On The Origin Of On The Origin Of Species

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On The Origin Of On The Origin Of Species by Chris Green

The port of Falmouth in Cornwall boasts a rich maritime history. It has all the right features for seafaring. The River Fal has a wide estuary and Falmouth has the deepest natural harbour in Europe. It was turned from a sleepy little village where Cornish fishermen brought home their catch into the information hub of the British Empire when in 1688 the Royal Mail made Falmouth its appointed packet station. Falmouth is latterly notable for being frequent host to the Tall Ships Race and being the start or finish point of various round-the-world record-breaking voyages. The comings and goings of famous vessels have over the years put Falmouth well and truly on the maritime map. Perhaps the most celebrated visitor to Falmouth, however, was HMS Beagle on which Darwin sailed to conduct the research that would result in On The Origin Of Species.

Starting with Sir Garfield Thunder in the mid-nineteenth century, the Thunder family made their money by exploiting Falmouth’s Darwin connection. Although this particular commerce has less importance today, earlier generations of Thunders missed no opportunity to tell the world about Darwin, drawing the public’s attention to the great man’s relationship to Falmouth. Most of what you read about Charles Darwin today is the legacy of the Thunder family’s persistence. Had it not been for the myth started by Sir Garfield Thunder, Darwin might have been just another research botanist spending long hours bent over a microscope trying to put bread on the table for a growing family.

The mystery that is about to shake the very foundations of the scientific world begins one Saturday during a powercut in the middle of an unseasonal snow storm. Falmouth enjoys a temperate micro-climate and does not get a lot of this type of weather. The storm cuts through power lines. The lights in Amberleigh, the plush suburban villa where Kimberley Thunder lives and works as a psychologist, go out. Her live-in partner, debonair private detective, Ben Archer is out on a case. Kimberley, finding no candles in the obvious places, goes down to the cellar where she thinks she might find some. She has not been down here often. Attractive, well-groomed, well-to-do young ladies like Kimberley do not find themselves poking about in cellars.

In her search, she comes across a dusty old cardboard box full of her great great great great grandfather’s tattered journals. At first, she doesn’t realise what she has found, but Sir Garfield’s gilded monogram stares up at her from one of the covers. Her interest piqued, she takes them upstairs and dusts them off. There are half a dozen of them, each morocco-bound with peeling gold leaf around the edges of the pages. Later that evening, with the electricity back on, she pulls one out and begins reading. The journal covers the year 1837. HMS Beagle has set off from Falmouth on what we think of today as The Third Voyage. Reports about the voyage jotted in Sir Garfield’s cursive handwriting begin with excitement and optimism, but as she turns the pages, the entries become graver and graver. By July, he acknowledges that the Beagle must have sunk. He does not specify the origin of his information but there are several mentions of Sidney Morse, the inventor of the telegraph.

It appears Sir Garfield is a close friend and confidant of Darwin. He is heavily invested in his friend’s mission. He reveals in the journal that Darwin has left most of the notebooks from his experiences during The Second Voyage in his possession. Pages and pages of the Sir Garfield’s journal are taken up explaining the discoveries. Sir Garfield has spoken to others in the field and feels that Darwin might be on the verge of a scientific breakthrough. It is worth noting that in 1837 Darwin has not himself formulated the theory of natural selection. At this stage, it is not on his radar that organisms which adapt to their environment tend to survive longer and produce more offspring and this, in turn, becomes the driver for evolution. He is just recording information. He admits that some of the data is unexpected and confusing but this is as far as he takes it. Although he himself does not completely understand what he is doing, Sir Garfield Thunder somehow manages to join up all the dots and comes up with the idea of natural selection that will turn our understanding of life the universe and everything upside down.

Kimberley is dumbfounded. She doesn’t know what to think. If the journal is to be believed, her family’s fortune and perhaps worse, its reputation are built on shameful lies. She shares her concern with Ben when he arrives home and asks him to do some digging, find out what he can from historical records. She feels his detection skills will be invaluable in this situation. What is actually on the public record for the time? What stories were in the newspapers in 1837 that might either substantiate or discredit Sir Garfield’s account?

The following day, with mixed feelings, Kimberley carries on reading. In the second volume, Sir Garfield ponders what to do about the discoveries. He has not yet shared them with anyone. It appears too that no-one else has found out about the Beagle. Days pass and there is no word. There is no explanation for this. It is one of those remarkable episodes in history that lack rhyme or reason. It leaves him in possession of a dangerous secret. He is afraid. With great knowledge comes great responsibility. As he sees it, he has two choices. He can come clean and reveal that the Beagle has gone under and that Darwin is dead. He could then publish what he has from Darwin’s notebooks. Or he can embellish the account and make a lot of money. After some soul-searching, he chooses the latter, writing it up as The Voyage of the Beagle. This is a teaser. It only hints at what is to come.

Ben comes up with accounts in The Times and The Manchester Guardian of the sailing of HMS Beagle in 1837 and there are occasional snippets about its progress but these are short on detail. There is not much news after the sailing. The newspaper strike of 1838, which goes on for months, means that there are no reports for this period in Britain, although the St Ives Examiner which somehow escapes the strike action carries one or two letters about Darwin and The Beagle, but none which has any concrete information. The closest Ben comes to a result is a report in Sydney Morning Herald which has the headline ‘WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE BEAGLE?’ In the report, there are suggestions that it has gone aground on the east coast of Australia, although these are not substantiated and for some reason not followed up. Needless to say, Ben can find no trace of Darwin’s notebooks from either before or after the sailing. These, where they existed, have gone missing.

‘Nothing to go on really is there,’ says Kimberley.

‘There is something that’s not quite right, though,’ says Ben. ‘I wonder if there really was a newspaper strike in 1838.’

‘Twelve months does seem a long period, especially before trade unions,’ says Kimberley.

‘Those letters in the St Ives Examiner are by someone called Eloy DeJesus. He is not a fan by all accounts. He is also mentioned in the Sydney Morning Herald report. If the Beagle was in fact sunk, I wonder if Mr DeJesus had something to do with it.’

‘Who is this Eloy deJesus?’ asks Kimberley.

‘Creationist zealot. Fire and brimstone stuff,’ Ben says. ‘This fellow really does not like what he believes Charles Darwin and others of his ilk are trying to do.’

‘Two thousand years of routine supernatural belief to protect,’ says Kimberley. ‘He was probably not alone.’

In the third volume of the journal Sir Garfield moves the story on. He sees another opportunity. He begins to write reports of Darwin’s discoveries from the new trip. He expresses some reservations about his deceit but he justifies this as a measure for the greater good. Too long people have been fooled into believing that they were created by a divine being and put on this earth to carry out his will. Sir Garfield briefly toys with the idea that he could perhaps pass the new and completely fabricated, discoveries off as his own, but he has never been on a boat, far less sailed in all winds and weathers to the far reaches of the globe. He dismisses the idea. This leaves him with just as large a problem. How long can he fool the scientific community into thinking that HMS Beagle is still on its mission and Charles Darwin still alive? Somehow, through a series of letters to publications of the day, the ones presumably that Eloy does not have an interest in, he manages to keep the Darwin myth alive. Arguably this is a bigger achievement than the publication of The Voyage of the Beagle. It buys him time to write On The Origin of Species which is by his own admission in the journal a complete work of fiction. There were no barnacles, there were no finches and there were no pigeons. His rival, Alfred Russel Wallace, at least, has his beetles and tree frogs to evidence his own findings on natural selection.

‘Someone else would have come up with the idea, wouldn’t they,’ says Kimberley. ‘Sooner or later.’ She is perhaps trying to justify Sir Garfield’s actions. She wonders how much Sir Vivian Thunder, Sir George Thunder, Harold Thunder, Harold Thunder Junior or even her father Roger Thunder might have known about the great deception. She suspects that while the earlier generations of Thunders must have known, the latter-day Thunders might have had an inkling but turned a blind eye. The irony that both her parents died of a rare blood disease three years ago while on The Galapagos visiting The Darwin Institute is not lost on her. She was just twenty-six when they died.

‘From what I’ve been able to discover there were huge barriers in the way that stopped Darwin, I mean your great-great-great-great grandfather from publishing,’ says Ben. ‘One of these was Eloy DeJesus. It seems he was a very powerful man at the time.’

‘What’s puzzling me is that the world believes that Darwin lived to be an old man. I’ve seen photos of him with his long white beard,’ says Kimberley.

‘That’s puzzling me too,’ says Ben. ‘Perhaps Sir Garfield was a master of disguise.’

The fourth and fifth journals concern themselves with Sir Garfield’s prolonged battle with Eloy DeJesus to get On Origin of Species published. Eloy, it seems owns nearly all of the existing publishing houses and is a major shareholder in the newspaper chains of the day. Sir Garfield paints him as a formidable adversary. His jottings release bursts of invective unimaginable in a Victorian gentleman’s journal, as he rallies against this fervent creationist defender. God created everything and nothing that was created can be changed, is Eloy’s view. Every organism is in its fixed place as determined by God. Flexing his political muscle he seems to have held back the publication of On the Origin of Species for over ten years.

You would expect Eloy DeJesus to be remembered, perhaps not as a great Victorian, but for the vigour and determination of his creationist stance. His name, however, seems to have almost disappeared from the records. There are copious references to him in Sir Garfield’s journal, but apart from these Kimberley and Ben are able to find few references to the man elsewhere. The journals portray him as a man of influence second only to Sir Robert Peel or The Duke of Wellington. Why, they wonder, is Eloy DeJesus not a household name in the way that they are? How, has history so comprehensibly failed to recall such a powerful man. Could the impetus of Sir Garfield’s theory of natural selection have been so powerful that no one, not even the church cared to remember the ultimate failure Eloy’s campaign? Perhaps it became no longer sexy in the age of invention discovery to think of a wrathful bearded figure letting there be light.

Kimberley and Ben read the final volume of the journal together. It is in a more delicate state than the other volumes and some of the pages are falling apart. On the Origin of Species has just been published and the world is crying out for Darwin to appear to promote the work. Important people are heralding the sea change. Sir Garfield, at this stage, sees himself as a hero for shedding two thousand years of dogma for humankind. Once again he has two choices. He can come clean and say that he has made it all up, or he can, albeit in a limited way, pass himself off as Charles Darwin. The pages of the journal have become almost impossible to read now. They have been too badly damaged by water. It is only possible to make out the odd word.

‘Daguerre,’ reads Ben. ‘He mentions him a lot. Pioneer of photography. Must have been a friend of Sir Garfield’s. The word photography was first coined by Sir John Herschel in 1839, so that would be about right.’

‘I think that word is impersonate,’ says Kimberley.

‘I think you’re right,’ says Ben. Does that say beard? In all the photos we have seen of Darwin, he has this long grey beard.’

‘The photos are all very similar,’ says Kimberley. She has Google Images open on her tablet and is scrolling through them. ‘And – Now you come to mention it they do bear a startling resemblance to the portrait of Sir Garfield that used to be hung on the wall in the library. I haven’t actually seen a photo of him.’

‘Which is strange if he was a friend of Daguerre,’ remarks Ben.

Kimberley is on the Wikipedia entry for Charles Darwin now.

‘It’s a little difficult to explain Darwin’s nine surviving children, all born after Sir Garfield suggests that Charles disappeared,’ she says.

‘Quite,’ says Ben. ‘But perhaps you’ve hit the nail on the head. Emma must have been in on the collusion. These were hard times. Emma was probably struggling to keep a roof over her head and Sir Garfield may have supported her.’

‘But how far might he have supported her. Are you saying that these nine children would have been step-great-great-great-great aunts and uncles,’ says Kimberley. She extrapolates the information in her head. Sir Vivian Thunder, apart from his sisters Constance and Maud, would have had nine stepbrothers and sisters, and George Thunder would have had an unthinkable number of once removed relatives. She herself would probably have distant relatives in every town.

For the next few days, Ben tries to find records of Darwin’s public appearances. He visits the British Library, The National Archives, The Westminster Reference Library and the Bodleian Library, but finds he is wasting his time. Darwin apparently didn’t like speaking in public. Little is on the record of any engagements. He is famously reclusive. There seem to be just two photos of him in later life, one of him with his bald head and long grey mutton-chop sideburns and another with a long grey beard. These are used over and over again. Both of them are grainy. In the latter years, there are no reports of him at all. This is at the same time that On the Origin of Species is being translated into dozens of different languages.

Ben visits Kent, but even in Downe, Darwin’s hometown, it appears he doesn’t get out much. Everyone Ben speaks to in the village is very guarded. It feels as if there is a guilty secret that the whole village has agreed not to talk about. Darwin’s house has heavy security around it. It is closed to all comers. He reports back to Kimberley. Her Google research echoes his findings. The Darwin narrative is shrouded in mystery. No-one has ever discovered how or where HMS Beagle may have gone down. But she discovers this is not in itself unusual. Thousands of ships have disappeared without a trace, if many of them not so famous as the Beagle.

Kimberley Thunder is waiting in the BBC studio. She is about to be interviewed by historian, Geoffrey Frobisher. She is going to set the record straight. She is about to rock the foundations of accepted historical understanding. She is nervous about how her bombshell will be received. Victorian history, with Britain in her ascendency is a stronghold of certainty. Great men from every county are making their mark in all fields. In the results of Great Britons poll to be broadcast next month, Darwin has been voted Number Two, behind Churchill, but ahead of Brunel and Shakespeare. People may not be ready to accept his new status as a run of the mill botanist who gets lost at sea. To add to this, there is her family’s upstanding reputation to be considered. Why is she doing it, she wonders as she sits under the studio lights. She is taking a big risk. There is a lot at stake. The outcome depends on what spin the media put on the revelation. Just in case things go badly, she and Ben have booked a passage to Tuvalu. They have a year’s lease on a modest villa in Funafuti. Trelawney and Bilk have instructions for the sale of Amberleigh, should she decide to sell.

© Chris Green 2018: All rights reserved

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Sven of Halmstad

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Sven of Halmstad by Chris Green

Church attendance had been dropping for years. In the age of science and discovery, it seemed no one was able to swallow the fantastic tales of strife and salvation in the middle east as the basis for their belief. Stories like this might be OK for a fantasy novel, but not as the central creed for a major religion. Miracles about rising from the dead and walking on water did not fit well into rational twenty-first century thinking. As the result of several emergency meetings of the General Synod of the Anglican Church, it was agreed that the Bible itself needed a refresh. As it was a major doctrinal issue, there was resistance within the group, but the decision was eventually made to appoint someone to rewrite the Holy book.

Tom Golfer had little published work, but decided to apply for the post anyway. He was astonished when he was selected for interview. He had expected the shortlist to be made up of serious doctrinal scholars. At the interview, in front of a panel of priests in colourful clerical clothing, he put forward some radical, even frivolous ideas. Much to his surprise radical thinking seemed to be what many of the Synod were looking for. Many of the stories in the great book were tired and redundant, they told him. It needed a new approach if people were to be drawn back into the flock. Tom pointed out that this in itself was a tired metaphor. Apart from a faction led by The Bishop of Bridgewater and The Bishop of Brighton and Hove, two notorious reactionaries, the Synod agreed that metaphors were one of the Bible’s major drawbacks. Interpretations of some of the big stories in the book had been a problem over the years. The story needed a more realist approach.

Tom was completely overwhelmed when he was appointed. Just think, his girlfriend Natalie said, when he told her the news in the massage parlour that night, The Holy Bible by Tom Golfer. Modest as he was, Tom tried to play this down.

‘It’s only the Church of England’s version,’ he said. ‘I can’t see the Catholics going for it. It was only recently they decided to drop the Latin version. And it will be a definite no-no to the Orthodox Church.’

‘But, it’s a start,’ said Natalie. ‘They might get you on one or two of the hymns as well.’

‘Perhaps I could drop in Stairway to Heaven,’ said Tom.

‘Or Heaven is a Place on Earth,’ said Natalie, continuing with her deep tissue massage.

‘One step at a time, I think,’ said Tom, turning over to give her access to some bits she had missed. ‘I’ve got to rewrite the Bible first. It’s quite a big book, you know.’

‘Then you should make it smaller,’ said Natalie.

‘You know what? I think I will,’ said Tom.

Tom set about the task with gusto. He jettisoned the Old Testament completely. All thirty-nine books were anachronistic. Darwin had all but seen off the Creation myth. It was now hanging by a thread, believed only by a handful of desperate die-hards. The books from Exodus onwards were at best an unreliable chronicle of a small part of the world. Even the more engaging stories of Moses, Jonah and Job had no relevance to people with no interest in Jewish history. The interminable scuffles in the Middle East in the present day were putting more people off the faith by the minute. No one wanted to read any more stories about the troubled region than the ones that they were fed daily on the news.

The idea behind the new Bible would be to show a good person living a good life and passing on wisdom of how people could get along with one another and share. There would be no place for war and suffering in the narrative, so Tom decided to move the action to Scandinavia, a relatively peaceful part of the world. He replaced Jesus of Nazareth with Sven of Halmstad. A majority of the Synod had agreed with him that the virgin birth was a big stumbling block to credence of the New Testament. So, Sven of Halmstad was, in the words of the hymn, begotten not created. Tom, however allowed God no part in his begetting. Sven’s parents were Axel and Alva Jorgenson. Both of them were lumberjacks. Sven, like Jesus, was a carpenter. He made log cabins and stylish furniture for the poor at very reasonable prices. Sometimes, if a particular family was in extreme need, he would build them a home and furnish it for nothing. In his spare time, he helped out at a hospital, one of the very first hospitals in fact. He also ran a small rescue centre for animals.

Sven had an outgoing personality and got along well with everyone he met. He had a natural talent for communication and spent hours giving speeches in the town square in Halmstad. He rallied against the iniquities of the political system of the time. He spoke against the idea of fighting and about the benefits of helping others. He talked about respect for all living things and the importance of being in harmony with mother earth.

‘Where there is love there is life,’ he was fond of saying.

And ‘the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.’

‘Anger and intolerance are the enemies of understanding’.

His maxims and aphorisms were easy for people to understand. They were not hidden behind metaphor. Word about the wisdom of the great man spread rapidly. His speeches drew hundreds of people, all anxious to follow in his footsteps. They came from as far away as Gothenburg and Malmö to listen. One time, a group of merchants came by boat from Copenhagen and inspired by Sven’s speeches vowed to reduce their prices and give all of their profits to worthy causes.

‘For each of our actions there are consequences,’ Sven would say to his audience. ‘You cannot plunder your natural resources. If you cut down a tree to build your house, then you should plant another in its place.’

And, ‘Children are a delight, but you should only have as many children as you are able to look after.’

His plain speaking won people over.

There was a difference of opinion about whether Sven should have a bloodline. Should he be a one-off messiah selflessly eschewing personal relationships for the greater good? Or, in this day and age, would painting him as a loner with no family make him come across as being a bit weird? Tom reasoned that even though he would not be the Son Of God as Jesus had been, the strength of his message alone would be enough to set him up as the saviour. He would be the perfect role model. He would bring about a caring peaceful society. After a few exchanges with the Synod, Tom took the bold step of allowing Sven to be married and have children. His wife Frida would stay in the background quietly doing good works in the community. His children, Björn and Benny would go on to form a musical ensemble writing inspirational madrigals.

To be credible, the new Bible story had to give the impression that it was written long ago. Recently rediscovered perhaps by an eminent Canterbury historian. Tom also needed to create a history of the book to put in the introduction, and explain how it had been superseded by the King James bible. He made it clear that although it did not happen overnight, Sven’s philosophy was established as the preferred viewpoint of the time. People became considerate and kind. They loved their neighbours and did unto others as they would be done by. Whenever there was a hint of trouble or dissent, Sven and his righteous followers managed to overcome it without bloodshed. Within Sven of Halmstad’s lifetime (he lived to be 104) a consensus was thus achieved all over Scandinavia. The word spread over centuries until ruthless reformists replaced it with dissident Christianity in the latter middle ages.

Despite having to accommodate Sven’s longevity, Tom stuck to the plan that the new Bible needed to be shorter than the old one. It had to take account of the reduced attention span of the Internet generation. More people would be likely to read a slim volume than a weighty tome.

‘If you drop it on your foot, it should not leave a bruise,’ he would joke to the Synod when he reported back to them.

Apart from the Bishop of Bridgewater and the Bishop of Brighton and Hove who were trenchant in their views on unwieldy Bibles, the voting members agreed with Tom’s line of reasoning. Some altar Bibles held the potential to be especially damaging to the metatarsals should there be an accident following an indiscretion with the communion wine, they told him. They wanted a handy pocket version that you could pull out when travelling on the tube and an eBible that you could read on your smartphone. Tom explained that his new Bible would also be the right length for a forty-seven minute dramatisation for broadcast on commercial television. The old Bible, Tom had calculated would take twenty-six days, without the adverts. The Creation alone would take six days to broadcast, or seven days with adverts. The costs for the CGI for a production like this would be colossal. Tom didn’t need to convince the Synod on this. They were already sold on the idea. The old Bible was out the window.

‘We need to be able to stop people from channel hopping during the adverts,’ he told the Bishops.

The Bishop of Milton Keynes, one of the more commercially minded of the Anglican clergy felt they would be able to fill the other thirteen minutes with adverts about the new Sven musical on the London stage and a range of Sven merchandise. ‘Just keep the theme going,’ he said. ‘Who do think we should get to play Sven in the movie?’

Tom put the final touches to the new Bible and submitted the draft to the General Synod. It came in at around 30,000 words, slightly shorter longer than Charlie and The Chocolate Factory but shorter than The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe. The King James Bible is nearly 800,000 words, much more difficult to slip into the back pocket of your Levi’s. In a last minute display of caution, the Bishops told Tom that they would need a little time to proofread it before publication and think about cover illustrations and the like. Although they were extremely grateful for the tireless work he had done, they confided that he was unlikely to get a byline. The Holy Bible by Tom Golfer might be a step too far. After all, this was a divine work. Tom wondered if the tide of opinion might be turning. He had heard rumours that Bishop of Bridgewater and the Bishop of Brighton and Hove might be winning support for their conservative stance. All along, they had branded his text a work of fiction. He had responded by saying that there was nothing wrong with that, as the old one had been a work of fiction. He wondered whether this flippant comment, from a layman, might have come across as arrogant and sacrilegious. Perhaps he should not have added, ‘a mix of horror, science fiction and the paranormal.’ He could see the hallowed faces drop even as he said it. Were one of two of the moderates now having doubts about publishing a new Bible written by someone from outside of the Church?

Tom didn’t dwell on the thought too much. Thanks to a generous advance, he was able to take an extended break, and Natalie was able to give up work at the massage parlour. He is still awaiting word on the publication of the Tom Golfer Bible. Keep an eye out for news about this and other Sven of Halmstad merchandising and spinoffs, but if you do not hear anything, it could well be that the two Bishops have gained sufficient support in the Synod to scupper the idea. In which case, for your spiritual solace, you may have to listen to tales of the supernatural from ancient Judea at a church near you for some time to come.

Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved