Gilbert White

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Gilbert White (July 18, 1720 - June 26, 1793) was a pioneering naturalist and ornithologist.

White was born at Selborne in Hampshire. He was educated by a private tutor in Basingstoke before going to Oriel College, Oxford. White obtained his deacon's orders in 1747 and became vicar of Moreton Pinkney in Northamptonshire. He later became curate of Farringdon in Hampshire, the adjoining parish to Selborne, and moved back into the family home at the Wakes. In 1784 he became curate in Selborne, remaining so until his death. Having studied at Oriel at the behest of his uncle, he was ineligible to be considered for the permanent living of Selborne, which was in the gift of Magdelen College.

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Gilbert_White's_House_rear_view.jpg
Gilbert White's House in Selborne

White is regarded as England's first ecologist. He said of the earthworm (1770):

"Earthworms, though in appearance a small and despicable link in the chain of nature, yet, if lost, would make a lamentable chasm [...] worms seem to be the great promoters of vegetation, which would proceed but lamely without them..."

White is best known for his The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (1789). This was a compilation of his letters to Thomas Pennant, the leading zoologist of the day, and also the Hon. Daines Barrington, a Welsh barrister and another member of the Royal Society. These letters contained White's discoveries about local birds and animals. He believed in distinguishing birds by observation rather than by collecting specimens, and was thus one of the first people to separate the similar-looking Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Wood Warbler.

In addition to his publications on Natural History he is also noted as a poet.

His house in Selborne, The Wakes, now contains the Gilbert White Museum, as well as the Oates Memorial Museum, commemorating Frank and Lawrence Oates.

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