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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.
January 1st, 1788.
`HERE is a singular parallel in the popularity of the two old books, the "Complete Angler" of Isaac Walton, and the "Natural History of Selborne," by the Rev. Gilbert White. This popularity has gone on steadily increasing in both cases, until both books are of that class which everyone has read or is supposed to have read, or, with reference to the coming generation of readers, ought to read. The cause of the esteem in which the two books are held is mainly the same. Honest, manly, and godly in their tone, simple and clear in their style, with no ostentation, clearness and accuracy of observation in those subjects which each particularly affected, and with the charm of enthusiasm, and enthusiasm with respect to the glorious "out of doors," they are models for all succeeding writers on kindred subjects. The Editor of this Volume, when a boy, wrote almost his first essay on White and Walton, little thinking at the time that he would ever have the pleasure of editing both books for the series in which this appears.
The temptation which besets any Naturalist author who undertakes to edit such a work as this, is to use it as a line on which to hang out his own knowledge of Natural History. Such a course, though pleasant to oneself, is not fair to the original Author. The present Editor has done his best to limit the use of notes (a nuisance at the best) to as few as might be consistent with the
present advanced state of knowledge, not forgetting the Publishers' kindly warning that "the Editor should not make himself of more moment than the original author." Where notes appear at the foot of a page they are White's own. Those at the end of each chapter are by the Editor.
The village of Selborne presents no more special features of interest nor greater facilities for the study of Natural History than hundreds of other of our charming English villages; and it is the patient and close observation by one man of the natural world around him which has given it a name above its fellows. The general features of it do not vary very much from the time of White; and any description of it here would only challenge comparison with the close description of it given by the Author; but of the author himself we may tell all we know, for in his modesty he has told us nothing.
The materials for a sketch of White's life are singularly scanty. He kept no personal diary, and left no portrait of himself. In an edition of his book published in 802, nine years after his death, his brother John wrote the following short sketch of his life.
"Gilbert White was the eldest son of John White of Selborne, Esq., and of Anne, the daughter of Thomas Holt, rector of Streatham in Surrey. He was born at Selborne on July 18th, 1720; and received his school education at Basingstoke, under the Rev. Thomas Warton, vicar of that place, and father of those two distinguished literary characters, Dr. Joseph Warton, master of Winchester school; and Mr. Thomas Warton, poetry-professor at Oxford. He was admitted at Oriel College, Oxford, in December, 1739, and took his degree of Bachelor of Arts in June, 1743. In March, 1744, he was elected fellow of his college. He became Master of Arts in October, 1746, and was admitted as one of the senior proctors of the University in April, 1752. Being of an unambitious temper, and strongly attached to the charms of rural
scenery, he early fixed his residence in his native village, where he spent the greater part of his life in literary occupations, and especially in the study of nature. This he followed with a patient assiduity, and a mind ever open to the lessons of piety and benevolence, which such a study is so well calculated to afford. Though several occasions offered of settling upon a college living, he could never persuade himself to quit the beloved spot, which was indeed a peculiarly happy situation for an observer. He was much esteemed by a select society of intelligent and worthy friends, to whom he paid occasional visits. Thus his days passed tranquil and serene, with scarcely any other vicissitudes than those of the seasons, till they closed at a mature age on June 26th, 1793."
White was the eldest of the eleven children which followed the union of John White and Anne his wife. Eight of them grew up; but the only one which calls for mention now was Benjamin, who became a publisher, his specialité being works on Natural History, and he it was who published his brother's book.
Gilbert White was ordained a deacon when he was twenty-seven and priest when he was twenty-nine, years old. In 1755, he being thirty-five years old, he took up his residence with his father at Selborne; and on his father's death in 1758, he became the occupier of the house, and shortly afterwards the owner, and there he lived until his death. He had a curacy at Faringdon, an adjoining parish, until 1784, when he became curate of Selborne. He several times refused livings which were offered to him, though he accepted one which required neither residence, service, nor attention on his part, the duties being performed by others. White had a sufficiency of income to enable him to live a quiet and comfortable life in the old house at Selborne. He was never married; but this was from no lack of good qualities on his part, for he was an affectionate and kind brother, uncle, and neighbour. He is described as being a pleasant little man, brisk in manner and