Other archivists’ notes

It’s not uncommon to find penciled notes on the materials I’m rehousing. Usually it’s something like the date or names of correspondents (expanded, clarified, or simply rendered more legible). Perfectly reasonable (though not something I’ve ever needed or brought myself to do) and usually transparent, but sometimes delightful.

A letter from Charles Lyell to John Stevens Henslow is a particularly entertaining example. “Botanist” is penciled beside Henslow’s name, “geologist” at the bottom of the page. A redundant “1832” is added next to the “Feb 15” following the text (itself a redundancy on the part of the author, as he had written out the full date at the top of the letter). There are a couple erasures (“early” and “15”) at the bottom of the page.

But best of all is the purely editorial comment penciled into the lower left-hand corner: “very nice letter.”

Ph balanced

I have been back at the APS as a part-timer for a couple of months, doing a lot of rehousing. Fare thee well, acidic folders! Rehousing collections goes very quickly when AT records are in good shape. I rehoused Murchison in a gratifyingly short time, and I am irrationally pleased to see the materials (admittedly, only about half a foot) sitting in upright boxes. And since I’m the one who did the AT data entry a few months ago, there was no one else to blame for typos.

I’m also irrationally pleased that I rehoused Lyell, as well as Murchison, given their intertwined careers. (More on that later…but to save you a trip to Wikipedia: Murchison, Tory imperialist, political animal, catastrophist (e.g. volcanoes did it) approach to geology; Lyell, democratic impulses, friend to Darwin*, uniformitarian (e.g. slow, non-sexy processes) approach to geology.) It’s easy to develop affection for these guys, even with less than a foot of materials.

* Somewhat entertainingly, there is precisely one item in the Lyell collection that merited a mylar sleeve: a not-terribly-compelling letter to Darwin about a ₤25 pledge. Presumably the letter was displayed at some point, and it’s almost certain that said display was devoted to Darwin. A chunk of Lyell material was moved to the Darwin collection; had it been more interesting, this letter presumably would be there as well. On the one hand, this makes perfect sense. I mean, Darwin. A nineteenth century scientist everybody knows, and for good reason. One of the jewels in the APS crown. On the other hand, I feel sort of bad for Lyell, whose career was legitimately impressive for many reasons, not simply because he happened to be a correspondent of Darwin’s.