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

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 website for this became active at the end of last week. The sum required is £1,444,000; major donors have already pledged more than a third of the total needed.

The temporary export ban has an initial deadline of 15th July, so time is extremely short.  If significant progress is made, then it may be extended until 15th October. Therefore, all who are interested are asked to pledge a donation, which will only be collected when the required amount is achieved. For more information about the notebooks and to make a pledge, please click on https://www.ed.ac.uk/giving/save-lyell-notebooks/pledge-to-save/

If you can give anything to this campaign--even five pounds or a pound--it will make a big difference, not least in showing larger donors that there is substantial public interest and concern. It would be great if we can get the donor count over 1000.
I'd appreciate it if you could pass on this message to anyone who might be interested, and to any other relevant lists.

Jim Secord (jas1010@cam.ac.uk)
University of Cambridge