Artefact of the month - February 2009
Letters from Charles Darwin to PL Sclater, Secretary of ZSL, dated 1870-1871
These are a set of letters from that most famous of figures in science, Charles Darwin. Elected a Fellow of ZSL in 1831, Darwin was also a member of Council from 1839 until 1841. He was a frequent visitor to the Zoological Gardens, and his observations of many of the animals informed his work.
He consulted with a number of ZSL staff including the Superintendent Abraham Dee Bartlett (famed for wearing a top hat around the Zoo) and with zoo keepers who gave him information for his books.
Darwin also corresponded with the Secretary of ZSL, Philip Lutley Sclater. Being a bird specialist, it was to Sclater that Darwin turned when he needed the scientific bird names in one of his books checked. In a letter dated 4 November 1870, Darwin wrote to Sclater: "I have a most unfortunate weakness, though I strive against it, to copy proper names incorrectly."
Also in a later letter: "You will save me from making many disgraceful misspellings ... "
On 4 January 1871 he wrote: "You will never know what a load of anxiety you have taken from my mind, as I feared I might have fallen with endless blunders ... Heaven knows whether a book is worth one quarter of the labour which it has cost me."
You are very welcome to visit the Library and see the Darwin letters, which are currently on display.
Visiting the Library
If you are a member of ZSL, please bring your ZSL membership card when visiting the Library. If you are not a member you will need to show proof of address and photographic ID.
Although much of the Library is open access, an appointment is needed to view historic archives and photographs. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to make an appointment.