We have read how Samuel Johnson encouraged friends to make detailed personal observation, scientific enquiry in other words. No-one appears to have found this activity anti-Christian or against Bible teaching. Gilbert White of Selborne, Hampshire, was an Anglican curate who observed the Natural History of his parish and shared his discoveries with friends in letters that became his book, The Natural History of Selborne. WE celebrate his tercentenary this summer. Our first selection comes from letters to Thomas Pennant, himself an associate of Johnson.
England, in the second half of the eighteenth century was much more rigidly divided by class than today. Many countrymen, out of doors in all weathers, and not unobservant, were illiterate and unschooled, so were unable to contribute as much to the growth of knowledge than if they had received an education. However some parishioners did help White by bringing specimens or telling their curate about a sight worthy of his attention.
LETTERS TO THOMAS PENNANT, ESQUIRE. V
The village of Selborne, and large hamlet of Oakhanger, 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.
Notice that the villagers live in good stone or brick cottages, and that White feels the need to remark upon the fact. The field above is sown with maize using a seed drill, invented by Jethro Tull. It made hoeing the crop easier and less wasteful, but imagine hoeing that field all day!