For a religious man, Dr Laurence Croft seems perversely hell-bent on perpetuating the myth of Charles Darwin’s death-bed conversion to evangelical Christianity. A few years back, Croft wrote an absolutely dreadful book in which he tried to argue that Elizabeth Lady Hope’s long-discredited tale of having heard an ailing Charles Darwin privately repent his theory of evolution and embrace Christ Jesus ‘was indeed true’. Croft’s desperately unconvincing case relied on a combination of wishful thinking, conspiracy theories, conjectures suddenly morphing into ‘facts’, and stated circumstances about Darwin that were unlikely in the extreme.
In this latest book, Croft wisely avoids repeating most of his nebulous argument. Instead, he simply carries on re-flogging his long-dead horse, uncritically repeating Lady Hope’s fabricated story as if it were true.
Here’s an example, describing in intimate detail Lady Hope’s supposed meeting with Darwin (who was, we are informed, reclining on a chaise longue in his purple dressing gown at the time):
For a time they talked about mutual interests and [Darwin] quickly recognised [Lady Hope’s] exceptional intelligence. She then expressed some admiration for the flowers she could see in the garden below. She loved flowers, orchids in particular, and this was also one of Darwin’s best-loved flowers, and as he spoke about them she could see an intense look in his eyes and a pleasing expression. She then spoke of her experiences in far off places, Tasmania where she had been born, Australia and India and the strange creatures she had seen, including the giant tortoises she had encountered while she was staying in Mauritius. These reminiscences brought back memories to Darwin of these places, as he also had visited them while on HMS Beagle. Then she told him of her visit to Napoleon’s tomb on St Helena and how she had felt so depressed afterwards. He smiled engagingly at her and confessed to having had similar feelings on his visit to the same place many years before. He then asked her about her recent home at Carriden and she told him about some of the work she had done there in reclaiming drunkards. To Darwin it brought back happy memories of the time he had spent in the area, as a medical student at Edinburgh, with his friend Robert Grant when they had explored all along the rocky shores of the Firth of Forth collecting fascinating creatures in the tidal rock pools. Then he remembered the glimpse he once had of the turrets of Carriden House through the thickly wooded embankment, just like David Balfour had in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped.
And the source(s) for this extremely detailed story? Croft doesn’t cite any directly—although his bibliography lists numerous earlier accounts of the tale in newspapers, religious magazines, and his own books and articles.
Lady Hope’s account of Darwin’s deathbed conversion was strongly rebutted by Darwin’s own family. At the beginning of this book, Croft states:
I leave the reader to judge as to who might be telling the truth as the evidence is unfolded in the pages that follow.
He then proceeds to unfold no evidence whatsoever for Lady Hope’s unlikely tale, leaving this particular reader in no doubt at all as to who might have been telling the truth, and which ladyship’s pants were well and truly on fire.
Other than rehashing the Darwin myth, the rest of this book contains a biography of Lady Hope. I have no interest in Lady Hope, and, Darwin sections aside, have nothing to say as to its reliability.
File under fiction.
Disclosure: For some reason, I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher.