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The Natural History of Selborne, Vol. 2   By: (1720-1793)

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VOL. 2

This eBook was transcribed by Les Bowler.







Gilbert White's home in the quiet Hampshire village of Selborne is an old family house that has grown by additions, and has roofs of nature's colouring, and creeping plants on walls that have not been driven by scarcity of ground to mount into the air. The house is larger, by a wing, now than when White lived in it. A little wooded park, that belongs to it, extends to a steep hill, "The Hanger," clothed with a hanging wood of beech. The Hanger and the slope of Nore Hill place the village in a pleasant shelter. A visit to Selborne can be made by a walk of a few miles from Alton on the South Western Railway. It is a country walk worth taking on its own account.

The name, perhaps, implies that the place is wholesome. It was a village in Anglo Saxon times. Its borne or burn is a brook that has its spring at the head of the village, and "sael" meant prosperity or health of the best. It is the "sel" in the German "Selig" and the "sil" in our "silly," which once represented in the best sense well being of the innocent. So our old poets talk of "seely sheep;" but as the guileless are apt prey to the guileful, silliness came to mean what "blessed innocence" itself now stands for in the language of men who, poor fellows, are very much more foolish. So Selborne has a happy old pastoral name. The fresh, full spring, called the "Well Head," which gives its name to Selborne, doubtless brought the village to its side by the constant water supply that it furnished. The rivulet becomes at Oakhanger a considerable stream.

The Plestor, mentioned in the second letter as having once had a great oak in it which was blown down in the great storm of 1703 a storm of which Defoe collected the chief records into a book bears witness also to the cheerful village life of old. The name is a corruption of Play stow; it was the playground for the village children. That oak blown down in 1703, which the vicar of the time vainly endeavoured to root again, was said to have lived 432 years before the time of its overthrow. The old yew in the churchyard has escaped all storms.

Gilbert White wrote three or four pieces of verse. Of one of them, "An Invitation to Selborne," these are the closing lines:

"Nor be that Parsonage by the Muse forgot; The partial bard admires his native spot; Smit with its beauties, loved, as yet a child, (Unconscious why) its scapes grotesque and wild. High on a mound th' exalted garden stands, Beneath, deep valleys, scooped by Nature's hand. A Cobham here, exulting in his art, Might blend the General's with the Gardener's part; Might fortify with all the martial trade Of rampart, bastion, fosse, and palisade; Might plant the mortar with wide threatening bore, Or bid the mimic cannon seem to roar. Now climb the steep, drop now your eye below, Where round the blooming village orchards grow; There, like a picture, lies my lowly seat, A rural, sheltered, unobserved retreat. Me, far above the rest, Selbornian scenes, The pendent forests, and the mountain greens, Strike with delight; there spreads the distant view, That gradual fades till sunk in misty blue; Here Nature hangs her slopy woods to sight, Rills purl between, and dart a quivering light."

H. M.

LETTERS TO THE HON... Continue reading book >>

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