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White, Gilbert

natural history white’s nature

(1720–93) British naturalist: author of the first English classic on natural history.

White’s enthusiasm for all kinds of natural history is remarkable. He followed a family tradition by becoming a curate and living in the family home, ‘The Wakes’ at Selborne in Hampshire. He declined more senior posts in order to stay there so that he could study nature in his large garden and the nearby countryside. His accounts of this were shared with friends in his letters to them; shortly before his death the diffident White was at last persuaded to edit 110 of his letters to form The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne . The book so pleased its many readers that it has been in print ever since. White’s keenest interest was in birds, whose song and habits he studied; other ornithologists at that time interested themselves only in plumage and anatomy. He studied mammals, bats, reptiles (especially his pet tortoise, Timothy), insects, plants and the weather. His observations gave some evidence for theory of evolution, but its main value has been to provide pleasure and inspiration to generations of naturalists. As one zoologist wrote in 1901: ‘White is interesting because nature is interesting; his descriptions are founded upon natural fact, exactly observed and sagaciously interpreted’.

White Girl, The. 1988 [next] [back] Whitaker, Forest (1961–)

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