The Letters of Thomas Pennant

“I cannot sufficiently admire your communicative disposition, in so kindly sending the sketch of the curious fish taken on yr coast. Instead of receiving yr apology for troubling me as you are pleased to style, accept my best thanks for the favor done me, & let me beg the continuance.”
Thomas Pennant to George Paton of Edinburgh, January, 1771

One of the main tasks of the Curious Travellers project will be to make available for the first time an online database of the letters of Thomas Pennant, revealing the intriguing stories behind the planning, writing and publication of his tours in Scotland and Wales. As well as drawing on his own experiences as a traveller, Pennant constructed his tours from information fed to him by a vast network of friends, experts, and local sources; he prepared his works for the press and revised those he had previously published by gathering rich stores of textual and visual material. However, the scattered distribution of Pennant’s letters among various archives and libraries has meant that the insights they offer into the creation of his tours—as well as the scientific, antiquarian, artistic, and literary cultures of the eighteenth century—have remained largely inaccessible.

As the Curious Travellers project progresses, our team will be busy locating, cataloguing an estimated 3,000 letters. Thanks to our partnership with the Oxford Cultures of Knowledge Project, metadata gathered from Pennant’s correspondence will be made publically accessible through the Early Modern Letters Online (EMLO) database. Users will be able to explore the vast social web which Pennant drew upon as an author and collector, and place his work within the broader context of eighteenth-century epistolary culture, revealed by the EMLO catalogue and its accompanying analytical tools.

The Curious Travellers project will also transcribe an extensive selection of Pennant’s letters, which we will make available as a free electronic resource. As well as shedding fresh light on Pennant’s travels and the preparation of his tours for the press, this aspect of our project will be of interest to those working in a wide range of fields: Pennant’s letters reflect the scope of his tours, bringing together correspondents within the British Isles and beyond to discuss subjects as diverse as natural history, the book trade, antiquarianism, visual culture and topography. At the same time, the letters offer us a window onto the excitements and practicalities encountered by Pennant and his fellow ‘curious travellers’.

Pennant’s Letters Online

The breadth and diversity of Pennant’s activities and interests as a traveller and naturalist mean that his letters are often encountered by those researching his contemporaries and associates. Thanks to these projects, some of Pennant’s correspondence is already accessible online, and can be found at the links below.

The Linnean Society of London has provided high-quality digital facsimiles of letters between Pennant and Carl Linnaeus, which can be viewed by searching for Pennant’s name or browsing senders and recipients.

The Linnean Society has also digitised letters between Pennant and the Natural Historian and Linnean Society President Sir James Edward Smith.

The Early Modern Letters Online catalogue has records for around 180 letters to and from Pennant, which can be explored through his profile.

A number of letters to Pennant are included in the Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence.

These links will be updated as and when more correspondence comes to light, so please feel free to contact us if you know of any resources which should be added to the list.