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The Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert…

The Natural History of Selborne (1789)

by Gilbert White

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Fascinating book - not so much for the natural history as for the look at the history of science. The word "fossil", for instance, clearly didn't mean to White what it means today - he talks about determining the type of a piece of fossil wood by seeing how it burns. In another spot, he's talking about fossil shells found in various places, and mentions particularly one which seemed made of the stone of the quarry in which it was found - in other words, a fossil in modern terms. Which means all the others weren't... There are also things which point up how much we take for granted - what's known, as basic axioms familiar to any child, that White simply didn't know. He seriously considers - not accepts as fact, but considers as a real possibility - that swallows might hibernate underwater in England. He very properly deduces, from them appearing on an occasional early warm day and then disappearing again if the weather goes back to cold, that they must hibernate rather than migrate; but it's a reasonable proposition, to him, that they might do so underwater, since no one has so far found exactly where or how they hibernate. Now, to us, that sounds silly - birds can't breathe underwater - but with the knowledge of the natural world held by this intelligent, observant, perceptive, educated man it was a reasonable possibility. It's a fascinating glimpse into a world that's very difficult to envision nowadays. I'm very glad I read the book, and I want to compare it to some books I have about the history of science - not written at the time, but more modern reviews of the development of modern understanding.
The illustrations by Nash are sweet, but it's annoying that when White specifically describes a drawing he did, it's not included. I suppose the drawings have gotten lost in the intervening years. Also, I spent quite a bit of time wincing over the casual killing of wildlife, and some comments on how a bit of woodland would be far more "useful" if all the "inducements to sporting life" (like game birds and deer) were removed, so workers wouldn't be distracted by wanting to go kill them. It really was a different view of the world. The most avid of hunters, or collectors, these days would be more restrained in their take than White and the people around him. ( )
  jjmcgaffey | Sep 11, 2016 |
Gilbert White's classic, best in an illustrated edition like Century (1988), can be read like the Bible, a few paragraphs a day to muse on. Or one sentence: "The language of birds is very ancient and like other ancient modes of speech, very elliptical; little is said, but much is meant and understood."
I read White's Selbourne, and mused on it so, while traveling in Dorset and writing my Birdtalk (2003). GW takes you into another world, the world where quotidian life--the appearance of migratory birds, the Tortoise Timothy in the root garden--was prized, not avoided by iphones and fast transport and vague urgencies.
White is the Thoreau of England, a solitary observer of the first rank. But unlike Thoreau the cantankerous Romantic recluse and tax-refuser, White was a sociable minister, an Eighteenth-Century man. Both Thoreau and White write with inimitable precision and joy at discovery. Both were transcendental, White in the traditionsl Christian manner. The Solomon of Canticles revived in Selbourne and at Walden ( )
  AlanWPowers | Jan 30, 2014 |
A pioneering book by a remarkably modern naturalist writing at the time of the French Revolution, and embodying Enlightenment values although a clergyman. So much of interest here for natural history buffs, including records of birds rare or common today, new discoveries (harvest mouse), temperature records begging to be compared with present-day ones, and even a discussion on leg-length/body-mass allometry (he gets this wrong though). Also some fine vocabulary words: nidification, terebrate, pulveratrice, salutiferous, hibernaculum, Anathoth, and smother-flies. ( )
  adzebill | Dec 3, 2013 |
I love this book and White's house in Selborne. This volume only cost threepence.
1 vote | jon1lambert | Oct 3, 2008 |
Natural History starts here.
1 vote WorkinSuffolkIdio_s | Jun 14, 2007 |
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» Add other authors (52 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Gilbert Whiteprimary authorall editionscalculated
Allen, GrantEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Attenborough, DavidIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
New, Edmund H.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"The Natural History of Selborne" by Gilbert White is NOT the same work as "The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne".  The first is contained within the second.  Please do not combine these two works.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140431128, Mass Market Paperback)

More than any other writer, Gilbert White (1720-93) has shaped the relationship between man and nature. A hundred years before Darwin, White realised the crucial role of worms in the formation of soil and understood the significance of territory and song in birds. His precise, scrupulously honest and unaffectedly witty observations led him to interpret animals' behaviour in a unique manner. This collection of his letters to the explorer and naturalist Daines Barrington and the eminent zoologist Thomas Pennant - White's intellectual lifelines from his country-village home - are a beautifully written, detailed evocation of the lives of the flora and fauna of eighteenth-century England.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:53 -0400)

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