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Messrs. Macmillan having requested me to edit White's "Selborne," I accepted the task, feeling assured that the handsome Edition of the works of the founder and pioneer of English Practical Natural History now presented to the public would he the means of attracting many of the present generation—both young and old—to the observation of the living works of the great Creator, and would help to counteract the growth of doubt, infidelity, and atheism, which—though regarded at their real worth by a reasoning public—must become bitter weeds in future, of no assistance to science, and sure promoters of a dangerous materialism.
Gilbert White's writings are coloured throughout with that right tone of feeling which recognises the work of a great Creator in everything, both large and small. Gilbert White may, in fact, be said to have planted the acorn which, forty years after his death, grew into a great oak in the form of the Bridgewater Treatisesi on the "|)ototr, JSHisbom, anb ©ooimcss of 600, as maiubsito in % Creation."
i I beg to recommend the readers of White to peruse these Bridgewater Treatises, especially Kirby on the History, Habits and Instinct of Animals; Dr. Roget on Animal and Vegetable Physiology; Sir Charles Bell on the Hand, and the Rev. Dr. Buckland on Geology and Mineralogy.
In White's time the Bridgewater Treatises were represented by the writings of Dr. Derham, author of "Physico-Theology," i the fifth edition of which was published in 1720, the year White was born.
I have discovered that White had not only deeply studied Derham and also Ray,2 but in many cases he illustrates Derham's arguments by his own observations.
White was a true student of all created things—lynx-eyed, quick to observe accurately, and patient to interpret the meaning of facts brought under his notice. The same facts that White saw and recorded are still going on around us at the present time. The birds come and go at the same dates as did their ancestors a century ago. The rabbits, hedgehogs, rats, bats, snakes, mice, &c., still keep up their old, old customs unaltered and unchanged. White is the teacher who has shown four generations how and what to observe—in fact, he taught them the "Art of Observation." For the above reason, therefore, White's "Selborne" has held its own as a standard book for a hundred years, and will probably be as fresh as ever a hundred years hence.
We live in a beautiful and happy world; the waters teem with life, the earth is populated by creatures innumerable; some live on the mountains, some on the plains, some in the forest, some in the desert; to observe the habits of all living things
i "Physico-Theology ;or, A Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God—from His Works of Creation ; being the Substance of Sixteen Sermons preached in St. Mary-le-Bow Church, London, at the Honourable Mr. Boyle's Lectures, in the years 1711 and 1712. With Large Notes and many Curious Observations." By W. Derham, Canon of Windsor, Rector of Upminster in Essex, and F.R.S. I have four editions of this work, 1720, 1727, 1732, and 17C8. This book is well worthy of a modern edition.
2 "The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation ; in Two Pints," and "Discourses on Physieo-Theology, 1713." By John Ray, late Fellow of the Roynl Society. 17-13.