Friday, 4 November 2016

In the Margins. Comments on zoologists in London’s Natural History Museum

The Newsletters and Journals of the Society for the History of Natural History usually make a good read. The December 2015 Newsletter contains a short article by Geoff Moore on a second-hand copy of A Century of Zoology by A.E. Gunther published in 1975. It contained a number of observations written in the margin in pencil. The book had belonged to Bernard James Clifton (1914-200) who had been entomology librarian at the Natural History Museum from 1947 until 1974. The comments Moore quotes range from the highly derogatory to the sarcastic. I will limit myself to passing on two. The first is on Francis Jeffrey Bell (1855-1924), an assistant at the museum from 1978 to 1919, and Professor of Comparative Anatomy at King’s College, London from 1879 until 1896: Bell used to change his clothes when he went home to lunch! He was also greeted by his assistant with a copy of The Times—bought by the latter!


The second is a comment on a section of the book dealing with recruitment to the Museum, Clifton added …up till 1939 only Public School* people with degrees from Oxford, Cambridge & Edinburgh were acceptable. Can only remember 2 exceptions.

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*I have to explain to non-UK readers that ‘public’ schools are open to the public but not paid for from the public purse. They are the top private schools open only to those with a great deal of money.