News Bulletin: A Message from David McClay at Edinburgh University about Charles Lyell's Notebooks

 'The University of Edinburgh Library has been successful in raising the large amount of funds necessary to save Sir Charles Lyell’s notebooks. We are thrilled with this and look forward to bringing them to Edinburgh and afterwards sharing them with the world.'

Charles Lyell (1797 - 1875) is well known for his part in the Darwinian evolutionary debates, his travels to America and his role in convincing readers of the significance of 'deep time'. During the past decade, Lyell's geographical theory of climate and his subdivisions of recent geological periods have gained renewed attention in connection with discussions of climate change and the Anthropocene. The Lyell archive is almost certainly the most important manuscript collection relating to nineteenth century science still in private hands.  At its core are 294 notebooks, which provide a daily record of Lyell's private thoughts, reading notes, travels, field observations and conversations from the mid-1820s to his death half a century later.

Portrait Drawing of Sir Charles Lyell. Black and gray engraving on cream paper
Portrait Drawing of Sir Charles Lyell
Public Domain courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons

In order for the family to meet inheritance tax, the Lyell notebooks were sold to an unknown foreign buyer towards the end of last year. Fortunately, the UK government has imposed a temporary export ban to enable fundraising to purchase these remarkable documents, conserve them, and make them available on-line for free to the public. The University of Edinburgh Library, which already has the largest collection of Lyell material, is organizing the campaign. The sum required was £1,444,000; major donors pledged more than a third of the total needed, and individual donors have now pledged the remainder. Thanks to all who responded to our earlier request for pledges.

Jim Secord ([email protected])
University of Cambridge