The following is the text of an email that I sent to the Lenski Lab email list on April 19, 2009, which was the 127th anniversary of the death of Charles Darwin:
As everyone is aware at this point, it is Darwin year, which
naturally entails at least some level of perfunctory observation and
memory of highly significant anniversaries. The really big ones are,
of course, his February 12th 200th birthday and the impending
November 150th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of
"The Origin". Not all the anniversaries, or all anniversaries at all
for that matter, however, are necessarily happy. Today marks one of
these. On this day in 1882, Darwin died surrounded by family, in his
beloved Down House of complications related to heart disease. He was
73. Ever the scientist, his last book, The Formation of Vegetable
Mould through the Action of Worms, had been published the year
before and became an unexpected best seller, and he had plans to
continue experiments and write more books if his heath improved.
Kindly and generous to the end, his last words to his wife, Emma,
were: "I am not the least afraid of death. Remember what a good
wife you have been to me. Tell all my children to remember how good
they have been to me." His last recorded coherent words (he was in
delirium toward the very end) were to his son, Francis, and his
daughter, Henrietta, who were attending him after Emma went to rest.
He said, "It's almost worthwhile to be sick to be nursed by you".
And so the last bit of his story, still being written today in myriad
places and ways, in labs and research such as our not least among
them, in which he was an active participant came to an end, and he
was laid to rest with all the attendant fanfare of a state funeral in
Westminster Abbey on April 26.
So, those who are so inclined, please to remember Darwin today in the
manner appropriate to him: take a walk and appreciate nature, start
an experiment, spend some time thinking on some problem, patiently
watch some aspect of nature you might have taken for granted before,
torture yourself over some bit of writing, be kind and generous to
someone, or, if all else fails, consider the possibility of an
activity that took far too much of his time, but still is an aspect
of the man: retch (or not - I think he would have appreciated an "or
not" when it came to the retching).