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THE Author of the following Letters takes the liberty, with all proper deference, of laying before the public his idea of parochial history, which, he thinks, ought to consist of natural productions and occurrences as well as antiquities. He is of opinion that if stationary men would pay some attention to the districts on which they reside, and would publish their thoughts respecting the objects that surround them, from such materials might be drawn the most complete countyhistories, many of which are still wanting in several parts of this kingdom, and in particular in the county of Southampton.
And here he seizes the first opportunity, though a late one, of returning his most grateful acknowledgments to the reverend the President and the reverend and worthy the Fellows of Magdalen College in the university of Oxford, for their liberal behaviour in permitting their archives to be searched by a member of their own society, so far as the evidences therein contained might respect the parish and priory of Selborne. To that gentleman also, and his assistant, whose labours and attention could only be equalled by the very kind manner in which they were bestowed, many and great obligations are also due.
Of the authenticity of the documents above mentioned there can be no doubt, since they consist of the identical deeds and records that were removed to the College from the Priory at the time of its dissolution; and, being carefully copied on the spot, may be depended on as genuine; and, never having been made public before, they may gratify the curiosity of the antiquary, as well as establish the credit of the history.
If the writer should induce any of his readers to pay a more ready attention to the wonders of the Creation, too frequently overlooked as
common occurrences; or if he should by any means, through his researches, have lent an helping hand towards the enlargement of the boundaries of historical and topographical knowledge; or if he should have thrown some small light upon ancient customs and manners, and especially on those that were monastic; his purpose will be fully answered. But if he should not have been successful in any of these his intentions, yet there remains this consolation behind-that these his pursuits, by keeping the body and mind employed, have, under Providence, contributed to much health and cheerfulness of spirits, even to old age: and, what still adds to his happiness, have led him to the knowledge of a circle of gentlemen whose intelligent communications, as they have afforded him much pleasing information, so, could he flatter himself with a continuation of them, would they ever be deemed a matter of singular satisfaction and improvement.
Such is the modest address with which the author of the following pages ushered his interesting work into the world, and no apology can be necessary for adding a complete edition of the work to the many already before the public. In furnishing notes to the work, I have been actuated by a warm desire to induce all who may honour them with a perusal, to apply personally to the investigation of the beautiful works of creation, every where so lavishly bestowed for our contemplation. It was this object, on the part of the author, quite unalloyed by any expectations of celebrity, which originally led him to the publication of his most interesting series of letters; and the popularity of this unassuming volume abundantly testifies to the well-merited success which has already (it may well be presumed) more than crowned the most ardent hopes indulged in by this faithful historian of his native village. I fear the annotations to the natural history portion attest too evidently the want of sufficient leisure, and bear the impress of a mind harassed by conflicting occupations; but which cleaves to its favourite pursuit in defiance of every obstacle and interruption, and eagerly avails itself of every occasion to contribute a mite to the stock of general information.
Having committed an error, at page 75, in asserting that the Coast chaffer (Melolontha fallo) does not occur in Britain, I gladly seize the opportunity which here offers to contradict the statement; having been since informed that this fine beetle has been met with, in considerable abundance, in two or three localities along the southern coast. This species pertains to the same generic division as the com
mon May chaffer, so extremely plentiful throughout the British Islands.
I have been fortunate, too, in the course of subsequent researches, in aaving arrived at the true solution of a problem, which has greatly puzzled every natural historian; and have erroneously stated, at page 192, that the extraordinary habit of the cuckoo, in invariably entrusting its egg to the charge of other species of birds, "is not to be accounted for upon any structural peculiarity." Let it here suffice, that this depends primarily on a peculiarity of the vascular system (first intimated to me by my esteemed friend Mr. Yarrell), and more particularly on the comparative minuteness of those blood-vessels which supply the generative parts; in consequence of which-of the small portion of blood thereto determinated-these organs, as well as the egg, are most disproportionately small for the size of the species; and, what is more to the present purpose, each successive egg requires a much longer time (I believe full two or three weeks) to attain its development; wherefore it is clear that under these circumstances the species could but ill manage to incubate its own. Let it be observed, that all the habits of this interesting bird are in accordance with the foregoing explanation of the structural cause of its peculiarities.
In submitting the various additional observations on British Natural History, interspersed through this volume, to the wished-for impartial judgment of the world, it is hoped that they will at least find favour for their originality. Should they prove to be of any assistance to those who are engaged in studying the natural productions of our island, my principal object in penning them will be amply recompensed.
For the interesting account of Selborne in its present state, we are indebted to the elegant pen of Mr. Mudie, whose enthusiasm in the cause of natural science led him to visit Selborne in the autumn of the present year. We are also indebted to Mr. Dixon, who visited the village in 1835, for some interesting notes to the Antiquities.