« PreviousContinue »
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 neighbour
hood 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
“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.-Volney'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 injurious, seeding, as would furnish an annual and ample supply for the largest city. Though agriculture has of late been attended to, still he would be one of the greatest benefactors to his countrymen in general, who would convince them that the richest mine of national wealth lies within six inches of the surface, and who would teach them the most advantageous method of working it.
“On the whole, we will pronounce that the inquirers into natural knowledge will find Mr. White to be no unequal successor of Ray and Derham; and that the History of the Priory is a curious tract of local antiquity. We should not hesitate to speak so favourably of this work even though it had much less rural anecdote and literary allusion to recommend it."
Having given this short account of a part of Gilbert White's family, we will proceed to an account of the Naturalist himself.
He received his education at Basingstoke, under the Rev. Thomas Warton, vicar of that town, and the father of those two distinguished literary characters, Dr. Joseph Warton, Master of Winchester School, and Mr. Thomas Warton, Professor of Poetry at Oxford. He was admitted at Oriel College in December, 1739, and took his degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1743. In March, 1744, he was elected Fellow of his College. He became Master of Arts in October, 1746, and served the office of Proctor, which he did to the great surprise of his family, as they thought it would not suit his habits; but he is said to have performed his duties ably. It is probable, however, that he was more observant of the swallows in the Christchurch meadows, than of the under-graduates in High-street. He had frequent opportunities of accepting College livings, but his fondness for his native village-his love of the country and its pursuits, and especially that of Natural History-made him decline all
preferment. There can be no doubt that the “shades of old Selborne, so lovely and sweet,” were peculiarly well adapted for the observations of a lover of nature; and here Mr. White passed his days either in correspondence with, or in the society of, amiable friends, and closed them in the 73rd year of his age, on the 26th of June, 1793.
Mr. White in his earlier days was much attached to Miss Mulso (afterwards Mrs. Chapone), whose brother was his most intimate friend, and between them a most interesting and amusing series of letters took place. These letters would have been well worth publishing, and it was intended that this should be done; but when Mr. Mulso's son was applied to for Mr. White's correspondence, the mortifying answer was returned that they had all been destroyed. Mr. Mulso's letters, we understand, are still remaining.
It should be mentioned, on the authority of one of his nephews, and it may well be imagined, that Gilbert White's habits were very temperate, and his temper cheerful and social. He was often surrounded by his nephews and nieces, and visited by the respectable gentry of his neighbourhood. His pleasing manners were duly appreciated by them all. As long as his health allowed him, he always attended the annual election of Fellows at Oriel College, where the gentlemen commoners were allowed the use of the common-room after dinner. This liberty they seldom availed themselves of, except on the occasion of Mr. White's visits ; for such was his happy, and, indeed, inimitable manner of relating an anecdote and telling a story, that the room was always filled when he was there. Not very long after the publication of his “Selborne,” Dr. Scrope Beardmore, the then Warden of Merton College, made the following striking observation to a nephew of Mr. White's, from whom the Editor received the anecdote, and which has proved singularly prophetic :