Academic journal article Electronic Green Journal

Review: Gilbert White: A Biography of the Author of the Natural History of Selborne

Academic journal article Electronic Green Journal

Review: Gilbert White: A Biography of the Author of the Natural History of Selborne

Article excerpt

Mabey, Richard. Gilbert White: A Biography of the Author of The Natural History of Selborne. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2007. 239pp. ISBN 978-0-8139-2649-0. US$16.50.

Permit me to commence with a little personal reminiscence. I grew up in a rural area, and at 8 years of age (a year prior to attending school as it entailed a three-mile walk), I was given a copy of White's Natural History. It confirmed my nascent interest in and feeling for the natural environment, and cemented it firmly into a permanent home within my mind.

White was one of the first to write about natural history with a "sense of intimacy, or wonder or respect - in short, of human engagement with nature."Many of those who read and re-read this wondrous book knew that White was curate in a small English village and that both Thomas Pennant and Daines Barrington had encouraged White to systematically record his observations and descriptive studies of the village. The outcome was the book that so many of us know and love - one of the most frequently published English language books of all time. It appears as a series of letters to each of White's great mentors.

Regrettably White wrote very little, even in his extensive journals and diaries, of his personal life or feelings. Mabey has made an exhaustive search of the available data, and has built a delightful re-construction of the author as a person.

He commences by describing the landscape and lanes of Selborne - which might have been designed to help the human observer to feel a relationship with nature. Gilbert's ancestors had long lived in the village and he had been born there, left for a considerable period, entered the university life at Oxford, but eventually returned to his home village and spent most of his life there. But the early years were full of wandering and seemingly seeking some purpose in life.

On returning, and his appointment as curate of the village, he developed an enthusiasm for gardening, and, in turn, this led him to his painstaking observation of the natural world and a remarkable holism in understanding it. …

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