notes that “There is no doubt that Lady Hope was making comments about Darwin to her religious friends long before the story was published” (M:48). From this, it would appear that she did tell others long before going to America, but Moore reported only one–Sir Robert Anderson (see below). Were there many other instances that he does not record in his book? We discuss this later.
(B) Nicholls’ account
Nicholls, the village postman, was converted through Fegan in 1881, the year Lady Hope is said to have visited Darwin. His friend, Mr. Fawkes, reported his account in the Bromley and Kentish Times (7 Nov. 1958 p2) a year after Nicholls’ death aged 97–when his memory was still very clear. We feel that this account is little recognized and we therefore give the main part of Fawkes’s report::
During one of my [Fawkes] visits to him [Nicholls], he told me that this lady who had been in attendance on Darwin prior to his death had informed him that he requested her to read the New Testament to him and asked her to arrange for the Sunday School children to sing “There is a green hill far away.” This was done and Darwin, who was greatly moved said: “How I wish I had not expressed my theory of evolution as I have done.”
In his introduction to this, Fawkes describes the person as “the lady who had nursed Darwin,” but then describes her as one who “had been in attendance.” Moore contends this is Lady Hope, but Croft says it is probably a Mrs. Evans who “had been with the Darwin household as a nurse for many years.” (Another writer says she was the cook. Actually she was the old housekeeper.) Which is correct–was it Lady Hope or a lady in the house?
In her account, Lady Hope was not asked to read to him and she does not mention a specific hymn he requested. Croft notes that Mrs. Evans was a member of the Gospel Room congregation and could easily arrange for the children to sing. However, there is no record of this taking place.
The crucial point is not who this lady was, but that Nicholls heard of Darwin’s change. If it was Lady Hope, then he must have heard of this soon after the event as she probably was not in the area for long. If it was another lady, then this would be a totally independent witness from Lady Hope. Nicholls’ account is so close to Darwin’s home that it gives support to the story, no matter by what route it came to him.
(C) Sir Robert Anderson
One of the most interesting references Moore mentions involves Sir Robert Anderson who was the head of the C.I.D. at Scotland Yard during the time of the investigation of the “Jack the Ripper Murders.” He was a well known evangelical, and a very close friend of Lady Hope. Obviously referring to Lady Hope, he wrote as early as 1907:
..a friend of mine who was much with Darwin during his last illness assures me that he expressed the greatest reverence for the scriptures and bore testimony to their value (M:48).
This is an important comment which we discuss later.
3. There were accounts circulating unconnected with her
Moore gives several of these incidents.
(A) May 1882–only eight months after her visit and one month after Darwin’s death in April. A preacher, Mr. Huntingdon, at Tenby refers to Darwin “in his last utterances confessed his true faith.” Tenby “had been the home of Emma Darwin’s (Charles’s wife) Allen aunts; the Darwin’s first cousin, the Rev. John Allen Wedgewood, still lived there.”
Moore (p7l) speculates that “perhaps clerical chit-chat got worked into the sermon.” This is an interesting account, for, chit-chat or not, here we have a direct connection between the Darwin family and a report of a “recantation,” and Lady Hope is not involved. If Huntingdon had fabricated his anecdote, his close neighbor would surely have heard of it and sharply corrected the record. This is surely of some value as independent evidence that there had been a “recantation” of some sort!
(B) September 1882. Robert Eadie F.R.G.S. is said to have sent to the Darwin family, who were collecting his letters for publication, a note he had received from Darwin in which he said that “he [Darwin] can with confidence look to Calvary.” No letter from Eadie ever appeared in the published letters of Darwin (M:73)–which is not surprising in view of its explosive content.
(C) 1928. Ivor Partin (See Appendix 7) received information by a circuitous route that an Oxford professor had received a letter from Darwin, whom he claimed was a close friend, saying he had become a firm Christian. The professor had commented that, “The position is odd as both his son and grandson deny his Christianity” (M:85). His acknowledgement that the letter contradicted the family’s claims only adds to the authenticity of the report.
Moore gives a few other accounts but they are mostly repeats of conversations with Lady Hope or poorly supported.
SOME FURTHER POINTS
It was while reading Moore’s book that some other aspects arose.
4. The “Summer House”
There are several denials recorded, even by members of Darwin’s family, that any “summer house” even existed “in the garden.” This is often stated to demonstrate her story was pure imagination. What Moore points out is that there was a summer house, some 400 yds. away at the end of The Sandwalk, from which singing might have been heard on a calm day. It would not have accommodated thirty people, but this may have been a minor error of Darwin’s memory who may not have visited it for some time.
Now this summer house could not be seen from the house, and this is probably why Darwin pointed to it as being “over there,” i.e. not in the near garden below the window.
If we consider this for a moment, it will be apparent that Lady Hope would have been foolish to have fabricated such a comment that could so easily be refuted simply by looking out of any window. It therefore proves that she was accurately recording the words of Darwin who knew of this summer house some distance away. She would certainly not have known of its existence.
In addition, he wrote of sitting in the summer-house watching thunderstorms (M:33). Was this the distant summer-house or another one in the garden in earlier days?
5. The Book of Hebrews
Lady Hope said that Darwin was reading Hebrews when she entered the room, and that he said it was his favorite book in the Bible. When she was in America, she mentioned this which resulted in her account in the Watchman Examiner given above.
Whatever else, Lady Hope was consistent in saying that Darwin liked reading Hebrews. There is the old saying: “liars must have good memories” so that their accounts of a fabricated incident are consistent. Lady Hope would surely have had that particular meeting etched upon her mind and no false memory would have been needed. Is there any independent support? Surprisingly there is.
Moore records in one of the notes at the rear (Note 4 to chapter 5–Lady Hope’s story, page 131):
The Darwin Family Bible preserved in the Darwin Museum is unmarked except for an unattributable small, backwards pencil tick opposite the first few verses of Hebrews 6.
Now no one can say that this tick was placed by Darwin (unless he used it elsewhere!), but surely it is a surprising coincidence that the only mark in the Bible is in the very book that Lady Hope said was his favorite. It was possibly the same family Bible he was reading when she entered his room.
But that is not all. If we examine these early verses of Hebrews 6, we find that they speak of those who had “tasted the heavenly gift” but fell away and could not be renewed. We give the relevant verses:
(v4) For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, (5) and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, (6) if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. (7) For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringing forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: (8) But, that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected and is nigh unto cursing: whose end is to be burned.
These verses may have spoken loudly to Darwin. He failed to become a doctor as his father had wanted, so he was entered for the Church, intending to become a country parson. He took theology at Cambridge, where he was so impressed by the logical arguments in support of creation in Paley’s Natural Theology that he memorized them by heart. Following this he embarked on the Beagle and gradually he drew away from religion until, due to his writings on evolution and possibly the loss of a favorite daughter, he eventually became an agnostic.
He knew that fundamentally his theory of evolution was an attack upon Christianity, and therefore he had “fallen away” and his life’s work had produced only “thorns and briers.” Was the “tick” in Hebrews his, as an acknowledgement that these passages were an accurate description of his situation?
We will never know, but we would suggest that in fact they would not have applied to him. His hesitancy about becoming a parson hardly indicated a deep commitment to the true Christian faith or any zeal to spread the Gospel. It is therefore unlikely that he had “partaken of the Holy Spirit” or had been “enlightened,” and therefore he had never “fallen away” in the first place. If the Lady Hope account is at all accurate, then it would indicate that he may have now realized, in a personal way and at a late stage, the real basis of the Christian faith.
6. Did Lady Hope make more than one visit?
There is no direct reference to this in her account. However, not long before she died, several supportive friends in Los Angeles wrote a more full record of events (LA affidavit–M:81) that she had given in which up to four visits were mentioned. It was on the fourth visit that the reference was made to Hebrews and the “summer house meeting.”
Her memory was said to be fully intact even in her last years, and the five signatories of the letter attested (again) to her “sincerity and reliability.”
This was the first time that this writer had realized that there might have been more than one visit, and with this in mind, her account was carefully re-examined. On doing so, several phrases almost leapt from the page.
(a) The first point is what was not said. In those very formal days, if this had been the very first time that they had met, one would have expected them to have exchanged polite greetings and to obtain “background information” such as asking obvious questions about her work in Downe or his health, etc. No such exchange seems to have taken place but a degree of considerable familiarity is immediately adopted.
Now let us read her words carefully, for an intriguing pattern begins to emerge.
(b) She says “I used to feel when I saw him.. (he would make a fine picture) ..but never did I think so more strongly than on this particular occasion.” These words clearly imply that she had seen him more than once before, but that she was struck by his appearance on this particular occasion on a glorious sunny day.
(c) “in the other hand he held an open Bible, which he was always studying.” How could she have known this unless she had seen him several times before?
(d) “What are you reading now.” She had obviously seen him reading the Bible before on previous visits, but wanted to know what particular passage he was reading this time.
(e) “Still Hebrews?” He must have been reading this when she came on a previous visit.
(f) “He was almost bedridden for some months before he died.” In fact he was not bedridden, but if Lady Hope saw him several times but only in the afternoons when he was lying down having his regular rest in his dressing gown, it is only natural that she might come to this conclusion.
(g) In a later account, written in the early 1920’s, she was not sure if he referred to the summer house “on this occasion or another about the same time.” (M:89)
As far as I know, the significance of her casual comments, written without any apparent subterfuge, has not been noted before. They fully support the LA affidavit in which possibly four visits were mentioned. It was the last of them that was the most memorable one, and it was this she recorded for the Watchman-Examiner. But within this first written account she had unwittingly provided the evidence that she had visited him several times before. That she may have confused on which specific visit certain subjects were discussed is understandable.
It was not until the LA affidavit, written in 1922, that earlier visits are referred to. Yet it is in complete conformity with what she had said seven years before in the Watchman-Examiner of a visit made 41 years before. These artless comments all add an unexpected confirmation of her accuracy.
Apart from recording the LA affidavit, Moore makes no other reference to more than one visit, except on page 118 where he says Francis “may have been absent on the day or days that she allegedly called.”
(h) There is one final, and to my mind fairly convincing, piece of evidence. In Sir Robert Anderson’s footnote given above, he specifically says that his “friend” was “much with Darwin;” i.e., she saw him on many occasions. This is a comment by Lady Hope direct to him some time before 1907, so the links in the chain are very short–adding considerable authenticity. It strongly suggests she was virtually Darwin’s Christian friend as he neared death, a possibility as we shall consider later.
THE FEGAN LETTERS
Near the end of his book, Moore quotes two similar letters from Fegan to Mr. Kensit (The founder of the Protestant Truth Society) and Mr. Pratt, in which he, Fegan, is critical of Lady Hope’s character (M: 107f). Fegan dictated these to his secretary, Tiffin, in 1925, and the latter took copies with him when he emigrated to Australia in 1957. He did not make them public until 1977 when he read Lady Hope’s account in a periodical.
Fegan was an evangelist who lived with his mother in Downe but worked in Deptford running an orphanage for destitute boys. He brought them to Downe for summer holidays in tents, and held tent evangelistic meetings and services in the Downe Reading Room at the time Lady Hope was in the area.
Summarizing these letters, they claim that: Lady Hope’s visit and the service in the summer house never took place–they were “a fabrication on the part of poor Lady Hope;” she incorrectly held to the title of Lady Hope due to her vanity; she was a terrible trial to her second husband, Denny, and when he discovered that she was running a “Riverside Club” for the poor, he was shocked, and died from an illness he caught there; she was made bankrupt and when she left for America, Fegan refused to give her a letter of commendation.
These letters are certainly an indictment against Lady Hope, but is should be noted that they are the only personal criticisms of her character. All other available testimonies spoke most strongly of her honesty and sincerity.
Initially, there seemed to be some strange features. For example, why should Tiffin take copies of these letters all the way to Australia in 1957, and keep them for a further twenty years? Fegan had been “appealed to over and over again” about Lady Hope but we have only two of his letters. Why did Denny know nothing about his wife’s activities and extravagance? He also was giving generously to charities, for Moore notes that Denny, “having made his fortune in pork, larded the coffers of many evangelical enterprises” (p43).
In view of this we tried to check the complex route of the letters, but the outcome was unsatisfactory and unwarrantably tended to deepen the mystery. The authenticity of the letters was proven by a more direct line, for at a late stage in the investigation, this writer had been contacted about the Fegan letters by a correspondent who knew Tiffin’s son. We discussed the letters, and the reason why Tiffin should have had Fegan’s correspondence in Australia was explained in a note later received from Tiffin’s son. Tiffin had been asked to write a history of the Fegan Homes but the war intervened. When he emigrated to Australia in 1957 to be with his daughter, he took the files with him. He eventually wrote, not about the Homes, but a tribute to Fegan’s excellent work with the destitute boys of London. This appeared in a book entitled Loving and Serving (Tiff).
Fegan and Lady Hope
Moore conjectures that when Fegan fell ill in the summer of 1881, he asked Lady Hope to take over the running of his tent meetings. This would then place her in Downe when she could have visited Darwin.
As the examination continued, it became clear that this link between the two at Downe at this time did not exist. Fegan never mentions that he had asked her to take his place, whilst in the Bole letter, Lady Hope specifically states that she was holding cottage meetings in the area, that Darwin heard of this and invited her to see him (M:87f). At the time, she was living in Beckenham, only 6 miles (9km) away (M:45). Neither mentions the other. In addition, Fegan would hardly ask a lady to run these meetings, for one writer described the heat and stench in the tent from the crowds of farm workers there (Rob: 13). It was no place to invite Lady Hope.
In an exchange of letters with Moore, he explained why he made this link. Lady Hope had written about an evangelist she called “Felix” to hide his identity and he considered that “Felix” was a thinly disguised reference to Fegan–their names being not dissimilar. “Felix,” like Fegan, had worked in tent meetings in Kent. Secondly, Lady Hope was working in the area of Downe. From these slim connections, Moore assumes that Fegan asked her to take over his meetings.
It eventually became abundantly clear that everything hung upon Lady Hope’s accuracy in recording what Darwin actually said. In order to see if she was inclined to “embellish” her accounts, her book Our Golden Key (Hope) was examined. It was her account, published in 1884, of the experiences of this unnamed evangelist she called “Felix” who worked in a deprived area of London and held tent missions amongst the hop-pickers in Kent. Her account is quite detailed.
It did not take much reading to conclude that “Felix” could not possibly have been Fegan. (a) “Felix” is said to have a “little cottage” with “a young wife and pretty babes.” This* is hardly the circumstances of Fegan who was not rich but fairly well connected. (b) “Felix” worked for the London City Mission (which is still operating) evangelizing the very poor, and there is no mention of him working specifically with destitute young boys–who were Fegan’s main interest. (c) “Felix” played a portable harmonium (as did Lady Hope), but there is no mention of Fegan playing such an instrument. (d) “Felix” worked in tent missions to hop-pickers. Fegan’s tents were for evangelistic meetings of the Downe area and used for housing his boys in the summer. He does not appear to have worked specifically with the hop-pickers. (e) “Felix” worked from an LCM “Mission-room.” Fegan started his own orphanage and organization.
Furthermore, Lady Hope makes no mention of any work she may have done in these tent meetings. She does say that “Felix’s” tent preaching “seems to have been very attractive” (Hope: 107) which suggests she was not present herself. She also says that “A lady in the part of Kent that we have described . . . started a coffee tent . . . and took . . . no less than EIGHTY (her emphasis) pounds” (which was returned to the poor as gifts of food). This may have been herself but it seems unlikely. She later refers to taking pains with “our tea and coffee,” (p 116) but this seems to refer to one of her London “tea shops.” Had she participated in Fegan’s tent meetings in 1881, she would surely have mentioned it in a book that refers to this work published in 1884.
In order to identify who “Felix” was, the London City Mission was contacted. Amongst other things that came to light, they mentioned that it was not until the turn of the century that they actually identified their London evangelists by their names. Before then, they only referred to “our worker in (location).” Thus, the reason for Lady Hope using a pseudonym was to comply with the policy of the LCM at that time and preserve his identity. It was not to hide Fegan’s name. Indeed, why should she do so?
The LCM could not identify “Felix” from their records, but their Magazine dated 1st of May 1884 (p100) locates the “Mission-room” in Brixton. Fegan worked in Deptford.
We would therefore contend that Moore is incorrect in identifying “Felix” as Fegan. If this is accepted, then Moore’s claim that Fegan used Lady Hope to run the tent meeting during his illness can be dismissed.
Thus, Fegan had no connection with Lady Hope at this time and was away ill when she visited Darwin! Fegan’s assertion that “the interview . . . never took place ” is therefore invalidated.
This raises one question. Why should Moore, who read Our Golden Key, contend that Fegan was “Felix” when it is abundantly clear from the book that “Felix” could not possibly be Fegan?
Furthermore, having made the link, Moore then contradicts Fegan’s claim that the interview never took place, for he contends that she did visit Down House. It is her account of what was said that he dismisses. One is left wondering why Moore should have gone to the trouble of forging a link between Fegan and Lady Hope in the first place.
Fegan’s assertion that “it never took place” is not stated from direct knowledge. Fegan made this statement not by questioning Lady Hope, but on the basis that Francis Darwin, whom he considered most trustworthy, had claimed this. Moore points out that Francis was not present at that time and could not make this statement from first-hand knowledge.
Robson’s review of Moore’s book
Robson, in an article in Faith and Thought (April 1997-Rob) questioned whether Fegan had any connection with Lady Hope at that time. He is also critical of Moore on several points. He notes that in order to support his claim that Lady Hope did visit Darwin, Moore has to contradict Fegan who said the visit did not take place. Moore then says “Fegan’s reliability as a witness, no less than Lady Hope’s, is open to question.” Robson, vigorously and rightly defending Fegan’s integrity, suggests Fegan was naive to accept Francis’s word that Lady Hope never visited Darwin. Robson quotes from Fegan’s letter regarding Francis and “the high standards of truth which the Darwin’s inherited from their father . . . a most honourable, chivalrous and benevolent gentleman.” Robson comments: “Desmond and Moore’s picture of Darwin and family [in their book Darwin (Desm)] is very different.” He infers that they were not as honorable as Fegan (and Moore) would like to portray them. We also dispute Fegan’s accolade, but Desmond and Moore’s book hardly ever questioned the family’s integrity, although The Darwin Legend gives a few examples. Darwin’s basic dishonesty was to concoct “evidence” for evolution from pure speculation. Surprisingly, for such a detailed book, Darwin omits all mention of Fegan.
Robson also mentions Moore’s recording of Pat Sloan’s two articles (in 1960 and 1965) in The Humanist. In these, Sloan surprisingly admitted that “Lady Hope may have visited” Down House (Moore:68).
Fegan’s denial that Lady Hope ever visited Darwin can therefore be discounted. What remains of importance in Fegan’s letters are his comments on Lady Hope’s character.
Darwin’s last days
In February 1881, the Duke of Argyll pointed out to Darwin that there is obviously a mind behind the beauties of nature. “He looked at me very hard and said: ‘Well, that often comes over me with overwhelming force, but at other times,’ and he shook his head vaguely, adding, ‘it seems to go away’–” (Rob. and Desm:649). In the summer of 1881, Darwin was gloomy and depressed, which a holiday had failed to dispel. He wrote “I am rather despondent about myself’ and “life has become wearisome to me.” Wallace wrote that he was gloomy “on the future of humanity on the ground that in our civilization natural selection had no play and the fittest did not survive” (Croft: 104). His thoughts may, therefore, have turned to Christianity by the late summer of 1881. With Fegan away ill, he may have asked Lady Hope, who he heard was in the area, to visit him.
Croft speculates that in seeing that man was kindly to man, Darwin may have realized that this might be a reflection of the kindness of God–and that Paley may have been right after all! If Darwin did entertain such thoughts, then his desire to talk to a fervent Christian as he neared the end of his life is understandable. Darwin may also have wanted to meet Lady Hope in view of her stand against drunkenness. Both his grandmother and great-grandmother had died of alcoholism and he had a dread of its effect (p 115). This seems a slim reason, and it leaves open the very important question: “Why did Darwin invite Lady Hope to his house in the first place? ”
LADY HOPE’S CHARACTER
There are several criticisms that have been made of her character. It is implied that she married Sir James Hope for his title. He was 69 and she was 35–a mature woman it should be noted–and they did share a great interest in the temperance movement. When he died, she continued to use the title of “Lady Hope” even after marrying Denny when she should have used his name, but her retention of her title for the added prestige that this would have given to her evangelism in those days is understandable. She appears to have been very imprudent in handling her finances, but it must be emphasized that the money went on good causes, and at the end she seems to have been bankrupted by a defrauder. In one instance, she spent money on setting up hostels for the poor that were unsuccessful.
In those days, to be bankrupt was a serious social stigma and the most probable reason why she went to America. In view of this, her claim that she had left England to avoid the anger of the Darwin family and to overcome the grief of losing her husband (LA affidavit) are understandable “white lies.” It was also the most likely reason for Fegan refusing to give her a letter of commendation.
Apart from the criticisms expressed in the Fegan letters, these are about the only other direct accusations that cast shadows on the character of Lady Hope, and how small they are can be judged. As we have maintained, it is extremely unwise for anyone, a Christian particularly, who values their reputation, to invent or embroider a story about a famous man, for it can easily be checked, and their reputation would be ruined.
One can hardly think that she would have been accepted as a close friend of people like Sir Robert Anderson and Fegan, or have strong connections with such eminent men as Lord Shaftesbury and Moody and Sankey, had she been the least bit untruthful with a tendency to embroider her activities and those of others as Moore accuses her of. This would have soon been apparent to these intelligent and spiritually sensitive men, and the acquaintance quickly curtailed.
Dr. David Rosevear received a letter saying that, in a history of old Dorking, she is described as keen to evangelize the local people, holding services, temperance meetings and many other activities. The picture all these testimonies paint is of a woman who was a fervent evangelist, and this was consistently maintained throughout the rest of her extremely active Christian life. The impression one gets is far different from someone who would fabricate such an important story.
Everything hung upon her accuracy in recording her conversation with Darwin. In order to see if she was inclined to “embroider her accounts, we read her book Our Golden Key: A Narrative of Fact from “Outcast London” (Hope).
I was impressed with her heartfelt concern for the poor, which was overwhelming. She frequently used emphasised words on the state of the poor in order to reach to the heart of the reader. What became obvious was her interest in the work of others; there is hardly any reference to the work that she was undoubtedly carrying out at that time. She does begin by an imaginative description of “Felix” wandering into the darkness of the area he would be working in, and she paints vivid pictures to capture the reader’s imagination. However, there was no indication that she “added to” any of the many incidents she records of Felix’s work, which she obviously obtained directly from him. Had she not reported them accurately he would surely have registered his disapproval.
Furthermore, in correspondence with the LCM, their 1884 report, referred to above, also reproduced a review of this book that appeared in The Record on March 28th, 1884, which gave it very warm praise.
We also read her books Loving Work in the Highways and Byeways (Nelson 1888) and More About Our Coffee Room (Nisbet 1878). In his introduction to the latter book Lord Shaftesbury said she was a “pious, amiable and accomplished young lady” whose exertions were “founded on an intense love of the Gospel.” Furthermore, she is critical of those who ran coffee rooms and almost forced those attending to “sign the pledge,” for they often do not return. We give her comments with her emphasis:
We need tact, and caution, and love, in all our dealings with human souls. Nothing should be done to vex or give unnecessary offence. We also need zeal, earnestness, diligence, self denial, for this mighty struggle against A NATIONAL SIN.
These are hardly the words of someone who is an overzealous Christian lacking a balanced view of life. They also do not give the impression of someone who would have deceived her husband or the public by fabricating stories.
Moore accuses her of “embroidering” her accounts “with spiritual sentimentality” –but this is not the same as inventing incidents. I found her books written in a vivid style to highlight the condition of the poor, but could detect no evidence of fabrication. Her self-effacement and her humour that comes through at times do her great credit. Her other writings, therefore, give some support to her record of her conversation with Darwin.
Lady Hope’s attitude
Following the meeting, she appears to have mentioned it to Sir Robert Anderson at some time, but to how many others whilst here in England is not certain and we discuss this below. In America, far from immediately regaling them with her story, she was there for two years (1913-1915) before she casually mentioned to a lecturer who had been speaking about Hebrews that it was Darwin’s favorite book in the Bible. It was this that caused so much local excitement that culminated in her writing her account of the visit for the Watchman Examiner.
If she did say little about the visit to others whilst here, this gives the grounds for the charge that she fabricated the account when she got to America, principally to impress her new friends. In thinking about her (possible) slowness in telling others about the visit, it struck me that one explanation could be that she attached less importance to it than we do today. At that time, like many women, she may have been far less concerned about the implications and effects of evolution than many evangelicals are today. That the “founder” of evolution was now reading his Bible was of interest to her, but not of such great importance that she should broadcast the fact to all and sundry as soon as possible. However, the possibility that she did tell others about her visit soon after the event we discuss later.
Her conversation with Darwin
What is impressive in her account is the restraint of what they discussed–as Moore acknowledges (p55). Had she wanted to cause a sensation, she would have claimed that Darwin was truly “converted” and written a vivid account of his testimony. In fact, she merely records his views on Hebrews and delicately raises the subject of Darwin’s evolution contradicting Genesis. There is no claim of any conversion, but simply a record of Darwin’s renewed interest in the Christian faith.
Moore’s work and viewpoint
Moore has amassed a huge amount of information in his book, and we acknowledge our considerable debt to his researches. He is quite generous in some instances, even asserting that there was much that supported her account. However, he has little sympathy with “fundamentalists” and “evangelicals.” (Incidentally, when any writer uses the word “fundamentalist” one can be reasonably certain he is using it in a derogatory sense.)
He says that Lady Hope was “a skilled raconteur, able to summon up poignant scenes and conversations, and embroider them with spiritual sentimentality” (p53). As we have said, if by “summon up” he means “fabrication,” then he presents not a scrap of evidence in its support. We would mention that Moore admits that Lady Hope was able to distinguish between fact and fiction when she wrote her biography of her father (pers. comm.). Her husband, Mr. Denny, is described as “having made his fortune in pork, larded the coffers of many evangelical enterprises” (p43). Thus, the family fortune was diminishing before she was later swindled out of her remaining money.
Moore also makes a disgraceful charge against Lady Hope’s father, a godIy man who did much for the people of Madras. Captain Cotton provided an irrigation system in the Godavari district in India, and invited a series of missionaries out there who established orphanages and hospitals and much else that must have brought enormous benefits and prosperity to the area (Rob). Yet Moore’s comment on Cotton is that he was “the man who wrung more revenue out of the Madras plantations than any previous administrator” (M44).
Moody and Sankey are “a gifted duo like their English contemporaries Gilbert and Sullivan” (p43). Thus, Moore diminishes these famous evangelists to being just mere entertainers. Moore is rightly exercising his freedom to criticize these Christians, for he lives in a nation whose tolerance they had no small part in bringing about.
Moore’s dislike of evangelicals and fundamentalists is so very apparent that one is left wondering whether this has affected his objectivity in dealing with the story of the evangelical Lady Hope.
He also noted “There is no doubt that Lady Hope was making comments about Darwin to her religious friends long before the story was published.” From this, one would have expected at least three or four such incidents might be mentioned. This is important, for if she did freely talk about her visit to others shortly after, it would give very strong confirmation that she did hold such a conversation with Darwin. Yet he only refers to Sir Robert Anderson’s note that said she was “much with Darwin.” Were there other conversations?
We raised with Moore (a) the Fegan-Felix misidentification, (b) whether there were other records of her conversations, and (c) that his bias against evangelicals could be interpreted as damaging his reliability for fair reporting.
He replied that he was very busy and that “numerous leads remain to be followed up” and, somewhat surprisingly, that “vindicating Lady Hope’s story” was for him a “chimerical task!”
Moore spent 20 years collecting his information, travelling to several continents, and was funded by the Open University. Would that Christian researchers could call upon such financial resources to support their investigations.
THE EVIDENCE AGAINST
In all my reading of Darwin’s last days, it must be admitted that I found nothing whatsoever that gave any support to Lady Hope’s record of her visit. There is not a single reference to it by Darwin or any member of the family. One might have expected just one passing mention in a letter letting slip that Darwin was reading the Bible or some note of a visit by a Christian lady, etc. We will therefore examine this aspect with relevant comments.
The two accounts
There is one important point that appears to have escaped all who have followed Moore in criticizing Lady Hope’s character. Moore is clearly critical of Lady Hope, yet he admits that Lady Hope probably did visit Darwin, for she gives an accurate description of his clothes, facial expressions, the room, etc. Yet he also quotes the Darwin family’s total denial that she ever entered Darwin’s house.
Now Moore, and all who have adopted his conclusions, cannot have it both ways. Either Lady Hope did go to Darwin’s House or she did not. As Moore admits that she did, then the total denial of the Darwin family of any knowledge of her visit(s) or even of any knowledge of her existence, is a falsehood. Emma at least must have known of them, and if she visited Darwin several times, it is unlikely that no other member of the family ever got to hear of her visits. If Henrietta and others did not know of her visits as they were absent at that time, then they should not have denied it so vigorously. It is my conviction that several members of the family may have known of the visits but the implications were too traumatic for them to accept. It is this that seems to be the most likely cause of them maintaining their denial. We would therefore contend that if Moore is right in saying she did visit Darwin, all the family’s vehement denials of her visit(s) were false, whether wittingly or unwittingly. It raises, once again, their integrity.
The “death-bed” conversion
His daughter Henrietta wrote “I was present at his deathbed. Lady Hope was not present during his last illness, or any illness. I believe he never even saw her, but in any case she had no influence over him in any department of thought or belief . . . The whole story has no foundation whatever.”
Now Lady Hope never claimed that she was “at his deathbed,” and those who quote this are describing a fabricated scene in order to discredit her.
Most of Darwin’s letters and writings, far from indicating a return to Christianity, show that even at a late stage of his life he remained an agnostic. This greatly troubled his wife Emma and his daughter Henrietta. They insisted, against fierce opposition from the brothers, principally Francis, who were Rationalists and Freethinkers, that any anti-religious passages should be removed from the official collection of his letters.
Moore makes a noteworthy comment on this censoring of Darwin’s letters, for he says “With her [Emma’s] guidance, the world would know only the ‘Darwin’ the family chose to reveal” (p24). This could be particularly significant if Lady Hope’s visit was unwelcome as we will see.
What is not disputed is Darwin’s approval of Church activities. Only a few weeks before he died he sent a donation to the South American Missionary Society in view of the good effect of the missionaries in Tierra del Fuego (Croft: 105). One of his life-long friends was a High Anglican Churchman, and he helped with several “good works” for the poor in Downe, working in conjunction with the Church (M: 16) and highly approved of Fegan’s work. His support for Christian activities is far greater than one would expect from reading his more public letters of this period––as we will now consider.
That Darwin remained an agnostic to the end of his life is mainly based upon the letters he wrote at that time. Seven letters have been quoted (Q12/2:99) that show he still accepted evolution and there is little reference to any moral dilemma or Christian thinking.
Lady Hope visited him in late 1881, and any interest in Christianity would only date from about that time. All previous writings can therefore be discounted as they cannot refer to a change that occurred later. This would apply to the first four of the letters quoted that are dated between 1873 and 1879 (the letter to the German student) and Darwin’s “Autobiography.” However, even then he was admitting that he “fluctuated” and that he had “never been an Atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God” (1879). He said that “the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God” (1873). He also stated that one’s faith is a private matter for the individual alone.
There are three letters dated February 1882 written two months before his death in April of that year. In all three he affirms his continuing belief in evolution, but this cannot be construed as confirming he was not a Christian; the two subjects are quite separate. The nearest he comes to touching matters of faith is when he wonders whether the existence of God can be proven from the laws of nature, which is “a perplexing subject, on which I have often thought, but cannot see my way clearly”.
It is agreed that there is nothing in these last letters that actually indicates any return to faith, but neither is there anything that flatly denies it.
In order to fully appreciate the comments that follow, we would pause here and ask the reader to place himself in Darwin’s position. Within his own lifetime, he had become world-famous for his theory, and was one of the most prestigious men of all time. He was well aware that his theory undermined Christianity, but now, facing death, he may have sought the certainty and reassurance of the faith that he had first studied in his youth. Had he publicly admitted that he had returned to the Christian faith, let alone a truly evangelical faith, the repercussions would have been cataclysmic–both for him and the whole family. The uproar it would have created would have been unbearable to his family–both the religious and anti-religious sides. It is little wonder, therefore, that he should have decided that any interest in a true (evangelical) Christian faith should be kept very private, such that it was not even discussed with family members. Almost certainly, they would have become aware of his new interest, but there could have been an unspoken agreement that it should be completely ignored; they also would have been well aware of the repercussions.
Darwin may have maintained his stance of agnosticism for the benefit of his public image, but asked Lady Hope, whose vibrant evangelical faith was obvious to all, to visit him and discuss her faith with him. As I contended in a previous work, Darwin seems to have had one attitude for his atheistic contacts, and another for his local acquaintances. Was he hoping to have the “best of both worlds?”
Some have suggested that Emma herself was behind the “Lady Hope story,” but this does not bear critical examination. That Lady Hope wrote the account for the Watchman Examiner is beyond dispute.
Moore notes (p 119) that Emma was “reportedly present” on 28th of September, when he suggests Lady Hope came. Whatever day she visited, we can be fairly certain Emma was present in the house.
Emma Darwin’s silence does present a problem. She was keen to get Darwin to read his Bible, and if he was reading it when Lady Hope came, surely she would have rejoiced and referred to it at some stage. Yet she is silent. She was also sympathetic to the Band of Hope, entertaining them in the house as she wrote on 18th of August 1881, about the time when Lady Hope would have been visiting. Also, Fegan wrote that sometimes members of the family came to his Gospel services. That they did not go regularly suggests that they did not have an evangelical faith–a crucial distinction in the eyes of this writer at least, which may explain much that seems inexplicable at this distance in time.
She wrote to Darwin in 1838 when they were courting, begging him to read his Bible and referred to “our Saviours farewell discourse” in John’s Gospel. The family attended the local Anglican church, but in 1871 left for another when a boorish new vicar came. However, she held firmly to the Wedgewood family’s Unitarian beliefs and Moore says Emma was “Unitarian by conviction, Anglican in practice” (M: 14 and Desmond:403).
Emma’s silence about a change in Darwin’s faith is against Lady Hope’s account, but Moore notes that in 1881 she said that “nothing can be said too severe upon the doctrine of eternal punishment for disbelief’ (M:36).
That none of the family were evangelical leaves the possibility that they may all have been disturbed by any deep change of heart by their famous father. Even Emma, who rejected evolution and was concerned for her husband’s beliefs, “would not have tolerated anything so intrusive as personal evangelizing” (M:57).
The date of her visit
Moore gives no evidence for his suggestion that she came in the afternoon of 28th September–the same day as Darwin’s visitors. There was very good weather on 14, 16-18 September and 28 September – 4 October. Fegan fell ill in early July and Lady Hope could have visited Darwin several times during his absence, with her last and most memorable visit that took place in the late sunny period being the one she most clearly remembered and recorded.
There is one important point. Moore notes that none of those in the family who so strongly denied Lady Hope visited Darwin were actually living there at the time, and that when her story surfaced in 1915, no adult was alive who had been regularly present during 1881-2. Thus, no one could give first hand evidence that she had never visited Darwin (M:97).
Some have contended that his debilitating illness may have been due to catching Chagas’s disease while in S. America, but medical experts say that his symptoms do not conform to this. Croft’s book is revealing in just how serious Darwin’s illnesses were, yet he was very fit and walking seven miles a day whilst on a “water cure” away from home. His symptoms returned when he came home and started work again. From this, we would contend that Darwin’s debilitating symptoms were entirely due to his stress of working and particularly in his propagation of evolution which he knew was destructive of Christianity and good moral influence; a view with which Moore and Croft agree. If this is so, then we are dealing with a man with a tortured conscience whatever may be said. Like many before him, it would be only natural that he should seek relief from his sense of guilt from One who had come to earth for that very purpose.
Even Moore admits that Darwin’s thoughts may have turned to religion, for his brother Erasmus had recently died, and “his own health was giving ‘much cause for uneasiness'” (M:56). During these last months he “thought much on the eternal questions–chance and design, providence and pain” and looked forward to death (M:27). Darwin was not the first to review his life as death neared–and he was certainly not the last.
In June 1881, just before the Lady Hope visit, he was taken ill while on holiday, and wrote that he was looking forward “to Downe graveyard as the sweetest place on earth” (Croft: 108). When Darwin suffered a heart attack on the day of his death, he whispered “I am not in the least afraid to die” (M:29). Did he now have faith or was he simply not fearful of his future?
We would make one small observation. Lady Hope records that “his fingers twitched nervously” while she was speaking to him. Now this was a known characteristic of Darwin “when he was lost in thought” (M:55). What could be more natural that now she knew Darwin more familiarly after several visits, she should gently broach the subject of evolution and its detrimental effect upon Christianity? Darwin’s nervous reaction was noted by her – and the whole account begins to “hang together.”
Did he become a Christian?
What, then, can we say about Darwin? Let us be clear: He never publicly recanted from his theory of evolution or professed a new Christian faith.
Moore dates Lady Hope’s visit as (possibly) Thursday 28th September 1881–the very same day that Darwin was visited by Buchner and Aveling (Karl Marx’s son-in-law). According to all the records of Darwin’s comments during this meeting he said that Christianity “was not supported by evidence” and “I never gave up Christianity until I was forty years of age,” mainly due to his father’s and his daughter Annie’s deaths (Desmond:658). This gives not an Wing of a return to a true Christian faith. We would, however, note that these comments were made to two very belligerent anti-Christians, and if Darwin was keeping any change of heart from his family he was hardly likely to tell his visitors of it, but would maintain his agnostic front. He and Emma strongly disliked the two men.
What is strange is that Emma, writing a letter of the events of this period, mentions several visitors but not the quite important visit of the two men or Lady Hope. Moore considers this was because both visits were “fraught.”
For whatever reason, it shows that there was much that might be deliberately ignored if it was unwelcome. If the visit of these two important people went unrecorded, this could explain the failure to record Lady Hope’s visits she may have made at Darwin’s request. Indeed, I would contend that Emma’s failure to refer to these visits, one of which (Buchner’s) is known to have taken place, is a perfectly satisfactory reason why Lady Hope’s visits also went unrecorded.
Emma’s reaction is understandable. The chasm between liberal and evangelical Christianity is as deep as it ever was. As one who has been on both sides of that bottomless divide, I can speak with some experience.
In meditating on this absence of any reference by the family to Lady Hope’s visits or Darwin’s change of faith, I can only suggest that there may have been a quite deliberate agreement within the family to say nothing whatsoever about what would have been a late and very unwelcome turn of events. Originally Darwin’s letters were heavily edited by the family and that all the information in books and letters about his life has been filtered through hands that have no sympathy with evangelical Christianity. This may well be a significant factor in all these records of his life.
The main point in support of her account are the many verifications of Lady Hope’s sterling Christian personality and honesty. Even Fegan, after criticizing her, said he had “never had an unpleasant word with Lady Hope. Up to the end, we were on friendly terms.” There are also the independent references to Darwin’s change of heart that were reported soon after his death. Sir Robert Anderson’s note is particularly important. Furthermore, Darwin must have invited her to see him as she describes the house and Darwin’s situation and mannerisms so accurately.
On the other hand, she was obviously a strong character. Was she a spendthrift with money–albeit for good causes? Were Fegan’s comments on her character valid? Might she have been a trial to her husband? Did she “elaborate” her discussion with Darwin to impress her American audience? Why did Darwin never speak to Fegan or Emma of his faith?
We would have liked to conclude that, on balance, her account is truthful, but there is also much against it, and we cannot come to a firm conclusion either way. Whichever side is right, it leaves unanswered questions on the other side. We have presented the evidence for and against, and must leave the reader to decide. No doubt, as ever, the prejudices and bias with which each one comes to this controversy may have already predetermined the result of their conclusions.
Whatever decision the reader may come to, it would be as well to repeat the comments I made at the end of an earlier examination:
However, even if it were eventually to be proven that Darwin did return to the Christian faith in his last years, let me hastily add (lest my creationist colleagues raise their “hurrahs” too soon) that this would have little effect upon the convinced evolutionist. He will most likely simply dismiss it as a weakness of Darwin in his old age. Furthermore, it will make absolutely no difference to his “scientific” outlook . . . He has enshrined the dogma of “evolution in some form” and to it he must hold–for he has nowhere else to go (Bow82:193).
Matt Slick is President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry. Matt earned his Bachelors in Social Science from Concordia University, Irvine, CA in 1988. He earned his Masters of Divinity from Westminster Theological Seminary, in Escondido, CA, in 1991. He now resides in the Boise, Idaho area with his family. He is ordained. Matt started CARM in October of 1995 to respond to the many false teachings of the cults on the Internet.
First published at CARM.org
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Q = Creation Research Society Quarterly, published by the CRS, Box 28473, Kansas City, MO 64118, USA
Bowden, Malcolm, The Rise of the Evolution Fraud, Sovereign Publications 1982[note: in this book, Bowden references directly from five volumes of Darwin’s letters, as edited by Darwin’s son]
Croft, L The Life and Death of Charles Darwin, Elmwood 1989
Desmond, A. and Moore, J., Darwin, Penguin 1991
Hope, Lady, Our Golden Key, Seeley, Jackson and Halliday 1884
Moore, J. The Darwin Legend, Hodder 1995
Robson, G. “Interpreting Darwin Biography: A Footnote” Faith and Thought, April 1997 n 21 pp 9-19
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