Part 5 - Last Days

Goodbye, Mr Blyth

1862

Edward Blyth, plagued by continuing poor health (of a diagnosable description), is forced to return home to England.  His years of faithful service are rewarded with a pension of just 150 per year.


1871

In a letter to his friend Arthur Grote, dated July 15th, Blyth makes reference to:

"a work I am now preparing on 'The Origin of Species,' a subject upon which I can throw some light"1

1873

On December 27th, just four days after his sixty-third birthday, and exactly 40 years after the Beagle set sail for South America, Edward Blyth dies.  Despite Blyth's massive experience in the field of natural history, his literary executors regard the work already completed on The Origination of Species as being unworthy of publication.2

In a tribute to Blyth in the Dictionary of National Biography, Allan Hume, who had worked with Blyth in Calcutta, recalled the man he had known:

"Neither neglect nor harshness could drive, nor wealth nor worldly advantages tempt him, from what he deemed the nobler path.  [He was] ill paid and subjected ... to ceaseless humiliations ..."3

In a similar vein, in an obituary of Blyth which he prepared for the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, in 1875, Arthur Grote commented:

"Had he been a less imaginative and more practical man, he must have been a prosperous one. ... All that he knew was at the service of everybody.  No one asking him for information asked in vain."4
(Italics added)


1875

On February 22nd, now 78, widowed, in poor health and nearly blind - and much concerned, even fearful, over the possibilities of an afterlife - Sir Charles Lyell dies, and is interred in Westminster Abbey.  Despite their long and significant association, Darwin declines the invitation to be a pall bearer at Lyell's funeral.


1882

Just over a hundred and twenty years ago, on April 19th, having died at the age of 73, Charles Darwin made his final journey.  Not, as he had expected, to the peaceful surroundings of the local churchyard but rather, at the request of several eminent members of the scientific establishment, in procession to a niche in Westminister Abbey.  Darwin had finally, and permanently, taken his place "among the leading scientific men".


1913

Shortly after his ninety-first birthday Alfred Russel Wallace, the youngest of the core group connected with Darwin's work on evolution (he was a mere 35 when he sent his MS to Darwin in 1858), also passes to his rest.
Contrary to Bowlby's 'chocolate box' analysis5, in later life Wallace and Darwin had often found themselves at odds.  Quite apart from his religious convictions, Wallace was never completely satisfied that the full answer to the species question had been produced, and in his later years he seems to have turned away from the very concept of evolution.  But then Wallace was in a better position than most to understand the true story behind The Origin of Species.


References
  1. Edward Blyth, Arthur Grote.  Cited in Darwin and the Mysterious Mr. X, Loren Eiseley. op. cit. p.181.
    Grote's obituary of Blyth is reproduced in full in Eiseley's book, pp.169-183.
  2. Darwin and the Mysterious Mr. X, Loren Eiseley. op. cit. p.80.
  3. Dictionary of National Biography, Leslie Stephen (ed.).  Smith, Elder and Co., London:1886. p.277.
  4. Edward Blyth, Arthur Grote in Darwin and the Mysterious Mr. X, Loren Eiseley. op. cit. p.183.
  5. Charles Darwin, John Bowlby. op. cit. pp.332 and 454.

Go to other sections

Part 0 - Introduction
Part 1 - Metaphors and Myths
Part 2 - The Mystery Begins
Part 3 - All At Sea
Part 4 - He Who Hesitates ...
Part 6 - Without Reference ...
Part 7 - The Missing Link
Part 8 - Going Public, Maybe
Part 9 - ... Father to the Man
Part 10 - Mr Wallace, Mr Blyth ...
Part 11 - ... and 'Mr' Lyell
Part 12 - The Final Frontier
 
Appendices - The full text of Blyth's papers from 1835-37
 
Appendix A - The Varieties of Animals - Part 1
Appendix B - The Varieties of Animals - Part 2
Appendix C - Seasonal and Other Changes in Birds - Part 1
Appendix D - Seasonal and Other Changes in Birds - Part 2
Appendix E - Seasonal and Other Changes in Birds - Part 3
Appendix F - Seasonal and Other Changes in Birds - Part 4
Appendix G - Psychological Distinctions Between Man and Other Animals - Part 1
Appendix H - Psychological Distinctions Between Man and Other Animals - Part 2
Appendix I - Psychological Distinctions Between Man and Other Animals - Part 3
Appendix J - Psychological Distinctions Between Man and Other Animals - Part 4


This paper was written and produced by Andrew J. Bradbury