1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/White, Gilbert
WHITE, GILBERT (1720–1793), English writer on natural history, was born on the 18th of July 1720 in the little Hampshire village of Selborne, which his writings have rendered so familiar to all lovers of either books or nature. He was educated at Basingstoke under Thomas Warton, father of the poet, and subsequently at Oriel College, Oxford, where in 1744 he was elected to a fellowship. Ordained in 1747, he became curate at Swarraton the same year and at Selborne in 1751. In 1752 he was nominated junior proctor at Oxford and became dean of his college. In 1753 he accepted the curacy of Durley, and in 1757 he was a candidate for the provostship of Oriel, but failed to secure election. Soon afterwards he received the college living of Moreton Pinkney, though he did not reside there, and in 1761 he became curate at Faringdon, near Selborne, a position which he held until in 1784 he again became curate in his native parish. He died in his home, The Wakes, Selborne, on the 26th of June 1793.
Gilbert White's daily life was practically unbroken by any great changes or incidents; for nearly half a century his pastoral duties, his watchful country walks, the assiduous care of his garden, and the scrupulous posting of his calendar of observations made up the essentials of a full and delightful life, but hardly of a biography. At most we can only fill up the portrait by reference to the tinge of simple old-fashioned scholarship, which on its historic side made him an eager searcher for antiquities and among old records, and on its poetic occasionally stirred him to an excursion as far as that gentlest slope of Parnassus inhabited by the descriptive muse. Hence we are thrown back upon that correspondence with brother naturalists which has raised his life and its influence so far beyond the commonplace. His strong naturalist tendencies are not, however, properly to be realized without a glance at the history of his younger brothers. The eldest, Thomas, retired from trade to devote himself to natural and physical science, and contributed many papers to the Royal Society, of which he was a fellow. The next, Benjamin, became the publisher of most of the leading works of natural history which appeared during his lifetime, including that of his brother. The third, John, became chaplain at Gibraltar, where he accumulated much material for a work on the natural history of the rock and its neighbourhood, and carried on a scientific correspondence, not only with his eldest brother, but with Linnaeus. The youngest, Henry, was vicar of Fyfield, near Andover. The sister's son, Samuel Barker, also became in time one of White's most valued correspondents. With other naturalists, too, he had intimate relations: vvith Thomas Pennant and Daines Barrington he was in constant correspondence, often too with the botanist John Lightfoot, and sometimes with Sir Joseph Banks and others, while Richard Chandler and other antiquaries kept alive his historic zeal. At first he was content to furnish information from which the works of Pennant and Barrington largely profited; but gradually the ambition of separate authorship developed from a suggestion thrown out by the latter of these writers in 1770. The next year White sketched to Pennant the project of " a natural history of my native parish, an annus historic-naturalis, comprising a journal for a whole year, and illustrated with large notes and observations. Such a beginning might induce more able naturalists to write the history of various districts and might in time occasion the production of a work so much to be wished for—a full and complete natural history of these kingdoms." Yet the famous Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne did not appear until 1789. It was well received from the beginning, and has been reprinted time after time.