Natural History of Selborne - Gilbert Whitea??s original manuscript

Gilbert White's Original Manuscript

...one of the few books published in the English language at an early date that has never been out of print

This manuscript takes the form of transcripts of letters written by Gilbert White to two correspondents, Thomas Pennant and Daines Barrington, both leading naturalists of the day.

The manuscript is a working draft based on the original letters and contains many revisions and unpublished notes. First published in 1789, Gilbert White’s Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne is one of the few books published in the English language so many years ago that has never been out of print – in company with the Bible, the works of William Shakespeare and John Bunyans Pilgrim’s Progress.

In the letters, Gilbert discussed his observations and theories about the local flora and fauna in a charming and immediate way. As an enthusiastic gardener he experimented, observed and recorded everything to do with his garden. These interests led him to his insights into natural history.

Gilbert White meticulously and systematically recorded observations about the weather and the flora and fauna of Selborne. His writings provide fascinating comparisons for those studying natural history today as his journals, kept for most of his life (the Garden Kalendar, 1751-67, Flora Selborniensis, 1766, and his Naturalist’s Journal, 1768-93) are unique in their detail and the length of time that they span.

Quick Facts

  • Written by Gilbert White
  • First published in 1789
  • Made of paper


  • The manuscript remained with the White family, via Gilbert’s brother Benjamin, until it was sold at Sotheby’s in 1895. It was bought by Stuart M. Samuel, who had the letters mounted, then bound in green morocco by the highly regarded company of bookbinders known as Riviere and Son.Whilst we do not have a complete history of subsequent ownership of the manuscript, we know it was sold with the library of S.M. Samuel in 1907.
  • In 1923 the manuscript was acquired by the American dealer and collector A.S.W. Rosenbach, and then appeared at Christie’s auction of items from the Library of Arthur A. Houghton, Jnr. in 1980. This is the man after which the Houghton Library at Harvard University is named. Fortunately his large private collection, which included the manuscript, did not go to the Houghton Library. It was from that auction that the manuscript returned to Selborne, bought by the Gilbert White's Museum with help from Trusts and many individual donors.

Did you know?

The Natural History of Selborne has been published in hundreds of editions, many beautifully illustrated and in several languages. These are all on display at Gilbert White's House & Garden and The Oates Collection, including an extraordinary First Edition that belonged to Gilbert White, bound in the skin of his pet spaniel.


Natural History of Selborne - Gilbert Whitea??s original manuscript

Fact Sheets

Things to Do

  • Keep your own detailed observations of the natural world as seen from your garden, home, place of study or work – or visit the Museum and ask to record your observations in Selborne in a copy of The Naturalist’s Journal we hold for that purpose.

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