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A SHORT BIOGRAPHY

OF

THE REV. GILBERT WHITE.

It is impossible for any one to read that charming book, “The Natural History of Selbourne," or Selborne, as it is now generally spelt, without wishing to know something of its author, the Rev. GILBERT WHITE. We regret, however, that from his secluded habits in his favourite village, and the monotony of his life, little is known of him. That little we will now lay before our readers, which we are the better enabled to do from having had in our possession for some years the Diaries of Mr. White, which he kept with great care and neatness. From these Diaries, a pretty correct idea may be formed of Mr. White’s habits of life. It is evident that he was strongly attached to the charms of rural life, and the tranquillity afforded by his favourite village, where he spent the greater part of his time in literary occupations, and especially in the study of nature.”

Gilbert White was born at Selborne, at the house where he afterwards lived and died, on the 18th of July, 1720. This house was then the residence of his grandmother, his father residing at Compton, in Surrey. Gilbert White's father was the grandson of Sir Sampson White (knighted by Charles the Second, on his coronation), to whose memory a handsome monument is placed in St. Mary's Church, Oxford.

In the year 1731, his father came to Selborne to reside, when Gilbert White was eleven years

of

age. His father, John White, was the only son of Gilbert White, vicar of Selborne, and married Anne, only child of the Rev. Thomas Holt, rector of Streatham, in Surrey. Mr. John White was a barrister of the Middle Temple, but did not practise after his marriage. Gilbert, and three of his brothers, Thomas, John, and Henry, all much interested in the study of Natural History, were probably indebted to their father for their early lessons in their favourite pursuits. The brickpath at the back of the house, in the paddock, at Selborne, was laid down by him upwards of a century since, that in his old age he might be able to walk into his field in the early morning without wetting his feet. It remains to this day; the bricks having been double-burned especially for

He desired in his will that no monument should be erected to him, “not desiring to have his name recorded, save in the book of life.”

Every thing relating to the family of Gilbert White must be interesting. His father was born in 1688, and died in 1759. And of his brothers, one of them, Thomas, was a Fellow of the Royal Society. To him, Gilbert was indebted for very many suggestions for his work; and to his influence the public owe whatever pleasure they may have derived from its perusal, as it was only with much persuasion that the philosopher of Selborne could be induced to pass through the ordeal of criticism, having a great dread of reviewers.

This dread was in some degree removed by his brother

this purpose.

Thomas undertaking to give a review of his work in the “Gentleman's Magazine,” in which periodical it appeared in the year

1789. The following extract from it may interest our readers :

"Contemplative persons see with regret the country more and more deserted every day, as they know that every wellregulated family of property, which quits a village to reside in a town, injures the place that is forsaken in many material circumstances. It is with pleasure, therefore, we observe, that so rational an employment of leisure time as the study of nature, promises to become popular; since whatever adds to the number of rural amusements, and consequently counteracts the allurements of the metropolis, is,, on this consideration, of national importance.

“ Most of the local histories which have fallen into our hands have been taken up with descriptions of the vestiges of ancient art and industry, while natural observations have been too much neglected. But we agree with Mr. White in his idea of parochial history, which, he thinks, ought to consist of natural productions and occurrences, as well as antiquities: for antiquities, when once surveyed, seldom recal further attention, and are confined to one spot; whereas the pleasures of the naturalist continue through the year, return with unabated attractions every spring, and may be extended over the kingdom. “Mr. White is the gentleman who some years ago

favoured the world with a monography of the British Hirundines, published in the Philosophical Transactions, which we reviewed in a former volume. It is now reprinted, and the same sagacity of observation runs through the work before us.

*

“ The sliding down of a hill into a valley, in the neighbourhood of Selborne, gives the writer an opportunity of applying the succeeding apt passage from "The Cyder' of John Philips :

Who knows but that once more
This mount may journey, and, his present site
Forsaken, to thy neighbour's bounds transfer
Thy goodly plants, affording matter strange
For law debates ?

“Whether the poet alludes to any actual suit commenced in

consequence of such an event, we are ignorant; but this quotation reminds us of a real litigation in Syria, between the owner of a hill and the possessor of some land in the adjoining dale, which was overwhelmed by its lapse. The Emir Yousef, before whom the cause was brought, finding the travelling of mountains, we suppose, to be a casus omissus in the Koran (the civil as well as religious code of the Mahometans), decided in a manner satisfactory to all parties, by generously making good the losses of both plaintiff and defendant.—Dolney's Travels, chap. 20.

“ Letter 53 contains a curious account of the Coccus vitis vinifera, an insect very pernicious to vines in southern climates. The vine, having no plants indigenous to England of the same genus, remains here free from the ravages of insects, except in this instance; though our other kinds of wall-fruit, which have been introduced from warmer climates are annoyed with the insects of the congenerous native plants. This writer is, we believe, the first who has described it scientifically as found in this country. But we apprehend that enthusiastic gardener, Sir William Temple, a century ago, complains of this nuisance as infesting his exotics. -Works, vol. 3, p. 209, 8vo, 1757.

“ If this author should be thought by any to have been too minute in his researches, be it remembered that his studies have been in the great book of nature. It must be confessed, that the economy of the several kinds of crickets, and the distinction between the stock-dove and the ringdove, are humble pursuits, and will be esteemed trivial by many; perhaps by some to be objects of ridicule. However, before we condemn any pursuits which contribute so much to health by calling us abroad, let us consider how the studious have employed themselves in their closets. In a former century, the minds of the learned were engaged in determining whether the name of the Roman poet should be spelt Vergilius or Virgilius; and the number of letters in the name of Shakespear still remains a matter of much solicitude and criticism. Nor can we but think that the conjectures about the migration of Hirundines are fully as interesting as the Chattertonian controversy.

“We could have wished that this gentleman had uniformly, as he has frequently, used the Linnæan names. No naturalist can now converse intelligibly in any other language than that of the celebrated Swede. And impartiality compels us to say, that we are disappointed in not finding a particular account of the tillage of the district where Selborne is situate. A person with this writer's patient observation would have made many remarks highly valuable. Men of intelligence, like him, are wanted to promote an intimacy between the library and the plough. The man of books sees many errors which he supposes he could correct; while the practical cultivator laughs at the essays of the theorist. Much the greater part of renting farmers are prevented, by their anxiety to wind the bottom round the year, from engaging in experiments; and many think it nearly criminal to deviate from the practice of their forefathers; so that, at this day, it remains for gentlemen of property and enlarged minds to determine whether it is best to sow three bushels of wheat, or one, on an acre of land. In other words, whether there be not as much corn yearly wasted by superfluous, perhaps

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