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Lyell’s School of Rock

Juliette Lichman working on Lyell digitisation assessment

In November 2019 the Library excitedly welcomed Sir Charles Lyell’s two hundred and ninety-four notebooks into its Special Collections. With support and funding from leading institutions, groups and donations pledged from over 1000 individuals, this tectonic acquisition meant the notebooks were able to stay in the UK and join the Library’s existing collection of Lyell-related materials. As part of the DIU team, I was lucky enough to photograph Lyell’s notebooks, working with the world’s finest quality cameras to digitise a previously private collection into the public sphere and beyond.

Before I dig a little deeper I would like to share a quote from Charles Withers, who we filmed late last year talking about Lyell. He captures the essence of these notebooks perfectly in his description;

“They contain, in a sense, the emergence of thought of one of the world’s leading Earth scientists. But Lyell is much more than that. Lyell was a leading geologist but he was also a geographer, an antiquarian, an archaeologist. He writes with literary references, he writes with a lawyer-like precision, and he’s in touch with very many people whose names, along with Lyell’s, inform our understanding of the emergence of 19th century science.”

Professor Charles W J Withers, Ogilvie Chair of Geography,
University of Edinburgh, Geographer Royal for Scotland

 

 

We’re very lucky that Lyell was such a great organiser and essentially catalogued his notebooks for us. With a robust system of pagination and a glossary, he was able to quickly reference information when needed. These small, unassuming notebooks accompanied him everywhere, and in his regular ‘Memoranda for Town’ (a.k.a. to-do lists) there are mentions of particular notebooks which he wanted to pack for later reference, as seen in no.4 below. Very conveniently the locations he visited are neatly labelled on the front of the notebooks. The writing within, however, can be difficult to decipher in some cases, especially where Lyell used his own form of shorthand and references, or if he was in the field resisting against the elements and pressure of the wind.

I find that to-do lists are a simple and yet revealing insight into our every day lives and passing thoughts; little reminders which help us to achieve a larger goal or shape our daily lives. Without having to read a whole passage as you would in a journal, we are able to get a sense of Lyell’s day to day life.

 

My favourite list is for items to take on an upcoming voyage. There is a glimpse of ‘Lyell the husband’, as he mentions a hat box and a bonnet box, separately, and again, a parasol and an umbrella, alluding to his wife’s presence with him. Indeed, this notebook is from 1837 and the catalogue description indicates:

“This notebook was kept by Lyell during his travels with Mrs. Lyell to Denmark and Norway, where they focused on contact zones between sedimentary rocks and large intrusive bodies of granite and syentie, as well as dykes and sills.”

If you wondered what it was like to travel with Lyell, this is a great example of how he packed light.

 

I came across an example of ‘Lyell the brother’ in this simple note. His sister, Marianne was a keen lepidopterist, and enjoyed collecting and naming insects. This was especially popular in Scotland, where much of the flora and fauna had no official name. He writes, ‘Curtis –  No. 1. Did he not find a spider’.  Maybe it was of personal interest, but there is no doubt he would have had illuminating conversations with his sister about entomology and the natural world, perhaps describing foreign insects he encountered in the field, to her delight!

 

Lyell was well acquainted with the notable entomologist, John Curtis which is evident in this letter he sent to his sister in 1827;

“Dear Marianne, Curtis sends me a note to say that there are good things among the Spring insects, and says the Miss Lyells will do wonders in Scotland. He hopes you will get some general knowledge of botany, as a little knowledge even of Scotch plants, would, he says, double the value of your entomological information. “

 

Another favourite find of mine was this illustration of what I assume to be a bovine tooth, with a sketch of Southwold Sea and the beach where he found it. After walking back and forth along the beach, looking intently at the sand for specimens, he stops and notes sadly “no shells”, only teeth!

 

My most recent find in the notebooks was the most exciting by a landslide. We often come across interesting and unique watermarks in our department, but we found one in the notebooks which was very sweet and ornate. This was found in a loosely bound section that Lyell added to the start of a notebook, acting as a preface. The watermarks in the corresponding volume do not bear the same image, so it’s likely that he needed extra paper while travelling and bought some directly from the supplier.

 

The ‘Beehive’ watermark originated with a family of Dutch papermakers by the name of Honig [honey], who owned mills in Zaandyk (1675–1902). The coat of arms of the Honig family (incorporating the beehive motif) became a watermark extensively copied throughout the Netherlands and abroad in places such as Russia and Scandinavia.1 The ‘Beehive’ watermark became a common motif for Dutch papermakers and those who wished to allude to Dutch papermaking. Eventually it also came to represent a particular paper size.

National Gallery of Australia
https://nga.gov.au/whistler/details/beehive.cfm

 

Here are a few examples of watermarks and branding from C&J Honig. Note that ours is very similar to the first watermark, with the exception of larger bees.

 

We’re thrilled that this second batch of notebooks is now digitised and available online for all to enjoy. I photographed Lyell’s notebooks for the majority of the year, and with the added lockdown and social distancing restrictions, for a time it was just myself and the notebooks in the DIU. I will certainly miss seeing Lyell’s familiar scrawling hand and pencilled field sketches – intimate notes that he likely never anticipated sharing with anyone.

It’s been just over a year since our acquisition of these notebooks and it feels as though we have only scratched beneath the surface of the treasures contained within. They are a rare and fascinating glimpse into this famed geologist’s daily life, and like many others I shall be eagerly awaiting the transcriptions and new discoveries from this most beloved rockstar!

Juliette Lichman
Photographer

 

Useful Links:

Virtual Event: An Introduction to Charles Lyell

Engraving of Charles Lyell, and the quote "The present is the Key to the past."We are excited to offer a new opportunity to experience this collection, a Zoom presentation by the Lyell Project staff on 10 December 2020 at 1pm GMT. This event reveals the ongoing work  at the University of Edinburgh with the geological collection of Sir Charles Lyell, a rich corpus of material including his notebooks, family papers, and geological specimens.

Elise Ramsay, Project Archivist, will introduce Lyell and show several key pieces of the collection using the Centre for Research Collection’s new innovative visualizer technology. This collection includes specimens collected by Charles Darwin, letters between Lyell and Darwin, and notebooks in Lyell’s own hand during his fateful tours to France and Italy. Dr. Gillian McCay, from the Cockburn Geological Museum at the Grant Institute, will connect Lyell’s legacy to modern scientific perspectives. Each will discuss adapting working practices over the past year to continue opening up this rich collection of earth science material.

You can find out more about the Sir Charles Lyell Collection here in this blog, and at https://www.ed.ac.uk/information-services/library-museum-gallery/crc/the-sir-charles-lyell-collection

This talk is part of the Carlyle Circle 30th Anniversary online exhibition. The Carlyle Circle was formed in 1990 and in 2020 it celebrates three decades of impact, highlighting the many ways legacy giving has supported opportunities for world-leading teaching and research.

Instructions to join this free talk will go out to all attendees in advance of the online event. We welcome any who are interested, and look forward to seeing you.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/mapping-a-remarkable-life-a-virtual-introduction-to-the-lyell-collection-tickets-129715619911

From the Stores #1: Packing List for Fieldwork

Elise Ramsay, Project Archivist, holding an open scientific notebook and smiling

Elise Ramsay at work in the stores

Progress in the Lyell project has taken a giant leap these last two weeks thanks to two developments. Firstly, physical work in the stores where the collection is secured at the University Main Library has been deemed safe, if approached with new procedures, which has meant I have been able to access the collection in person for the first time since March 10th. This has meant the first stage of rapid capture and transcription of Lyell’s indexes has begun. This level of detail will make for rich metadata in the catalogue, and eventually allow researchers to search across the notebooks by subject matter. Thus the need for a new series of blog posts, released each week on Tuesday, where I can highlight all the discoveries I made in working with the collection!

Secondly, I am so excited that Nicky Monroe, a former History of the Book student, has agreed to volunteer on the project remotely. He will be transcribing these indexes and researching Lyell’s life for extra context in the catalogue. We will hear about his progress and discoveries in the collection in the coming weeks!

From my time in the stores last week, I captured this fantastic packing list, inscribed by Lyell in the earliest notebook we have of his, from 1825. During this time he would have been balancing his fondness for geology with his law work, which is reflected in the organisation of this notebook. The first half is brief notes on cases, mainly tenancy law and divorce cases. The second half begins from the back of the notebook, and reverse orientation compared to the first half, where Lyell writes notes from a Geology lecture he attended April 29 1825.

 

It is during this time, while he struggled with his law practice and his eyesight, that he invested more in geological field trips, often with visiting gentleman scientists. In the early summer of 1824 Lyell and Prevost travel from London to Bristol and Land’s End, ending up at Lyme Regis when Mary Anning made her great discovery of two complete Ichthyosauri. (Bailey, 1962) In the autumn, Lyell focuses on his Scottish roots, living at the Kinnordy estate and hosting William Buckland (his geology tutor from Oxford) to venture to Stonehaven, Aberdeen, Elgin, and Inverness to Brora; then back to Inverness and, after a quick jaunt to Brora, south by Blair Atholl, Glen Tilt, Perth, and Kinnordy to Edinburgh. Throughout these journeys, they were  “comfortably interlarded with breakfasts and dinners without end”, stopping to see Sir James Hall near St. Abb’s Head, and twice at the Jameson’s. (Lyell and Lyell, 2019) I would bet that this packing list would have been in preparation for any of these foundational field trips. Stay tuned for Tuesday next week when another installment will be published!

 

References

Bailey, E., 1962. Charles Lyell. Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd.

Lyell, C. and Lyell, K., 2019. Life, Letters And Journals Of Sir Charles Lyell, Bart. Alpha Editions.

Thank you Friends

Friends of the National Libraries

Friends of Edinburgh University Library

The University of Edinburgh’s Lyell archives continue to grow, thanks to the support of our generous friends. The Friends of the National Libraries and the Friends of Edinburgh University Library united to help us acquire a fascinating Lyell family album of 118 letters and 57 portraits.

 

The album’s correspondents are quirkily described as “Divines, metaphysicians and philologists.” They date from 1805 to 1899 and include letters from Charles Kingsley, Samuel Wilberforce, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer and Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm.

Lyell album of letters and portraits

The correspondence appears to be mainly unpublished and will be an important resource for researchers seeking to understand the vital social, scientific and intellectual network of Sir Charles Lyell and his extended family.

The album cost $22,000 from an American dealer and was supported by a £10,000 from the Friends of the National Libraries and £500 from the Friends of Edinburgh University. The album’s contents will join his notebooks and other archives as part of our ambitious Creating Charles Lyell’s World Online project. The ongoing support of our many Friends deserves our heartfelt and warm thanks.

David McClay, Philanthropy Manager, Library & University Collections

david.mcclay@ed.ac.uk  

July was a busy month for the Sir Charles Lyell Collection, and the Centre for Research Collections.

After much planning and advice, the CRC passed inspection, and we opened again for University of Edinburgh researchers on 8 July with new ways of working, but offering access to our collections once again. This has also meant that we were able to welcome in new acquisitions whose delivery was paused during the nation’s lockdown. Which means, at long last, we are able to share the news of a very exciting addition of papers, correspondence, and rare manuscripts to the University’s Sir Charles Lyell Collection.

Rachel Hosker assists with off-loading the material in auction boxes, and moving them to be condition checked by Katherine Richardson.

This new collection includes over 900 letters to and from Sir Charles Lyell (including additional letters from Darwin, Joseph Dalton Hooker, John Murray, etc.); intimate correspondence between Lyell and his wife, Mary Horner Lyell, and his wider family; autograph manuscripts of a number of lectures delivered both in the United States and in the United Kingdom; a part of the autograph manuscript of Principles of Geology; maps commissioned for lectures and publications; and heavily annotated editions of Principles of Geology and other works marked up for later editions. This additional collection was allocated to the University of Edinburgh Library in 2020 by HM Government under the Acceptance in Lieu of Inheritance Scheme, from the estate of the 3rd Baron Lyell.

Daryl Green, Head of Special Collections, inspects a hand-drawn geological map of Kinnordy Estate and its district from the newly acquired Sir Charles Lyell archive. A drawing of Charles Lyell is projected on a screen behind Daryl. Photo © David Cheskin

Daryl Green, Head of Special Collections, inspects a hand-drawn geological map of Kinnordy Estate and its district from the newly acquired Sir Charles Lyell archive. Photo © David Cheskin

Daryl Green, our Head of Special Collections and Deputy Director of the CRC, has had a chance to have an initial dive into this collection in order to check its inventory and gauge its quality. Here’s some initial reactions:

“Having arrived in March to my new post as Head of Special Collections, one of my first tasks was to oversee the transfer of this material from its holding location in London to the University. Lockdown prevented our best laid plans, however, and the Acceptance in Lieu material finally arrived on a warm and quiet day mid-July. Sifting through this material in an initial ‘getting to know you’ session, I was struck at how thorough the correspondence archive was. There are folder and folders of correspondence with Charles Bunbury, Joseph Dalton Hooker, John Murray and many others, but also transcripts of letters going out that were copied by one of Lyell’s sister-in-laws, Katherine Murray Lyell. Here, too, is a lifetime of correspondence between Charles and Mary Horner Lyell, from initial courting, to full blown intellectual romance, to letters later in life. 

Detail of a letter to Sir Charles Bunbury from the newly acquired Sir Charles Lyell archive. Stamped envelope, with address, black script handwriting on aged paper.

Letters from Sir Charles Lyell to his fiancée, Mary Horner, from the newly acquired Sir Charles Lyell archive. Photo © David Cheskin

As I sorted through folders I came across diagrams for how Lyell wanted his lecture theatre laid out for his tour of the States, I found hand-drawn maps and illustrations, both by Lyell and commissioned from others, including alluring diagrams, a gorgeous watercolour map of Etna, and a huge geological map of the Kinnordy Estate and its district.

Detail of a hand-drawn map of Mount Etna from the newly acquired Sir Charles Lyell archive.

 “This archive is by all accounts an amazing resource in its own regard.”

Letters upon letters between geologists, students, and admirers have all been beautifully preserved and organized by the Lyell family, and included in the archive was some of the work done by a member of the Lyell family in the 20thcentury to track down and copy correspondence, especially between Lyell and Charles Darwin, which had ended up in other collections. This archive is by all accounts an amazing resource in its own regard and, when paired with the notebooks, the further archive material, the publications and the geological samples, gives a more complete picture of how science was conducted in the 19th century than any other archive I am aware of.”

Conservation and archival description work is ongoing in order to provide public access to this collection. To support these activities and digitisation, read more here.

NEW Further Charles Lyell Papers

Notebook No. 4 Update

During this lockdown, the Lyell Project has been able to continue enhancing metadata, despite having no access to the Lyell notebooks, thanks to some quick digitisation done by the amazing team at the DIU prior to lockdown. We’ve been working quite a bit with Notebook No. 4, from 1827, when Lyell was balancing his two callings; the law and geology. In 1825 his eyesight was no longer ailing him as it had been years previously, and following his father’s wishes, he was called to the bar and joined the Western Circuit for two years. But during this time, as we can see from the Notebook, he also maintained fervent correspondence with fellow geologists, read the works of George Poulett Scrope, and Lamarck, and thereby fostered a great curiosity for the volcanic Auvergne region in France. In 1825 he joined Scrope as a Secretary to the Geological Society, and contributed frequently to the Quarterly Review (published by John Murray, the archive of issues are available with EASE access here).

This notebook is a fascinating look into this dichotomy Lyell was facing; pages constantly change between matters of law and geology. He expresses great passion and opinion on both, but his notes concerning law and society are often tinged with a sense of discontentedness, whereas his entries on geology are mostly “Queries” about the properties of geological phenomena, or discussions on how he disagrees with a recently published position.

Another curious element in this notebook is the inclusion of citations to works by Dante, namely Dante’s Inferno. These appear often among entries on other subject, and without explanation. Clearly, this an excellent area of research, as we know Lyell’s father was a great scholar on Dante.

That’s all for today’s update! Explore Notebook No. 4 for yourself here!

For more information about the Lyell notebooks, see Lyell Rocks! Saving & Sharing the Charles Lyell Notebooks

The Not-So-Lonely Lockdown of the Transcribing Geologists

Lockdown may seem frustrating and tiresome to some, but it has made space for a few spontaneous and unexpected collaborations!

Over the last month with many “physical” tasks on hold, I have been able to peruse the sections of the Lyell notebooks which were digitised before the introduction of social distancing and the subsequent shut down of the University buildings. And far from being a lonely task – the notebooks have proven to be one of the most social activities I have ever worked on! As it turns out Twitter has a host of geologists, curators, PhD students, as well as academics in subjects ranging from the ideals of Victorian masculinity, to geomorphology… all just waiting to chip in their thoughts on what exactly Charles Lyell was thinking – and its more than likely they are all there because lockdown has disrupted their regular routines.

Now before we start, admittedly there have been some criticism of the notebooks. There is a much more standardised approach to how people “do” notebooks these days, especially in the field: Sketches must have an orientation, a scale bar and some annotation. So there have been a few comments that Sir Charles wouldn’t score very highly if he were an undergraduate summiting his work for assessment.

As a founder of modern geology, it’s important to note how the science has evolved since then, incorporating standards of which Lyell certainly would approve. A very generous statement on twitter from Professor Simon Mudd (@SimonMariusMudd), School of GeoSciences:

“I haven’t spent much time with these notebooks, but from what I have seen this (see sketch below) is the typical quality of the sketches. He was more of a ‘big ideas’ rather than ‘detailed sketches’ type of person.”

Lyell’s oversights in these areas, however, has not been too great an impediment for lively debate, especially when the diagram seems to be a bit of a mystery.

Last week I posted this sketch from notebook 4 on Twitter.

What is it?!? Is it rivers? Oxbow lakes? Waves crashing onto the shore of… Norfolk?

Cue a volley of guesses:

“A Sea-serpent?”

“You are all so wrong, it says “Loch Ness” and here, in the middle, you have Nessy…”

“Was he just bored and doodling??”

So it is true – nothing is sacred to the internet – not even one of the founding fathers of geology’s notebook!

But with the fun came a conclusion: this illustration in Notebook 4 is likely a map of sand banks off the Norfolk coast. Lo and behold, Andy Emery, the geomorphist, produced a map!

And YES – The sketch maybe isn’t as inaccurate as we had initially thought! But how did Lyell know what the submarine landscape off the coast of Norfolk look like in 1827?

There is a good chance that local fisher men would have known about these features, as they are shallower and depending on tides and currents, they might have been the best place to go fishing… or the worst place to run your boat aground.

Another of our online-super-sleuths, Jonny Scafidi (@jonafushi),  messaged to say “On p.308 of Principles of Geology he mentions a Captain Hewett, R. N. who, according to p.56 of Memoirs of Hydrography, Volume 1 by Commander L.S. Dawson R.N. undertook a great survey of the N. Sea”. Most of Captain Hewett’s surveys where completed in the 1830’s but there is mention of a survey in 1822 – 5 years before Lyell sketched this diagram in his book. So it is possible Lyell had access to some surveys.

We will never know for certain where Lyell got the information that inspired this sketch. But what we can prove is that social media can be used to explore a whole array of different angles when investigating historical notebooks!

Stay tuned for more exciting installments of #TranscriptionTime over at @CockburnGeol and try your hand at deciphering the thoughts of historical scientists and collectors.

Thanks to the Science twitterati who helped with this mystery between 9.27am and 10.33am on 24th April:

Andy Emery (@AndyDoggerBank) – RA in Energy Transition, School of Earth & Environment, University of Leeds

Jonny Scafidi (@jonafushi) – PhD candidate, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh

Simon Mudd (@SimonMariusMudd) – Professor of Geomorphology, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh

John Faithfull (@FaithfullJohn) – Curator, Hunterian Museum & Art Gallery

Dan Hobley (@Siccar_Point) – Lecturer, School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Cardiff Univeristy

Rich Taylor (@RockhoundRich) – Geoscience Applications Development at ZEISS Microscopy

Mikael Attal (@mickymicky06s) – Senior lecturer in Geomorphology, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh

 

Dr. Gillian McCay

Curator, Cockburn Museum

@CockburnGeol