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Twenty-Two Years After… In 2022

The fittest does not go to the brink of extinction, but survives against all the odds!

This was mentioned in one of the notebooks of Charles Robert Darwin (February 12, 1809 – April 19, 1882), the English naturalist, geologist and biologist of the 19th Century. Two such notebooks, worth millions of pounds, recently returned to their original place after more than two decades.

The notebooks were found to be missing in 2001 (Photograph: Cambridge University Library)

In the second week of April 2022, the University of Cambridge confirmed that the two notebooks, which went missing 21 years ago, found their places at the University Library, yet again. However, the University Authorities have no information about the benefactor who returned the two notebooks, containing some important notes and sketches. Hence, the development remains a mystery.

The notebooks were left in a pink gift bag outside the librarian’s office (Photograph: Cambridge University Library)

Whoever returned the notebooks to the university seems to have proved once again that the fittest would always survive. The University of Cambridge has issued a statement, saying that the person left Darwin’s notebooks in a pink packet near the library office on March 9, 2022. According to the statement, those notebooks still remain as they were 21 years ago. The person, who returned the wealth of civilisation to the university hiding own identity, has also exhibited her/his sense of humour. The person left a brown envelope on which it was written: Librarian/Happy Easter/X. The identity of the person, who wished the librarian a Happy Easter, is still unknown. The University Authorities have stated that as there is no CCTV in that area, it is difficult to identify that person.

The anonymous person who dropped the notebooks left a cryptic note (Photograph: Cambridge University Library)

Darwin had sketched the Tree of Life or Universal Tree of Life as a metaphor to explain the evolution of life and to describe the relationships between organisms, both living and extinct, in 1837. The sketch, too, had gone missing two decades ago. However, it has also been returned to the university. It may be noted that someone left notebooks and other writings of Darwin near the Librarian’s Office on the fourth floor of the 17-storey library building. As this area is not frequented by visitors, the concerned authorities have not installed CCTV there. Incidentally, those documents were kept in that area of the library in 2001. In that year, the library officials discovered that Darwin’s notebooks had gone missing. Initially, they thought that the notebooks were there in the shelves with more than 10 million books housed in the library. However, it was not the case.

Darwin’s seminal Tree of Life sketch, headed with the words ‘I think’ (Photograph: Cambridge University Library)

In 2017, Dr Jessica Pearsall Gardner became the Director of Library Services at University of Cambridge. She was the first person to inform the Police in writing that all those valuable assets had been stolen from the library. The Police immediately launched an investigation, and also notified the Interpol that those valuable documents could be sold in foreign markets. Finally, the University Authorities announced at the Cambridge Constabulary in 2020 that the notebooks of Darwin were no longer in the library, and they had been stolen. One and a half years after the Constabulary, they mysteriously returned to the university.

Dr Gardner

Meanwhile, Dr Gardner has informed the media that she kept those materials at the Darwin Archive, which is situated next to the Archives of Sir Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking. “My sense of relief at the notebooks’ safe return is profound and almost impossible to adequately express. I, along with so many others, all across the world, was heartbroken to learn of their loss,” she told the press. “The notebooks can now retake their rightful place alongside the rest of the Darwin Archive at Cambridge, at the heart of the nation’s cultural and scientific heritage, alongside the Archives of Sir Isaac Newton and Professor Stephen Hawking,” added Dr Gardner. She further stressed that visitors could visit the Darwin Archive after July 2022.

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