Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/White, Gilbert
WHITE, GILBERT (1720–1793), naturalist, born on 18 July 1720 at the parsonage of Selborne in Hampshire (of which parish his grandfather, Gilbert White, was then vicar), was the eldest son of John White (1688-1758), barrister-at-law, who married (1719) Anne (1693–1739), only child of Thomas Holt (d. 1710), rector of Streatham in Surrey. The elder Gilbert White (1650–1728), who married Rebecca Luckin (d. 1755, ætat. 91), was the fourth son of Sir Sampson White (1607–1684) and Mary, daughter of Richard Soper of East Oakley, Hampshire. Sir Sampson was possessed of Swan Hall in the parish of Witney and county of Oxford (an estate which passed into the female line and was subsequently sold), and was mayor of Oxford in 1660, when in that capacity he attended the coronation of Charles II, and claimed successfully the right of acting as butler to the king, being knighted for his service.
John White seems to have left Selborne soon after the birth of his eldest son, the naturalist, and to have lived for the next half-dozen years at Compton, near Guildford; but he had returned to Selborne by 1731, and there ended his days. One of his sisters, Elizabeth (1698-1753), was married to Charles White (d. 1763), apparently a cousin, who held the livings of Bradley and Swarraton (both in Hampshire), besides being, through his wife, owner of the house at Selborne, built on land bought by the elder Gilbert, and then distinguished as having belonged to one Wake. This house has been subsequently known as 'The Wakes,' and at the death of Charles White in 1763 it passed to Gilbert, the naturalist, who had already resided there for some time.
Gilbert had six brothers and four sisters; one of the former and two of the latter died in infancy. Those who grew up were Thomas (1724-1797), presumably godson of Thomas Holt (not the rector of Streatham, just mentioned, but receiver to the Duke of Bedford's estate at Thorney in the Isle of Ely), whose property he inherited and name he prefixed to his own, but he did not enter upon the enjoyment of the bequest until 1776, when he retired from the business he had carried on as a wholesale ironmonger in Thames Street, and took up his abode in South Lambeth. He was a man of considerable attainments, writing on various subjects in the 'Gentleman's Magazine,' and was elected F.R.S. in 1777.
The next brother was Benjamin (1725–1794), the successful publisher of Fleet Street, who left several sons: Benjamin and John, who carried on their father's business at 'The Horace's Head;' and Edmund, vicar of Newton Valence, near Selborne.
Then came John (1727-1781) of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, who, taking orders, proceeded as chaplain to the forces at Gibraltar; and, doubtless through the influence of the governor of that fortress, Cornwallis, was subsequently (1772) presented by the governor's brother (archbishop of Canterbury) to the living of Blackburn in Lancashire. John White had a strong taste for natural history, as his correspondence with Linnaeus (whose letters to him were first printed by Sir William Jardine in Contributions to Ornithology, 1849, pp. 27-32, 37-40) and with his brother Gilbert (printed by Bell, as below) shows. This correspondence chiefly related to a zoology of Gibraltar (Fauna Calpensis it was named), which he wrote but never succeeded in publishing. The manuscript of the introduction exists, and is not remarkable for style or matter. Of the rest of the work, which has excited so much curiosity, nothing more is known than that it was completed. After his death his widow, Barbara Mary (1734-1802), daughter of George Freeman of London, resided at Selborne, keeping house for her brother-in-law, Gilbert, to the time of his death; and her son John, subsequently in medical practice at Salisbury, was for a time his pupil, and seems to have been one of his favourite nephews.
Gilbert's other brothers, Francis (b. 1728-9) and Henry (1733-1788), were of less note; but the latter was rector of Fyfield, near Andover, and the extracts from his diary (in Notes on the Parishes of Fyfield, &c. Revised and edited by Edward Doran Webb, Salisbury, 1898) show that in quiet humour and habit of observation he was worthy of his more celebrated brother.
Of the sisters, one, Ann (b. 1731), was married to Thomas Barker of Lyndon in Rutland, by whom she had a son Samuel, a frequent correspondent of his uncle Gilbert, with whose pursuits he had much sympathy; the other, Rebecca (b. 1726), became the wife of Henry Woods of Shopwyke and Chilgrove, near Chichester, at which place her brother often stayed on his way to and from Ringmer, near Lewes, where lived an aunt Rebecca (b. 1780), the wife of Henry Snooke, whom he visited nearly every year as long as she lived. Three other aunts must also be noticed: Mary (d. 1768), married to Baptist Isaac, rector of Whitwell and Ash well in Rutland, where Gilbert passed three months in 1742, before leaving Oxford; Dorothea (d. 1731), the wife of William Henry Cane, who succeeded her father in 1727 as vicar of Selborne; and Elizabeth (d. 1753), married to Charles White, rector of Bradley and Swarraton, as before mentioned.
Gilbert was presumably sent to a school at Farnham, whose ' sweet peal of bells,' heard at Selborne of a still evening, brought him in the last year of his life ' agreeable associations' and remembrances of his youthful days (Zoologist, 1893, pp. 448, 449). Subsequently he went to the grammar school at Basingstoke, then kept by Thomas Warton (1688?-1745) [q. v.], whose two celebrated sons were White's fellow pupils, and we have White's own statement (Antiquities of Selborne, chap, xxvi.) that while at Basingstoke he was 'eye-witness [of], perhaps a party concerned in, undermining a portion of the fine old ruin known as Holy Ghost Chapel.' At Easter 1737 he seems to have been at Lyndon, where, according to the diary of his future brother-in-law (Barker), the departure of wild geese and the coming of the cuckoo were noted by 'G. W.'—an early evidence of the observant naturalist's bent. A list in his own hand of thirty books (mostly classical, but some religious) which he took back with him to school in January 1738-9 is in the possession of his collateral descendant, Mr. Rashleigh Holt-White, the present head of the family. In the December following he was admitted a commoner of Oriel College, Oxford, though he did not enter into residence there until November 1740. In 1742 he passed three agreeable months with his uncle Isaac at Whitwell (Bell, ii. 165), but it may be presumed that he lived with his father at Selborne during the greater part of the time when he was not in residence at Oxford. On 17 June 1743 he obtained his 'testamur,' and a few days after graduated B.A. Returning to Oxford, he attended Dr. Bradley 's mathematical lectures, and in the March following he was elected a fellow of his college, where he resided during the summer and early autumn. After a visit to Selborne he went back to Oxford, and again attended Bradley's lectures. In September and October of 1745 he was at Ringmer, the house of his uncle Snooke, whose wife, Gilbert's aunt, was owner of the tortoise, always associated with his name. Early in February 1745-6 his mother's relative, the second Thomas Holt before mentioned, died, leaving a considerable estate, subject to annuities, to Gilbert's next brother Thomas. Gilbert attended the sick-bed, and found himself executor and trustee of the property under the deceased's will. This led him to pass some months at Thorney in the Isle of Ely not his first visit to that part of the country, for he mentions having seen Burleigh before and to go into Essex, where Holt had property, of which Gilbert wrote an excellent and businesslike account to his father. The winding-up of the affairs of this estate took some time. In connection with it, he passed a week at Spalding in June 1746 (letter to Pennant, 28 Feb. 1767); but the next month he was staying with a college friend, Thomas Mander (elected fellow of Oriel at the following Easter), who seems to have been somewhat of a natural philosopher, at Toddenham in Gloucestershire, returning to Oxford in October to take his M.A. degree. In the following April (1747) he received deacon's orders from Thomas Secker [q. v.] bishop of Oxford, let his rooms at Oriel, and returned to Selborne, becoming, though unlicensed, curate at Swarraton for his uncle Charles White. Later in the year he was again with his friend Mander in Gloucestershire, and shortly after he had a severe attack of small-pox at Oxford. In due time he was ordained priest by the bishop of Hereford, on letters dimissory from Bishop Hoadly; and continued to make Selborne his home while doing duty at Swarraton. In the summer of 1750 he went into Devonshire on a visit to his college friend and contemporary Nathaniel Wells, rector of East Allington, near Totnes, staying there at least as late as the middle of September (Garden Kalendar, 21 July 1765), and becoming well acquainted with the district known as the South Hams (letter to Pennant, 2 Jan. 1769).
In the following year (1751) White sent the verses, originally written 'out of the fens of Cambridgeshire' (Mulso, in lift. 12 Sept. 1758), entitled 'Invitation to Selborne,' to Miss Hetty (or Hecky as she was called in her family) Mulso. They were forwarded through the lady's brother John, who had been White's contemporary at Oriel. Mulso, in acknowledging their receipt, somewhat severely criticised them. This version differed considerably from that which was long after published, and it is to be remarked that all the phrases objected to by Mulso and his sister in the early copy disappeared from the later version. The long and interesting series of unpublished letters written by John Mulso to Gilbert White (extending from 1744 to 1790), and now in the possession of the Earl of Stamford, a great-grandson of Henry White (who has kindly allowed the present writer access to them), give no encouragement to the notion announced originally by Jesse in his edition of the 'Natural History of Selborne,' and adopted by Bell and others, that there was ever any very particular attachment, much less an engagement to marry, between Hester Mulso, who subsequently became Mrs. Chapone [q. v.], and Gilbert White. He was on the most friendly terms with the whole of the Mulso family, and these letters of Mulso, all of which seem to have been most carefully preserved, throw much light on the earlier portion of White's career, hitherto little known. White's letters to Mulso were destroyed many years ago.
In July 1751 White visited his sister, lately married to Barker, at Lyndon, and was afterwards at Stamford. Mulso at this time writes of his having a pretty collection of Gilbert's travels, which indeed must have covered the greater part of the south of England and a good deal of the midlands. We know that he had been in Essex, and he must at some time have visited Norfolk, since he mentioned to Pennant (2 Jan. 1769) the mean appearance of its churches. The most northern limit of his journeys that can be traced is the Peak of Derbyshire (letter to Churton, 25 Oct. 1789). Towards the end of 1751 he became curate to Dr. Bristow, who had succeeded as vicar of Selborne, and was for a time non-resident, since White lived in the parsonage-house; but this was a temporary arrangement, and in April 1762 he, doubtless by virtue of seniority as a fellow of his college, to which the right of nomination fell, exercised his claim to the proctorship of the university of Oxford. About the same time he was also appointed dean of Oriel, the most important post in the college next to the provostship, which shows that the alleged dissatisfaction of some of its members at his claiming the proctorship was not deeply grounded. On quitting his offices he undertook the curacy of Durley, near Bishop's Waltham, at which place he resided for a year, and while there, according to Bell, who has printed the accounts (ii. 316-46), the actual expenses of the duty exceeded the receipts by nearly 20l. (ib. vol. i. p. xxxv). Mulso's letters about this time express the surprise with which he and others of White's friends regarded his acceptance of this charge, though admitting 'it was your [i.e. G. W.'s] sentiment that a clergyman should not be idle and unemployed.'
This sentiment, to which he adhered for the whole of his life, by no means interfered, however, with his rambling habits, which he continued to indulge, though for the next few years precise information as to the places he visited—a stay of some weeks at 'the hot wells near Bristol' excepted—is not forthcoming. Whenever he went to Mulso, who at this time had a small cure at Sunbury, he was expected to preach a sermon, and the same demand was probably made at other places. At this time nearly all his journeys seem to have been performed on horseback, and several passages in Mulso's letters show that he took care to be well mounted.
On 2 Feb. 1754 White was at Harting in Sussex, where his mother had some property, and was apparently staying with Dr. Durnford the vicar. Durnford's wife was sister to William Collins [q. v.], the poet. Mr. Gordon (History of Harting, p. 208) suggests that the visit was to inquire after that unhappy man, with whom White in his undergraduate days had been intimately acquainted. It seems very doubtful whether Collins had been moved to Chichester so early in the year. But White was for many years after frequently with his sister (Mrs. Woods) at Chilgrove, and at Chichester—usually on his way to and from his aunt's at Ringmer. In a letter written by 'White many years later to the 'Gentleman's Magazine' (1781, pp. 11, 12), the authorship of which is vouched for by Mr. Moy Thomas in the memoir prefixed to his edition of the poet's works (pp. xxx, xxxi) and confirmed by Bell (vol. i. p. lviii),he states that he had not seen Collins since he was carried to a madhouse at Oxford, and declares his ignorance of when or where Collins died.
That White had many good friends in his college there can be no doubt. In February 1755 Mulso wrote to him, 'Young Mr. Shaw of Cheshunt would yesterday have persuaded me that Dr. Hodges [provost of Oriel] was dead, and you was going to be provost in his room;' and two months later, 'You give me pleasure hearing of the stand against the perverse party at Oriel; I would' the provost should live until you succeed him (if that is English; it sounds rather Irish).' On 14 Jan. 1757 Dr. Hodges died, and thirteen days later there was a college meeting, attended by White, for the election of his successor. Chardin, fourth son of Sir Christopher Musgrave of Edenhall, was chosen; but it is evident that White had some strong supporters. Mulso, writing shortly after, says: 'As you have not been the man on this occasion, I am not sorry for Chardin's success'—they had been old friends and again, a month later, 'With regard to the affair at Oriel, I heartily wish you had put yourself up from the beginning, if anything that we could have done would have given you success.' A few months later the living of Moreton-Pinkney in Northamptonshire, which was in the gift of Oriel, fell vacant, and White, as fellow, did not hesitate to assert his right to it. It was a small vicarage, and had long been held by a non-resident incumbent. In accordance with the custom of the age, White thought that the practice hitherto prevailing need not be set aside. Musgrave, the new provost, was of a different opinion, and recorded in his memorandum book (which by favour of Dr. Shadwell is here quoted) under date of 15 Dec. 1757—'Morton Pinkney given to Mr. White as senr. petitioner, tho without his intentions of serving it, and not choosing to wave his claim tho' Mr. Land wd. have accepted it upon the other more agreeable terms to the society. I agreed to this to avoid any possibility of a misconstruction of partiality' this last sentence evidently (from what we now know) referring to the recent contest for the provostship, when White and Musgrave were competitors. The provost, from a proper sense of duty we may consider, nearly a year later (1 Nov. 1758) made another entry in the same book, that he 'hinted to Mr. White's friends that I was ignorant what his circumstance really was, but suppose his estate incompatible [with the terms of his fellowship] and beg'd he might be inform'd that if a year of grace was not applied [for] in the regular time … it ed. not be granted.' The suspicions of the provost, subsequently set at rest, as would seem by a letter of his to White of 24 Dec. 1758 (Bell, ed. vol. i. p. xxxviii), were doubtless excited by the fact that, some two months before, the father of Gilbert White had died, and he, being the eldest son, might naturally be presumed to have inherited property of an amount that by statute or custom would have voided his fellowship. It is certain that this was not the case. Gilbert's father was never a rich man; he had a large family to educate; he had retired on his marriage from the bar, where his practice was inconsiderable, and even the house at Selborne (The Wakes) in which he lived was not his own, but belonged to a relative. Stronger evidence to this effect is afforded by the fact that in 1750 he borrowed money (10l. or so) of his son Gilbert, which was not repaid until May 1753 (Bell's ed. ii. 332), and a careful examination of the family papers made by the present Mr. Holt-White shows that Gilbert's patrimony must have been of the slenderest. He had, indeed, little more than his fellowship and eventually his Northamptonshire living upon which to depend until the death of his uncle Charles in 1763 put him in possession of The Wakes, which he and his father before him had occupied as tenants. Even that inheritance was of small pecuniary value (the annual rent was but five guineas), though it was obviously the thing he most desired, and it was apparently with the view of living at Selborne that soon after his father's death he had given up the curacy at Durley and accepted that of Faringdon, an adjoining parish. For a short time he held the curacy of West Deane in Wiltshire, where, according to Mulso, he felt lonely and unhappy by reason of its distance from Selborne. Mulso's letters constantly allude to White's narrow means, while praising his economy and hoping for his preferment. It might be inferred from one letter (23 March 1 759), though this is uncertain, that he had taken a legal opinion as to the propriety of holding his fellowship, and that the reply satisfied him, as well as others, that he could do so. A little earlier (4 Feb. 1759) Mulso had met Musgrave, the new provost, and asked him as to his own intentions and those of the college towards White, receiving for an answer that 'it was in your own [G. W.'s] breast to keep or leave your fellowship, for nobody meant to turn you out if you did not choose it yourself.' Some two years later the two men seem to have been quite reconciled. White was at Oxford, and Mulso was able to write (13 Jan. 1761): 'The provost and you begin to have your own feels for one another, such as you had before competitions divided you … and as I know you have the good of the foundation at heart, it will make you forget what was disagreeable in his election.' In January 1768 Musgrave died very suddenly, and Mulso thought that White might be his successor; but, though the idea must have crossed his mind (letter of 26 July 1768), the opportunity was lost.
Meanwhile Mulso, who, having married the niece of Bishop Thomas, was rapidly rising in the church, kept harping on his friend's prospects, suggesting even an application to the lord chancellor for a living, and it seems that on the promotion of Sir Robert Henley [q. v.] to be lord keeper in 1757 and chancellor in 1761, White, with whom he was acquainted, had hope of obtaining some preferment in the neighbourhood of Selborne, which would have allowed him still to reside there. On his uncle Charles's death in 1763, application was undoubtedly made for one of his livings (probably Bradley), which were in the private patronage of Henley, by that time Lord Northington; but the latter was dissatisfied with what he termed the 'cold, lingering manner' in which White had voted for Richard Trevor [q. v.], bishop of Durham, in the contest of 1759 with Lord Westmorland for the chancellorship of Oxford, and so withheld the boon.
White's desire, which in no long time became a determination, to live and die at Selborne, was the reason why he passed benefice after benefice which came to his turn as fellow of his college. Yet his love of his native place, the beauties of which he and his brothers were at no small pains and expense to improve, did not stay his practice of taking long riding journeys —a 'hussar parson' Mulso calls him in one of his letters (February 1762)—and visiting his relations in Sussex, in London, and in Rutland, or his friends at Oxford and other places. In 1760, having at the time no clerical duty (Moreton-Pinkney being permanently served by a curate), he was absent for six months with his brothers Thomas and Benjamin at Lambeth, or with his sister (Mrs. Barker) at Lyndon. He undoubtedly took what nowadays might be called an easy view of some of the duties of his cloth; but the tradition, which can hardly be ill-founded, has come down of his especial kindliness to his poorer parishioners and neighbours, while the absence of ambition in his character, except perhaps in regard to the provostship of his college, is manifest. Despite his moderate income, and the calls which some members of his family made upon his generosity, he was able to use hospitality, and relatives and friends were from time to time entertained by him.
In August 1772 his brother John, whom he calls his most constant correspondent—though few of his letters have been preserved—returned from Gibraltar, and his only son, born in 1759, a promising lad, who had preceded his father to England, was received at Selborne, where he became a favourite with his uncle Gilbert. White read Horace with him, and generally looked after his education; while 'Jack,' as the nephew was commonly called, acted as his amanuensis and made himself generally useful. Even laming his uncle's horse did not ruffle the owner's temper, and Jack subsequently justified the good opinion formed of him, settling at Salisbury in medical practice. The terms on which he was with his other nephew, Sam Barker, and his hitherto unpublished correspondence with his niece Mary ('Molly'), the daughter of Thomas, who afterwards married her cousin Benjamin, the son of Benjamin, strongly show his affection for his family.
Turning to the life which White led as a naturalist the life which especially entitles him to distinction—we find that in 1751 he began to keep a 'Garden Kalendar' on sheets of small letter-paper stitched together. This he continued until 1767, after which year he adopted a more elaborate form, a 'Naturalist's Journal,' invented and supplied to him by Daines Barrington [q. v.], and printed by Benjamin White, a copy being each year prepared for filling in by an observer. Both of these diaries, for so they may be called, are now in the library of the British Museum; but though each has been cursorily inspected by naturalists, and certain excerpts were printed from the former by Bell (ii. 348-59), and from the latter by Dr. John Aikin (1747-1822) [q. v.] in 1795, and in 1834 by Jesse (Gleanings in Nat. Hist., 2nd ser. pp. 144-80), who gave also a facsimile reproduction of one of its pages (18-24 June 1775), neither seems to have been studied by a competent zoologist. Yet a close examination of these documents is absolutely needed to attain a true knowledge of White's life. That he was a born naturalist none will dispute; in his earliest letter to Pennant (10 Aug. 1767) he says he was attached to natural knowledge from his childhood; but it is no less certain that the habit of observation and reflection on what he observed grew upon him daily. It has been suggested (Saturday Review, 24 Sept. 1887) that he, like Robert Marsham, the correspondent of his closing days, acquired from Stephen Hales [q. v.], the rector of the neighbouring Faringdon, who was well known to White himself, his father, and grandfather (letter to Marsham, 13 Aug. 1790), 'the taste for observing and recording periodic natural phenomena.' This may have been so, though from his own statement it is not likely. In the letter to Pennant just mentioned White lamented throughout life 'the want of a companion to quicken my industry and sharpen my attention.' The 'Miscellaneous Tracts' of Benjamin Stillingfleet [q. v.] are often cited with approval by White, and their publication in 1759 must have encouraged him to pursue the course he had early adopted; while still later the five little annual volumes of Scopoli (1769-1772), which he was fond of quoting, must have had the same effect. There is abundant proof that in his youth he was an enthusiastic sportsman, although at the same time a reflective one (cf. his letter No. xxiii. to Barrington). So keen was he in his undergraduate days at Oxford, as one of Mulso's letters (16 Aug. 1780) reminds him, that he used to practise with his gun in summer, and fetch down migrant birds in order to steady his hand for the winter; and in early years to shoot woodcocks, even when paired, in March (Babington, Miscellanies, pp. 217, 218). It must by degrees have dawned on him that the kind of observation needed for the successful pursuit of sport, just as of horticulture, might be rendered more valuable by the study of plants and animals on a principle more or less methodical. Even in 1753 we find him (Bell, ii. 338) buying Ray's 'Synopsis Methodica Avium et Piscium,' and this was the book which, in regard to zoology, served him as his guide to the last, though he to some extent availed himself of the improvements introduced from time to time into systematic natural history by Linnaeus. Yet it would seem that he did not seriously take up the study of botany until 1766; but he then for the rest of his life pursued it to a good end.
White was in the habit of paying at least one annual visit to London, where his brothers Thomas and Benjamin were established. It may be inferred from his advice subsequently given to Ralph Churton (30 March 784) that he attended, as a visitor, many meetings of the Royal Society and of the Society of Antiquaries (ib. ii. 198). On his visits to London (which seem to have generally been early in the year) he met several men of high scientific position. He was there in the spring of 1767, and then, through his brother Benjamin, the publisher of Pennant's works, made Pennant's personal acquaintance (cf. his first letter to him 4 Aug. 1767, first printed by Bell, i. '27, in 1877). Pennant, having in hand a new edition of his 'British Zoology' (1768-1770), was naturally pleased at falling in with an observer who had so much valuable information to impart, and a correspondence sprang up between them which lasted until the completion of the new (so-called fourth) edition (1776), the proofs of which were revised by White. Unfortunately Pennant's letters are not forthcoming, though White's, being subsequently returned to him, form the basis of the celebrated 'Natural History of Selborne.' There cannot be a doubt that they were originally written merely for Pennant's own use, without any thought of separate publication. Certain writers have been ready to depreciate Pennant, both as a zoologist and as an antiquary; but with him White found himself on the best of terms, praising his candour. He did, indeed, complain to his brother John in February 1776 of the state of the proof-sheets sent for revision, and at another time he contrasted Lever's generous conduct with that of Pennant, to the advantage of the former, though it was the latter who gave him the much-esteemed Scopoli (ib. ii. 41). White was very ceremonious in his correspondence. Mulso, who always wrote to him 'My dear Gil,' often protested against being addressed, in the letters now unhappily destroyed, 'My dear Sir,' and White frequently began his letters to his nephew in the same formal style; yet, in 1769, in an unpublished letter, sold by Messrs. Sotheby & Co. in April 1896, he gently rallied Pennant on the honour, of which the latter was very proud, of being elected to the Academy of Sciences of Drontheim (Trondhjem), humorously suggesting that henceforth he would be bound to believe in Bishop Pontoppidan's Kraken and Sea-Serpent under pain of expulsion. Bell (vol. i. p. xli) complains of Pennant's scant recognition of White's discoveries, but ignores the fact that White in correcting the proofs of the fourth edition of the 'British Zoology,' and making additions thereto, would naturally not introduce his own name on every occasion. In the preface Pennant generally but fully acknowledges White's services.
White's personal acquaintance with Dailies Barrington did not begin until May 1769, when they met in London, though more than a year before the latter had sent him a copy of the 'Naturalist's Journal' (an invention of Barrington's) through his brother Benjamin, who published it. Thereupon followed a series of letters which, continued until 1787, form the second part of the 'Natural History of Selborne,' though some 'letters' appear, as in the former part consisting of Pennant's letters, to have been subsequently added by way of completing the work. With his usual perversity Barrington chose to disbelieve in the migration of the swallow-kind, and, with his usual casuistry, attempted to defend the position he took up. It seems to have been his influence that from time to time disturbed White's mind on the subject, sending him to search for torpid swallows among the shrubs and holes of Selborne Hanger (Letters li. and lvii. to Barrington; Jesse, Gleanings in Natural History, 2nd ser. p. 151); and, when he had actually seen their migration in progress (Letter xxiii. to Pennant), causing him to ignore the significance of his observation. The hold that this uncertainty had upon him lasted to the end, for in a letter to Marsham (Bell, ii. 302) only a few days before his death he repudiated the supposition that he had written in the 'Gentleman's Magazine' against the torpidity of swallows, as it would not 'be consistent with what I have sometimes asserted so to do.' This is the more extraordinary, since through one brother he had positive assurance of the migration of swallows in southern Spain, and through another brother, the bookseller, he had opportunities (of which he certainly availed himself) of knowing what was published on the subject. He could hardly have been unaware of the 'Essays upon Natural History' brought out by George Edwards (1694-1773) [q. v.] in 1770, one of which contains views on migration, which are mostly sound, though possibly the remarkable 'Discourse on the Emigration of British Birds' printed ten years later by John Legg (Salisbury, 1780), being a local publication and anonymous, may have escaped White's notice.
It is certain that during his annual visits to London White made other scientific acquaintances. He is found writing to (Sir) Joseph Banks [q. v.] (Bell, ii. 241) in fulfilment of a promise so early as the spring of 1768. A few months later that intrepid naturalist sailed with Cook on his memorable voyage in the success of which White took the greatest interest (ib. vol. i. pp. xlivxlviii), while subsequently he knew Daniel Charles Solander [q. v.], Banks's companion; the elder Forster, the naturalist of Cook's second voyage, as well as William Curtis [q. v.] the entomologist and botanist (ib. ii. 17); Sir Ashton Lever [q. v.], who formed the enormous museum known by his name; and John Lightfoot (1735-1788) [q. v.] of Uxbridge, Pennant's fellow-traveller. It is evident, too, that White's sympathies were not limited to the animals of his own country, as is shown by the interest he took in his brother's zoological investigations at Gibraltar, and in the Chinese dogs brought home by Charles Etty, a son of the vicar of Selborne (Letter lviii. to Barrington), to say nothing of his desire to see the swallows of Jamaica (Letter vii. to the same).
It is perhaps impossible now to ascertain when the notion of publishing his observations in a separate work first occurred to White, or when he formed the determination of doing so. Early in 1770 Barrington must have made some suggestion on the subject, to which White replied on 12 April in hesitating terms: 'It is no small undertaking for a man unsupported and alone to begin a natural history from his own autopsia!' Something must also have passed between him and Pennant, for the next year, in a letter to him of 19 July, of which only an extract has been printed (Bell, vol. i. p. xlix), he says: 'As to any publication in this way of my own, I look upon it with great diffidence, finding that I ought to have begun it twenty years ago.' In 1773, writing to his brother John, he says (ib. ii. 21): 'If you don't make haste I shall publish before you;' and again in 1774 (ib. ii. 28): 'Out of all my journals I think I might collect matter enough and such a series of incidents as might pretty well comprehend the natural history of this district. … To these might be added some circumstances of the country its most curious plants, its few antiquities all which altogether might soon be moulded into a work, had I resolution and spirits to set about it.' The following year, however, he seems to have made up his mind, though in the spring of 1775 his eyes suffered 'from overmuch reading' (ib. ii. 40). In October he wrote (ib. pp. 44, 45), 'Mr. Grimm has not appeared,' he being the Swiss draughtsman who eventually executed the plates for the work. Writing from London to Sam Barker on 7 Feb. 1776, he was still in doubt, at any rate, as to the form of publication he should adopt; but he had been to see Grimm, who a few weeks later came to Selborne, and is called 'my artist' (ib. ii. 128), taking views of the Hermitage and other places subsequently engraved for the volume; while White declares his intention 'some time hence' to publish 'in some way or other' a new edition of his papers on the 'Hirundines.' Those memorable monographs, almost the earliest in zoological literature, he had communicated through Barrington, at whose instigation they were written (ib. ii. 20), in 1774 and 1775 to the Royal Society, for insertion in the 'Philosophical Transactions.' There they were printed, although very carelessly, as the author justly complained (ib. ii. 115). He had intended another paper, on 'Caprimulgus' to follow, but Barrington, having quarrelled with the Society (ib. ii. 43), would not present it (ib. ii. 229). In the first half of 1777 White had a severe illness (J. Mulso, in litt. 1 June 1777), which must have interfered with his work on which he had begun to be seriously engaged. Moreover, the antiquarian portion—for he had decided to include in it an account of the antiquities of Selborne (Bell, ii. 137)—obviously required much labour, and he spent a good part of October in that year at Oxford, investigating the archives of Magdalen College, to which the priory of Selborne had been united on its suppression some fifty years before the general dissolution of the monasteries. In this task White was greatly assisted by his friend Richard Chandler (1738-1810) [q. v.],the celebrated Greek traveller and antiquary, who not only examined for him the records relating to Selborne possessed by that college, but also those which he was allowed to borrow from the dean and chapter of Winchester. About 1779 White became acquainted with Ralph Churton [q. v.], from whom he received no little assistance, as appears by their correspondence first published by Bell (ii. 186-230). Still, progress was slow, and he complained to Sam Barker that 'much writing and transcribing always hurts me' (ib. ii. 139). Mulso's letters repeatedly urge greater speed, but White was not to be hurried in the execution of his self-imposed task. He evidently determined that what he had to do he would do with his might, and the result justified his delay. It was not until January 1788 that he wrote to Sam Barker (ib. ii. 168) that he had at length put his 'last hand' to the book; but still there was the index to make —'an occupation full as entertaining as that of darning of stockings'—and the actual publication did not take place until the end of that year, the volume bearing on its title-page the date 1789. Almost coincident with its appearance was the death of his youngest brother Harry, of Fyfield, with whom he was always on most affectionate terms, and the loss was evidently much felt by him. The book was published by White's brother Benjamin. His brother Thomas, who had been constantly urging the publication, if he were not its prime instigator, wrote (anonymously, of course) a review of it in the 'Gentleman's Magazine,' which, speaking of it highly as it deserved, yet betrayed no excess of fraternal partiality. John Mulso, whose taste and critical faculty, originally keen, seem to have been blunted by the lazy life he had now so long led as a well-beneficed ecclesiastic, expressed his approval in warm though not very enthusiastic terms, partly, perhaps, because he seems to have before read the natural history portion of the 'piece,' and he lamented that his own name, as that of the friend at Sunbury mentioned by the author, did not 'stand in a book of so much credit and respectability.' The correspondence with Churton, whence most information of White's life at this period is obtainable, contains no letter between the beginning of December 1788 and the end of July 1789, and it was not until the following October that he says he was reading the book with avidity, this being after White had written to him (Bell, ii. 214): 'My book is still asked for in Fleet Street. A gent, came the other day, and said he understood that there was a Mr. White who had lately published two books, a good one and a bad one; the bad one was concerning Botany Bay ['A Voyage to New South Wales,' by John White (no relation), published in 1790], the better respecting some parish.' Churton justly complained that the index was not more copious, and the same complaint may be made in regard to every edition that has since appeared. Soon after this, White wrote that Oxford appeared every year to recede further and further from Selborne, and it is clear that the infirmities of age had come upon him. For at least ten years he had suffered from deafness, and his letters, though showing no indication of decay in mental power, seem to have been written at longer intervals. Yet in March 1793 Churton canvassed him for his vote in favour of George Crabbe [q.v.] as professor of poetry at Oxford, and appeared to think he might come to the university to give it.
Whatever may have been its reception on the part of White's family and friends, the merits of the book were speedily acknowledged by naturalists who were strangers to him. Within six months of its appearance George Montagu (1751-1815) [q. v.], hardly then Known to fame, but not many years after recognised as a leading British zoologist, wrote that he had been 'greatly entertained' by it (ib., ii. 236), plying its author with inquiries which were sympathetically answered. Another letter of the same kind followed a few weeks later, telling White 'Your work produced in me fresh ardour, and, with that degree of enthusiasm necessary to such investigations, I pervaded the interior recesses of the thickest woods, and spread my researches to every place within my reach that seemed likely.' The next year brought another correspondent, and one whose scientific reputation was assured. This was Robert Marsham of Stratton-Strawless in Norfolk (the place where Stillingfleet had written his 'Tracts'), White's senior by twelve years, who (introduced to the new work by his neighbour, William Windham the statesman) wrote that he could not deny himself 'the honest satisfaction' of offering the author his thanks for 'the pleasure and information' he had received from it. Most fortunately the correspondence which thereupon began between these two men is almost complete, there being but two of White's letters missing. It has been published by Mr. Southwell in the 'Transactions of the Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists' Society' for 1875-6 (ii. 133-95), was thence reprinted by Bell (ii. 243-303), and White's side of it by Mr. Harting as an appendix to his second edition. Here we see that White's interest in all branches of natural history was to the very end as keen as ever—for his last letter to Marsham was dated but eleven days before his death—while every characteristic of his style, its unaffected grace, its charming simplicity, and its natural humour is maintained as fully as in the earliest examples which have come down to us, so that this correspondence is a fitting sequel to that between himself and Pennant and Barrington. White's pleasure at Marsham's approval is unmistakable. 'O that I had known you forty years ago!' is one of White's exclamations to Marsham, the significance of which may be seen when read in connection with that passage in his earliest letter to Pennant (10 Aug. 1767), wherein he wrote: 'It has been my misfortune never to have had any neighbours whose studies have led them towards the pursuit of natural knowledge.'
During White's last years there his sister-in-law, widow of his brother John, continued to keep house for him at Selborne. On the death of his aunt Mrs. Snooke in 1780 he had become possessed of property which could not have been inconsiderable, including 'the old family tortoise,' and he was thereby enabled the more easily to gratify his disposition towards hospitality. From his correspondence with his niece 'Molly,' the Barkers, and Churton—who seems to have usually passed Christmas with him—we see how open his door was to members of his family and to his friends, despite his increasing deafness. Mulso, writing to him in December 1790, says: 'Alas! my good friend, how should we now do to converse if we met? for you cannot hear, and I cannot now speak out.' Many times in the correspondence with Marsham each complained of the hold which 'the Hag procrastination' had taken upon himself, but there is really little sign of the power of 'this daemon' upon White, and his 'Naturalist's Journal' was continued until within four days of his death. On 14 June 1793 the son of his oldest friend, John Mulso (who had died in September 1791), came to Selborne, where he stayed for a night, and next day White wrote his last letter to Marsham, which ended with the words. 'The season with us is unhealthy.' In it he said he had been annoyed in the spring by a bad nervous cough and 'a wandering gout.' His fatal illness must have been of short duration, though, according to Bell, it was attended by much suffering. On the 26th he died at his house, The Wakes, which has since been visited by so many of his admirers. He lies buried among his kinsfolk on the north side of the chancel of Selborne church, 'the fifth grave from this wall' as recorded on a tablet originally placed against it on the outside, but since removed within, and inappropriately affixed to the south wall of the building. The grave, however, is still marked by the old headstone bearing the initial letters of his name and the day of his death.
That White's 'Selborne' is the only work on natural history which has attained the rank of an English classic is admitted by general acclamation, as well as by competent critics, and numerous have been the attempts to discover the secret of its ever-growing reputation. Scarcely two of them agree, and no explanation whatever offered of the charm which invests it can be accepted as in itself satisfactory. If we grant what is partially true, that it was the first book of its kind to appear in this country, and therefore had no rivals to encounter before its reputation was established, we find that alone insufficient to account for the way in which it is still welcomed by thousands of readers, to many of whom and this especially applies to its American admirers—scarcely a plant or an animal mentioned in it is familiar, or even known but by name.
White was a prince among observers, nearly always observing the right thing in the right way, and placing before us in a few words the living being he observed. Of the hundreds of statements recorded by White, the number which are undoubtedly mistaken may be counted almost on the fingers of one hand. The gravest is perhaps that on the formation of honeydew (Letter lxiv. to Barrington); but it was not until some years later that the nature of that substance was discovered in this country by William Curtis [q. v.], and it was not made known until 1800 (Transactions Linnæan Society, vi. 76-91); while we have editor after editor, many of them well-informed or otherwise competent judges, citing fresh proofs of White's industry and accuracy. In addition White was 'a scholar and a gentleman,' and a philosopher of no mean depth. But it seems as though the combination of all these qualities would not necessarily give him the unquestioned superiority over all other writers in the same field. The secret of the charm must be sought elsewhere; but it has been sought in vain. Some have ascribed it to his way of identifying himself in feeling with the animal kingdom, though to this sympathy there were notable exceptions. Some, like Lowell, set down the 'natural magic' of White to the fact that, 'open the book where you will, it takes you out of doors;' but the same is to be said of other writers who yet remain comparatively undistinguished. White's style, a certain stiffness characteristic of the period being admitted, is eminently unaffected, even when he is 'didactic,' as he more than once apologises for becoming, and the same simplicity is observable in his letters to members of his family, which could never have been penned with the view of publication, and have never been retouched. Then, too, there is the complete absence of self-importance or self-consciousness. The observation or the remark stands on its own merit, and gains nothing because he happens to be the maker of it, except it be in the tinge of humour that often delicately pervades it. The beauties of the work, apart from the way in which they directly appeal to naturalists, as they did to Darwin, grow upon the reader who is not a naturalist, as Lowell testifies, and the more they are studied the more they seem to defeat analysis.
No portrait of White was ever taken, and, though some have pleased themselves with a tradition that one of the figures in the frontispiece of the quarto editions of his book was intended to represent him, Bell's authority (vol. i. p. lviii n.) for otherwise identifying each of those figures must be accepted. Bell was told by Francis White, the youngest son of Gilbert's youngest brother, that he well remembered his uncle, who 'was only five feet three inches in stature, of a spare form and remarkably upright carriage.'
A complete bibliography of White's writings would occupy many pages, owing to the number of editions and issues (eighty or more) through which his chief work has passed. A full list has been attempted in 'Notes and Queries' for 1877–8 (5th ser. vols. vii. to ix.), and by Mr. Edward A. Martin (A Bibliography of Gilbert White, Westminster , 8vo), who wrote apparently in ignorance of what had appeared in 'Notes and Queries.' The first publication to be noticed is the 'Account of the House-Martin or Martlet. In a letter from the Rev. Gilbert White to the Hon. Daines Barrington' (Phil. Trans, vol. lxiv. pt. i. pp. 196-201). This letter bears date 20 Nov. 1773, and was 'redde' to the Royal Society on 10 Feb. 1774. It is reprinted in the 'Natural History of Selborne' as letter xvi. to Barrington. Next there is 'Of the House-Swallows, Swift, and Sand-Mart in. By the Rev. Gilbert White, in Three Letters to the Hon. Daines Barrington ' (ib. vol. lxv. pt. ii. pp. 258-76). These were read to the same society on 16 March 1775, and were respectively dated 29 Jan. 1775, 28 Sept. 1774, and 26 Feb. 1774; but the annual dates of the first and last should be reversed, and White complains of various other misprints. They reappeared in the 'Natural History of Selborne' as letters xviii. xxi. and xx. to Barrington. These were but forerunners of the great work which bore on its title-page, 'The Natural History | and | Antiquities | of | Selborne, | in the | County of Southampton: | with | Engravings, and an Appendix. | London: | printed by T. Bensley; | for B. White and Son, at Horace's Head, Fleet Street. | M.DCC.LXXXIX.' It is in quarto, pp. vi, 468 + 13 unnumbered, being twelve of index and one of errata. The author's name is not on the title-page, but appears as 'Gil. White' on p. v. It has an engraved title-page, and seven copperplates, besides one inserted on p. 307. Contemporary advertisements show that it was issued in boards at the price of one guinea, and it was the only English edition published in the author's lifetime. Two years after his death there appeared 'A Naturalist's Calendar | with Observations in Various Branches | of | Natural History; | extracted from the papers | of the late | Rev. Gilbert White, M.A. | of Selborne, Hampshire, | Senior Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford. | Never before published. | London: | printed for B. and J. White, Horace's Head, | Fleet Street. | 1795.' This is in octavo, and contains pp. 170 + 6 unnumbered. It was compiled by Dr. John Aikin, who signs the 'Advertisement.' The text begins at p. 7, and to face p. 65 is a coloured copperplate by J. F. Miller, after Elmer's picture of 'A Hybrid Bird;' but so badly done as to misrepresent not only the original, but also the watercolour drawing from which the plate is copied. In 1802 appeared 'The Works in Natural History of the late Rev. Gilbert White … comprising the Natural History of Selborne; the Naturalist's Calendar; and Miscellaneous Observations, extracted from his papers. To which are added a Calendar and Observations by W. Markwick, Esq.' This was published in two volumes octavo by John (the son of the elder Benjamin) White in Fleet Street, who added the brief sketch of his uncle's life, which has been constantly reprinted, and it is often spoken of as Aikin's or Markwick's edition; but whether the latter had more to do with it than allow a calendar, kept by himself in Sussex, to be printed alongside of that compiled by Aikin from White's journals is doubtful. The coloured plate of the 'Hybrid Bird' is repeated, with considerable modification of tinting, from the former publication; but the 'Antiquities' of the original work are omitted. S. T. Coleridge's copy of this edition, with his manuscript comments, is in the British Museum. In 1813 two editions appeared—one in two volumes octavo, practically a reprint of the last, with the addition of the poems, now for the first time published, and the other in a single quarto volume, a reprint of the original, together with all the other matter subsequently added, and twelve copperplates instead of the nine of the editio princeps, one of the new engravings being that of a picture presented to Selborne church by Benjamin White, and some rational notes by John Mitford (1781–1859) [q. v.] of Benhall, after whom this edition is often named. In 1822 appeared another edition in two volumes octavo, which is almost a reprint of the octavo of 1813, as is also one published in 1825. In 1829 came out two editions in 12mo—one forming vol. xlv. of 'Constable's Miscellany;' the other, on larger paper, by Shortreed, each being published by Constable, and containing an introduction and some notes by Sir William Jardine; but the dates of the letters, the plates, antiquities, calendars, many observations, and the poems are omitted. One or the other of these was reissued in succeeding years (1832, 1833, and 1836) with a mere change of date on the title-page; but, in 1853, a very superior edition in octavo, with additional notes by Jardine, came out as a volume of the 'National Illustrated Library.' This gives the antiquities, and though the woodcuts are of poor quality, the insertion of a map of the district and the excellence of the notes render it very serviceable; and it has since been reprinted or reissued several times (1879, 1882, 1890, &c.) But Jardine in 1851 brought out another edition containing notes by Edward Jesse [q. v.], who, in 1834, had printed in the second series of his 'Gleanings in Natural History' (pp. 144-210) a considerable number of hitherto unpublished extracts from White's 'Naturalist's Journal,' which for a time was in his possession, giving also a facsimile of one page of it, comprising the week 18-24 June .
In 1833 also appeared an edition (in one volume octavo, but bearing no date) including the antiquities, 'with notes by several eminent naturalists,' who were William Herbert (afterwards dean of Manchester), Robert Sweet, and James Rennie. This is the best edition published up to that time, and is commonly known as Rennie's; but four years after (1837) there appeared one, based upon it, which is better still, and is known as Bennett's, since Edward Turner Bennett, though dying before it left the press, supervised it, adding notes of his own, and others by Bell, Daniell, Owen, and Yarrell, as well as a selection from those in Rennie's edition. This, with some fair woodcuts, remained for a long while the standard, but in time became out of date, whereupon in 1875 a revision of it (illustrated by a number of copies of Bewick's woodcuts of birds, and the facsimile from White's journal formerly given by Jesse) was brought out with fresh notes by Mr. Harting, and it has several times since been reissued, with the addition of White's letters to Marsham. It includes the antiquities, and takes a high rank among editions. In 1833 also Captain Thomas Brown brought out at Edinburgh, with notes of his own, a new edition of the natural history only, forming vol. i. of a series called 'The British Library,' and this, being stereotyped, has been over and over again reissued with a new title-page and a changed date. Furthermore, still in the same year (1833), there appeared an edition of the natural history, 'arranged for young persons,' which is now known to have been done by Georgiana, lady Dover [see Ellis, George James Welbore Agar-], and is dedicated to her son, H. A[gar]-E[llis] (afterwards Lord Clifden). It is the first 'bowdlerised' edition, chiefly remarkable for the omission of a few passages; but the intention was good, and the book has subsequently found its way into children's hands, it having been latterly adopted by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, and many times reprinted, with new illustrations by Joseph [q. v.], and a few notes by Bell; while it is the foundation also of a large number of reprints in America, ranging from 1841 to the present time.
A handy edition, including the antiquities, with good notes by Blyth, but very poor woodcuts, which has since been reissued several times, was brought out in 1836; and in 1843, a very pretty one, with a few judicious notes by Leonard Jenyns. In 1854 there was started a series of editions of the natural history, published by Messrs. Routledge, of which the first contained notes by John George Wood [q. v.], of a kind very inferior to those by all the preceding editors, Brown excepted. Year after year this series has continued, the price of one of the issues being sixpence, and that further reduced, in 1875, to threepence for an issue of selections, with an introduction by Mr. Haweis.
In 1875 there appeared an edition, with numerous illustrations, by P. H. Delamotte, with unsatisfactory notes by Frank Buckland, and a chapter on the antiquities by Roundell Palmer, first lord Selborne [q. v.] The memoir is slight, and the five new letters are unimportant. This volume has had a large sale, and two cheaper issues since published are very popular, as well as one founded upon it, but printed in America in 1895 under the supervision of Mr. John Burroughs.
In 1876 the newly discovered and delightful correspondence between White and Marsham was first printed by the Norfolk and! Norwich Naturalists' Society, annotated by Mr. Southwell and others, and next year appeared in two volumes the classical edition of Thomas Bell (1792-1880) [q.v.], the possessor and occupant formerly for forty years of White's house at Selborne, an edition which, from the great amount of new information it gives, throws all others into the shade. To Bell's edition reference has been chiefly made throughout this article. Of two editions announced in 1899, one has a preface by Grant Allen, with illustrations by Mr. E. H. New and Coleridge's manuscript notes from the copy of Mark wick's edition in the British Museum; the other, edited by Dr. Bowdler Sharpe from the original manuscript, includes for the first time the whole of 'The Garden Kalendar' kept by White from 1751, which is edited by Dean Hole, and numerous illustrations by Mr. J. G. Keulemans, and others.
A German translation by F. A. A. Meyer was published at Berlin in 1792 (16mo) under the title of White's Beytrage zur Naturgeschichte von England.' It consists of extracts so put together as to lose their epistolary character, though the name of letters is kept up. White's first six letters to Pennant are condensed into an 'Erster Brief,' while the last and 'Vierzehnter Brief' is compounded of three of those to Barrington. The translation is not very accurate, and the editor's remarks, whether inserted in the text between brackets or as footnotes, often convey a sneer.
[Various editions, especially that by Thomas Bell (2 vols. 1877), of The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne; unpublished letters and documents; a 'Life,' as yet unfinished and in manuscript, by White's great-great-nephew, Rashleigh Holt-White, esq.; series of unpublished letters from John Mulso to Gilbert White (1744-90) in the possession of the latter's relative, William, earl of Stamford; extracts from documents in Oriel College, Oxford, furnished by Charles Lancelot Shadwell, esq., D.C.L., and a contribution by him to A. Clark's Colleges of Oxford, 1891, p. 121; anonymous article 'Selborne' in the New Monthly Magazine, vol. xxix., for December 1830; Edward Jesse's Gleanings in Natural History, 2nd ser., London, 1834; Correspondence of Robert Marsham and Gilbert White, with notes by Thomas Southwell and others, in Trans. Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists' Society, ii. 133-95 (1876); 'The Published Writings of Gilbert White,' Notes and Queries, 5th ser. vols. vii-ix. (1877-8); 'Gilbert White of Selborne' (revised proof of the full article by Richard Hooper), Temple Bar Magazine, vol. iv. April 1878; review of Bell's edition, Nature, xvii. 399, 400 (21 March 1878); Spectator, 13 July 1878; articles in the Saturday Review, 10 and 24 Sept. 1887; 'Gilbert White in Sussex,' by H. D. Gordon, Zoologist, 1893, pp. 441-50; 'Gilbert White of Selborne,' by W. W. Fowler, Macmillan's Magazine for July 1893, pp. 182-9; E. A. Martin's Bibliography of Gilbert White, 1897; Clutterbuck's Notes on the Parishes of Fyfield (extracts from Henry White's Diary), &c., edited by E. D. Webb, Salisbury, 1898.]