[Gilbert White, naturalist.] Original Manuscript, said to have been dictated by White himself, of 'Gilbert White's statement' on the venomous properties of the toad, with eleven authorial emendations. Together with a series of thermometer readings.

Gilbert White (1720-1793), naturalist and ornithologist, author of the celebrated 'Natural History of Selborne' (1789) [Thomas Bell (1792-1880), zoologist]
Publication details: 
Without date or place.
SKU: 22153

A very nice artefact of one of the best-loved books in the England language, Gilbert White's 'Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne', which at one point was claimed to be the fourth most-printed book after the Bible, Shakespeare, and Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress'. White's entry in the Oxford DNB concludes by describing the book as 'an expression of universal thanksgiving, treasured by all'. The present item is the original manuscript of what White's editor Thomas Bell describes as 'Gilbert White's statement' on the venomous properties of the toad, first printed in a footnote (signed 'T. B.') on pp.51-52 of the first volume of Bell's 1877 edition of 'The Natural History of Selborne' (London: John Van Voorst, 1 Paternoster Row). The following note by Bell, prefixed to White's 'statement', indicates the significance Bell placed upon it, and the circumstances of its composition: 'The habit of close observation of nature which was so conspicuous in White himself was communicated by his example to many who came within the sphere of his influence. […] The following account, which I find amongst his papers, is a striking example of this. The observer was doubtless no other than his old gardener, Thomas Hoar, a quaint original, who was many years in his service. The account is not in White's handwriting, but evidently written from his dictation, as it is in a boy's hand, and has several verbal corrections, and the diction is his own.' The present manuscript text of White's 'statement' – corresponding to the 1877 printed version in all but accidentals – is written out over thirty-one lines on one side of an 8vo piece of eighteenth-century laid paper, with watermark of a coat of arms enclosed in a circular belt topped by a crown. In fair condition, lightly aged and creased, with light wear along two edges, with margins cropped making the leaf 30.5 x 18 cm. The present text of the 'statement' corresponds with Bell's description: it is not in White's handwriting, but in 'a boy's hand'; it has 'several verbal corrections', and the diction is White's own. The layout of the 'statement' is, in addition, very similar to that of the original manuscript of the 'Natural History', suggesting the possibility that the leaf it is written on once formed part of it. Comparison with the printed version clearly indicates that all but one of the twelve emendations the document contains are authorial rather than scribal. The more significant emendations are: 'to the [last word deleted] clear the ground of grubs & noxious [last word deleted] insects upon which to convince me to the contrary [last three words amended to 'that it was not altogether harmless'] he took the toad upon the skin of its back & set it [last three words amended to '& placing it on a gravel walk']'; 'There seems some analogy [last two words amended to 'to be some resemblance'] between this [last word amended to 'the'] toad & the viper'; 'from the [last word amended to 'their'] enemies by their dexterity [last word replaced by 'agility']'; 'This effect [last word deleted] continued'; 'How the venomous [last word amended to 'venom']'. Two other emendations comprise additions: 'which, exposed it to many cruelties' added after 'its poisonous qualities'; and 'from former experiments', added after 'bitch at it, who'. The twelfth and final emendation is a clerical one; the clarifying of the final 'e' in 'are' in the phrase 'are armed'. A couple of factors reinforce the impression that the document was used by a printer. Firstly, in pencil, at the head of the page, is written 'Copied & printed'. Secondly, added in ink at various points in the document are what appear to be two printer's marks: first, a symbol of a dot in a circle, repeated once; and another symbol of a square with a central vertical line through it, also repeated once. On the reverse of the document, and supporting its claim to authenticity, is the following set of readings: 'Thermometer. | Decr. 12 – morning at 8 – 24 | 2 afternoon – 32 | 11 night – 27 | [Decr.] 13th at 8 morn'. 28 | at 2 noon [sic] 32 | at 11 night 26 | [Decr.] 14th 8 morn'. 25 | 11 at nig [this line deleted] | 2 at noon [blank]'.