Please note that the poems and essays on this site are copyright and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Gilbert White: A Naturalist's Journal: One day in July

File:Gilbert White's house, back view.JPG

A view from the back garden of Gilbert White's house, The Wakes, Selborne, Hampshire: photo by Ludi Ling, 26 August 2010

25 July, 1790

Lime trees are fragrant: the golden tassels are beautiful. Dr Chandler tells us that in the south of France, an infusion of the blossoms of the lime-tree, tilia, is in much esteem as a remedy for coughs, hoarseness, fevers, etc.; and that at Nismes he saw an avenue of limes that was quite ravaged and torn to pieces by people greedily gathering the bloom, which they dryed and kept for their purposes. Upon the strength of this information we made some tea of lime-blossoms, and found it a very soft, well-flavoured, pleasant, saccharine julep, in taste much resembling the juice of liquorice.

25 July, 1789

No garden-beans gathered yet.  Threw the hay in the meadows into large cocks.  The lime-trees with their golden tassels make a most beautiful show.  Hops throw out their side branches, which are to bear the fruit.  Cran-berries at bin pond not ripe.  Hog pease are hacking at Oakhanger.

25 July, 1786

Pease are hacked: rye is reaping: turnips thrive and are hoing.

25 July, 1785

Boys bring the sixth and seventh wasp’s nest.  My Nep. Edmd White sends me some fine wall-nuts for pickling.  The trees at Newton were not at all touched by the severity of last winter; while mine were so damaged that all the bearing twigs were destroyed.  My wall-nut trees have this summer pushed out shoots thro’ the old bark, several feet from the extremities of the boughs.  While the hen-fly-catcher sits, the cock feeds her all day long: he also pays attention to the former brood, which he feeds at times.

25 July, 1783

Trenched two more rows of celeri in the upper end of the plot by W. Dewey’s: the ground mellow.  We plant out the cabbage-kind some few at a time.  The boys bring me a large wasp’s nest full of maggots.

Some young martins came out of the nest over the garden-door.  This nest was built in 1777, and has been used ever since. As the summer has been dry, and we have drawn much water for the garden, I caused my well to be plumbed, and found we have yet 13 feet of water.  When we were measuring I was desirious of trying the depth of Bentham’s well, which becomes dry every summer; and was surprized to find it 25 feet shallower than my own: the former being only 38 feet deep, and the latter 63.

25 July, 1781

The crop on my largest Apricot-tree is still prodigious, tho’ in May I pulled off 30, or 40 dozen.

25 July, 1779

Puff-balls come up in my grass-plot, and walks: they came from the common in the turf.  There are many fairy-rings in my walks, in these the puff-balls thrive best.  The fairy-rings alter and vary in their shape.

25 July, 1778

The water shines in the fallows.  Much damage done about London by lightening on July 20.

25 July, 1776 

Bees that have not swarmed kill their drones.

25 July, 1774 

Grapes very small and backward for want of sun.  qu: if they will ripen.

*They did in Octr.

25 July, 1773 

Some hops much infested with aphides.

25 July, 1772
Wheat turns yellowish.  Mercury falls very fast.

25 July, 1768 

Cut the first cantelupe-melon.

Gilbert White (1720-1793): from Naturalist's Journal (entries for 25 July, 1768-1790) in Journals, edited by Walter Johnson, 1931

File:Hot Beds used by Gilbert White - - 546583.jpg

Hot Beds used by Gilbert White. Gilbert White successfully grew melons in these hotbeds. A pit is dug and filled with fresh horse manure, on top of which is a foot or so of good loamy soil. The manure ferments and produces a high temperature which aids the germination of the seeds. If required, glass can also be placed across the frame: photo by Dr Neil Clifton, 2 September 2007

File:Selborne, Hampshire, The Wakes - - 546573.jpg

Selborne, Hampshire: The Wakes, home of the famous naturalist and gardener Gilbert White: photo by Dr Neil Clifton, 2 September 2007

File:Gilbert White's garden, Selborne, Hampshire - - 546577.jpg

Gilbert White's garden, Selborne, Hampshire. Gilbert White was not a rich man and could not afford statues to decorate his garden. Instead he used wooden boards painted to resemble statues at the end of sight lines as here through the field gates
: photo by Dr Neil Clifton, 2 September 2007

File:Young Orchard - - 164522.jpg

Young Orchard. At Sotherington Farm near Selbone
: photo by John Phillips, 1 May 2006

File:Mind the Nettles - - 163820.jpg

Mind the Nettles: photo by John Phillips, 1 May 2006

File:Snap of Snap Wood - - 163818.jpg

Snap of Snap Wood: photo by John Phillips, 1 May 2006

File:Pond near Selborne - - 628812.jpg

Pond near Selborne: photo by Mike Parsons, 11 July 2006

File:Temple Wood near Selborne - - 163823.jpg

Temple Wood near Selborne
: photo by John Phillips, 1 May 2006

File:The water below Outshott hangar - - 180442.jpg

The water below Outshott hangar. Stagnant in places. We saw a owl fly off in between the trees as we walked back: photo by Andrya Prescott: 3 June 2006

File:Noar Hill Wildlife Reserve - - 31331.jpg

Noar Hill Wildlife Reserve: photo by Bob Ford, 15 May 2005

File:Noar hill near Selborne - - 163814.jpg 

Noar Hill near Selborne: photo by John Phillips, 1 May 2006

File:Noar Hill from the Hangers' Way path on the south side of Selborne Hill - - 68542.jpg

Noar Hill from the Hangers' Way path on the south side of Selborne Hill: photo by Keith Rose, 8 June 2004

File:Looking south from Noar Hill - - 256745.jpg

Looking south from Noar Hill. The ploughed field forms the plateau-like summit of Noar Hill. Almost surrounding the field is a glorious wildlife reserve
: photo by Hugh Chevallier, 8 October 2006

File:Hawkley Hanger, from footpath at Vann Farm, Empshott - - 165919.jpg

Hawkley Hanger, from footpath at Vann Farm, Empshott. On Hangers Way: photo by Keith Rose, 6 May 2006

File:Road by Vann Farm, Empshott - - 165918.jpg

Road by Vann Farm, Empshott. On Hangers Way: photo by Keith Rose, 6 May 2006

File:Hangers near Empshott - - 357454.jpg

Hangers near Empshott. Another section of the boundary between the hangers and open farmland:
photo by Graham Horn, 4 March 2007

File:Footpath towards Empshott - - 357473.jpg

Footpath towards Empshott. Take your pick of which bit of mud you wish to use: photo by Graham Horn, 4 March 2007

File:Byway through the Woods - - 44336.jpg

Byway through the Woods. Taken on the byway to Selborne Priory through the woods east of Selborne: photo by Ron Strutt, 23 March 2003

File:Looking Down the Zig-Zag Walk, Selborne Hanger. - - 179853.jpg

 Looking Down the Zig-Zag Walk, Selborne Hanger. This is the area where Rev. Gilbert White researched and wrote his celebrated "Natural History of Selborne". At the age of 23, in 1743, White helped his brother John to clear and construct this path: photo by Colin Smith, November 2002

for Karen and Duncan Jones


TC said...

Of Gilbert White's uniquely observant, precise, artful and curious Journals his biographer Richard Mabey has commented: " is possible to read the journals as a simple historical record of natural events, and spanning forty years without a break... yet it is the lucidity and resonance of the best of the entries that are his most important legacy. Stripping away pastoral allusions, adjectival excess, self-examination, searches for meaning, he distilled a form of spare, literary miniature which had an immediacy not seen in this kind of prose before... Yet it is doubtful if White saw his journals as 'writing' in any literary sense. For him, I think, they were his intellectual ledger, where he took stock of his understanding of the physical world. They always have this probing, investigative sense about them that lifts them beyond merely passive records..."

TC said...

And see also:


Jonathan Chant said...

Hampshire, July 25th 2012

The sun finally arrives after weeks of cold and rain. Re-planting carrots. The courgettes, like the pastoral allusions, stripped away by the slugs.

TC said...


Nothing more useful than the local knowledge.

But ah, the sodden slug infested pastoral! Alas, the lovely convoluted fuzzy yellow flower lost!



Lovely indeed, to think that it was all going on there, back then. Here's Dorothy Wordsworth's journal entry for July 25th --

"But the day after Friday July [25th] still hotter. All the morning I was engaged in unpacking our Somersetshire goods & in making pies. The house was a hot oven but yet we could bake the pies -- I was so weary I could not walk so I went & sate with Wm in the orchard -- we had a delightful half hour in the warm still evening."


light coming into fog against invisible
top of ridge, bird chirping from branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

sketch of, views that stood
at odds with the fact

sense of something, what is
by way of, appears in

grey white of sky to the left of point,
shadowed green pine on tip of sandspit

Wooden Boy said...

A good,soft English light in all the photos.

I love the line: "Wheat turns yellowish. Mercury falls very fast".

Wheat and mercury together; something almost alchemical there.

A wonderful post, TC

Anonymous said...

"The only place where omens possess any reality is inside that sad prison, the human mind."...TC
beautiful pics!!

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

The “lovely convoluted fuzzy yellow flower” makes for one of summer’s yummier delicacies over here in Hellas but first someone has to get up very early and pick them before the heat wilts them; after that, just leave it to the wife to stuff and cook them. Gusto perfecto!

ACravan said...

I love this and all the comments also, esp. your initial one and WB's note. I will be eternally grateful for your introduction to Gilbert White. I keep White by my bedside and he never fails to restore me when I think nothing possibly can. Curtis

Susan Kay Anderson said...

So rich, so beautiful. I want to live there, teeth sinking into everything, into escape. I see a softness that is welcome to contrast the harsh. Healing, gorgeous. That's why people go there--more than lavender to attract the bees.

TC said...

Wheat and mercury surely represent a poetico-alchemical conjunction.

To sit with Dorothy and William in the orchard in the warm Somerset evening, after the baking of the pies, a heavenly imagination.

The buzzing of the bees about the wild lavender in the zucchini patch...

I love the mental picture I have of Gilbert and John White clearing and constructing the Zigzag path. A poetry of place that first pitches in with the literal fashioning of the place, long before beginning the loving annotation of its natural history.

He improved the land and improved the knowledge we have of the things that lived upon it. "He added the harvest mouse and the noctule bat to the list of British mammals, and was the first to distinguish clearly the three species of 'willow wrens'," as his great editor Walter Johnson tells us.

All evidence indicates he was a cheerful, witty, mild and endlessly curious man. There is scant report of his ever having been cross with anyone about anything. The one instance noted is the story concerning his manservant, Thomas Hoar. Hoar was a few years older than White; in the end he survived White by four years, reaching the grand age of eighty-three. White left him a generous legacy in his will. There were those who felt Hoar took liberties due to his privileged position in the household; that he had been "spoilt" by White's exceptional kindness and generosity. But only one tale survives of White coming even near to losing his temper with Hoar. Hoar is to have broken a glass, and confessed it. How did you do that, then, Thomas? enquired GW. "I'll show you, Sir," declared Hoar, who promptly went and got another wine glass, and dashed it upon the floor. "There, go along Thomas! you are a great fool," White said; and then muttered, "And I was as great a one for asking such a foolish question."

The secret hero of his Journals is Timothy the Tortoise, bequeathed to him by an aunt, Mrs Snooke of Ringmer. Timothy was a great favourite of White's, but White being White, this meant Timothy often found himself involuntarily participating in the naturalist's scientific experiments. Immersion in water, for example, brought little joy to Timothy. Small wonder then we often find him burrowing-in for the long haul.

This would begin in late autumn.

White began to note these seasonal retirements when Timothy was still at Ringmer.

"1 November, 1771. Mrs Snooke's tortoise begins to dig in order to hide himself for the winter...

"10 November, 1771. Tortoise comes out in the sun about noon, but soon returns to his work of digging a hole to retire into..."

The pleasure of observing animals and plants in their ways of living and being was for White a form of love.

One could write a book about his relations with Timothy, for example.

(In fact, someone has done!)