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the moral obligation upon himself as a man and minister, to benefit his fellow creatures by impressing upon them the beneficence of the Creator, as exemplified in his works, and the contentment and cheerfulness of spirit which their study under proper restrictions imparts to the mind. And of this man we have handed down scarcely any biographical recollections, except what can be gathered from a short sketch by his brother, or that may be interspersed among his letters ; and these are very few, as he was not given to write of himself or his private affairs. Gilbert White, at one time the recluse, and almost obscure vicar of Selborne, had no biographer to record all the little outs and ins of his quiet career, he was not thought of until his letters pointed him out as a man of observation, and it is only since they have been edited and re-edited, that every source has been ransacked, with the hope of finding some memoranda of the worthy vicar and naturalist.
The sketch which his brother John appended to the octavo edition of his works in 1802, is, as we have stated, the only memorial of his life, and as it is authentic and very short, it is best to print it as it was originally published. The same modest and retired habits never tempted him, so far as is known, to sit for any likeness, and no portrait or profile remains to recal the features of one whose writings have been so much and so widely read.*
.“ 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 in 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, poetryprofessor 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 procters of the University in April, 1752. Being of an unambitious temper, and strongly attached to the
* “Oriel College, of which Gilbert White was for more than fifty years a fellow, some years since offered to have a portrait painted of him for their hall. An inquiry was then made of all the members of his family; but no portrait of any description could be found. I have heard my father say that Gilbert White was much pressed by his brother Thomas (my grandfather), to have his portrait painted, and that he talked of it; but it was never done."-A. HOLT WHITE. Notes and Queries, September, No. 204, page 304.
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 26, 1793.” And thus he was born, lived, and died, in his native parish and village, respected by those around him, contented in his own mind, and endeavouring to fulfil his various duties as a clergyman and member of society. A grave-stone, as unobtrusive as his life, marks upon the turf of the church-yard the place of his interment. While his relatives have endeavoured to erect a monument less exposed to decay, by placing in the interior of the chancel a simple marble tablet, bearing the arms of the family, and inscribed as follows.
In the Fifth Grave from this wall are interred the Remains of
THE REV. GILBERT WHITE, M.A.
And Historian of this his native Parish.
And ANNE his Wife, only child of
THOMAS HOLT, Rector of Streatham in Surrey ;
Formerly Vicar of this Parish.
Benevolent to the Poor,
He was born July 18, 1720, O.S.
And died June 20, 1793.
nec vivo, nec mortuo.
White was never married, but he had several brothers and sisters ; and the family generally seems to have been possessed of very considerable ability. I am not aware that any opinion has been handed down of his powers as a preacher; but if we may judge from the letters, his sermons would probably possess that simplicity of language and staightforwardness of truth which would impress and render them acceptable to the minds of his hearers. The letters, though simply written, show both the poet and the scholar; and the mass of facts which they contain in relation to our native animals, formed the main foundation to some of the principal zoological works of that time. Pennant often seeks information from him, and quotes his authority in the description of the swallow. He writes, “ To the curious monographies on the swallow of that worthy correspondent (Mr. White), I must acknowledge myself indebted for numbers of the remarks above-mentioned ;” and he is elsewhere frequently referred to.
Of his four brothers all of them seem to have had tastes somewhat akin to Gilbert's, they devoted a considerable portion of their leisure to pursuits connected with literature or some of the branches of natural history. It is greatly to be regretted that the manuscripts of John White have not been recovered. He also was an English clergyman; but for some portion of his life resided at Gibraltar, where he made collections and notes evidently with the view of working out and publishing a volume upon the natural history of that promontory; a “Fauna Calpensis," as he termed it. It must have been, in fact, written; for in Letter LIII. to Mr. Barrington, Mr. White writes, “I shall now transcribe a passage from a 'Natural History of Gibraltar,' written by the Rev. John White, late vicar of Blackburn, in Lancashire, but not yet published.” But although every inquiry has been made both by ourselves and others, no trace of that MS. can be discovered. His residence at Gibraltar is referred to in his brother's letters upon migration ;, and he corresponded during his residence abroad with Mr. Pennant, who, when writing of the contents of his projected work, the “Outlines of the Globe,” states that Volume V. would be particularly rich in drawings of the “birds and fishes of Gibraltar communicated to me by the reverend the late Mr. John White, long resident in that fortress."*
John White corresponded also with naturalists abroad, and
* Lit. Life, page 42
among others with Linnæus. Four letters from Linnæus, were discovered a few years since, and were published in “ Contributions to Ornithology” for 1849. They were addressed to him while resident at Gibraltar, and showed that his assistance was highly valued. In thanking him for some collections and memoranda, Linnæus writes, “ Accepi et dona verê aurea pro quibus omnibus ac singulis grates immortales reddo, reddamq. dum vixero." He was the means also of procuring for Linnæus, who had not before seen them, two birds, which his brother mentions in his letters, Hirundo (cypselus) melba and rupestris “ quam antea non vidi ;” “mihi antea ignota.”* Another brother, Thomas, after retiring from business, devoted much of his time to literary pursuits and natural history, and for ten years contributed articles to the “Gentleman's Magazine,” under the signature of T. H. W. A third, Benjamin White, was a publisher, and his name stands on the title-page of the first edition of “Selborne.” There appears also to have been a fourth brother, Harry White.
Upon the death of our author Gilbert, the estate of Selborne was succeeded to by his brother Benjamin, the publisher. We are not aware of the circumstances under which this was afterwards sold, but some years since it became, and now is, the property of as worthy a successor as could have been chosen, whether we regard his abilities as a naturalist, or the respect in which he holds all that belonged to White. Professor Thomas Bell is now the possessor of White's property and mansion; and we know that he has been careful to preserve, as far as possibly could be done, in its original state, everything that belonged to the place, or that could throw light upon his correspondence. We consider that it is Professor Bell alone who can properly edit a new Selborne. From his own knowledge of natural history, and particularly of British Zoology, he is eminently qualified to illustrate the writings, and verify the observations, while his residence upon that spot, now his home, gives him opportunities possessed by no other. We believe that this is even now in progress : we would not wish to hurry it, but long much to see it.
In writing thus, we have no desire to express ourselves disparagingly of previous editions ; on the contrary, we think they
* Contributions to Ornithology, by Sir William Jardine, Bart., 1849, pp. 27 31, 40.
| Preface to Bennett's Edition, pp. xii. xiii.
have been all required, and that the call is still onward. Professor Bell's edition will, in all probability, be an expensive one, for we are sure no pains or expense will be spared in any of the departments ; it will therefore not be in circulation among certain classes. Now in a work so much read, and likely still to be so, when it can be obtained at so moderate a charge as that of the volumes of the “Illustrated Library,” it is essential that explanations should accompany it, and this is one reason for notes to such a book. Since the time of the letters from Selborne vast advances have been made in all branches of science. White was one of those who mainly assisted or tempted persons to observe. Studying, searching out, and inquiring himself, he incited others; and in the letters he writes to Pennant and Barrington, he often asks questions, starts subjects for discussion, and brings forward objects new to the existing knowledge of the physical character of the district ; and it is very important that all those should be explained to the young reader, or to the person perhaps only entering upon the study of nature, and this it will be our object to do in any notes and commentary we may now add, and which can be done we think sufficiently for every purpose, even by one who has not seen the place or resided in the district. But there are other phenomena, which can only be illustrated by one who is resident, and has resided for some time, and continuously upon the spot. Sixty years, however short that time may appear, will produce important differences in particular localities; even during White's incumbency he complains of the changes that are occurring, and the disturbance to the “Feræ naturæ,” the increase or destruction of wood, acts remarkably on the Fauna and Flora and on the climate ; so does drainage, particularly that of any larger piece of water, and cultivation influences very materially the habits of the wild animals. Do the stone curlews now abound as they did in White's time, and is their shrill whistle yet heard at the parsonage? Do the ring-ousels still find their resting places as formerly, are all the summer visitants yet found, and have no new ones been added and become common ? How does the meteorology now agree with White's tables ? What are the changes in the Hanger and in Wolmer Forest ? these are all subjects for Professor Bell's edition, besides many others which the place itself will suggest, and which he will not omit to introduce. Meanwhile, let those who wish to hand down the annals of their own districts, study to follow White's example,