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ADVERTISEMENT TO ORIGINAL EDITION.
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 also 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 county-histories, 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, may gratify the curiosity of the antiquary, as well as establish the credit of the history.
If the writer should at all appear to have induced 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.
In agreeing to the request of the proprietors of the National Ilustrated Library, to give my assistance to their present edition of the “Natural History of Selborne,” I have felt that there was a danger of making repetitions, and a difficulty of adding much that was new to a work which had been printed in so many forms, and had been of late years so much written about. But the wish to extend among a new generation of readers the knowledge of a book which, in the opinion of every one, is well fitted for the perusal of young persons, and is a valuable record and example how the leisure hours of a country clergyman may be profitably and innocently employed, induced me to comply. There was also the desire to make some corrections incident to our more recent information on what I had already written in a previous edition, and to explain that several editions which bore my name were accompanied with some notes, and by illustrations with which I had nothing whatever to do. In 1829, when Mr. Constable had proceeded so far with his “ Miscellany,” I was requested to read over and add some notes explanatory of various passages in “Selborne,” which he then proposed to publish in his collection. To this I agreed, and that edition, with a few supplementary notes added to the volume in Mr. Bohn's “Standard Library," are all with which I have had any connection whatever.
There is perhaps no work of the same class that has gone through more editions than White's Selborne. It originally appeared in 1789, four years before the author's death, in the then fashionable quarto size; an octavo edition in two volumes, was published under the charge of Dr. Aitkin in 1802, to which various observations were added from White's journals ; and a second quarto edition was again published in 1813, with notes by the Rev. John Mitford, several of which are copied into the present volume; after these, the edition projected and published by Constable in his “ Miscellany” was the first to render the work better known and more popularly desired. When the disarrangement of Mr. Constable's affairs took place, and the “Miscellany" had passed into other hands, this edition assumed several forms, and was illustrated by woodcuts, some of them engraved for it, while some were inserted that had previously been used in other works on natural history. The demand for the work, however, still continued so great, as to induce Mr. Van Voorst and others, to speculate upon fresh reprints, some of them very beautifully illustrated, and the Rev. L. Jenyns, Mr. Bennet, and Mr. Jesse, have all contributed their share to the explanation of White's letters, and have been assisted by some of the first men of the day, in regard to such subjects as did not so immediately form a portion of their own studies, and we owe to Messrs. Bell and Owen, Yarrel and Herbert, many useful and instructive notes. The call now for another edition of The Natural History of Selborne, after so much has been illustrated and written about it, shows the continued estimation in which the work is held, and the confidence of the publishers in its value. What is the cause of this run after the correspondence of a country clergyman ? Just that it is the simple recording of valuable facts as they were really seen or learned, without embellishment except as received from truth, and without allowing the imagination to ramble and assume conclusions the exactness of which it had not proved. He at the same time kept steadily in view