The Natural History of Selborne
by Gilbert White
INVITATION TO SELBORNE.
See, Selborne spreads her boldest beauties round The varied valley, and the mountain ground, Wildly majestic ! What is all the pride, Of flats, with loads of ornaments supplied ?— Unpleasing, tasteless, impotent expense, Compared with Nature's rude magnificenee.
Arise, my stranger, to these wild scenes haste; The unfinish'd farm awaits your forming taste: Plan the pavilion, airy, light, and true; Through the high arch call in the length'ning view; Expand the forest sloping up the hill; Swell to a lake the scant, penurious rill; Extend the vista; raise the castle mound In antique taste, with turrets ivy-crown'd: O'er the gay lawn the flow'ry shrub dispread, Or with the blending garden mix the mead; Bid China's pale, fantastic fence delight; Or with the mimic statue trap the sight.
Oft on some evening, sunny, soft, and still, The Muse shall lead thee to the beech-grown hill, To spend in tea the cool, refreshing hour, Where nods in air the pensile, nest-like bower; Or where the hermit hangs the straw-clad cell, Emerging gently from the leafy dell, By fancy plann'd; as once th' inventive maid Met the hoar sage amid the secret shade: Romantic spot ! from whence in prospect lies Whate'er of landscape charms our feasting eyes'— The pointed spire, the hall, the pasture plain, The russet fallow, or the golden grain, The breezy lake that sheds a gleaming light, Till all the fading picture fail the sight.
Each to his task; all different ways retire: Cull the dry stick; call forth the seeds of fire; Deep fix the kettle's props, a forky row, Or give with fanning hat the breeze to blow.
Whence is this taste, the furnish'd hall forgot, To feast in gardens, or th' unhandy grot ? Or novelty with some new charms surprises, Or from our very shifts some joy arises. Hark, while below the village bells ring round, Echo, sweet nymph, returns the soften'd sound; But if gusts rise, the rushing forests roar, Like the tide tumbling on the pebbly shore.
Adown the vale, in lone, sequester'd nook, Where skirting woods imbrown the dimpling brook, The ruin'd convent lies: here wont to dwell The lazy canon midst his cloister'd cell, While Papal darkness brooded o'er the land, Ere Reformation made her glorious stand: Still oft at eve belated shepherd swains See the cowl'd spectre skim the folded plains.
To the high Temple would my stranger go, The mountain-brow commands the woods below: In Jewry first this order found a name, When madding Croisades set the world in flame; When western climes, urged on by pope and priest Pour'd forth their minions o'er the deluged East: Luxurious knights, ill suited to defy To mortal fight Turcestan chivalry.
Nor be the parsonage by the Muse forgot — The partial bard admires his native spot; Smit with its beauties, loved, as yet a child, Unconscious why, its capes, grotesque and wild. High on a mound th' exalted gardens stand, Beneath, deep valleys, scoop'd 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 threat'ning bore, Or bid the mimic cannon seem to roar:
Now climb the steep, drop now your eye belong Where round the blooming village orchards grow; There, like a picture, lies my lowly seat, A rural, shelter'd, 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.
A WINTER PIECE, TO THE MISS B*****S
The bard, who sang so late in blithest strain Selbornian prospects, and the rural reign, Now suits his plaintive pipe to sadden'd tone, While the blank swains the changeful year bemoan.
How fallen the glories of these fading scenes ! The dusky beech resigns his vernal greens; The yellow maple mourns in sickly hue, And russet woodlands crowd the dark'ning view.
Dim, clust'ring fogs involve the country round, The valley and the blended mountain ground Sink in confusion; but with tempest-wing Should Boreas from his northern barrier spring, The rushing woods with deaf'ning clamour roar, Like the sea tumbling on the pebbly shore. When spouting rains descend in torrent tides, See the torn zigzag weep its channel'd sides: Winter exerts its rage; heavy and slow, From the keen east rolls on the treasured snow; Sunk with its weight the bending boughs are seen, And one bright deluge whelms the works of men. Amidst this savage landscape, bleak and bare, Hangs the chill hermitage in middle air; Its haunts forsaken, and its feasts forgot, A leaf-strown, lonely, desolated cot ! Is this the scene that late with rapture rang, Where Delphy danced, and gentle Anna sang ? With fairy step where Harriet tripp'd so late, And, on her stump reclined, the musing Kitty sate ?
Return, dear nymphs; prevent the purple spring, Ere the soft nightingale essays to sing; Ere the first swallow sweeps the fresh'ning plain, Ere love-sick turtles breathe their amorous pain; Let festive glee th' enliven'd village raise, Pan's blameless reign, and patriarchal days; With pastoral dance the smitten swain surprise, And bring all Arcady before our eyes.
Return, blithe maidens; with you bring along Free, native humour; all the charms of song; The feeling heart, and unaffected ease; Each nameless grace, and ev'ry power to please.
Nov. 1, 1763.
ON THE RAINBOW.
" Look upon the Rainbow, and praise him that made it: very beautiful is it in the brightness thereof."— Eccles., xliii. 11.
On morning or on evening cloud impress'd, Bent in vast curve, the watery meteor shines Delightfully, to th' levell'd sun opposed: Lovely refraction ! while the vivid brede In listed colours glows, th' unconscious swain, With vacant eye, gazes on the divine Phenomenon, gleaming o'er the illumined fields, Or runs to catch the treasures which it sheds.
Not so the sage: inspired with pious awe, He hails the federal arch ; and looking up, Adores that God, whose fingers form'd this bow Magnificent, compassing heaven about With a resplendent verge, " Thou mad'st the cloud, " Maker omnipotent, and thou the bow; " And by that covenant graciously hast sworn " Never to drown the world again: henceforth, " Till time shall be no more, in ceaseless round, " Season shall follow season: day to night, " Summer to winter, harvest to seed time, " Heat shall to cold in regular array " Succeed. " — Heav'n taught, so sang the Hebrew bard.
A HARVEST SCENE.
Waked by the gentle gleamings of the morn, Soon clad, the reaper, provident of want, Hies cheerful-hearted to the ripen'd field: Nor hastes alone: attendant by his side His faithful wife, sole partner of his cares, Bears on her breast the sleeping babe; behind, With steps unequal, trips her infant train; Thrice happy pair, in love and labour join'd !
All day they ply their task; with mutual chat, Beguiling each the sultry, tedious hours. Around them falls in rows the sever'd corn, Or the shocks rise in regular array.
But when high noon invites to short repast, Beneath the shade of sheltering thorn they sit, Divide the simple meal, and drain the cask: The swinging cradle lulls the whimpering babe Meantime; while growling round, if at the tread Of hasty passenger alarm'd, as of their store Protective, stalks the cur with bristling back, To guard the scanty scrip and russet frock.
ON THE DARK, STILL, DRY, WARM WEATHER.
OCCASIONALLY HAPPENING IN THE WINTER MONTHS.
Th' imprison'd winds slumber within their caves, Fast bound: the fickle vane, emblem of change, Wavers no more, long settling to a point.
All Nature nodding seems composed: thick steams, From land, from flood up-drawn, dimming the day, " Like a dark ceiling stand: " slow through the air Gossamer floats, or, stretch'd from blade to blade, The wavy net-work whitens all the field.
Push'd by the weightier atmosphere, up springs The ponderous mercury, from scale to scale Mounting, amidst the Torricellian tube.
While high in air, and poised upon his wings, Unseen, the soft, enamour'd woodlark runs Through all his maze of melody; the brake, Loud with the blackbird's bolder note, resounds.
Sooth'd by the genial warmth, the cawing rook Anticipates the spring, selects her mate, Haunts her tall nest-trees, and with sedulous care Repairs her wicker eyrie, tempest-torn.
The ploughman inly smiles to see upturn His mellow globe, best pledge of future crop: With glee the gardener eyes his smoking beds; E'en pining sickness feels a short relief
The happy schoolboy brings transported forth His long-forgotten scourge, and giddy gig: O'er the white paths he whirls the rolling hoop, Or triumphs in the dusty fields of taw.
Not so the museful sage:—abroad he walks Contemplative, if haply he may find What cause controls the tempest's rage, or whence, Amidst the savage season, Winter smiles.
For days, for weeks, prevails the placid calm. At length some drops prelude a change: the sun With ray refracted, bursts the parting gloom, When all the chequer'd sky is one bright glare.
Mutters the wind at eve; th' horizon round With angry aspect scowls: down rush the showers, And float the deluged paths, and miry fields.
THE NATURAL HISTORY OF SELBORNE
In a series of letters addressed to THOMAS PENNANT, ESQ. and The Hon. DAINES BARRINGTON
The Author of the following Letters takes the liberty, with all proper deference, of laying before the public his idea of parochial history, which, he thinks, ought to consist of natural productions and occurrences as well as antiquities. He is also of opinion that if stationary men would pay some attention to the districts on which they reside, and would publish their thoughts respecting the objects that surround them, from such materials might be drawn the most complete county-histories, which are still wanting in several parts of this kingdom, and in particular in the county of Southampton.
And here he seizes the first opportunity, though a late one, of returning his most grateful acknowledgments to the reverend the President and the reverend and worthy the Fellows of Magdalen College in the University of Oxford, for their liberal behaviour in permitting their archives to be searched by a member of their own society, so far as the evidences therein contained might respect the parish and priory of Selborne. To that gentleman also, and his assistant, whose labours and attention could only be equalled by the very kind manner in which they were bestowed, many and great obligations are also due.
Of the authenticity of the documents above-mentioned there can be no doubt, since they consist of the identical deeds and records that were removed to the College from the Priory at the time of its dissolution; and, being carefully copied on the spot, may be depended on as genuine; and, never having been made public before, may gratify the curiosity of the antiquary, as well as establish the credit of the history.
If the writer should at all appear to have induced any of his leaders to pay a more ready attention to the wonders of the Creation, too frequently overlooked as common occurrences; or if he should by any means, through his researches, have lent an helping hand towards the enlargement of the boundaries of historical and topographical knowledge; or if he should have thrown some small light upon ancient customs and manners, and especially on those that were monastic, his purpose will be fully answered. But if he should not have been successful in any of these his intentions, yet there remains this consolation behind—that these his pursuits, by keeping the body and mind employed, have, under Providence, contributed to much health and cheerfulness of spirits, even to old age:—and, what still adds to his happiness, have led him to the knowledge of a circle of gentlemen whose intelligent communications, as they have afforded him much pleasing information, so, could he flatter himself with a continuation of them, would they ever be deemed a matter of singular satisfaction and improvement.
Gil. White. Selborne, January 1st, 1788.
THE NATURAL HISTORY OF SELBORNE
LETTERS to THOMAS PENNANT, ESQ.
Letter I To Thomas Pennant, Esquire
The parish of Selborne lies in the extreme eastern corner of the county of Hampshire, bordering on the county of Sussex, and not far from the county of Surrey; is about fifty miles south-west of London, in latitude 51, and near midway between the towns of Alton and Peters field. Being very large and extensive, it abuts on twelve parishes, two of which are in Sussex, viz., Trotton and Rogate. If you begin from the south and proceed westward, the adjacent parishes are Emshot, Newton Valence, Faringdon, Harteley Mauduit, Great Ward le ham, Kingsley, Hedleigh, Bramshot, Trotton, Rogate, Lysse, and Greatham. The soils of this district are almost as various and diversified as the views and aspects. The high part to the south-west consists of a vast hill of chalk, rising three hundred feet above the village; and is divided into a sheep down, the high wood, and a long hanging wood called the Hanger. The covert of this eminence is altogether beech, the most lovely of all forest trees, whether we consider its smooth rind or bark, its glossy foliage, or graceful pendulous boughs. The down, or sheep-walk, is a pleasing park-like spot, of about one mile by half that space, jutting out on the verge of the hill-country, where it begins to break down into the plains, and commanding a very engaging view, being an assemblage of hill, dale, wood-lands, heath, and water. The prospect is bounded to the south-east and east by the vast range of mountains called the Susses-downs, by Guild-down near Guildford, and by the Downs round Dorking, and Ryegate in Surrey, to the north-east, which altogether, with the country beyond Alton and Farnham, form a noble and extensive outline.
At the foot of this hill, one stage or step from the uplands, lies the village, which consists of one single straggling street, three- quarters of a mile in length, in a sheltered vale, and running parallel with the Hanger. The houses are divided from the hill by a vein of stiff clay (good wheat-land), yet stand on a rock of white stone, little in appearance removed from chalk; but seems so far from being calcareous, that it endures extreme heat. Yet that the freestone still preserves somewhat that is analogous to chalk, is plain from the beeches which descend as low as those rocks extend, and no farther, and thrive as well on them, where the ground is steep, as on the chalks.
The cart-way of the village divides, in a remarkable manner, two very incongruous soils. To the south-west is a rank-clay, that requires the labour of years to render it mellow; while the gardens to the north-east, and small enclosures behind, consist of a warm, forward, crumbling mould, called black malm, which seems highly saturated with vegetable and animal manure; and these may perhaps have been the original site of the town; while the wood and coverts might extend down to the opposite bank.
At each end of the village, which runs from south-east to north- west, arises a small rivulet: that at the north-west end frequently fails; but the other is a fine perennial spring, little influenced by drought or wet seasons, called Well-head.* This breaks out of some high grounds joining to Core Hill, a noble chalk promontory, remarkable for sending forth two streams into two different seas. The one to the south becomes a branch of the Arun, running to Arundel, and so falling into the British Channel: the other to the north. The Selborne stream makes one branch of the Wey; and meeting the Black-down stream at Hedleigh, and the Alton and Farnham stream at Tilford-bridge, swells into a considerable river, navigable at Godalming; from whence it passes to Guildford, and so into the Thames at Weybridge; and thus at the Nore into the German Ocean. (* This spring produced, September 14, 1781, after a severe hot summer, and a preceding dry spring and winter, nine gallons of water in a minute, which is five hundred and forty in an hour, and twelve thousand nine hundred and sixty, or two hundred and sixteen hogsheads, in twenty-four hours, or one natural day. At this time many of the wells failed, and all the ponds in the vales were dry.)
Our wells, at an average, run to about sixty-three feet, and when sunk to that depth seldom fail; but produce a fine limpid water, soft to the taste, and much commended by those who drink the pure element, but which does not lather well with soap.
To the north-west, north and east of the village, is a range of fair enclosures, consisting of what is called a white malm, a sort of rotten or rubble stone, which, when turned up to the frost and rain, moulders to pieces, and becomes manure to itself.** (** This soil produces good wheat and clover.)
Still on to the north-east, and a step lower, is a kind of white land, neither chalk nor clay, neither fit for pasture nor for the plough, yet kindly for hops, which root deep into the freestone, and have their poles and wood for charcoal growing just at hand. This white soil produces the brightest hops.
As the parish still inclines down towards Wolmer-forest, at the juncture of the clays and sand the soil becomes a wet, sandy loam, remarkable for timber, and infamous for roads. The oaks of Temple and Blackmoor stand high in the estimation of purveyors, and have furnished much naval timber; while the trees on the freestone grow large, but are what workmen call shakey, and so brittle as often to fall to pieces in sawing. Beyond the sandy loam the soil becomes an hungry lean sand, till it mingles with the forest; and will produce little without the assistance of lime and turnips.
Letter II To Thomas Pennant, Esquire
In the court of Norton-farmhouse, a manor farm to the north-west of the village, on the white maims, stood within these twenty years a broad-leaved elm, or wych hazel, ulmus folio latissimo scabro of Ray, which, though it had lost a considerable leading bough in the great storm in the year 1703, equal to a moderate tree, yet, when felled, contained eight loads of timber; and, being too bulky for a carriage, was sawn off at seven feet above the butt, where it measured near eight feet in the diameter. This elm I mention to show to what a bulk planted elms may attain; as this tree must certainly have been such from its situation.
In the centre of the village, and near the church, is a square piece of ground surrounded by houses, and vulgarly called the Plestor. In the midst of this spot stood, in old times, a vast oak, with a short squat body, and huge horizontal arms extending almost to the extremity of the area. This venerable tree, surrounded with stone steps, and seats above them, was the delight of old and young, and a place of much resort in summer evenings; where the former sat in grave debate, while the latter frolicked and danced before them. Long might it have stood, had not the amazing tempest in 1703 overturned it at once, to the infinite regret of the inhabitants, and the vicar, who bestowed several pounds in setting it in its place again; but all his care could not avail; the tree sprouted for a time, then withered and died. This oak I mention to show to what a bulk planted oaks also may arrive: and planted this tree must certainly have been, as will appear from what will be said farther concerning this area, when we enter on the antiquities of Selborne.
On the Blackmoor estate there is a small wood called Losel's, of a few acres, that was lately furnished with a set of oaks of a peculiar growth and great value; they were tall and taper lice firs, but standing near together had very small heads, only a little brush without any large limbs. About twenty years ago the bridge at the Toy, near Hampton-court, being much decayed, some trees were wanted for the repairs that were fifty feet long without bough, and would measure twelve inches diameter at the little end. Twenty such trees did a purveyor find in this little wood, with this advantage, that many of them answered the description at sixty feet. These trees were sold for twenty pounds apiece.
In the centre of this grove there stood an oak, which, though shapely and tall on the whole, bulged out into a large excrescence about the middle of the stem. On this a pair of ravens had fixed their residence for such a series of years, that the oak was distinguished by the title of the Raven-tree. Many were the attempts of the neighbouring youths to get at this eyry: the difficulty whetted their inclinations, and each was ambitious of surmounting the arduous task. But, when they arrived at the swelling, it jutted out so in their way, and was so far beyond their grasp, that the most daring lads were awed, and acknowledged the undertaking to be too hazardous. So the ravens built on, nest upon nest, in perfect security, till the fatal day arrived in which the wood was to be levelled. It was in the month of February, when those birds usually sit. The saw was applied to the butt, the wedges were inserted into the opening, the woods echoed to the heavy blows of the beetle or mallet, the tree nodded to its fall; but still the dam sat on. At last, when it gave way, the bird was flung from her nest; and, though her parental affection deserved a better fate, was whipped down by the twigs, which brought her dead to the ground.
Letter III To Thomas Pennant, Esquire
The fossil-shells of this district, and sorts of stone, such as have fallen within my observation, must not be passed over in silence. And first I must mention, as a great curiosity, a specimen that was ploughed up in the chalky fields, near the side of the down, and given to me for the singularity of its appearance, which, to an incurious eye, seems like a petrified fish of about four inches long, the cardo passing for an head and mouth. It is in reality a bivalve of the Linnaean genus of Mytilus, and the species of Crista Galli; called by Lister, Rastellum; by Rumphius, Ostreum plicatum minus; by D'Argenville, Auris Porci, s. Crista Galli, and by those who make collections cock's comb. Though I applied to several such in London, I could never meet with an entire specimen; nor could I ever find in books any engraving from a perfect one. In the superb museum at Leicester-house, permission was given me to examine for this article; and though I was disappointed as to the fossil, I was highly gratified with the sight of several of the shells themselves in high preservation. This bivalve is only known to inhabit the Indian Ocean, where it fixes itself to a zoophyte, known by the name Gorgonia. The curious foldings of the suture, the one into the other, the alternate flutings or grooves, and the curved form of my specimen being much easier expressed by the pencil than by words, I have caused it to be drawn and engraved.
Cornua Ammonis are very common about this village. As we were cutting an inclining path up the Hanger, the labourers found them frequently on that steep, just under the soil, in the chalk, and of a considerable size. In the lane above Well-head, in the way to Emshot, they abound in the bank, in a darkish sort of marl; and are usually very small and soft: but in Clay's Pond, a little farther on, at the end of the pit, where the soil is dug out for manure, I have occasionally observed them of large dimensions, perhaps fourteen or sixteen inches in diameter. But as these did not consist of firm stone, but were formed of a kind of terra lapidosa, or hardened clay, as soon as they were exposed to the rains and frost they mouldered away. These seemed as if they were a very recent production. In the chalk-pit, at the north-west end of the Hanger, large nautili are sometimes observed.
In the very thickest strata of our freestone, and at considerable depths, well-diggers often find large scallops or pectines, having both shells deeply striated, and ridged and furrowed alternately. They are highly impregnated with, if not wholly composed of, the stone of the quarry.
Letter IV To Thomas Pennant, Esquire
As in a former letter the freestone of this place has been only mentioned incidentally, I shall here become more particular.
This stone is in great request for hearth-stones and the beds of ovens: and in lining of lime-kilns it turns to good account; for the workmen use sandy loam instead of mortar; the sand of which fluxes* and runs by the intense heat, and so cases over the whole face of the kiln with a strong vitrified, coat like glass, that it is well preserved from injuries of weather, and endures thirty or forty years. When chiseled smooth, it makes elegant fronts for houses, equal in colour and grain to the Bath stone; and superior in one respect, that, when seasoned, it does not scale. Decent chimney- pieces are worked from it of much closer and finer grain than Portland; and rooms are floored with it; but it proves rather too soft for this purpose. It is a freestone, cutting in all directions; yet has something of a grain parallel with the horizon, and therefore should not be surbedded, but laid in the same position as it grows in the quarry.** On the ground abroad this firestone will not succeed for pavements, because, probably, some degree of saltness prevailing within it, the rain tears the slabs to pieces.*** Though this stone is too hard to be acted on by vinegar, yet both the white part, and even the blue rag, ferments strongly in mineral acids. Though the white stone will not bear wet, yet in every quarry at intervals there are thin strata of blue rag, which resist rain and frost; and are excellent for pitching of stables, paths, and courts, and for building of dry walls against banks, a valuable species of fencing, much in use in this village, and for mending of roads. This rag is rugged and stubborn, and will not hew to a smooth face; but is very durable: yet, as these strata are shallow and lie deep, large quantities cannot be procured but at considerable expense. Among the blue rags turn up some blocks tinged with a stain of yellow or rust colour, which seem to be nearly as lasting as the blue; and every now and then balls of a friable substance, like rust of iron, called rust balls. (* There may probably be also in the chalk itself that is burnt for lime a proportion of sand: for few chalks are so pure as to have none.) (** To surbed stone is to set it edgewise, contrary to the posture it had in the quarry, says Dr. Plot, Oxfordsh., p. 77. But surbedding does not succeed in our dry walls; neither do we use it so in ovens, though he says it is best for Teynton stone.) (*** 'Firestone is full of salts, and has no sulphur: must be close grained, and have no interstices. Nothing supports fire like salts; saltstone perishes exposed to wet and frost.' Plot's Staff., p. 152.)
In Wolmer-forest I see but one sort of stone, called by the workmen sand, or forest-stone. This is generally of the colour of rusty iron, and might probably be worked as iron ore; is very hard and heavy, and of a firm, compact texture, and composed of a small roundish crystalline grit, cemented together by a brown, terrene, ferruginous matter; will not cut without difficulty, nor easily strike fire with steel. Being often found in broad flat pieces, it makes good pavement for paths about houses, never becoming slippery in frost or rain; is excellent for dry walls, and is sometimes used in buildings. In many parts of that waste it lies scattered on the surface of the ground; but is dug on Weaver's-down, a vast hill on the eastern verge of that forest, where the pits are shallow, and the stratum thin. This stone is imperishable.
From a notion of rendering their work the more elegant, and giving it a finish, masons chip this stone into small fragments about the size of the head of a large nail; and then stick the pieces into the wet mortar along the joints of their freestone walls: this embellishment carries an odd appearance, and has occasioned strangers sometimes to ask us pleasantly, 'whether we fastened our walls together with tenpenny nails.'
Letter V To Thomas Pennant, Esquire
Among the singularities of this place the two rocky hollow lanes, the one to Alton, and the other to the forest, deserve our attention. These roads, running through the malm lands, are, by the traffic of ages, and the fretting of water, worn down through the first stratum of our freestone, and partly through the second; so that they look more like water- courses than roads; and are bedded with naked rag for furlongs together. In many places they are reduced sixteen or eighteen feet beneath the level of the fields; and after floods, and in frosts, exhibit very grotesque and wild appearances, from the tangled roots that are twisted among the strata, and from the torrents rushing down their broken sides; and especially when those cascades are frozen into icicles, hanging in all the fanciful shapes of frost-work. These rugged gloomy scenes affright the ladies when they peep down into them from the paths above, and make timid horsemen shudder while they ride along them; but delight the naturalist with their various botany, and particularly with their curious filices with which they abound.
The manor of Selborne, was it strictly looked after, with its kindly aspects, and all its sloping coverts, would swarm with game; even now hares, partridges, and pheasants abound; and in old days woodcocks were as plentiful. There are few quails, because they more affect open fields than enclosures; after harvest some few landrails are seen.
The parish of Selborne, by taking in so much of the forest, is a vast district. Those who tread the bounds are employed part of three days in the business, and are of opinion that the outline, in all its curves and indentings, does not comprise less than thirty miles.
The village stands in a sheltered spot, secured by the Hanger from the strong westerly winds. The air is soft, but rather moist from the effluvia of so many trees; yet perfectly healthy and free from agues.
The quantity of rain that falls on it is very considerable, as may be supposed in so woody and mountainous a district. As my experience in measuring the water is but of short date, I am not qualified to give the mean quantity.* (*A very intelligent gentleman assures me (and he speaks from upwards of forty years' experience) that the mean rain of any plate cannot be ascertained till a person has measured it for a very long period. 'If I had only measured the rain,' says he, 'for the four first years from 1740 to 1743, I should have said the mean rain at Lyndon was 16 and a half inches for the year, if from 1740 to 1750, 18 and a half inches. The mean rain before 1763 was 20 and a quarter, from 1763 and since, 25 and a half; from 1770 to 1780, 26. If only 1773, 1774 and 1775 had been measured, Lyndon mean rain would have been called 32 inches.')
I only know that:
From May 1, 1779, the end of the year, there fell 28 Inch. 37! Hund. From Jan. 1, 1780, to Jan. 1, 1781, there fell 27 32 From Jan. 1, 1781, to Jan. 1, 1782, there fell 30 71 From Jan. 1, 1782, to Jan. 1, 1783, there fell 50 26! From Jan. 1, 1783, to Jan. 1, 1784, there fell 33 71 From Jan. 1, 1784, to Jan. 1, 1785, there fell 33 80 From Jan. 1, 1785, to Jan. 1, 1786, there fell 31 55 From Jan. 1, 1786, to Jan. 1, 1787, there fell 39 57
The village of Selborne, and large hamlet of Oak-hanger, with the single farms, and many scattered houses along the verge of the forest, contain upwards of six hundred and seventy inhabitants.* We abound with poor; many of whom are sober and industrious, and live comfortably in good stone or brick cottages, which are glazed, and have chambers above stairs: mud buildings we have none. Besides the employment from husbandry the men work in hop gardens, of which we have many; and fell and bark timber. In the spring and summer the women weed the corn; and enjoy a second harvest in September by hop-picking. Formerly, in the dead months they availed themselves greatly by spinning wool, for making of barragons, a genteel corded stuff, much in vogue at that time for summer wear; and chiefly manufactured at Alton, a neighbouring town, by some of the people called Quakers: but from circumstances this trade is at an end.** The inhabitants enjoy a good share of health and longevity: and the parish swarms with children.
(* A state of the parish of Selborne, taken October 4, 1783.
The number of tenements or families, 136. The number of inhabitants in the street is ... 313 In the rest of the parish ... 363 Total, 676; near five inhabitants to each tenement.
In the time of the Rev. Gilbert White, vicar, who died in 1727-8, the number of inhabitants was computed at about 500.)
(** Since the passage above was written, I am happy in being able to say that the spinning employment is a little revived, to the no small comfort of the industrious housewife.)
——————————————————————————————————————————- ——————————————————— Average of baptisms for 60 years.
From 1720 to 1729, both years inclusive Males 6,9 Females 6,0 12,9 From 1730 to 1739, both years inclusive Males 8,2 Females 7,1 15,3 From 1740 to 1749, inclusive Males 9,2 Females 6,6 15,8 From 1750 to 1759, inclusive Males 7,6 Females 8,1 15,7 From 1760 to 1769, inclusive Males 9,1 Females 8,9 18,0 From 1770 to 1779, inclusive Males 10,5 Females 9,8 20 3
Total baptisms of Males 515 Females 465 980 Total of baptisms from 1720 to 1779, both inclusive, 60 years 980.
Average of burials for 60 years.
From 1720 to 1729, both years inclusive Males 4,8 Females 5,1 9,9 From 1730 to 1739, both years inclusive Males 4,8 Females 5,8 10,6 From 1740 to 1749, inclusive Males 4,6 Females 3,8 8,4 From 1750 to 1759, inclusive Males 4,9 Females 5,1 10,0 From 1760 to 1769, inclusive Males 6,9 Females 6,5 13,4 From 1770 to 1779, inclusive Males 5,5 Females 6,2 11,7
Total of burials of Males 315 Females 325 640
Total of burials from 1720 to 1779 both inclusive, 60 years 640. ——————————————————————————————————————————- ——————————————————— Baptisms exceed burials by more them one-third.
Baptisms of Males exceed Females by one-tenth, or one in ten.
Burials of Females exceed Males by one m thirty.
It appears that a child, born Ed bred m this parish, has Em equal chance to live above forty years.
Twins thirteen times, many of whom dying young have lessened the chance for life.
Chances for life in men and women appear to be equal. ——————————————————————————————————————————- ——————————————————— A TABLE of the Baptisms, Burials, and Marriages, from January 2, 1761, to December 25, 1780, in the Parish of Selborne.
1761 Males 8 Females 10 Total 18 1762 7 8 15 1763 8 10 18 1764 11 9 20 1765 12 6 18 1766 9 13 22 1767 14 5 19 1768 7 6 13 1769 9 14 23 1770 10 13 23 1771 10 6 16 1772 11 10 21 1773 8 5 13 1774 6 13 19 1775 20 7 27 1776 11 10 21 1777 8 13 21 1778 7 13 20 1779 14 8 22 1780 8 9 17 198 188 386
1761 Males 2 Females 4 Total 6 1762 10 10 20 1763 3 4 7 1764 10 8 18 1765 9 7 16 1766 10 6 16 1767 6 5 11 1768 2 5 7 1769 6 5 11 1770 4 7 11 1771 3 4 7 1772 6 10 16 1773 7 5 12 1774 2 8 10 1775 13 8 21 1776 4 6 10 1777 7 2 9 1778 3 9 12 1779 5 6 11 1780 11 4 15 123 123 246
1761 3 1762 6 1763 7 1764 6 1765 6 1766 4 1767 2 1768 6 1769 2 1770 3 1771 4 1772 3 1773 3 1774 1 1775 6 1776 6 1777 4 1778 5 1779 0 1780 3 83
During this period of twenty years the births of Males exceeded those of Females 10.
The burials of each sex were equal.
And the births exceeded the deaths 140.
Letter VI To Thomas Pennant, Esquire
Should I omit to describe with some exactness the forest of Wolmer, of which three-fifths perhaps lie in this parish, my account of Selborne would be very imperfect, as it is a district abounding with many curious productions, both animal and vegetable; and has often afforded me much entertainment both as a sportsman and as a naturalist.
The royal forest of Wolmer is a tract of land of about seven miles in length, by two and a half in breadth, running nearly from north to south, and is abutted on, to begin to the south, and so to proceed eastward, by the parishes of Greatham, Lysse, Rogate, and Trotton, in the county of Sussex; by Bramshot, Hedleigh, and Kingsley. This royalty consists entirely of sand covered with heath and fern; but is somewhat diversified with hiss and dales, without having one standing tree in the whole extent. In the bottoms, where the waters stagnate, are many bogs, which formerly abounded with subterraneous trees; though Dr. Plot says positively,* that 'there never were any fallen trees hidden in the mosses of the southern counties.' But he was mistaken: for I myself have seen cottages on the verge of this wild district, whose timbers consisted of a black hard wood, looking like oak, which the owners assured me they procured from the bogs by probing the soil with spits, or some such instruments: but the peat is so much cut out, and the moors have been so wed examined, that none has been found of late.** Besides the oak, I have also been shown pieces of fossil-wood of a paler colour, and softer nature, which the inhabitants called fir: but, upon a nice examination, and trial by fire, I could discover nothing resinous in them; and therefore rather suppose that they were parts of a willow or alder, or some such aquatic tree. (* See his Hist. of Staffordshire.) (** Old people have assured me, that on a winter's morning they have discovered these trees in the bogs, by the hoar frost, which lay longer over the space where they were concealed, than on the surrounding morass. Nor does this seem to be a fanciful notion, but consistent with true philosophy. Dr. Hales saith, 'That the warmth of the earth, at some depth under ground, has an influence in promoting a thaw, as well as the change of the weather from a freezing to a thawing state, is manifest, from this observation, viz. Nov. 29, 1731, a little snow having fallen in the night, it was, by eleven the next morning, mostly melted away on the surface of the earth, except in several places in Bushy Park, where there were drains dug and covered with earth, on which the snow continued to lie, whether those drains were full of water or dry; as also where elm-pipes lay under ground: a plain proof this, that those drains intercepted the warmth of the earth from ascending from greater depths below them: for the snow lay where the drain had more than four feet depth of earth over it. It continued also to lie on thatch, dies, and the tops of walls.' See Hales's Haemastatics, p. 360. Quaere.— Might not such observations be reduced to domestic use, by promoting the discovery of old obliterated drains and wells about houses; and in Roman stations and camps lead to the finding of pavements, baths and graves, and other hidden relics of curious antiquity ?)
This lonely domain is a very agreeable haunt for many sorts of wild fowls, which not only frequent it in the winter, but breed there in the summer; such as lapwings, snipes, wild-ducks, and, as I have discovered within these few years, teals. Partridges in vast plenty are bred in good seasons on the verge of this forest, into which they love to make excursions: and in particular, in the dry summer of 1740 and 1741, and some years after, they swarmed to such a degree, that parties of unreasonable sportsmen killed twenty and sometimes thirty brace in a day.
But there was a nobler species of game in this forest, now extinct, which I have heard old people say abounded much before shooting flying became so common, and that was the heath-cock, black- game, or grouse. When I was a little boy I recollect one coming now and then to my father's table. The last pack remembered was killed about thirty-five years ago; and within these ten years one solitary greyhen was sprung by some beagles in beating for a hare. The sportsmen cried out, 'A hen pheasant'; but a gentleman present, who had often seen grouse in the north of England, assured me that it was a greyhen.
Nor does the loss of our black game prove the only gap in the Fauna Selborniensis; for another beautiful link in the chain of beings is wanting, I mean the red deer, which toward the beginning of this century amounted to about five hundred head, and made a stately appearance. There is an old keeper, now alive, named Adams, whose great-grandfather (mentioned in a perambulation taken in 1635), grandfather, father, and self, enjoyed the head keepership of Wolmer-forest in succession for more than an hundred years. This person assures me, that his father has often told him, that Queen Anne, as she was journeying on the Portsmouth road, did not think the forest of Wolmer beneath her royal regard. For she came out of the great road at Lippock, which is just by, and reposing herself on a bank smoothed for that purpose, lying about half a mile to the east of Wolmer-pond, and still called Queen's-bank, saw with great complacency and satisfaction the whole herd of red deer brought by the keepers along the vale before her, consisting then of about five hundred head. A sight this, worthy the attention of the greatest sovereign! But he further adds that, by means of the Waltham Hacks, or, to use his own expression, as soon as they began blacking, they were reduced to about fifty head, and so continued decreasing till the time of the late Duke of Cumberland. It is now more than thirty years ago that his highness sent down an huntsman, and six yeoman-prickers, in scarlet jackets laced with gold, attended by the stag-hounds; ordering them to take every deer in this forest alive, and convey them in carts to Windsor. In the course of the summer they caught every stag, some of which showed extraordinary diversion; but, in the following winter, when the hinds were also carried off, such fine chases were exhibited as served the country people for matter of talk and wonder for years afterwards. I saw myself one of the yeoman-prickers single out a stag from the herd, and must confess that it was the most curious feat of activity I ever beheld, superior to anything in Mr. Astley's riding-school. The exertions made by the horse and deer much exceeded all my expectations; though the former greatly excelled the latter in speed. When the devoted deer was separated from his companions, they gave him, by their watches, law, as they called it, for twenty minutes; when, sounding their horns, the stop-dogs were permitted to pursue, and a most gallant scene ensued.
Letter VII To Thomas Pennant, Esquire
Though large herds of deer do much harm to the neighbourhood, yet the injury to the morals of the people is of more moment than the loss of their crops. The temptation is irresistible; for most men are sportsmen by constitution: and there is such an inherent spirit for hunting in human nature, as scarce any inhibitions can restrain. Hence, towards the beginning of this century, all this country was wild about deer-stealing. Unless he was a hunter, as they affected to call themselves, no young person was allowed to be possessed of manhood or gallantry. The Waltham blacks at length committed such enormities, that government was forced to interfere with that severe and sanguinary act called the Black Act,* which now comprehends more felonies than any law that ever was framed before. And, therefore, a late bishop of Winchester, when urged to re-stock Waltham-chase,** refused, from a motive worthy of a prelate, replying that 'it had done mischief enough already.' (* Statute 9 Geo. I. c. 22.) (** This chase remains unstocked to this day; the bishop was Dr. Hoadly.)
Our old race of deer-stealers are hardly extinct yet: it was but a little while ago that, over their ale, they used to recount the exploits of their youth; such as watching the pregnant hind to her lair, and, when the calf was dropped, paring its feet with a penknife to the quick to prevent its escape, till it was large and fat enough to be killed; the shooting at one of their neighbours with a bullet in a turnip-field by moonshine, mistaking him for a deer; and the losing a dog in the following extraordinary manner: Some fellows, suspecting that a calf new-fallen was deposited in a certain spot of thick fern, went, with a lurcher, to surprise it; when the parent hind rushed out of the brake, and, taking a vast spring with all her feet close together, pitched upon the neck of the dog, and broke it short in two.
Another temptation to idleness and sporting was a number of rabbits, which possessed all the hillocks and dry places: but these being inconvenient to the huntsmen, on account of their burrows, when they came to take away the deer, they permitted the country people to destroy them all.
Such forests and wastes, when their allurements to irregularities are removed, are of considerable service to neighbourhoods that verge upon them, by furnishing them with peat and turf for their firing; with fuel for the burning their lime; and with ashes for their grasses; and by maintaining their geese and their stock of young cattle at little or no expense.
The manor farm of the parish of Greatham has an admitted claim, I see (by an old record taken from the Tower of London), of turning all live stock on the forest at proper seasons, bidentibus exceptis.* The reason, I presume, why sheep** are excluded, is, because, being such close grazers, they would pick out all the finest grasses, and hinder the deer from thriving. (* For the privilege the owner of that estate used to pay to the king annually seven bushels of oats.) (** In the Holt, where a fun stock of fallow-deer has been kept up till lately, no sheep are admitted to this day.)
Though (by statute 4 and 5 W. and Mary, c. 23) 'to burn on any waste, between Candlemas and Midsummer, any grig, ling, heath and furze, goss or fern, is punishable with whipping and confinement in the house of correction'; yet, in this forest, about March or April, according to the dryness of the season, such vast heath-fires are lighted up, that they often get to a masterless head, and, catching the hedges, have sometimes been communicated to the underwoods, woods, and coppices, where great damage has ensued. The plea for these burnings is, that, when the old coat of heath, etc., is consumed, young will sprout up, and afford much tender browse for cattle; but, where there is large old fume, the fire, following the roots, consumes the very ground; so that for hundreds of acres nothing is to be seen but smother and desolation, the whole circuit round looking like the cinders of a volcano; and the soil being quite exhausted, no traces of vegetation are to be found for years. These conflagrations, as they take place usually with a north-east or east wind, much annoy this village with their smoke, and often alarm the country; and, once in particular, I remember that a gentleman, who lives beyond Andover, coming to my house, when he got on the downs between that town and Winchester, at twenty-five miles distance, was surprised much with smoke and a hot smell of fire; and concluded that Alresford was in flames; but, when he came to that town, he then had apprehensions for the next village, and so on to the end of his journey.
On two of the most conspicuous eminences of this forest, stand two arbours or bowers, made of the boughs of oaks; the one called Waldon-lodge, the other Brimstone-lodge: these the keepers renew annually on the feast of St. Barnabas, taking the old materials for a perquisite. The farm called Blackmoor, in this parish, is obliged to find the posts and brush-wood for the former; while the farms at Greatham, in rotation, furnish for the latter; and are all enjoined to cut and deliver the materials at the spot. This custom I mention, because I look upon it to be of very remote antiquity.
Letter VIII To Thomas Pennant, Esquire
On the verge of the forest, as it is now circumscribed, are three considerable lakes, two in Oakhanger, of which I have nothing particular to say; and one called Bin's or Bean's Pond, which is worthy the attention of a naturalist or a sportsman. For, being crowded at the upper end with willows, and with the carex cespitosa,* it affords such a safe and pleasing shelter to wild- ducks, teals, snipes, etc., that they breed there. In the winter this covert is also frequented by foxes, and sometimes by pheasants; and the bogs produce many curious plants. [For which consult Letter XLI to Mr. Barrington.] (* I mean that sort which, rising into tall hassocks, is called by the foresters turrets, a corruption, I suppose, of turrets. Note. In the beginning of the summer 1787 the royal forests of Wolmer and Holt were measured by persons set down by government.)
By a perambulation of Wolmer-forest and the Holt, made in 1635, and in the eleventh year of Charles the First (which now lies before me), it appears that the limits of the former are much circumscribed. For, to say nothing on the farther side, with which I am not so well acquainted, the bounds on this side, in old times, came into Binswood; and extended to the ditch of Ward le ham park, in which stands the curious mount called King John's Hill, and Lodge Hill; and to the verge of Hartley Mauduit, called Mauduit-hatch; comprehending also Short-heath, Oakhanger, and Oakwoods; a large district, now private property, though once belonging to the royal domain.
It is remarkable that the term purlieu is never once mentioned is, this long roll of parchment. It contains, besides the perambulation, a rough estimate of the value of the timbers, which were considerable, growing at that time in the district of the Halt; and enumerates the officers, superior and inferior, of those joint forests, for the time being, and their ostensible fees and perquisites. In those days, as at present, there were hardly any trees in Wolmer- forest.
Within the present limits of the forest are three considerable lakes, Hogmer, Cranmer, and Wolmer; all of which are stocked with carp, tench, eels, and perch; but the fish do not thrive well, because the water is hungry, and the bottoms are a naked sand.
A circumstance respecting these ponds, though by no means peculiar to them, I cannot pass over in silence; and that is, that instinct by which in summer all the kine, whether oxen, cows, calves, or heifers, retire constantly to the water during the hotter hours; where, being more exempt from flies, and inhaling the coolness of that element, some belly deep, and some only to mid- leg, they ruminate and solace themselves from about ten in the morning till four in the afternoon, and then return to their feeding. During this great proportion of the day they drop much dung, in which insects nestle; and so supply food for the fish, which would be poorly subsisted but from this contingency. Thus nature, who is a great economist, converts the recreation of one animal to the support of another! Thomson, who was a nice observer of natural occurrences, did not let this pleasing circumstance escape him. He says, in his Summer:
A various group the herds and flocks compose: ... on the grassy bank Some ruminating lie; while others stand Half in the flood, and, often bending, sip The circling surface.
Wolmer-pond, so called, I suppose, for eminence sake, is a vast lake for this part of the world, containing, in its whole circumference, 2,646 yards, or very near a mile and a half. The length of the north-west and opposite side is about 704 yards, and the breadth of the south-west end about 456 yards. This measurement, which I caused to be made with good exactness, gives an area of about sixty-six acres, exclusive of a large irregular arm at the north-east corner, which we did not take into the reckoning.
On the face of this expanse of waters, and perfectly secure from fowlers, lie all day long, in the winter season, vast flocks of ducks, teals, and widgeons, of various denominations; where they preen and solace, and rest themselves, till towards sunset, when they issue forth in little parties (for in their natural state they are all birds of the night) to feed in the brooks and meadows; returning again with the dawn of the morning. Had this lake an arm or two more, and were it planted round with thick covert (for now it is perfectly naked), it might make a valuable decoy.
Yet neither its extent, nor the clearness of its water, nor the resort of various and curious fowls, nor its picturesque groups of cattle, can render this meer so remarkable as the great quantity of coins that were found in its bed about forty years ago. But, as such discoveries more properly belong to the antiquities of this place, I shall suppress all particulars for the present, till I enter professedly on my series of letters respecting the more remote history of this village and district.
Letter IX To Thomas Pennant, Esquire
By way of supplement, I shall trouble you once more on this subject, to inform you that Wolmer, with her sister forest Ayles Holt, alias Alice Holt,* as it is called in old records, is held by grant from the crown for a term of years. (*In 'Rot. Inquisit. de statu forest. in Scaccar.,' 36, Ed. 3, it is called Aisholt. In the same, 'Tit. Woolmer and Aisholt Hantisc. Dominus Rex habet unam capellam in haia sua de Kingesle.' 'Haia, sepes, sepimentum, parcus: a Gall. haie and haye.'—Spelman's Glossary.)
The grantees that the author remembers are Brigadier-General Emanuel Scroope Howe, and his lady, Ruperta, who was a natural daughter of Prince Rupert by Margaret Hughs; a Mr. Mordaunt, of the Peterborough family, who married a dowager Lady Pembroke; Henry Bilson Legge and lady; and now Lord Stawel, their son.
The lady of General Howe lived to an advanced age, long surviving her husband; and, at her death, left behind her many curious pieces of mechanism of her father's constructing, who was a distinguished mechanic and artist,** as well as warrior; and, among the rest, a very complicated clock, lately in possession of Mr. Elmer, the celebrated game-painter at Farnham, in the county of Surrey. (** This prince was the inventor of mezzotinto.) Though these two forests are only parted by a narrow range of enclosures, yet no two soils can be more different: for the Holt consists of a strong loam, of a miry nature, carrying a good turf, and abounding with oaks that grow to be large timber; while Wolmer is nothing but a hungry, sandy, barren waste.
The former, being all in the parish of Binsted, is about two miles in extent from north to south, and near as much from east to west, and contains within it many woodlands and lawns, and the great lodge where the grantees reside; and a smaller lodge, called Goose-green; and is abutted on by the parishes of Kingsley, Frinsham, Farnham, and Bentley; all of which have right of common.
One thing is remarkable; that, though the Holt has been of old well-stocked with fallow-deer, unrestrained by any pales or fences more than a common hedge, yet they were never seen within the limits of Wolmer; nor were the red deer of Wolmer ever known to haunt the thickets or glades of the Holt.
At present the deer of the Holt are much thinned and reduced by the night-hunters, who perpetually harass them in spite of the efforts of numerous keepers, and the severe penalties that have been put in force against them as often as they have been detected, and rendered liable to the lash of the law. Neither fines nor imprisonment can deter them: so impossible is it to extinguish the spirit of sporting, which seems to be inherent in human nature.
General Howe turned out some German wild boars and sows in his forests, to the great terror of the neighbourhood; and, at one time, a wild bull or buffalo: but the country rose upon them and destroyed them.
A very large fall of timber, consisting of about one thousand oaks, has been cut this spring (viz., 1784) in the Holt forest; one-fifth of which, it is said, belongs to the grantee, Lord Stawel. He lays claim also to the lop and top: but the poor of the parishes of Binsted and Frinsham, Bentley and Kingsley, assert that it belongs to them; and, assembling in a riotous manner, have actually taken it all away. One man, who keeps a team, has carried home, for his share, forty stacks of wood. Forty-five of these people his lordship has served with actions. These trees, which were very sound and in high perfection, were winter-cut, viz., in February and March, before the bark would run. In old times the Holt was estimated to be eighteen miles, computed measure, from water-carriage, viz., from the town of Chertsey, on the Thames; but now it is not half that distance, since the Wey is made navigable up to the town of Godalming in the county of Surrey.
Letter X To Thomas Pennant, Esquire
August 4, 1767.
It has been my misfortune never to have had any neighbours whose studies have led them towards the pursuit of natural knowledge; so that, for want of a companion to quicken my industry and sharpen my attention, I have made but slender progress in a kind of information to which I have been attached from my childhood.
As to swallows (hirundines rusticae) being found in a torpid state during the winter in the Isle of Wight, or any part of this country, I never heard any such account worth attending to. But a clergyman, of an inquisitive turn, assures me that, when he was a great boy, some workmen, in pulling down the battlements of a church tower early in the spring, found two or three swifts (hirundines apodes) among the rubbish, which were, at first appearance, dead, but, on being carried toward the fire, revived. He told me that, out of his great care to preserve them, he put them in a paper bag, and hung them by the kitchen fire, where they were suffocated.
Another intelligent person has informed me that, while he was a schoolboy at Brighthelmstone, in Sussex, a great fragment of the chalk cliff fell down one stormy winter on the beach; and that many people found swallows among the rubbish; but, on my questioning him whether he saw any of those birds himself, to my no small disappointment, he answered me in the negative; but that others assured him they did.
Young broods of swallows began to appear this year on July the eleventh, and young martins (hirundines urbicae) were then fledged in their nests. Both species will breed again once. For I see by my Fauna of last year, that young broods come forth so late as September the eighteenth. Are not these late hatchings more in favour of hiding than migration? Nay, some young martins remained in their nests last year so late as September the twenty- ninth; and yet they totally disappeared with us by the fifth of October.
How strange is it that the swift, which seems to live exactly the same life with the swallow and house-martin, should leave us before the middle of August invariably! while the latter stay often till the middle of October; and once I saw numbers of house- martins on the seventh of November. The martins and red-wing fieldfares were flying in sight together; an uncommon assemblage of summer and winter birds.
A little bird (it is either a species of the alauda trivialis, or rather perhaps of the motacilla trochilus) still continues to make a sibilous shivering noise in the tops of tall woods. The stoparola of Ray (for which we have as yet no name in these parts) is called, in your Zoology, the fly-catcher. There is one circumstance characteristic of this bird, which seems to have escaped observation, and that is, that it takes its stand on the top of some stake or post, from whence it springs forth on its prey, catching a fly in the air, and hardly ever touching the ground, but returning still to the same stand for many times together.
I perceive there are more than one species of the motacilla trochilus: Mr. Derham supposes, in Ray's Philos. Letters, that he has discovered three. In these there is again an instance of some very common birds that have as yet no English name.
Mr. Stillingfleet makes a question whether the black-cap (motacilla atricapilla) be a bird of passage or not: I chink there is no doubt of it: for, in April, in the very first fine weather, they come trooping, all at once, into these parts, but are never seen in the winter. They are delicate songsters.
Numbers of snipes breed every summer in some moory ground on the verge of this parish. It is very amusing to see the cock bird on wing at that time, and to hear his piping and humming notes.
I have had no opportunity yet of procuring any of those mice which I mentioned to you in town. The person that brought me the last says they are plenty in harvest, at which time I will take care to get more; and will endeavour to put the matter out of doubt, whether it be a nondescript species or not.
I suspect much there may be two species of water-rats. Ray says, and Linnaeus after him, that the water-rat is web-footed behind. Now I have discovered a rat on the banks of our little stream that is not web-footed, and yet is an excellent swimmer and diver: it answers exactly to the mus amphibius of Linnaeus (see Syst. Nat.), which he says 'natat in fossis et urinator.' I should be glad to procure one 'plantis palmatis.' Linnaeus seems to be in a puzzle about his mus amphibius, and to doubt whether it differs from his mus terrestris; which if it be, as he allows, the 'mus agrestis capite grandi brachyuros' of Ray, is widely different from the water-rat, both in size, make, and mariner of life.
As to the falco, which I mentioned in town, I shall take the liberty to send it down to you into Wales; presuming on your candour, that you will excuse me if it should appear as familiar to you as it is strange to me. Though mutilated 'qualem dices.. . antehac fuisse, tales cum sint religuiae!'
It haunted a marshy piece of ground in quest of wild-ducks and snipes: but, when it was shot, had just knocked down a rook, which it was tearing in pieces. I cannot make it answer to any of our English hawks; neither could I find any like it at the curious exhibition of stuffed birds in Spring-gardens. I found it nailed up at the end of a barn, which is the countryman's museum.
The parish I live in is a very abrupt, uneven country, full of hills and woods, and therefore full of birds.
Letter XI To Thomas Pennant, Esquire
Selborne, September 9, 1767.
It will not be without impatience, that I shall wait for your thoughts with regard to the falco; as to its weight, breadth, etc., I wish I had set them down at the time; but, to the best of my remembrance, it weighed two pounds and eight ounces, and measured, from wing to wing, thirty-eight inches. Its cere and feet were yellow, and the circle of its eyelids bright yellow. As it had been killed some days, and the eyes were sunk, I could make no good observation on the colour of the pupils and the irides.
The most unusual birds I ever observed in these parts were a pair of hoopoes (upupa) which came several years ago in the summer, and frequented an ornamented piece of ground, which joins to my garden, for some weeks. They used to march about in a stately manner, feeding in the walks, many times in the day; and seemed disposed to breed in my outlet; but were frightened and persecuted by idle boys, who would never let them be at rest.
Three gross-beaks (loxia coccothraustes) appeared some years ago in my fields, in the winter; one of which I shot: since that, now and then one is occasionally seen in the same dead season.
A cross-bill (loxia curvirostra) was killed last year in this neighbourhood.
Our streams, which are small, and rise only at the end of the village, yield nothing but the bull's head or miller's thumb (gobius fluviatilis capitatus), the trout (trutta fluviatilis), the eel (anguilla), the lampern (lampaetra parka et fluviatilis), and the stickle-back (pisciculus aculeatus).
We are twenty miles from the sea, and almost as many from a great river, and therefore see but little of sea-birds. As to wild fowls, we have a few teams of ducks bred in the moors where the snipes breed; and multitudes of widgeons and teals in hard weather frequent our lakes in the forest.
Having some acquaintance with a tame brown owl, I find that it casts up the fur of mice, and the feathers of birds in pellets, after the manner of hawks: when full, like a dog, it hides what it cannot eat.
The young of the barn-owl are not easily raised, as they want a constant supply of fresh mice: whereas the young of the brown owl will eat indiscriminately all that is brought; snails, rats, kittens, puppies, magpies, and any kind of carrion or offal.
The house-martins have eggs still, and squab-young. The last swift I observed was about the twenty-first of August; it was a straggler.
Red-starts, fly-catchers, white-throats, and reguli non cristati, still appear; but I have seen no black-caps lately.
I forgot to mention that I once saw, in Christ Church College quadrangle in Oxford, on a very sunny warm morning, a house- martin flying about, and settling on the parapet, so late as the twentieth of November.
At present I know only two species of bats, the common vespertilio murinus and the vespertilio auritus.
I was much entertained last summer with a tame bat, which would take flies out of a person's hand. If you gave it anything to eat, it brought its wings round before the mouth, hovering and hiding its head in the manner of birds of prey when they feed. The adroitness it showed in shearing off the wings of the flies, which were always rejected, was worthy of observation, and pleased me much. Insects seem to be most acceptable, though it did not refuse raw flesh when offered: so that the notion that bats go down chimnies and gnaw men's bacon, seems no improbable story. While I amused myself with this wonderful quadruped, I saw it several times confute the vulgar opinion, that bats when down on a flat surface cannot get on the wing again, by rising with great ease from the floor. It ran, I observed, with more dispatch than I was aware of; but in a most ridiculous and grotesque manner.
Bats drink on the wing, like swallows, by sipping the surface, as they play over pools and streams. They love to frequent waters, not only for the sake of drinking, but on account of insects, which are found over them in the greatest plenty. As I was going, some years ago, pretty late, in a boat from Richmond to Sunbury, on a warm summer's evening, I think I saw myriads of bats between the two places: the air swarmed with them all along the Thames, so that hundreds were in sight at a time.
I am, etc.
Letter XII To Thomas Pennant, Esquire
November 4, 1767.
It gave me no small satisfaction to hear that the falco* turned out an uncommon one. I must confess I should have been better pleased to have heard that I had sent you a bird that you had never seen before; but that, I find, would be a difficult task. (* This hawk proved to be the falco peregrinus; a variety.)
I have procured some of the mice mentioned in my former letters, a young one and a female with young, both of which I have preserved in brandy. From the colour, shape, size, and manner of nesting, I make no doubt but that the species is nondescript. They are much smaller and more slender than the mus domesticus medius of Ray; and have more of the squirrel or dormouse colour: their belly is white, a straight line along their sides divides the shades of their back and belly. They never enter into houses; are carried into ricks and barns with the sheaves; abound in harvest, and build their nests amidst the straws of the corn above the ground, and sometimes in thistles. They breed as many as eight at a litter, in a little round nest composed of the blades of grass or wheat.
One of these nests I procured this autumn, most artificially platted, and composed of the blades of wheat; perfectly round, and about the size of a cricket-ball; with the aperture so ingeniously closed, that there was no discovering to what part it belonged. It was so compact and well filled, that it would roll across the tame being discomposed, though it contained eight little mice that were naked and blind. As this nest was perfectly full, how could the dam come at her litter respectively so as to administer a teat to each? perhaps she opens different places for that purpose, adjusting them again when the business is over: but she could not possibly be contained herself in the ball with her young, which moreover would be daily increasing in bulk. This wonderful procreant cradle, an elegant instance of the efforts of instinct, was found in a wheat-field, suspended in the head of a thistle.
A gentleman, curious in birds, wrote me word that his servant had shot one last January, in that severe weather, which he believed would puzzle me. I called to see it this summer, not knowing what to expect: but, the moment I took it in hand, I pronounced it the male garrulus bohemicus or German silk-tail, from the five peculiar crimson tags or points which it carries at the end of five of the short remiges. It cannot, I suppose, with any propriety, be called an English bird: and yet I see, by Ray's Philosoph. Letters, that great flocks of them, feeding upon hews, appeared in this kingdom in the winter of 1685.
The mention of hews put me in mind that there is a total failure of that wild fruit, so conducive to the support of many of the winged nation. For the same severe weather, late in the spring, which cut off all the produce of the more tender and curious trees, destroyed also that of the more hardy and common.
Some birds, haunting with the missal-thrushes, and feeding on the berries of the yew-tree, which answered to the description of the merula torquata, or ring-ousel, were lately seen in this neighbourhood. I employed some people to procure me a specimen, but without success. See Letter XX.
Query.....Might not canary birds be naturalized to this climate, provided their eggs were put in the spring, into the nests of some of their congeners, as goldfinches, greenfinches, etc. ? Before winter perhaps they might be hardened, and able to shift for themselves.
About ten years ago I used to spend some weeks yearly at Sunbury, which is one of those pleasant villages lying on the Thames, near Hampton-court. In the autumn, I could not help being much amused with those myriads of the swallow kind which assemble in those parts. But what struck me most was, that, from the time they began to congregate, forsaking the chimnies and houses, they roosted every night in the osier-beds of the sits of that river. Now this resorting towards that element, at that season of the year, seems to give some countenance to the northern opinion (strange as it is) of their retiring under water. A Swedish naturalist is so much persuaded of that fact, that he talks, in his calendar of Flora, as familiarly of the swallows going under water in the beginning of September, as he would of his poultry going to roost a little before sunset.
An observing gentleman in London writes me word that he saw a house-martin, on the twenty-third of last October, flying in and out of its nest in the Borough. And I myself, on the twenty-ninth of last October (as I was travelling through Oxford), saw four or five swallows hovering round and settling on the roof of the county- hospital.
Now is it likely that these poor little birds (which perhaps had not been hatched but a few weeks) should, at that late season of the year, and from so midland a county, attempt a voyage to Goree or Senegal, almost as far as the equator? * (* See Adamson's Voyage to Senegal.)
I acquiesce entirely in your opinion—that, though most of the swallow kind may migrate, yet that some do stay behind and hide with us during the winter.
As to the short-winged soft-billed birds, which come trooping in such numbers in the spring, I am at a loss even what to suspect about them. I watched them narrowly this year, and saw them abound till about Michaelmas, when they appeared no longer. Subsist they cannot openly among us, and yet elude the eyes of the inquisitive: and, as to their hiding, no man pretends to have found any of them in a torpid state in the winter. But with regard to their migration, what difficulties attend that supposition! that such feeble bad fliers (who the summer long never flit but from hedge to hedge) should be able to traverse vast seas and continents in order to enjoy milder seasons amidst the regions of Africa!
Letter XIII To Thomas Pennant, Esquire
Selborne, Jan. 22, 1768.
As in one of your former letters you expressed the more satisfaction from my correspondence on account of my living in the most southerly county; so now I may return the compliment, and expect to have my curiosity gratified by your living much more to the north.
For many years past I have observed that towards Christmas vast flocks of chaffinches have appeared in the fields; many more, I used to think, than could be hatched in any one neighbourhood. But, when I came to observe them more narrowly, I was amazed to find that they seemed to be almost all hens. I communicated my suspicions to some intelligent neighbours, who, after taking pains about the matter, declared that they also thought them all mostly females; at least fifty to one. This extraordinary occurrence brought to my mind the remark of Linnaeus; that 'before winter, all their hen chaffinches migrate through Holland into Italy.' Now I want to know, from some curious person in the north, whether there are any large flocks of these finches with them in the winter, and of which sex they mostly consist? For, from such intelligence, one might be able to judge whether our female flocks migrate from the other end of the island, or whether they come over to us from the continent.
We have, in the winter, vast flocks of the common linnets; more, I think, than can be bred in any one district. These, I observe, when the spring advances, assemble on some tree in the sunshine, and join all in a gentle sort of chirping, as if they were about to break up their winter quarters and betake themselves to their proper summer homes. It is well known, at least, that the swallows and the fieldfares do congregate with a gentle twittering before they make their respective departure.
You may depend on it that the bunting, emberiza miliaria, does not leave this country in the winter. In January 1767 I saw several dozen of them, in the midst of a severe frost, among the bushes on the downs near Andover: in our woodland enclosed district it is a rare bird.
Wagtails, both white and yellow, are with us all the winter. Quails crowd to our southern coast, and are often killed in numbers by people that go on purpose.
Mr. Stillingfleet, in his Tracts, says that 'if the wheatear (oenanthe) does not quit England, it certainly shifts places; for about harvest they are not to be found, where there was before great plenty of them.' This well accounts for the vast quantities that are caught about that time on the south downs near Lewes, where they are esteemed a delicacy. There have been shepherds, I have been credibly informed, that have made many pounds in a season by catching them in traps. And though such multitudes are taken, I never saw (and I am well acquainted with those parts) above two or three at a time: for they are never gregarious. They may, perhaps, migrate in general; and, for that purpose, draw towards the coast of Sussex in autumn; but that they do not all withdraw I am sure; because I see a few stragglers in many counties, at all times of the year, especially about warrens and stone quarries.
I have no acquaintance, at present, among the gentlemen of the navy: but have written to a friend, who was a sea-chaplain in the late war, desiring him to look into his minutes, with respect to birds that settled on their rigging during their voyage up or down the channel. What Hasselquist says on that subject is remarkable: there were little short-winged birds frequently coming on board his ship all the way from our channel quite up to the Levant, especially before squatty weather.
What you suggest, with regard to Spain, is highly probable. The winters of Andalusia are so mild, that, in all likelihood, the soft- billed birds that leave us at that season may find insects sufficient to support them there.
Some young man, possessed of fortune, health, and leisure, should make an autumnal voyage into that kingdom; and should spend a year there, investigating the natural history of that vast country. Mr. Willughby * passed through that kingdom on such an errand; but he seems to have skirted along in a superficial manner and an ill humour, being much disgusted at the rude, dissolute manners of the people. (* See Ray's Travels, p. 466.)
I have no friend left now at Sunbury to apply to about the swallows roosting on the aits of the Thames: nor can I hear any more about those birds which I suspected were merulae torquatae,.
As to the small mice, I have farther to remark, that though they hang their nests for breeding up amidst the straws of the standing corn, above the ground; yet I find that, in the winter, they burrow deep in the earth, and make warm beds of grass: but their grand rendezvous seems to be in corn-ricks, into which they are carried at harvest. A neighbour housed an oat-rick lately, under the thatch of which were assembled near an hundred, most of which were taken; and some I saw. I measured them; and found that, from nose to tail, they were just two inches and a quarter, and their tails just two inches long. Two of them in a scale, weighed down just one copper halfpenny, which is about a third of an ounce avoirdupois: so that I suppose they are the smallest quadrupeds in this island. A full- grown mus medius domesticus weighs, I find, one ounce, lumping weight, which is more than six times as much as the mouse above; and measures from nose to rump four inches and a quarter, and the same in its tail.
We have had a very severe frost and deep snow this month. My thermometer was one day fourteen degrees and a half below the freezing point, within doors. The tender evergreens were injured pretty much. It was very providential that the air was still, and the ground well covered with snow, else vegetation in general must have suffered prodigiously. There is reason to believe that some days were more severe than any since the year 1739-40.
I am, etc., etc.
Letter XIV To Thomas Pennant, Esquire
Selborne, March 12, 1768.
If some curious gentleman would procure the head of a fallow- deer, and have it dissected, he would find it furnished with two spiracula, or breathing-places, beside the nostrils; probably analogous to the puncta lachrymalia in the human head. When the deer are thirsty they plunge their noses, like some horses, very deep under water, while in the act of drinking, and continue them in that situation for a considerable time, but, to obviate any inconvenience, they can open two vents, one at the inner corner of each eye, having a communication with the nose. Here seems to be an extraordinary provision of nature worthy our attention; and which has not, that I know of, been noticed by any naturalist. For it looks as if these creatures would not be suffocated, though both their mouths and nostrils were stopped. This curious formation of the head may be of singular service to beasts of chase, by affording them free respiration: and no doubt these additional nostrils are thrown open when they are hard run.* Mr. Ray observed that, at Malta, the owners slit up the nostrils of such asses as were hard worked: for they, being naturally strait or small, did not admit air sufficient serve them when they travelled or laboured in that hot climate. And we know that grooms, and gentlemen of the turf, think large nostrils necessary, and a perfection, in hunters and running horses. (* In answer to this account, Mr. Pennant sent me the following curious and pertinent reply:—'I was much surprised to find in the antelope something analogous to what you mention as so remarkable in deer. This animal has a long slit beneath each eye, which can be opened and shut at pleasure. On holding an orange to one, the creature made as much use of those orifices as of his nostrils, applying them to the fruit, and seeming to smell it through them.')
Oppian, the Greek poet, by the following line, seems to have had some notion that stags have four spiracula:
Quadrifidae nares, quadruplices ad respirationem canales. Opp. Cyn. lib. ii. 1. 181.
Writers, copying from one another, make Aristotle say that goats breathe at their ears; whereas he asserts just the contrary: 'Alcmaeon does not advance what is true, when he avers that goats breathe through their ears.'—History of Animals. Book I. chap. xi.
Letter XV To Thomas Pennant, Esquire
Selborne, Mark 30, 1768.
Some intelligent country people have a notion that we have, in these parts, a species of the genus mustelinum, besides the weasel, stoat, ferret, and polecat; a little reddish beast, not much bigger than a field mouse, but much longer, which they call a cane. This piece of intelligence can be little depended on; but farther inquiry may be made.
A gentleman in this neighbourhood had two milk-white rooks in one nest. A booby of a carter, finding them before they were able to fly, threw them down and destroyed them, to the regret of the owner, who would have been glad to have preserved such a curiosity in his rookery. I saw the birds myself nailed against the end of a barn, and was surprised to find that their bills, legs, feet, and claws were milk-white.