Gilbert White Correspondence

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Letters both to and from the Reverend Gilbert White. The first manuscript consists of a collection of letters to Gilbert White from John Mulso. The second manuscript consists of a collection of family letters written by both White and other members of his family.

These papers constitute an important source for literary and biographical studies of Gilbert White and The natural history of Selborne.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Reverend Gilbert White (1720-1793) was the author of The natural history and antiquities of Selborne. Other than the authorship of this famous work, Gilbert White's biography is unremarkable. Educated at Oxford, he entered the Church and settled down to a conventional clerical career. He held curacies at Selborne itself and in neighbouring Farringdon, but was never vicar of Selborne.

White was the archetypal eighteenth-century amateur scientist, whose undemanding clerical duties allowed him to indulge his passionate interest in all aspects of the natural world. The natural history of Selborne is little more than a collection of letters written by a country parson describing the natural history of his native parish. Yet it is the most popular book ever written on natural history. This enduring popularity may be attributed to White's unaffected style of writing, his quiet humour, the accuracy of his observations, but above all, the respect and affection with which he viewed the natural world.

While at Oriel College, Oxford, White met John Mulso (1721-1791) who was to become an enduring friend and a regular informant of events in the church and in literary circles. Mulso corresponded with White and visited Selborne on a number of occasions; in 1747 White addressed to him the first version of his most sustained poetic effort, 'An Invitation to Selborne'.

Gilbert White never married, but he had seven brothers and sisters who survived to adulthood - Thomas (1724-1797), Benjamin (1725-1794), Rebecca (1726-1771) who married Henry Woods, John (1727-1780), Francis (1728/9-1750), Anne (1731-1807) who married Thomas Barker, and Henry (1733-1788) - and over thirty nephews and nieces. Gilbert White corresponded with his family frequently.

The Earls of Stamford were related to the White family through the marriage of Rev. William Grey (1819-1872) to Harriet, daughter of Rev. Francis Henry White. Their only child was William Grey (1850-1910), who became the 9th Earl of Stamford.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The correspondence was presented to the John Rylands Library by Roger, 10th Earl of Stamford, English MS 911 in 1935, English MS 1306 in 1971.

Note

Description compiled by Henry Sullivan and Jo Klett, project archivists.

Separated Material

Other papers of Gilbert White and his family (1719-1901), also collected by the 9th and 10th Earls of Stamford, can be found in the the Grey (Stamford) of Dunham Massey Papers (ref.: GB 133 EGR5). Other subfonds in the Grey Papers also contain material related to Gilbert White, in particular a newspaper cuttings book compiled by the 9th Earl of Stamford, containing cuttings relating to events held in 1893 to commemorate the centenary of Gilbert White's death and to the bicentenary of the naturalist in 1920 (ref.: GB 133 EGR13/46).

Custodial History

The letters bound together in English MS 911 came into the possession of John White the publisher, a nephew of the naturalist, and passed from him to his son the Rev. John Tahourdin White, DD, on whose death (1893) they became the property of the 9th Earl of Stamford, a descendant of Gilbert White's youngest brother Henry. The letters then passed by descent to the 10th Earl of Stamford, who gave them to the John Rylands Library.

The letters contained in English MS 1306 may have been collected by Rev. Edmund White (1758-1838) and by his son-in-law James Field. Field's papers passed to his son Edmund, who bequeathed thirty-six Gilbert White autograph letters to William Grey, 9th Earl of Stamford, in 1901, together with other White memorabilia including portraits, a carved oak stool, a court sword, eight volumes of books and a silver wine taster.

The 9th and 10th Earls of Stamford may have acquired other White papers separately, some possibly from Rashleigh Holt-White, Gilbert White's biographer.

Related Material

For a full list of records relating to Gilbert White and the White family held in other repositories, see Paul G.M. Foster, Gilbert White and his records: a scientific biography (London: Croom Helm, 1988), pp. 222-4.

Bibliography

For English MS 911 see The letters to Gilbert White of Selborne : from his intimate friend and contemporary the Rev. John Mulso, edited with notes and introduction by Rashleigh Holt-White (London: R.H. Porter, [1907]).

For English MS 1306 see Thomas Bell (ed.), Gilbert White, The natural history and antiquities of Selborne (London: John Van Voorst, 1877), and Rashleigh Holt-White, The life and letters of Gilbert White of Selborne, 2 vols (London: John Murray, 1901).

Geographical Names