Gilbert White's Natural History of Selborne (1789) reveals a world of wonders in nature. Over a period of twenty years, White describes in minute detail the behaviour of animals through the changing seasons in the rural Hampshire parish of Selborne. He notes everything from the habits of an eccentric tortoise to the mysteries of bird migration and animal reproduction, with the purpose of inspiring others to observe their own surroundings with the same pleasure and attention.
Written as a series of letters, White's book has all the immediacy of an exchange with friends, yet it is crafted with compelling literary skill. His gossipy correspondence has delighted readers from Charles Darwin to Virginia Woolf, and it has been read as a nostalgic evocation of a pastoral vision, a model for local studies of plants and animals, and a precursor to modern ecology. The 2022 hardback edition includes contemporary illustrations, a contextualizing introduction, and an appendix of literary responses to the book.
Gilbert White was born in 1720 in Selborne in Hampshire and went to Oriel College, Oxford, where he became a Fellow in 1743. He took ordination and held a number of curacies in the vicinity of Selborne before finally becoming permanent curate of his birthplace in 1784, a position he held until his death in 1793. In 1751 he started keeping his 'Garden Kalendar', and later the 'Naturalist's Journal' he kept for 25 years. The Natural History of Selborne is based on his correspondence with two distinguished naturalists, Thomas Pennant and Daines Barrington.
Anne Secord is an Affiliated Research Scholar in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge. The focus of her research and writing is on popular natural history in nineteenth-century Britain, and on horticulture, medicine, and consumption in the eighteenth century. She is completing a book that explores social class, observation, and skill in nineteenth-century natural history for the University of Chicago Press.
Reviews of previous editions:
"I can wholeheartedly recommend this edition [...] Beautifully produced [...] Secord's introduction – surely one of the chief reasons to purchase this new edition of a book never out of print – provides a nuanced and stimulating account of the origins, character, and legacies of Selborne."
– Diarmid A. Finnegan, Journal of Historical Geography
"This Oxford edition offers new insights into a work that has been hugely popular."
– Land and Business
"As fresh and conversational in style as correspondence between friends, but elegantly and skilfully executed, it is easy to see why it has inspired writers from Darwin to Virginia Woolf"
– Juanita Coulston, The Lady