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Explore the original magic of Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selborne

a print of a view across fields and wooded hillsides

View of Selborne from the first edition 1789.

The original manuscript for the fourth most published book in the English language, Rev. Gilbert White’s Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, goes online

One of the most enduringly popular books in the English language, The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, Rev. Gilbert White’s 1789 paean to the natural history of a quiet corner of Hampshire, was revolutionary.

Made up of letters to like-minded friends in which White mused over local flora, fauna and wildlife, it was the first close study of British living birds and animals in their natural habitats.

White’s approach was at odds with the work of most naturalists of the time, who tended to examine dead species in detail in laboratory-type conditions.

He became, for example, the first to identify the Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Wood Warbler as three distinct species, based on their different songs, and to describe the Harvest Mouse and Noctule Bat.

a photo of a handwritten page of a book

The original 1789 maunscript of The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne by Gilbert White.

a photo of a page from a book with an illustration of a barn owl at the top

Barn owl from the 1938 Massingham edition – illustration by Eric Ravillious.

a photo of a page from a book handwritten in ink

The original 1789 maunscript of The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne by Gilbert White.

a photo of a page from a book with an illustration of a bird in the middle

Snipe from the 1833 Lady Drover’s Edition.

As well as a country parson White was an avid gardener who recorded meticulously the fruit and vegetables he sowed, the crops he reaped, the weather conditions and environment around him. ‘Natural History’ is similarly packed with small, insightful observations, such as this description of rooks written on Sunday 12 December 1773:

“Rooks visit their nest-tress every morning just at the dawn of the day, being preceded a few minutes by a flight of daws: & again about sunset. At the close of day they retire into deep woods to roost.”

Haiku-like descriptions like these of the undulating rhythms of the natural world have endeared White to generation upon generation of readers. Since 1789, the book has been published in over 300 editions and has never been out of print.

Now modern readers can get closer to White’s vivid and captivating illustration of the relationship between humans and the natural world in the south of England, as his original manuscript goes online for the first time.

The original manuscript comprises 339 loose leaf pages between leather covers and is approximately 400mm x 400mm when closed. From Saturday May 12, the whole manuscript will be available to read in the form of a digital ‘flipbook’ on the Gilbert White Museum’s website at www.gilbertwhiteshouse.org.uk

The flipbook book is accompanied by a new animated video, ‘The man and his manuscript’, narrated by naturalist and presenter, Chris Packham. The manuscript will also be on show in the newly renovated museum, which re-opens to the public after a £3M Heritage Lottery Fund-supported restoration.

Inside the house the Gilbert White and the Oates Collections celebrates the lives of White, Victorian explorer of Central America and Africa, Frank Oates and his nephew Captain Lawrence Oates, who accompanied Scott to the Antarctic in 1911-2.

a side profile of man with shoulder length curly hair and a mortar board

Gilbert White- Ink and Pen portrait.

a photo of a page of a handwritten manuscript

The original 1789 maunscript of The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne by Gilbert White.

a photo of a page of handwritten ink text

The original 1789 maunscript of The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne by Gilbert White.

White was a young boy when his family moved from the Vicarage on Selborne’s Plestor, to the house called ‘The Wakes’, which now houses the museum.

The rooms have been restored following descriptions in White’s own correspondence and the museum opens with a new temporary exhibition exploring the ways in which The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne has inspired artists, looking at methods of production, interpretations of White’s words and the work that goes in to illustrating and printing an edition.

Focusing on the works of John Nash, Ravillious and Grimm it celebrates the illustrations that bring the written word of Gilbert White to life.

Discover the magic of the original manuscript and much more at www.gilbertwhiteshouse.org.uk

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Discover the fascinating stories of three explorers of the natural world- Gilbert White, 18th century author and naturalist; Frank Oates, Victorian explorer of America and Africa; Captain Lawrence Oates who famously lost his life on Scott's ill fated expedition to Antarctica 1911-1912 Explore the charming house, 25 acres of restored…

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