The Natural History: Gilbert White's Selborne

Despite his influence on the likes of Charles Darwin, the 18th-century ‘parson-naturalist’ is sorely underrated.

Detail from the cover of Gilbert White’s Selborne, early 20th century

Gilbert White was a pioneer in fieldwork and a significant figure in the modern scientific approach to natural history. Since his The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne was published in 1789 it has gone through over 300 editions. Astonishingly, however, he was left out of The Great Naturalists (2007), a key overview from the Natural History Museum featuring 39 naturalists. And, in 2013, the historian Amy M. King wrote that ‘the permanent renown of White’s text arguably has little to do with any lasting scientific achievement per se’, when, as Richard Mabey wrote in his 1986 biography of White: ‘Darwin praised [White] as one of his chief reasons for his interest in biology.’

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