Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Gilbert White House, Selborne

The back of Gilbert White's house, Selborne, as seen from the ha-ha at the edge of the park.

From Chawton, we travelled a few miles east, to Selborne, the home of Rev. Gilbert White (1720-1793), author of The Natural History of Selborne (1788). In a series of letters to his friends, the scientists Thomas Pennant and Daines Barrington, Gilbert White meticulously described the natural world that surrounded him in quiet little Selborne. Most of his observations were wonderfully accurate, although he did support the discredited theory that swallows, instead of migrating, hibernated under water in the winter. But Gilbert White is surely one of the world's greatest observers, and stands at the beginning of the long and distinguished tradition of natural history writing in English. Selborne itself is a lovely place. The wooded hills around Selborne, owned by the National Trust, are popular with walkers.

Bibliographical note: I've published a scholarly article on Gilbert White's investigations into echoes, and how his description of echoes in a landscape might help us understand a small crux in Vergil's Ninth Eclogue. The full citation is: “Gilbert White and the Natural History of Vergilian Echoes,” Classical World 95.2 (2002), 163-169.

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