Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Gilbert White

Gilbert White was born on July 18, 1720 in the village of Selborne, England, while his parents were living in the house of his grandfather, also named Gilbert White, the vicar of Selborne. When White was one year old, his father and mother moved to a house in the village of Compton. Like any other country boy, Gilbert took many walks through nature, although he did not keep diary of his walks. The family moved back to Selborne when he was nine, after the death of his grandfather. At the age of thirteen or fourteen White went to Basingstoke where he studied under the Reverend Thomas Warton. In April 1740 he entered Oriel College, Oxford, graduating in 1743.

He spent the following year at Oriel attending lectures on mathematics and was elected fellow the following March. In April 1747 he received Deacon's orders and became the curate for his uncle Charles in Swarraton. In due time he was ordained priest by the bishop of Hereford. He was elected proctor and returned to Oxford for a year in 1753. He returned to Selborn in 1755, although he did not remain there permanently until he became curate in 1784. He remained in Selborne for the rest of his life.

White is most famous for his book, The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, first published in 1789. The book is a compilation of a series of letters that White wrote to Thomas Pennant, a leading zoologist of the day and Daines Barrington a barrister and member of the Royal Society. In the letters, White describes his observations of nature, among other things describing the feeding habits of bats, the evening maneuvers of rooks and the improvement of horticultural soil by earthworms. In the work White identifies many species for the first time.

White is honored as the first English ecologist and the book, which has been in publication since its first printing, has been recognized as the fourth most published book in the English language, after the Bible, the Works of Shakespeare, and Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. White lived out his days in Selborne, passing away on June 26, 1793.


Parkins, Keith;"Gilbert White"

Mabey, Richard; Gilbert White:A Biography of the Author of the Natural History of Selborne; University of Virginia Press; 2007

Gilbert White Wikipedia Entry

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