The Natural History of Selborne | Trees | Nature | Free 30-day Trial | Scribd
You are on page 1of 290



S01 224943 P
This book is due on the date indicated
below and issubject to an overdue
fine as posted at the circulation desk.

EXCEPTION: Date due will be

earlier if this item is RECALLED.

?' i^U

3 2004

iJCT 1 4 2004

150M/01 -92-941680



WINDLE Sc.D., F.R.S., F.S.A.





London :
J. M. DENT & CO.
New York : E. P. DUTTON & CO.






First Edition, February igo6

Reprinted, April igod ; Septe?nher igog


Some achieve greatness, one might almost say have it

thrust upon them, so lightly does it descend, v^'ithout
apparent effort, without that strife and labour through which
others win towards their goal. Of such was Gilbert White,
of Selborne, who would certainly have been amazed had he
known tliat a hundred years after his time he would be the

patron saint of a society named after the little out-of-the-

way village in which he was born and where he died
Quiet it is to this day, out of the way, and difficult oi
access. How much more so in White's time, with the "in-
famous " roads of which he speaks and of which he gives
such a graphic description in his fifth letter. But for White's
grandfather, who left a considerable sum of money for their
amelioration, one must suppose that they would have been
even more impassable than the grandson found them in his
time. White had an hereditary connection with the village
now famous from his association with it. His grandfather,
just mentioned, also a Gilbert White, was a Fellow of
Magdalene College, Oxford, and was presented by his
college to the Vicarage of Selborne in 1681. There he
died in 1727, and his tombstone is still to be seen in the
church. One son survived him, John, a barrister-at-law,
who was the father of the famous Gilbert. The future
naturalistwas born at the vicarage on the i8th of July,
1720, and was consequently seven years of age at the time
of his grandfather's death. He matriculated at Oriel
College, Oxford, in 1739, took his degree of Bachelor of Arts
in 1743, and was elected to a Fellowship in the following
year. As was then obligatory, he took orders, and was
viii Introduction
Old Alresford, for a time,
certainly curate of Swarraton, at
though he must have been again residing in Oxford in
1752, since he was Junior Proctor in that year. In 1755 he
settled in Selborne, inherited the family property in 1763,
and remained for the rest of his days in the village in
which he was born, untempted to leave it by the various
College livings which were offered to him. He has some-
times been spoken of erroneously as vicar of Selborne,
or as its curate, though he never occupied either position.
No doubt at times he officiated in his native place indeed, ;

the entry in the parish register which records his own

funeral, and is signed by Chas. Taylor, Vicar," is imme-

diately preceded by the notice of the funeral of Mary

Barley, aged 16, which was conducted by Gil. White,

Curate," for so he signs himself, though he appears never

to have officially occupied that position.
This record is dated 1793, so that White was seventy-
three years of age, and had passed the majority of those
years in Selborne. He never married, and lived in a house
still standing in the main street of the village, known as
The Wakes." The village lies under the shelter of what
White calls a vast hill of chalk, rising three hundred feet
above the village." This hill is covered with a wood called

"The Hanger," formed, as White again tells us, in his first

letter, of beech, the most lovely of all forest trees, whether
we consider its smooth rind or bark, its glossy foliage, or
graceful pendulous boughs." The church, near which lie
the bodies of White himself and of his grandfather, nestles
amongst trees, the finest of which is a splendid old yew,
which measures twenty-five feet in circumference. In the
centre of the village is a spot called The Plestor," or
playing-place, in the midst of which, again quoting from
White, stood in old times, a vast oak, with short squat body
and huge horizontal arms, extending almost to the extremity
of the area. This venerable tree, surrounded with stone
steps, and seats above them, was the delight of old and
young, and a place of much resort on summer evenings ;
where the former sat in grave debate, while the lattbr
frolicked and danced before them.
Long might it have
Introduction ix

stood," he proceeds, "had not the amazing tempest in 1703

overturned at once, to the infinite regret of the inhabitants

and vicar, who bestowed several pounds in settling it in its

place again but all his care could not avail
the tree ;

sprouted for a time, then withered and died." At the time

of its fall it was supposed to have been four hundred years
old. Its place is now occupied by a sycamore. Gilbert
White was born South Sea Bubble, which
in the year of the

probably but little affected the Selborne villagers, if they

even heard of it. His life covered a very eventful epoch,
for during those years England secured two great Empires,

India, whose conquest was commenced by Clive in 1757,

and Canada, which was annexed in 1764. And she lost a
greater, for, ten years before White died, America became
an independent country. He might well have seen the fall
of the new and the restoration of the ancient dynasty, if
Charles Edward had been successful after the battle of
Prestonpans, which took place when he was twenty-five
years of age. He saw the introduction of the new style into
our Calendar, for he was then thirty two years of age.
Marlborough died when White was one year old, and six
years later a greater conqueror in the peaceful contests of
science, Sir IsaacNewton, was carried to the grave. John
Hunter, the founder of the magnificent Museum in the
Royal College of Surgeons in London, was born ten years
than White, and died
later same year as the village
in the
naturalist. these stirring events and great men,
Of all

White, so far as we can gather from his letters, took but

little notice. Probably he heard but little of them, for the
isolated state of remote villages in a day when there were
few newspapers, no telegraphs and infrequent posts, must
have been one which it is now difficult for us to realise. In
any case he seems to have been the kind of man who would
have been much more interested in the fate of his tortoise
Timc(;hy aiid '> the coming of his swallows, than in the
struggles of European nations. No picture remains to show
us what manner of man he was, though it is known that he was
short of stature. When Mr. Buckland visited the village he
made great efforts to ascertain some facts about White, but
X Introduction
met with little success. One villager spoke of him in words
which might be applied to many others besides White, He
was thought very little of till he was dead and gone, and
then he was thought a great deal of." There was another
old woman, who was eleven years of age when White died.
She must have seen him on many occasions, but did not seem
to preserve distinct recollection of the old gentle-
any very
man. He was
a quiet old gentleman," she reported, "with
very old-fashioned sayings ; he was very kind in giving
presents to the poor, and used to keep a locust which
crawled about his garden." She was asked whether this
animal might not possibly have been a tortoise, and replied,
"Ah, that's what I mean." Occasionally he alludes to him-
self and his people in his letters, but such references are
but scanty. Of the parish, writing to Mr. Pennant, he says,
We abound with poor, many of whom are sober and in-
dustrious. The inhabitants enjoy a good share of health
and longevity, and the parish swarms with children."
Again, writing to his niece Anne, he says, After I had
experienced the advantage of two agreeable young house-
keepers,I was much at a loss when they left me ; and have no-

body to make whipped syllabubs and gracethe upper end of my

table. We have here this winter a
weekly concert, consisting
of and second fiddle, two repianos, a bassoon, a hautboy,

a violincello, and a German flute to the great annoyance


of the neighbouring pigs, which complain that their slumbers

are interrupted and their teeth set on edge." In this little
picture we see the fairer side of the isolation of the villages
of those days. Self-contained as they were, it is obvious that
their inhabitants had a more cheerful time amongst them-
selves than the lot of most villagers of to-day.
is The old
village church band of instrumentalists was doubtless a very
amateur body, and its replacement by the organ of to-day has
no doubt contributed to placing church music on a higher
plane, but the revolution has not —
one seems to be led to

think been a wholly unmixed advantage. In 1778, when he
was beginning to feel that age was creeping over him. White
writes to his sister, My great parlour turns out a fine warm
winter room, and affords a pleasant equal warmth. In
Introduction xi
blustering weather the chimney smokes a till the shaft

becomes hot. The chief fault that I find the strong echo,

which, when many people are talking, makes confusion to my

poor dull ears." It is as difficult to write a life of White as it is
to write a life of Shakespeare, and for the same reason that
we know so little of either man save through his works.
White's Selborne seems to have originated in a letter very —
probably the tenth of the series as printed which was

addressed to Thomas Pennant, a naturalist who had written
a "British Zoology." To this letter a number of others
succeeded, written, one must conclude, without any idea that
they would ever be published. Daines Harrington, another
of his correspondents, seems to have put the idea that the
letters should at some time be made public, into White's head,
hence the addition of the earlier letters, composed with a view
of giving a general account of the district treated of in the
correspondence. The letters are here for all to read, and no
special account of them need or will be given, but attention
may be called to two points before an attempt is made to
indicate White's peculiar position as a naturalist. In the last
letter of hisNatural History of Selborne, White says, " When
I first took the present work in hand, I proposed to have

added an Annus Historico-Naturalis, or the Natural History

of the Twelve Months of the Year, which would have comprised
many incidents and occurrences that have fallen into my way
to be mentioned in my series of letters ;

but as Mr. Aikin,
of Warrington, has lately published something of this sort,
and as the length of my correspondence has sufficiently put
your patience to the test, I shall here take a respectful
leave of you and natural history together." After White's
death, by a curious piece of good fortune, the papers in
question fell into the hands of this very Dr. Aikin, who pub-
lished them, together with a similar calendar composed by a
gentleman of the name of Markwick. What an interest it
would add to the life of country children, not to speak of
country dwellers of riper age, if they took upon themselves
the composing of calendars of this kind for their own district
and from their own observation. I have myself just ex-
perienced the interest which such notes may have, as years
xii Introduction
go by. It was my lot to deliver a lecture to the Selborne
of White's
Society in Birmingham, in the centenary year
death, now twelve years ago. Alluding to this calendar, I

remarked that any person who had noted down the events of
that year would have had to record that wild roses and hips
of thesame year's growth were to be seen side by side on
the same tree, and that strawberries, grown in the open,
were exhibited for sale in the shops in November, all facts
of considerable interest, as showing the extraordinary mild-
ness of the season, yet facts which I had entirely forgotten
until I came to look up my notes for the purpose of this

present introduction. Another point of great interest in

White's observations is his account of the birds, now extinct,
which were then inhabitants of England. Take the bustard,
for example. This was the largest of British birds, and was
exceedingly shy. White himself remarking that the smallest
British bird, the golden-crested wren, will stand unconcerned
until you come within three or four yards of it, while the

bustard, the largest British land-fowl, does not care to admit

a person within so many furlongs. This fine bird was once
exceedingly common, for the Rev. Mr. Chafin, in a book
written in the earlier part of the last century, says that he
once put up twenty-five at one time between Andover and
Salisbury. The Wiltshire downs was a favourite place for
them, and there was an inn, now a private residence, no
very great distance from Stonehenge, which went by the
name of " The Bustard." The hoopoe is a beautiful bird
with a magnificent crest, which it erects from time to time.
It is sometimes called the child of Solomon, because of a

legend that the hoopoe formed part of the cargo of the ships
of Tarshish. Further, the legend relates that the crest on
the head was at one time really of gold. This was far from
being a benefit to the hoopoes, for the accursed thirst for that
metal led to their wholesale slaughter. Accordingly they
petitioned Solomon, who understood the language of birds
as he did so many other things, to relieve them of their
dangerous burden, which he did by converting the gel 1 into
feathers. White says, " the most unusual birds which I ever
observed in these parts were a pair of hoopoes which came
Introduction xiii

several years ago in the summer, and frequented an orna-

mental piece of ground, which joins to my garden, for some
weeks. They used to march about in a stately manner,
feeding in the walks many times in the day, and seemed
disposed to breed in my outlet but were frightened and

persecuted by idle boys who would never let them be at

rest." Poor Hoopoes it seems that they want nothing

better than to come amongst us and nest, were it not for the
idle boys," and the still more objectionable
attentions of the
man with a gun and a will to slay any rare thing. The
accounts which find their way from time to time into the
papers,make it very clear that we are not given to exhibiting
much hospitality to rare visitors to these islands. White
also mentions the crossbill, a rare bird which occasionally
visits us, having even, during severe winters, been seen in
considerable numbers in the neighbourhood of London.
For the rest White's letters must speak for themselves.
Some of his statements or surmises have turned out to be in-
accurate, and the valuable parts of his work have become part
of the general corpus of scientific knowledge, but the charm
of his simple style and the pictures of the life of the time
which are occasionally revealed to us, have rendered his work
part of the permanent literature of the country, like Walton's
Angler^ of which one is often reminded when reading White,
a book of no use to fishermen, but not to be exchanged for a
wilderness of more technically accurate works. But over and
above their claims as a piece of literature, White's letters
possess the valuable power of stimulating readers themselves
to go out and look nature in the face as their writer did, and
seek to see for themselves the wonderful things which are
ever visible to the observing eye.
From the naturalist's point of view White may be regarded
in two aspects. In the first place he was a new phenomenon
in his time. His age was one of an when
artificial character,
little real interest was felt in natural objects. White had to
strike out a line for himself ; there were no field-naturalists'
clubs in those days to make pleasant the paths of natural
history to the hesitating beginner, by a large infusion of the
picnic element. On the contrary, men who devoted them-
xiv Introduction
selves to studies such as those of White, suffered, not merely '

from isolation in their pursuits, but ran the risk of being

looked upon as lunatics, whose harmlessness rendered them
objects of pity or derision rather
than of fear. White was,
but he did more
perhaps, not the father of field-naturalists,
than any other man to popularise and give life to that branch
of work, and that without any effort— perhaps without any
intention— on his part, by the quiet example of his life. The
country squire, and, in many cases, the country parson, too,
those days had a horizon which was bounded by their rod,
their gun, their hounds, and their dinner. Their knowledge
of nature did not extend further than sufficed to teach them
what the weather was likely to be from a hunting point of
view, or how best to slay the greatest number of birds
beasts in the shortest possible time. Their epitaphs might
have been written, in the words applied by Carlyle to
Phillipus Zaehdarm, Count of Zaehdarm," who, "whilst he
still trod these sublunar fields, slew 15,000 partridges and with

the help of his servants, quadruped and biped, consumed of

various foods one hundred thousand hundredweights." Of
such the generation is not yet extinct, but the lump is

leavened with others of the race of White. But when that

observer still "trod those sublunar fields he must have been
looked upon as little better than an imbecile for wasting his
time in watching a tortoise, and concerning himself about the
comings and goings of the swallows. His work, however,
has told. It has been said that when his letters were pub.
lished, the country gentlemen of the period rubbed their
eyes in astonishment, to find what things had been going on
around them all their lives, without their having once noticed

them. Gradually the leaven has permeated the whole lump,

the field naturalist is no rarity in the land, sometimes when
he devastates the scarce things of a district one wishes that
he was rarer his vasculum and his butterfly-net attract little

attention when they are seen in country lanes it is not now


considered to be a sign of a mean mind to have some know-

ledge of plants and birds neither edible nor usually shootable,
and the day may even come when we shall think it as reason-
able to have a royal recorder of natural history as we now do
Introduction xv
to pay a Master of the Royal Buckhounds, or as men, not
many years ago, did to support the Royal Falconer.
But there is another point of view from which White may
be regarded. He was an example of an almost new and un-
known kind of man in his own day, and to-day we see him as
an example of the kind of worker met with much more
amongst so-called "amateurs than amongst so-called "men
of science." Embryology, miscroscopical anatomy and the
like have for years past attracted the attention of prominent
stars in the world of science to a much larger extent than the

study of living nature as it is to be seen in the field, in the

botanic garden, or in the aquarium. Perhaps this is not un-
natural, for, in the first place, constant patient work has pretty
well exhausted the possibilities of these islands for seekers
after new species. And, again, the vast field of physiological
work opened up by the microscope is one where conceptions
of greater magnitude may be come by than in the humbler
paths of systematic work. Yet it is surely to be regretted
that the attractiveand educational subject of field botany
should have been so sorely neglected by professional
botanists as it has been for these years past. Physiological
and microscopic botany is a fine study no one doubts it — —
but for children and young students, to my mind there are
few more interesting and useful introductions to science than
that of field botany — the study of the now despised Natural
Perhaps time is bringing its revenge, for the whole bio-
logical world now agog about Mendelism, and what is

Mendelism but the result of the work in his garden on common

peas of a little-known Abbot of an obscure Abbey. To the
seeing eye and the mind
trained to study and comparison
there is much be learnt— much, there is a whole world
still to


from the common things which are all around us every

day. Those who commit themselves to these studies know

not only the joys of discovery be their discoveries but of a

very modest character but they know also the joys of the
open moor and the quiet stream, of the wind on the heath,"
of still starry nights when moths were the chase, of the silent
movements of the creatures of the wood, when man, the
xvi Introduction
enemy, is supposed to be lapped up in his blankets. These
and kindred joys they know who are of the following of White,
and not the least of the merits of that writer is that every
year, as new editions of his book appear, the number of those
who go to nature for first-hand information and trouble them-
selves but little whether they make epoch-moving discoveries

or not, is slowly and insensibly increased.

The first edition ' '

of White's Natural History of Selborne" appeared
in 1789, — fouryears before his death. It bears the imprint of his

brother, Benjamin White, who was a Fleet Street publisher. The;

Naturalist's Calendar," now usually included in the same volume,

was extracted from his papers after his death, and followed in 1795.
Some additional extracts were published by Jesse in 1834. The
Standard" edition by Bennett, and revised by Harting, appeared
in 1874-6, and in 1877 came the still better edition of Thomas Bell.
Still further matter was added to Dr. Bowdler Sharpe's edition of
** "
1900, including a Garden Kalendar kept by Gilbert White from
1751 to 177 1 ; and Dean Hole contributed an introduction. Special
attention has been given, too, to Selborne of later years, and Mr.
" "
Tompkins' book in the Temple Topographies will be found


The shadows are stealing out ;
the hares are shaking their ears

and thinking of the coming

ramble ; and the jar of the

night-hawk is heard in the fern,

but he will not rise yet to pursue
the moths ; the red cattle have

ceased to low ; the red stags of

Wolmer Forest are glad that

the heat of the day is past and
the happy cool of night is within
Richard Jeffries.
The Author of the following Letters takes the liberty,
with proper deference, of laying before the public his

idea of parochial history^ which, he thinks, ought to

consist of natural productions and occurrences as well as
antiquities. He is also of opinion that if stationary men
would pay some attention to the districts on which they
reside, and would publish their thoughts respecting the
objects that surround them, from such materials might be
drawn the most complete county-histories, which are still
wanting in several parts of this kingdom, and in particular
in the county of Southampton.
And here he seizes the first opportunity, though a late
one, of returning his most grateful acknowledgments to the
reverend the President and the reverend and worthy the
Fellows of Magdalen College in the University of Oxford,
behaviour in permitting their archives to
for their liberal
be searched by a member of their own society, so far as
the evidences therein contained might respect the parish
and priory of Selborne. To that gentleman also, and his
assistant, whose labours and attention could only be
equalled by the very kind manner in which they were
bestowed, many and great obligations are also due.
Of the authenticity of the documents above-mentioned
there can be no doubt, since they consist of the identical
deeds and records that were removed to the College from
the Priory at the time of its dissolution and, being

carefully copied on the spot, may be depended on as

genuine ; and, never having been made public before, may
gratify the curiosity of the antiquary, as well as establish
the credit of the history.
4 Advertisement
If the writer all appear to have induced any of
should at
his readers to pay a more ready attention to the wonders
of the Creation, too frequently overlooked as common
occurrences or if he should by any means, through his

researches, have lent an helping hand towards the enlarge-

ment of the boundaries of historical and topographical
knowledge or if he should have thrown some small light

upon ancient customs and manners, and especially on those

that were monastic, his purpose will be fully answered. But
if he should not have been successful in any of these his

intentions, yet there remains this consolation behind

these his pursuits, by keeping the body and mind employed,
have, under Providence, contributed to much health and
cheerfulness of spirits, even to old age

and, what still adds
to his happiness, have led him to the knowledge of a circle
of gentlemen whose intelligent communications, as they have
affordedhim much pleasing information, so, could he flatter
himself with a continuation of them, would they ever be
deemed a matter of singular satisfaction and improvement.

Selborne, January isf, 1788.


The parish of Selborne lies in the extreme eastern
corner of the county of Hampshire, bordering on the
county of Sussex, and not far from the county of Surrey ;
is about fifty miliss south-west of London, in latitude
and near midway between the towns of Alton and Peters-
field. Being very large and extensive it abut s on twelve
parishes, two of which are in Sussex, viz., Trotton and
Rogate. If you begin from the south and proceed
westward the adjacent parishes are Emshot, Newton
Valence, Faringdon, Harteley Mauduit, Great Ward le
ham, Kingsley, Hedleigh, Bramshot, Trotton, Rogate,
Lysse, and Greatham. The soils of this district are
almost as various and diversified as the views and aspects.
The high part to the south-west consists of a vast hill of
chalk, rising three hundred feet above the village ; and is
divided into a sheep down, the high wood, and a long
hanging wood called the Hanger. The covert of this
eminence is altogether beech, the most lovely of all forest
trees, whether we consider its smooth rind or bark, its
glossy foliage, or graceful pendulous boughs. The down,
or sheep-walk, is a pleasing park-like spot, of about one
mile by half that space, jutting out on the verge of the
hill-country, where it
begins to break down into the plains,
and commanding a very engaging view, being an assem-
blage of hill, dale, wood-lands, heath, and water. The
prospect is bounded to the south-east and east by the
vast range^ofmounlaiiTs^-calle^ the Sussex Downs, by
Guild-down near Guildford, and by the Downs round
Dorking, and Ryegate in Surrey, to the north-east, which
altogether, with the country beyond Alton and Farnham,
form a noble and extensive outline.
6 The Natural History
At the hill, one stage or step from the
foot of this
uplands, the village, which consists of one single

straggling street, three-quarters of a mile in length, in a

sheltered vale, and running parallel with the Hanger.
The houses are divided from the hill by a vein of stiif
clay (good wheat-land), yet stand on a rock of white
stone, little in appearance removed from chalk ; but
seems so far from being calcareous, that it endures
extreme heat. Yet that the freestone still preserves
somewhat that is analogous to chalk, is plain from the
beeches which descend as low as those rocks extend, and
no farther, and thrive as well on them, where the ground
is steep, as on the chalks.

The cart-way of the village divides, in a remarkable

manner, two very incongruous soils. To the south-west
is a rank clay, that requires the labour of years to render
it mellow;
while the gardens to the north-east, and small
enclosures behind, consist of a warm, forward, crumbling
mould, called black 7?iabn^ which seems highly saturated
with vegetable and animal manure ; and these may
perhaps have been the original site of the town ; while the
wood and coverts might extend down to the opposite bank.
At each end of the village, which runs from south-east
to north-west, arises a small rivulet that at the north-

west end frequently fails ; but the other is a fine perennial

spring little influenced by drought or wet seasons, called
Well-head.^ This breaks out of some high grounds
joining to Nore Hill, a noble chalk promontory, remark-
able for sending forth two streams into two different seas.
The one to the south becomes a branch of the Arun,
running to Arundel, and so falling into the British
Channel the other to the north. The Selborne stream

makes one branch of the Wey ; and meeting the Black-

down stream at Hedleigh, and the Alton and Farnham
This spring produced, September 14, 1781, after a severe hot
summer, and a preceding dry spring and winter, nine gallons of
water in a minute, which is five hundred and
forty in an hour, and
twelve thousand nine hundred and
sixty, or two hundred and sixteen
hogsheads, in twenty-four hours, or one natural day. At this time
many of the wells failed, and all the ponds in the vales were dry.

</ /.b
of Selborne 7
stream at Tilford-bridge, swells into a considerable river,
/O navigable at Godalming ; from whence it passes toGuild-
^ and so into the Thames at Weybridge and thus at
ford, ;

the Nore into the German Ocean.

Our wells, at an average, run to about sixty-three feet,
and when sunk to that depth seldom fail but produce a

fine limpid water, soft to the taste, and much commended

by those who drink the pure element, but which does not
lather well with soap.
To the north-west, north and east of the village, is a
range of enclosures, consisting of what is called a
7v/i//e ma/m, a sort of rotten or rubble stone, which, when
turned up to the frost and rain, moulders to pieces, and
becomes manure to itself.^
Still on to the north-east, and a step lower, is a kind of
white land, neither chalk nor clay, neither fit for pasture
nor for the plough, yet kindly for hops, which root deep
into the freestone, and have their poles and wood for
charcoal growing just at hand. This white soil produces
the brightest hops.
As the parish still inclines down towards Wolmer-forest,
at the juncture of the clays and sand the soil becomes a
wet, sandy loam, remarkable for timber, and infamous for
roads. The oaks of Temple and Blackmoor stand high
in the estimation of purveyors, and have furnished much
naval timber ; while the trees on the freestone grow large,
but are what workmen call shakey, and so brittle as often
to fall to pieces in sawing. Beyond the sandy loam the
soil becomes an hungry lean sand, till it mingles with the
forest ; and will produce little without the assistance of
lime and turnips.



In the court of Norton-farmhouse, a manor farm to
the north-west of the village, on the white malms, stood
within these twenty years a broad-leaved elm, or wych
This soil produces good wheat and clover.
8 The Natural History-
hazel, uhnus folio latissimo scabro of Ray, which, though
it had lost a considerable leading bough in the great
storm in the year 1703, equal to a moderate tree, yet,
when felled, contained eight loads
of timber j and, being
too bulky for a carriage, was sawn off at seven feet above
the butt, where it measured near eight feet in the
diameter. This elm I mention to show to what a bulk
planted elms may attain ; as
this tree must
certainly have
been such from its situation.
In the centre of the village, and near the church, is a
square piece of ground surrounded by houses,
vulgarly called the Plestor. In the midst of this spot

stood, in old times, a vast oak, with a short squat body,

and Imge horizontal arms extending almost to the ex-'
tremity of the area. This venerable tree, surrounded
with stone steps, and seats above them, was the delight of
old and young, and a place of much resort in summer
evenings ; where the former sat in grave debate, while the
latter frolicked and danced before them. Long might it
have stood, had not the amazing tempest in 1 703 overturned
it at once, to the infinite regret of the inhabitants, and the

vicar, who bestowed several pounds in setting it in its

place again ;
but all could not avail ; the tree
his care

sprouted for a time, then withered and died. This oak I

mention to show to what a bulk planted oaks also may
arrive and planted this tree must certainly have been, as

will appear from what will be said farther concerning- this

area, when we
enter on the antiquities of Selborne.
On the Blackmoor estate there is a small wood called
Losel's, of a few acres, that was lately furnishe'd with a
set of oaks of a peculiar growth and great value ; they
were tall and taper like firs, but standing near together
had very small heads, only a little brush without any
large limbs. About twenty years ago the bridge at the
Toy, near Hampton-court, being much decayed, some
trees were wanted for the repairs that were fifty feet long
without bough, and would measure twelve inches diameter
at the little end. Twenty such trees did a purveyor find
in this little wood, with this advantage, that
many of them
answered the description at sixty feet. These trees were
sold for twenty pounds apiece.
of Selborne 9
In the centre of grove there stood an oak, which,

though shapely and tall on the whole, bulged out into a

large excrescence about the middle of the stem. On this
a pair of ravens had fixed their residence for such a
series of years, that the oak was distinguished by the title
of the Raven-tree. Many were the attempts of the
neighbouring youths to get at this eyry the difficulty :

whetted their inclinations, and each was ambitious of

surmounting the arduous task. But, when they arrived
at the swelling, it jutted out so in their way, and was so
far beyond their grasp, that the most daring lads were

awed, and acknowledged the undertaking to be too

hazardous. So the ravens built on, nest upon nest, in
perfect security, till the fatal day arrived in which the
wood was to be levelled. It was in the month of
February, when those birds usually sit. The saw was
applied to the butt, the wedges were inserted into the
opening, the woods echoed to the heavy blows of the
beetle or mallet, the tree nodded to its fall but still the ;

dam sat on. At last, when it gave way, the bird was
flung from her nest ; and, though her parental affection
deserved a better fate, was whipped down by the twigs,
which brought her dead to the ground.



The fossil-shells of this district, and sorts of stone, such
as have fallen within my observation, must not be passed
over in silence. And first I must mention, as a great
curiosity, a specimen that was ploughed up in the chalky
fields, near the side of the down, and given to me for the
singularity of its appearance, which, to an incurious eye,
seems like a petrified fish of about four inches long, the
cardo passing for an head and mouth. It is in reality a
bivalve of the Linnaean genus of My Otitis, and the species
of Crista Galli ; called by Lister, Rastellum ; by Rum-
phius, Ostreum plicattwi minus ; by D'Argenville, Auris
lO The Natural History
Forciy s. and by those who make collections
Crista Galli^
cock s comb. Thoughapplied to several such in London,

I never could meet with an entire specimen nor could;

I ever find in books any engraving from a perfect one.

In the superb museum at Leicester-house, permission was
given me to examine for this article ; and though I was
disappointed as to the fossil, I was highly gratified with
the sight of severalof the shells themselves in high
preservation. This bivalve is only known to inhabit the
Indian Ocean, where it fixes itself to a zoophyte, known
by the name Gorgonia. The curious foldings of the
suture, the one into the other, the alternate flutings or
grooves, and the curved form of my specimen being much
easier expressed by the pencil than by words, I have
caused it to be drawn and engraved.

MYTILUS, Crista Galli:

Cor?iica A?/imo?iis are very common about this village.

As we were cutting an inclining path up the Hanger, the
labourers found them frequently on that steep, just under
the soil, in the chalk, and of a considerable size. In the
lane above Well-head, in the way to Emshot, they abound
in the bank, in a darkish sort of marl ; and are usually
very small and soft but in Clay's Pond, a little farther

on, at the end of the pit, where the soil is dug out for
manure, I have occasionally observed them of large
dimensions, perhaps fourteen or sixteen inches in diameter.
But as these did not consist of firm stone, but were
formed of a kind of terra lapidosa, or hardened clay, as
soon as they were exposed to the rains and frost they
mouldered away. These seemed as if they were a
very recent production. In the chalk-pit, at the north-
of Selborne 1 1

west end of the Hanger large 7iautili are sometimes

In the very thickest strata of our freestone, and at
considerable depths, well-diggers often find large scallops
or pectines^ having both shells deeply striated, and ridged
and furrowed alternately. They are highly impregnated
with, if not wholly composed of, the stone of the quarry.



As in a former letter the freestone of this place has
been only mentioned incidentally, I shall here become
more particular.
This stone is in great request for hearth-stones and the
beds of ovens and in lining of lime-kilns it turns to

good account ; for the workmen use sandy loam instead

of mortar the sand of which fluxes,^ and runs by the

intense heat, and so cases over the whole face of the

kiln with a strong vitrifiedcoat like glass, that it is well
preserved from injuries of weather, and endures thirty or
forty years. When
chiseled smooth, it makes elegant
fronts for houses, equal in colour and grain to the Bath
stone ; and superior in one respect, that, when seasoned,
it does not scale. Decent chimney-pieces are worked
from it of much closer and finer grain than Portland ;

and rooms are floored with it but it proves rather too;

soft for this purpose. It is a freestone, cutting in all

directions yet has something of a grain parallel with the

horizon, and therefore should not be surbedded, but laid

in the same position as it grows in the quarry. ^ On the
ground abroad this firestone will not succeed for pave-
ments, because, probably, some degree of saltness
There may probably be also in the chalk itself that is burnt for
lime a proportion of sand for few chalks are so pure as to have none.

To surbed siowQ is to set it edgewise, contrary to the posture it
had in the quarry, says Dr. Plot, Oxfordsk., p. 77. But surbed-
ding does not succeed in our dry walls neither do we use it so in

ovens, though he says it is best for Teynton stone.

12 The Natural History
it, the
rain tears the slabs to pieces.^
prevailing within
Though stone is too hard to be acted on by

vinegar ; yet both the white part, and even the blue rag,
ferments strongly in mineral acids. Though the white
stone will not bear wet, yet in every quarry at intervals
there are thin strata of blue rag, which resist rain and
frost ; and are excellent for pitching of stables, paths and
courts, and for building of dry walls against banks ; a
valuable species of fencing, much in use in this village,
and for mending of roads. This rag is rugged and
stubborn, and will not hew to a smooth face ; but is very
durable yet, as these strata are shallow and lie deep,

large quantities cannot be procured but at considerable

expense. Among the blue rags turn up some blocks
tinged with a stain of yellow or rust colour, which seem
to be nearly as lasting as the blue ; and every now and
then balls of a friable substance, like rust of iron, called
rust balls.
In Wolmer-forest I see but one sort of stone, called by
the workmen sand, or forest-stone. This is generally of
the colour of rusty iron, and might probably be worked as
iron ore ; is very hard and heavy, and of a firm, compact
texture, and composed of a small roundish crystalline
grit, cemented together by a brown, terrene, ferruginous
matter ; will not cut without difficulty, nor easily strike
fire with steel. Being often found in broad flat pieces,
it makes good pavement for paths about houses, never
becoming slippery in frost or rain ; is excellent for dry
walls, and is sometimes used in buildings. In many
parts of that waste it lies scattered on the surface of the
ground ; but is dug on Weaver's-down, a vast hill on the
eastern verge of that forest, where the pits are shallow,

and the stratum thin. This stone is imperishable.

From a notion of rendering their work the more
elegant, and giving it a finish, masons chip this stone
into small fragments about the size of the head of a
nail ; and then stick the pieces into the wet mortar
^ '*
is full of salts, and has no
Firestone sulphur: must be close
{^rained, and have no interstices. Nothing supports fire like salts ;
saltstone perishes exposed to wet and frost." Plot's
Staff.^ p. 152.
of Selborne 13
the joints of their freestone walls :this embellishment
carries an odd appearance, and has occasioned strangers
sometimes to ask us pleasantly, " whether we fastened
our walls together with tenpenny nails."

Among the singularities of this place the two rocky
hollow lanes, the one to Alton, and the other to the
forest, deserve our attention. These roads, running
through the malm lands, are, by the traffic of ages, and
the fretting of water, worn down through the first
stratum of our freestone, and partly through the second ;

so that they look more like water-courses than roads and


are bedded with naked rag for furlongs together. In

many places they are reduced sixteen or eighteen feet
beneath the level of the fields ; and after floods, and in
frosts, exhibit very grotesque and wild appearances, from
the tangled roots that are twisted among the strata, and
from the torrents rushing down their broken sides ; and
especially when those cascades are frozen into icicles,
hanging in all the fanciful shapes of frost-work. These
rugged gloomy scenes affright the ladies when they peep
down into them from the paths above, and make timid
horsemen shudder while they ride along them ; but
delight the naturalist with their various botany, and
particularly with their curious filices with which they
The manor of Selborne, was it strictly looked after,
with all kindly aspects, and all its sloping coverts,

would swarm with game ; even now hares, partridges and

pheasants abound ; and in old days woodcocks were as
plentiful. There are few quails, because they more affect
open fields than enclosures ; after harvest some few
landrails are seen.
The parish of Selborne, by taking in so much of the
forest, is a vast district. Those who tread the bounds
14 The Natural History
are employed part of three days in the business, and arc
of opinion that the outline, in all its curves and indent-
ings, does not comprise less
than thirty miles.
The village stands in a sheltered spot, secured by the
Hanger from the strong westerly winds. The air is soft,
but rather moist from the effluvia of so many trees ; yet
perfectly healthy and free from agues.
The quantity of rain that falls on it is very considerable,
as may be supposed in so woody and mountainous a
district. As my experience in measuring the water is
but of short date, I am not qualified to give the mean
I only know that :

from May t, 1779, ^^ ^"<^ of the year
there fell
from Jan. i, 1780, to Jan. i, 1781, there
From Jan. i, 1781, to Jan. i, 1782, there
From Jan. i, 1782, to Jan. I, 1783, there
From Jan. I, 1783, to Jan. i, 1784, there
From Jan. i, 1784, to Jan. i, 1785, there
From Jan. i, 1785, to Jan. I, 1786, there
From Jan. i, 1786, to Jan. i, 1787, there

The village of Selborne, and large hamlet of Oak-

hanger, with the single farms, and many scattered houses
along the verge of the forest, contain upwards of six
of Selborne 15
hundred and seventy abound with
inhabitants.^ We
poor many of whom are sober and industrious, and

live comfortably in good stone or brick cottages, which

A STATE o/ihe Parish ^/SELBORNE, taken
October 4, 1783.
The number of tenements or families, 136.
The number of inhabitants in
Total, 676 ; near five inhabit-
the street is .
313. ants to each tenement.
In the rest of the parish 363
In the time of the Rev. Gilbert White, vicar, who died in 1727-8,
the number of inhabitants was computed at about 500.

Average of baptisms for 60 years.

From 1720 to 1729, both years m- / Males 6.9)
elusive \ Females 6,0/
From 1730 to 1739, both years m- /Males 8,2\ 15,3
elusive \ Females 7,1/
From 1740 to I749» inclusive /Males 9,2\ 15.8
\ Females 6,6/
From 1750 to 1759, inclusive /Males
From 1760 to 1769, inclusive /Males 18,0
From 1770 to i779> inclusive /Males
\ Females 9,8/
Total of baptisms of Males
Total of baptisms from 1720 to 1779,
both inclusive, 60 years 980. . . .

Average of burials for 60 years.

From 1 720 to 1
29, both years in- /Males 4,8\
elusive \ Females
From 1730 to 1739, both years in- /Males 4.8 \
elusive \ Females 5,8/
From 1740 to 1749, inclusive /Males 4,6\ 8,4
\ Females 3,8/
From 1750 to 1759, inclusive /Males 4.9 \
\ Females 5,U
From 1760 to 1769, inclusive /Males 6,9\ 13,4
\ Females 6,5/
From 1770 to inclusive /Males 5.51
1779 II, r
\ Females 6,2/
Total of burials of Males 3
Females 32 1^^}
Total of burials from 1720 to 1 779,
both inclusive, 60 years 640, .
i6 The Natural History
are and have chambers above stairs
glazed, 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,

Baptisms exceed burials by more than one-third.

Baptisms of Males exceed Females by one-tenth, or one in ten.
Burials of Females exceed Males by one in thirty.
It appears that a child, born and bred in this parish, has an
chance to live above forty years.
Twins thirteen times, many of whom dying young have lessened the
chance for life.
Chances for life in men and women appear to be equal,

A TABLE o/ the Baptisms, Burials, and Marriages, from

January 2, 1761, to December 25, 1780, in the Parish
of Selborne \ 17
in the dead months they availed themselves greatly
spinning wool, for making of barragofis, 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 circum-

stances this trade. is at an end.^ The inhabitants enjoy

a good share of health and longevity and the parish

swarms with children.

Should I omit to describe with some exactness the
forest of Wolmer, of whichthree-fifths perhaps lie in this

parish, myaccount of Selborne would be very imperfect,

as it is a district abounding with many curious produc-
tions, both animal and vegetable ; and has often afforded
me much entertainment both as a sportsman and as a
The royal forest of Wolmer is a tract of land of about
seven miles in length, by two and a half in breadth, run-
ning nearly from north to south, and is abutted on, to
begin to the south, and so to proceed eastward, by the
parishes of Greatham, Lysse, Rogate, and Trotton, in the
county of Sussex ; by Bramshot, Hedleigh, and Kingsley.
This royalty consists entirely of sand covered with heath
and fern ; but is somewhat diversified with hills and dales,
without having one standing tree in the whole extent. In
the bottoms, where the waters stagnate, are many bogs,
which formerly abounded with subterraneous trees; though
Dr. Plot says positively,^ that* 'there never were any
fallen trees hidden in the mosses of the southern counties."
But he was mistaken for I myself have seen cottages on

the verge of this wild district, whose timbers consisted of

Since the passage above was written, I am happy in being able
to say that the spinning employment is a little revived, to the no
small comfort of the industrious housewife.
See his Hist, of Staffordshire,
i8 The Natural History
a black hard wood, looking like oak, which the owners
assured me they procured from the bogs by probing the
soil with or some such instruments: but the peat is
so much and the moors have been so well exam-
cut out,
ined, none has been found of late.^ Besides the
oak, I have also been shown pieces of fossil-wood of a
paler colour, and softer nature,
which the inhabitants
called fir but, upon a nice examination, and trial by

fire, I could discover nothing

resinous in them ; and
therefore rather suppose that they were parts of a willow
or alder, or some such aquatic tree.
is a very agreeable haunt for many
This lonely domain
sorts of wild fowls, which not only frequent it in the
winter, but breed there in the summer ; such as lapwings,
snipes, wild-ducks, and, as I have discovered ^vithin these
few years, teals. Partridges in vast plenty are bred in
good seasons on the verge of this forest, into which they
love to make excursions and in particular, in the dry

summer of 1740 and 1741, and some years after, they

swarmed to such a degree, that parties of unreasonable
sportsmen killed twenty and sometimes thirty brace in a
Old people have assured me, that on a winter's morning they
have discovered these trees, in the bogs, by the hoar frost, which lay
longer over the space where they were concealed, than on the sur-
rounding morass. Nor does this seem to be a fanciful notion, but
consistent with true philosophy. Dr. Hales saith, "That the warmth
of the earth, at some depth under ground, has an influence in pro-
moting a thaw, as well as the change of the weather from a freezing
to a thawing state, is manifest, from this observation, viz., Nov. 29,
1 73 1, a little snow
having fallen in the night, it was, by eleven the
next morning, mostly melted away on the surface of the earth, except
in several places in Bushy Park, where there/Were drains
dug and
covered with earth, on which the snow continued to lie, whether
those drains were full of water or dry ; as also where elm-pipes lay
under ground : a plain proof this, that those drains intercepted the
warmth of the earth from ascending from greater depths below them:
for the snow lay where the drain had more than four feet
depth of
earth over it. It continued also to lie on thatch, tiles, and the tops of
walls." See Hales's Hesmasia/us, p. 360. —
Quare. Might not such
observations be reduced to domestic use, by promoting the discovery
of old obliterated drains and wells about houses ; and in Roman
stations and camps lead to the finding of pavements, baths and
graves, and other hidden relics of curious antiquity ?
of Selborne 19
But there was a nobler species of game in this forest,
now extinct, which I have heard old people say abounded
much before shooting flying became so common, and that
was the heath-cock, black-game, or grouse. When I was
a little boy I recollect one coming now and then to my
father's table. The last pack remembered was killed
about thirty-five years ago and within these ten years

one solitary greyhen was sprung by some beagles in

beating for a hare. The sportsmen cried out, " A hen
pheasant ;
but a gentleman present, who had often seen
grouse in the north of England, assured me that it was a
Nor does the loss of our black game prove the only
gap in the Fauna Selborniensis ; for another beautiful link
in the chain of beings is wanting, I mean the red deer,
which toward the beginning of this century amounted to
about five hundred head, and made a stately appearance.
There is an old keeper, now alive, named Adams, whose
great-grandfather (mentioned in a perambulation taken in
1635), grandfather, father and self, enjoyed the head
keepership of Wolmer-forest in succession for more than
an hundred years.This person assures me, that his
father has often told him, that Queen Anne, as she was
journeying on the Portsmouth road, did not think the
forest of Wolmer beneath her royal regard. F6r she came
out of the great road at Lippock, which is just by, and
reposing herself on a bank smoothed for that purpose,
lying about half a mile to the east of Wolmer-pond, and
still called Queen's-bank, saw with great complacency and

satisfaction the whole herd of red ^^deer brought by the

keepers along the vale before her, consisting then of about
fivehundred head. A
sight this worthy the attention of
the greatest sovereign But he further adds that, by

means of the Waltham blacks, or, to use his own ex-

pression, as soon as they began blackings they were
reduced to about fifty head, and so continued decreasing
till the time of the late Duke of Cumberland. It is now
more than thirty years ago that his highness sent down
an huntsman, and six yeomen-prickers, in scarlet jackets
laced with gold, attended by the stag-hounds ; ordering
20 The Natural History
them to take every deer in this forest alive, and convey
them in carts to Windsor. In the course of the summer
they caught every stag, some of which showed extra-
ordinary diversion; but, in the following winter, when
hinds were also carried off, such fine chases were ex-
hibited as served the country people for matter of talk
and wonder for years afterwards. I saw myself one of
the yeomen-prickers single out a stag from the herd, and
must confess that it was the most curious feat of activity
I ever beheld, superior to anything in Mr. Astley's riding-
school. The exertions made by the horse and deer much
exceeded all my expectations ; though the former greatly
excelled the latter in speed. When the devoted deer
was separated from his companions, they gave him, by
their watches, law, as they called it, for twenty minutes ;
when, sounding their horns, the stop-dogs were permitted
to pursue, and a most gallant scene ensued.



Though large herds of deer do much harm to the

neighbourhood, yet the injury to the morals of the people
is of more moment than the loss of their The
temptation is irresistible ; for most men are sportsmen
by constitution and there is such an inherent spirit for

hunting in human nature, as scarce any inhibitions can

restrain. Hence, towards the beginning of this century,
all this country was wild about Unless he
was a hunter^ as they affected to call themselves, no
young person was allowed to be possessed of manhood
or gallantry. The AValtham blacks at length committed
such enormities, that government was forced to interfere
with that severe and sanguinary act called the Black Act,^
which now comprehends more felonies than any law that

Statute 9 Geo. I. c. 22.
of Selborne 21
ever was framed before. And, therefore, a late bishop
of Winchester, when urged to re-stock Waltham-chase,^
refused, from a motive worthy of a prelate, replying that
"it had done mischief enough already."
Our old race of deer-stealers are hardly extinct yet it :

was but a little while ago that, over their ale, they used
to recount the exploits of their youth ; such as watching
the pregnant hind to her lair, and, when the calf was
dropped, paring its feet with a penknife to the quick to
its escape, till it was large and fat
prevent enough to be
killed; the shooting at one of their neighbours with a
bullet in a turnip-field by moonshine, mistaking him for
a deer; and the losing a dog in the following extra-
ordinary manner :

Some fellows, suspecting that a calf
new-fallen was deposited in a certain spot of thick fern,
went, with a lurcher, to surprise it ; when the parent hind
rushed out of the brake, and, taking a vast spring with
all her feet close together, pitched upon the neck of the

dog, and broke it short in two.

Another temptation to idleness and sporting was a
number of rabbits, which possessed all the hillocks and
dry places: but these being inconvenient to the hunts-
men, on account of their burrows, when they came to
take away the deer, they permitted the country people to
destroy them all.

Such forests and wastes, when their allurements to

irregularities removed, are of considerable service
to neighbourhoods that verge upon them, by furnishing
them with peat and turf for their firing ;
with fuel for the
burning their lime and with ashes for their grasses
; ;
by maintaining their geese and their stock of young cattle
at little or no expense.
The manor farm of the parish of Greatham has an
admitted claim, I see (by an old record taken from the
Tower of London), of turning all live stock on the forest
at proper seasons, bidefiUbus exceptisP" The reason, I
This chase remains unstocked to this day ; the bishop was
Dr. Hoadly.
For this privilege the owner of that estate used to pay to the
king annually seven bushels of oats.
22 The Natural History
presume, why sheep are excluded, is, because, being
such close grazers, they would pick out all the finest
grasses, and hinder the
deer from thriving.
Though (by statute 4 and 5 W. and Mary, c. 23.) " to
burn on any waste, between Candlemas and Midsummer,
any grig, ling, heath
and furze, goss or fern, is punishable
with whipping and confinement in the house of cor-
rection ; yet, in this forest, about
March or April,
according to the dryness of the season, such vast heath-
fires are lighted up, that they often get to a masterless

head, and, catching the hedges, have sometimes been

conmiunicated to the underwoods, woods, and coppices,
where great damage has ensued. The plea for these
burnings is, that, when the old coat of heath, etc., is
consumed, young will sprout up, and afford much tender
browse for cattle ; but, where there is large old furze, the
fire, following the roots, consumes the very ground ; so
that for hundreds of acres nothing is to be seen but
smother and desolation, the whole circuit round looking
like the cinders of a volcano ; and the soil being quite
exhausted, no traces of vegetation are to be found for
years. These conflagrations, as they take place usually
with a north-east or east wind, much annoy this village
with their smoke, and often alarm the country ; and,
once in particular, I remember that a gentleman, who
livesbeyond Andover, coming to my house, when he got
on downs between that town and Winchester, at
twenty-five miles distance, was surprised much with
smoke and a hot smell of fire and concluded that Aires-

ford was in flames but, when he came to that town, he


then had apprehensions for the next village, and so on to

the end of his journey.
On two of the most conspicuous eminences of this
forest, stand two arbours or bowers, made of the boughs
of oaks ; the one called Waldon-lodge, the other Brim-
stone-lodge these the keepers renew annually on the

feast of St. Barnabas, taking the old materials for a

perquisite. The farm called Blackmoor, in this parish, is

In the Holt, where a full stock of fallow-deer has been
kept up
lately, no sheep are admitted to this day.
of Selborne 23
obliged to find the posts and brush-wood for the former ;
while the farms at Greatham, in rotation, furnish for
the latter ; and are all enjoined to cut and deliver the
materials at the spot. This custom I mention, because I
look upon it to be of very remote antiquity.



On the verge of the forest, as it is now circumscribed,

are three considerable lakes, two in Oakhanger, of which
I have nothing particular to say ; and one called Bin's
or Bean's Pond, which is worthy the attention of a
naturalist or a sportsman. For, being crowded at the
upper end with willows, and w^ith the carex cespitosa} it
affords such a safe and pleasing shelter to wild-ducks,
teals, snipes, etc., that they breed there. In the winter
this covert is also frequented by foxes, and sometimes
by pheasants ;
and the bogs
produce many curious
plants. [For which consult letter XLI. to Mr. Bar-
By a perambulation of Wolmer- forest and the Holt,
made and in the eleventh year of Charles the
in 1635,
First (which now lies before me), it appears that the
limits of the former are much circumscribed. For, to
say nothing of the farther side, with which I am not so
well acquainted, the bounds on this side, in old times,
came into Binswood ; and extended to the ditch of
Ward le ham park, in which stands the curious mount
called King John's Hill, and Lodge Hill ; and to the
verge of Hartley Mauduit, called Mauduit-hatch ; com-
prehending also Short-heath, Oakhanger, and Oakwoods ;

1 I mean
that sort which, rising into tall hassocks, is called by
the foresters torrets ; a corruption, I suppose, of turrets.
Note, In the beginning of the summer 1787 the royal forests of
Wolmer and Holt were measured by persons sent down by govern-
24 The Natural History
a large district, now private property, though once
belonging to the royal domain.
It is remarkable that the term purlieu is never
once mentioned in this long roll of parchment. It
contains, besides the perambulation, a rough estimate
of the value of the timbers, which were considerable,
growing at that time in the district of the Holt ; and
enumerates the officers, superior and inferior, of those
joint forests, for the time being, and their ostensible
fees and perquisites. In those days, as at present, there
were hardly any trees in Wolmer-forest.
Within the present limits of the forest are three con-
siderable lakes, Hogmer, Cranmer, and Wolmer ; all of
which are stocked with carp, tench, eels, and perch ; but
the fish do not thrive well, because the water is hungry,
and the bottoms are a naked sand.
A circumstance respecting these ponds, though by no
means peculiar to them, I cannot pass over in silence ;
and that is, that instinct by which in summer all the
kine, whether oxen, cows, calves, or heifers, retire con-
stantly to the water during the hotter hours; where, being
more exempt from flies, and inhaling the coolness of that
element, some belly deep, and some only to mid-leg, they
ruminate and solace themselves from about ten in the
morning till four in the afternoon, and then return to
their feeding. During this great proportion of the day
they drop much dung, in which insects nestle; and so

K supply food for the fish, which would be poorly subsisted

but from this contingency. Thus nature, who is a great
economist, converts the recreation of one animal to the
support of another Thomson, who was a nice observer

of natural occurrences, did not let this pleasing circum-

stance escape him. He says, in his Siiuuner^
"A various group the herds and flocks compose :

.on the grassy bank

Some ruminating lie while others stand

Half in the flood, and, often bending, sip

Tlie circling surface."

Wolmer-pond, so called, I suppose, for eminence sake,

is a vast lake for this part of the world,
containing, in its
of Selborne 25
whole circumference, 2,646 yards, or very near a mile
and a half. The length of the north-west and opposite side
is about 704 yards, and the breadth of the south-west end

about 456 yards. This measurement, whicli I caused to

be made with good exactness, gives an area of about sixty-
six acres, exclusive of a large irregular arm at the north-
east corner, which we did not take into the
the face of this expanse of waters, and perfectly
secure from fowlers, lie all day long, in the winter season,
vast flocks of ducks, teals, and widgeons, of various
denominations ; where they preen and solace, and rest
till towards sunset, when
themselves, they issue forth in
parties (for in their natural state they are all birds
of the night) to feed in the brooks and meadows ;
returning again with the dawn of the morning. Had
this lake an arm or two more, and were it planted round
with thick covert (for now it is perfectly naked), it might
make a valuable decoy.
Yet neither its extent, nor the clearness of its water,
nor the resort of various and curious fowls, nor its
picturesque groups of cattle, can render this meer so
remarkable as the great quantity of coins that were
found in its bed about forty years ago. But, as such dis-
coveries more properly belong to the
antiquities of this
place, I shall suppress all particulars for the present, till
I enter professedly on my series of letters respecting the
more remote history of this village and district.

By way of supplement, I shall trouble you once more
on this subject, to inform you that Wolmer, with her
sister forest Ayles Holt, alias Alice Holt,^ as it is called
In "Rot. de statu forest, in Scaccar,," 36, Ed. 3, it
is In the same,
called Aisholt.
" Tit. Woolmer and Aisholt Hantisc.
Dominus Rex habet unam capellam in haia sua de Kingesle."
Haia, sepes, sephnenium, parens: a Gall, hate and haye."

Spelman's Glossary.
26 The Natural History
by grant from the crovvn for a term
in old records, is held
of years.
The grantees that the author remembers are Brigadier-
General Emanuel Scroope Howe, and his lady, Ruperta,
who was a natural daughter of Prince Rupert by Margaret
Hughs; a Mr. Mordaunt, of the Peterborough family,
who married a dowager Lady Pembroke ; Henry Bilson
Legge and lady ;
and now Lord Stawel, their son.
The lady of General Howe lived to an advanced age,
long surviving her husband; and, at her death, left
behind her many curious pieces of mechanism of her
who was a distinguished mechanic
father's constructing,
and as well as warrior; and, among the rest, a

very complicated clock, lately in possession of Mr.

Elmer, the celebrated game-painter at Farnham, in the
county of Surrey.
Though these two forests are only parted by a narrow
range of enclosures, yet no two soils can be more different :

for the Holt consists of a strong loam, of a miry nature,

carrying a good turf, and abounding with oaks that grow
to be large timber ; while Wolmer is nothing but a hungry,
sandy, barren waste.
The former, being all in the parish of Binsted, is about
two miles in extent from north to south, and near as
much from east to west, and contains within it many
woodlands and lawns, and the great lodge where the
grantees reside ; and a smaller lodge, called Goose-green ;

and is abutted on by the parishes of Kingsley, Frinsham,

Farnham, and Bentley all of which have right of common.

One thing is remarkable; that, though the Holt has been

of old well-stocked with fallow-deer, unrestrained by any
pales or fences more than a common hedge, yet they
were never seen within the limits of Wolmer ; nor were
the red deer of Wolmer ever known to haunt the thickets
or glades of the Holt.
At present the deer of the Holt are much thinned and
reduced by the night-hunters, who perpetually harass
them in spite of the efforts of numerous keepers, and the
severe penalties that have been put in force against them
This prince was the inventor of fnezzoiinto.
of Selborne 27
as often as they have been detected, and rendered liable
to the lash of the law. Neither fines nor imprisonment
can deter them so impossible is it to extinguish the

sj)irit of sporting, which seems to be inherent in human

General Howe turned out some German wild boars and
sows in his forests, to the great terror of the neighbour-
hood ; and, at one time, a wild bull or buffalo but the

country rose upon them and destroyed them.

A very large fall of timber, consisting of about one
thousand oaks, has been cut this spring (viz., 1784) in the
Holt forest ; one-fifth of which, it is said, belongs to the
grantee, Lord Stawel. He lays claim also to the lop and
top but the poor of the parishes of Binsted and Frin-

sham, Bentley and Kingsley, assert that it belongs to them;

and, assembling in a riotous mamier, have actually taken
it all
away. One man, who keeps a team, has carried
home, for his share, forty stacks of wood. Forty-five of
these people his lordship has served with actions. These
trees, which were very sound and in high perfection, were
winter-cut, viz., in February and March, before the bark
would run. In old times the Holt was estimated to be
eighteen miles, computed measure, from water-carriage,
viz., from the town of Chertsey, on the Thames ; but now
it is hot half that distance, since the Wey is made navig-

able up to the town of Godalming in the county of



August 4, 1767.

It has been my misfortune never to have had any

neighbours whose studies have led them towards the
pursuit of natural knowledge ; so that, for want of a com-
panion to quicken my industry and sharpen my attention,
I have made but slender progress in a kind of information
to which I have been attached from my childhood.
28 The Natural History
As to swallows {hirundines rusticce) being found in a
torpid state during the winter in the Isle of Wight, or any
part of this country, I never heard any such account
worth attending to. But a clergyman, of an inquisitive
turn, assures me that, when he was a great boy, some
workmen, in pulling down the battlements of a church
tower early in the spring, found two or three swifts
{Jiirimdifies apodes) among the rubbish, which were, at

appearance, dead, but, on being carried toward the fire,

revived. He told me that, out of his great care to preserve
them, he put them in a paper bag, and hung them by the
kitchen fire, where they were suffocated.
Another intelligent person has informed me that, while
he was a schoolboy at Brighthelmstone, in Sussex, a great
fragment of the chalk cliff fell down one stormy winter on
the beach ; and that many people found swallows among
the rubbish ; but, on my questioning him whether he saw
any of those birds himself, to my no small disappointment,
he answered me in the negative ; but that others assured
him they did.

Young broods of swallows began to appear this year on

July the eleventh, and young martins {hirundines iirbicce)
were then fledged in their nests. Both species will breed
again once. For I see by my Fauna of last year, that young
broods come forth so late as September the eighteenth.
Are not these late hatchings more in favour of hiding than
V^ migration ? Nay, some young martins remained in their
^ .
i^^sts last year so late as September the twenty-ninth j

v\K /and yet they totally disappeared with us by the fifth of
How strange is it that the swift, which seems to live
exactly the same life with the swallow and house-martin,
should leave us before the middle of August invariably !

while the latter stay often till the middle of October \ and
once I saw numbers of house-martins on the seventh of
November. The martins and red-wing fieldfares were
flying in sight together; an uncommon assemblage of
summer and winter birds.
A little yellow bird (it is either a species of the alauda
irivialis, or rather perhaps of the motacilla trochilus) still
of Selborne 29
continues to make a sibilous shivering noise in the tops of
tall woods. The stopajvla of Ray (for which we have as
yet no name in these parts) is called, in your Zoology, the
fly-catcher. There is one circumstance characteristic of
this bird, which seems to have escaped observation, and
that is, that it takes its stand on the top of some stake or
post, from whence it springs forth on its prey, catching a
fly in the air, and hardly ever touching the ground, but
returning still to the same stand for many times together.
I perceive there are more than one species of the
motacilla Mr. Derham supposes, in Ray's
trochihts :

Philos. Letters, that he has discovered three. In these

there is again an instance of some very common birds
that have as yet no English name.
Mr. Stillingfleet makes a question whether the black-
cap {i7iotacilla atricapilld) be a bird of passage or not I :

think there is no doubt of it for, in April, in the very first


fine weather, they come trooping, all at once, into these

parts, but are never seen in the winter. They are delicate
Numbers of snipes breed every summer in some moory
ground on the verge of this parish. It is very amusing to
see the cock bird on wing at that time, and to hear his
piping and humming notes.
I have had no opportunity yet of procuring any of those
mice which I mentioned to you in town. The person
that brought me the last says they are plenty in harvest,
atwhich time I will take care to get more and will en- ;

deavour to put the matter out of doubt, whether it be a

nondescript species or not.
I suspect much there may be two species of water-rats.

Ray says, and Linnaeus after him, that the water-rat is

web-footed behind. Now I have discovered a rat on the
banks of our little stream that is not web-footed, and yet is
an excellent swimmer and diver it answers exactly to the

771US a77iphibiu5 of Linnaeus (See Syst. Nat.) which he says

natat tTtfossis et ttrtnatur.^' I should be glad to procure
one ^^ plantis paimatis." Linnaeus seems to be in a puzzle
about his mtis amphibms, and to doubt whether it differs
from his mus terrestris ; which if it be, as he allows, the
30 The Natural History
" "
mus agrestis capitc grandi brachyuros of Ray, is widely
different from the water-rat, both in size, make, and
manner of life.
As to I mentioned in town, I shall take
the /a/co, which
the liberty to send it down to you into Wales ; presuming
on your candour, that you will excuse me if it should
appear as familiar to you as it is strange to me. Though
mutilated quale m dices a?itehacfuisse stales cum sint
. . .

reliquice !
It haunted a marshy piece of ground in quest of wild-
ducks and snipes but, when it was shot, had just knocked

down a rook, which it was tearing in pieces. I cannot

make it answer to any of our English hawks; neither
could I find any like it at the curious exhibition of stuffed
birds in Spring-gardens. I found it nailed up at the end
of a bam, which is the countryman's museum.
The parish I live in is a very abrupt, uneven country,
full of hills and woods, and therefore full of birds.

Selborne, September 9, 1767.
It not be without impatience that I shall wait for

your thoughts with regard to the falco ; as to its weight,

breadth, etc., I wish I had set them down at the time;
but, to the best of my remembrance, it weighed two
pounds and eight ounces, and measured, from wing to
wing, thirty-eight inches. Its cere and feet were yellow,
and the circle of its eyelids bright yellow. As it had
been killed some days, and the eyes were sunk, I could
make no good observation on the colour of the pupils
and the irides.
The most unusual birds I ever observed in these parts
were a pair of hoopoes {upupa) which came several years
ago in the summer, and frequented an ornamented piece
of ground, which joins to my garden, for some weeks.
They used to march about in a stately manner, feeding
of Selborne 31
in the walks, many times in the day ; and seemed dis-
posed to breed in outle't; but were frightened and
persecuted by idle boys, who would never let them be at
Three gross-beaks {loxia coccothrausfes) appeared some
years ago in my fields, in the winter; one of which I
shot since that, now and then one is occasionally seen

in the same dead season.

A cross-bill {loxia curvirostrd) was killed last year in
this neighbourhood.
Our streams, which are small, and rise only at the end
of the village, yield nothing but the bull's head or miller's
thumb {gobius fluviatilis capitaius)^ the trout {irutta
fluviatilis), the eel {anguilld)^ the lampern {lafjtpcetra
parva et fluviatilis), and the stickle-back {pisciculus
We are twenty miles from the sea, and almost as many
from great river, and therefore see but little of sea-birds.

As to wild fowls, we have a few teams of ducks bred in

the moors where the snipes breed ; and multitudes of
widgeons and teals in hard weather frequent our lakes in
the forest.
Having some acquaintance with a tame brown owl, I
find that it casts
up the fur of mice, and the feathers of
birds in pellets, after the manner of hawks when full, :

like a dog, hides what it cannot eat.


The young of the barn-owl are not easily raised, as

they want a constant supply of fresh mice whereas the :

young of the brown owl will eat indiscriminately all that

is brought; snails, rats, kittens, puppies,
magpies, and
any kind of carrion or offal.
The house-martins have eggs still, and squab-young.
The last swift I observed was about the twenty-first of
August ; it was a straggler.
Red-starts, fly-catchers, white-throats, and reguli non
crisiati, still appear ; but I have seen no black-caps lately.
I forgot to mention that I once saw, in Christ Church

College quadrangle in Oxford, on a very sunny warm

morning, a house-martin flying about, and settling on the
parapet, so late a§ the twentieth of November.
32 The Natural History
At present I know only two species of bats, the
common vespertilio ?nurifius and the vespertilio auritus.
I was much entertained last summer with a tame bat,
which would take flies out of a person's hand. If you

gave anything to eat, it brought its wings round before


the mouth, hovering and hiding its head in the manner

of birds of prey when they feed. The adroitness it
showed in shearing off the wings of the flies, which were
always rejected, was worthy of observation, and pleased
me much. Insects seem to be most acceptable, though
it did not refuse raw flesh when off"ered so that the :

notion that bats go down chimnies and gnaw men's

bacon, seems no improbable story. While I amused
myself with this wonderful quadruped, I saw it several
times confute the vulgar opinion, that bats when down
on a flat surface cannot get on the wing again, by rising
with great ease from the floor. It ran, I observed, with
more dispatch than I was aware of; but in a most
ridiculous and grotesque manner.
Bats drink on the wing, like swallows, by sipping the
surface, as they play over pools and streams. They love
to frequent waters, not only for the sake of drinking, but
on account of insects, which are found over them in the
greatest plenty. As I was going, some years ago, pretty
late, in a boat from Richmond to Sunbury, on a warm
summer's evening, I think I saw myriads of bats between
the two places the air swarmed with them all along the

Thames, so that hundreds were in sight at a time.

I am, etc.



November 4, 1767
It gave me no small satisfaction to hear that Wi^fako'^
turned out an uncommon one. I must confess I should

This hawk proved to be \ht falco pcrcgrinus ; a variety.
of Selborne 33
have been better pleased to have heard that I had sent
you a bird that you had never seen before ; but that, I
find, would be a difficult task.
I have procured some of the mice mentioned in my
former letters, a young one and a female with young, both
of which I have preserved in brandy. From the colour,
shape, size, and manner of nesting, I make no doubt but
that the species is nondescript. They are much smaller
and more slender than the mus domestics s 7nedius of
Ray and have more of the squirrel or dormouse colour

their belly is white, a straight along their sides

divides the shades of their back and belly. They never
enter into houses ; are carried into ricks and barns with
the sheaves ; abound in harvest, and build their nests
amidst the straws of the corn above the ground, and
sometimes in thistles. They breed as many as eight at
a litter, in a little round nest composed of the blades of
grass or wheat.
One of these nests I procured this autumn, most
artificially platted, and composed of the blades of wheat ;
perfectly round, and about the size of a cricket-ball ; with
the aperture so ingeniously closed, that there was no
discovering to what part it belonged. It was so compact
and well filled, that it would roll across the table without
being discomposed, though it contained eight little mice
that were naked and blind. As this nest was perfectly
full, how could the dam come at her litter respectively
so as to administer a teat to each? perhaps she opens
differentplaces for that purpose, adjusting them again
when the business is over but she could not possibly

be contained herself in the ball with her young, which

moreover would be daily increasing in bulk. This
wonderful procreant cradle, an elegant instance of the
efforts of instinct, was found in a wheat-field, suspended
in the head of a thistle.
A gentleman, curious in birds, wrote me word that his
servant had shot one last January, in that severe weather,
which he believed would puzzle me. I called to see it
this summer, not knowing what to expect but, the :

moment I took it in hand, I pronounced it the male

34 The Natural History
garrulus bohemicus^ or German silk-tail, from the five
peculiar crimson tags or points which it carries at the
end of five of the short remiges. It cannot, I suppose,
with any propriety, be called an English bird and yet I

see, by Ray's Philusoph. Letters^ that great flocks of them,

feeding upon haws, appeared in this kingdom in the
winter of 1685.
The mention of haws put me in mind that there is a
total failure of that wild fruit, so conducive to the support
of many of the winged nation. For the same severe
weather, late in the spring, which cut off all the produce
of the more tender and curious trees, destroyed also that
of the more hardy and common.
Some birds, haunting with the missel-thrushes, and
feeding on the berries of the yew-tree, which answered to
the description of the merula torquata^ or ring-ousel, were
lately seen in this neighbourhood. I employed some

people to nrocure me a specimen, but without success.

See Letter VIII.
— Might not canary birds be naturalised to this
climate, provided their eggs were put, in the spring, into
the nests of some of their congeners, as goldfinches,
greenfinches, etc. ? Before winter perhaps they might be
hardened, and able to shift for themselves.
About ten years ago I used to spend some weeks
yearly at Sunbury, which is one of those pleasant villages
lying on the Thames, near Hampton-court. In the
autumn, I could not help being much amused with those
myriads of the swallow kind which assemble in those
parts. But what struck me most was, that, from the
time they began to congregate, forsaking the chimnies
and houses, they roosted every night in the osier-beds of
the aits of that river. Now this resorting towards that
element, at that season of the year, seems to give some
countenance to the northern opinion (strange as it is) of
their retiring under water. A Swedish naturalist is so
much persuaded of that fact, that he talks, in his calendar
of Fiora, as familiarly of the swallows going under water
in the beginning of September, as he would of his
going to roost a little before sunset.
of Selborne 35
An observing gentleman London writes me word
that he saw a house-martin, on the twenty-third of last
October, flying in and out of its nest in the Borough.
And I myself, on the twenty-ninth of last October (as I
was travelling through Oxford), saw four or five swallows
hovering round and settling on the roof of the county-
Now is it likely that these poor little birds (which
perhaps had not been hatched but a few weeks) should,
at that late season of the year, and from so midland a
county, attempt a voyage to Goree or Senegal, almost as
far as theequator ?
I acquiesce entirely in your opinion that, though —
most of the swallow kind may migrate, yet that some do
stay behind and hide with us during the winter.
As to the short-winged soft-billed birds, which come
trooping in such numbers in the spring, I am at a loss
even what to suspect about them. I watched them
narrowly this year, and saw them abound till about
Michaelmas, when they appeared no longer. Subsist
they cannot openly among us, and yet elude the eyes of
the inquisitive and, as to their hiding, no man pretends

to have found any of them in a torpid state in the winter.

But with regard to their migration, what difficulties attend
that supposition that such feeble bad fliers (who the

summer long never flit but from hedge to hedge) should

be able to traverse vast seas and continents in order to
enjoy milder seasons amidst the regions of Africa !



Selborne, Jan. 22, 1768.
As in one of your former letters you expressed the
more satisfaction from my correspondence on account of
my living in the most southerly county; so now I may
See Adamson's Voyage to Senegal.
36 The Natural History
return the compliment, and expect to have my curiosity
gratified by your living much more to the north.
For many years past I have observed that towards
Christmas vast flocks of chaffinches have appeared in the
fields ;many more, I used to think, than could be
hatched in any one neighbourhood. But, when I came
to observe them more narrowly, I was amazed to find
that they seemed to be almost all hens. I communicated

my suspicions to some intelligent neighbours, who, after

taking pains about the matter, declared that they also
thought them all mostly females; at least fifty to one.
This extraordinary occurrence brought to my mind the
remark of Linnaeus ; that before winter, all their hen
chaffinches migrate through Holland into Italy." Now I
want to know, from some curious person in the north,
whether there are any large flocks of these finches with
them in the winter, and of which sex they mostly consist?
For, from such intelligence, one might be able to judge
whether our female flocks migrate from the other end of
the island, or whether they come over to us from the
We have, in the winter, vast flocks of the common
linnets more, I think, than can be bred in any one

district. These, I observe, when the spring advances,

assemble on some tree in the sunshine, and join all in a
gentle sort of chirping, as if they were about to break up
their winter quarters and betake themselves to their
proper summer homes. It is well known, at least, that
the swallows and the fieldfares do congregate with a
gentle twittering before they make their respective de-
You may depend on it that the bunting, emheriza
miliaria^ does not leave this country in the winter. In
January 1767 I saw several dozen of them, in the midst
of a severe frost, among the bushes on the downs near
Andover : in our woodland enclosed district it is a rare

Wagtails, both white and yellow, are with us all the

winter. Quails crowd to our southern coast, and are
often killed in numbers by people that go on purpose.
of Selborne 37
Mr. Stillingfleet, in his Tracts, says that "if the wheatear
{cenanihe) does not quit England, it certainly shifts places ;
forabout harvest they are not to be found, where there
was before great plenty of them." This well accounts for
the vast quantities that are caught about that time on
the south downs near Lewes, where they are esteemed
a delicacy. There have been shepherds, I have been
credibly informed, that have made many pounds in a
season by catching them in traps. And though such
multitudes are taken, I never saw (and I am well
acquainted with those parts) above two or three at a
time for they are never gregarious. They may, perhaps,

migrate in general ; and, for that purpose, draw towards

the coast of Sussex in autumn but that they do not all

withdraw I am sure ; because I see a few stragglers in

many counties, at all times of the year, especially about
warrens and stone quarries.
I have no acquaintance, at present, among the gentle-
men of the navy but have written to a friend, who was

a sea-chaplain in the late war, desiring him to look into

his minutes, with respect to birds that settled on their
rigging during their voyage up or down the channel.
What Hasselquist says on that subject is remarkable :

there were little short-winged birds frequently coming on

board his ship all the way from our channel quite up to
the Levant, especially before squally weather.
What you suggest, with regard to Spain, is highly
probable. The winters of Andalusia are so mild, that,
in all likelihood, the soft-billed birds that leave us that
season may find insects sufficient to support them there.
Some young man, possessed of fortune, health, and
leisure, should make an autumnal voyage into that king-
dom ;
and should spend a year
there, investigating the
natural history of that vast country. Mr. Willughby ^
passed through that kingdom on such an errand ; but he
seems to have skirted along in a superficial manner
and an ill humour, being much disgusted at the rude,
dissolute manners of the people.
I have no friend left now at Sunbury to apply to
See Ray's Travels, p. 466.
38 The Natural History
about the swallows roosting on the aits of the Thames :

nor can I hear any more about those birds which I

suspected were merulce. torquaice.
As to the small mice, I have farther to remark,
that though they hang their nests for breeding up amidst
the straws of the standing corn, above the ground ;
yet I find that, in the winter they burrow deep in the
earth, and make warm beds of grass but their grand

rendezvous seems to be in corn-ricks, into which they

are carried at harvest. A neighbour housed an oat-rick
lately, under the thatch of which were assembled near
an hundred, most of which were taken and some I

saw. I measured them ; and found that, from nose

to tail, they were just two inches and a quarter,
and their tails just two inches long. Two of them,
in a scale, weighed down just one copper halfpenny,
which is about the third of an ounce avoirdupois so :

that I suppose they are smallest quadrupeds in

this island. A
full-grown mits fnedius domesticus weighs,
I find, one ounce, lumping weight, which is more than
six times as much as the mouse above ; and measures
from nose to rump four inches and a quarter, and the
same in its tail.

We have had a very severe frost and deep snow this

month. My thermometer was one day fourteen degrees
and a half below the freezing point, within doors. The
tender evergreens were injured pretty much. It was very

providential that the air was still, and the ground well
covered with snow, else vegetation in general must have
There is reason
suffered prodigiously. to believe that
some days were more severe than any since the year
I am, etc., etc.
of Selborne 39


Selborne, March 12, 1768.

Dear Sir,
If some curious gentleman would procure the head of
a fallow-deer, and have it dissected, he would fmd it
furnished with two spiraaila, or breathing-places, beside
the nostrils ; probably analogous to i\\Qputictn lac/irynia/ia
in the human head. When the deer are thirsty they
plunge their noses, like some horses, very deep under
water, while in the act of drinking, and continue them
in that situation for a considerable time but, to obviate

any inconveniency, they can open two vents, one at the

inner corner of each eye, having a communication with
the nose. Here seems to be an extraordinary provision
of nature worthy our attention ; and which has not, that
I know of, been noticed by any naturalist. For it looks
as if these creatures would not be suffocated, though
both their mouths and nostrils were stopped. This
curious formation of the head may be of singular service
to beasts of chase, by affording them and
free respiration :

no doubt these additional thrown open when

nostrils are

they are hard run.^ Mr. Ray observed that, at Malta,

the owners slit up the nostrils of such asses as were hard
worked : for they, being naturally strait or small, did not
admit air sufficient to serve them when they travelled or
laboured in that hot climate. And we know that grooms,
and gentlemen of the turf, think large nostrils necessary,
and a perfection, in hunters and running horses.

In answer to this account, Mr. Pennant sent me the following
curious and pertinent reply :

"I was much surprised to find in the
antelope something analogous to what you mention as so remarkable
in deer. This animal has a long slit beneath each eye, which can
be opened and shut at pleasure. On holding an orange to one, the
creature made as much use of those orifices as of his nostrils, apply-
ing them to the fruit, and seeming to smell it through them."
40 The Natural History
Oppian, the Greek poet, by the following line, seems
to have had some notion that stags have four spiracula :

"TiTpd^u/Lioi pivis, niavpes Trvoipcrt biavKoi."

"Quadrifidce nares, quadruplices ad respirationem canales."
Opp. Cyn. Lib. ii. 1. i8i.

Writers, copying from one another, make Aristotle say

that goats breathe at their ears ; whereas he asserts just
the contrary

AXK/xaMv yap ovk ak-qOrj Xeyei, <^a/xevos
avairveiv tol^ alyas Kara. to. (Lra." Alcmaeon does not
advance what is true, when he avers that goats breathe

through their ears." History of Afn??ials. Book I. chap,


Selborne, March 30, 1768.

Dear Sir,
Some intelligent country people have a notion that we
have, in these parts, a species of the ge?ius viustelimuii^
besides the weasel, stoat, ferret, and polecat ; a little
reddish beast, not much bigger than a field mouse, but
much longer, which they call a ca?ie. This piece of
intelligence can be little depended on; but farther
inquiry may be made.
A gentleman in this neighbourhood had two milk-
white rooks in one nest. A
booby of a carter, finding
them before they were able to fly, threw them down and
destroyed them, to the regret of the owner, who would
have been glad to have preserved such a curiosity in his
I saw the birds
rookery. myself nailed against the end
of a barn, and was surprised to find that their bills, legs,
feet, and claws were milkwhite.
shepherd saw, as he thought, some white larks on a
down above my house this winter were not these the

e?nberiza fiivaiis, the snow-flake of the Brit. Zool. ? No

doubt they were.
of Selborne 41
A few years ago I saw a cock bullfinch in a cage,
which had been caught in the fields after it had come
to its full colours. In about a year it began to look
dingy ; and, blackening every succeeding year, it became
coal-black at the end of four. Its chief food was hemp-
seed. Such influence has food on the colour of
animals The pied and mottled colours of domesticated

animals are supposed to be owing to high, various, and

unusual food.
I had remarked, for years, that the root of the cuckoo-

pint {aruni) was frequently scratched out of the dry

banks of hedges, and eaten in severe snowy weather.
After observing, with some exactness, myself, and get-
ting others to do the same, we found it was the thrush
kind that searched it out. The root of the arum is
remarkably warm and pungent.
Our flocks of female chaffinches have not yet forsaken
us. The blackbirds and thrushes are very much thinned
down by that fierce weather in January.
In the middle of February I discovered, in my tall
hedges, a little bird that raised my curiosity it was of :

that yellow-green colour that belongs to the salicaria kind,

and, I think, was soft-billed. It was no pants ; and was
too long and too big for the golden-crowned wren, appear-
ing most like the largest willow-wren. It hung sometimes
with its back downwards, never continuing one
moment in the same place. I shot at it, but it was so
desultory that I missed my aim.
I wonder that the stone curlew, charadrtus oedicnemus^
should be mentioned by the writers as a rare bird it :

abounds in all the campaign parts of Hampshire and

Sussex, and breeds, I think, all the summer, having young
ones, I know, very late in the autumn.
Already they
begin clamouring in the evening. They cannot, I
think, with any propriety, be called, as they are by
Mr. Ray, ^'^
circa aquas versantes^^ ; for with us, by day
at least, they haunt only the most dry, open, upland
fields and sheep walks, far removed from water. What
they may do in the night I cannot say. Worms are their
usual food but they also eat toads and frogs.
42 The Natural History
I can show you some good specimens of my new mice.
Linnaeus, perhaps, would call the species mus fninimus.

Selborne, April iS, 1768.
Dear Sir,
The history of the stone curlew, charadrhis oedicnenitis^
is as follows. It lays its eggs, usually two, never more
than three, on the bare ground, without any nest, in the
field ;
so that the countryman, in stirring his fallows,
often destroys them. The young run immediately from
the egg like partridges, etc., and are withdrawn to some
flinty field by their dam, where they skulk among the
stones, which are their best security ; for their feathers
are so exactly of the colour of our grey spotted flints,
that the most exact observer, unless he catches the eye
of the young bird, may be eluded. The eggs are short
and round of a dirty white, spotted with dark bloody

blotches. might not be able, just when I

Though I

pleased, to procure you a bird, yet I could show you

them almost any day ; and any evening you may hear
them round the village, for they make a clamour which
may be heard a mile. Oedicfiemus is a most apt and
expressive name for them, since their legs seem swoln
like those of a gouty man. After harvest I have shot
them before the pointers in turnip-fields.
I make no doubt but there are three
species of the
willow-wrens two I know perfectly but have not been

able yet to procure the third. No two birds can differ

more in their notes, and that constantly, than those two
that I am acquainted with ; for the one has a joyous,
easy, laughing note ;
the other a harsh loud chirp. The
former every way larger, and three-quarters of an inch

longer, and weighs two drams and a half; while the

latter weighs but two so the songster is one-fifth heavier
of Selborne 43
than the chirper. The chirper (being the first summer-
bird of passage that is heard, the wryneck sometimes
excepted) begins his two notes in the middle of March,
and continues them through the spring and summer till
the end of August, as appears by my journals. The legs
of the larger of these two are flesh-coloured ; of the less,
The grasshopper-lark began his sibilous note in my
fields lastSaturday. Nothing can be more amusing
than the whisper of this little bird, which seems to be
close by though at an hundred yards distance ; and,
when close at your ear, is scarce any louder than when a
great way off. Had I not been a little acquainted with
insects, and known that the grasshopper kind is not yet
hatched, I should have hardly believed but that it had
been a locvsta whispering in the bushes. The country
people laugh when you tell them that it is the note of a
bird. It is a most artful creature, skulking in the thickest

part of a bush and will sing at a yard distance, provided


it be concealed. I was obliged to get a person to go on

the other side of the hedge where it haunted ; and then
it would run, creeping like a mouse, before us for a
hundred yards together, through the bottom of the
thorns \ yet it would not come into fair sight but in a

morning early, and when undisturbed, it sings on the top

of a twig, gaping and shivering with its wings. Mr. Ray
himself had no knowledge of this bird, but received his
account from Mr. Johnson, who apparently confounds it
with the reguli non cristaii^ from which it is very distinct.
See Ray's Philosophical Letters^ p. io8.
The fly-catcher {stoparold) has not yet appeared it :

usually breeds in my vine. The redstart begins to sing :

its note is short and imperfect, but is continued till about

the middle of June. The willow-wrens (the smaller sort)

are horrid pests in a garden, destroying the pease, cherries,
currants, etc.; and are so tame that a gun will not scare them.
44 The Natural History
A LIST of the Summer Birds of Passage discovered in
this neighbourhood^ ranged somewhat in the Order in
which they appear :
Linnaei Nomina.
Smallest willow-wren, Motacilla trochihis :
Wry- neck, fynx torquilla :

Ilouse-swallow, Hirundo ncstica:

Martin, Hirundo iirbic a :
Sand-martin, Hirundo riparia:
Cuckoo, Cuctdus canorus :

Nightingale, Motacilla luscinia :

Black-cap, Alotacilla atricapilla :

White-throat, Alotacilla sylvia :

Middle willow-wren, Motacilla trochihis:
Swift, Hirundo apus :
Stone curlew, ? Charadrius oedicnemiis 1
Turtle-dove, ? Turtttr aldrovandi ?
Grasshopper-lark, Alauda trivialis :

Landrail, Rallus crex :

Largest willow- wren, Afotacilla trochihis :

Redstart, Motacilla phcenicurus .

Goat-sucker, or fern-owl, Caprimulgus europccus :

Fly-catcher, Muscicapa grisola :

My countrymen talk much of a bird that makes a

clatter with its bill against a dead bough, or some old
I procured one to be shot in
pales, calling it a jar-bird.
the very fact it proved to be the sitta europcBa (the nut-

hatch). Mr. Ray says that the less spotted woodpecker

does the same. This noise may be heard a furlong or
Now is the only time to ascertain the short-winged
summer birds for, when the leaf is out, there is no

making any remarks on such a restless tribe and, when ;

once the young begin to appear, it is all confusion there ;

is no distinction of genus, species, or sex.

In breeding-time snipes play over the moors, piping
and humming they always hum as they are descending.

Is not their hum

ventriloquous like that of the turkey ?
Some suspect made by their wings.
it is

This morning I saw the golden-crowned wren, whose

crown glitters like burnished gold. It often hangs like
a titmouse, with its back downwards.
Yours, etc., etc.
of Selborne 45


Selborne, June i8, 1768.

Dear Sir,
On Wednesday last arrived your agreeable letter of
June the loth. It gives me great satisfaction to find that
you pursue these studies still with such vigour, and are
in such forwardness with regard to reptiles and fishes.
The reptiles, few as they are, I am not acquainted
with, so well as I could wish, with regard to their
natural history. There is a degree of dubiousness and
obscurity attending the propagation of this class of
animals, sometimes analogous to that of the cryptoga7ma
in the sexual system of plants and the case is the same

as regards some of the fishes as the eel, etc.


The method in which toads procreate and bring forth

seems to me very much in the dark. Some authors say
that they are viviparous and yet Ray classes them

among his oviparous animals ; and is silent with regard

to the manner of their bringing forth. Perhaps they
may be ^o-w \Lkv wotokol, €^<o Se ^(dotokolj as is known to
be the case with the viper.
The copulation of frogs (or at least the appearance of
it ; for Swammerdam proves that the male has no pern's

intrans) is notorious to everybody because we see them


stickingupon each other's backs for a month together in

spring and yet I never saw, or read, of toads being

observed in the same situation. It is strange that the

matter with regard to the venom of toads has not yet
been settled. That they are not noxious to some animals
is plain for ducks, buzzards, owls, stone curlews, and

snakes, eat them, to my knowledge, with impunity. And

I well remember the time, but was not eye-witness to the
fact (though numbers of persons were) when a quack, at
toad to make the country people stare ;
this village, ate a
afterwards he drank oil.
46 The Natural History
I have been informed also, from undoubted authority,
that some ladies (ladies you will say of peculiar taste)
took a fancy to a toad, which they nourished summer
after summer, for many years, till he grew to a monstrous
size, with the maggots which turn
to flesh flies. The
reptile used to come forth every evening from an hole
under the garden-steps ; and was taken up, after supper,
on the table to be fed. But at last a tame raven, ken-
ning him as he put forth his head, gave him such a
severe stroke with his horny beak as put out one eye.
After this accident the creature languished for some time
and died.
I need not remind a gentleman of your extensive read-

ing of the excellent account there is from Mr. Derham,

in Ray's Wisdom of God in the Creatio?i (p. 365), con-
cerning the migration of frogs from their breeding ponds.
In this account he at once subverts that foolish opinion
of their dropping from the clouds in rain ; showing that
it is from the grateful coolness and moisture of those
showers that they are tempted to set out on their travels,
which they defer till those fall. Frogs are as yet in their
tadpole state ; but in a few weeks, our lanes, paths,
fields, will swarm for a few days with myriads of these
emigrants, no larger than my little finger nail. Swam-
merdam gives a most accurate account of the method
and situation in which the male impregnates the spawn of
the female. How wonderful is the oeconomy of Providence
with regard to the limbs of so vile a reptile !While it is
aquatic it has a fish-like tail, and no legs as soon as the

legs sprout, the tail drops off as useless, and the animal
betakes itself to the land.
Merret, I widely mistaken when he advances
trust, is
is an English
that the ra?ia arborea reptile ; it abounds
in Germany and Switzerland.
It is to be remembered that the saiamafidra aquatica
of Ray (the water-newt or eft) will frequently bite at the
angler's bait, and is often caught on his hook. I used to
take it for granted that the saiamatidra aquatica was
hatched, lived, and died in the water. But John Ellis,
Esq., F.R.S. (the coralline Ellis) asserts, in a letter to
of Selborne 47
the Royal Society, dated June the 5th, 1 766, in his account
of the mud inguana^ an amphibious bipes^ from South
Carolina, that the water-eft, or newt, is only the larva of
the land-eft, as tadpoles are of frogs. Lest I should be
suspected to misunderstand his meaning, I shall give it
in his own words. Speaking of the operada or covering
to the gills of the mud inguana, he proceeds to say that
The forms of these pennated coverings approach very
near to what I have some time ago observed in the larva
or aquatic state of our English lacerfa, known by the
name of eft, or newt ; which serve them for coverings to
their gills, and for fms to swim with while in this state ;
and which they lose, as well as the fms of their tails,
when they change their state, and become land animals,
as I have observed, by keeping them alive for some time
Linnreus, in his Systefua Natui-ce^ hints at what
Mr. Ellis advances more than once.
Providence has been so indulgent to us as to allow of
but one venomous reptile of the serpent kind in these
kingdoms, and that is the viper. As you propose the
good of mankind to be an object of your publications, you
will not omit to mention common salad-oil as a sovereign

remedy against the bite of the viper. As to the blind

worm {a?7guis fragt'Iis, so called because it snaps in
sunder with a small blow), have found, on examina-

tion, that it is A neighbouring

perfectly innocuous.
yeoman (to whom I am indebted for some good hints)
killed and opened a female viper about the twenty-
seventh of May he found her filled with a chain of

eleven eggs, about the size of those of a blackbird but ;

none of them were advanced so far towards a state of

maturity as to contain any rudiments of young. Though
they are oviparous, yet they are viviparous also, hatching
their young within their bellies, and then bringing them
forth. Whereas snakes lay chains of eggs every summer
in my melon beds, in spite of all that my people can do
to prevent them ; which eggs do not hatch till the spring
following, as I have often experienced. Several intelli-
gent folks assure me that they have seen the viper open
48 The Natural History
her mouth and admit her helpless young down her
throat on sudden surprises, just as the female opossum
does her brood into the pouch under her belly, upon the
like emergencies and yet the London viper-catchers

insist on^it, to Mr. Barrington, that no such thing ever

happens. The serpent kind eat, I believe, but once in a

year or rather, but only just at one season of the year.

Country people talk much of a water-snake, but I am

pretty sure, without any reason ; for the common snake
{coluber fiatrix) delights much to sport in the water,
perhaps with a view to procure frogs and other food.
I cannot well guess how you are to make out your
twelve species of reptiles, unless it be by the various
species, or rather varieties, of our lacerti, of which Ray
enumerates five. I have not had an opportunity of
ascertaining these ; but remember well to have seen,
formerly, several beautiful green lacerti on the sunny
sandbanks near Farnham, in Surrey ; and Ray admits
there are such in Ireland.


Selborne, July 27, 1768.

Dear Sir,
I received your obliging and communicative letter of
June the 28th, while I was on a visit at a gentleman's
house, where I had neither books to turn to, nor leisure
to sit down, to return you an answer to many
which I wanted to resolve in the best manner that I am
A person, by my order, has searched our brooks, but
could find no such fish as the gasterosteus pufigitius : he
found the gasterosteus acideatus in plenty. This morning,
in a basket, I packed a little earthen
pot full of wet
moss, and in it some sticklebacks, male and female ; the
females big with spawn some lamperns ; some bulls

heads but I could procure no minnows. This basket

of Selborne 49
willbe in Fleet-street by eight this evening so I hope

Mazel will have them fresh and fair to-morrow morning,

I gave some directions, in a letter, to what
the engraver should be attentive.
Finding, while I was on a visit, that I was within a
reasonable distance of Ambresbury, I sent a servant over
to that town, and procured several living specimens of
loaches, which he brought, safe and brisk, in a glass
decanter. They were taken in the gullies that were cut
for watering the meadows. From these fishes (which
measured from two to four inches in length) I took the
following description : The loach, in its general aspect,
has a pellucid appearance its back is
: mottled with
irregular collections of small black dots, not reaching
much below the linea lateralis^ as are the back and tail
fins a black line runs from each eye down to the nose ;

its belly is of a silvery white ; the upper jaw projects

beyond the lower, and is surrounded with six feelers,

three on each side ; its pectoral fins are large, its ventral
much smaller ; the fin behind its anus small its dorsal ;

fin large,containing eight spines ; its tail, where it joins

to the tail-fin, remarkably broad, without any taperness,
so as to be characteristic of this genus the tail-fin is

broad, and square at the end. From the breadth and

muscular strength of the tail, it appears to be an active
nimble fish."
In my visit I was not very far from Hungerford, and
did not forget to make some inquiries concerning the
wonderful method of curing cancers by means of toads.
Several intelligent persons, both gentry and clergy, do, I
find, give a great deal of credit to what was asserted in
the papers and I myself dined with a clergyman who

seemed to be persuaded that what is related is matter of

fact ; but, when I came to attend to his account, I thought
I discerned circumstances which did not a little invalidate
the woman's story of the manner in which she came by
her skill. She says of herself " that, labouring under a
virulent cancer, she went to some church where there was
a vast crowd : on going into a pew, she was accosted by
a strange clergyman ; who, after expressing compassion
50 The Natural History
for her situation, told her that if she would make such an

application of living toads as is mentioned she would be

well/' Now is it likely that this unknown gentleman
should express so much tenderness for this single sufferer,
and not feel any for the many thousands that daily

languish under this terrible disorder? Would he not

have made use of this invaluable nostrum for his own
emolument ; or, at least, by some means of publication
or other, have found a method of making it public for
the good of mankind? In short, this woman (as it
appears to me) having set up for a cancer-doctress, finds
expedient to amuse the country with this dark and
mysterious relation.
The water-eft has not, that I can discern, the least
appearance of any gills ; for want of which it is con-
tinually rising to the surface of the water to take in
fresh air. I opened a
big-bellied one indeed, and found
it full of spawn. Not that this circumstance at all
invalidates the assertion that they are larvae for the :

larvae of insects are full of eggs, which they exclude the

instant they enter their last state. The water-eft is
continually climbing over the brims of the vessel, within
which we keep it in water, and wandering away and :

people every summer see numbers crawling out of the

pools where they are hatched, up the dry banks. There
are varieties of them, differing in colour ; and some have
fins up their tail and back, and some have not.


Selboine, Aug. 17, 1768.

Dear Sir,
I have now, past dispute, made out three distinct
species of the willow-wrens {motaciilce trochili) which
constantly and invariably usq distinct notes. But, at the
same lime, I am obliged to confess that I know nothing
of Selborne 5.1

of your willow-lark.i In my letter of April the i8th, I

told you peremptorily that I knew your willow-lark, but
had not seen it then but, when I came to procure it, it

proved, in all respects, a very vioiacilla hvchilus ; only

that it is a size larger than the two other, and tiie
yellow-green of the whole upper part of the body is more
vivid, and the belly of a clearer white. I have specimens
of the three sorts now lying before me ; and can discern
that there are three gradations of sizes, and that the least
has black legs, and the other two flesh-coloured ones.
The yellowest bird is considerably the largest, and has its
quill-feathers and secondary feathers ti{)ped with white,
which the others have not. This last haunts only the
tops of trees in high beechen woods, and makes a sibilous
grasshopper-like noise, now and then, at short intervals,
shivering a little mth its wings when it sings ; and is, I
make no doubt now, the 7'egulus ?ion cristahis of Ray,
which he says ^''
caiitat voce stridula /oaisfce." Yet this
great ornithologist never suspected that there were three


Selborne, October 8, 1768.

It is, I find, in zoology as it is in botany : all nature is

so that that district produces the greatest
full, variety
which is the most examined. Several birds, which are
said to belong to the north only, are, it seems, often in
the south. I have discovered this summer three
of birds with us, which writers mention as only to be seen
in the northern counties. The first that was brought me
(on the 14th of May) was the sandpiper, tringa hypoleucus :
it was a cock bird, and haunted the banks of some
near the village ; and, as it had a companion, doubtless
intended to have bred near that water. Besides, the
Biit. ZooL edit. 1776, octavo, p. 381.
52 The Natural History
owner has told me since, that, on recollection, he has
seen some of the same birds round his ponds in former
The next bird that I procured (on the 21st of May)
was a male red-backed butcher bird, lariius collurio. My
neighbour, who shot it, says that it might easily have
escaped his notice, had not the outcries and chattering
of the white-throats and other small birds drawn his
attention to the bush where it was : its craw was filled
with the legs and wings of beetles.
The next rare birds (which were procured for me last

week) were some ring-ousels, iiirdi torquati.

This week twelve months a gentleman from London,
being with us, was amusing himself with a gun, and
found, he told us, on an old yew hedge where there were
berries, some birds like blackbirds, with rings of
white round their necks a neighbouring farmer also at

the same time observed the same ; but, as no specimens

were procured little notice was taken. I mentioned this
circumstance to you in my letter of November the 4th,
1767 (you, however, paid but small regard to what I

said, as I had not seen these birds myself:) but last

week, the aforesaid farmer, seeing a large flock, twenty or
thirty of these birds, shot two cocks and two hens and :

says, on recollection, that he remembers to have observed

these birds again last spring, about Lady-day, as it were,
on their return to the north. Now perhaps these ousels
are not the ousels of the north of England, but belong to
the more northern parts of Europe ; and may retire
before the excessive rigor of the frosts in those parts;
and return to breed in the spring, when the cold abates.
If this be the case, here is discovered a new bird of
winter passage, concerning whose migrations the writers
are silent but if these birds should prove the ousels of

the north of England, then here is a migration disclosed

within our own kingdom never before remarked. It
does not yet appear whether they retire beyond the
bounds of our island to the south ; but it is most
probable that they usually do, or else one cannot suppose
that they would have continued so long unnoticed in the
of Selborne 53
southern counties. The ousel is larger than a blackbird,
and feeds on haws but last autumn (when there were

no haws) it fed on yew-berries in the spring it feeds on


ivy-berries, which ripen only at that season, in March and

I must not omit to tell you (as you have been so lately
on the study of reptiles) that my people, every now and
then of late, draw up with a bucket of water from my
well, which is 6^ feet deep, a large black warty lizard
with a fin-tail and yellow belly. How they first came
down at that depth, and how they were ever to have got
out thence without help, is more than I am able to say.
My thanks are due to you for your trouble and care in
the examination of a buck's head. As far as your dis-
coveries reach at present, they seem much to corroborate

my suspicions ; and I hope Mr. find reason to

give his decision in my favour ;
then, I think, we
may advance this extraordinary provision of nature as a
new instance of the wisdom of God in the creation.
As yet I have not quite done with my history of the
oedknemus^ or stone curlew ; for I shall desire a gentleman
in Sussex (near whose house these birds congregate in
vast flocks in the autumn) to observe nicely when they
leave him (if they do leave him), and when they return
again in the spring ;
I was with this gentleman lately, and
saw several single birds.

Selborne, Nov. 28, 1768.
Dear Sir,
With regard to the oedicnemus^ or stone curlew, I intend
to write very soon to my friend near Chichester, in whose
neighbourhood these birds seem most to abound ; and
shall urge him to take particular notice when they begin
to congregate, and afterwards to watch them most
narrowly whether they do not withdraw themselves during
54 The Natural History
the dead of the winter. When I have obtained in-
formation with respect to this circumstance, I shall have
finished my history of the stone curlew ; which I hope
willprove to your satisfaction, as it will be, I trust, very
near the truth. This gentleman, as he occupies a large
farm of his own, and is abroad early and late, will be a
very proper spy upon the motions of these birds and :

besides, as I have prevailed on him to buy the Naturalist's

Journal (with which he is much delighted), I shall expect
that he will be very exact in his dates. It is very extra-

ordinary, as you observe, that a bird so common with us

should never straggle to you.
And here will be the properest place to mention, while
I think of it, an anecdote which the above-mentioned

gentleman told me when I was last at his house ; which

was that, in a warren joining to his outlet, many daws
{corvi 7no7iedulce) build every year in the rabbit-burrows
under ground. The way he and his brothers used to
take their nests, while they were boys, was by listening
at the mouths of the holes ; and, if they heard the young
ones cry, they twisted the nest out with a forked stick.
Some water-fowls (viz., the puffins) breed, I know, in that
manner ; but I should never have suspected the daws of
building in holes on the flat ground.
Another very unlikely spot is made use of by daws as
a place to breed in, and that is Stonehenge. These
birds deposit their nests in the interstices between the
upright and the impost stones of that amazing work of
antiquity : which circumstance alone speaks the pro-
digious height of the upright stones, that they should be
tall enough to secure those nests from the
annoyance of
shepherd-boys, who are always idling round that place.
One of my neighbours last Saturday, November the
26th, saw a martin in a sheltered bottom the sun shone

warm, and the bird was hawking briskly after flies. I am

now perfectly satisfied that they do not all leave this
island in the winter.
You judge very right, I think, in speaking with reserve
and caution concerning the cures done by toads for, let

people advance what they will on such subjects, yet there

of Selborne 55
issuch a propensity in mankind towards deceiving and
being deceived, that one cannot safely relate any thing
from common report, especially in print, without ex-
pressing some degree of doubt and suspicion.
Your approbation, with regard to my new discovery of
the migration of the ring-ousel, gives me satisfaction ;
and I find you concur with me in suspecting that they
are foreign birds which visit us. You will be sure, I
hope, not to omit to make inquiry whether your ring-
ousels leave your rocks in the autumn. What puzzles
me most, is the very short stay they make with us ; for
in about three weeks they are all gone. I shall be very
curious to remark whether they will call on us at their
return in the spring, as they did last year.
I want to be better informed with regard to ichthyology.
If fortune had settled me near the sea-side, or near some

great river, my natural propensity would soon have urged

me to have made myself acquainted with their pro-
ductions but as I have lived mostly in inland parts, and

in an upland district, my knowledge of fishes extends

farther than to those
little common sorts which our
brooks and lakes produce.
I am, etc.

Selborne, July 2, 1769.
Dear Sir,
As to the peculiarity of jackdaws building with us under
the ground in rabbit-burrows, you have, in part, hit upon
the reason ; for, in reality, there are hardly any towers
or steeples in all this country. And perhaps, Norfolk
excepted, Hampshire and Sussex are as meanly
with churches as almost any counties in the kingdom.
We have many of two or three hundred pounds a
year,whose houses of worship make little better appear-
ance than dovecots. When I first saw Northamptonshire,
56 The Natural History
Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, and the fens of
Lincolnshire, I was amazed at the number of spires which
presented themselves in every point
of view. As an
admirer of prospects, I have reason to lament this want
in my own country ; for such objects are very necessary
ingredients in an elegant landscape.
What you mention with respect to reclaimed toads
raises my curiosity. An
ancient author, though no
naturalist, has well remarked that Every kind of beasts,
and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is
tamed, and hath been tamed, of mankind."
It is a satisfaction to me to find that a green lizard
has actually been procured for you in Devonshire;
because it corroborates my discovery, which I made
many years ago, of the same sort, on a sunny sandbank
near Farnham, in Surrey. I am >vell acquainted with the
south hams of Devonshire ; and can suppose that district,
from its southerly situation, to be a proper habitation for
such animals in their best colours.
Since the ring-ousels of your vast mountains do cer-
tainly not forsake them against winter, our suspicions that
those which visit this neighbourhood about Michaelmas
are not English birds, but driven from the more northern
parts of Europe by the frosts, are still more reasonable :

and it will be worth your pains to endeavour to trace

from whence they come, and to inquire why they make
so very short a stay.
In your account of your error with regard to the two
species of herons, you incidentally gave me great enter-
tainment in your description of the heronry at Cressi-
hall J which is a curiosity I never could manage to see.
Four score nests of such a bird on one tree is a rarity
which I would ride half as many miles to have a sight of.
Pray be sure to tell me in your next whose seat Cressi-
hall is, and near what town it lies.^ I have often thought
that those vast extents of fens have never been suffici-
ently explored. If half a dozen gentlemen, furnished
with a good strength of water-spaniels, were to beat
James, chap. iii. 7.
Cresii-hall is near Spalding, in Lincolnshire.
of Selborne 57
them over for a week, they would certamly find more
There is no bird, I believe, whose manners I have
studied more than that of the caprvmilgus (the goat-sucker),
as it is a wonderful and curious creature but I have

always found that though sometimes it may chatter as it

flies, as I know it does, yet in general it utters
its jarring

note sitting on a bough ; and I have for many an half

hour watched it as it sat with its under mandible quiver-
ing, and particularly this summer. It perches usually on
a bare twig, with its head lower than its tail, in an
attitude well expressed by your draughtsman in the folio
British Zoology. This bird is most punctual in beginning
its song exactly at the close of day so exactly that I have

known it strike up more than once or twice just at the

report of the Portsmouth evening gun, which we can hear
when the weather is still. It appears to me past all
doubt that its notes are formed by organic impulse, by
the powers of the parts of its windpipe, formed for sound,
just as cats pur. You will credit me, I hope, when I tell
you that, as my neighbours were assembled in an hermi-
tage on the side of a steep hill where we drink tea,
one of
these churn-owls came and settled on the cross of that
little straw edifice and began to chatter, and continued

his note for many minutes and we were all struck with

wonder to find that the organs of that little animal, when

put in motion, gave a sensible vibration to the whole
building ! This bird also sometimes makes a small
squeak, repeated four or five times ; and I have observed
that to happen when the cock has been pursuing the hen
in a toying way through the boughs of a tree.
It would not be at all strange if your bat, which you
have procured, should prove a new one, since five species
have been found in a neighbouring kingdom. The great
sort that I mentioned is certainly a nondescript I saw but :

one this summer, and that I had no opportunity of taking.

Your account of the Indian-grass was entertaining. I
am no angler myself; but inquiring of those that are,
what they supposed that part of their tackle to be made
of? they replied "of the intestines of a silkworm."
58 The Natural History
I must not pretend to great skill in entomology,
yet I cannot say that
I am
ignorant of that kind of know-
ledge I may
: now and then, perhaps, be able to furnish
you with a little information.
The vast rains ceased with us much about the same
time as with you, and since we have had delicate weather.
Mr. Barker, who has measured the rain for more than
says, in a late letter,
that more has fallen this
thirty years,
any he ever attended to ; though, from July
year than in
763 to January 1764, more fell than in any seven months
of this year.

Selborne, February 28, 1769.
Dear Sir,
It is not improbable that the Guernsey lizard and our

green lizard may be specifically the same ; all that I

know is, that, when some years ago many Guernsey
lizards were turned loose in Pembroke college garden,
in the University of Oxford, they lived a great while, and
seemed to enjoy themselves very well, but never bred.
Whether this circumstance will prove anything either way
I shall not pretend to say.
I you thanks for your account of Cressi-hall ;
but recollect, not without regret, that in June 1746 I was
visiting for a week together at Spalding, without ever
being told that such a curiosity was just at hand. Pray
send me word in your next what sort of tree it is that
contains such a quantity of herons' nest ; and whether
the heronry consists of a whole grove or wood, or only of
a few trees.
It gave me satisfaction to find that we accorded so
well about the caprbnulgits : all I contended for was to
prove that it often chatters sitting as well as flying ; and

therefore the noise was voluntary, and from organic im-

of Selborne 59
pulse, and not from the resistance of the air against the
hollow of its mouth and throat.
If ever I saw anything like actual migration, it was last
Michaelmas-day. I was travelling, and out early in the

morning at first there was a vast fog but, by the time


that I was got seven or eight miles from home towards

the coast, the sun broke out into a delicate warm day.
We were then on a large heath or common, and I could
discern, as the mist began to break away, great numbers
of swallows {hirundines rusticcB) clustering on the stunted
shrubs and bushes, as if they had roosted there all night.
As soon as the air became clear and pleasant they all
were on the wing at once ; and, by a placid and easy
flight, proceeded on southward towards the sea : after
this I did not see any more flocks, only now and then a

I cannot agree with those persons that assert that the
swallow kind disappear some and some gradually, as
they come, for the bulk of them seem to withdraw at
once only some stragglers stay behind a long while, and

do never, there is the greatest reason to believe, leave

this island. Swallows seem to lay themselves up, and to
come forth in a warm day, as bats do continually of a
warm evening, after they have disappeared for weeks. For
a very respectable gentleman assured me tliat, as he was
walking with some friends under Merton-wall on a re-
markably hot noon, either in the last week in December
or the first week in January, he espied three or four swal-
lows huddled together on the moulding of one of the
windows of that college. I have frequently remarked
that swallows are seen later at Oxford than elsewhere is

it owing to the vast massy buildings of that place, to the

many waters round it, or to what else ?

When I used to rise in a morning last autumn, and see
the swallows and martins clustering on the chimnies and
thatch of the neighbouring cottages, I could not help
being touched with a secret delight, mixed with some
degree of mortification with delight to observe with how

much ardour and punctuality those poor little birds

obeyed the strong impulse towards migration, or hiding,
6o The Natural History
imprinted on their minds by their great Creator;
with some degree of mortification, when I reflected that,
after all our pains and inquiries, we are yet not quite cer-
tain towhat regions they do migrate ; and are still farther
embarrassed to find that some do not actually migrate at

These reflections made so strong an impression on my

imagination, that they became productive of a composi-
tion that may perhaps amuse you for a quarter of an hour
when next I have the honour of writing to you.

Seiborne, May 29, 1769.
Dear Sir,
The scarabceus fullo I know very well, having seen it in
collections ; but have never been able to discover one
wild in its natural state. Mr. Banks told me he thought
itmight be found on the sea-coast.
On the thirteenth of April I went to the sheep-down,
where the ring-ousels have been observed to make their
appearance at spring and fall, in their way perhaps to the
north or south ; and was much pleased to see three birds
about the usual spot. We shot a cock and a hen ; they
were plump and in high condition. The hen had but
very small rudiments of eggs within her, which proves
they are late breeders whereas those species of the

thrush kind that remain with us the whole year have

fledged young before that time. In their crops was
nothing very distinguishable, but somewhat that seemed
like blades of vegetables nearly digested. In autumn
they feed on haws and yew-berries, and in the spring on
ivy-berries. I dressed one of these birds, and found
juicy and well-flavoured. remarkable that they
It is
make but a few days' stay in their spring
visit, but rest
near a fortnight at Michaelmas. These birds, from the
observations of three springs and two autumns, are most
of Selborne 6i
punctual in their return ; and exhibit a new migration un-
noticed by the writers, who supposed they never were to
be seen in any of the southern counties.
One of my neighbours lately brought me a new salicat-ia,
which at first I suspected might have proved your willow-
lark,^ but, on a nicer examination, it answered much
better to the description of that species which you shot
at Revesby, in Lincolnshire. My bird I describe thus :

than the grasshopper-lark ; the head,
It is a size less

back, and coverts of the wings of a dusky brown, without

those dark spots of the grasshopper-lark over each eye ;

is a milk-white stroke the chin and throat are white,


and the under parts of a yellowish white ; the rump is

tawny, and the feathers of the tail sharp-pointed the bill ;

is dusky and sharp, and the legs are dusky ; the hinder
claw long and crooked." The person that shot it says
that it sung so like a reed-sparrow that he took it for one;
and that it sings all night but this account merits further

inquiry. For my part, I suspect it is a second sort of

locustella^ hinted at by Dr. Derham in Ray's Letters : see
p. 1 08. He also procured me a grasshopper-lark.
The question that you put with regard to those genera
of animals that are peculiar to America, viz. how they
came there, and whence ? is too puzzling for me to
answer ; and yet so obvious as often to have struck me
with wonder. If one looks into the writers on that

subject little satisfaction is to be found. Ingenious men

will readily advance plausible arguments to support
whatever theory they shall choose to maintain but then ;

the misfortune is, every one's hypothesis is each as good

as another's, since they are all founded on conjecture.
The late writers of this sort, in whom may be seen all
the arguments of those that have gone before, as I
remember, stock America from the western coast ot
Africa and the south of Europe ; and then break down
the Isthmus that bridged over the Atlantic. But this
is making use of a violent piece of machinery it is a :

difficulty worthy of the interposition

of a god ^'Incredulus !

For this salicaria see letter August 30, 1769.
62 The Natural History



. . .
equidem credo, quia sit divinitus illis

Ingenium. VlRG. Georg.

When day declining sheds a milder gleam,

What time ^
haunts the pool or stream
the may-fly ;

When the owl skims round the grassy mead,


What time the timorous hare limps forth to feed ;

Then be the time to steal adown the vale,
And listen to the vagrant cuckoo's tale

To hear the clamorous ^ curlew call his mate,

the soft quail his tender pain relate ;
Tosee the swallow sweep the dark'ning plain
Belated, to support her infant train ;
To mark the swift in rapid giddy ring
Dash round the steeple, unsubdu'd of wing
Amusive birds —
say where your hid retreat

When the frost rages and the tempests beat ;

Whence your return, by such nice instinct led,
When spring, soft season, lifts her bloomy head ?
Such baffled searches mock man's prying pride,
is your secret guide !

While deepening shades obscure the face of day

To yonder bench, leaf-shelter'd, let us stray,
Till blended objects fail the swimming sight,
And all the fading landscape sinks in night ;
The angler's may-fly, the ephetnera vtilgata Litin., comes forth
from itsaurelia state, and emerges out of the water about six in the
evening, and dies about eleven at night, determining the date of its
fly stale in about five or six hours. They usually begin to appear
about the 4th of June, and continue in succession for near a fort-
night. See Swammerdam, Derham, Scopoli, etc.
Vagrant cuckoo ; so called because, being tied down by no
incubation or attendance about the nutrition of its young, it wanders
without control.
Charadrius oedicnenms.
of Selborne 63
To hear the drowsy dor come brushing by
With buzzing wing, or the shrill ^ cricket cry ;

To see the feeding bat glance through the wood ;

To catch the distant falling of the flood ;
While o'er the cliff th' awakened churn-owl hung
Through the still gloom
protracts his chattering song ;

While high in air, and pois'd upon his wings,

Unseen, the soft enamour'd woodiark ^ sings :

These, NATURE'S works, the curious mind employ.

Inspire a soothing melancholy joy :

As fancy warms, a pleasing kind of pain

Steals o'er the cheek, and thrills the creeping vein !

Each rural sight, each sound, each smell combine ;

The tinkling sheep-bell, or the breath of kine ;

The new-mown hay that scents the swelling breeze,
Or cottage-chimney smoking through the trees.
The chilling night-dews fall :
away, retire ;

For glow-worm lights her amorous fire

see, the

Thus, ere night's veil had half obscured the sky,

Th' impatient damsel hung her lamp on high :

True to the signal, by love's meteor led,

Leander hasten'd to his Hero's bed.'^
I am, etc.

Selborne, Aug. 30, 1769.
Dear Sir,
It gives me satisfaction to find that my account of the
ousel migration pleases you. You put a very shrewd
question when you ask me how I know that their
Grylhts cainpestris

In hot summer nights woodlarks soar to a prodigious height,
and hang singing in the air.
The light of the female glow-worm (as she often crawls up the
stalk of a grass to make herself more conspicuous) is a signal to the
male, which is a slender dusky scarabdjts.
See the story of Hero and Leander.
64 The Natural History
autumnal migration is southward ? ^Vas not candour
and openness the very life of natural history, I should
pass over this query just as a sly commentator does over
a crabbed passage in a classic ; but common ingenuous-
ness obliges me to confess, not without some degree of
shame, that I only reasoned in that case from analogy.
For as all other autumnal birds migrate from the north-
ward to us, to partake of our milder winters, and return
to the northward again when the rigorous cold abates,
so I concluded that the ring-ousels did the same, as well
as their congeners the fieldfares ;
and especially as ring-
ousels are known to haunt cold mountainous countries :

but Ihave good reason to suspect since that they may

come to us from westward ; because I hear, from very
good authority, that they breed on Dartmoor ; and that
they forsake that wild district about the time that our
visitors appear, and do not return till late in the spring.
I have taken a great deal of pains about your salicaria
and mine, with a white stroke over its eye, and a tawny

Ihave it alive and dead, and have

rump. surveyed
procured several specimens and am perfectly persuaded

myself (and trust you will soon be convinced of the same)

that it is no more nor less than the passer arundinaceus
minor of Ray. This bird, by some means or other, seems
to be entirely omitted in the British Zoology ; and one
reason probably was because it is so strangely classed in
Ray, who ranges it among his picis affi)ies. It ought no
doubt to have gone among his aviculce cauda u7iicolorey
and among your slender-billed small birds of the same
division. Linnaeus might with great propriety have put
it into his
genius of motacilla ; and the motacilla salicaria
o( his fauna suecica seems to come the nearest to it. It
is no uncommon haunting the sides of ponds and
rivers where there is and the reeds and sedges of
moors. The country people in some places call it the
sedge-bird. It sings incessantly night and day during
the breeding-time, imitating the note of a sparrow, a
swallow, a sky-lark ; and has a strange hurrying manner
in its song. Myspecimens correspond most minutely to
the description of your fen salicaria, shot near Revesby.
of Selborne 65
Mr. Ray has given an excellent characteristic of it when
he says, " Rostru7n &" pedes in hac aviaihl multh majores
simt qua77t pro cofporis ratiotie." See letter May 29,
I liave got you the
egg of an ocdiaicfnus, or stone
curlew, which was picked up in a fallow on the naked
ground there were two ; but the finder inadvertently

crushed one with his foot before he saw them.

When I wrote to you last year on reptiles, I wish I
had not forgot to mention the faculty that snakes have
of stinking se defende7ido. I knew a gentleman who kept
a tame snake, which was in its person as sweet as any
animal while in a good humour and unalarmed but as ;

soon as a stranger, or a dog or cat, came in, it fell to

hissing, and filled the room with such nauseous effluvia
as rendered it hardly supportable. Thus the squnck,
or stonck, of Ray's Sy7iop. Quadr. is an innocuous and
sweet animal ; but, when pressed hard by dogs and men,
it can
eject such a pestilent and fetid smell and excrement,
that nothing can be more horrible.
A gentleman sent me lately a fine specimen of the
la7iius mi7ior ci7terasce7is cuth 77iacula tTt scapiilis albd,
Raii ; which is a bird that, at the time of your publishing
your two first volumes of British Zoology, I find you had
not seen. You have described it well from Edwards's

Selborne, December 8, 1769.
Dear Sir,
I was much gratified by your communicative letter on
your return from Scotland, where you spent, I find, some
considerable time, and gave yourself good room to
examine the natural curiosities of that extensive kingdom,
both those of the islands, as well as those of the highlands.
The usual bane of such expeditions is hurry because ;

66 The Natural History
men seldom allot themselves half the time they should
do but, fixing on a day for their return, post from place

to place, rather as if they were on a journey that required

dispatch, than as philosophers investigating the works of
nature. You must have made, no doubt, many dis-

coveries, and up a good fund of materials for a future

edition of the British Zoology ; and will have no reason
to repent that you have bestowed so much pains on a
part of Great Britain that perhaps was never so well
examined before.
It has always been matter of wonder to me that field-

fares, which are so congenerous to thrushes and blackbirds,

should never choose to breed in England but that they :

should not think even the highlands cold and northerly,

and sequestered enough, is a circumstance still more
strange and wonderful. The ring-ousel, you find, stays
in Scotland the whole year round ;
so that we have reason
to conclude that those migrators that visit us for a short
space every autumn do not come from thence.
And here, I think, will be the proper place to mention
that those birds were most punctual again in their
migration this autumn, appearing, as before, about the
30th of September but their flocks were larger than

common, and their stay protracted somewhat beyond the

usual time. If they came to spend the whole winter
with us, as some of their congeners do, and then left us,
as they do, in spring, I should not be so much struck
with the occurrence, since it would be similar to that of
the other winter birds of passage ; but when I see them
for a fortnight at Michaelmas, and again for about a week
in the middle of April, I am seized with wonder, and
long to be informed whence these travellers come, and
whither they go, since they seem to use our hills merely
as an inn or baiting place.
Your account of the greater brambling, or snow-fleck,
is very amusing ; and strange it is that such a short-

winged bird should delight in such perilous voyages over

the northern ocean Some country people in the winter

time have every now and then told me that they have
seen two or three white larks on our downs ; but on con-
of vSelborne 67
sidering the matter, I begin to suspect that these are some
stragglers of the birds we are talking of, which sometimes
perhaps may rove so far to the southward.
pleases me to find tliat wliite hares are so frequent
on Scottish mountains, and especially as you inform
me that it is a distinct species ; for the quadrupeds of
Britain are so few, that every new species is a great
The eagle-owl, could it be proved to belong to us, is
so majestic a bird that it would grace our fauna much.
I never was informed before where wild-geese are known
to breed.
You admit, I jRnd, that I have proved your fen salicaria
to be the lesser reed-sparrow of Ray ; and I think that
you may be secure that I am right ; for I took very par-
ticular pains to clear up that matter, and had some fair

specimens ; but, as they were not well preserved, they

are decayed already. You will, no doubt, insert it in
its proper place in your next edition. Your additional
plates will much improve your work.
De know, has described the water shrew-
Buffon, I
mouse : am pleased to find you have discovered
but still I

it in Lincolnshire, for the reason I have given in the

article on the white hare.
As a neighbour was lately ploughing in a dry chalky
field, far removed from any water, he turned out a water-
rat, that was curiously laid up in an hyhernaculum arti-
ficially formed of grass and leaves. At one end of the
burrow lay above a gallon of potatoes regularly stowed,
on which it was to have supported itself for the winter.
But the difficulty with me is how this aviphihins mus
came to fix its winter station at such a distance from the
water. Was it determined in its choice of that place by
the mere accident of finding the potatoes which were
planted there ; or is it the constant practice of the aquatic-
rat to forsake the neighbourhood of the water in the
colder months?
Though I delight very in analogous reasoning,

knowing how with respect to natural his-

fallacious it is

tory ; yet, in the following instance, I cannot help being

68 The Natural History
inclined to think it may conduce towards the explanation
of a difficulty that I have mentioned before, with respect
to the invariable early retreat of the hirundo cipus^ or
swift, so many weeks before its congeners ; and that not
only with us, but also in Andalusia, where they also begin
to retire about the beginning of August.
The great large bat ^ (which by the by is at present
a nondescript in England, and what I have never been
able yet to procure) retires or migrates very early in the
summer it also ranges very high for its food, feeding in

a different region of the air ; and that is the reason I

never could procure one. Now this is exactly the case
with the swifts for they take their food in a more exalted

region than the other species, and are very seldom seen
hawking for flies near the ground, or over the surface of
the water. From hence I would conclude that these
hirimdi)ics^ and the larger bats, are supported by some
sorts of high-flying gnats, scarabs, or phalcence^ that are
of short continuance ; and that the short stay of these
strangers is regulated by the defect of their food.
By my journal it appears that curlews clamoured on to
October the thirty-first ; since which I have not seen or
heard any. Swallows were observed on to November the


Selborne, Feb. 22, 1770.

Dear Sir,
Hedge-hogs abound in my gardens and fields. The
manner in which they eat their roots of the plantain in
my grass-walks is very curious with their upper mandible,

which is much longer than their lower, they bore under

The little bat appears almost every month in the year but I

have never seen the large ones till the end of April, nor after July.
They are most common in June, but never in any plenty are a rare

species with us.

of Selborne 69
the plant, and so eat the root off upwards, leaving the tuft
of leaves untouched. In this respect they are serviceable,
as they destroy a very troublesome weed Init ihey deface

the walks in some measure by digging little round holes.

It appears, by the dung that they drop upon the turf, that
beetles are no inconsiderable part of their food. In June
last I procured a litter of four or five young hedge-hogs,
which appeared to be about five or six days old ; they, I
find, like puppies, are born blind, and could not see when
they came to my hands. No doubt their spines are soft
and flexible at the time of their birth, or else the poor dam
would have but a bad time of it in the critical moment
of parturition but it is plain that they soon harden ; for

these little pigs had such stiff prickles on their backs

and sides as would easily have fetched blood, had they
not been handled with caution. Their spines are quite
white at this age ; and they have little hanging ears, which
I do not remember to be discernible in the old ones.

They can, in part, at this age draw their skin down over
their faces ; but are not able to contract themselves into
a ball as they do, for the sake of defence, when full grown.
The reason, I suppose, is, because the curious muscle that
enables the creature to roll itself up into a ball was not
then arrived at its full tone and firmness. Hedge-hogs
make a deep and warm hyheinaculum with leaves and
moss, in which they conceal themselves for the winter :

but I never could find that they stored in any winter

provision, as some quadrupeds certainly do.
I have discovered an anecdote with respect to the field-
fare {furdus pilaris), which I think is particular enough :

this bird, though it sits on trees in the day-time, and

procures the greatest part of its food from white-thorn
hedges ; yea, moreover, builds on very high trees ; as may
be seen by Xh^famia suecica ; yet always appears with us
to roost on the ground. They are seen to come in flocks
just before it is dark, and to settle and nestle among
the heath on our forest. And besides, the larkers, in
dragging their nets by night, frequently catch them in the
wheat-stubbles ; while the bat-fowlers, who take many red-
wings in the hedges, never entangle any of this species.
70 The Natural History
Why these birds, in the matter of roosting, should differ
from their congeners, and from themselves also with

respect to their proceedings by day, is a fact for which I

am by no means able to account.
have somewhat to inform you of concerning the

moose-deer but in general foreign animals fall seldom in


my way ; my little intelligence is confined to the narrow

sphere of my own observations at home.

Selborne, March, 1 770.

On Michaelmas-day 1768 I managed to get a sight of

the female moose belonging to the Duke of Richmond,
at Goodwood ;
but was greatly disappointed, when I

arrived the spot, to find that it died, after having


appeared in a languishing way for some time, on the

morning before. However, understanding that it was
not stripped, I proceeded to examine this rare quadruped :

I found it in an old green-house, slung under the belly

and chin by ropes, and in a standing posture; but,
though it had been dead for so short a time, it was in so
putrid a state that the stench was hardly supportable.
The grand distinction between this deer, and any other
species that I have ever met with, consisted in the strange
length of its legs ; on which it was tilted up much in the
manner of birds of the gralla order. I measured it, as
they do an horse, and found that, from the ground to the
wither, it was just five feet four inches ; which height
answers exactly to sixteen hands, a growth that few horses
arrive at but then, with this length of legs, its neck was

remarkably short, no more than twelve inches ; so that,

by straddling with one foot forward and the other back-
ward, it grazed on the plain ground, with the greatest
difficulty, between its legs the ears were vast and lopping,

and as long as the neck ; the head was about twenty inches
of Selborne 71
long, and ass-like ; and had such a redundancy of upper
lip as I never saw before, with huge nostrils. This lip,
travellers say, is esteemed a dainty dish in North America.

It very reasonable to suppose tliat this creature


supports itself chiefly by browsing of trees, and by wading

after water-plants ; towards which way of livelihood the

length of leg and great lip must contribute much. I have

read somewhere that it deHghts in eating the nymphma^
or water-lily. From the fore-feet to the belly behind the
shoulder it measured three feet and eight inches the :

length of the legs before and behind consisted a great

deal in the tihia^ which was strangely long ; but in my
haste to get out of the stench, I forgot to measure that
joint exactly. Its scut seemed to be about an inch long ;
the colour was a grizzly black ; the mane about four
inches long the fore-hoofs were upright and shapely, the

hind flat and splayed. The spring before it was only two
years old, so that most probably it was not then come to
its growth. What a vast tall beast must a full-gro^vn stag
be I have been told some arrive at ten feet and an half!

This poor creature had at first a female companion of

the same species, which died the spring before. In the
same garden was a young stag, or red deer, between whom
and this moose it was hoped that there might have been a
breed; but their inequality of height must have always
been a bar to any commerce of the amorous kind. I

should have been glad to have examined the teeth,

tongue, lips, hoofs, etc., minutely ; but the putrefaction
precluded all further curiosity. This animal, the keeper
told me, seemed to enjoy itself best in the extreme frost
of the former winter. In the house they showed me the
horn of a male moose, which had no front-antlers, but
only a broad palm with some snags on the edge. The
noble owner of the dead moose proposed to make a
skeleton of her bones.
Please to let me hear if my female moose corresponds
with that you saw ; and whether you think still that
the American moose and European elk are the same
creature. I am,
With the greatest esteem, etc.
72 The Natural History


Selborne, May 12, 1770.

Dear Sir,
Last month we had such a series of cold turbulent
weather, such a constant succession of frost, and snow,
and hail, and tempest, that the regular migration or
appearance of the summer birds was much interrupted.
Some did not show themselves (at least were not
heard) till weeks after their usual time ; as the black-cap
and white-throat ; and some have not been heard yet, as
r the grasshopper-lark and largest willow-wren. As tol
\ the fly-catcher, I have not seen it; it is indeed one of
(the latest, but should appear about this time and yet,

(amidst all this meteorous strife and war of the elements,

swallows discovered themselves as long ago as the I
eleventh of April, in frost and snow ; but they withdrew
quickly, and were not visible again for many days.
House-martins, which are always more backward than
swallows, were not observed till INIay came in.
Among the monogamous birds several are to be found,
I after pairing-time, single, and of each sex :but whether
this state of celibacy is matter of choice or necessity, is
not so easily discoverable. When the house-sparrows
deprive my martins of their nests, as soon as I cause one
to be shot, the other, be it cock or hen, presently procures
a mate, and so for several times following.
"^' I have known a dove-house infested
by a pair of white
owls, which made great havoc among the young pigeons :

one of the owls was shot as soon as possible ; but the

survivor readily found a mate, and the mischief went on.
After some time the new pair were both destroyed, and
the annoyance ceased.
Another instance I remember of a sportsman, whose
zeal for the increase of his game being greater than his
humanity, after pairing-time he always shot the cock-bird
of Selborne 73
of every couple of partridges upon his grounds ; supposing
that the rivahy of many males interrupted the breed he :

used to though he had widowed the same hen

say, that,
several times, yet he found she was still provided with a
fresh paramour, that did not take her away from her
usual haunt.
Again ;
I knew a lover of setting, an old sportsman,
who has often told me that soon after harvest he has
frequently taken small coveys of partridges, consisting of
cock-birds alone; these he pleasantly used to call old
There is a propensity belonging to common house-cats

that very remarkable ; I mean their violent fondness

for fish, which appears to be their most favourite food :

and yet nature in this instance seems to have planted in

them an appetite that, unassisted, they know not how to
gratify for of all quadrupeds cats are the least disposed

towards water ; and will not, when they can avoid it,
deign to wet a foot, much less to plunge into that
Quadrupeds that prey on fish are amphibious such is :

the otter, which by nature is so well formed for diving,

that it makes great havoc among the inhabitants of the
waters. Not supposing that we had any of those beasts
in our shallow brooks, I was much pleased to see a male
otter brought to me, weighing twenty-one pounds, that
had been shot on the bank of our stream below the
Priory, where the rivulet divides the parish of Selborne
from Harteley-wood.

Selborne, Auj^. i, 1770.
Dear Sir,
The French, I think, in general, are strangely prolix
in their natural history. What Linnceus says with respect
74 The Natural History
to insects holds in every other branch "
good : Verbositas
calamitas arlis."
prcese7itis scbcuU^
Pray how do you approve of Scopoli's new work ?
As I admire his Entomologia^ long to see it.
I forgot to mention in mylast letter (and had not
room to insert in the former) that the male moose, in
rutting time, swims from island to island, in the lakes and
rivers of North America, in pursuit of the females. My
friend, the chaplain, saw one killed in the water as itwas
on that errand in the river St. Lawrence it: was a
monstrous beast, he told me ;
but he did not take the
When I was last in town our friend Mr. Barrington
most obligingly carried me to see many curious sights.
As you were then writing to him about horns, he carried
me to see many strange and wonderful specimens. There
is, I remember, at Lord Pembroke's, at Wilton, an horn
room furnished with more than thirty different pairs j but
I have not seen that house lately.
Mr. Barrington showed me many astonishing collec-
tions of stuffed and living birds from all quarters of the
world. After I had studied over the latter for a time,
I remarked that
every species almost that came from
distant regions, such as South America, the coast of
Guinea, etc., were thick-billed birds of the loxia and
fringilla genera and no inotacillce, or 7?iuskapce^ were to

be met with. When I came to consider, the reason was

obvious enough ; for the hard-billed birds subsist on
seeds, which are easily carried on board ; while the soft-
billed birds, which are supported by worms and insects,
or, what is a succeda?ietim for them, fresh raw meat, can
meet with neither in long and tedious voyages. It is
from this defect of food that our collections (curious as
they are) are defective, and we are deprived of some of
the most delicate and lively genera.
I am, etc.
of Selborne 75


Selborne, Sept. 14, 1770.

Dear Sir,
Yoii saw, I find, the ring-ousels again among their native
crags ; and are farther assured that they continue resident
in those cold regions the whole year. From whence,
then, do our ring-ousels migrate so regularly every
September, and make their appearance again, as if in
their return, every April ? They are more early this year
than common, for some were seen at the usual hill on
the fourth of this month.
An observing Devonshire gentleman tells me that they
frequent some parts of Dartmoor, and breed there but ;

leave those haunts about the end of September or

beginning of October, and return again about the end
of March.
Another intelligent person assures me that they breed
in great abundance all over the Peak of Derby, and are
called there Tor-ousels ; withdraw in October and Novem-
ber, and return in spring. This information seems to
throw some light on my new migration.
Scopoli's new work (which I have just procured) has

its merits in ascertaining many of the birds of the Tirol

and Carniola. Monographers, come from whence they

may, have, I think, fair pretence to challenge some
regard and approbation from the lovers of natural
history ; for, as no man can alone
investigate all the
works of nature, these partial writers may, each in their
department, be more accurate in their discoveries, and
freer from errors, than more general writers ; and so by
degrees may pave the way to an universal correct natural
history. Not that Scopoli is so circumstantial and
attentive to the life and conversation of his birds as I
Annus Primus Historico-Naiuralis.
76 The Natural History
could wish he advances some false facts as when he
: :

says of the hirundo icrbica that pullos extra iiidum non


7iutrit'^ This assertion I know to be wrong from

repeated observations this summer, for house-martins do
feed their young flying, though it must be acknowledged
not so commonly as the house-swallow ; and the feat is
done in so quick a manner as not to be perceptible to
indifferent observers. He also advances some (I was
going to say) improbable facts ; as when he says of the
woodcock that, pullos rostro portat fiigieiis ab hoste."

But candour forbids me to say absolutely that any fact

is false, because I have never been witness to such a

fact. I have only to remark that the long unwieldy bill

of the woodcock is perhaps the worst adapted of any

among the winged creation for such a feat of natural

I am, etc.

Selborne, October 29, 1770.
Dear Sir,
After an ineffectual search in Linn^us, Brisson, etc., I
begin to suspect that I discern my brother's hirundo
hyberna in Scopoli's new discovered hirundo rupestris^
p. 167. His description of ''''Supra tfiuri?ia, subtus
albida ; rectrices macula ovali alba in latere inter?io ;
pedes niidiy nigri ; rostru?n nigrum ; remiges obscuriores
quam phwicz dorsales ; rectrices remigibus co?icolores ;
Cauda emarginahj, fiec forcipatd ;^' agrees very well with
the bird in question but when he comes to advance

that it is

statu ra hirundinis urbicie^' and that


hirundinis riparice Linncei huic quoque convenit,^^ he in
some measure invalidates all he has said ; at least he
shows at once that he compares them to these species
merely from memory for I have compared the birds

themselves, and find they differ widely in every circum-

of Selborne 77
Stance of shape, size, and colour. However, as you will
have a specimen, I shall be glad to hear what your
judgment is in the matter.
Whether my brother is forestalled in his nondescript
or not, he will have the credit of first discovering that
they spend their winters under the warm and sheltery
shores of Gibraltar and Barbary.
Scopoli's characters of his oi'dbies and genera are clear,
just, and expressive,
and much in the spirit of Lin?ireus.
These few remarks are the result of my first perusal of
Scopoli'sAnnus Primus.
The bane of our science the comparing one animal

to the other by memory want of caution in this

: for

particular, Scopoli falls into errors he is not so full :

with regard to the manners of his indigenous birds as

might be wished, as you justly observe his Latin is :

easy, elegant, and expressive, and very superior to

I am pleased to see that my description of the moose

corresponds so well with yours.

I am, etc.

Selborne, Nov. 26, 1770.
Dear Sir,
I was much pleased to see, among the collection of birds
from Gibraltar, some of those
short-winged English
summer birds of passage, concerning whose departure
we have made so much inquiry. Now if these birds are
found in Andalusia to migrate to and from Barbary, it
may easily be supposed that those that come to us may
migrate back to the continent, and spend their winters
in some of the warmer parts of Europe. This is cer-
tain, that many soft-billed birds that come to Gibraltar
See his Elenchtis vegetabiliiim et animalium per Aitstriam
78 The Natural History
appear there only in spring and autumn, seeming to
advance in pairs towards the northward, for the sake of
breeding during the summer months ; and retiring in
parties and broods towards the south at the decUne of
the year so that the rock of Gibraltar is the great

rendezvous, and place of observation, from whence they

take their departure each way towards Europe or Africa.
It is therefore no mean discovery, I think, to find that
our small short-winged summer birds of passage are to be
seen spring and autumn on the very skirts of Europe ; it
is a presumptive proof of their emigrations.

Scopoli seems to me to have found the hirufido tnelba^

the great Gibraltar swift, in Tirol, without knowing it.
For what is his hirimdo alpina but the afore-mentioned
bird in other words ? Says he, ^''Omnia prioris (meaning
" ''
the swift sed pectus album ; paulo major pHo re.
I do
not suppose this to be a new species. It is true also of
the 7nelba^ that 7iidifi<:at in excelsis Alpium rupibus"
Fid. AnnumPrimu7n.
My Sussex friend, a man of observation and good sense,
but no naturalist, to whom I applied on account of the
stone curlew, oedicnemus^ sends me the following account :

In looking over my Naturalist's Journal for the month
of April, I find the stone curlews are first mentioned on
the seventeenth and eighteenth, which date seems to me
rather late. They live with us all the spring and summer
and at the beginning of autumn prepare to take leave by
getting together in flocks. They seem to me a bird of
passage that may travel into some dry hilly country south
of us, probably Spain, because of the abundance of
sheep-walks in that country ; for they spend their summers
with us in such districts. This conjecture I hazard, as I
have never met with anyone that has seen them in
England in the winter. I believe they are not fond
of going near the water, but feed on earth-worms, that are
common on sheep-walks and downs. They breed on
fallows and abounding with grey mossy flints,
which much resemble their young in colour ; among
which they skulk and conceal themselves. They make
no nest, but lay their eggs on the bare ground, producing
of Selborne 79
in common but two at a time. There is reason to
think llicir young run soon after they are hatched and ;

that the old ones do not feed them, but only lead them
about at the time of feedifig, whicli, for tlie most part, is
in the night." Thus far my friend.
In the manners of you see there is something
this bird

very analogous to the bustard, whom it also somewhat

resembles in aspect and make, and in the structure of its
For a long time I have desired my relation to look out
for these birds in Andalusia ; and now he writes me word
that, for the first time, he saw one dead in the market on
the 3rd of September.
When the oedicne77ius flies it stretches out its legs
straight behind, like an heron.
I am, etc.


Selborne, March 30, 1 77 1.

Dear Sir,
There is an insect with us, especially on chalky districts,
which is very troublesome and teasing all the latter end
of the summer, getting into people's skins, especially
those of women and children, and raising tumours which
itch intolerably. This animal (which we call an harvest-
bug) is very minute, scarce discernible to the naked eye ;
of a bright scarlet colour, and of the genus of Acarus.
They are to be met with in gardens on kidneybeans, or
any legumens but prevail only in the hot months of

summer. Warreners, as some have assured me, are much

infested by them on chalky downs where these insects

swarm sometimes to so infinite a degree as to discolour

their nets, and to give them a reddish cast, while the men
are so bitten as to be thrown into fevers.
There is a small long shining fly in these parts very
troublesome to the jiousewifc, by getting into the
chimneys, and laying its eggs in the bacon while it is
8o The Natural History
drying these eggs produce maggots called jumpers,

which, harbouring in the gammons and best parts of the

hogs, eat down to the bone, and make great waste. This
fly I suspect to be a variety of the inusca piitris of
Linnaeus it is to be seen in the summer in the farm-

kitchens on the bacon-racks and about the mantelpieces,

and on the ceilings.
The insect that infests turnips and many crops in the
garden (destroying often whole fields while in their seed-
ling leaves) is an animal that wants to be better known.
The country people here call it the and black
dolphin but I know it to be one of
the cokoptera ; the

femoribus paslicis crassis-

chrysotiiela oleracea, saltatoria,
simis.^* In very hot summers they abound to an amazing
degree, and as you walk in a field or in a garden, make
a pattering like rain, by jumping on the leaves of the
turnips or cabbages.
There oestrus^ known in these parts to every
is an
ploughboy which, because it is omitted by Linnaeus,

is also passed over by late writers, and that is the curvi-

^auda of old Moufet, mentioned by Derham in his

Physico-theology^ p. 250 an insect worthy of remark for

depositing its eggs as it flies in so dexterous a manner on

the single hairs of the legs and flanks of grass-horses.
But then Derham is mistaken when he advances that
this oestrus is the parent of that wonderful star-tailed

maggot which he mentions afterwards ; for more modern

entomologists have discovered that singular production
to be derived from the egg of the inusca chamcekoti : see
t. f.
Geoffroy, 17, 4.
A full history of noxious insects hurtful in the field,
garden, and house, suggesting all the known and likely
means of destroying them, would be allowed by the
public to be a most useful and important work. What
knowledge there is of this sort lies scattered, and wants
to be collected ; great improvements would soon follow of
course. A
knowledge of the properties, oeconomy, pro-
pagation, and in short of the life and conversation of
these animals, is a necessary step to lead us to some
aiiethod of preventing their depredations.
of Selborne 8i
As far as I am a judge, nothing would recommend
entomology more than some neat plates that should well
express the generic distinctions of insects according to
Linnaeus ; for I am well assured that many people would
study insects, could they set out with a more adequate
notion of those distinctions that can be conveyed at first
by words alone

Selborne, 1771.
Dear Sir,
Happening to make a visit to my neighbour's peacocks,
I could not help observing that the trains of those
magnificent birds appear by no means to be their tails;
those long feathers growing not from their uropygium,
but all up their backs. A range of short brown stiff
feathers, about six inches long, fixed in the uropygium^
is the real tail, and serves as the fulcrum to prop the

train, which is long and top-heavy, when set on end.

When the train is up, nothing appears of the bird before
but its head and neck ; but this would not be the case
were those long feathers fixed only in the rump, as may
be seen by the turkey-cock when in a strutting attitude.
By a strong muscular vibration these birds can make the
shafts of their long feathers clatter like the swords of a
sword-dancer ; they then trample very quick with their
feet, and run backwards towards the females.
I should tell you that I have got an uncommon calculus

csgogropila, taken out of the stomach of a fat ox ; it is

perfectly round, and about the size of a large Seville
orange; such are, I think, usually flat.
82 The Natural History


Sept. 1771.
Dear Sir,
The summer through I have seen but t\YO of that large
call vespertilb aliivolans^ from its
species of bat which I

manner of feeding high in the air : I procured one of

them, and found it to be a male ; and made no doubt,

as they accompanied together, that the other was a

female but, happening in an evening or two to procure

the other likewise, I was somewhat disappointed, when it

appeared to be also of the same sex. This circumstance,
and the great scarcity of this sort, at least in these parts,
occasions some suspicions in my mind whether it is
really a species, or whether it may not be the male part
of the more known species, one of which may supply
many females ; as is known to be the case in sheep, and
some other quadrupeds. But this doubt can only be
cleared by a farther examination, and some attention to
the sex, of more specimens all that I know at present

is, that my two were amply furnished

with the parts of
generation much resembling those of a boar.
In the extent of their wings they measured fourteen
inches and an half and four inches and an half from

the nose to the tip of the tail their heads were large,

their nostrils bilobated, their shoulders broad and

muscular ;
and their whole bodies fleshy and plump.
Nothing could be more sleek and soft than their fur,
which was of a bright chestnut colour their maws were

full of food, but so macerated that the quality could not

be distinguished; their livers, kidneys, and hearts, were
large, and their bowels covered with fat. They weighed
each, when entire, full one ounce and one drachm.
Within the ear there was somewhat of a peculiar structure
that I did not understand perfectly ;
but refer it to the
of vSelborne 83
observation of the curious anatoniist. These creatures
send forth a very rancid and offensive smell.


Selborne, 1771.
Dear Sir,
On the twelfth of July I had a fair opportunity of con-
templating the motions of the caprimulgus^ or fern-owl,
as it was playing round a large oak that swarmed with
scarahcei solsiiiiales^ or fern-chafers. The powers of its
wing were wonderful, exceeding, if possible, the various
evolutions and quick turns of the swallow genus. But
the circumstance that pleased me most was that I saw it
distinctly, more than once, put out its short leg while on
the wing, and, by a bend of the head, deliver somewhat
into its mouth. If it takes any part of its prey with its

foot, as I have now the greatest reason to suppose it does

these chafers, I no longer wonder at the use of its middle

toe, which is curiously furnished with a serrated claw.
Swallows and martins, the bulk of them, I mean, have
forsaken us sooner this year than usual; for, on Sep-
tember the twenty-second, they rendezvoused in a neigh-
bour's walnut-tree, where it seemed probable they had
taken up their lodging for the night. At the dawn of the
day, which was foggy, they arose all together iii infinite
numbers, occasioning such a rushing from the strokes of
their wings against the hazy air, as might be heard to a
considerable distance since that no flock has appeared,

only a few stragglers.

Some swifts staid late, till the twenty-second of August
— a rare instance for they usually withdraw within the

first week.^
On September the twenty-fourth three or four ring-
ousels appeared in my fields for the first time this season:
See Letter liii. to Mr, Banington.
84 The Natural History
how punctual are these visitors in their autumnal and
spring migrations 1

Selborne, March 15, 1
Dear Sir,
By my journal for last autumn it appears that the house-
martins bred very late, and staid very late in these parts ;
for, on the first of October, I saw young martins in their
nests nearly fledged and again, on the twenty-first of

October, we had at the next house a nest full of young

martins just ready to fly ; and the old ones were hawking
for insects with great alertness. The next morning the
brood forsook their nest, and were flying round the
village. From this day I never saw one of the swallow
kind till November the third when twenty, or perhaps

thirty, house-martins were playing all day long by the

side of the hanging wood, and over my fields. Did these
small weak birds, some of which were nestlings twelve
days ago, shift their quarters at this late season of the
year to the other side of the northern tropic ? Or rather,
is it not more probable that the next church, ruin, chalk-

cliff, steep covert, or perhaps sandbank, lake or pool (as

a more northern naturalist would say), may become their
hybernaculu7n^ and afford them a ready and obvious
retreat ?
We now begin to expect our vernal migration of ring-
ousels every week. Persojisjvyorthy of credit assure me
that ring-ousels were seen at Christmas 1770 in the forest
of Bere, on the southern verge of this county. Hence
we may conclude that their migrations are only internal,
and not extended to the continent southward, if they do
at first come at all from the northern parts of this island
only, and not from the north of Europe. Come from
whence they will, it is plain, from the fearless disregard
of Selborne 85
that they show men
or guns, that they have been little
accustomed to places of much resort. Navigators men-
tion that in the Isle of Ascension, and other such deso-
late districts, birds are so little acquainted with the human
form that they settle on men's shoulders ; and have no
more dread of a sailor than they would have of a goat
that was grazing. A you n^ man at Lewes, in Sussex,
assuredrne that about seven years ago ring-ousels
abounded so about that town in the autumn that he
killed sixteen himself in one afternoon he added farther, :

that some had appeared since in every autumn but he ;

could not find that any had been observed before the
season in which he shot so many. I myself have found
these birds in little parties in the autumn cantoned all
along the Sussex-downs, wherever there were shrubs and
bushes, from Chichester to Lewes ; particularly in the
autumn of 1770.
I am, etc.

Selborne, Nov. 9, 1773.
Dear Sir,
As you desire me to send you such observations as may
occur, I take the liberty of making the following remarks,
that you may, according as you think me right or wrong,
admit or reject what I here advance, in your intended
new edition of the British Zoology.
The osprey^ was shot about a year ago at Frinsham-
pond, a great lake, at about sjx miles from hence, while
it was sitting on the handle of a plough and devouring a

fish it used to precipitate itself into the water, and so


take its
prey by surprise.
A great ash-coloured butcher-bird^ was shot last winter
in Tisted-park, and a red-backed butcher-bird at Sel-
borne :
they are rarcB aves in this country.
p. 161.
1 "-^

British Zoology, vol. i., p. 128.

86 The Natural History-
Crows go in pairs the whole year round.
Cornish choughs ^ abound, and breed on Beachy-head
and on all the cliffs of the Sussex coast.
The common wild-pigeon,^ or stock-dove, is a bird of
passage in the south of England, seldom appearing till
towards the end of November; is usually the latest winter
bird of passage. Before our beechen woods were so much
destroyed we had myriads of them, reaching in strings
for a mile together as they went out in a morning to
feed. They leave us early in spring where do they breed ?

The people of Hampshire and Sussex call the missel-

'bird"* the storm-cock, because it sings early in the spring
in blowing sliowery weather ; its song often commences
with the year with us it builds much in orchards.

A gentleman assures me that he has taken the nests of

ring-ousels on Dartmoor they build in banks on the

sides of streams.
Titlarks ^ not only sing sweetly as they sit on trees, but
also as they play and toy about on the wing; and par-
ticularly while they are descending, and sometimes as
they stand on the ground.
Adamson's ^ testimony seems to me to be a very poor
evidence that European swallows migrate during our
wnter to Senegal he does not talk at all like an ornitho-

logist ; and probably saw only the swallows of that

country, which I know build within Governor OTiara's
hall against the roof. Had he known European swallows,
would he not have mentioned the species ?
The house-swallow washes by dropping into the water
as it flies this species appears commonly about a week

before the house-martin, and about ten or twelve days

before the swift.
In 1772 there were young house-martins^ in their nest
till October the
The swift ^ appears about ten or twelve days later than
the house-swallow viz., about the twenty-fourth or twenty-

sixth of April.

* ^ »
British Zoology^ vol. i., p. 167. p 1^3 p 216
* ^ • vol.
p. 224. p. 229. ii. , p. 237.
7 8 ^
p. 242. p, 24^. p. 245.
of Selborne 87
Whin-chats and stone-chatters^ stay with us the whole
Some wheat-ears^ continue with us the winter through.
Wagtails, all sorts, remain with us all the winter.

lUilifinches,^ when fed on hempsced, often become

wholly black.
We have vast flocks of female chaffinches ^
all the
winter, with hardly any males among them.
When you say that in breeding-time the cocksnipes ^

make a bleating noise, and I a drumming (perhaps I

should have rather said an humming), I suspect we mean
the same thing. However, while they are playing about
on the wing they certainly make a loud piping with their
mouths but whether that bleating or humming is ventri-

loquous, or proceeds from the motion of their wings, I

cannot say but this I know, that when this noise hap-

pens the bird is always descending, and his wings are

violently agitated.
Soon the lapwings ^ have done breeding they

congregate, and, leaving the moors and marshes, betake

themselves to downs and sheep-walks.
Two years ago"^ last spring the little auk was found
alive and unhurt, but fluttering and unable to rise, in a
lane a few miles from Alresford, where there is a great
lake it was kept a while, but died.

I saw young teals taken alive in the ponds of Wolmer-
forest in the beginning of July last, along with flappers,
or young wild-ducks.
its drink the
Speaking of the swift,^ that page says
dew"; whereas it should be "it drinks on the wing"; for
all the swallow kind sip their water as they sweep over
the face of pools or rivers like Virgil's bees, they drink

flying, ^^fliwiina summa liba7it.^^ In this method of drink-

ing perhaps this genus may be peculiar.
Of the sedge-bird ^^ be pleased to say it sings most part
of the night ; its notes are hurrying, but not unpleasing,
and imitative of several birds ; as the sparrow, swallow,
^ ' '
British Zoology^yo\. ii., pp. 270, 271. p. 269. p. 300.
4 "> 6 ' "
p. 306. p. 358. p. 360. p. 409. p. 475.
9 1"
p. 15. p. 16.
88 The Natural History
skylark. When it
happens to be silent in the night, by
throwing a stone or clod into the bushes where it sits you
immediately set it a-singing ; or in other words, though
it slumbers sometimes, yet as soon as it is awakened it

reassumes its song.

Selborne, Sept. 2, 1774.
Dear Sir,
Before your letter arrived, and of my own accord, I had
been remarking and comparing the tails of the male and
female swallow, and this ere any young broods appeared ;

so that there was no danger of confounding the dams

with their pu//i : and besides, as they were then always
in pairs, and busied in the employ of nidification, there
could be no room for mistaking the sexes, nor the
individuals of different chimnies the one for the other.
From all my observations, it constantly appeared that
each sex has the long feathers in its tail that give it that
forked shape ; with this difference, that they are longer
in the tail of the male than in that of the female.
Nightingales, when their young first come abroad, and
are helpless, make a plaintive and a jarring noise : and
also a snapping or cracking, pursuing people along tjie

hedges as they walk : these last sounds seem intended

for menace and defiance.
The grasshopper-lark chirps all night in the height of
Swans turn white the second year, and breed the
Weasels prey on moles, as appears by their being
sometimes caught in mole-traps.
Sparrow-hawks sometimes breed in old crows' nests,
and the kestril in churches and ruins.
There are supposed to be two sorts of eels in the
of Selborne 89
island of Ely. The threads sometimes discovered in eels
are perhaps their young the generation of eels is
dark and mysterious.
Hen-harriers breed on the ground, and seem never to
settle on trees.
When red-starts shake their tails they move them

horizontally, as dogs do when they fawn the tail of a


wagtail, when in motion, bobs up and down like that of

a jaded horse.
Hedge-sparrows have a remarkable flirt with their wings
in breeding-time as soon as frosty mornings come
make a very piping plaintive noise.
Many birds which become silent about Midsummer
reassume their notes again in September as the thrush,

^ blackbird, woodlark, willow-wren, etc. ; hence August is

by much the most mute month, the spring, summer, and
autumn through. Are birds induced to sing again
because the temperament of autumn resembles that of
spring ?

Linnceus ranges plants geographically; palms inhabit

the tropics, grasses the temperate zones, and mosses and
lichens the polar circles ; no doubt animals may be classed
in the same manner with propriety.
House-sparrows build under eaves in the spring as ;

the weather becomes hotter they get out for coolness,

and nest in plum-trees and apple-trees. These birds
have been known sometimes to build in rooks' nests,
and sometimes in the forks of boughs under rooks'
As my neighbour was housing a rick he observed that
his dogs devoured all the little red mice that they could
catch, but rejected the common mice and that his cats

ate the common

mice, refusing the red.
Red-breasts sing all through the spring, summer, and
autumn. The reason that they are called autumn
songsters is, because in the two first seasons their voices
are drowned and lost in the general chorus ; in the
latter their song becomes distinguishable. Many
songsters of the autumn seem to be the young cock
red-breasts of that year notwithstanding the prejudices
90 The Natural History
in their favour, they do much mischief in gardens to
the summer-fruits. ^
The titmouse, which early in February begins to make
two quaint notes, hke the whetting of a saw, is the marsh
titmouse the great titmouse sings with three cheerful

joyous notes, and begins about the same time.

-.Wrens sing all the winter through, frost excepted.
House-martins came remarkably late this year both in
Hampshire and Devonshire is this circumstance for or

against either hiding or migration ?

Most birds drink sipping at intervals ; but pigeons
,/^ take a long continued draught, like quadrupeds.
Notwithstanding what I have said in a former letter,
no grey crows were ever known to breed on Dartmoor :

it was my mistake.

The appearance and flying of the scarabceus solstiiialis,

or fern-chafer, commence with the month of July, and
cease about the end of it. These scarabs are the constant
food of caprimulgi, or fern-owls, through that period.
They abound on the chalky downs and in some sandy
districts, but not in the clays.
In the garden of the Black-bear inn in the town of
Reading is a stream or canal running under the stables
and out into the fields on the other side of the road in ]

this water are many carps, which lie rolling about in

sight, being fed by travellers, who amuse themselves by

tossing them bread but as soon as the weather grows

at all severe these fishes are no longer seen, because

they retire under the stables, where they remain till the
return of spring. Do they lie in a torpid state ? if they
do not,how are they supported?
The note of the white-throat, which is continually re-
peated, and often attended with odd gesticulations on the
wing, is harsh and displeasing. These birds seem of a
pugnacious disposition ; for they sing with an erected
crest and attitudes of rivalry and defiance ;
are shy and
wild inbreeding-time, avoiding neighbourhoods, and
haunting lonely lanes and commons ; nay even the very
They eat also the berries of the ivy, the honeysuckle, and the
eiionymiis, or spindle-tree.
of Selborne 91
tops of the Sussex-downs, where there are bushes and
covert ; but in July and August they bring their broods
into gardens and orchards, and make great havoc among
the summer-fruits.
The black-cap has in common a full, sweet, deep, loud
and wild pipe ; yet that strain is of short continuance,
and his motions are desultory ; but when that bird sits
calmly and engages in song in earnest, he pours forth
very sweet, but inward melody, and expresses great
variety of soft and gentle modulations, superior perhaps
to those of any of our warblers, the nightingale
Black-caps mostly haunt orchards and gardens ; while
they warble their throats are wonderfully distended.
The song of the red-start is superior, though somewhat
like that of the white-throat some birds have a few

more notes than others. Sitting very placidly on the

top of a tall tree in a village, the cock sings from
morning to night he affects neighbourhoods, and avoids

solitude, and loves to build in orchards and about

houses; with us he perches on the vane of a tall
The fly-catcher is of all our summer birds the most
mute and the most familiar : it also appears the last of

any. It builds in a vine, or a sweetbriar, against the

wall of an house, or in the hole of a wall, or on the end
of a beam or plate, and often close to the post of a door
where people are going in and out all day long. This
bird does not make the least pretension to song, but
uses a little inward wailing note when it thinks its young
in danger from cats or other annoyances it breeds but :

once, and retires early.

Selborne parish alone can and has exhibited at times
more than half the birds that are ever seen in all Sweden ; [

the former has produced more than one hundred and

twenty species, the latter only two hundred and twenty- j

one. Let me add also that it has shown near half the
species that were ever known
in Great Britain.^
On a retrospect, I observe that my long letter carries with'
Sweden, 221 ; Great Britain, 252 'species.
12 The Natural History
it a quaint and magisterial air, and is very sententious :

but, when Iyou requested stricture and

recollect that
anecdote, I hope you will pardon the didactic manner
for the sake of the information it may happen to

It is matter of curious inquiry to trace out how those
species of soft-billed birds, that continue with us the
winter through, subsist during the dead months. The
imbecility of birds seems not to be the only reason why
they shun the rigour of our winters ; for the robust wry-
neck (so much resembling the hardy race of wood-peckers)
migrates, while the feeble litlle golden-crowned wren, that
shadow of a bird, braves our severest frosts without avail-
ing himself of houses or villages, to which most of our
winter birds crowd in distressful seasons, while this keeps
aloof in fields and woods ; but perhaps this may be the
reason why they may often perish, and why they are
almost as rare as any bird we know.
I have no reason to doubt but that the soft-billed birds,
which winter with us, subsist chiefly on insects in their
aurclia state. All the species of wagtails in severe
weather haunt shallow streams near their spring-heads,
where they never freeze ; and, by w^ading, pick out the
aurelias of the genus oi PhrygamcB^ etc.
Hedge-sparrows frequent sinks and gutters in hard
weather, where they pick up crumbs and other sweep-
ings and in mild weather they procure worms, which

are stirring every month in the year, as anyone may see

that will only be at the trouble of taking a candle to a
grass-plot on any mild winter's night. Red-breasts and
wrens in the winter haunt out-houses, stables, and barns,
where they find spiders and flies that have laid them-
See Doiham's rhysico-theolo^}\ p. 235.
of Selborne 93
selves np during the cold season. But the grand support
of the soft-billed birds in winter is that infniite profusion
of mtrelifR of the lepidoptera ordo^ which is fastened to
the twigs of trees and their trunks; to (he p.ilos and
walls of gardens and buildings ; and is found in every
cranny and cleft of rock or rubbish, and even in the
ground itself.
Every species of titmouse winters with us they have

what I call a kind of intermediate bill between the hard

and the soft, between the Linn?ean genera of fringilla
and mofacilla. One species alone spends its whole time
in the woods and fields, never retreating for succour in
the severest seasons to houses and neighbourhoods ; and
that is the delicate long-tailed titmouse, which is almost
as minute as the golden-crowned wren but the blue tit-

mouse, or nun {j)arus cceruletfs), the cole-mouse {parus

aier)^ the great black-headed titmouse {frhigillago)^ and
the marsh titmouse {pants palustfis), all resort, at times,
to buildings and in hard weather particularly.
great titmouse, driven by stress of weather, much fre-
quents houses, and, in deep snows, I have seen this bird,
while it hung w'ith its back downwards (to my no small
delight and admiration), draw straw lengthwise from out
the eaves of thatched houses, in order to pull out the flies
that were concealed between them, and that in such num-
bers that they quite defaced the thatch, and gave it a
ragged appearance.
The blue titmouse, or nun, is a great frequenter of
houses, and a general devourer. Beside insects, it is
very fond of flesh ; for it frequently picks bones on dung-
hills :it is a vast admirer of suet, and haunts butchers'

shops. When a boy, I have known twenty in a morning

caught with snap mousetraps, baited with tallow or suet.
It will also pick holes in apples left on the ground, and
be well entertained with the seeds on the head of a sun-
flower. The blue, marsh, and great titmice will, in very
severe weather, carry away barley and oat straws from the
sides of ricks.
How the wheat-ear and whin-chat support themselves
in winter cannot be so easily ascertained, since they
94 The Natural History
spend their time on wild heaths and warrens j the
former especially, where there are stone quarries most :

probably it is that their maintenance arises from the

aurelice of the hpidopiera ordo, which furnish them with
a plentiful table in the wilderness.
I am, etc.


Selborae, March 9, 177$.

Dear Sir,
Some future faunist, a man of fortune, will, I hope,
extend his visits to the kingdom of Ireland ; a new field,
and a country little known to the naturalist. He will
not, it is to be wished, undertake that tour unaccom-
panied by a botanist, because the mountains have scarcely
been sufficiently examined ; and the southerly counties of
so mild an island may possibly afford some plants little
to be expected within the British dominions. A person
of a thinking turn of mind will draw many just remarks
from the modern improvements of that country, both in
arts and agriculture, where premiums obtained long before

they were heard of with us. The manners of the wild

natives, their superstitions, their prejudices, their sordid
way of life, will extort from him many useful reflections.
He should also take with him an able draughtsman ; for
he must by no means pass over the noble castles and
seats, the extensive and picturesque lakes and water-falls,
and the lofty stupendous mountains, so little known, and
so engaging to the imagination when described and
exhibited in a lively manner : such a work would be well
As I have seen no modern map of Scotland, I cannot
pretend to say how accurate or particular any such may
be ; but this I know, that the best old maps of that
kingdom are very defective.
"rhc great obvious defect that I have remarked in all
of vSelborne 95

maps of Scotland that have fallen in my way Is, a want of

a coloured line, or stroke, that shall exactly define the
just limits of that district called the Highlands. More-
over, all the great avenues to that mountainous and
romantic country want to be well distinguished. Tlie
formed by General Wade are so great and
military roads
Roman-like an undertaking that they well merit attention.
My old map, Moll's Map, takes notice of Fort William ;
but could not mention the other forts that have been
erected long since :therefore a good representation of
the chain of forts should not be omitted.
The celebrated zigzag up the Coryarich must not be
passed over. Moll takes notice of Hamilton and Drum-
lanrig, and such capital houses ; but a new survey, no
doubt, should represent every seat and castle remarkable
for any great event, or celebrated for its paintings, etc.
Lord Breadalbane's seat and beautiful policy are too
curious and extraordinary to be omitted.
The seat of the Earl of Eglintoun, near Glasgow, is
worthy of notice. The pine plantations of that nobleman
are very grand and extensive indeed.
I am, etc.

to thomas pennant, esquire
Dear Sir,
A pair of honey-buzzards, huieo a/>iro?-us, sire vespivusro
Raii^ built them a large shallow nest, composed of twigs
and lined with dead beechen leaves, upon a tall slender
beech near the middle of Selborne-hanger, in the summer
of 1 780. In the middle of the month of June a bold boy
climbed this tree, though standing on so steep and dizzy
a situation, and brought down an egg, the only one in the
nest, which had been sat on for some time, and con-
tained the embrio of a young bird. The egg was smaller,
and not so round as those of the common buzzard was ;
96 The Natural History-
dotted at each end with small red spots, and surrounded
in the middle with a broad bloody zone.
The hen-bird was shot, and answered exactly to Mr.
Ray's description of that species ; had a black cere, short
thick legs, and a long tail. ^Vhen on the wing this
species may be easily distinguished from the common
buzzard by its hawk-like appearance, small head, wings
not so blunt, and longer tail. This specimen contained
in its craw some limbs of frogs, and many grey snails
without shells. The irides of the eyes of this bird were
of a beautiful bright yellow colour.
About the tenth of July in the same summer a pair of
sparrow-hawks bred in an old crow's nest on a low beech
in the same hanger and as their brood, which was

numerous, began togrow up, became so daring and

ravenous, that they were a terror to all the dames in
the village that had chickens or ducklings under their
care. A boy climbed the tree, and found the young so
fledged that ihey all escaped from him but discovered

that a good house had been kept the larder was well-

stored with provisions ; for he brought down a young

blackbird, jay, and house martin, all clean picked, and
some half devoured. The old birds had been observed
to make sad havoc for some days among the new-flown
swallows and martins, which, being but lately out of
their nests, had not acquired those powers and command
of wing that enable them, when more mature, to set
such enemies at defiance.


Selborne, Nov. 30, 1780.

Dear Sir,
Every incident that occasions a renewal of our corres-
pondence will ever be pleasing and agreeable to me.
As to the wild wood -pigeon, the oenas^ or vifuigOy of
of Selborne 97
Ray, I am much
of your mind and see no reason for

making it the origin of the common liouse-dove but :

suppose those that have advanced that opinion may

have been misled by another ap[iellation, often given to
the oenas, which is that of stock-dove.
Unless the stock-dove in the winter varies greatly in
manners from itself in summer, no species seems more
unlikely to be domesticated, and to make an house-dove.
We very rarely see the latter settle on trees at ail, nor
does it ever haunt the woods ;
but the former, as long
as it from November perhaps to February,
stays with us,
lives the same wild life with the ring-dove, pah/mbus

foj'qtiatiis ; frequents coppices and groves, supports itself

chiefly by mast, and delights to roost in the tallest
beeches. Could it be known in what manner stock-
doves build, the doubt would be settled with me at once,
provided they construct their nests on trees, like the
ring-^dove, as I much suspect they do.
received, you say, Inst spring a stock dove from
Sussex; and are informed that they sometimes breed
in that county. But why did not your correspondent
determine the place of its nidification, whether on rocks,
cliffs, or trees? If he was not an adroit ornithologist I
should doubt the fact, because people with us perpetually
confound the stock-dove with the ring-dove.
For my own part, I readily concur with you in sup-
posing that house-doves are derived from the smnll blue
rock-pigeon, for many reasons. In the first place, the wild
stock-dove is manifestly larger than the common house-
dove, against the usual rule of domestication, which
generally enlarges the breed. Again, these two remark-
able black spots on the remiges of each wing of the
stock-dove, which are so characteristic of the species,
would not, one should think, be totally lost by its being
reclaimed but would often break out among its

descendants. But what is worth an hundred arguinents

is, the instance you give in Sir Roger Mostyn's
doves, in Caernarvonshire which, though tem[ited by

plenty of food and gentle treatment, can

never be
prevailed on to inhabit their cote for any time;
but as
98 The Natural History
soon as they begin to breed, betake themselves to the
fastnesses of Ormshead, and deposit their young in
safety amidst the inaccessible caverns and precipices of
that stupendous promontory.

"Naturiini expellas furca tainen usque recurret."

I have consulted a sportsman, now in his seventy-

eighth year, who tells me that fifty or sixty years back,

when the beechen woods were much more extensive
than at present, the number of wood-pigeons was aston-
ishing that he has often killed near twenty in a day ;

and that with a long wild-fowl piece he has shot seven or

eight at a time on the wing as they came wheeling over
his he moreover adds, which I was not aware of,
head :

that often therewere among them little parties of small

blue doves, which he calls rockiers. The food of these
numberless emigrants was beech-mast and some acorns;
and particularly barley, which they collected in the
stubbles. But of late years, since the vast increase of
turnips, that vegetable has furnished a great part of their
support in hard weather ; and the holes they pick in
these roots greatly damage the crop. From this food
their flesh has contracted a rancidness which occasions
them to be rejected by nicer judges of eating, who
thought them before a delicate dish. They were shot
not only as they were feeding in the fields, and especially
in snowy weather, but also at the close of the evening,

by men who lay in ambush among the woods and groves

to kill them as they came in to roost.^ These are the
principal circumstances relating to this wonderful internal
migration, which with us takes place towards the end of
November, and ceases early in the spring. Last winter
we had in Selborne high wood about an hundred of
these doves ;
but in former times the flocks were so vast
not only with us but all the district round, that on
mornings and evenings they traversed the air, like rooks,
in strings, reaching for a mile together. When they
Some old sportsmen say that the main part of these flocks used
to withdraw as soon as the heavy Cliristmas frosts were over.
of Selborne 99
thus rendezvous here by thousands, they happened to if

be suddenly roused from their roost-trees on an evening,

"Tlicir risin<]; all at once was like the sound
Of lliundcr heard remote". . .

It will by no means be foreign to the present purpose

to add, that I had a relation in this neighbourhood who
made it a practice for a time, whenever he could procure
the eggs of a ring-dove, to place them under a pair of
doves that were sitting in his own pigeon-house ; hoping
thereby, if he could bring about a coalition, to enlarge
his breed, and teach his own doves to beat out into the
woods and to support themselves by mast the plan :

was plausible, but something always interrupted the

success ;
for though the birds were usually hatched, and
sometimes grew to half their size, yet none ever arrived
at maturity. I myself have seen these foundlings in
their nest displaying a strange ferocity of nature, so as
scarcely to bear to be looked at, and snapping with their
bills by way of menace. In short, they always died,
perhaps for want of proper sustenance but the owner :

thought that by their fierce and wild demeanour they

frighted their foster-mothers, and so were starved.
Virgil, as a familiar occurrence, by way of simile,
describes a dove haunting the cavern of a rock in such
engaging numbers, that I cannot refrain from quoting the
passage and John Dry den has rendered it so happily

in our language, that without farther excuse I shall add

his translation also.

"Qnalis spelunca subit6 commota Columba,

Cui domus, et dulces latebroso in pumice nidi,
Fertur in arva volans, plausumque exterrita pennis

Dat tecto ingentem mox aere lapsa quieto,
Kadit iter liquidum, celeres neque commovet alas."
" As when a dove her
rocky hold forsakes,
Rous'd, in her fright her sounding wings she shakes ;

The cavern rings with clattering :— out slie Hies,

And leaves her callow care, and cleaves the skies :
At first she flutters —
but at length she springs

To smoother flight, and shoots upon her wings."

I am, etc.
loo The Natural History



Se borne, June
30, 1
Dear Sir,
When I was in town last month I partly engaged that
I would sometime do myself the honour to write to you
on the subject of natural history and I am the more :

ready to fulfil my promise, because I see you are a

gentleman of great candour, and one that will make
allowances especially where the writer professes to be

an out-door naturalist, one that takes his observations from

the subject itself, and not from the writings of others.

The following is a LIST of the Summer Birds of

Passage wJiich I have discovered i?t this neighbour-
hood^ ranged somewhat in the order in which they
I. Wry-neck, fynx^ sivc torqiiilla . The middle of March :

liarsh note.
Smallest J\egidus non cris- March 23 :
chirps till Sep-
willow-wren, tattis : tember.
3- Swallow, Hirundo doinesttca :
April 13.
4- Martin, Hirtindo rttstica : Ditto.
5- Sand-martin, Fliriindo riparia : Ditto.
6. Black-cap, Atricaptlla : Ditto : a sweet wild note.
7. Nightingale, Liiscinia : Beginning of April.
8. Cuckoo, Cuctiltis : Middle of April.
9. Middle I^eguhis non cris- Ditto : a sweet plaintive
willow-wren, tatiis : note.
10 White-throat, FicedulcB affuiis : Ditto : mean note ; sings
on till September.
11. Red-start, Kuiicilla Middle of April more :

agreeable song,
12. Stone Oedicncmus : End of March loud noc- ;

curlew, turnal whistle.

13 Turtle-dove, Tiirtiir :
14. Grasshopper- Alaiida miniijia Middle of April ; a small
lark, locustce voce : sibilous note, tillthe
end of Jul)',
15. Swift, Hiru7ido apKS : About April 27.
of Sclborne lOI
i6. Less recd- Passer arundinacais A sweet polyglot, but
sparrow, mijtor : hurrying : it has tiie
notes of many birds.
17- Land -rail, Ortygometia: A loudharsli noic, ciez,c)ex.
1 8. Largest Reguhts noil cris- Cantat voce stridnld latis-
willow-wren, tatus : ta ; end of April, on
the tops of high beeches.
19. Goat- sucker, Capri?7iulgus :
Beginning of Klay chat- ;

or fern-owl, ters by night with a

singular noise.
20. Fly-catcher, Stoparola .

May 12. A
very mute
bird :this is the latest
summer bird of passage.

This assemblage of curious and amusing birds belongs

to ten several genera of the Linncean system ;
and are all
of the ordo of passeres^ save the jynx and aiailus^ which
are piccB^ and the chai-adrius {pediaiejmis) and ralliis
{prtygoineird) which are gj'al/cB.
These birds, as they stand numerically, belong to the
following Linnaean genera :

1. Jynx : 13- Coliimha :

2, h 7,
6, % ^^^A MotaciUa: 17. Ralliis :
1 1, 16, 18.
3, 4, 5, 15. Hirtmdo: 19. Caprinnilgns :

8. Cncuhis : 14. A lauda:

12. Chai-adrius: 20. Muscicapa :
Most soft-billed birds live on insects, and not on grain
and seeds land therefore at the end of summer they

retire but the following soft-billed birds, though insect-


eaters, stay with us the year round :

Red -breast, Ruhecula : These frequent houses and ;

Wren, Passer troglodytes haunt outbuildings in

the winter ; eat spiders.
Hedge-sparrow, Curi'uca : Haunt sinks for crumbs
and other sweepings.
These frequent shallow
rivulets near the spring

White-wagtail, Motacilla alha : heads, where they never

Yellow-wagtail, Mot a<: ilia Jlaim: freeze eat the aurelije

Grey-wagtail, Alotacilla cinerca . of I'hryganea. The

smallest birds that
I02 The Natural History
Wheat-ear Ociianthe : Some of these are to be
seen with us the winter
Whin-chat Ooianthe seainda .

Stone-chatter, Ocnanthe tcrtia :

Golden-crowned Kei^ulus cj-isiatus . This the smallest Brit-

wren, ish bird haunts the tops


of tall trees ; stays the

winter through.

A LIST of the Winter Birds of Passage round this

neighbourhood^ ranged somezuhat in the order in which
they appear :

I. Ring-ousel, Mcrulatorquata :

2. Redwing, Tiirdits iliactis :

3. Fieldfare, Till das pilaris :

4. Royston- Comix cinerea :

5. Wood-cock, Scotop ax :

6. Snipe, Gallinago viinor :

7. Jack-snipe Gallinago minima .

8. Wood-pigeon, Oenas :

of Se]borne 103
These birds, as they stand numerically, belong to the
following Linnoean genera :

T, 2, 3. Tnrdus: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14.

4 Coi-ims :
15, 16.
5, 6, 7. Sco/ofax 17.
S. Columba :
I04 The Natural History
what in the order in which they first begin to open as the
spring advances.

I. Woodlark, Alaiida arborea : In January, and continues
to sing through all the
summer and autumn.
2. Song-thrush, Turdiis simpliciter In February and on to
diet us : August, reassume their
song in autumn.
3. Wren, Passer b-oglodytes : All the year, hard frost
4. Red-breast, Rubecula : Ditto.
5. Hedge- Curruca : Early in February to July
sparrow, the loth.
6. Yellowham- Eniberizajlava :
Early in February, and on
mer, through July to August
the 2lst.
7. Skylark, Alauda vulgaris : In February, and on to
8. Swallow, Hirundo domestica: From April to September.
9. Black-cap, Atricapilla :
Beginning of April to July
10. Titlark, Alatida pratorum : From middle of April to
July the l6th.
11. Blackbird, Iile)'ula vulgaris : Sometimes in February
and March, and so on
to July the twenty-third ;

reassumes in autumn.
12. White-throat, Ficedula affinis : In April and on to July

13. Goldfinch, Carduclis : April and through to Sep-

tember 16.

14, Greenfinch, Chloris : to July and August 2.


15, Less reed- Passer arundina- May, on to beginning of

sparrow, ceus tniiior :
16, Common Linaria vulgaris , Breeds and whistles on till
linnet, August reassumes its

note when they begin to

congregate in October,
and again early before
the flock separate.

Birds that cease to be in full song, and are usually

silent at or before Midsummer :

17. Middle Regulus non cris- Middle of June :

begins in
willow-wren, tatus :
of Selhonie 105
iS. Red-start, Kiiiicilla : Middle of June begins in :

19. ChalTinch, Fiingilla: Beginning of June: sings
first in February.
20. Nightingale, Luscinia : Middle of June :
sings first
in April.

Birds that sing for a short time, and very early in the
spring :

21. Missel-bird, Ttirdus viscivoriis :

January the 2nd, 1770, in
February. Is called in
liampshire and Sussex
the storm-cock, because
its song is supposed to
forebode windy wet wea-
ther : is the largest sing-
ing bird we have.
22. Great Fringillago : In February, March,
titmouse, April reassumes for a

or ox-eye. short time in September.

Birds that have somewhat of a note or song, and yet

are hardly to be called singing birds :

23. Golden- Reg7tli(s cristattis Its note as minute as its

crowned person ; frequents the

wren, tops of high oaks and
firs ;
the smallest JJritish

24. Marsh Partis pahistris : Haunts great woods ;

titmouse, harsh sharp notes.
25. Small Regtihis nan cris Sings in March and on to
willow-wren, tains: September.
26. Largest ditto, Diito: Cantat voce siriditlA lo-
ctistcB : from end of April
to August.
27. Grasshopper- Alauda minima voce Chirps all night, from the
lark, locuslci : middle of April to the
end of July.
28. Martin, Hirundo agrestis . All the breeding time ;

from May to September.

29. Bullfinch, Pyrrhula :
30. Bunting, Emberiza alba: From the end of January
to July.

All singing birds, and those that have any pretensions

io6 The Natural History
to song, not only in Britain, but perhaps the world through,
come under the Linnaean ordo of passeres.
The above-mentioned birds, as they stand numerically,
belong to the following Linnaean genera.
1, 7, 10, 27. Alauda :
8, 28 Hirtmdo :

2, II, 21. Tardus : I3i 16, 19. Fringilla:

3, 4, 5, 9, 12, 15.
\ Motacilla :
22, 24. Parus :

17, 18, 20, 23, 25, 26.

6, 30. Emberiza : 14, 29. Loxia .

Birds that sing as they fly are but few :


of Selborne 107
in Ascension -island, and many other desolate places,
mariners have found fowls so unacquainted with an human
figure, that they would stand still to be taken as is the ;

case with boobies, etc. As an example of what is ad-

vanced, I remark that the golden-crested wren (the
smallest British bird) will stand unconcerned till you
come within three or four yards of it, while the bustard
the largest British land fowl, does not care to
admit a person within so many furlongs.
I am, etc.



Selborne, Jan. 15, 1770.

Dear Sir,
It was no small matter of satisfaction to me to find that

you were not displeased with my little methodus of birds.

If there was any merit in the sketch, it must be owing to
its punctuality. For many months I carried a list in my
pocket of the birds that were to be remarked, and, as I
rode or walked about my business, I noted each day the
continuance or omission of each bird's song ;
so that I am
as sure of the certainty of my facts as a man can be of any
transaction whatsoever.
I shall now proceed to answer the several queries which

you put in your two obliging letters, in the best manner

that I am able. Perhaps Eastwick, and its environs,
where you heard so very few birds, is not a woodland
country, and therefore not stocked with such songsters.
If you will cast your eye on my last letter, you will find
that many species continued to warble after the be-
ginning of July.
The titlark and yellowhammer breed late, the latter
very late ;
and therefore it is no wonder that they protract
their song ; for I lay it down as a maxim in ornithology,
that as long as there is any incubation going on there is
music. As to the red-breast and wren, it is well known
io8 The Natural History
to the most incurious observer that they whistle the year
round, hard frost excepted especially the latter.

It was not in my power to [)rocure you a

black-cap, or
a less reed-sparrow, or sedge-bird, alive. As the first is
undoubtedly, and the last, as far as I can yet see, a
summer of passage, they would require more nice
and curious management in a cage than I should be able
to give them ; they are both distinguished songsters.
The note of the former has such a wild sweetness that it
always brings to my mind those lines in a song in
"As You Like It,"

"And tune his merry note

Unto tlie K//A/ bird's throat." — .SllAKESTEARE.
The latter has a surprising variety of notes resembling
the song of several other birds ; but then it also has an
hurrying manner, not at all to its advantage ; it is not-
withstanding a delicate polyglot.
It is new to me that titlarks in cages sing in the night ;

perhaps only caged birds do so. I once knew a tame

red-breast in a cage that always sang as long as candles
were in the room but in their wild state no one supposes

they sing in the night.

I should be almost ready to doubt the fact, that there
are to be seen much fewer birds in July than in any
former month, notwithstanding so many young are
hatched daily. Sure I am that it is far otherwise with
respect to the swallow tribe, which increases prodigiously
as the summer advances and I saw, at the time men-

tioned, many hundreds of young wagtails on the banks of

the Cherwell, which almost covered the meadows. If
the matter appears as you say in the other species, may
it not be
owing to the dams being engaged in incubation,
while the j'oung are concealed by the leaves ?
Many times have I had the curiosity to open the
stomachs of woodcocks and snipes ; but nothing ever
occurred that helped to explain to me what their sub-
sistence might be all that I could ever find was a soft

mucus, among which lay many pellucid small gravels.

I am, etc.
of Selborne 109


Selborne, Feb. 19, 1770.

Dear Sir,
Your observation the cuckoo does not deposit its
egg indiscriminately in the nest of the first bird that
comes in its way, but probably looks out a nurse in some
degree congenerous, with whom to intrust its young," is
perfectly new to me ; and struck me so forcibly, that I
naturally fell into a train of thought that led me to con-
sider whether the fact was so, and what reason there was
for it. When I came to recollect and inquire, I could
not find that any cuckoo had ever been seen in these
parts, except in the nest of the wagtail, the hedge-
sparrow, the titlark, the white-throat, and the red-breast,
all soft-billed insectivorous birds. The excellent Mr.
Willughby mentions the nest of the palu77tlms (ring-dove),
and of the fi'ifigil/a (chaffinch), birds that subsist on
acorns and grains, and such hard food but then he does

not mention them as of his own knowledge but says ;

afterwards that he saw himself a wagtail feeding a

cuckoo. It appears hardly possible that a soft-billed
bird should subsist on the same food with the hard-
billed for the former have thin membranaceous stomachs

suited to their soft food ; while the latter, the granivorous

tribe, have strong muscular gizzards, which, like mills,
grind, by the help of small gravels and pebbles, what is
swallowed. This proceeding of the cuckoo, of dro[)ping
its eggs as it were by chance, is such a monstrous outrage

on maternal affection, one of the first great dictates of

nature and such a violence on instinct
; that, had it

only been related of a bird in the Brazils, or Peru, it

would never have merited our belief. But yet, should it
farther appear that this simple bird, when divested of
seems to raise the kind in general
that natural a-ropyr) that
above themselves, and inspire them with extraordinary
no The Natural History
degrees of cunning and address, may be still endued
with a more enlarged faculty of discerning what species
are suitable and congenerous nursing-mothers for its disre-
garded eggs and young, and may deposit them only under
their care, this would be adding wonder to wonder, and
instancing in a fresh manner that the methods of Provi-
dence are not subjected to any mode or rule, but
astonish us in new lights, and in various and changeable
What was said by a very ancient and sublime writer
concerning the defect of natural affection in the ostrich,
may be well applied to the bird we are talking of :

She is hardened agai?ist her young ones^ as though
they were not hers :
Because God hath deprived her of wisdo?n, neither
hath he iinparted to her understanding,^^ ^

Does each female cuckoo lay but one egg in
a season, or does she drop several in different nests
-according as opportunity offers ?
I am, etc.


Selborne, April 12, 1770

Dear Sir,
I heard many birds of several species sing last year
itfter Midsummer enough to prove that the summer

solstice not the period that puts a stop to the music of


the woods. The yellowhammer no doubt persists with

more steadiness than any other ; but the woodlark, the
wren, the red-breast, the swallow, the white-throat, the
goldhnch, the common linnet, are all undoubted instances
of the truth of what I advance.
If this severe season does not interrupt the regularity
of the summer migrations, the black-cap will be here in
Job xxxix. 16, 17.
of Selborne 1 1 1

two or three days. I wish it was in my power to procure

you one of those songsters ; but I am no birdcatcher ;
and so little used to birds in a cage, that I fear if I had
one it would soon die for want of skill in feeding.
Was your reed-sparrow, which you kept in a cage, the
thick-billed reed-sparrow of the Zoology, p. 320; or was
it the less
reed-sparrow of Ray, the sedge-bird of Mr.
Pennant's last publication, p. 16?
As to the matter of long-billed birds growing fatter in
moderate frosts, I have no doubt within myself what
should be the reason. The thriving at those times
appears to me to arise altogether from the gentle check
which the cold throws upon insensible perspiration. The
case is just the same with blackbirds, etc. and farmers ;

and warreners observe, the first, that their hogs fat more
kindly at such times, and the latter that the rabbits are
never in such good case as in a gentle frost. But when
frosts are severe, and of long continuance, the case is
soon altered ; for then a want of food soon overbalances
the repletion occasioned by a checked perspiration. I
have observed, moreover, that some human constitutions
are more inclined to plumpness in winter than in
When birds come to suffer by severe frost, I find that
the first that fail and die are the redwing-fieldfares, and
then the song-thrushes.
You wonder, with good reason, that the hedge-sparrows,
etc., can be induced to sit at all on the egg of the cuckoo
without being scandalised at the vast disproportioned size
of the supposititious egg ; but the brute creation, I sup-
pose, have very little idea of size, colour, or number.
For the common hen, I know, when the fury of incubation
is on her, will sit on a single shapeless stone instead of a

nest full of eggs that have been withdrawn :

and, more-
over, a hen-turkey, in the same circumstances, would sit

on in the empty nest till she perished with hunger.

I think the matter might easily be determined whether
a cuckoo lays one or two eggs, or more, in a season, by
opening a female during the laying-time. If more than
one was come down out of the ovary, and advanced to a
112 The Natural History
good size, doubtless then she would that spring lay more
than one.
I will endeavour to get a hen, and to examine.
Your supposition there may be some natural
obstruction in singing birds while they are mute, and
that when this is removed the song recommences is new
and bold ;
I wish you could discover some good grounds
for this suspicion.
I was glad you were pleased with my specimen of the
or fern-owl
capriniul^iis^ ; you were, I find, acquainted
with the bird before.
"When we meet, I shall be glad to have some con-
versation with you concerning the proposal you make
of my drawing up an account of the animals in this
neighbourhood. Your partiality towards my small abilities
persuades you, I fear, that I am able to do more than is
in my power : for it is no small undertaking for a man
unsupported and alone to begin a natural history from
his own autopsia Though there is endless room for

observation in the field of nature, which is boundless,

yet investigation (where a man endeavours to be sure of
his facts) can make but slow progress and all that one ;

could collect in many years would go into a very narrow

Some extracts from your ingenious " Investigations of
the difference between the present temperature of the air
in Italy," eic, have fallen in my way; and gave me great
satisfaction they have removed the objections that

always rose in my mind whenever I came to the passages

which you quote. Surely the judicious Virgil, when
writing a didactic poem for the region of Italy, could
never think of describing freezing rivers, unless such
severity of weather pretty frequently occurred !

P.S. Swallows appear amidst snows and frost.

of Selborne 1


Selborne, May 21, 1770.

Dear Sir,
The severity and turbulence of last month so inter-
rupted the regular progress of summer migration, that
some of the birds do but just begin to show themselves,
and others are apparently thinner than usual as the ;

white-throat, the black-cap, the red-start, the fly-catcher.

I well remember that after the very severe
spring in the
year 1739-40 summer birds of passage were very scarce.
They come probably hither with a south-east wind, or
when it blows between those points but in that unfavour-

able year the winds blowed the whole spring and summer
through from the opposite quarters. And yet amidst all
these disadvantages two swallows, as I mentioned in my
last, appeared this year as early as the eleventh of April
amidst frost and snow; but they withdrew again for a
I am not pleased to find that some people seem so
little new publication ^ there is
satisfied with Scopoli's ;

room to expect great things from the hands of that man,

who is a good naturalist and one would think that an

history of the birds of so distant and southern a region as

Carniola would be new and interesting. I could wish to
see that work, and hope to get it sent down. Dr. Scopoli
is physician to the wretches that work in the quicksilver
mines of that district.
When you talked of keeping a reed-sparrow, and giving
it seeds, I could not help wondering ; because the reed-

sparrow which I mentioned to you (passer arundinaceus

minor Rail) is a soft-billed bird and most probably

migrates hence before winter ; whereas the bird you kept

{passer torquatus Raii) abides all the year, and is a thick-
This work he calls his Annus Primus Historico-Noturalis.
114 The Natural History
billed bird. I question whether the latter be much of a
songster; but in this matter I want to be better informed.
The former has a variety of hurrying notes, and sings all
night. Some part of the song of the former, I suspect, is
attributed to the latter. We
have plenty of the soft-
billed sort which Mr. Pennant had entirely left out of

his British Zoolo^y^ till I reminded him of his omission.

See British Zoology last published, p. 16.^
I have somewhat to advance on the different manners
in which different birds fly and walk; but as this is a

subject that I have not enough considered, and is of such

a nature as not to be contained in a small space, I shall
say nothing farther about it at present.^
No doubt the reason why the sex of birds in their first
plumage is so difficult to be distinguished is, as you say,
because they are not to pair and discharge their parental
functions till the ensuing spring." As colours seem to
be the chief external sexual distinction in many birds,
these colours do not take place till sexual attachments
begin to obtain. And the case is the same in quadrupeds ;
among whom, in their younger days, the sexes differ but
little but, as they advance to maturity, horns and

shaggy manes, beards and brawny necks, etc., etc., strongly

discriminate the male from the female. We may instance
still farther in our own species, where a beard and
stronger features are usually characteristic of the male
sex :but this sexual diversity does not take place in
earlier life for a beautiful youth shall be so like a

beautiful girl that the difference shall not be discernible :

Qnem si puellaium insereres choro,
Mire sagaces falleret hospites
Discrimen obscurum, solutis
Crinibus, ambiguoque vultu."
— HoR.

See Letter xxv. to Mr. Pennant.
See Letter xlii. to Mr. Barringtoii.
of Selborne 1



Ringmer, near Lewes, Oct 8, 1770.
Dear Sir,
I am glad to hear that Kuckalm is to furnish you with
the birds of Jamaica ; a sight of the hinmdi7ies of that
hot and distant island would be great entertainment to
The Anni of Scopoli are now in my possession ;
and I
have read the Amuts Priinus with satisfaction : for thougii
some parts of this work are exceptionable, and he may
advance some mistaken observations ; yet
the ornithology
of so distant a country as Carniola is very curious. Men
that undertake only one district are much more likely to
advance natural knowledge than those that grasp at more
than they can possibly be acquainted with every :

kingdom, every province, should have its own mono-

The reason perhaps why he mentions nothing of Ray's
Ornithology may be the extreme poverty and distance of
his country, into which the works of our great naturalist

may have never yet found their way. You have doubts,
I know, whether this Ornithology is genuine, and really

the work of Scopoli as to myself, I think I discover


strong tokens of authenticity ;

the style corresponds with
that of his Entomology ; and his characters of his
Ordines and Genera are many of them new, expressive,
and masterly. He has ventured to alter some of the
Linnsean genera with sufficient show of reason.
It might perhaps be mere accident that you saw so

many swifts and no swallows at Staines ; because, in my

long observation of those birds, I never could discover
the least degree of rivalry or hostility between the
Ray remarks that birds of the gallina; order, as cocks
and hens, partridges,and pheasants, etc., are pulveratiices
ii6 The Natural History
such as dust themselves, using that method of cleansing
their feathers, and ridding themselves of their vermin.
As far as I can observe, many birds that dust themselves
never wash and I once thought that those birds that

wash themselves would never dust ; but here I find

myself mistaken for common house-sparrows are great

pulveratrices, being frequently seen grovelling and

wallowing in dusty roads ; and yet they are great washers.
Does not the skylark dust ?

Might not Mahomet and his followers take
one method of purification from these pulveratrices ?
because I find from travellers of credit, that if a strict
mussulman is journeying in a sandy desert where no
water is to be found, at stated hours he strips off his
clothes, and most scrupulously rubs his body over with
sand or dust.
A countryman told me he had found a young fern-owl
in the nest of a small bird on the ground and that it ;

was fed by the little bird. I went to see this extra-

ordinary phenomenon, and found that it was a young
cuckoo hatched in the nest of a titlark ; it was become
vastly too big for its nest, appearing
. . in tenui re
Islajores pennas nido extendisse .

and was very fierce and pugnacious, pursuing my finger,

as I teased it, for many feet from the nest- and sparring
and buffeting with its wings like a game-cock. The dupe
of a dam appeared at a distance, hovering about with
meat in its mouth, and expressing the greatest solicitude.
In July I saw several cuckoos skimming over a large
pond and found, after some observation, that they were

feeding on the libeiiulie, or dragon-flies ; some of which

they caught as they settled on the weeds, and some as
they were on the wing. Notwithstanding what Linnaeus
says, I cannot be induced to believe that they are birds
of prey
'Ihis district affords some birds that are hardly ever
heard of at Selborne. In the first place considerable
flocks of cross-beaks {ioxice cio'virostrcd) have appeared
of Selborne 1
this summer
in the pine-groves belonging to this house ;
the water-ousel is said to haunt the mouth of the Lewes
near Newhaven and the Cornish chough builds, I
river, ;

know, all along the chalky cliffs of the vSussex shore.

I was greatly pleased to see little parties of ring-ousels

(my newly-discovered migrators) scattered, at intervals, all

along the Sussex Downs from Chichester to Lewes. Let
them come from whence they will, it looks very suspicious
that they are cantoned along the coast in order to pass
the channel when severe weather advances. They visit
us again in April, as it should seem, in their return ; and
are not to be found in the dead of winter. It is remark-
able that they are very tame, and seem to have no
manner of apprehensions of danger from a person with
a gun. There are bustards on the wide downs near
Brighthelmstone. No doubt you are acquainted with the
Sussex-downs the prospects and rides round Lewes are

most lovely !

As I rode along near the coast I kept a very sharp

look-out in the lanes and woods, hoping I might, at this
time of the year, have discovered some of the summer
short-winged birds of passage crowding towards the coast
in order for their departure but it was very extraordinary

that I never saw a red-start, white-throat, black-cap,

uncrested wren, fly-catcher, etc. And I remember to
have made the same remark in former years, as I usually
come about this time. The birds
to this place annually
most common along the coast at present are the stone-
chatters, whin-chats, buntings, linnets, some few wheat-
ears, titlarks, etc. Swallows and house-martins abound
yet, induced to prolong their stay by this soft, still,

dry season.
A which has been kept for thirty years in
a walled court belonging to the house where I now
am visiting, retires under ground about the middle of
November, and comes forth again about the middle of
April. When it first appears in the spring it discovers
very little inclination towards food ; but in the height
of summer grows voracious: and then as the summer
declines its appetite declines ;
so that for the last six
ii8 The Natural History
weeks in autumn it hardly eats at all. Milky plants,
such as lettuces, dandelions, sowthistles, are its favourite
dish. In a neighbouring village one was kept till by
tradition it was supposed to be an hundred years old.
An instance of vast longevity in such a poor reptile !



Selborne, Dec. 20, 1770.

Dear Sir,
The birds that I took for ahcrdavines were reed-sparrows
{passe res torqiuiti).
There are doubtless many home internal migrations
within this kingdom that want to be better understood :

witness those vast flocks of hen chaffinches that appear

with us in the winter without hardly any cocks among
them. Now was there a due proportion of each sex, it
should seem very improbable that any one district should
produce such numbers of these little birds ; and much
more when only one half of the species appears there- :

fore we may conclude that the fringillce aelebes^ for some

good purposes, have a peculiar migration of their own in
which the sexes part. Nor should it seem so wonderful
that the intercourse of sexes in this species of birds
should be interrupted in winter ; since in many animals,
and particularly in bucks and does, the sexes herd sepa-
rately, except at the season when commerce is necessary
for the continuance of the breed. For this matter of the
chaffinches see Fauna Suecica, p. 85, and Sy sterna NatiircB,
p. 318. I see every winter vast flights of hen chaffinches,
but none of cocks.
Your method of accounting for the periodical motions
of the British singing birds, or birds of flight, is a very
probable one ; since the matter of food is a great regulator
of the actions and proceedings of the brute creation :

there is but one that can be set in competition with it,

of Selborne 1
and that is love. But I cannot quite acquiesce with you
in one circumstance when you advance that, "when they
have thus feasted, they again separate into small parties
of five or six, and get the best fare they can within a
certain district, having no inducement to go in quest of
fresh-turned earth." Now if you mean that the business
of congregating quite at an end from the conclusion of

wheat-sowing to the season of barley and oats, it is not

the case with us ; for larks and chaffinches, and particu-
larly linnets, flock and congregate as much in the very
dead of winter as when the husbandman is busy with his
ploughs and harrows.
Sure there can be no doubt but that woodcocks and
fieldfares leave us in the spring, in order to cross the
seas, and to retire to some districts more suitable to the
purpose of breeding. That the former pair before they
retire, and that the hens are forward with egg, I myself,
when 1 was a sportsman, have often experienced. It
cannot indeed be denied but that now and then we hear
of a woodcock's nest, or young birds, discovered in some
part or other of this island but then they are always

mentioned as rarities, and somewhat out of the common

course of things : but as to redwings and fieldfares, no
sportsman or naturalist has ever yet, that I could hear,
pretended to have found the nest or young of those
species in any part of these kingdoms. And I the more
admire at this instance as extraordinary, since, to all
appearance, the same food in summer as well as in
winter might support them here which maintains their
congeners, the blackbirds and thrushes, did they choose
to stay the summer through. From hence it appears
that it is not food alone which determines some species
of birds with regard to their stay or departure. Field-
fares and redwings disappear sooner or later according as
the warm weather comes on earlier or later. For I well
remember, after that dreadful winter of 1739-40, that
cold north-eastwinds continued to blow on through
Apriland May, and that these kinds of birds (what few
remained of them) did not depart as usual, but were
seen lingering about till the beginning of June.
I20 The Natural History
Thebest authority that we can have for the nidification
of thebirds above-mentioned in any district, is the
testimony of faunists that have written professedly the
natural history of particular countries. Now, as to the
fieldfare, Linnceus, in his Fauna Suecica, says of it that
jnaximis in arboribus 7iidificat^^ ; and of the redwing
he says, in the same place, that "' nidificat in meJiis
arbiiscu/iSj sive sepibus : ova sex cceruleo-viridia macuUs
jiip-is variis.^^ Hence we may be assured that field-
fares and redwings breed Sweden. in
Scopoli says,
in his A?inus Primus^ of the woodcock, that
ad iios ve7iit circa csquinoctiiim ver?iale meaning in .*

Tirol, of which he is a native. And afterwards he adds


nidificat in paludibus alpinis : ova ponit^ 3 5." It —

does not appear from Kramer that woodcocks breed at
all in Austria but he says *' Avis hctc septentrionalium

provinciarum cestivo iempore ificola est ; ubi pleru7nqu&

nidificat. Appropifupiatite hyeme aiistraliores provincias

petit : hinc circa pleniluniiitn i)ie7isis Octobris plermnque
Austria77i tra7isi/iigrat. Time rurstis circa ple7\iluniu7n
potissi77m77i ?/ie7isis Martii per Austria7n 7/icidrii7io7uo

jimcta ad provincias redit.'^

septentrio7iaIes For the
whole passage (which I have abridged) see ^letichus^
etc., p. 351. This seems to be a full proof of the
migration of woodcocks ; though little is proved con-
cerning the place of breeding.
P.S. There fell in the county of Rutland, in three
weeks of this present very wet weather, seven inches and
an half of rain, which is more than has fallen in any
three weeks for these thirty years past in that part of the
world. A mean quantity in that county for one year is
twenty inches and an half.
of Selborne 121


Fyfield, near Andover, Feb. 12. 1771.

Dear Sir,
You are, I know, no great friend to
migration ; and the
well attested accounts from various parts of the
seem to justify you in your suspicions, that at least
of the swallow kind do not leave us in the winter, but
lay themselves up like insects and bats, in a torpid state,
to slumber away the more uncomfortable months till the
return of the sun and fine weather awakens them.
But then we must not, I think, deny migration in
general; because migration certainly does subsist in some
places, as my brother in Andalusia has fully informed
me. Of the motions of these birds he has ocular demon-
stration for many weeks together, both spring and fall :

during which periods myriads of the swallow kind traverse

the Straits from north to south, and from south to north,
according to the season. And these vast migrations
consist not only of kifundines but of bee-birds, hoopoes,
oro peiidolos or golden thrushes, etc., etc., and also many
of our soft-billed summer-birds of passage ; and moreover
of birds which never leave us, such as all the various
sorts of hawks and kites. Old Belon, two hundred years
ago, gives a curious account of the incredible armies of
hawks and kites which he saw in the spring-time traversing
the Thracian Bosphorus from Asia to Europe. Besides
the above-mentioned, he remarks that the procession is
swelled by whole troops of eagles and vultures.
Now it is no wonder that birds residing in Africa
should retreat before the sun as it advances, and retire
to milder regions, and especially birds of prey, whose
blood being heated with hot animal food, are more
impatient of a sultry climate but then I cannot help

wondering why kites and hawks, and such hardy birds as

are known to defy all the severity of England, and even
122 The Natural History
of Sweden and all north Europe, should want to migrate
from the south of Europe, and be dissatisfied with the
winters of Andalusia.
It does not appear to me that much stress may be laid
on the difficulty and hazard that birds must run in their
migrations, by reason of vast oceans, cross winds, etc. ;
because, if we reflect, a bird may travel from England to
the equator without launching out and exposing itself to
boundless seas, and that by crossing the water at Dover,
and again at Gibraltar. And I with the more confidence
advance this obvious remark, because my brother has
always found that some of his birds, and particularly the
swallow kind, are very sparing of their pains in crossing
the INfcdilcrrancan for when arrived at Gibraltar, they

do not
..." rang'd in figure wedge their way,
.... and set forth
Their airy caravan high over seas
Flying, and over lands with mutual wing
Easing their flight." Milton.
. . .

but scout and hurry along in little detached parties of six
or seven in a company and sweeping low, just over the

surface of the land and water, direct their course to the

opposite continent at the narrowest passage they can
find. They usually slope across the bay to the south-
west, and so pass over opposite to Tangier, which, it
seems, is the narrowest space.
In former letterswe have considered whether it was
probable that woodcocks in moon-shiny nights cross the
German ocean from Scandinavia. As a proof that birds
of less speed may pass that sea, considerable as it is, I
shall relate the following incident, which, though men-
tioned to have happened so many years ago, was strictly
matter of fact :

As some people were shooting in the
parish of Trotton, in the county of Sussex, they killed a
duck in that dreadful winter 1708-9, with a silver collar
about its neck,^ on which were engraven the arms of the
king of Denmark. This anecdote the rector of Trotton
at that time has often told to a near relation of mine ;
I have read a like anecdote of a swan.
of Selborne 123
and, to the best of my remembrance, the collar was in
the possession of the rector.
At present I do not know anybody near the sea-side
that will take the trouble to remark at what time of the
moon woodcocks first come if I lived near the sea

myself I would soon tell you more of the matter. One

thing I used to observe when I was a sportsman, that
there were times in which woodcocks were so sluggish
and sleepy that they would drop again when flushed just
before the spaniels, nay just at the muzzle of a gun that
had been fired at them whether this strange laziness

was the effect of a recent fatiguing journey I shall not

presume to say.
Nightingales not only never reach Northumberland
and Scotland, but also, as I have been always told,
Devonshire and Cornwall. In those two last counties
we cannot attribute the failure of them to the want of
warmth the defect in the west is rather a presumptive

argument that these birds come over to us from the

continent at the narrowest passage, and do not stroll so
far westward.
Let me hear from your own observation whether sky-
larks do not dust. I think they do and if they do,

whether they wash also.

The alaiida prafe?isis of Ray was the poor dupe that
was educating the booby of a cuckoo mentioned in my
letter of October last.
Your letter came too late for me to procure a ring-
ousel for Mr. Tunstal during tlieir autumnal visit but I ;

will endeavour to get him one when they call on us

again in April. I am
glad that you and that gentleman
saw my I hope they answered your
Andalusian birds

expectation. Royston, or grey crows, are winter birds

that come much about the same time with the wood-
cock :
they, like the fieldfare and redwing, have no
apparent reason for migration ; for as they fare in the
winter like their congeners, so might they in all appear-
ance in the summer. Was not Tenant, when a boy,
mistaken ? did he not find a missel-thrush's nest, and
take it for the nest of a fieldfare ?
124 ^^he Natural History
The stock-dove, or wood-pigeon, oenas Rail^ is the last
winter bird of passage which appears with us ; and is not
seen till towards the end of November about twenty

years ago they abounded in the district of Selborne;

and strings of them were seen morning and evening that
reached a mile or more but since the beechen woods

have been greatly thinned they are much decreased in

number. The ring-dove, palimibics Raii^ stays with us
the whole year, and breeds several times through the
Before I received your letter of October last I had just
remarked in my journal that the trees were unusually
green. This unconmion verdure lasted on late into
November ; and may be accounted for from a late
spring, a cool and moist summer ; but more particularly
from vast armies of chafers, or tree beetles, which, in
many places, reduced whole woods to a leafless naked
state. These trees shot again at Midsummer, and then
retained their foliage till
very late in the year.
My musical friend, at whose house I am now visiting,
has tried all the owls that are his near neighbours with a
pitch-pipe set at concert-pitch, and finds they all hoot in
B flat. He will examine the nightingales next spring.
1 am, etc., etc.

Selborne, Aug. i, 1
77 1.
Dear Sir,
From what follows, appear that neither owls nor
it will
cuckoos keep to A friend remarks that many
one note.
(most) of his owls hoot in B flat but that one went

almost half a note below A. The pipe he tried their

notes by was a common half-crown pitch-pipe, such as
masters use for tuning of harpsichords ; it was the
common London pitch.
A neighbour of mine, who is said to have a nice ear,
of Selborne 125
remarks that the owls about this village hoot in three
different keys, in G flat, or F sharp, in B flat and A
flat. He heard two hooting to each other, the One in
A flat, and the other in B flat. Query : Do these dif-
ferent notes proceed from different species, or only from
various individuals ? The same person finds upon trial
that the note of the cuckoo (of which we have but one
species) varies in different individuals ; for, about
Selborne wood, he found they were mostly in D he :

heard two sing together, the one in D, the other in D

sharp, who made a disagreeable concert he afterwards :

heard one in D sharp, and about Wolmer-forest some

in C. As to nightingales, he says that their notes are so
short, and their transitions so rapid, that he cannot well
ascertain their key. Perhaps in a cage, and in a room,
their notes may be more distinguishable. This person
has tried to settle the notes of a swift, and of several
other small birds, but cannot bring them to any
As I have often remarked that redwings are some of
the first birds that suffer with us in severe weather, it is

no wonder at all that they retreat from Scandinavian

winters and much more the ordo o^ grallce, who, all to a

bird, forsake the northern parts of Europe at the approach

of winter. Gra/lce tanqttam conjitratcz vnanimitej- in
Jiigavi se ; ne earmn unicafii quidcfn inter nos
habitante77i inve7iire possiuuis ; ut enim cestafe in austra-
libus degere 7ieque.iint ob defectiun hinihricorum^ terramqjte
siccain ; ita nee iji frigidis ob eandem ca74sam,^' says
Eckmarck the Swede, in his ingenious little treatise called
Migraiiones Avium, which by all means you ought to
read while your thoughts run on the subject of migration.
See Amesnifates Academicee, vol 4, p. 565.
Birds may be so circumstanced as to be obliged to
migrate in one country and not in another but the :

grallm (which procure their food from marshes and boggy

grounds) must in winter forsake the more northerly parts
of Europe, or perish for want of food.
I am glad you are making inquiries from Linnaeus
concerning the woodcock it is expected of him that he
126 The Natural History
should be able to account for the motions and manner of
life of the animals of his own Fawia.

Faunists, as you observe, are too apt to acquiesce in

bare descriptions, and a few synonyms the reason is

plain j because all that may be done at home in a man's

study, but the investigation of the life and conversation
of animals, is a concern of much more trouble and
difficuhy, and is not to be attained but by the active
and inquisitive, and by those that reside much in the
Foreign systematics are, I observe, much too vague in
their specific differences ;
which are almost universally
constituted by one or two particular marks, the rest of
the description running in general terms. But our
countryman, the excellent Mr. Ray, is the only describer
that conveys some precise idea in every term or word,
maintaining his superiority over his followers and
imitators in spite of the advantage of fresh discoveries
and modern information.
At this distance of years it is not in my power to
recollect at what periods woodcocks used to be sluggish
or alert whenI was a sportsman but, upon my mention-

ing this circumstance to a friend, he thinks he has

observed them to be remarkably listless against snowy
foul weather :if this should be the case, then the inapti-

tude for flying arises only from an eagerness for food ; as

sheep are observed to be very intent on grazing against
stormy wet evenings.
I am, etc., etc.

Selborne, Feb. 8, 1772.
Dear Sir,
When I ride about in the winter, and see such prodigious
flocks of various kinds of birds, I cannot help admiring
at these congregations, and wishing that it was in my
of Selborne 127
power to account for those
appearances almost peculiar to
the season. The two great motives which regulate the
proceedings of the brute creation are love and hunger ;

the former incites animals to perpetuate their kind, the

latter induces them to preserve individuals ; whether
either of these should seem to be the ruling passion in
the matter of congregating is to be considered. As to
love, that is out of the question at a time of the year
when that soft passion is not indulged ; besides, during
the amorous season, such a jealousy prevails between the
male birds that they can hardly bear to be together in the
same hedge or field. Most of the singing and elation of
spirits of that time seem to me to be the effect of rivalry
and emulation : and it is to this spirit of jealousy that I
chiefly attribute the equal dispersion of birds in the spring
over the face of the country.
Now as to the business of food as these animals are

actuated by instinct to hunt for necessary food, they

should not, one would suppose, crowd together in pursuit
of sustenance at a time when it is most likely to fail yet :

such associations do take place in hard weather chiefly,

and thicken as the severity increases. As some kind of
self-interest and self-defence is no doubt the motive for
the proceeding, may it not arise from the helplessness of
their state in such rigorous seasons ; as men crowd
together, when under great calamities, though they know
not why? approximation may dispel some
degree of cold and a crowd may make each individual

appear safer from the ravages of birds of prey and other

If I admire when I see how much congenerous birds
love to congregate, I am the more struck when I see
incongruous ones in such strict amity. If we do not
much wonder to see a flock of rooks usually attended by
a train of daws, yet it is strange that the former should so
frequently have a flight of starlings for their satellites. Is
it because rooks have a more discerning scent than their

attendants, and can lead them to spots more productive

of food ? Anatomists say that rooks, by reason of two
large nerves which run down between the eyes into the
128 The Natural History
upper mandible, have a more delicate feeling in their
beaks than other round-billed birds, and can grope for their
meat when out of sight. Perhaps then their associates
attend them on the motive of interest, as greyhounds
wait on the motions of their finders ;
and as lions are
said to do on the yelpings of jackals. Lapwings and
starlings sometimes associate.

March 9, 1772.
Dear Sir,
As a gentleman and myself were walking on the fourth of
last November round the sea-banks at Newhaven, near
the mouth of the Lewes river, in pursuit of natural know-
ledge, we were surprised to see three house-swallows
gliding very swiftly ])y us. That morning was rather
chilly,with the wind at north-west ; but the tenor of the
weather for some time before had been delicate, and the
noons remarkably warm. From this incident, and from
repeated accounts which I meet with, I am more and
more induced to believe that many of the swallow kind
do not depart from this island ; but lay themselves up in
holes and caverns ; and do, insect-like and bat-like, come
forth at mild times, and then retire again to their latebrce.
Nor make I the least doubt but that, if I lived at New-
haven, Seaford, Brighthelmstone, or any of those towns
near the chalk-cliffs of the Sussex coast, by proper
observations, I should see swallows stirring at periods of
the winter, when the noons were soft and inviting, and
the sun warm and invigorating. And I am the more of
this opinion from what I have remarked during some of
our late springs, that though some swallows did make
their appearance about the usual lime, viz., the thirteenth
or fourteenth of April, yet meeting with an harsh recep-
tion, and blustering cold north-east winds, they immedi-
of Selborne 129
ately withdrew, absconding for several days, till the
weather gave them better encouragement.



April 12, 1772.

Dear Sir,
While I was in Sussex last autumn
my residence was at
the village near Lewes, from whence I had formerly the
pleasure of writing to you. On the fust of November I
remarked that the old tortoise, formerly mentioned, began
first to dig the ground in order to the
forming its hyber-
naculum, which it had fixed on just beside a great tuft of
hepaticas. It scrapes out the ground with its fore-feet,
and throws it up over its back with its hind ; but the
motion of its legs is ridiculously slow, little exceeding the
hour-hand of a clock; and suitable to the composure of
an animal said to be a whole month in performing one
feat of copulation. Nothing can be more assiduous than
this creature night and day in scooping the earth, and
forcing its great body into the cavity ; but, as the noons
of that season proved unusually warm and sunny, it was
continually interrupted, and called forth by the heat in
the middle of the day ; and though I continued there
tillthe thirteenth of November, yet the work remained
unfinished. Harsher weather, and frosty mornings, would
have quickened its operations. No part of its behaviour
ever struck me more than the extreme timidity it always
expresses with regard to rain ; for though it has a shell
that would secure it against the wheel of a loaded cart,
yet does it discover as much solicitude about rain as a
lady dressed in all her best attire, shuffling away on the
first sprinklings, and running its head up in a corner. If
attended to, it becomes an excellent weather-glass for as ;

sure as it walks elate, and as it were on tiptoe, feeding

with great earnestness in a morning, so sure will it rain
130 The Natural History
before night. It is totally a diurnal animal, and never

pretends to stir after it becomes dark. The tortoise, like

other reptiles, has an arbitrary stomach as well as lungs ;
and can refrain from eating as well as breathing for a
great part of the year. When first awakened it eats
nothing ; nor again in the autumn before it retires :

through the height of the summer it feeds voraciously,

devouring all the food that comes in its way. I was much
taken with its sagacity in discerning those that do it kind
offices ; for, as soon as the good old lady comes in sight
who has waited on it for more than thirty years, it hobbles
towards its benefactress with awkward alacrity ; but
remains inattentive to strangers. Thus not only " the ox
kno2veth his owner a?id the ass his master's cril^,"^ but the

most abject reptile and torpid of beings distinguishes the

hand that feeds it, and is touched with the feelings of
gratitude !

I am, etc. etc.

P.S. In about three days after I left Sussex the tortoise

retired into the ground under the hepatica.

Selborne, March 26, 1773.
Dear Sir,
The more I reflect on the crropy-q of animals, the more
I am astonished at its effects. Nor is the violence
of this affection more wonderful than the shortness of
its duration. Thus every hen is in her turn the virago
of the yard, in proportion to the helplessness of her
brood ; and will fly in the face of a dog or a sow in
defence of those chickens, which in a few weeks she will
drive before her with relentless cruelty.
This affection sublimes the passions, quickens the
Isaiah i.
of Selborne 131
invention, and sharpens the sagacity of the brute creation.
Thus an hen, just become a motlicr, is no longer that
placid bird she used to be, but with feathers standing on
end, wings hovering, and clocking note, she runs about
like one possessed. Dams will throw themselves in the
way of the greatest danger in order to avert it from their
progeny. Thus a partridge will tumble along before a
sportsman in order to draw away the dogs from her help-
less covey. In the time of nidification the most feeble
birds will assault the most rapacious. All the /u'rundiftes
of a village are up in arms at the sight of an hawk, whom
they will persecute till he leaves that district. A very
exact observer has often remarked that a pair of ravens
nesting in the rock of Gibraltar would suffer no vulture or
eagle to rest near their station, but would drive them from
the hill with an amazing fury even the blue thrush at the

season of breeding would dart out from the clefts of the

rocks to chase away the kestril, or the sparrow-hawk. If
you stand near the nest of a bird that has young, she will
not be induced to betray them by an inadvertent fond-
ness, but will wait about at a distance with meat in her
mouth for an hour together.
Should I farther corroborate what I have advanced
above by some anecdotes which I probably may have
mentioned before in conversation, yet you will, I trust,
pardon the repetition for the sake of the illustration.
The flycatcher of the Zoology (the sfoparola of Ray),
builds every year in the vines that grow on the walls of my
house. A
pair of these little birds had one year inadver-
tently placed their neston a naked bough, perhaps in a
shady time, not being aware of the inconvenience that
followed. But an hot sunny season coming on before
the brood was half fledged, the reflection of the wall
became insupportable, and must inevitably have destroyed
the tender young, had not affection suggested an expedi-
ent, and prompted the parent-birds to hover over the
nest all the hotter hours, while with wings expanded, and
mouths gaping for breath, they screened off the heat from
their suffering offspring.
A farther insiance I once saw of notable sagacity in a.
!32 The Natural History
willow-wren, which had built in a bank in my fields.
This bird a friend and myself had observed as she sat in
her nest but were particularly careful not to disturb her,

though we saw she eyed us with some degree of jealousy.

Some days after as we passed that way we were desirous of
remarking how this brood v/ent on ; but no nest could be
found, till I happened to take up a large bundle of long
green moss, as it were, carelessly thrown over the nest, in
order to dodge the eye of any impertinent intruder.
A still more remarkable mixture of sagacity and instinct

occurred to me one day as my people were pulling off the

lining of an hotbed, in order to add some fresh dung.
From out of the side of this bed leaped an animal with
great agility that made a most grotesque figure ; nor was
it without great difficulty that it could be taken ; when it

proved to be a large white-bellied field-mouse with three

or four young clinging to her teats by their mouths and
feet. It was amazing that the desultory and rapid
motions of this dam should not oblige her litter to quit
their hold, especially when it appeared that they were so
young as to be both naked and blind !

To these instances of tender attachment, many more

of which might be daily discovered by those that are
studious of nature, may be opposed that rage of affection,
that monstrous perversion of the o-ropy?), which induces
some females of the brute creation to devour their young
because their owners have handled them too freely, or
removed them from place to place !
Swine, and some-
times the more gentle race of dogs and cats, are guilty of
this horrid and preposterous murder. When I hear now
and then of an abandoned mother that destroys her off-
spring, I am not so much amazed since reason perverted,

and the bad passions let loose are capable of any enormity :

but whythe parental feelings of brutes, that usually flow

in one most uniform tenor, should sometimes be so

extravagantly diverted, I leave to abler philosophers than

myself to determine.
I am, etc.
of Selborne 133


Selborne, July 8, 1773.

Dear Sir,
Some young men went down lately to a pond on the
verge of Wolmer-forest to hunt flappers, or young wild-
ducks, many of which they caught, and, among the rest,
some very minute yet well-fledged wild-fowls alive, which,
upon examination, I found to be teals. I did not know
till then that teals ever bred in the south of
England, and
was much pleased with the discovery this I look upon as

a great stroke in natural history.

We have had, ever since I can remember, a pair of white
owls that constantly breed under the eaves of this church.
lAs I have paid good attention to the manner of life of
these birds during their season of breeding, which lasts
the summer through, the following remarks may not
perhaps be unacceptable :

About an hour before sunset
(for then the mice begin to run) they sally forth in quest
of prey, and hunt all round the hedges of meadows and
small enclosures for them, which seem to be their only
food. In this irregular country we can stand on an
eminence and see them beat the fields over like a setting-
dog, and often drop down in the grass or corn. I have
minuted these birds with my watch for an hour together,
and have found that they return to their nests, the one or
the other of them, about once in five minutes reflecting

at the same time on the adroitness that every animal is

possessed of as regards the well-being of itself and off-

spring. But a piece of address, which they shew when
they return loaded, should not, I think, be passed over in

silence. As they take their prey with their claws, so they
carry it in their claws to their nest :
but, as the feet are
necessary in their ascent under the tiles, they constantly
perch first on the roof of the chancel, and shift the mouse
from their claws to their bill, that the feet may be at
134 The Natural History
liberty to takehold of the plate on the wall as they are
rising under the eaves.
White owls seem not (but in this I am not positive) to
hoot at all all that clamorous hooting appears to me to

come from the wood kinds. The white owl does indeed
snore and hiss in a tremendous manner and these

menaces well answer the intention of intimidating for I :

have known a whole village up in arms on such an occa-

sion, imagining the church-yard to be full of goblins and
spectres. White owls also often scream horribly as they
fly along from this screaming probably arose the common

people's imaginary species of screech-owl, which they

superstitiously think attends the windows of dying per-
sons, 'rhe plumage of the remiges of the wings of every
species of owl that I have yet examined is remarkably
soft and pliant. Perhaps it may be necessary that the
wings of these birds should not make much resistance or
rushing, that they may be enabled to steal through the air
unheard upon a nimble and watchful quarry.
While lam talking of owls, it may not be improper to
mention what I was told by a gentleman of the county
of Wilts. As they were grubbing a vast hollow pollard-
ash that had been the mansion of owls for centuries, he
discovered at the bottom a mass of matter that at first
he could not account for. After some examination,
he found it was a congeries of the bones of mice (and
perhaps of birds and bats) that had been heaping
together for ages, being cast up in pellets out of the
crops of many generations of inhabitants. For owls cast
up the bones, fur, and feathers of what they devour,
manner of hawks. He believes, he told me,
after the
that there were bushels of this kind of substance.
When brown owls hoot their throats swell as big as
an hen's egg. I have known an owl of this species live
a full year without any water. Perhaps the case may be
the same with all birds of prey. When owls fly they
stretch out their legs behind them as a balance to their
large heavy heads for as most nocturnal birds have

large eyes and ears they must have large heads to contain
them. Large eyes I presume are necessary to collect
of Selborne 135
every ray of light, and large concave ears to command
the smallest degree of sound or noise.
I am, etc.

It will be proper to premise here that the sixteenth, eighteenth,

twentieth, and twenty-first letters have been pn])lished already in

the riiilosophical Transactions: Ifut as nicer observation has
furnished several corrections and additions, it is hoped that the
republication of them will not give offence ; especially as these sheets
would be very imperfect without them, and as they will be new to
many readers who had no opportunity of seeing them when they
made their fust appearance.

The hiruiidiiies are a most inoffensive, harmless, enter-

taining, social, and useful tribe of birds they touch no

fruit in our gardens ; delight, all except one species, in

attaching themselves to our houses ; amuse us with their

migrations, songs, and marvellous agility ; and clear
our outlets from the annoyances of gnats and other
troublesome insects. Some districts in the south seas,
near Guiacjuil,! ^.x^ desolated, it seems, by the infinite
swarms of venomous mosquitoes, which fill the air, and
render those coasts insupportable. It would be worth

inquiring whether any species of hirimdines is found in

those regions. Whoever contemplates the myriads of
insects that sport in the sunbeams of a summer evening
in this country, will soon be convinced to what a degree
our atmosphere would be choked with them was it not
for the friendly interposition of the swallow tribe.

Many species of birds have their particular lice but ;

the hmmdines alone seem to be annoyed with dipterous

insects, which infest every species, and are so large, in
proportion to themselves, that they must be truly irksome
and injurious to them. These are the hippohosccE hirtm-
dinis with narrow subulated wings, abounding in every
nest; and are hatched by the warmth of the bird's own
body during incubation, and crawl about under its
A species of them is familiar to horsemen in the south
of England under the name of forest-fly ; and, to some,
See Ulloa's Travels.
136 The Natural History
of side-fly, from its running sideways like a crab. It

creeps under the tails, and about the groins of horses,

which, at their first coming out of the north, are rendered
half frantic by the tickling sensation ; while our own
breed regards them.

Thecurious Reaumur discovered the large eggs, or

rather pupce^ of these flies as big as the flies themselves,
which he hatched in his own bosom. Any person that
will take the trouble to examine the old nests of either
species of swallows may find in them the black shining
cases of the pupce of these insects but for other par-

ticulars, too long for this place, we refer the reader to

L'llistoire d^ Insectes of that admirable entomologist.
Tom. iv. pi. II.

Sclborne, Nov. 20, 1773.
Dear Sir,
In obedience to your injunctions I sit down to give you
some account of the house-martin, or martlet and, if ;

my monography of this little domestic and familiar bird

should happen to meet with your approbation, I may
probably soon extend my inquiries to the rest of the
British hirujidines —
the swallow, the swift, and the bank-
Afew house-martins begin to appear about the
sixteenth of April ; usually some few days later than the
swallow. For some time after they appear the hirutidi?ies
in general pay no attention to the business of nidification,
but play and sport about either to recruit from the fatigue
of their journey, if they do migrate at all, or else that
their blood may recover its true tone and texture after
it has been so long benumbed by
the severities of winter.
About the middle of May, the weather be fine, the
martin begins to think in earnest of providing a mansion
for its family. The crust or shell of this nest seems to
of Selbonie 137
be formed of such dirt or loam as comes most readily to
hand, and is tempered and wrought together with Httle
bits of broken straws to render it tough and tenacious.
As this bird often builds against a perpendicular wall
without any projecting ledge under, it requires its utmost
efforts to get the first foundation firmly fixed, so that it

may safely carry the superstructure. On this occasion

the bird not only clings with its claws, but partly supports
itselfby strongly inclining its tail against the wall,
making that a fulcrum and thus steadied it works and

plasters the materials into the face of the brick or stone.

But then, that this work may not, while it is soft and
green, pull itself down by its own weight, the provident
architect has prudence and forbearance enough not to
advance her work too fast but by building
; only in the
morning, and by dedicating the rest of the day to food
and amusement, gives it sufficient time to dry and
harden. About half an inch seems to be a sufficient
layer for a day. Thus careful workmen when they build
mud-walls (informed at first perhaps by this little bird)
raise but a moderate layer at a time, and then desist ;

lest the work should become top-heavy, and so be ruined

by its own weight. By this method in about ten or

twelve days is formed an hemispheric nest with a small
aperture towards the top, strong, compact, and warm ;

and perfectly fitted for all the purposes for which it wa>
intended. IBut then nothing is more common than for
the house-sparrow, as soon as the shell is finished, to
seize on it as its own, to eject the owner, and to line it
after its own manner.
After so much labour is bestowed in erecting a mansion,
as nature seldom works in vain, martins will breed on for
several years together in the same nest, where it happens
to be well sheltered and secure from the injuries of
weather. The shell or crust of the nest is a sort of rustic
work full of knobs and protuberances on the outside :

nor is the inside of those that I have examined smoothed

with any exactness at all ; but is rendered soft and warm,
and fit for incubation, by a lining of small straws, grasses,
and feathers; and sometimes by a bed of moss interwoven
138 The Natural History
with wool. In this nest they tread, or engender, fre-
quently during the time of building ; and the hen lays
from three to five white eggs.
At first when the young are hatched, and are in a
naked and helpless condition, the parent birds, with
tender assiduity, carry out what comes away from their
young. Was it not for this affectionate cleanliness the
nestlings would soon be burnt up, and destroyed in so
deep and hollow a nest, by their own caustic excrement.
In the quadruped creation the same neat precaution is
made use of; particularly among dogs and cats, where
the dams lick away what proceeds from their young. But
in birds there seems to be a particular provision, that the
dung of nestlings is enveloped into a tough kind of jelly,
and therefore is the easier conveyed off without soiling
or daubing. Yet, as nature is cleanly in all her ways,
the young perform this office for themselves in a little
time by thrusting their tails out at the aperture of their
nest. As the young of small birds presently arrive at
their rjXiKta or full growth, they soon become impatient
of confinement, and sit all day with their heads out at the
orifice, where the dams, by clinging to the nest, supply
ihem with food from morning to night. For a time the
young are fed on the wing by their parents ; but the
feat is done by so quick and almost imperceptible a

sleight, that a person must have attended very exactly to

their motions before he would be able to perceive it. As
soon as the young are able to shift for themselves, the
dams immediately turn their thoughts to the business of
a second brood while the first flight, shaken off and

rejected by their nurses, congregate in great flocks, and

are the birds that are seen clustering and hovering on
sunny mornings and evenings round towers and steeples,
and on the roofs of churches and houses. These con-
gregatings usually begin to take place about the first
week in August ; and therefore we may conclude that
by that time the first flight is pretty well over. The
young of this species do not quit their abodes all
together ;
but the more forward birds get abroad some
days before the rest. These approaching the eaves of
of Selborne 139
buildings, and playing about them, make people
think that several old ones attend one nest. They are
often capricious in fixingon a nesting place, beginning
many and leaving them unfinished but when
edifices, ;

once a nest is completed in a sheltered place, it serves

for several seasons. Those which l)recd in a ready
finished house get the start in hatching of those that
build new by ten days or a fortnight. These industrious
artificers are at their labours in the long days before four
in the morning when they fix their materials they

plaster them on with their chins, moving their heads with

a quick vibratory motion. They dip and wash as they
fly sometimes in very hot weather^ but not so frequently
as swallows. It has been observed that martins
build to a north-east or north-west aspect, that the heat
of the sun may not crack and destroy their nests :but
instances are also remembered where they bred for many
years in vast abundance in an hot stifled inn-yard, against
a wall facing to the south.
Birds in general are wise in their choice of situation :

but in this neighbourhood every summer is seen a strong

proof to the contrary at an house without eaves in an
exposed district, where some martins build year by year
in the corners of the windows. But, as the corners of
these windows (which face to the south-east and south-
west) are too shallow, the nests are washed down every
hard rain ; and yet these birds drudge on to no purpose
from summer to summer, without changing their aspect
or house. It is a piteous sight to see them labouring
when half their nest is washed away and bringing
dirt . .
generis lapsi sarcire ruiiiasr
. Thus is instinct
a most wonderful unequal faculty ;
in some instances
so much above reason, in other respects so far below it !

Martins love to frequent towns, especially if there are

great lakes and rivers at hand ; nay they even affect the
close air of London. And I have not only seen them
nesting in the Borough, but even in the Strand and
Fleet-street; but then it was obvious from the dingincss
of their aspect that their feathers partook of the filth of
that sooty atmosphere. Martins are by far the least agile
140 The Natural History
of the four species ; their wings and tails are short,
and therefore they are not capable of such surprising
turns and quick and glancing evolutions as the swallow.
Accordingly they make use of a placid easy motion in a
middle region of the air, seldom mounting to any great
height, and never sweeping long together over the sur-
face of the ground or water. They do not wander far
for food, but affect sheltered districts, over some lake,
or under some hanging wood, or in some hollow vale,
especially in windy weather. They breed the latest of all
the swallow kind: in 1772 they had nestlings on to
October the twenty-first, and are never without unfledged
young as late as Michaelmas.
As the summer declines the congregating flocks in-
crease in numbers dailyby the constant accession of the
second broods till at last they swarm in myriads upon

myriads round the villages on the Thames, darkening

the face of the sky as they frequent the aits of that river,
where they roost. They retire, the bulk of them I mean,
in vast flocks together about the beginning of October :

but have appeared of late years in a considerable flight

in this neighbourhood, for one day or two, as late as
November the third and sixth, after they were supposed
to have been gone for more than a fortnight. They
therefore withdraw with us the latest of any species.
Unless these birds are very short-lived indeed, or unless
they do not return to the district where they are bred,
they must undergo vast devastations somehow, and some-
where ; for the birds that return yearly bear no manner
of proportion to the birds that retire.
House-martins are distinguished from their congeners
by having their legs covered with soft downy feathers
down to their toes. They are no songsters ; but twitter
in a pretty inward soft manner in their nests. During
the time of breeding they are often greatly molested
with fleas.
I am, etc.
of Selborne 141


Ringmer, near Lewes, Dec. 9, 1773.

Dear Sir,
I received your last favour just as I was setting out for
this place ;
and am pleased to find that my monography
met with your approbation. My remarks are the result
of many years' observation ; and are, I trust, true on the
whole though I do not pretend to say that they are

perfectly void of mistake, or that a more nice observer

might not make many additions, since subjects of this
kind are inexhaustible.
If you think my letter worthy the notice of
your re-
spectable society, you are at liberty to lay it before them ;

and they will consider it, I hope, as it was intended, as

an humble attempt to promote a more minute inquiry
into natural history ; into the life and conversation of
animals. Perhaps hereafter I may be induced to take
the house-swallow under consideration ; and from that
proceed to the rest of the British hirujidines.
Though I have now travelled the Sussex-downs up-
wards of thirty years, yet I still investigate that chain of
majestic mountains with fresh admiration year by year ;

and think I see new beauties every time I traverse it.

This range, which runs from Chichester eastward as far
as East-Bourn, is about sixty miles in length, and is
called The South Downs, properly speaking, only round
Lewes. As you pass along you command a noble view
of the wild, or weald, on one hand, and the broad downs
and sea on the other. Mr. Ray used to visit a family^
just at the foot of these hills, and was so ravished with
the prospect from Plumpton-plain near Lewes, that he
mentions those scapes in his Wisdom of God in the
ll'^orks of the Creafio?i with the utmost satisfaction, and

Mr. Comthope, of Danny.
142 The Natural History
thinks them equal to anything he had seen in the finest

parts of Europe.
For my own part, I think there is somewhat pecu-
Harly sweet and amusing in the shapely figured aspect of
chalk-hills in preference to those of stone, which are
rugged, broken, abrupt, and shapeless.
Perhaps I may be singular in my opinion, and not
so happy as to convey to you the same idea but I never

contemplate these mountains without thinking I perceive

somewhat analogous to growth in their gentle swellings
and smooth fungus-like protuberances, their fluted sides,
and regular hollows and slopes, that carry at once the air
of vegetative dilatation and expansion. ... Or was
there ever a time when these immense masses of cal-
careous matter were thrown into fermentation by some
adventitious moisture ; were raised and leavened into
such shapes by some plastic power; and so made to
swell and heave their broad backs into the sky so much
above the less animated clay of the wild below ?
By what I can guess from the admeasurements of the
hills that have been taken round my house, I should

suppose that these hills surmount the wild at an average

at about the rate of five hundred feet.
One thing is very remarkable as to the sheep from :

the westward till you get to the river Adur all the flocks
have horns, and smooth white faces, and white legs and ;

a hornless sheep is rarely to be seen but as soon as you


pass that river eastward, and mount Beeding-hill, all the

flocks at once become hornless, or, as they call them,
poll-sheep and have moreover black faces with a white

tuft of wool on their foreheads, and speckled and spotted

legs: so that you would think that the flocks of Laban

were pasturing on one side of the stream, and the varie-
gated breed of his son-in-law Jacob were cantoned along
on the other. And this diversity holds good respectively
on each side from the valley of Bramber and Beeding to
the eastward, and westward all the whole length of the
downs. If you talk with the shepherds on this subject,
they tell you that the case has been so from time imme-
morial and smile at your simplicity if you ask them
of Selborne 143
whether the situation of tliese two different breeds might
not be reversed? However, an intelligent friend of mine
near Chichester is determined to try the experiment ;

and has this autumn, at the hazard of being laughed at ,

introduced a parcel of black-faced hornless rams among

his horned western ewes. The black-faced poll-sheep
have the shortest legs and the finest wool.
As I had hardly ever before travelled these downs at so
late a season of the year, I was determined to keep as

sharp a look-out as possible so near the southern coast,

with respect to the summer short-winged birds of passage.
We make great inquiries concerning the withdrawing of
the swallow kind, without examining enough into the
causes why this tribe is never to be seen in winter ; for,
e?itre nous, the disappearing of the latter is more marvellous
than that of the former, and much more unaccountable.
The hifundtfies, if they please, are certainly capable of
migration ; and yet no doubt are often found in a torpid
state: but red-starts, nightingales, white-throats, black-caps,
etc., etc., are very ill provided for long flights
have never
been once found, as I ever heard of, in a torpid state, and
yet can never be supposed, in such troops, from year to
year to dodge and elude the eyes of the curious and in-
quisitive, which from day to day discern the other small
birds that are known to abide our winters. But, notwith-
standing all my care, I saw nothing like a summer bird of
passage and, what is more strange, not one wheat-ear,

though they abound so in the autumn as to be a consider-

able perquisite to the shepherds that take them ; and
though many are to be seen to my knowledge all the
winter through in many parts of the south of England.
The most intelligent shepherds tell me that some few of
these birds appear on the downs in March, and then with
draw to breed probably in warrens and stone-quarries :

now and then a nest is plowed up in a fallow on the downs

under a furrow, but it is thought a rarity. At the time of
wheat-harvest they begin to be taken in great numbers ;
are sent for sale in vast quantities to Brighthelmstone
and Tunbridge; and appear at the tables of all the gentry
that entertain with any degree of elegance. About
144 The Natural History-
Michaelmas they retire and are seen no more till March.
Though these birds are, when in season, in great plenty on
the south downs round Lewes, yet at East-Bourn, which
is the eastern extremity of those downs, they abound much

more. —
One thing is very remarkable that though in the
height of the season so many hundreds of dozens are taken,
yet they never are seen to flock ; and it is a rare thing to
see more than three or four at a time so that there must

be a perpetual flitting and constant progressive succession.

It does not appear that any wheat-ears are taken to the
westward of Houghton-bridge, which stands on the river
I did not fail to look particularly after my new
of ring-ousels and to take notice whether they continued

on the downs to this season of the year ; as I had formerly

remarked them in the month of October all the way from
Chichester to Lewes wherever there were any shrubs and
covert but not one bird of this sort came within my

observation. I only saw a few larks and whin-chats, some

rooks, and several kites and buzzards.

About Midsummer a flight of cross-bills comes to the
pine-groves about this house, but never makes any long
Theold tortoise, that I have mentioned in a former
continues in this garden ; and retired under
letter, still
ground about the twentieth of November, and came out
again for one day on the thirtieth it lies now buried in

a wet swampy border under a wall facing to the south, and

is enveloped at present in mud and mire !

Here a large rookery round this house, the inhabit-


ants of which seem to get their livelihood very easily ; for

they spend the greatest part of the day on their nest-trees
when the weather is mild. These rooks retire every even-
ing all the winter from this rookery, where they only call
by the way, as they are going to roost in deep woods at :

the dawn of day they always revisit their nest-trees, and

are preceded a few minutes by a flight of daws, that act, as
it were, as their harbingers.
I am, etc.
of Selborne 145


Selborne, Jan. 29, 1774.

Dear Sir,
The house-swallow, or chimney-swallow, is
the comer of all the British hirundines ; and appears

in general on or about the thirteenth of April, as 1 have

remarked from many years' observation. Not but now
and then a straggler is seen much earlier and, in par- :

ticular, when I was a boy I observed a swallow for a whole

day together on a sunny warm Shrove Tuesday which ;

day could not fall out later than the middle of March, and
often happened early in February.
It is worth remarking that these birds are seen first about
lakes and mill-ponds ;
and it is also very particular, that
if these early visitors happen to find frost and snow, as
was the case of the two dreadful springs of 1770 and 1771,
they immediately withdraw for a time. A circumstance
this much more in favour of hiding than migration ;
it is much more probable that a bird should retire to its

hybernaculum just at hand, than return for a week or two

only to warmer latitudes.
The swallow, though called the chimney-swallow, by no
means builds altogether in chimneys, but often within
barns and out-houses against the rafters ; and so she did
in Virgil's time :

. . . .
" Ante
Garrula qii^m tignis nidos siispendat hirundo."

In Sweden she builds in barns, and is called ladu swala,

the barn-swallow. Besides, in the warmer parts of luiropo
there are no chimneys to houses, except they are I'^nglish-
built in these countries she constructs her nest in porches,

and gateways, and galleries, and open halls.

Here and there a bird may affect some odd, peculiar
place as we have known a swallow build down the shaft

146 The Natural History
of an old well, through which chalk had been formerly
drawn up for the purpose of manure but in general

with us this hirujido breeds in chimneys ; and loves to

haunt those stacks where there is a constant fire, no doubt
for the sake of warmth. Not that it can subsist in the
immediate shaft where there is a fire ; but prefers one

adjoining to that of the kitchen, and disregards the per-

petual smoke of that funnel, as I have often observed with
some degree of wonder.
Five or six or more feet down the chimney does this
little bird begin to form her nest about the middle of

May, which consists, like that of the house-martin, of a

crust or shell composed of dirt or mud, mixed with short
pieces of straw to render it tough and permanent ; with
this difference, that whereas the shell of the martin is nearly

hemispheric, that of the swallow is open at the top, and

like half a deep dish this nest is lined with fine grasses,

and feathers which are often collected as they float in

the air.
Wonderful is the address which this adroit bird shows all
day long in ascending and descending with security through
so narrow a pass. When hovering over the mouth of the
funnel, the vibrations of her wings acting on the confined
air occasion a rumbling like thunder. It is not improbable
that the dam submits to this inconvenient situation so low
in the shaft, in order to secure her broods from rapacious
birds, and particularly from owls, which frequently fall
down chimneys, perhaps in attempting to get at these

The swallow lays from four to six white eggs, dotted
with red specks ; and brings out her first brood about the
last week in June, or the first week in July. The pro-
gressive method by which the young are introduced into
life is very amusing first, they emerge from the shaft with

difficulty enough, and often fall down into the rooms below:
for a day or so they are fed on the chimney-top, and then
are conducted to the dead leafless bough of some tree,
where, sitting in a row, they are attended with great
assiduity, and may then be called perchers. In a day or
two more they become flyers, but are still unable to take
of Selborne 147
their omi food ;
therefore they play about near the place
where the dams are hawking for flies ; and when a mouth-
ful is collected, ata certain signal given, the dam and the
nestling advance, rising towards each other, and meeting
at an angle ; the young one all the while
uttering such a
little quick note of gratitude and
complacency, that a
person must have paid very little regard to the wonders of
nature that has not often remarked this feat.
The dam betakes herself immediately to the business
of a second brood as soon as she is disengaged from her
first ; which at once associates with the first broods of

house-martins ; and with them congregates, clustering

on sunny roofs, towers, and trees. This hirundo brings
out her second brood towards the middle and end of
All the summer long is the swallow a most instructive
pattern of unwearied industry and affection ; for, from
morning to night, while there is a family to be sup-
ported, she spends the whole day in skimming close to
the ground, and exerting the most sudden turns and
quick evolutions. Avenues, and long walks under hedges,
and pasture-fields, and mown meadows where cattle
graze, are her delight, especially if there are trees inter-
spersed ; because in such spots insects most abound.
When a fly is taken a smart snap from her bill is heard,
resembling the noise at the shutting of a watch-case ; but
the motion of the mandibles are too quick for the eye.
The swallow, probably the male bird, is the excubitor
to house- martins, and other little birds, announcing the
approach of birds of prey. For as soon as an hawk ap-
pears, with a shrill alarming note he calls all the swallows
and martins about him ;
who pursue body, and buffet
in a
and strike their enemy till they have driven him from the

village, darting down from above on his back, and rising

in a perpendicular line in perfect security. This bird also
will sound the alarm, and strike at cats when they climb
on the roofs of houses, or otherwise approach the nests.
Each species <:>{ hirundo drinks as it flics along, sipping
the surface of the water ; but the swallow alone, in
general, washes on the wing, by dropping into a pool
148 The Natural History
for many times together in very hot weather house-

martins and bank-martins dip and wash a little.

The swallow is a delicate songster, and in soft sunny
weather sings both perching and Hying ; on trees in a
kind of concert, and on chimney-tops is also a bold:

flyer, ranging to distant downs and commons even in

windy weather, which the other species seem much to
di-slike ; nay, even frequenting exposed sea-port towns,
and making little excursions over the salt water. Horse-
men on wide downs are often closely attended by a little
party of swallows for miles together, which plays before
and behind them, sweeping around, and collecting all the
skulking insects that are roused by the trampling of the
horses' feet :when the wind blows hard, without this ex-
pedient, they are often forced to settle to pick up their
lurking prey.
This species feeds much on little cohoptera^ as well as on
gnats and flies and often settles on dug ground, or

paths, for gravels to grindand digest its food. Before

they depart, for some weeks, to a bird, they forsake
houses and chimnies, and roost in trees ; and usually
withdraw about the beginning of October ; though some
few stragglers may appear on at times till the first v/eek
in November.
Some few pairs haunt the new and open streets of
London next the but do not enter, like the house-
martin, the close and crowded parts of the city.
Both male and female are distinguished from their con-
geners by the length and forkedness of their tails. They
are undoubtedly the most nimble of all the species and :

when the male pursues the female in amorous chase, they

then go beyond their usual speed, and exert a rapidity
almost too quick for the eye to follow.
After this circumstantial detail of the life and discern-
ing (TTopyfj of the swallow, I shall add, for your farther
amusement, an anecdote or two not much in favour of
her sagacity :

certain swallow built for two years together on the
handles of a pair of garden-shears, that were stuck up
against the boards in an out-house, and therefore must
of Selbonie 149
have her nest spoiled whenever that implement was
wanted and, what is stranger still, another bird of the

same species built its nest on the wings and body of an

owl that happened by accident to hang dead and dry
from the rafter of a barn. This owl, with the nest on its
wings, and with eggs in the nest, was brought as a
curiosity worthy the most elegant private museum in
Great Britain. The owner, struck with the oddity of the
sight,furnished the bringer with a large shell, or conch,
desiring him to fix it just where the owl hung the per- :

son did as he was ordered, and the following year a pair,

probably the same pair, built their nest in the conch, and
laid their eggs.
The owl and the conch make a strange grotesque ap-
pearance, and are not the least curious specimens in that
wonderful collection of art and nature.^
Thus is instinct in animals, taken the least out of its
way, an undistinguishing, limited faculty and blind to ;

every circumstance that does not immediately respect

self-preservation, or lead at once to the propagation or
support of their species.
I am,
With all respect, etc., etc.

Selborne, Feb. 14, 1774.
Dear Sir,
I receivedyour favour of the eighth, and am pleased
to find thatyou read my little history of the swallow with
your usual candour nor was I less pleased to find that

you made objections where you saw reason.

As to the quotations, it is difficult to say precisely
which species of hirimdo Virgil might intend in the lines
in question, since the ancients did not attend to specific
Sir Ashton Lever's Museum.
150 The Natural History
differences like modern naturalists :
yet somewhat may
be gathered, enough to incline me to suppose that in
the two passages quoted the poet had his eye on the
In the place the epithet garrida suits the swallow

well, who a great songster ; but not the martin, which


is rather a mute bird ; and when it sings is so inward as

scarce to be heard. Besides, if tigmun in that place

signifies a rafter rather than a beam, as it seems to me to
do, then I think it must be the swallow that is alluded
to, and not the martin ; since the former does frequently
build within the roof against the rafters ; while the latter
always, as far as I have been able to observe, builds
without the roof against eaves and cornices.
As to the simile, too much stress must not be laid on
yet the epithet nigra speaks plainly in favour of the
swallow, whose back and wings are very black ; while the
rump of the martin is milk-white, its back and wings blue,
and all its under part white as snow. Nor can the clumsy
motions (comparatively clumsy) of the martin well repre-
sent the sudden and artful evolutions and quick turns
which Juturna gave to her brother's chariot, so as to
elude the eager pursuit of the enraged ^neas. The
verb so}iat also seems to imply a bird that is somewhat
have had a very wet autumn and winter, so as to
raise the springs to a pitch
beyond anything since 1764 ;

which was a remarkable year for floods and high waters.

The land-springs, which we call lavants, break out much
on the downs of Sussex, Hampshire and Wiltshire. The
country people say when the lavants rise corn will always
be dear ; meaning that when the earth is so glutted with
water as to send forth springs on the downs and uplands,
that the corn-vales must be drowned ; and so it has
proved for these ten or eleven years past. For land-
^ '*
Nigra velut magnas domini cum divitis sedes
Pervolat, et pennis alta atria lustrat hirundo,
Tabula parva legcns, nidisque loquacibus escas :
lit nunc porticibus vacuis, nunc humida circum

Stagna sonat. ..."

of Selborne 151
springs have never obtained more since the memory of
man than during that period ; nor has there been known
a greater scarcity of all sorts of grain, considering the
great improvements of modern husbandry. Such a run
of wet seasons a century or two ago would, I am persuaded,
have occasioned a famine. Therefore pamphlets and
newspaper letters, that talk of combinations, tend to in-
flame and mislead ; since we must not expect plenty till
Providence sends us more favourable seasons.
The wheat of last year, all round this district, and in
the county of Rutland, and elsewhere, yields remarkably
bad and our wheat on the ground, by the continual late

sudden vicissitudes from fierce frost to pouring rains,

looks poorly ; and the turnips rot very fast.

Selhome, Feb. 26, 1774.
Dear Sir,
The sand-martin, or bank-martin, is by much the least
of any of the British hirundities ; and, as far as we have
ever seen, the smallest known hirundo ; though Brisson
asserts that there is one much smaller, and that is the
hiruftdo esai/e?iia.
But it is much to be regretted that it is scarce possible
for any observer to be so full and exact as he could wish
in reciting the circumstances attending the life and con-
versation of this little bird, since it is fefa na/urd, at
least in this part of thekingdom, disclaiming all domestic
attachments, and haunting wild heaths and conmions
where there are large lakes ; while the other species,
especially the swallow and house- martin, are remarkably
gentle and domesticated, and never seem to think them-
selves safe but under the protection of man.
Here are in this parish, in the sand-pits and banks of
the lakes of Wolmer-forest, several colonies of these birds ;
152 The Natural History
and yet they are never seen in the village ; nor do they
at all frequent the cottages that are scattered about in
that wild district. The only instance I ever remember
where this species haunts any building is at the town of
Bishop's Waltham, in this county, where many sand-
martins nestle and breed in the scaffold-holes of the back-
wall of William of Wykeham's stables but then this

wall stands in a very sequestered and retired enclosure,

and faces upon a large and beautiful lake. And indeed
this species seems so to delight in large waters, that no
instance occurs of their abounding, but near vast pools or
rivers : and in particular it has been remarked that they
swarm in the banks of the Thames in some places below
It is curious to observe with what different degrees of
architectonic skill Providence has endowed birds of the
same genus, and so nearly correspondent in their general
mode of life for while the swallow and the house-martin

discover the greatest address in raising and securely fix

ing crusts or shells of loam as cu?iabula for their young
the bank-martin terebrates a round and regular hole in
the sand or earth, which is serpentine, horizontal, and
about two feet deep. At the inner end of this burrow
does this bird deposit, in a good degree of safety, her rude
nest, consisting of fine grasses and feathers, usually goose-
feathers, very inartificially laid together.
Perseverance will accomplish anything though at first

one would be disinclined to believe that this weak bird,

with her soft and tender bill and claws, should ever be
able to bore the stubborn sand-bank without entirely dis-
abling herself; yet with these feeble instruments have I
seen a pair of them make great dispatch and could :

remark how much they had scooped that day by the fresh
sand which ran down the bank, and was of a different
colour from that which lay loose and bleached in the
In what space of time these little artists are able to
mine and finish these cavities I have never been able to
discover, for reasons given above but it would be a

matter worthy of observation, where it falls in the way of

of Selborne 153
any naturalist to make his remarks. This I have often
taken notice of, tliat several holes of different depths are
left unfinished at the end of summer. To imagine that
these beginnings were intentionally made in order to be in
the greater forwardness for next spring, is allowing per-
haps too much foresight and reni7n p7ydc7iiia to a sim])]e
bird. May not the cause of these latebrce being left
unfinished arise from their meeting in those places with
strata too harsh, hard, and solid, for their purpose, which
they relinquish, and go to a fresh spot that works more
freely? C3r may they not in other places fall in with a
soil as much too loose and
mouldering, liable to flounder,
and threatening to overwhelm them and their labours ?
One thing is remarkable

that, after some years, the
old holes are forsaken and new ones bored ; perhaps
because the old habitations grow foul and fetid from
long use, or because they may so abound with fleas as to
become untenable. This species of swallow moreover is
strangely annoyed with fleas and we have seen fleas,

bed-fleas {pulex irritans), sw^arming at the mouths of

these holes, like bees upon the stools of their hives.
The following circumstance should by no means be

omitted that these birds do not make use of their
caverns by way of hyhemaada, as might be expected ;
since banks so perforated have been dug out with care
in the winter, when nothing was found but empty nests.
The sand-martin arrives much about the same time
with the swallow, and lays, as she does, from four to six
white eggs. But as this species is c?yptoga?ne, carrying on
the business of nidification, incubation, and the support
of its young in the dark, it would not be so easy to
ascertain the time of breeding, were it not for the coming
forth of the broods, which appear much about the time,
or rather somewhat earlier than those of the swallow.
The nestlings are supported in common like those of
their congeners, with gnats and other small insects ;
sometimes they are fed with Ubellula:. (dragon-flies) almost
as long as themselves. In the last week in June we have
seen a row of these sitting on a rail near a great pool as
perchers ; and so young and helpless, as easily to be
154 The Natural History
taken by hand but whether the dams ever feed them on

the wing, as swallows and house- martins do, we have

never yet been able to determine ; nor do we know
whether they pursue and attack birds of prey.
When they happen to breed near hedges and enclos-
ures, they are dispossessed of their breeding holesby the
house-sparrow, which is on the same account a fell
adversary to house-martins.
These hirtituiines are no songsters, but rather mute,
making only a little harsh noise when a person
approaches their nests. They seem not to be of a
sociable turn, never with us congregating with their con-
geners in the autumn. Undoubtedly they breed a
second time, like the house-martin and swallow ; and
withdraw about Michaelmas.
Though in some particular districts they may happen
to abound, yet in the whole, in the south of England at
least, is this much the rarest species. For there are few
towns or large villages but what abound with house-
martins few churches, towers, or steeples, but what are

haunted by some swifts scarce a hamlet or single


cottage-chimney that has not its swallow while the bank-


martins, scattered here and there, live a sequestered life

among some abrupt sand-hills, and in the banks of some
few rivers.
These birds have a peculiar manner of flying flitting ;

about with odd jerks, and vacillations, not unlike the

motions of a butterfly. Doubtless the flight of all
hirimdines is influenced by and adapted to, the peculiar
sort of insects which furnish their food. Hence it would
be worth inquiry to examine what particular group of
insects affords the principal food of each respective species
of swalknv.
Notwithstanding what has been advanced above, some
few sand-martins, I see, haunt the skirts of London, fre-
quenting the dirty pools in Saint George's-Fields, and
about White-Chapel. The question is where these build,
since there are no banks or bold shores in that neigh-
bourhood :
perhaps they nestle in the scafibld-holes of
some old or new deserted building. They dip and wash
of Selborne 155
as they fly sometimes, like the house-martin and
Sand-martins differ from their congeners in the diminii-
tiveness of their size, and in their colour, which is what
is usually called a mouse-colour. Near Valencia in Spnin,
they are taken, says Willughby, and sold in the markets
for the table;
and are called by the country people, pro-
bably from their desultory jerking manner of flight,
papilion di mo?i/ag7ia.


Selborne, Sept. 28, 1774.

Dear Sir,
As the swift or black-martin is the largest of the British
hirtaidhies, so is undoubtedly the latest comer. For I

remember but one instance of its appearing before the

last week in April and in some of our late frosty, harsh

springs, it has not been seen till the beginning of May.

This species usually arrives in pairs.
The swift, like the sand-martin, is very defective in

architecture, making no crust, or shell, for its nest ; but

forming of dry grasses and feathers, very rudely and

inartificiallyput together. With all my attention to

these birds, I have never been able once to discover one
in the act of collecting or carrying in materials so that :

I have suspected (since their nests are exactly the same)

that they sometimes usurp upon the house-sparrows, and
expel them, as sparrows do the house and sand-martin ;

well remembering that I have seen them squabbling

together at the entrance of their holes and the sparrows;

up in arms, and much

disconcerted at these intruders.
And yet I am assured, by a nice observer in such mat-
ters, that they do collect feathers for their nests in
Andalusia and that he has shot them with such

materials in their mouths.

Swifts, like sand-martins, carry on the business of
156 The Natural History
nidification quite in the dark, in crannies of castles, and
towers, and steeples, and upon the tops of the walls of
churches under the roof; and therefore cannot be so
narrowly watched as those species that build more
openly but, from what I could ever observe, they begin

nesting about the middle of May ; and I have remarked,

from eggs taken, that they have sat hard by the ninth of
June. In general they haunt tall buildings, churches,
and steeples, and breed only in such yet in this village :

some pairs frequent the lowest and meanest cottages, and

educate their young under those thatched roofs. We
remember but one instance where they breed out of
buildings ; and that is in the sides of a deep chalk-pit
near the town of Odiiiam, in this county, where we have
seen many pairs entering the crevices, and skimming and
squeaking round the precipices.
As I have regarded these amusive birds with no small
attention, if I should advance something new and pecu-
liar with respect to them, and different from all other

birds, I might perhaps be credited ; especially as my

assertion is the result of many years' exact observation.
The would advance is, that swifts tread, or
fact that I

copulate, on the wing and I would wish any nice


observer, that is startled at this supposition, to use his

own eyes, and think he will soon be convinced.
I In
another class of animals, viz., the insect, nothing is so
common as to see the different species of many genera in
conjunction as they fly. The swift is almost continually
on the wing ;
and as it never settles on the ground, on
trees, or roofs, would seldom find opportunity for amor-
ous rites, not enabled to indulge them in the air.
was it

If any person would watch these birds of a fine morning

in May, as tiiey are sailing round at a great height from
the ground, he would see, every now and then, one drop
on the back of another, and both of them sink down
together for many fathoms with a loud piercing shriek.
This I take to be the juncture when the business of
generation is carrying on.
As the swift eats, drinks, collects materials for its
nest, and, as it seems, propagates on the wing ; it appears
of Selborne 157
to live more in the air than any other bird, and to perform
all functions there save those of sleeping and incubation.
This hiriutdo differs widely from its congeners in laying
invariably but two eggs at a time, which are milk-white,
long, and peaked at the small end ; whereas the other
species lay at each brood from four to six. It is a most
alert bird, rising very early, and retiring to roost very
late ; and is on the wing in the height of summer at
least sixteen hours. In the longest days it does not
withdraw to rest a quarter before nine in the even-

ing, being the latest of allday birds. Just before they

retire whole groups of them assemble high in the air, and
squeak, and shoot about with wonderful rapidity. But
this bird is never so much alive as in sultry thundry
weather, when it
expresses great alacrity, and calls forth
all its powers. In hot mornings several, getting together
in little parties, dash round the steeples and churches,

squeaking as they go in a very clamorous manner these, ;

by nice observers, are supposed to be males, serenading

their sitting hens and not without reason, since they

seldom squeak till they come close to the walls or eaves,

and since those within utter at the same time a little
inward note of complacency.
When the hen has sat hard all day, she rushes forth
just as it is almost dark, and stretches and relieves her
weary limbs, and snatches a scanty meal for a few min-
utes, and then returns to her duty of incubation. Swifts,
when wantonly and cruelly shot while they have young,
discover a little lump of insects in their mouths, which
they pouch and hold under their tongue. In general they
feed in a much higher district than the other species a ;

proof that gnats and other insects do also abound to a

considerable height in the air they also range to vast

distances ; since locomotion is no labour to them, who

are endowed with such wonderful powers of wing. Their
powers seem to be in proportion to their levers and ;

their wings are longer in propor.tion than those of almost

any other bird. When they mute, or ease themselves in
flight, they raise their wings,
and make them meet over
their backs.
158 The Natural History
At some certain times in the summer I had remarked
that swifts were hawking very low for hours together
over pools and streams ; and could not help inquiring
into the object of their pursuit that induced them to
descend so much below their usual range. After some
trouble, I found that they were taking phryga?iece, ephe-
ifierce^ and libellulce (cadew-flies, may-flies, and dragon-
fiies) that were just emerged out of their aurelia state.
I then no longer wondered that they should be so willing
to stoop for a prey that afforded them such plentiful and
succulent nourishment.
They bring out their young about the middle or latter
end of July but as these never become perchers, nor,

that ever I could discern, are fed on the wing by their

dams, the coming forth of the young is not so notorious
as in the other species.
On the thirtieth of last June I untiled the eaves of
an house where many pairs build, and found in each
nestonly two squab naked pulli : on the eighth of
July repeated the same inquiry, and found they had
made very little progress towards a fledged state, but
were still naked and helpless. From whence we may
conclude that birds whose way of life keeps them per-
petually on the wing would not be able to quit their nest
till the end of the month. Swallows and martins, that
have numerous famiHes, are continually feeding them
every two or three minutes ; while swifts, that have but
two young to maintain, are much at their leisure, and do
not attend on their nests for hours together.
Sometimes they pursue and strike at hawks that come
in their way but not with that vehemence and fury that

swallows express on the same occasion. They are out

all day long in wet days, feeding about, and disregarding
still rain from whence two things may be gathered

first, that insects abide high in the air, even in rain ;

and next, that the feathers of these birds must be well
preened to resist so much wet. Windy, and particularly
windy weather with heavy showers, they dislike ; and on
such days withdraw, and are scarce ever seen.
There is a circumstance respecting the colour of swifts,
of Selborne 159
which seems not to be unworthy our attention. When
they arrive in the spring they are all over of a glossy,
dark soot-colour, except their chins, v;hich are white ;
but, by being all daylong in the sun and air, they become
quite weather-beaten and bleached before they depart,
and yet they return glossy again in the spring. Now, if
they pursue the sun into lower latitudes, as some suppose,
in order to enjoy a perpetual summer, why do they not
return bleached? Do they not rather perhaps retire to
rest for a season, and at that juncture moult and change
their feathers, since all other birds are known to moult
soon after the season of breeding ?
Swifts are very anomalous in many particulars, dissent-
ing from all their congeners not only in the number of
their young, but in breeding but once in a summer;
whereas the other British hiriindmes breed invariably
twice. past all doubt that swifts can breed but once,
It is
since they withdraw in a short time after the flight of
their young, and some time before their congeners bring
out their second brood. We
may here remark, that, as
swifts breed but once in a summer, and only two at a time,
and the other hinmdines twice, the latter, who lay from
four to six eggs, increase at an average five times as fast
as the former.
But in nothing are swifts more singular than in their

early retreat. They the main body of them,

retire, as to

by the tenth of August, and sometimes a few days sooner :

and every straggler invariably withdraws by the twentieth,

while their congeners, all of them, stay till the beginning
of October many of them all through that month, and

some occasionally to the beginning of November. This

that time
early retreat is mysterious and wonderful, since
isoften the sweetest season in the year. But, whnt is more
extraordinary, they begin to retire still earlier in the most
southerly parts of Andalusia, where they can be
no ways
influenced by any defect of beat ; or, as one might
suppose, defect of food. Are they regulated in their
motions with us by a failure of food, or by a propensity
to moulting, or by a disposition to rest after so rapid a
life, or by what?
This is one of those incidents ir>
i6o The Natural History-
natural history that not only baffles our searches, but
almost eludes our guesses !

These hinmdines never perch on trees or roofs, and so

never congregate with their congeners. They are fearless
while haunting their nesting places, and are not to be
scared with a gun ; and are often beaten down with poles
and cudgels as they stoop to go under the eaves. Swifts
are much infested with those pests to the genus called
hippoboscce hiriuidinis ; and often wriggle and scratch
themselves, in their flight, to get rid of that clinging
Swifts are no songsters, and have only one harsh
screaming note ; yet there are ears to which it is not
displeasing, from an agreeable association of ideas, since
that note never occurs but in the most lovely summer
They never settle on the ground but through accident ;

and when down can hardly rise, on account of the short-

ness of their legs and the length of their wings neither :

can they walk, but only crawl but they have a strong

grasp with their feet, by which they cling to walls. Their

bodies being flat they can enter a very narrow crevice ;
and where they cannot pass on their bellies they will turn
up edgewise.
The particular formation of the foot discriminates the
swift from all British hirundmes ; and indeed from all
other known birds, the hirundo melba, or great white-
bellied swift of Gibraltar, excepted ; for it is so disposed
" omnes "
as to carry quatuor digitos anticos all its four toes
forward ;
besides the least toe, which should be the back-
toe, consists of one bone alone, and the other three only
of two apiece. A construction most rare and peculiar,
but nicely adapted to the purposes in which their feet are
employed. This, and some peculiarities attending the
nostrils and under mandible, have induced a discerning
naturalist^ to suppose that this species might constitute
a ge?ius per se.
In London a party of swifts frequents the Tower,
playing and feeding over the river just below the bridge ;
John Antony Scopoli, of Carniolu, M.D.
of Selborne i6i
others haunt some of the churches of the Borough next
the fields ; but do not venture, like the house-martin, into
the close crowded part of the town.
The Swedes have bestowed a very pertinent name on
this swallow, calling it I'ifig swala^ from the perpetual

rings or circles that it takes round the scene of its

Swifts feed on coleoptera^ or small beetles with hard
cases over their wings, as well as on the softer insects ;
but it does not appear how they can procure gravel to
grind their food, as swallows do, since they never settle
on the ground. Young ones, over-run Avith hippobosccp.^
are sometimes found, under their nests, fallen to the
ground the number of vermin rendering their abode

insupportable any longer. They frequent in this village

several abject cottages yet a succession still haunts the

same unlikely roofs a good proof this that the same


birds return to the same spots. As they must stoop very

low to get up under these humble eaves, cats lie in wait,
and sometimes catch them on the wing.
On the fifth of July, 1775, ^ ''igain untiled part of a
roof over the nest of a swift. The dam sat in the nest ;
but so strongly was she affected by natural a-ropyr] for her
brood, which she supposed to be in danger, that, regard-
less of her own safety, she would not stir, but lay sullenly

by them, permitting herself to be taken in hand. The

squab young we brought down and placed on the grass-
plot, where they tumbled about,
and were as helpless as a
new-born child. While we contemplated their naked
bodies, their unwieldy disproportioned obdornina^ and their
heads, too heavy for their necks to support, we could not
but wonder when we reflected that these shiftless beings
in a little more than a fortnight would be able to dash
through the air almost with the inconceivable swiftness of
a meteor ; and perhaps, in their emigration must traverse
vast continents and oceans as distant as the equator. So
soon does nature advance small birds to their rjXiKta, or
state of perfection ;
while the progressive growth of men
and is slow and tedious
large quadrupeds !

I am, etc.
i62 The Natural History


Selborne, Sept. 13, 1774.

Dear Sir,
By means of a straight cottage chimney I had an
opportunity this summer of remarking, at my leisure, how
swallows ascend and descend through the shaft ; but my
pleasure, in contemplating the address with which this
feat was performed to a considerable depth in the

chimney, was somewhat interrupted by apprehensions

lest my eyes might undergo the same fate with those of
Perhaps it may be some amusement to you to hear at
what times the different species of hirufidmes arrived this
spring in three very distant counties of this kingdom.
With us the swallow was seen first on April the 4th, the
swift on April the 24th, the bank-martin on April the 12th,
and the house-martin not till April the 30th. At South
Zele, Devonshire, swallows did not arrive till April the
25th; swifts, in plenty, on May the ist; and house-
martins not till the middle of May. At Blackburn, in
Lancashire, swifts were seen April the 28th, swallows
April the 29th, house-martins May the ist. Do these
different dates, in such distant districts, prove anything
for or against migration?
A farmer, near Weyhill, fallows his land with two teams
of asses ; one of which works till noon, and the other in
the afternoon. When these animals have done their
work, they are penned, all night, like sheep, on the fallow.
In the winter they are confined and foddered in a yard,
and make plenty of dung.
Linnceus says that hawks ^''

pacisamtiir ifiducias aim

avibus^ quauidiu ciiadus cuculat but it appears to me

that, during that period, many little birds are taken and
Tobit ii. 10.
of Selborne 163
destroyed by birds of prey, as may be seen by their
feathers left in lanes and under hedges.
The missel-thrush is, while breeding, fierce and
pugnacious, driving such birds as approach its nest,
with great fury, to a distance. The Welch call it pen y
llwyn^ the head or master of the coppice. He suffers no
magpie, jay, or blackbird, to enter the garden where he
haunts ; and is, for the time, a good guard to the new-
sown legumens. In general he is very successful in the
defence of his family but once I observed in my garden,

that several magpies came determined to storm the nest

of a missel-thrush the dams defended their mansion

with great vigour, and fought resolutely /r(? aris &^ fods ;
but numbers at last prevailed, they tore the nest to pieces,
and swallowed the young alive.
In the season of nidification the wildest birds are
comparatively tame. Thus the ring-dove breeds in my
fields, though they are continually frequented and the ;

missel-thrush, though most shy and wild in the autumn

and winter, builds in my garden close to a walk where
people are passing all day long.
Wall-fruit abounds with me this year but my grapes, :

that used to be forward and good, are at present backward

beyond all precedent and this is not the worst of the

story for the same ungenial weather, the same black cold

solstice, has injured the more necessary fruits of the earth,

and discoloured and blighted our wheat. The crop of
hops promises to be very large.
Frequent returns of deafness incommode me sadly, and
half disqualify me for a naturalist ; for, when those fits
are upon me, I lose all the pleasing notices and little
intimations arising from rural sounds and May is to me

as silent and mute with respect to the notes of birds, etc.,

as August. My eyesight is, thank God, quick and good ;

but with respect to the other sense, I am, at times,

disabled :

And Wisdom at one entrance quite shut out."
164 The Natural History

Sclborne, June 8 1775.
Dear Sir,
On September the 21st, 1741, being then on a visit, and
intent on field-diversions, I rose before daybreak when :

I came into the enclosures, I found the stubbles and

clover-grounds matted all over with a thick coat of cob-
web, in the meshes of which a copious and heavy dew
hung so plentifully that the whole face of the country
seemed, as it were, covered with two or three setting-nets
drawn one over another. When the dogs attempted to
hunt, their eyes were so blinded and hoodwinked that
they could not proceed, but were obliged to lie down
and scrape the incumbrances from their faces with their
fore-feet, so that, finding my sport interrupted, I returned
home musing in my mind on the oddness of the occur-
As the morning advanced the sun became bright and
warm, and the day turned out one of those mo:>t lovely
ones which no season but the autumn produces cloud- ;

less, calm, serene, and worthy of the South of France

About nine an appearance very unusual began to
demand our attention, a shower of cobwebs fallingfrom
very elevated regions, and continuing, without any inter-
ruption, till the close of the day. These webs were not
single filmy threads, floating in the air in all directions,
but perfect flakes or rags some near an inch broad,
y ;

and five or six Imig, which fell with a degree of velocity

which showed they were considerably heavier than the
On every side as the observer turned his eyes might
he behold a continual succession of fresh flakes falling
into his sight, and twinkling like stars as they turned
their sides towards the sun.
of Selborne 165
How far this wonderful shower extended would be
difficult to say ;
but we know that it reached Bradley,
Selborne, and Alresford, three places wliich lie in a
sort of a triangle, the shortest of whose sides is about
eight miles in extent.
At the second of those places there was a gentleman
(for whose veracity and intelligent turn we have the
greatest veneration) who observed it the moment he got
abroad but concluded that, as soon as he came u{)on

the hillabove his house, where he took his morning

rides, he should be higher than this meteor, which he
imagined might have been blown, like thistle-down, from
the common above but, to his great astonishment,

when he rode to the most elevated part of the down,

300 feet above his fields, he found the webs in appear-
ance still as much above him as before still descending ;

into sight in a constant succession, and twinkling in the

sun, so as to draw the attention of the most incurious.
Neither before nor after was any such fall observed ;
but on this day the flakes hung in the trees and hedges
so thick, that a diligent person sent out might have
gathered baskets full.

The remark make on these cobweb-like

that I shall
appearances, called gossamer, is, that, strange and super-
stitious as the notions about them were formerly, nobody
in these days doubts but that they are the real production
of small spiders, which swarm in the fields in fine
weather in autumn, and have a power of shooting out
webs from their tails so as to render themselves buoyant,
and lighter than air. But why these apterous insects
should that day take such a wonderful aerial excursion,
and why their webs should at once become so gross and
material as to be considerably more weighty than air,
and to descend with precipitation, is a matter beyond my
skill. If I might be allowed to hazard a supposilif)n, I
should imagine that those filmy threads, when first shot,
might be entangled in the rising dew, and so drawn up,
spiders and all, by a brisk evaporation into tlic region
where clouds are formed and if the spiders have a

power of coiling and thickening their webs in the air, as

1 66 The Natural History
Dr. Lister says they have, [see his Letters to Mr. Ray]
then, when they ^vere become heavier than the air, they
must fall.
Every day in fine weather, in autumn chiefly, do I see
those spiders shooting out their webs and mounting
aloft :
they will go off from your finger if you will take
them into your hand. Last summer one alighted on my
book as I was reading in the parlour ; and, running to
the top of the page, and shooting out a web, took its
departure from thence. But what I most wondered at,
was that it went off with considerable velocity in a place
where no air was stirring ; and I am sure that I did not
assist it with my breath. So that these little crawlers
seem to have, while mounting, some loco-motive power
without the use of wings, and to move in the air, faster
than the air itself


Selborne, Aug. 15, 1775.

Dear Sir,
There is a wonderful spirit of sociality in the brute
greation, independent of sexual attachment the congre- :

cating of gregarious birds in the winter is a remarkable

Many horses, though quiet with company, will not stay
one minute in a field by themselves the strongest fences

cannot restrain them. My neighbour's horse will not

only not stay by himself abroad, but he will not bear to
be left alone in a strange stable without discovering the
utmost impatience, and endeavouring to break the rack
and manger with his fore feet. He has been known to
leap out at a stable-window, through which dung was
thrown, after company; and yet in other respects is
remarkably quiet. Oxen and cows will not fatten by
themselves ;
but will neglect the finest pasture that is
of Selborne 167
not recommended by society. It would be needless to
instance in sheep, which constantly flock together.
But this propensity seems not to be confined to
animals of the same species ; for we know a doe still
alive, that was brought up from a little fawn with a dairy
of cows ; with them it goes afield, and with them it
returns to the yard. The dogs of the house take no
notice of this deer, being used to her ; but, if strange
dogs come by, a chase ensues ; while the master smiles
to see his favourite securely leading her pursuers over

hedge, or gate, or stile, till she returns to the cows, who,

with fierce lowings and menacing horns, drive the assail-
ants quite out of the pasture.
Even great disparity of kind and size does not always
prevent social advances and mutual fellowship. For a
very intelligent and observant person has assured me
that, in the former part of his life, keeping but one horse,
he happened also on a time to have but one solitary hen.
These two incongruous animals spent much of their time
together in a lonely orchard, where they saw no creature
but each other. By degrees an apparent regard began
to take place between these two sequestered individuals.
The fowl would approach the quadruped with notes of
complacency, rubbing herself gently against his legs ;

while the horse would look down with satisfaction, and

move with the greatest caution and circumspection, lest
he should trample on his diminutive companion. Thus,
by mutual good offices, each seemed to console the
vacant hours of the other so that Milton, when he puts

the following sentiment in the mouth of Adam, seems

to be somewhat mistaken :

^ " Much less can bird with beast, or fish with fowl,
So well converse, nor with the ox the ape."
1 68 The Natural History

Selborne, Oct. 2, 1775.
Dear Sir,
We have two gangs or hordes of gypsies which infest
the south and west of England, and come round in their
circuit two or three times in the year. One of these
tribes calls itself by the noble name of Stanley, of which
I have nothing particular to say ; but the other is
distinguished by an appellative somewhat remarkable.

As far as their harsh gibberish can be understood, they
seem to say that the name of their clan is Curleople ;
now the termination of this word is apparently Grecian :

and Mezeray and the gravest historians all agree that

these vagrants did certainly migrate from Egyi)t and the
East two or three centuries ago, and so spread by degrees
over Europe, may not this name, a little corrupted, be
the very name they brought with them from the Levant?
It would be matter of some curiosity, could one meet
with an intelligent person among them, to inquire whether,
in their jargon, they still retain any Greek words the :

Greek radicals will appear in hand, foot, head, water,

earth, etc. It is possible that amidst their cant and

corrupted dialect many mutilated remains of their native

language might still be discovered.
With regard to those peculiar people, the gypsies, one
thing very remarkable, and especially as they came

from warmer climates ;

and that is, that while other
beggars lodge in barns, stables, and cow-houses, these
sturdy savages seem to pride themselves in braving the
severities of winter, and in living sub dio the whole year
round. Last September was as wet a month as ever was
known and yet during those deluges did a young gypsy-

girl lie-in in the midst of one of our hop-gardens,

on the
cold ground, with nothing over her but a piece of blanket
of Selborne 169
extended on a few hazel-rods bent hoop fasliion, atid
stuck into the earth at each end, in circumstances too
trying for a cow in the same condition :
yet within this
garden there was a large hop-kiln, into the chambers of
wliich she might have retired, had she thought shelter an
object worthy her attention.
Europe itself, it seems, cannot set bounds to the rovings
of those vagabonds; for Mr. Bell, in his return from
Peking, met a gang of these people on the confines of
Tartary, who were endeavouring to penetrate those deserts
and try their fortune in China.^
Gypsies are called in French, Bohemians ;
in Italian
and modern Greek, Zingani.
I am, etc.

Selborne, Nov. i, 1775.
Dear Sir,
"Ilic .... tnedre pingues, bic plurimns ignis
Semper, et assidua postes fubgine nigri."

I shall make no apology for troubling you with the

detail of a very simple piece of domestic ccconomy, being
satisfied that you think nothing beneath your attention
that tends to utility the matter alluded to is the use of

rushes instead of candles, which I am well aware prevails

in many districts besides this ; but as I know there are
countries also where it does not obtain, and as I have
considered the subject with some degree of exactness, I
shall proceed in my humble story, and leave you to judge
of the expediency.
The proper species of rush for this purpose seems to
he the J t/nr us effusus^ or common soft rush, which is to
be found in most moist pastures, by the sides of streams,
See Bell's Travels in China.
lyo The Natural History
and under hedges. These rushes are in best condition
in the height of summer ;
but may be
gathered, so as to
serve the purpose well, quite on to autunni. It would
be needless to add that the largest and longest are best.
Decayed labourers, women, and children, make it their
business to procure and prepare them. As soon as they
are cut they must be flung into water, and kept there ;
for otherwise they will dry and shrink, and the peel will
not run. At first a person would find it no easy matter
to divest a rush of its peel or rind, so as to leave one

regular, narrow, from top to bottom that may

even rib

support the pith : butother feats, soon becomes

this, like
familiar even to children and we have seen an old

woman, stone-blind, performing this business with great

dispatch, and seldom failing to strip them with the nicest
regularity. When these junci are thus far prepared, they
must lie out on the grass to be bleached, and take the
dew for some nights, and afterwards be dried in the sun.
Some address is required in dipping these rushes in
the scalding fat or grease ; but this knack also is to be
attained by practice. The careful wife of an industrious
Hampshire labourer obtains all her fat for nothing ; for
she saves the scummings of her bacon-pot for this use ;

and, if the grease abounds with salt, she causes the salt
to precipitate to the bottom, by setting the scummings in
a warm oven. Where hogs are not much in use, and
especially by the sea-side, the coarser animal oils will
come very cheap. A pound of common grease may be
procured for four pence ; and about six pounds of grease
will dip a pound of rushes ; and one pound of rushes

may be bought for one shilling so that a pound of :

rushes, medicated and ready for use, will cost three

shillings. If men that keep bees will mix a little wax
with the grease, it will give it a consistency, and render
it more cleanly, and make the rushes burn longer :

mutton-suet would have the same effect.

A good rush, which measured in length two feet four
inches and an half, being minuted, burnt only three
minutes short of an hour and a rush still of greater

length has been known to burn one hour and a quarter.

of Selborne 171
These rushes give a good clear light. Watch-lights
(coated with tallow), it is true, shed a dismal one, "dark-
ness visible"; but then the wicks of those have two ribs
of the rind, or peel, to support the pith, while tlie wick
of the dipped rush has but one. The two ribs are
intended to impede the progress of the flame, and make
the candle last.
In a pound of dry rushes, avoirdupois, Vvhich I caused
to be weighed and numbered, we found upwards of one
thousand six hundred individuals. Now suppose each
of these burns, one with another, only half an hour, then
a poor man will purchase eight hundred hours of light, a
time exceeding thirty-three entire days, for three shillings.
According to this account each rush, before
costs -^^ of a farthing, and yy afterwards. Thus a poor
family will enjoy 5J hours of comfortaVjle light for a
farthing. An experienced old housekeeper assures me
that one pound and ahalf of rushes completely supplies
his family the year round, since working people burn no
candle in the long days, because they rise and go to bed
by daylight.
Little farmers use rushes much in the short days, both
morning and evening in the dairy and kitchen ;
but the
very poor, who are always the worst ceconomisfs, and
therefore must continue very poor, buy an halfpenny
candle every evening, which, in their blowing open
rooms, does not burn much more than two hours. Thus
have they only two hours' light for their money instead
of eleven.
While on the subject of rural oeconomy, it may not be
improper to mention a pretty implement of housewifery
that we have seen no where else that is, little neat

besoms which our foresters make from the stalk of the

polyiriawi commune^ or great golden maiden-hair, which
they call silk-wood, and find plenty in the bogs. When
this moss is well combed and dressed, and divested of
its outer skin, it becomes of a beautiful bright chestnut

colour; and, being soft and pliant, is very proper for the
dusting of beds, curtains, carpets, hangings, etc. If
these besoms were known to the brushmakers in town,
172 The Natural History
it is probable they might come much in use for the
purpose above-mentioned.^
I am, etc.

Selborne, December 12, 1775.
Dear Sir,
We had in this village more than twenty
years ago an
idiot-boy, whom I well remember, who, from a child,
showed a strong propensity to bees they were his food,

his amusement, his sole object. And as people of this

cast have seldom more than one point in view, so this
lad exerted all his few faculties on this one pursuit. In
the winter he dosed away his time, within his father's
house, by the fire-side, in a kind of torpid state, seldom
departing from the chimney-corner but in the summer;

he was all alert, and in quest of his game in the fields,

and on sunny banks. Honey-bees, humble-bees, and
wasps, were his prey wherever he found them he had :

no apprehensions from their stings, but would seize them

nudis 7nanibus^ and at once disartn them of their weapons,
and suck their bodies for the sake of their honey-bags.
Sometimes he would fill his bosom between his shirt and
his skin with a number of these captives and sometimes ;

would confine them in bottles. He was a very merops

apiaster^ or bee-bird j and very injurious to men that
kept bees ; for he would slide into their bee-gardens,
and, sitting down before the stools, would rap with his
finger on the hives, and so take the bees as they came
out. He has been known to overturn hives for the sake
of honey, of which he was passionately fond. Where
metheglin was making he would linger round the tubs
and vessels, begging a draught of what he called bee-
wine. As he ran about he used to make a humming
A besom of this sort is to be seen in Sir Ashton Lever's
of Selborne 173
noise with his h'ps, resembling tlie buzzing of bees.
This lad was lean and sallow, and of a cadaverous com-
plexion and, except in his favourite pursuit, in which he

was wonderfully adroit, discovered no manner of under-

standing. Had his capacity been better, and directed
to the same object, he had perhaps abated much of our
wonder at the feats of a more modern exhibitor of bees ;

and we may justly say of him now,

Had thy presiding star propitious shone,
Should'st Wildman be." . . .

When a tall youth he was removed from hence to a

distant village, where he died, as I understand, before he
arrived at manhood.
I am, etc.

Selborne, Jan. 8, 1776.
Dear Sir,
It is the hardest thing in the world to shake off super-
stitious prejudices they are sucked in as it were with our

mother's milk and growing up with us at a time when


they take the fastest hold and make the

most lasting
become so interwoven into our very con-
is required to
stitutions, that the strongest good sense
disengage ourselves from them. No wonder therefore
that the lower people retain them their whole lives
a liberal
through, since their minds are not invigorated by
education, and therefore not enabled to make any efforts

adequate to the occasion.

Such a preamble seems to be necessary before we enter
on the superstitions of this district, lest we should be
a recital of practices too
suspected of exaggeration in
for this enlightened age.
But the people of Tring, in Hertfordshire, would do
174 The Natural History
well to remember, that no longer ago than the year 1751,
and within twenty miles of the capital, they seized on
two superannuated wretches, crazed with age, and over-
whelmed with infirmities, on a suspicion of witchcraft ;
and, by trying experiments, drowned them in a horse-
In a farm-yard near the middle of this village stands,
at this day, a row of pollard-ashes, which, by the seams
and long cicatrices down their sides, manifestly show
that, in former times, they have been cleft asunder.
These trees, when young and flexible, were severed and
held open by wedges, while ruptured children, stripped
naked, were pushed through the apertures, under a per-
suasion that, by such a process, the poor babes would
be cured of their infirmity. As soon as the operation
was over, the tree, in the suffering part, was plastered
with loam, and carefully swathed up. If the parts
coalesced and soldered together, as usually fell out, where
the feat was performed with any adroitness at all, the
party was cured ; but, wliere the cleft continued to gape,
the operation, it was supposed, would prove ineffectual.
Having occasion to enlarge my garden not long since, I
cut down two or three such trees, one of which did not
grow together.
We have several persons now living in the village, who,
in their childhood, were supposed to be healed by this
superstitious ceremony, derived down perhaps from our
Saxon ancestors, who practised it before their conversion
to Christianity.
At the south corner of the Plestor, or area, near the
church, there stood, about twenty years ago, a very old
grotesque hollow pollard-ash, which for ages had been
looked on with no small veneration as a shrew-ash. Now
a shrew-ash is an ash whose twigs or branches, when
gently applied to the limbs of cattle, will immediately
relieve the pains which a beast suffers from the running
of a shrew-mouse over the part affected for it is supposed

that a shrewd-mouse is of so baneful and deleterious a

nature, that wherever it creeps over a beast, be it horse,
cow, or sheep, the suffering animal is afflicted with cruel
of Selborne 175
anguish, and threatened with the loss of the use of the
limb. Against this accident, to which they were con-
tinually liable, our provident fore-fathers always kept a
shrew-ash at hand, which, when once medicated, would
maintain its virtue for ever. A
shrew-ash was made thus ^
— Into the body of the tree a deep hole was bored with

an auger, and a poor devoted shrew-mouse was thrust in

alive, and plugged in, no doubt, with several quaint
incantations long since forgotten. As the ceremonies
necessary for such a consecration are no longer under-
stood, all succession is at an end, and no such tree is
known to subsist in the manor, or hundred.
As to that on the Plestor,
The late vicar stubb'd and burnt it,"

when he was w^ay-warden, regardless of the remonstrances

of the by-standers, who interceded in vain for its preserv-
ation, urging its power and efficacy, and alleging that it
had been
Religione patrum niultos servata per annos."

I am, etc.

Selborne, Feb. 7, 1776.
Dear Sir,
In heavy fogs, on elevated situations especially, trees are
perfect alembics :and no one that has not attended to
such matters can imagine how much water one tree will
distil in a night's time by condensing the vapour, which
trickles down the twigs and boughs, so as to make the

ground below quite in a float. In Newton-lane, in

October 1775, on a misty day, a particular oak in leaf
dropped so fast that the cart-way stood in puddles and
For a similar practice, see Plot's Staffordshire.
176 The Natural History
the ruls ran ^YiLh water, though the ground in general was
In some of our smaller islands in the AVest- Indies, if I
mistake not, there are no springs or rivers ; but the people
are supplied with that necessary element, water, merely
by the dripj)ing of some large tall trees, which, standing
in the bosom of a mountain, keep their heads constantly

enveloped with fogs and clouds, from which they dispense

their kindly never-ceasing moisture and so render those

districts habitable by condensation alone.

Trees in leaf have such a vast proportion more of
surface than those that are naked, that, in theory, their
condensations should greatly exceed those that are
stripped of their leaves but, as the former imbibe also

a great quantity of moisture, it is difficult to say which

drip most but this I know, that deciduous trees that

are entwined with much ivy seem to distil the greatest

quantity. Ivy-leaves are smooth, and thick, and cold,
and therefore condense very fast ; and besides evergreens
imbibe very little. These facts may furnish the intelligent
with hints concerning what sorts of trees they should
plant round small ponds that they would wish to be
perennial and show them
how advantageous some trees
are in preference to others.
Trees perspire profusely, condense largely, and check
evaporation so much, that woods are always mcjist no :

wonder therefore that they contribute much to pools and

That trees promoters of lakes and rivers
are great
appears from a well known
fact in North America for, ;

since the woods and forests have been grubbed and

cleared, all bodies of water are much diminished so that ;

some streams, that were very considerable a century ago,

will not now drive a common mill.^ Besides, most
woodlands, forests, and chases with us abound with pools
and morasses no doubt for the reason given above.

To a thinkmg mind few phenomena are more strange

than the state of little ponds on the summits of chalk-
hills, many of which are never dry in the most trying
Vide Kalm's Travels (0 Norih America.
of Selborne 177
droughts of summer. On say, because in
chalk-liills T

many rocky and gravelly soils springs usually break out

pretty high on the sides of elevated grounds and moun-
tains ; but no person acquainted with chalky districts
will allow that they ever saw springs in such a soil but in

valleys and bottoms, since the waters of so pervious a

stratum as chalk all lie on one dead level, as well-diggers
have assured me again and again.
Now we have many such little round ponds in this
district ; and one in particular on our sheep-down, three
hundred feet above my house ; which though never
above three feet deep in the middle, and not more than
thirty feet in diameter,and containing perhaps not more
than two or three hundred hogsheads of water, yet never
is known to fail, though it affords drink for three hundred

or four hundred sheep, and twenty head of

for at least

large cattle beside. This pond, it is true, is

with two moderate beeches, that, doubtless, at times
afford it much supply but then we have others as small,

that, without the aid of trees, and in spite of evaporation

from sun and wind, and perpetual consumption by cattle,
yet constantly maintain a moderate share of water, with-
out overflowing in the wettest seasons, as they would do if
supplied by springs. By my journal of May 1775, it ap-
pears that "the small and even considerable ponds in the
vales are now dried up, while the small ponds on the very
tops of hills are but little affected." Can this difference
be accounted for from evaporation alone, which certainly
ismore prevalent in bottoms ? or rather have not those
elevated pools some unnoticed recruits, which in the
night time counterbalance the waste of the day ; without
which the cattle alone must soon exhaust them? And
here it will be necessary to enter more minutely into the
cause. Dr. Hales, in his Vegetable Statics^ advances,
from experiment, that "the moister the earth is the more
dew falls on it in a night and more than a double

quantity of dew falls on a surface of water than there

does on an equal surface of moist earth." Hence we see
that water, by its coolness, is enabled to assimilate to
itself a large quantity of moisture nightly by condensation ;

lyS The Natural History
and that the air, when loaded with fogs and vapours,
and even with copious dews, can alone advance a con-
siderable and never-failing resource. Persons that are
much abroad, and travel early and late, such as shepherds,
fishermen, etc., can tell what prodigious fogs prevail in
the night on elevated downs, even in the hottest parts of
summer and how much the surfaces of things are

drenched by those swimming vapours, though, to the

senses, all the while, little moisture seems to fall.
I am, etc.


Selborne, April 3, 1776.

Dear Sir,
Monsieur Ilerlssant, a French anatomist, seems per-
suaded tliat he has discovered the reason why cuckoos
do not hatch their own eggs ; the impediment, he
supposes, arises from the internal structure of their parts,
which incapacitates them for incubation. According to
this gentleman, the crop or craw of a cuckoo does not
lie before the ster?ium at the bottom of the neck, as in

the gaUi}ice, coiiuiibce^ etc., but immediately behind it, on

and over the bowels, so as to make a large protuberance
in the belly.^
Induced by this assertion, we procured a cuckoo; and,
cutting open the breast-bone, and exposing the intestines
to sight, found the crop lying as mentioned above. This
stomach was large and round, and stuffed hard like a
pin-cushion with food, which, upon nice examination, we
found to consist of various insects ; such as small scarabs,
spiders, and dragon-flies ; the last of which we have seen
cuckoos catching on the wing as they were just emerging
out of the aurelia state. Among this farrago also were
to be seen maggots, and many seeds, which belonged
either to gooseberries, currants, cranberries, or some such
Histoirc dc V Acad^mie Royale, 1752.
of Selborne 179
fruit; so that these birds apparently subsist on insects
and fruits nor was there the least appearance of bones,

feathers, or fur to support the idle notion of their being

birds of prey.
The sienium in this bird seemed to us to be remark-
ably short, between which and the ayius lay the crop,
or craw, and immediately behind that the bowels against
the backbone.
It must be allowed, as this anatomist observes, that
the crop placed just upon the bowels must, especially
when full, be in a very uneasy situation during the busi-
ness of incubation ; yet the test will be to examine
whether birds that are actually known to sit for certain
are not formed in a similar manner. This inquiry I pro-
posed to myself to make with a fern-owl, or goat-sucker,
as soon as opportunity offered because, if their information

proves the same, the reason for incapacity in the cuckoo

will be allowed to have been taken up somewhat hastily.
Not long after a fern-owl was procured, which, from
its habit and shape, we suspected might resemble the

cuckoo in its internal construction. Nor were our

suspicions ill-grounded; for, upon the dissection, the
crop, or craw, also lay behind the stei-niim^ inunediately
on the viscera, between them and the skin of the belly.
It was bulky, and stuffed hard with \^xgQ pha/cEnrr, moths
of several sorts, and their eggs, which no doubt had been
forced out of those insects by the action of swallowing.
Now as it appears that this bird, which is so well
known to practise incubation, is formed in a similar
manner with cuckoos. Monsieur Herissant's conjecture,
that cuckoos are incapable of incubation from the
disposition of their intestines, seems to fall to the
ground and we are still at a loss for the cause of that

strange and singular peculiarity in the instance of the

cuculus canonis.
We found the case to be the same with the ring-tail
hawk, in respect to formation and, as far as 1 can

recollect, with the swift and

; probably it is so with many
more sorts of birds that are not granivorous.
I am, etc.
i8o The Natural History

Selborne, April 29, 1776.
Dear Sir,
On August the 4th, 1775, we
surprised a large viper,
which seemed very heavy and bloated, as it
lay in the
grass basking in the sun. When we came to cut it up,
we found that the abdomen was crowded with young,
fifteen in number ; the shortest of which measured full
seven inches, and were about the size of full-grown earth-
worms. This little fry issued into the world with the true
viper-spirit about them, showing great alertness as soon
as disengaged from the belly of the dam they twisted

and wriggled about, and themselves up, and gaped


very wide when touched with a stick, showing manifest

tokens of menace and defiance, though as yet they had
no manner of fiings that we could find, even with the
help of our glasses.
To a thinking mind nothing is more wonderful than
that early instinct which impresses young animals with
the notion of the situation of their natural weapons, and
of using them properly in their own defence, even before
those weapons subsist or are formed. Thus a young
cock will spar at his adversary before his spurs are
grown ; and a calf or a lamb will push with their heads
before their horns are sprouted. In the same manner
did these young adders attempt to bite before their
fangs were in being. The dam however was furnished
with very formidable ones, which we lifted up (for they
fold down when not used) and cut them off with the
point of our scissors.
There was little room to suppose that this brood had
ever been in the open air before ;
and that they were
taken in for refuge, at the mouth of the dam, when she
perceived that danger was approaching; because then
of Selborne i8i
probably we should have found them somewhere in the
neck, and not in the abdomen.

Castration has a strange effect it emasculates both

man, beast, and bird, and brings them to a near resem-

blance of the other sex. Thus eunuchs have smooth
unnmscular arms, thighs and legs and broad hips, and

beardless chins, and squeaking voices. Gelt-stags and

bucks have hornless heads, like hinds and docs. Thus
wethers have small horns, like ewes and oxen large bent

horns, and hoarse voices when they low, like cows for

bulls have short straight horns ;

and though they mutter
and grumble in a deep tremendous tone, yet tliey low in
a shrill high key. Capons have small combs and gills,
and look pallid about the head, like pullets they also

walk without any parade, and hover chickens like hens.

Barrow-hogs have also small tusks like sows.
Thus far plain that the deprivation of masculine
it is

vigour puts a stop to the growth of those parts or appen-

dages that are looked upon as its insignia. But the
ingenious Mr. Lisle, in his book on husbandry, carries it
much farther; for he says that the loss of those insignia
alone has sometimes a strange effect on the ability itself:
he had a boar so fierce and venereous, that, to prevent
mischief, orders were given for his tusks to be broken off.
No sooner had the beast suffered this injury than his
powers forsook him, and he neglected those females to
whom before he was passionately attached, and from
whom no fences could restrain him.
1 82 The Natural History

The natural term of an hog's life is little known, and
the reason is plain—because it is neither profitable nor
convenient to keep that turbulent animal to the full
extent of its time :
however, my neighbour, a man of
substance, who had no occasion to study every little
advantage to a nicety, kept an half-bred Bantam sow,
who was as thick as she was long, and whose belly swept
on the ground, till she was advanced to her seventeenth
year at which period she showed some tokens of age by

the decay of her teeth and the decline of her fertility.

For about ten years this prolific mother produced two
litters in the year of about ten at a time, and once above

twenty at a litter ; but, as there were near double the

number of pigs to that of teats many died. From long
experience in the world this female was grown very
sagacious and artful :

when she found occasion to
converse with a boar she used to open all the intervening
gates, and march, by herself, up to a distant farm where
one was kept ; and when her purpose was served would
return by tlie same means. At the age of about fifteen
her litters began to be reduced to four or five ; and such
a litter she exhibited when in her fatting-pen. She
proved, when fat, good bacon, juicy, and tender ; the
rind, or sward, was remarkably thin. At a moderate
computation she was allowed to have been the fruitful
parent of three hundred pigs a prodigious instance of

fecundity in so large a quadruped ! She was killed in

spring 1775.
I am, etc
of Selborne 183


Selborne, May 9, 1 776.

Dear Sir,
.... "admorunt libera tigres."

We have remarked in a former letter how much in-

congruous animals, in a lonely state, may be attaclied to
each other from a spirit of sociality in this it may not

be amiss to recount a different motive which has been

known to create as strange a fondness.
My friendhad a little helpless leveret brought to him,
which the servants fed with milk in a spoon, and about
the same time his cat kittened and the young were dis-
patched and buried. The hare was soon lost, and
supposed to be gone the way of most fondlings, to be
killed by some dog or cat. However, in about a fort-
night, as the master was sitting in his garden in the dusk
of the evening, he observed his cat, with tail erect,
trotting towards him, and calling with little short inward
notes of complacency, such as they use towards their
kittens, and something gamboling after, which proved to
be the leveret that the cat had supported with her milk,
and continued to support with great affection.
Thus was a graminivorous animal nurtured by a
carnivorous and predaceous one !

Why so cruel and sanguinary a beast as a cat, of the

ferocious genus of Feles^ the viurtian leo^ as Linnasus
calls it, should be affected with any tenderness towards
an animal which is its natural prey, is not so easy to
This strange affection probably was occasioned by that
desiderhim^ those tender maternal feelings, which the loss
of her kittens had awakened in her breast; nnd by the
complacency and ease she derived to herself from the
184 The Natural History
procuring her teats to be drawn, which were too much
distended with milk, till, from habit, she became as
much delighted with this foundling as if it had been her
real offspring.
This incident is no bad solution of that strange cir-
cumstance which grave historians as well as the poets
assert, of exposed children being sometimes nurtured by
female wild beasts that probably had lost their young.
For it is not one whit more marvellous that Romulus
and Remus, in their infant state, should be nursed by
a she-wolf, than that a poor Httle sucking leveret should
be fostered and cherished by a bloody grimalkin.
" viridi fcetam Mavortis in antro
Procubuisse lupam geminos huic ubera circum

Ludere pendentes pueros, et lambere matrem

Impavidos: illam tereti cervice reflexam
Mulcere alternos, et corpora fingere lingua."

Selborne, May 20, 1777.
Dear Sir,
Lands that are subject to frequent inundations are
always poor ; and probably the reason may be because
the worms are drow^ned. The most insignificant insects
and reptiles are of much more consequence, and have
much more influence in the oeconomy of nature, than
the incurious are aware of; and are mighty in their
eftect, from their minuteness, which renders them less an
object of attention ; and from their numbers and fecun-
dity. Earth-worms, though in appearance a small and
despicable link in the chain of nature, yet, if lost, would
make a lamentable chasm. P^or, to say nothing of half
the birds, and some quadrupeds which are almost entirely
supported by them, worms seem to be the great promoters
of vegetation, which would proceed but lamely without
of Selborne 185
them, by boring, perforating, and loosening the soil, and
rendering it pervious to rains and the fibres of plants, by
drawing straws and stalks of leaves and twigs into it ;

and, most of all, by throwing up such infmite numbers

of lumps of earth called worm-casts, which, being their
excrement, is a fine manure for grain and grass. "VVorms
probably provide new soil for hills and slopes where the
rain washes the earth away and they affect slopes,

probably to avoid being flooded. Gardeners and farmers

express their detestation of worms the former because

they render their walks unsightly, and make them much

work and the latter because, as they think, worms eat

their green corn. But these men would find that the
earth without worms would soon become cold, hard-
bound, and void of fermentation and consequently

sterile and besides, in favour of worms, it should be


hinted that green corn, plants, and flowers, are not so

much injured by them as by many species of coleopie7-a
(scarabs), and iipiil<z (long-legs), in their larva, or grub-
state and by unnoticed myriads of small shell-less snails,

called slugs, which silently and imperceptibly make amaz-

ing havoc in the field and garden.^
These hints we think proper to throw out in order to
set the inquisitive and discerning to work.
A good monography of worms would afford much
entertainment and information at the same time, and
would open a large and new field in natural history.
Worms work most in the spring but by no means lie

torpid in the dead months; are out every mild night in

the winter, as any person may be convinced that will take
the pains to examine his grass-plots with a candle are ;

hermaphrodites, and much addicted to venery, and con-

sequently very prolific.
I am, etc.

1 Farmer
Young, of Norton-farm, says tliat this spring (1777)
about four acres of his wheat in one field was entirely destroyed by
slugs, which swarmed on the blades
of corn, and devoured it as fast
as it sprang.
1 86 The Natural History


Selboine, Nov. 22, 1777.

Dear Sir,
You cannot but remember that the twenty-sixth and
twenty-seventh of last March were very hot days so

sultry that everybody complained and were restless under

those sensations to which they had not been reconciled
by gradual approaches.
This sudden summer-like heat was attended by many
summer coincidences ; for on those two days the ther-
mometer rose to sixty-six in the shade ; many species of
insects revived and came forth ; some bees swarmed in
this neighbourhood ; the old tortoise, near Lewes in
Sussex, awakened and came forth out of its dormitory ;
and, what is most to my present purpose, many house-
swallows appeared and were very alert in many places,
and particularly at Cobham, in Surrey.
But as that short warm period was succeeded as well
as preceded by harsh severe weather, with frequent frosts
and ice, and cutting winds, the insects withdrew, the
tortoise retired again into the ground, and the swallows
were seen no more until the tenth of April, when, the
rigour of the spring abating, a softer season began to
Again ; it appears by my journals for many years past,
that house-martins retire, to a bird, about the beginning
of October ; so that a person not very observant of such
matters would conclude that they had taken their last
farewell but then it may be seen in my diaries also that

considerable flocks have discovered themselves again in

the first week of November, and often on the fourth day
of that month only for one day ; and that not as if they
were in actual migration, but playing about at their
leisure and feeding calmly, as if no enterprise of moment
at all agitated their spirits. And this was the case in
of Selboriie 187
the beginning of this very month ; for, on the fourth of
November, more than twenty house-martins, which, in
appearance, had all departed about the seventh of
October, were seen again, for that one morning only,
sporting between my fields and the JIanger, and feasting
on insects which swarmed in that sheltered district. The
preceding day was wet and blustering, but the fourth was
dark and mild, and soft, the wind at south-west, and the
thermometer at 58'^ ; a pitch not common at that season
of the year. Moreover, it may not be amiss to add in
this place, that whenever the thermometer is above 50
the bat comes flitting out in every autumnal and winter
From all these circumstances laid together, it is

obvious that torpid insects, reptiles, and quadrupeds,

are awakened from their profoundest slumbers by a little
untimely warmth ; and therefore that nothing so much
promotes this death-like stupor as a defect of heat. And
farther, it is reasonable to suppose that two whole species,
or at least many individuals of those two species, of
British hirundines^ do never leave this island at all, but
partake of the same benumbed state for we cannot :

suppose that, after a month's absence, house-martins

can return from southern regions to appear for one
morning in November, or that house-swallows should
leave the districts of Africa to enjoy, in March, the
transient summer of a couple of days.
I am, etc.

Selborne, Jan. 8, 1778.
Dear Sir,
There was in this village several years ago a miserable
with a leprosy,
pauper, who, from his birth, was afflicted
as far as we are aware of a singular kind, since it affected
his feet. This
only the palms of his hands and the soles of
1 88 The Natural History
scaly eruption usually broke out twice in the year, at the
spring and fall ; and, by peeling away, left the skin so
thin and tender that neither his hands or feet were able
to perform their functions ; so that the poor object was
half his time on crutches, incapable of employ, and
languishing in a tiresome state of indolence and inac-
tivity. His habit was lean, lank, and cadaverous. In
this sad plight he dragged on a miserable existence, a
burden to himself and his parish, which was obliged to
support him till he w^as reUeved by death at more than
thirty years of age.
The good women, who love to account for every defect
in children by the doctrine of longing, said that his
mother felt a violent propensity for oysters, which she
was unable to gratify ; and that the black rough scurf on
his hands and feet were the shells of that fish. We
knew his parents, neither of which were lepers ; his father
in particular lived to be far advanced in years.
In all ages the leprosy has made dreadful havoc among
mankind. The Israelites seem to have been greatly
afillicted with it from the most remote times ; as
from the peculiar and repeated injunctions given them

in the Levitical law.^ Nor was the rancour of this foul

disorder much abated in the last period of their common-
wealth, as may be seen in many passages of the New
centuries ago this horrible distemper prevailed
all Europe over;
and our forefathers were by no means
exempt, as appears by the large provision made for
objects labouring under this calamity. There was an
hospital for female lepers in the diocese of Lincoln, a
noble one near Durham, three in London and Southwark,
and perhaps many more in or near our great towns
and cities. Moreover, some crowned heads, and other
wealthy and charitable personages, bequeathed large
legacies to such poor people as languished under this
hopeless infirmity.
It must therefore, in these
days, be, to an humane and
thinking person, a matter of equal wonder and satisfaction,
See Levilicus, chap. xiii. and xiv.
of Selborne 189
•u'hen he contemplates how nearly this pest is
and observes that a leper now
a rare sight.
is He will,
moreover, when engaged in such a train of thought,
naturally inquire for the reason. This happy change
perhaps may have originated and been continued from
the much smaller quantity of salted meat and fish now
eaten in these kingdoms ; from the use of linen next the
skin ; from the plenty of better bread ; and from the
profusion of fruits, roots, legumes, and greens, so common
in every family. Three or four centuries ago, liefore
there were any enclosures, sown-grasses, field-turnips, or
field-carrots, or hay, all the cattle which had grown fat
in summer, and were not killed for winter-use, were
turned out soon after Michaelmas to shift as they could
through the dead months so that no fresh meat could

be had in winter or spring. Hence the marvellous

account of the vast stores of salted flesh found in the
larder of the eldest Spencer^ in the days of Edward the
Second, even so late iti the spring as the third of May.
It was from magazines like these that the turbulent barons

supported in idleness their riotous swarms of retainers

ready for any disorder or mischief. But agriculture is
now arrived at such a pitch of perfection, that our best
and fattest meats are killed in the winter; and no man
need eat salted flesh, unless he prefers it, that has money
to buy fresh.
Onecause of this distemper might be, no doubt, the
quantity of wretched fresh and salt fish consumed by the
commonalty at all seasons as well as in Ixnt which our ;

poor now would hardly be persuaded to touch.

The use of linen changes, shirts or shifts, in the room
of sordid and filthy woollen, long worn next the skin, is
a matter of neatness comparatively modern but must ;

prove a great means of preventing cutaneous ails. At

this very time woollen instead of linen prevails among
the poorer Welch, who are suliject to foul eruptions.
The plenty of good wheaten bread that now is found
among all ranks of people in the south, instead of that
Vtz. : Six hundred bacons, eighty carcasses of beeT, and six
hundred muttons.
190 The Natural History
miserable sort which used in old days to be made of
barley or beans, may contribute not a little to the
sweetening their blood and correcting their juices ; for
the inhabitants of mountainous districts, to this day,
are still liable to the itch and other cutaneous disorders,
from a wretchedness and poverty of diet.
As to the produce of a garden, every middle-aged
person of observation may perceive, within his o\nti

memory, both in town and country, how vastly the

consumption of vegetables is increased. Green-stalls in
cities now support multitudes in a comfortable state,
while gardeners get fortunes. Every decent labourer
also has his garden, v/hich is half his support, as well as
his delight; and common farmers provide plenty of beans,
peas, and greens, for their hinds to eat with their bacon ;

and those few that do not are despised for their sordid
parsimony, and looked upon as regardless of the welfare
of their dependents. Potatoes have prevailed in this
little district, by means of premiums, within these twenty

years only ; and are much esteemed here now by the

poor, who would scarce have ventured to taste them in
the last reign.
Our Saxon ancestors certainly had some sort of
cabbage, because they call the month of February sprout-
cale ; but, long after their days, the cultivation of gardens
was little attended to. The religious, being men of
leisure, and keeping up a constant correspondence with
Italy, were the first people among us that had gardens
and fruit-trees in any perfection, within the walls of their
abbies ^ and priories. The barons neglected every
pursuit that did not lead to war or tend to the pleasure
of the chase.
It was not till gentlemen took up the study of horti-
culture themselves that the knowledge of gardening
made such hasty advances. Lord Cobham, Lord 11a,
^ " 111 monasteries the lamp of knowledge continued to burn,
however dimly. In them men of business were formed for the
state the art of writing was cultivated by the monks they were

the only proficients in mechanics, gardening, and architecture."


See Dairy mple's Annals of Scotland.
of Selborne 191
and Mr. Waller of Beaconsfield, were some of the first
people of rank that promoted the elegant science of
ornamenting witliout despising the superintendence of
the kitchen quarters and fruit walls.
A remark made by the excellent Mr. Ray in his Tour
of Europe at once surprises us, and corroborates what
has been advanced above for we find him observing,

so late as his days, that "the Italians use several herbs

for sallets, which are not yet or have not been but lately
used in England, viz., se/Ieri (celery), which is nothing
else but the sweet smallage; the young shoots whereof,
with a little of the head of the root cut off, they eat raw
with oil and pepper." And further he adds " curled
endive blanched is much used beyond seas and, ;

for a raw sallet, seemed to excel lettuce itself." Now

this journey was undertaken no longer ago than in the

year 1663.
I am, etc.

" Fort^
puer, comitum seducfus ab aGjmine fido,
Dixerat, ecqnis adest ? et, adest, rcsponderat echo.

Hie stupet ; iitque aciein partes divisit in omnes ;

Voce, veni, clainat magna. Vocat ilia vocantem."

Selborne, Feb. 12, 17 78.

Dear Sir,
In a district so diversified as this, so full of hollow vales,
and hanging woods, it is no wonder that echoes should
abound. Many we have discovered that return the cry
of a pack of dogs, the notes of a hunting-horn, a tunable
ring of bells, or the melody of birds, very agreeably but :

we were still at a loss for a polysyllabical, articulate echo,

till a young gentleman, who had parted from his com-

pany in a summer evening walk, and was calling after

them, stumbled upon a very curious one in a spot where
might least be expected. At first he was much sur-
192 The Natural History
prised, and could not be persuaded but that he was
mocked by some boy but, repeating his trials in several

languages, and finding his respondent to be a very adroit

polyglot, he then discerned the deception.
This echo in an evening, before rural noises cease,
would repeat ten syllables most articulately and distinct-
ly, especially if quick dactyls were chosen. The last

syllables of
"Tityre, tu patulce recuhans." , . .

were as audibly and intelligibly returned as the first :

and there is no doubt, could have been made, but

that at midnight, wlien the air is very elastic, and a dead
stillness prevails, one or two syllables more might have
been obtained ; but the distance rendered so late an
experiment very inconvenient.
Quick dactyls, we observed, succeeded best ;
for when
we came to try its powers in slow, heavy, embarrassed
spondees of the same number of syllables,

" Monstrum
honendum, infuiaie, ingens." . . .

we could perceive a return but of four or five.

have some one place to which they are
All echoes
returned stronger and more distinct than to any other ;
and that is always the place that lies at right angles with
the object of repercussion, and is not too near, nor too
far off. Buildings, or naked rocks, re-echo much more
articulately than hanging wood or vales ; because in the
latter the voice is as it were entangled, and embarrassed
in the covert, and weakened in the rebound.
The true object of this echo, as we found by various
experiments, the stone-built, tiled hop-kiln in Galley-

lane, which measures in front 40 feet, and from the

ground to the eaves 12 feet. ThQixxiQ ce?itrum phonicum,
or just distance, is one particular spot in the King's-
field, in the path to Nore-hill, on the very brink of the

steep balk above the hollow cart way. In this case

there is no choice of distance ; but the path, by mere
contingency, happens to be the lucky, the identical spot,
because the ground rises or falls so immediately, if the
of Selborne 193
speaker either retires or advances, that his mouth would
at once be above or below the object.
We measured this polysyllabical echo with great exact-
ness, and found the distance to fall very short of Dr.
Plot's rule for distinct articulation : for the 13octor, in
his history of Oxfordshire, allows 1 20 feet for the return
of each syllable distinctly :hence this echo, which gives
ten distinct syllables, ought to measure 400 yards, or 120
feet to each syllable ; whereas our distance is only 258

yards, or near 75 feet, to each syllable. Thus our

measure falls short of the Doctor's, as five to eight but :

then it must be acknowledged that this candid philoso-

pher was convinced afterwards, that some latitude must
be admitted of in the distance of echoes according to
time and place.
When experiments of this sort are making, it should
always be remembered that weather and the time of day
have a vast influence on an echo for a dull, heavy,

moist air deadens and clogs the sound and hot sunshine

renders the air thin and weak, and deprives it of all its
springiness ; and a ruffling wind quite defeats the whole.
In a still, clear, dewy evening the air is most elastic; and
perhaps the later the hour the more so.
Echo has always been so amusing to the imagination,
that the poets have personified her; and in their hands
she has been the occasion of many a beautiful fiction.
Nor need the gravest man be ashamed to appear taken
with such a phenomenon, since it may become the
subject of philosophical or mathematical inquiries.
C)ne should have imagined that echoes, if not enter-
taining, must at least have been harmless and inoffensive;
yet Virgil advances a strange notion, that they are

jurious to bees. After enumerating some probable and

reasonable annoyances, such as prudent owners would
wish far removed from their bee-gardens, he adds
" aut ubi concava
Saxa sonant, vocisque ofTensa rcsultat imago."

This wild and fanciful assertion will hardly be admitted

by the philosophers of these days; especially as they all

194 The Natural History
now seem agreed that insects are not furnished with any
organs of hearing at all. But if it should be urged, that
though they cannot hear yet perhaps they may feel the
repercussion of sounds, I grant it is possible they may.
Yet that these impressions are distasteful or hurtful, I deny,
because bees, in good summers, thrive well in my outlet,
where the echoes are very strong for this village is

another Anathoth, a place of responses or echoes.

Besides, it does not appear from experiment that bees
are inany way capable of being affected by sounds for :

I have often tried my own with a large speaking-trumpet

held close to their hives, and with such an exertion of
voice as would have hailed a ship at the distance of a
mile, and still these insects pursued their various em-
ployments undisturbed, and without showing the least
sensibility or resentment.
Some time since its discovery this echo is become

totally silent,though the object, or hop-kiln remains :

nor is there any mystery in this defect, for the field

between is planted as an hop-garden, and the voice of
the speaker is totally absorbed and lost among the poles
and entangled foliage of the hops. And when the poles
are removed in autumn the disappointment is the same ;

because a tall quick-set hedge, nurtured up for the pur-

pose of shelter to the hop ground, entirely interrupts the
impulse and repercussion of the voice so that till those

obstructions are removed no more of its garrulity can be

Should any gentleman of fortune think an echo in his
park or outlet a pleasing incident, he might build one at
little or no expense. For whenever he had occasion for
a new barn, stable, dog-kennel, or the like structure, it
would be only needful to erect this building on the gentle
declivity of an hill, with a like rising opposite to it, at a
few hundred yards distance ; and perhaps success might
be the easier ensured could some canal, lake, or stream,
intervene. From a seat at the ce?ittu}n phonicujn he and
his friends might amuse themselves sometimes of an
evening with the prattle of this loquacious nymph ; of
whose complacency and decent reserve more may be said
of Selborne 195
than can with truth of every individual of her sex since
she is— ;

.... "
qure nee reticcreloquenti,
Nee prior ipsa loqui didicit resonabilis eeho."

I am, etc.

P.S. — The reader will, I trust, pardon the

following lovely quotation, so finely describing echoes,
and so poetically accounting for their causes from
popular superstition :

Quae ben^ quom videas, ratlonem reddere possis
Tute tibi atque aliis, quo pacto per loea sola
Saxa pareis formas verborum ex ordine reddant,
Palanteis eomites quom monteis inter opacos
Quoerimus, et magna dispersos voce ciemus.
Sex etiam, aut septem loca vidi reddere voces
Unam quom jaceres : ita colles coUibus ipsis
Verba repulsantes iterabant dicta referre.
Hocc loca capripedes Satyros, Nymphasque tenere
Finitimi fingunt, et Faunos esse loquuntur ;
Quorum noctivago strepitu, ludoque jocanti
Adfirmant volgo taciturna silentia rtimpi,
Chordarumque sonos dulceisque querelas,
Tibia quas fundit digitis pulsata canentum :

Et genus agricolGm late sentiscere, quom Pan

Pinea semiferi capitis velamina quassans,
Unco sjepe labro calamos percurrit hiantcis,
Fistula silvestrem ne cesset fuiidere niusam."
Lucretius, Lib, iv. 1.

Selborne, May 13, 1778.
Dear Sir,
Among the many singularities attending those amusing
birds the swifts, 1 am now confirmed in the opinion that
we have every year the same number of pairs invariably ;
at least the result of my inquiry has been exactly the
same for a long time past. The swallows and martins are
196 The Natural History
so numerous, and so widely distributed over the village,
that it is hardly possible to recount them ; while the
swifts, though they do not all build in the church, yet so
frequently haunt it, and play and rendezvous round it,
that they are easily enumerated. The number that I
constantly find are eight pairs ; about half of which reside
in the church, and the rest build in some of the lowest
and meanest thatched cottages. Now as these eight
pairs, allowance being made for accidents, breed yearly
eight pairs more, what becomes annually of this increase ;
and what determines every spring which pairs shall visit
us, and reoccupy their ancient haunts ?
Ever since 1 have attended to the subject of ornithology,
I have always supposed that that sudden reverse of affec-

tion, that strange di/rto-Topy^, which immediately succeeds

in the feathered kind to the most passionate fondness, is
the occasion of an equal dispersion of birds over the face
of the earth. Without this provision one favourite dis-
trict would be crowded with inhabitants, while others
would be destitute and forsaken. But the parent birds
seem to maintain a jealous superiority, and to oblige the
young to seek for new abodes and the rivalry of the

males, in many kinds, prevents their crowding the one

on the other. Whether the swallows and house-martins
return in the same exact number annually is not easy to
say, for reasons given above : but it is apparent, as I
have remarked before in my Monographies, that the
numbers returning bear no manner of proportion to the
numbers retiring.


Selborne, June 2, 1778.

Dear Sir,
The standing objection to botany has always been, that
a pursuit that amuses the fancy and exercises the
it is

memory, without improving the mind or advancing any

of Selborne 197
real knowledge and wliere the science is carried no

farther than a mere systematic classification, the charge is

but too true. But the botanist that is desirous of wiping off
this aspersion should be by no means content with a list
of names ; he should study plants philosophically, should
investigate the laws of vegetation, should examine the
powers and virtues of efficacious herbs, should promote
their cultivation ; and graft the gardener, the planter, and
the husbandman, on the phytologist. Not that system is
by any means to be thrown aside without system the ;

field of nature would be a pathless wilderness but :

system should be subservient to, not the main object of,

Vegetation is highly worthy of our attention and in ;

itself isof the utmost consequence to mankind, and pro-

ductive of many of the greatest comforts and elegancies
of life. To plants we owe timber, bread, beer, honey,
wine, oil, linen, cotton, etc. what not only strengthens our
hearts, and
exhilarates our spirits, but what secures from
inclemencies of weather and adorns our persons. Man,
in his true state seems to be subsisted by
of nature,
spontaneous vegetation middle climes, where grasses
: in

prevail, he mixes some animal food with the produce of

the field and garden: and it is towards the polar extremes
only that, like his kindred bears and wolves, he gorges
himself with flesh alone, and is driven, to what hunger
has never been known to compel the very beasts, to prey
on his own species.^
The productions of vegetation have had a vast influence
on the commerce of nations, and have been the great
promoters of navigation, as may be seen in the articles of
sugar, tobacco, opium, ginseng, betel, paper, etc.
As every climate has its peculiar produce, our natural
wants bring on a mutual intercourse so that by means ;

of trade each distant part is supplied with the growth

of every latitude. But, without the knowledge of plants
and their culture, we must have been content with our
hips and haws, without enjoying the delicate fruits of
India and the salutiferous drugs of Peru.
* late Voyages to the So7<ih-St.a5
See the
198 The Natural History
Instead of examining the minute distinctions of every
various species of each obscure genus, the botanist should
endeavour to make himself acquainted with those that
are useful. You shall see a man readily ascertain every
herb of the field, yet hardly know wheat from barley, or
at leastone sort of wheat or barley from another.
But of all sorts of vegetation the grasses seem to be
most neglected neither the farmer nor the grazier seem

to distinguish the annual from the perennial, the hardy

from the tender, nor the succulent and nutritive from the
dry and juiceless.
The study of grasses would be of great consequence to
a northerly, and grazing kingdom. The botanist that
could improve the sward of the district where he lived
would be an useful member of society ; to raise a thick
turf on a naked soil would be worth volumes of systematic
knowledge ; and he would be the best commonwealth's
man that could occasion the growth of " two blades of
grass where one alone was seen before."
I am, etc.

Selborne, July 3, 1778.
Dear Sir,
In a so diversified with such a variety of hill and
dale, aspects, and soils, it is no wonder that great choice
of plants should be found. Chalks, clays, sands, sheep-
walks and downs, bogs, heaths, woodlands, and champaign
fields, cannot but furnish an ample flora. The deep
rocky lanes abound with filices^ and the pastures and
moist woods \\\i\\fu?igi. If in any branch of botany we
may seem to be wanting, it must be in the large aquatic
plants, which are not to be expected on a spot far removed
from rivers, and lying up amidst the hill country at the
spring heads. To enumerate all the plants that have
been discovered within our limits would be a needless
of Selborne 199
work but a short list of the more rare, and the spots

where they are to be found, may be neither unacceptable

nor unentertaining :

Helleborus fcetidjis, stinking hellebore, bear's foot, or
setterworth, all over the High-wood and Coney-croft-
hanger this continues a great branching
plant the
winter through, blossoming about January, and is very
ornamental in shady walks and shrubberies. The good
women give the leaves powdered to children troubled
with vorms ; but it is a violent remedy, and ought to be
administered with caution.
HeUeborus viridis^ green hellebore,
— in the deep stony
lane on the left hand just before the turning to Norton-
farm, and at the top of Middle Dorton under the hedge :

this pknt dies down to the ground early in autunui, and

springs again about February, flowering almost as soon

as it appears above ground.
Vacd?ii2wt oxycoccos, creeping bilberries or cranberries,
— bogs of Bin's-pond ;
in the
Vaccinmvi myrtillus, whortle, or bleaberries, on the —
dry hillocks of Wolmer-forest ;

Drosera 7'otu7idifolia^ round - leaved ] In the bogs

sun-dew. Dfosera longifolia^ long-leaved > of Bin's-
ditto.] J pond.
Comaruvi palusire, purple comarum, or marsh cinque

in the bogs of Bin's-pond

Hypericon androscsmiim, Tutsan,


St. John's Wort,

— in
the stony, hollow lanes ;
Viftca i?ii?ior, less periwinkle, — in Selborne Hanger and
Shrubwood ;

Monotropa hypopithys^ yellow monotropa, or bird's nest,

— in Selborne Hanger under the shady beeches, to
whose roots it seems to be parasitical — at the north-west
end of the Hanger ;

Chlora perfoliata^ Blacksto7iia perfoliafa, Ili/dsont, per-

foliated yellow-wort, —
on the banks in the King's-field ;
Farts qiiadrifolia, herb Paris, true-love, or oneberry, —
in the Church Litten coppice ;
opposite golden
the dark and rocky hollow
lanes \
200 The Natural History
Gentia?ia a?narelia, autumnal gentian or fellvvort,
— on
the Zig-zag and Hanger ;
Lathrcea squammaria^ tooth-wort, in the Church —
Litten coppice under some hazels near the foot-bridge, in
Trimming's garden-hedge, and on the dry wall opposite
Grange-yard ;

Dipsacus pilosuSj small teasel, in the Short and Long
Lathyrus sylvestrls^ narrow-leaved, or wild lathyriis,

in the bushes at the foot of the Short Lith, near the
Ophrys spiralis^ ladies' traces,
— in the Long Lith, and
towards the south-corner of the common
Ophrys ?iidus avis^ birds' nest ophrys, in the Long

Lith under the shady beeches among the dead leaves;
in Great Dorton among the bushes, and on the Hanger
plentifully ;

Serapias iatifolid, helleborine,

in the High-wood
under the shady beeches ;

Daphie iaureola, spurge laurel, in Selborne Hanger
and the High-wood ;

Daphne 7nezereu??i, the mezereon, in Selborne Hanger
among the shrubs at the south-east end above the
cottages ;

Lycoperdon tuber^ truffles,

— in the Hanger and High-
Sambucus ebulus, dwarf elder, walwort, or danewort,

among the rubbish and ruined foundations of the Priory.
Of all the propensities of plants none seem more
strange than their different periods of blossoming. Some
produce their flowers in the winter, or very first dawnings
of spring ; many when the spring is established ; some at
midsummer, and some not till autumn. When we see
the helleborus fcetidics and helleborus niger blowing at
Christmas, the helleborus hyemalis in January, and the
helleborus vh'idis as soon as ever it emerges out of the
ground, we do not wonder, because they are kindred plants
that we expect should keep pace the one with the other.
But other congenerous vegetables differ so widely in their
time of flowering that we cannot but admire. I shall
of Selborne 201
only instance at present in the crocus saiivus^ the vernal,
and the autumnal crocus, which have such an affinity,
that the best botanists only make them varieties of the
same genus, of which there is only one species ; not being
able to discern any difference in the corolla, or in the
internal structure. Yet the vernal crocus expands its
flowers by the beginning of March at farthest, and often
in very rigorous weather ; and cannot be retarded but by
some violence offered —
while the autumnal (the saffron)

defies the influence of the spring and summer, and will

not blow till most plants begin to fade and run to seed.
This circumstance is one of the wonders of the creation,
little noticed, because a common occurrence yet ought

not to be overlooked on account of its being familiar,

since it would be as difficult to be explained as the most
stupendous phsenomenon in nature.
Say, what impels, amidst surrounding snow.
Congealed, the crocus' flamy bud to grow ?
Say, what retards, amidst the summer's blaze,
Th' autumnal bulb till pale, declining days?
The God of Seasons ; whose pervading power
Controls the sun, or sheds the fleecy shower :

He bids each flower His quickening word obey;

Or to each lingering bloom enjoins delay.

Omnibus animalibus reliquis certus et uniusmodi, ct in suo cuique
genere incessus est aves solse vario meatu feruntur, et in terra, et

in acre."—Plin. Hist. Nat, lib. x. cap. 38.

Selborne, Aug. 7, 1778.

Dear Sir,
A good ornithologist should be able to distinguish birds
by their air as well as by their colours and shape on the ;

ground as well as on the wing, and in the bush as well as

in the hand. For, though it must not be said that every
species of birds has a manner peculiar to itself, yet there
202 The Natural History-
is somewhat most genera at least, that at first sight
and enables a judicious observer to
discriminates them,
pronounce upon them with some certainty. Put a bird
in motion
. . .
Et vera incessu patuit" ....

Thus kites and buzzards sail round in circles with

wings expanded and motionless ; and it is from their
gliding manner that the former are still called in the north
of England gleads, from the Saxon verb glidan to glide.
The kestrel, or wind-hover, has a peculiar mode of
hanging in the air in one place, his wings all the while
being briskly agitated. Hen-harriers fly low over heaths
or fields of corn, and beat the ground regularly like a
pointer or setting-dog. Owls move in a buoyant manner,
as if lighter than the air ; they seem to want ballast.
There is a peculiarity belonging to ravens that must draw
the attention even of the most incurious they spend all

their leisure time in striking and cuffing each other on
the wing in a kind of playful skirmish and, when they ;

move from one place to another, frequently turn on their

backs with a loud croak, and seem to be falling to the
ground. When this odd gesture betides them, they are
scratching themselves with one foot, and thus lose the
centre of gravity. Rooks sometimes dive and tumble in
a frolicsome manner crows and daws swagger in their

walk wood-peckers fly volatu u?idoso^ opening and closing


their wings at every stroke, and so are always rising or

falling in curves. All of this genus use their tails, which
incline downward, as a support while they run up trees.
Parrots, like all other hook-clawed birds, walk awkwardly,
and make use of their bill as a third foot, climbing and
ascending with ridiculous caution. All the gallinos.
parade and walk gracefully, and run nimbly ; but fly with
difficulty, with an impetuous whirring, and in a straight
line. Magpies and jays flutter with powerless wings,
and make no dispatch herons seem incumbered with too

much sail for their light bodies ; but these vast hollow
wings are necessary in carrying burdens, such as large
fishes, and the like ; pigeons, and [)articularly the sort
of Selborne 203
called smiters, have a way of clashing their wings tlie one
against the other over their backs with a loud snap ;

another variety called tumblers turn themselves over in

the air. Some birds have movements peculiar to the
season of love thus ring-doves, though strong and rapid

at other times, yet in the spring hang about on the

in a toying and playful manner ; thus the cock-snipe,
while breeding, forgetting his former flight, fans the air
like the wind-hover and the green-finch in particular

exhibits such languishing and faltering gestures as to

appear like a wounded and dying bird; the kingfisher
darts along like an arrow; fern-owls, or goat-suckers,
glance in the dusk over the tops of trees like a meteor ;
starlings as it were swim along, while missel-thrushes use
a wild and desultory flight ; swallows sweep over the
surface of the ground and water, and distinguish them-
selves by rapid turns and quick evolutions ; swifts dash
round in circles ; and the bank-martin moves with
frequent vacillations like a butterfly. Most of the small

birds fly by jerks, rising and falling as they advance.

Most small birds hop ; but wagtails and larks walk,
moving their legs alternately. Skylarks rise and fall per-
pendicularly as they sing : woodlarks hang poised in the
air ;
and titlarks rise and
fall in large curves, singing in

their descent. The

white-throat uses odd jerks and
gesticulations over the tops of hedges and bushes. All
the duck-kind waddle ; divers and auks walk as if fettered,
and stand erect on their tails these are the compcdes of

Linnaeus. Geese and cranes, and most wild-fowls, move

in figured flights, often changing their position. The
secondary remiges of frtng^E, wild-ducks, and some others,
are very long, and give their wings, when in motion, an
hooked appearance. Dab-chicks, moor-hens, and coots,
fly erect, with their legs hanging down, and hardly make
any dispatch ; the reason is plain, their wings are placed
too forward out of the true centre of gravity as the legs ;

of auks and divers are situated too backward.

204 The Natural History



Selborne, Sept. 9, 1778.
Dear Sir,
From the motion of birds, the transition is natural
enough and language, of which I shall say
to their notes
something. Not that I would pretend to understand
their language like the vizier who, by the recital of a
conversation which passed between two owls, reclaimed a
sultan,^ before delighting in conquest and devastation;
but I would be thought only to mean that many of the
winged tribes have various sounds and voices adapted to
express their various passions, wants, and feelings ; such
as anger, fear, love, hatred, hunger, and the like. All
species are not equally eloquent ; some are copious and
fluent as it were in their utterance, while others are con-
fined to a few important sounds no bird, like the fish

kind, is quite mute, though some are rather silent. The

language of birds is very ancient, and, like other ancient
modes of speech, very elliptical little is said, but much

is meant and understood.

The notes of the eagle-kind are shrill and piercing ;

and about the season of nidification much diversified, as
I have been often assured by a curious observer of nature,
who long resided at Gibraltar, where eagles abound.
The notes of our hawks much resemble those of the king
of birds. Owls have very expressive notes ; they hoot
in a fine vocal sound, much resembling the vox humanUf
and reducible by a pitch-pipe to a musical key. This
note seems to express complacency and rivalry among
the males :
they use also a quick call and an horrible
scream; and can snore and hiss when they mean to
menace. Ravens, beside their loud croak, can exert a
deep and solemn note that makes the woods to echo;
See Spectator^ Vol. VII., No. 512.
of Selborne 205
the amorous sound of a crow is strange and ridiculous ;
rooks, in the breeding season, attempt sometimes in the
gaiety of their hearts to sing, but with no great success ;
the parrot-kind have many modulations of voice, as
appears by their aptitude to learn human sounds ;
coo in an amorous and mournful manner, and are
emblems of despairing lovers ;
the wood-pecker sets up a
sort of loud and hearty laugh ; the fern-owl, or goat-
sucker, from the dusk till day-break, serenades his mate
with the clattering of castanets. All the tuneful passeres
express their complacency by sweet modulations, and a
variety of melody. The swallow, as has been observed
in a former letter, by a shrill alarm bespeaks the attention
of the other hinmdmes, and bids them be aware that the
hawk is at hand. Aquatic and gregarious birds, especialy
the nocturnal, that shift their quarters in the dark, are
very noisy and loquacious ; as cranes, wild-geese, wild-
ducks, and the like their perpetual clamour prevents

them from dispersing and losing their companions.

In so extensive a subject, sketches and outlines are as
much as can be expected ; for it would be endless to
instance in all the infinite variety of the feathered nation.
We shall therefore confine the remainder of this letter to
the few domestic fowls of our yards, w^hich are most
known, and therefore best understood. At first the
with his gorgeous train demands our attention ;
but, like most of the gaudy birds, his notes are grating
and shocking to the ear the yelling of cats, and the

braying of an ass, are not more disgustful. The voice

of the goose is trumpet-like, and clanking and once ;

saved the Capitol at Rome, as grave historians assert :

the hiss also of the gander is formidable and full of

menace, and protective of his young." Among ducks
the sexual distinction of voice is remarkable ; for, while
the quack of the female is loud and sonorous, the voice
of the drake is inward and harsh and feeble, and scarce
discernible. The cock turkey struts and gobbles to his
mistress in amost uncouth manner ; he hath also a pert
and petulant note when he attacks his adversary. When
a hen turkey leads forth her young brood she keeps a
2o6 The Natural History
watchful eye and if a bird of prey appear, though ever

so high in the air, the careful mother announces the

enemy with a little inward moan, and watches him with
a steady and attentive look ; but if he approach, her note
becomes earnest and alarming, and her outcries are
No inhabitants of a yard seem possessed of such a
variety of expression and so copious a language as common
poultry. Take a chicken of four or five days old, and
hold it up to a window where there are flies, and it will
immediately seize its prey, with little twitterings of com-
placency ; but if you tender it a wasp or a bee, at once
its note becomes harsh, and expressive of disapprobation
and a sense of danger. When a pullet is ready to lay
she intimates the event by a joyous and easy soft note.
Of all the occurrences of their life that of laying seems
to be the most important ; for no sooner has a hen
disburdened herself, than she rushes forth with a
clamorous kind of joy, which the cock and the rest of his
mistresses immediately adopt. The tumult is not con-
fined to the family concerned, but catches from yard to
yard, and spreads to every homestead within hearing, till
at last the whole village is in an uproar. As soon as a
hen becomes a mother her new relation demands a new
language ; she then runs clocking and screaming about,
and seems agitated as if possessed. The father of the
flock has also a considerable vocabulary if he finds;

food, he calls a favourite concubine to partake ; and if a

bird of prey passes over, with a warning voice he bids
his family beware. The gallant chanticleer has, at com-
mand, his amorous phrases, and his terms of defiance.
But the sound by which he is best known is his crowing :

by this he has been distinguished in all ages as the

countryman's clock or larum, as the watchman that pro-
claims the divisions of the night. Thus the poet
elegantly styles him :

" the crested

cock, whose clarion sounds
The silent hours."

A neighbouring gentleman one summer had lost most

of Selborne 207
of his chickens by a sparrow-hawk, that came gliding
down between a faggot-pile and the end of his house to
the place where the coops stood. The owner, inwardly
vexed to see his flock thus diminishing, hung a setting
net adroitly between the pile and the house, into which
the caitiff dashed and was entangled. Resentment
suggested the law of retaliation he therefore clipped

the hawk's wings, cut off his talons, and, fixing a cork
on his bill, threw him down among the brood-hens.
Imagination cannot paint the scene that ensued ; the
expressions that fear, rage, and revenge, inspired, were
new, or at least such as had been unnoticed before the :

exasperated matrons upbraided, they execrated, they

insulted, they triumphed. In a word, they never desisted
from buffeting their adversary till they had torn him in
an hundred pieces.

. . . "monstrent. . . .

Quid tanlilm Oceano properent se tingere soles

Hyberni vel quae tardis mora noctibus obstet."

Gentlemen who have outlets might contrive to make

ornament subservient to utility; a pleasing eye-trap might
also contribute to promote science an obelisk in a

garden or park might be both an embellishment and an

Any person that is curious, and enjoys the advantage
of a good horizon, might, with little trouble, make two
heliotropes; the one for the winter, the other for the
summer solstice and these two erections might be con-

structed with very little expense ;for two pieces of timber

frame-work, about ten or twelve feet high, and four feet
broad at the base, and close lined with plank, would
answer the purpose.
2o8 The Natural History
The erection for the former should, if possible, be
placed within sight of some window in the common
sitting parlour ;
because men, at that dead season of the
year, are usually within doors at the close of the day ;
while that for the latter might be fixed for any given spot
in the garden or outlet whence the owner might con-

template, in a fine summer's evening, the utmost extent

that the sun makes to the northward at the season of the

longest days. Now nothing would be necessary but to

place these two objects with so much exactness, that the
westerly limb of the sun, at setting, might but just clear
the \yinter heliotrope to the west of it on the shortest
day ; and that the whole disc of the sun, at the longest
day, might exactly at setting also clear the summer
heliotrope to the north of it.
By this simple expedient it would soon appear that
there is no such thing, strictly speaking, as a solstice;
for, from the shortest day, the owner would, every clear
evening, see the disc advancing, at its setting, to the
westward of the object ; and, from the longest day,
observe the sun retiring backwards every evening at its
setting, towards the object westward, till, in a few nights,
it would set quite behind it, and so by degrees to the

west of it for when the sun comes near the summer


solstice, the whole disc of it would at first set behind the

object after a time the northern limb would first appear,

and so every night gradually more, till at length the

whole diameter would set north of it for about three
nights ; but on the middle night of the three, sensibly
more remote than the former or following. When
beginning its recess from the summer tropic, it would
continue more and more to be hidden every night, till at
length it would descend quite behind the object again;
and so nightly more and more to the westward.
of Selborne 209


..." Muglre videbis

Sub pedibus tcrram, et descendere montibus ornos."

When I was a boy

I used to read, with astonishment
and impHcit accounts in Baker^s Chro7iicle of
walking hills and travelling mountains. John Philips, in
his Cyder, alludes to the credit that was given to such
stories with a delicate but quaint vein of humour peculiar
to the author of the Splendid Shilling.

" I nor advise, nor reprehend the choice

Of Marcley Hill the apple no where finds

A kinder mould :
yet 'tis unsafe to trust
Deceitful ground : who knows but that once more
This mount may journey, and his present site
Forsaken, to thy neighbour's bounds transfer
Thy goodly plants," afTording matter strange
For law debates !

But, when I came to consider better, I began to

suspect that though our hills may never have journeyed
that far, yet the ends of many of them have slipped and
fallen away at distant periods, leaving the cliffs bare and
abrupt. This seems to have been the case with Nore and
Whetham hills ; and especially with the ridge between
Harteley-park and Ward le ham, where the ground has
slid into vast swellings and furrows and lies still in such ;

romantic confusion as cannot be accounted for from any

other cause. A
strange event that happened not long
our suspicions ; which, though it befell
since, justifies
not within the limits of this parish, yet as it was within
the hundred of Selborne, and as the circumstances were
singular, may fairly claim a place in a work of this
The months of January and February, in the year
2IO The Natural History
1774, were remarkable for great melting snows and vast
gluts of rain, so that by the end of the latter
month the
land-springs, or lavants, began to prevail, and to be near
as high as in the memorable winter of 1764. The
beginning of March also went on in the same tenor;
when, in the night between the 8th and 9th of that
month, a considerable part of the great woody hanger at
Hawkley was torn from its place, and fell down, leaving
a high freestone cliff naked and bare, and resembling the
steep side of a chalk-pit. It appears that this huge

fragment, being perhaps sapped and undermined by

waters, foundered, and was engulfed, going down in a
perpendicular direction ; for a gate which stood in the
field, on the top of the hill, after sinking with its posts
fur thirty or forty feet, remained in so true and upright
a position as to open and shut with great exactness, just
as in its first situation. Several oaks also are still
standing, and in a state of vegetation, after taking the
same desperate leap. That great part of this prodigious
mass was absorbed in some gulf below, is plain also from
the inclining ground at the bottom of the hill, which is
free and unincumbered ; but would have been buried in
heaps of rubbish, had the fragment parted and fallen
forward. About an hundred yards from the foot of this
hanging coppice stood a cottage by the side of a lane ;
and two hundred yards lower, on the other side of the
lane, was a farm-house, in which lived a labourer and
his family ; and, just by, a stout new barn. The cottage
was inhabited by an old woman and her son and his
wife. These people in the evening, which was very dark
and tempestuous, observed that the brick floors of their
kitchens began to heave and part ; and that the walls
seemed to open, and the roofs to crack but they all :

agree that no tremor of the ground, indicating an

earthquake, was ever felt ; only that the wind continued
to make a most tremendous roaring in the woods and
hangers. The miserable inhabitants, not daring to go to
bed, remained in the utmost soHcitude and confusion,
expecting every moment to be buried under the ruins of
their shattered edifices. When day-light came they were
of Selborne 21 1

at leisure to contemplate the devastations of the night :

they then found that a deep rift, or chasm, had opened

under their houses, and torn them, as it were, in two ;

and that one end of the barn had suffered in a similar

manner ; that a pond near the cottage had undergone a
strange reverse, becoming deep at the shallow end, and
so vice vet'sa ; that many large oaks were removed out of
their perpendicular, some thrown down, and some fallen
into the heads of neighbouring trees ; and that a gate
was thrust forward, with its hedge, full six feet, so as to

require a new track to be made to it. From

the foot of
the the general course of the ground, which is

pasture, inclines in a moderate descent for half a mile,

and is interspersed with some hillocks, which were rifted,
in every direction, as well towards the great woody

hanger, as from it. In the first pasture the deep clefts

began :and running across the lane, and under the
buildings, made such vast shelves that the road was
impassable for some time; and so over to an arable field
on the other side, which was strangely torn and disordered.
The second pasture field, being more soft and springy,
was protruded forward without many fissures in the turf,
which was raised in long ridges resembling graves, lying
at right angles to the motion. At the bottom of this
enclosure the soil and turf rose many feet against the
bodies of some oaks that obstructed their farther course
and terminated this awful commotion.
The perpendicular height of the precipice, in general,
is twenty-three yards ; the length of the lapse, or slip, as

seen from the fields below, one hundred and eighty-one ;

and a partial fall, concealed in the coppice, extends
seventy yards more :so that the total length of this
fragment that fellwas two hundred and fifty-one yards.
About fifty acres of land suffered from this violent con-
vulsion ; two houses were entirely destroyed one end of

a new barn was left in ruins, the walls being cracked

through the very stones that composed them a hanging ;

coppice was changed to a naked rock and some grass


grounds and an arable field so broken and rifted by the

chasms as to be rendered, for a time, neither fit for the
212 The Natural History-
plough or safe for pasturage, till considerable labour
and expense had been bestowed in levelling the surface
and filling in the gaping fissures.

. . . "resonant arbusta" . . .

There isa steep abrupt pasture field interspersed with

furze close to the back of this village, well known by the
name of the Short Lithe, consisting of a rocky dry soil,
and inclining to the afternoon sun. This spot abounds
with the gryllus campestris^ or field-cricket ; which,
though frequent in these parts, is by no means a
common insect in many other counties.
As their cheerful summer cry cannot but draw the
attention of a naturalist, I have often gone down to
examine the oeconomy of these grylli^ and study their
mode of life but they are so shy and cautious that it is

no easy matter to get a sight of them ; for, feeling a

person's footsteps as he advances, they stop short in the
midst of their song, and retire backward nimbly into
their burrows, where they lurk till all suspicion of danger
is over.
At first we attempted to dig them out with a spade,
but without any great success ; for either we could not
get to the bottom of the hole, which often terminated under
a great stone ; or else, in breaking up the ground, we
inadvertently squeezed the poor insect to death. Out of
one so bruised we took a multitude of eggs, which were
long and narrow, of a yellow colour, and covered with a
very tough skin. By this accident we learned to dis-
tinguish the male from the female ; the former of which
is shining black, with a golden stripe across his shoulders ;

the latter is more dusky, more capacious about the

abdomen, and carries a long sword-shaped weapon at her
of Selborne 213
tail,which probably the instrument with which she

deposits her eggs in crannies and safe receptacles.

Where violent methods will not avail, more gentle
means will often succeed ; and so it proved in the
present case ; for, though a spade be too boisterous and
rough an implement, a pliant stalk of grass, gently
insinuated into the caverns, will probe their windings to
the bottom, and quickly bring out the inhabitant ;and
thus the himiane inquirer may gratify his curirxsity without
injuring the object of it. It is reinnrk-able (h;it, thoiij'ji

Ihene insccis nre furnished with long legs behind, nnd

bnuviiy Ihlghfi for Iniping, lil<M |;,riiMiihnppciM
; yd ulicii

diivcn from their hole;^ tliey show no nclivily, (>iil f:nnvl

alotig in a shiftless matmer, so
as easily lo \)r. lnl<cn: and
again, though provided with a curious apparatus
of wings,

yet (hey never exert them wlu^n tlujre seems to be th(j

greatest occasion. The males only make that shrilling
noise perhaps out of rivalry and emulation, as is the case
with many animals which exert some sprightly note
during their breeding time :it is raised by a brisk
friction of one wing against the other. 'J'hey are solitary
beings, living singly male or female, each
as it may

happen but there must be a time when the sexes have


some intercourse, and then the wings may be useful

perhaps during the hours of night.
When the males
meet they will fight fiercely, as I found by some which I
put into the crevices of a dry stone wall, where
I should

have been glad to have made them settle. For though

their know-
they seemed distressed by being taken out of
the first that got possession of the chinks would
ledge, yet
seize upon any that were obtruded upon them with a vast
row of serrated fangs. With their strong jaws, toothed
like the shears of a lobster's claws, they perforate and
round their curious regular cells, having no fore-claws to
dig, like the mole-cricket.
When taken in hand I could
not but wonder that they never offered to defend them-
selves, though armed with such
formidable weapons. Of
such herbs as grow before the mouths of their burrows
they eat indiscriminately;
and on a little platform, which
their dung ; and never, in
they make just by, they drop
214 The Natural History
the day-time, seem to stir more than two or three inches
from home. Sitting in the entrance of their caverns they
chirp all night as well as day from the middle of the
month of May to the middle of July and in hot weather,

when they are most vigorous, they make the hills echo ;

and, in the stiller hours of darkness, may be heard to a

considerable distance. In the beginning of the season,
their notes are more faint and inward ; but become
louder as the summer advances, and so die away again
by degrees.
Sounds do not always give us pleasure according to
their sweetnessand melody nor do harsh sounds always

displease. We are more apt to be captivated or dis-

gusted with the associations which they promote, than
with the notes themselves. Thus the shrilling of the
though sharp and stridulous, yet marvellously
delights some hearers, filling their minds with a train of
summer ideas of everything that is rural, verdurous, and
About the tenth of March the crickets appear at the
mouths of their cells, which they then open and bore,
and shape very elegantly. All that ever I have seen at
that season were in their pupa state, and had only the
rudiments of wings, lying under a skin or coat, which
must be cast before the insect can arrive at its perfect
state ^ from whence I should suppose that the old ones

of last year do not always survive the winter. In August

their holes begin to be obliterated, and the insects are
seen no more till spring.
Not many summers ago I endeavoured to transplant a
colony to the terrace in my garden, by boring deep holes
in the sloping turf. The new inhabitants stayed some
time, and fed and sung but wandered away by degrees,

and were heard at a farther distance every morning so ;

that it appears that on this emergency they made use of

theirwings in attempting to return to the spot from
which they were taken.
One of these crickets, when confined in a paper cage
We have observed that they cast these skins in April, which are
then seen lying at the mouths of their holes. <
of Selborne
and set in the sun, and
supplied with plants moistened
with water, will feed and thrive, and become so
and loud as to be irksome in the same room where a
person is
sitting : if the plants are not wetted it will die.

Far from all resort of mirth
Save the cricket on the hearth."
Milton's II Penseroso.
Dear Sir,
While many other insects must be sought after in fields
and woods, and waters, the grylliis domesficus, or house-
cricket, resides altogether within our dwellings, intruding
itself upon our notice whether we will or no. This
species delights in new-built houses, being, like the
spider, pleased with the moisture of the walls ; and
besides, the softness of the mortar enables them to
burrow and mine between the joints of the bricks or
stones, and open communications from one room
to another. are particularly fond of kitchens and
bakers' ovens, on account of their perpetual warmth.
Tender insects that live abroad either enjoy only the
short period of one summer, or else doze away the cold
uncomfortable months in profound slumbers but these, ;

residing as it were in a torrid zone, are always alert and

merry a good Christmas fire is to them like the heats

of the dog-days. Though they are frequently heard by

day, yet is their natural time of motion only in the
night. As soon as it grows dusk, the chirping increases,
and they come running forth, and are from the size of a
flea to that of their full stature. As one should suppose,
from the burning atmosphere which they inhabit, they
are a thirsty race, and show a great propensity for liquids,
being found frequently drowned in pans of water, milk,
2i6 The Natural History
broth, or the like. Whatever is moist they affect ; and
therefore often gnaw holes in wet woollen stockings and
aprons that are hung to the fire they are the

barometer, foretelling her when it will rain ; and are

prognostic sometimes, she thinks, of
ill or
good luck ; of
the death of a near relation, or the approach of an absent
lover. By being the constant companions of her solitary
hours they naturally become the objects of her super-
stition. These crickets are not only very thirsty, but
very voracious ; for they will eat the scummings of
pots, and yeast, salt,
and crumbs of bread ; and any
kitchen offal or sweepings. In the summer we have
observed them to fly, when it became dusk, out of the
windows, and over the neighbouring roofs. This feat of
activityaccounts for the sudden manner in which they
often leave their haunts, as it does for the method by
which they come to houses where they were not known
before. It is remarkable, that many sorts of insects
seem never to use their wings but when they have a
mind to shift their quarters and settle new colonies.
When in the air they move ^^volatu imdoso," in waves
or curves, like wood-peckers, opening and shutting their
wings at every stroke, and so are always rising or
When they increase to a great degree, as they did
once in the house where I am now writing, they became
noisome pests, flying into the candles, and dashing into
people's faces ;
but may be blasted and destroyed by
gunpowder discharged into their crevices and crannies.
In families, at such times, they are, like Pharaoh's plague
of frogs, —"in their bed-chambers, and upon their beds,
and in their ovens, and in their kneading-troughs."^ Their
shrilling noise is occasioned by a brisk attrition of their
wings. Cats catch hearth crickets, and, playing with
them as they do with mice, devour them. Crickets may
be destroyed, like wasps, by phials half filled with beer,
or any liquid, and set in their haunts ; for, being always
eager to drink, they will crowd in fill the bottles are
Exod. viii. 3.
of Selborne



How diversified are the modes of

not only of incon-

gruous but even of congenerous animals ; and yet their

specific distinctions are not more various than their
propensities. Thus, while the field-cricket delights in
sunny dry banks, and the house-cricket rejoices amidst
the glowing heat of the kitchen hearth or oven, the
gryllus gryllo ialpa (the mole-cricket) haunts moist
meadows, and frequents the sides of ponds and banks of
streams, performing all its functions in a swampy wet
soil. With a pair of fore-feet, curiously adapted to the
purpose, it burrows and works under ground like the
mole, raising a ridge as it proceeds, but seldom throwing
up hillocks.
Asmole-crickets often infest gardens by the sides of
canals, they are unwelcome guests to the gardener, raising
up ridges in their subterraneous progress, and rendering
the walks unsightly. If they take to the kitchen quarters,
they occasion great damage among the plants and roots,
by destroying whole beds of cabbages, young legumes,
and flowers. When dug out they seem very slow and
helpless, and make no use of their wings by day ; but at
night they come abroad, and make long excursions, as I
have been convinced by finding stragglers, in a morning,
in improbable places. In fine weather, about the middle
of April, and just at the close of day, they begin to solace
themselves with a low, dull, jarring note, continued for a
long time without interruption, and not unlike the
chattering of the fern-owl, or goat-sucker, but more
About the beginning of May they lay their eggs, as I

was once an eye-witness for a gardener at an house,


where I was on a visit, happening to be mowing, on the

2i8 The Natural History
6th of that month, by the side of a canal, his scythe struck
too deep, pared off a large piece of turf, and laid open to
view a curious scene of domestic oeconomy :

. .
. lato dedit ore fenestiam ;

Apparet donius intus, et atria longa patescunt :

Apparent .
. .

There were many caverns and winding passages leading

to a kind of chamber, neatly smoothed and rounded, and
about the size of a moderate snuff-box. Within this
secret nursery were deposited near an hundred eggs of a
dirty yellow colour, and enveloped in a tough skin, but
too lately excluded to contain any rudiments of young,
being full of a viscous substance. The eggs lay but
shallow, and within the influence of the sun, just under a
little heap of fresh-moved mould, like that which is raised
by ants.
When "
they move cursu tmdoso^" rising
mole-crickets fly
and falling in curves, like the other species mentioned
before. In different parts of this kingdom people call
them fen-crickets, churr-worms, and eve-churrs, all very
apposite names.
Anatomists, who have examined the intestines of these
insects, astonish me with their accounts ; for they say
that, from the structure, position, and number of their
stomachs, or maws, there seems to be good reason to
suppose that this and the two former species ruminate or
chew the cud like many quadrupeds !

Selborne, May 7, 1779.

It is now more than

forty years that I have paid some
attention to the ornithology of this district, without being
able to exhaust the subject new occurrences still arise as

long as any inquiries are kept alive.

of Selborne 219
In the last week of last month five of those most rare
birds, too uncommon have obtained an English name,
but known to naturalistsby the terms of himanfopus, or
loripeSy and charadrius himantopus^ were shot upon the
verge of Frinsham-pond, a large lake belonging to the
bishop of Winchester, and lying between Wolmer-forest,
and the town of Farnham, in the county of Surrey. The
pond keeper says there were three brace in the flock ;

but that, after he had satisfied his curiosity, he suffered

the sixth to remain unmolested. One of these specimens
I procured, and found the length of the legs to be so

extraordinary, that, at first sight, one might have supposed

the shanks had been fastened on to impose on the
credulity of the beholder they were legs in caricatura

and had we seen such proportions on a Chinese or Japan

screen we should have made large allowances for the
fancy of the draughtsman. These birds are of the plover
family, and might with propriety be called the stilt plovers.
Brisson, under that idea, gives them the apposite name of
Vechasse. My specimen, when drawn and stuffed with
pepper, weighed only four ounces and a quarter, though
the naked part of the thigh measured three inches and
an half, and the legs four inches and an half. Hence we
may safely assert that these birds exhibit, weight for
inches, incomparably the greatest length of legs of any
known bird. The flamingo, for instance, is one of the
most long legged birds, and yet it bears no manner of
proportion to the hiviaiiiopus ; for a cock flamingo weighs,
at an average, about four pounds avoirdupois and his ;

legs and thighs measure usually about twenty inches.

But four pounds are fifteen times and a fraction more
than four ounces and one quarter and if four ounces and

a quarter have eight inches of legs, four pounds must have

one hundred and twenty inches and a fraction of legs ;

viz., somewhat more than ten feet such a monstrous


proportion as the world never saw If you should try

! the

experiment in still larger birds the disparity would

still increase. It must be matter of great curiosity to
see the stilt plover move to observe how it can wield

such a length of lever with such feeble muscles as the

220 The Natural History
thighs seemto be furnished with. At best one should
expect it be but a bad walker but what adds to the
to :

wonder is that it has no back toe. Now without that

steady prop to support its steps it must be liable, in
speculation, to perpetual vacillations, and seldom able to
preserve the true centre of gravity.
The old name oihinuvitopus is taken from Pliny; and,
by an awkward metaphor, implies that the legs are as
slender and pliant as if cut out of a thong of leather.
Neither Willughby nor Ray, in all their curious researches
either at home or abroad, ever saw this bird. Mr.
Pennant never met with it in all Great Britain, but
observed it often in the cabinets of the curious at Paris.
Ilasselquist says that it migrates to Egypt in the autumn :

and a most accurate observer of nature has assured me

that he has found it on the banks of the streams in
Our writers record it to have been found only twice in
Great Britain. From all these relations it plainly appears
that these long legged plovers are birds of South Europe,
and rarely visit our island ; and when they do are wan-
derers and stragglers, and impelled to make so distant
and northern an excursion from motives or accidents for
which we are not able to account. One thing may fairly
be deduced, that these birds come over to us from the
continent, since nobody can suppose that a species not
noticed once in an age, and of such a remarkable make,
can constantly breed unobserved in this kingdom.


Seiborne, April 21, 1780.

Dear Sir,
The old Sussex tortoise, that I have mentioned to you
so often, become my property. I dug it out of its

winter dormitoi;y in March last, when it was enough

of Selborne 221
awakened to express its resentments by hissing; and.
packing it in a box with earth, carried it
eighty miles in
post-chaises. The and hurry of the journey so
perfectly roused it that, when I turned it out on a border,
it walked twice down to the bottom of
my garden how- ;

ever, in the evening, the weather being cold, it buried

itself in the loose mould, and continues still concealed.
As it will be under my eye, I shall now have an
opportunity of enlarging my observations on its mode
of life, and propensities ; and perceive
already that,
towards the time of coming forth, it opens a
place in the ground near its head, requiring, I conclude,
a freer respiration, as it becomes more alive. This
creature not only goes under the earth from the middle
of November to the middle of April, but sleeps great
part of the summer; for it goes to bed in the longest
days at four in the afternoon, and often does not stir in
the morning till late. Besides, it retires to rest for every
shower; and does not move at all in wet days.
When one reflects on the state of this strange being, it

is a matter of wonder to find that Providence should

bestow such a profusion of days, such a seeming waste
of longevity, on a reptile that appears to relish it so
little as to squander more than two-thirds of its existence
in a joyless stupor, and be lost to all sensation for
months together in the profoundest of slumbers.
While I was writing this letter, a moist and warm
afternoon, with the thermometer at 50, brought forth
troups of shell-snails ; and, at the same juncture, the
tortoise heaved up the mould and put out its head ;
and the next morning came forth, as it were raised from
the dead; and walked about till four in the afternoon.
This was a curious coincidence a very amusing occur-

rence to see such a similarity of feelings between the


two <f)€pioiKOL for so the Greeks call both the shell-snail


and the tortoise.

Summer birds are, this cold and backward spring, un-
usually late I have seen but one swallow yet.
: This
conformity with the weather convinces me more and
more that they sleep in the winter.
222 The Natural History



Selborne, Sept. 3, 1781.

I HAVE now read your miscellanies through with much

care and and am to return you my best
satisfaction :

thanks for the honourable mention made in them of me

as a naturalist, which I wish I may deserve.
In some former letters I expressed my suspicions that
many of the house-miartins do not depart in the winter
far from I therefore determined to make
this village.
some search about the south-east end of the hill, where
I imagined they might slumber out the uncomfortable

months of winter. But supposing that the examination

would be made to the best advantage in the spring, and
observing that no martins had appeared by the nth of
April last ; on that day I employed some men to explore
the shrubs and cavities of the suspected spot. The
persons took pains, but without any success however, a :

remarkable incident occurred in the midst of our pursuit

— while the labourers were at work a house-martin, the
first that had been seen this year, came down the
in the sight of several people, and went at once into
a nest, where it stayed a short time, and then flew over
the houses ; for some days after no martins were ob-
served, not till the i6th of April, and then only a pair.
Martins in general were remarkably late this year.



Selborne, Sept. 9, 1781.

I HAVE just met with a circumstance respecting swifts,

which furnishes an exception to the whole tenor of my
of Selborne 223
observations ever since I have bestowed any attention on
that species of hirundines. Our swifts, in general, with-
drew this year about the first day of August, all save one
pair, which in two or three days was reduced to a single
bird. The perseverance of this individual made me
suspect that the strongest of motives, that of an attach-
ment to her young, could alone occasion so late a stay.
I watched therefore till the tw-enty-fourth of August, and
then discovered that, under the eaves of the church, she
attended upon two young, which were fledged, and now
put out their white chins from a crevice. These re-
mained till the twenty-seventh, looking more alert every
day, and seeming to long to be on the wing. After this
day they were missing at once nor could I ever observe

them with their dam coursing round the church in the

act of learning to fly, as the first broods evidently do.
On the thirty-first I caused the eaves to be searched, but
we found in the nest only two callow, dead, stinking
swifts, on which a second nest had been formed. This
double nest was full of the black shining cases of the
hippohosccE hirtindinis .

The following remarks on this unusual incident are

obvious. The first is, that though it may be disagreeable
to swifts to remain beyond the beginning of August, yet
that they can subsist longer is undeniable. The second
is, that this uncommon event, as
it was owing to the loss

of the first brood, so it corroborates my former remark,

that swifts breed regularly but once ; since, was the con-
trary the case, the occurrence above could
neither be
new nor rare.

P.S. One swift was seen at Lyndon, in the county of

Rutland, in 1782, so late as the third of September.
224 The Natural History



As I have sometimes known you make inquiries about

several kinds of insects, I shall here send you an account
of one sort which I little expected to have found in this
kingdom. I had often observed that one particular
part of a vine growing
on the walls of my house was
covered in the autumn with a black dust-like appearance,
on which the flies fed eagerly; and that the shoots and
leaves thus affected did not thrive ; nor did the fruit
ripen. To this substance I applied my glasses ; but
could not discover that it had anything to do with
animal life, as I at first expected but, upon a closer

examination behind the larger boughs, we were surprised

to find that they were coated over with husky shells,
from whose sides proceeded a cotton-like substance,
surrounding a multitude of eggs. This curious and
uncommon production put me upon recollecting what I
have heard and read concerning the coccus vitis vi?iiferc&
of Linnaeus, which, in the South of Europe, infests many
vines, and is an horrid and loathsome pest. As soon as
I had turned to the accounts given of this insect, I saw
at once that it swarmed on my vine and did not appear

to be at all checked by the preceding winter, which had

been uncommonly severe.
Not being then at all aware that it had anything to do
with England, I was much inclined to think that it came
from Gibraltar among the many boxes and packages of
plants and birds which I had formerly received from
thence ; and especially as the vine infested grew
immediately under my study-window, where I usually
kept my specimens. True it is that I had received
nothing from thence for some years but as insects, we

know, are conveyed from one country to another in a

very unexpected manner, and have a wonderful power of
maintaining their existence till they fall into a nidus proper
of Selborne 225
for their support and increase, I cannot but
suspect still
that these coed came to me originally from Andalusia.
Yet, all the while, candour obliges me to confess that
Mr. Lightfoot has written me word that he once, and
but once, saw these insects on a vine at Weymouth in
Dorsetshire; which, it is here to be observed, is a
seaport town to which the coccus might be conveyed by
As many of my readers may possibly never have heard
of this strange and unusual insect, I shall here transcribe
a passage from a natural history of Gibraltar, written by
the Reverend John White, late vicar of Blackburn in
Lancashire, but not yet published :

"In the year 1770 a vine which grew on the east side
of my house, and which had produced the finest crops of
grapes for years past, was suddenly overspread on all the-
woody branches w4th large lumps of a white fibrous-
substance resembling spiders' webs, or rather raw cotton.
It was of a very clammy quality, sticking fast tO'
everything that touched it, and capable of being spun
into long threads. At first I suspected it to be the
produce of spiders, but could find none. Nothing was
to be seen connected with it but many brown oval husky
shells, which by no means looked like insects, but rather
resembled bits of the dry bark of the vine. The tree
had a plentiful crop of grapes set, when this pest
appeared upon it ; but the fruit was manifestly injured by
this foul incumbrance. It remained all the summer,
still increasing, and loaded the woody and bearing
branches to a vast degree. I often pulled off great

quantities by handfuls ; but it was so slimy and tenacious

that it could by no means be cleared. The grapes never
filled to their natural perfection, but turned watery and

vapid. Upon perusing the works afterwards of M, de

Reaumer, I found this matter perfectly described and
accounted for. Those husky shells, which I had
observed, were no other than the female cocais^ from
whose sides this cotton-like substance exudes, and serves
as a covering and security for their eggs."
To this account I think proper to add, that, though
226 The Natural History
the female cocci are stationary, and seldom remove from
the place to which they stick, yet the male is a winged
insect ; and that the black dust which I saw was
undoubtedly the excrement of the females, which is
eaten by ants as well as flies. Though the utmost
severity of our winter did not destroy these insects, yet
the attention of the gardener in a summer or two has
entirely relieved my vine from this filthy annoyance.
As we have remarked above that insects are often
conveyed from one country to another in a very
unaccountable manner, I shall here mention an
emigration of small aphides, which was observed in the
village of Selborne no longer ago than August the
ist, 1785.
At about three o'clock in the afternoon of that day,
which was very hot, the people of this village were
surprised by a shower of aphides, or smother-flies, which
fell in these parts. Those that were walking in the
street at that juncture found themselves covered with
these insects, which settled also on the hedges and
gardens, blackening all the vegetables where they
alighted. My annuals were discoloured with them, and
the stalks of a bed of onions were quite coated over for
six days after. These armies were then, no doubt, in a
state of emigration, and shifting their quarters and ;

might have come, as far as we know, from the great hop-

plantations of Kent or Sussex, the wind being all that
day in the easterly quarter. They were observed at the
same time in great clouds about Farnham, and all along
the vale from Farnham to Alton.^
For various methods by wliich several insects shift their
quarters, see Derham's Physico- Theology.
of Selborne

to the honourable daines rarrington
Dear Sir,
When I happen to visit a family where gold and
silver fishes are kept in a glass bowl, I am always pleased
with the occurrence, because it offers me an opportunity
of observing the actions and propensities of those beings
with whom we can be little acquainted in their natural
state. Not long since I spent a fortnight at the house of
a friend where there was such a vivary, to which I paid
no small attention, taking every occasion to remark what
passed within its narrow limits. It was here that I first
observed the manner in which fishes die. As soon as
the creature sickens, the head sinks lower and lower, and
it stands as it were on its head ; till, getting weaker, and

losing all poise, the tail turns over, and at last it floats on
the surface of the water with its belly uppermost. The
reason why fishes, when dead, swim in that manner is
very obvious ; because, when the body is no longer
balanced by the fins of the belly, the broad muscular
back preponderates by its own gravity, and turns the belly
uppermost, as lighter from its being a cavity, and
because it contains the swimming-bladders, which
contribute to render it buoyant. Some that delight
in gold and silver fishes have adopted a notion that they
need no aliment. True it is that they will subsist for a
long time without any apparent food but what they
can collect from pure water frequently changed yet they

must draw some support from animalcula, and other

nourishment supplied by the water; because, though
of eating
they seem to eat nothing, yet the consequences
often drop from them. That they are best pleased with
such jejune diet may easily be confuted, since if you toss
them crumbs, they will seize them with great readiness,
not to say greediness :
however, bread should be given
228 The Natural History
it corrupt the water. They
sparingly, lest, turning sour,
will also feed on the water-plant called k7nna (duck's

meat), and also on small fry.

When they want to move a little they gently protrude
themselves with their pmnce. pcctoraUs ; but it is with
their strong muscular tails only that they and all fishes
shoot along with such inconceivable rapidity. It has

been said that the eyes of fishes are immoveable but :

these apparently turn them forward or backward in

their sockets as their occasions require. They take little
notice of a lighted candle, though applied close to their
heads, but flounce and seem much frightened by
sudden stroke of the hand against the support whereon
the bowl is hung; especially when they have been
motionless, and are perhaps asleep. As fishes have
no eyelids, it is not easy to discern when they are
sleeping or not, because their eyes are always open.
Nothing can be more amusing than a glass bowl
containing such fishes :the double refractions of the
glass and water represent them, when moving,
in a

shifting and changeable variety of dimensions, shades,

and colours; while the two mediums, assisted by the
concavo-convex shape of the vessel, magnify and distort
them vastly; not to mention that the introduction of
another element and its inhabitants into our parlours
engages the fancy in a very agreeable manner.
Gold and silver fishes, though originally natives of
China and Japan, yet are become so well reconciled to
our climate as to thrive and multiply very fast in our
ponds and stews. Linnaeus ranks this species of fish
under the genus of cyprinus^ or carp, and calls it cyprinus
Some people exhibit this sort of fish in a very fanciful
way; for they cause a glass bowl to be' blown with a
large hollow space within, that does not communicate
with it. In this cavity they put a bird occasionally ; so
that you may see a goldfinch or a linnet hopping as it
were in the midst of the water, and the fishes swimming
in a circle round it. The simple exhibition of the fishes
is agreeable and pleasant ; but in so complicated a way
of Selborne
becomes whimsical and unnatural, and liable to the
objection due to him,

"Qui variare cupit rem prodigialiter unam."

I am, etc.


October lo, 1781.

Dear Sir,
I think I have observed before that much the most
considerable part of the house-martins withdraw from
hence about the first week in October ; but that some,
the latter broods I am now convinced, linger on till
towards the middle of that month and that at times,

once perhaps in two or three years, a flight, for one day

only, has shown itself in the first week of November.
Having taken notice, in October 1780, that the last
flight was numerous, amounting perhaps to one hundred
and fifty
and that the season was soft and still I was ;

resolved to pay uncommon attention to these late birds ;

to find, if possible, where they roosted, and to determine

the precise time of their retreat. The mode of life of
these latter hirundines is very favourable to such a design ;

for they spend the whole day in the sheltered district,

between me and the Hanger, sailing about in a placid,
easy manner, and feasting on those insects which love to
haunt a spot so secure from ruffling winds. As my
principal object was to discover the place of their roosting,
I took care to wait on them before they retired to rest,
and was much pleased to find that, for several evenings

together, just at a quarter past five in the afternoon, they

all scudded away in great haste towards the south-east,
and darted down among the low shrubs above the cottages
at the end of the hill. This spot in many respects seems
to be well calculated for their winter residence : for in
230 The Natural History
many parts it is as steep as the roof of any house, and
therefore secure from the annoyances of water ; and it is

moreover clothed with beechen shrubs, which, being

stunted and bitten by sheep, make the thickest covert
imaginable ; and are so entangled as to be impervious
to the smallest spaniel besides, it is the nature of under-

wood beech never to cast its leaf all the winter ; so that,
with the leaves on the ground and those on the twigs, no
shelter can be more complete. I watched them on to
the thirteenth and fourteenth of October, and found their
evening retreat was exact and uniform ; but after this they
made no regular appearance. Now and then a straggler
was seen ; and on the twenty-second of October, I
observed two in the morning over the village, and with
them my remarks for the season ended.
From all these circumstances put together, it is more
than probable that this lingering flight, at so late a season
of the year, never departed from the island. Had they
indulged me that autumn with a November visit, as I
much desired, I presume that, with proper assistants, I
should have settled the matter past all doubt ; but though
the third of November was a sweet day, and in appearance
exactly suited to my wishes, yet not a martin was to be
seen ; and so I was forced, reluctantly, to give up the
I have only to add that were the bushes, which cover
some acres, and are not my own property, to be grubbed
and carefully examined, probably those late broods, and
perhaps the whole aggregate body of the house-martins
of this district, might be found there, in difterent secret
dormitories ; and that, so far from withdrawing into
warmer climes, it would appear that they never depart
three hundred yards from the village.
of Selborne 231

They who write on natural history cannot too frequently
advert to instinct, that wonderful limited faculty, which,
in some instances, raises the brute creation as it were
above reason, and in others leaves them so far below it.
Philosophers have defined instinct to be that secret
influence by which every species is impelled naturally to
pursue, at all times, the same way or track, without any
teaching or example ; whereas reason, without instruction,
would often vary and do that by many methods which
instinct effectsby one alone. Now this maxim must be
taken in a qualified sense ; for there are instances in
which instinct does vary and conform to the circumstances
of place and convenience.
It has been remarked that every species of bird has a
mode of nidification peculiar to itself; so that a school-
boy would at once pronounce on the sort of nest before
him. This is the case among fields and woods, and
wilds ; but, in the villages round London, where mosses
and gossamer, and cotton from vegetables, are hardly to
be found, the nest of the chaffinch has not that elegant
finished appearance, nor is it so beautifully studded with
lichens, as in a more rural district and the wren is obliged

to construct its house with straws and dry grasses, which

do not give it that rotundity and compactness so remark-
able in the edifices of that little architect. Again, the
regular nestof the house-martin is hemispheric ; but
where a or a joist, or a cornice may happen to
stand in the way, the nest is so contrived as to conform
to the obstruction, and becomes flat or oval, or compressed.
In the following instances instinct is perfectly uniform
and consistent. There are three creatures, the squirrel,
the field-mouse, and the bird called the nut-hatch {siifa
EiiropcEo), which live much on hazel nuts and yet they ;

open them each in a difi"erent way. The first, after rasp-

232 The Natural History
ing off the small end, splits the shell in two with his long
fore-teeth, as a man does with his knife ; the second
nibbles a hole with his teeth, so regular as if drilled with
a wimble, and yet so small that one would wonder how
the kernel can be extracted through it ; while the last
picks an irregular ragged hole with its bill but as this

artist has no paws to hold the nut firm while he pierces it,
like an adroit workman, he fixes it, as it were in a vice,
in some cleft of a tree, or in some crevice ; when, standing
over it, he perforates the stubborn shell. We have often
placed nuts in the chink of a gate-post where nut-hatches
have been known to haunt, and have always found that
those birds have readily penetrated them. While at work
they make a rapping noise that may be heard at a
considerable distance.
You that understand both the theory and practical part
of music may best inform us why harmony or melody
should so strangely affect some men, as it were by
recollection, for days after a concert is over. What I
mean the following passage will most readily explain :

" Praehabebat
porr6 vocibus humanis, instrumentisque
harmonicis musicam illam avium non quod alia quoque

non delectaretur ; sed quod ex musicd humana lelinque-

retur in animo continens quaedam, attentionemque et
somnum conturbans agitatio ; dum ascensus, exscensus,
tenores, ac mutationes illae sonorum et consonantiarum

euntque redeuntque per phantasiam: cum nihil tale relin-
qui possit ex modulationibus avium, quce, quod non sunt
perinde a nobis imitabiles, non possunt perinde internam
facultatem commovere." —
Gassendus in Vitd Peireskii.
This curious quotation strikes me much by so well
representing my own case, and by describing what I have
so often felt, but never could so well
express. When I
hear fine music I am haunted with
passages therefrom
night and day; and especially at first waking, which, by
their importunity, give me more uneasiness than
pleasure :

elegant lessons still tease my imagination, and recur

irresistibly to recollection at seasons, and even when
Iam desirous of thinking of more serious matters.
I am, etc.
of Selborne 233

A RARE, and I think a new little bird frequents my
garden, which I have great reason to think is the petti-
chaps it is common in some parts of the kingdom ; and

I have received formerly several dead

specimens from
Gibraltar. This bird much resembles the white-throat,
but has a more white or rather silvery breast and belly ;
is restless and active, like the
willow-wrens, and hops
from bough to bough, examining every part for food ; it
also runs up the stems of the crown-imperials, and, putting
its head into the bells of those flowers,
sips the liquor
which stands in the nectarium of each petal. Sometimes
it feeds on the
ground, like the hedge-sparrow, by hopping
about on the grass-plots and mown walks.
One of my neighbours, an intelligent and observing
man, informs me that, in the beginning of May, and
about ten minutes before eight o'clock in the evening, he
discovered a great cluster of house-swallows, thirty at
least he supposes, perching on a willow that hung over
the verge of James Knight's upper-pond. His attention
was first draAvn by the twittering of these birds, which sat
motionless in a row on the bough, with their heads all
one way, and, by their weight, pressing down the twig so
that it nearly touched the water. In this situation he
watched them till he could see no longer. Repeated
accounts of this sort, spring and fall, induce us greatly to
suspect that house-swallows have some strong attachment
to water, independent of the matter of food ; and though
they may not retire into that element, yet they may con-
ceal themselves in the banks of pools and rivers during
the uncomfortable months of winter.
One of the keepers of Wolmer-forest sent me a peregrine
it was
falcon, which he shot on the verge of that district as
devouring a wood-pigeon. The falco peregrinus^ or
haggard falcon, is a noble species of hawk seldom seen
234 The Natural History
the southern counties. In winter 1767 one was killed in
the neighbouring parish of Faringdon, and sent by me to
Mr. Pennant into North Wales.^ Since that time I have
met with none till now. The specimen measured above
was in fine preservation, and not injured by the shot it :

measured forty-two inches from wing to wing, and twenty-

one from beak to tail, and weighed two pounds and an
half standing weight. This species is very robust, and
wonderfully formed for rapine its breast was plump and

muscular ; its thighs long, thick, and brawny ; and its

legs remarkably short and well set the feet were armed:

with most formidable, sharp, long talons the eyelids and :

cere of the bill were yellow ; but the irides of the eyes
dusky ; the beak was thick and hooked, and of a dark
colour, and had a jagged process near the end of the upper
mandible on each side its tail, or train, was short in

proportion to the bulk of its body yet the wings, when


closed, did not extend to the end of the train. From its
large and fair proportions it might be supposed to have
been a female but I was not permitted to cut open the

specimen. For one of the birds of prey, which are

usually lean, this was in high case in its craw were many

barley-corns, which probably came from the crop of the

wood-pigeon, on which it was feeding when shot for :

voracious birds do not eat grain ; but when devouring

their quarry, with undistinguishing vehemence swallow
bones and feathers, and all matters, indiscriminately.
This falcon was probably driven from the mountains of
North Wales or Scotland, where they are known to breed,
by rigorous weather and deep snows that had lately fallen.
I am, etc.

My near neighbour, a young gendeman in the service of
the East-India Company, has brought home a dog and a
See my tenth and eleventh letter to that gentleman.
of Selborne 235
bitch of the Chinese breed from Canton such as are

fattened in that country for the purpose of being eaten :

they are about the size of a moderate spaniel of a pale


yellow colour, with coarse bristling hairs on their backs ;

sharp upright ears, and peaked heads, which give them a

very fox-like appearance. Their hind legs are unusually
straight, without any bend at the hock or ham, to such a
degree as to give them an awkward gait when they trot.
When they are in motion their tails are curved high over
their backs like those of some hounds, and have a bare
place each on the outside from the tip midway, that does
not seem to be matter of accident, but somewhat singular.
Their eyes are jet black, small, and piercing ; the insides
of their lips and mouths of the same colour, and their
tongues blue. The bitch has a dew-claw on each hind
the dog has none. When taken out into a field the
bitch showed some disposition for hunting, and dwelt on
the scent of a covey of partridges till she sprung them,
giving her tongue all the time. The dogs in South
America are dumb ; but these bark much in a short
thick manner, like foxes; and have a surly, savage
demeanour like their ancestors, which are not domes-
ticated, but bred up in sties, where they are fed for the
and other farinaceous food. These
table with rice-meal
as soon as weaned,
dogs, having been taken on board
could not learn much from their dam ; yet they did not
reHsh flesh when they came to England. In the islands
of the pacific ocean the dogs are bred up on vegetables,
and would not eat flesh when offered them by our
We believe that all dogs, in a state of nature, have

sharp, upright fox-like ears ;

and that hanging ears, which
are esteemed so graceful, are the effect of choice breeding
and cultivation. Thus, in the Travels of Ysbrandt Ides
from Muscovy to China, the dogs which draw the Tartars
on snow-sledges near the river Oby are engraved with
those from Canton. The Kamschatdales
prick-ears, like
also train the same sort of sharp-eared peak-nosed dogs to
draw their sledges ; as may be seen in an elegant print
engraved for Captain Cook's last voyage round the world.
236 The Natural History
Now we are upon the subject of dogs it may not be
impertinent to add, that spaniels, as all sportsmen know,
though they hunt partridges and pheasants as it were by
instinct, and with much delight and alacrity, yet will
hardly touch their bones when offered as food ; nor will
a mongrel dog of my own, though he is remarkable for
finding that sort of game. But, when we came to offer
the bones of partridges to the two Chinese dogs, they
devoured them with much greediness, and licked the
platter clean.
No sporting dogs will flush woodcocks till inured to
the sc^ and trained to the sport, which they then
pursue' with vehemence and transport ; but then they
will not touch their bones, but turn from them with
abhorrence, even when they are hungry.
Now, that dogs should not be fond of the bones of such
birds as they are not disposed to hunt is no wonder ; but
why they reject and do not care to eat their natural game
is not so easily accounted for, since the end of hunting

seems to be, that the chase pursued should be eaten.

Dogs again will not devour the more rancid water-fowls,
nor indeed the bones of any wild-fowls ; nor will they
touch the foetid bodies of birds that feed on offal and
garbage and indeed there may be somewhat of provi-

dential instinct in this circumstance of dislike ; for

vultures,^ and kites, and ravens, and crows, etc., were
intended to be messmates with dogs ^ over their carrion ;
and seem to be appointed by nature as fellow-scavengei:3
to remove all cadaverous nuisances from the face of the
I am, etc.

Hasselquist, in his Travels to the Levant, observes that the
dogs and vultures at Grand Cairo maintain such a
intercourse as to bring up their young together in the same
^ place.
The Chinese word for a dog to an European ear sounds like
of Selborne 237

The fossil wood buried in the bogs of Wolmer-forest is
not yet all exhausted, for the peat-cutters now and then
stumble upon a log. I have just seen a piece which was
sent by a labourer of Oakhanger to a carpenter of tliis
village ; this was the but-end of a small oak, about five
feet long, and about five inches in diameter. It had

apparently been severed from the ground by an axe, was

very ponderous, and as black as ebony. Upon asking
the carpenter for what purpose he had procured it, he
told me that it was to be sent to his brother, a joiner at
Farnham, who was to make use of it in cabinet work, by
inlaying it along with whiter woods.
Those that are much abroad on evenings after it is
dark, in spring and summer, frequently hear a nocturnal
bird passing by on the wing, and repeating often a short
quick note. This bird I have remarked myself, but never
could make out till lately. I am assured now that it is
the stone curlew {charadrtus a'dicnemus). Some of them
pass over or near my house almost every evening after it
is dark, from the uplands of the hill and North field,

away down towards Dorton ; where, among the streams

and meadows, they find a greater plenty of food. Birds
that fly by night are obliged to be noisy ;
their notes
often repeated become signals or watchwords to keep
them together, that they may not stray or lose each the
other in the dark.
The evening proceedings and manoeuvres of the rooks
are curious and amusing in the autumn. Just before
dusk they return in long strings from the foraging of the
day, and rendezvous by
thousands over Selborne-down,
where theywheel round in the air, and sport and dive in
a playful manner, all the while exerting their voices, and
blended and softened
making a loud cawing, which, being
by the distance that we at the village are below them.
238 The Natural History
becomes a confused noise or chiding ; or rather a pleasing
murmur, very engaging to the imagination, and not unhke
the cry of a pack of hounds in hollow, echoing woods, or
the rushing of the wind in tall trees, or the tumbling of
the tide upon a pebbly shore. When this ceremony is
over, with the last gleam of day, they retire for the night
to the deep beechen woods of Tisted and Ropley. We
remember a little girl who, as she was going to bed, used
to remark on such an occurrence, in the true spirit of
physico-theology, that the rooks were saying their prayers ;
and yet this child was much too young to be aware that
the scriptures have said of the Deity —that "he feedeth
the ravens who call upon him."
I am, etc.

In reading Dr. Huxham's Observatio7ies dc Aere^ etc.,
written at Plymouth, I find by those curious and accurate
remarks, which contain an account of the weather from
the year 1727 to the year 1748, inclusive, that though
there is frequent rain in that district of Devonshire,
yet the quantity falling is not great ; and that some years

it has been very small for in 1731 the rain measured

— —

only I7'"'^ 266'''°". and in 1741, 20 354; and again

in 1743 only 20 — 908. Places near the sea have frequent
scuds, that keep the atmosphere moist, yet do not reach
far up into the country ; making thus the maritime situa-
tions appear wet, when the rain is not considerable. In
the wettest years at Plymouth the Doctor measured only
once 36; and again once, viz., 1734, 37 — 114: a quantity
of rain that has twice been exceeded at Selborne in the
short period of my observations. Dr. Huxham remarks,
that frequent small rains keep the air moist ; while heavy
ones render it more dry, by beating down the vapours.
He is also of opinion that the dingy, smoky appearance of
the sky, in very dry seasons, arises from the want of
of Selborne
moisture sufficient to let the light through, and render the
atmosphere transparent ; because he had observed several
bodies more diaphanous when wet than
dry; and did
never recollect that the air had that look in
rainy seasons.
My friend who lives just beyond the top of the down,
brought his three swivel guns to try them in my outlet,
with their muzzles towards the Hanger,
supposing that the
report would have had a great effect but the experiment

did not answer his expectation. He then removed them

to the Alcove on the Hanger when the sound, rushing

along the Lythe and Combwood, was very grand but it :

was at the Hermitage that the echoes and repercussions

delighted the hearers ; not only filling the Lythe with
the roar, as if all the beeches were tearing up by the
roots ; but, turning to the left, they pervaded the vale
above Combwood-ponds ; and after a pause seemed to
take up the crash again, and to extend round Harteley-
hangers, and to die away at last among the coppices and
coverts of Ward le ham. It has been remarked before
that this district is an Anathoth, a place of responses or
echoes, and therefore proper for such experiments we :

may further add that the pauses in echoes, when they

cease and yet are taken up again, like the pauses in music,
surprise the hearers, and have a fine effect on the
The gentleman above mentioned has just fixed a
barometer in his parlour at Newton Valence. The tube
was first filled here (at Selborne) twice with care, when
the mercury agreed and stood exactly with my own but ;

being filled again twice at Newton, the mercury stood, on

account of the great elevation of that house, three-tenths
of an inch lower than the barometers at this village, and
so continues to do, be the weight of the atmosphere what
it may. The plate of the barometer at Newton is figured
as low as 27; because in stormy weather the mercury
there will sometimes descend below 28. We have
supposed Newton-house to stand two hundred feet higher
than this house : but if the rule holds good, which says
that mercury in a barometer sinks one-tenth of an inch
for every hundred feet elevation, then the Newton
240 The Natural History
barometer, by standing three-tenths lower than that of
Selborne, proves that Newton-house must be three
hundred feet higher than that in which I am writing,
instead of two hundred.
It may not be impertinent to add, that the barometers
at Selborne stand three-tenths of an inch lower than the
barometers at South Lambeth ; whence we may conclude
that the former place is about three hundred feet higher

than the latter; and with good reason, because the

streams that rise with us run into the Thames at Wey-
bridge, and so to London. Of course therefore there
must be lower ground all the way from Selborne to South
Lambeth the distance between which, all the windings

and indentings of the streams considered, cannot be less

than an hundred miles.
I am, etc.

Since the weather of a district is undoubtedly part of its
natural history, I shall make no further apology for the
four following letters, which will contain many particulars
concerning some of the great frosts and a few respecting
some very hot summers, that have distinguished them-
selves from the rest during the course of my observations.
As the frost in January 1768 was, for the small time it
lasted, the most severe that we had then known for many
years, and was remarkably injurious to evergreens, some
account of its rigour, and reason of its ravages, may be
useful, and not unacceptable to persons that delight in
planting and ornamenting ; and may particularly become
a work that professes never to lose sight of utility.
For the last two or three days of the former year there
were considerable falls of snow, which lay deep and
uniform on the ground without any drifting, wrapping up
the more humble vegetation in perfect security. From
the first day to the fifth of the new year more snow
of Selborne 241
succeeded but from that day the air became entirely

clear ;
and the heat of the sun about noon had a consider-
able influence in sheltered situations.
It was in such an aspect that the snow on the author's

evergreens was melted every day, and frozen intensely

every night ; so that the laurustines, bays, laurels, and
arbutuses looked, in three or four days, as if they had been
burnt in the fire ; while a neighbour's plantation of the
same kind, in a high cold situation, where the snow was
never melted at all, remained uninjured.
From hence I would infer that it is the repeated melt-
ing and freezing of the snow that is so fatal to vegetation,
rather than the severity of the cold. Therefore it highly
behoves every planter, who wishes to escape the cruel mor-
tification of losing in a few days the labour and hopes of

years, to bestir himself on such emergencies ; and, if his

plantations are small, to avail himself of mats, cloths,
pease-haum, straw, reeds, or any such covering, for a
short time ; or, if his shrubberies are extensive, to see that
his people go about with prongs and forks, and carefully

dislodge the snow from the boughs, since the naked

foliage will shift much better for itself, than where the
snow is partly melted and frozen again.
It may perhaps appear at first like a paradox but;

doubtless the more tender trees and shrubs should never

be planted in hot aspects not only for the reason

assigned above, but also because, thus circumstanced,

they are disposed to shoot earlier in the spring, and grow
on later in the autumn than they would otherwise do,
and so are sufferers by lagging or early frosts. For this
reason also plants from Siberia will hardly endure our
climate because, on the very first advances of spring,

they shoot away, and so are cut off by the severe nights
of March or April.
Dr. Fothergill and others have experienced the same
inconvenience with respect to the more tender shrubs
from North America which they therefore plant under

north walls. There should also perhaps be a wall to the

east to defend them from the piercing blasts from that
242 The Natural History
This observation might without any impropriety be
carried into animal life ; for discerning beemasters now
find that their hives should not in the winter be exposed
to the hot sun, because such unseasonable warmth
awakens the inhabitants too early from their slumbers ;

and, by putting their juices into motion too soon, subjects

them afterwards to inconveniences when rigorous weather
Thecoincidents attending this short but intense frost
^were, fell sick with an epidemic distemper,
that the horses
which injured the winds of many, and killed some ; that
•colds and coughs were general among the human species ;
that it froze under
people's beds for several nights ; that
meat was so hard frozen that it could not be spitted, and
could not be secured but in cellars ; that several redwings
and thrushes were killed by the frost and that the large

titmouse continued to pull straw lengthwise from the

eaves of thatched houses and barns in a most adroit
manner, for a purpose that has been explained already.^
On the 3d of January, Benjamin Martin's thermometer
v/itiiin doors, in a close parlour where there was no fire,
fell in the night to 20, and on the 4th to 18, and the 7th
to 175, a degree of cold which the owner never since saw
in the same situation ; and he regrets much that he was
not able at that juncture to attend his instrument abroad.
All this time the wind continued north and north-east ;
and yet on the eighth roost-cocks, which had been silent,
began to sound their clarions, and crows to clamour, as
prognostic of milder weather ; and, moreover, moles
began to heave and work, and a manifest thaw took place.
From the latter circumstance we may conclude that thaws
often originates under ground from warm vapours which
arise ; else how should subterrraneous animals receive
such early intimations of their approach ? Moreover, we
have often observed that cold seems to descend from
above ; for, when a thermometer hangs abroad in a frosty
night, the intervention of a cloud shall immediately raise
the mercury ten degrees ; and a clear sky shall again
compel it to descend to its former gauge.
See letter xli. to Mr. Pennant.
of Selborne 243
And here it may be proper to observe, on what has
been said above, that though frosts advance to their
utmost severity by somewhat of a regular gradation, yet
thaws do not usually come on by as regular a declension
of cold ;
but often take place immediately from intense
freezing ;
as men in sickness often mend at once from a
To the great credit of Portugal laurels and American
junipers, be it remembered that they remained untouched
amidst the general havoc hence men should learn to

ornament chiefly with such trees as are able to withstand

accidental severities, and not subject themselves to the
vexation of a loss which may befall them once perhaps in
ten years, yet may hardly be recovered through the
whole course of their lives.
As it appeared afterwards the ilexes were much injured,
the cypresses were half destroyed, the arbutuses lingered
on, but never recovered and the bays, laurustines, and

laurels, were killed to the ground and the very wild


hollies, in hot aspects, were so much affected that they

cast all their leaves.

By the T4th of January the snow was entirely gone ; the

turnips emerged not damaged at all, save in sunny places ;
the wheat looked delicately, and the garden plants were
well preserved ; for snow is the most kindly mantle that
infant vegetation can be wrapped in ; were it not for that
friendly meteor no vegetable life could exist
at all in

northerly regions. Yet in Sweden the earth in April is

not divested of snow for more than a fortnight before the
face of the country is covered with flowers.



There were some circumstances attending the remark-
able frost in January 1776 so singular and striking, that a
short detail of them may not be unacceptable.
244 The Natural History
The most certain way to be exact will be to copy the
passages from my journal, which were taken from time to
time as things occurred. But it may be proper previously
to remark that the first week in January was uncommonly
wet, and drowned with vast rains from every quarter :

from whence may be inferred, as there is great reason to

believe is the case, that intense frosts seldom take place
till the earth is perfectly glutted and chilled with water ;

and hence dry autumns are seldom followed by rigorous


January 7th. Snow driving all the day, which was
followed by frost, sleet, and some snow, till the 12 th,
when a prodigious mass overwhelmed all the works of
men, drifting over the tops of the gates and filling the
hollow lanes.
On the 14th the writer was obliged to be much abroad ;
and thinks he never before or since has encountered such
rugged Siberian weather. Many of the narrow roads were
now filled above the tops of the hedges ; through which
the snow was driven into most romantic and grotesque
shapes, so striking to the imagination as not to be seen
without wonder and pleasure. The poultry dared not to
stir out of their roosting-places ; for cocks and hens are so
dazzled and confounded by the glare of snow that they
would soon perish without assistance. The hares also
lay sullenly in their seats, and would not move until
compelled by hunger being conscious, poor animals,

that the drifts and heaps treacherously betray their foot-

steps, and prove fatal to numbers of them.
From the 14th the snow continued to increase, and
began to stop the road waggons and coaches, which
could no longer keep on their regular stages and ;

especially on the western roads, where the fall appears to

have been deeper than in the south. The company at
Bath, that wanted to attend the Queen's birth-day,

The autumn preceding January 1768 was very wet, and particu-
larly the month of September, during which there fell at Lyndon, in
the county of Rutland, six inches and an half of rain. And the
terrible long frost of 1 739-40 set in after a rainy season, and when
the springs were very high.
of Selborne 245
were strangely incommoded many carriages of
who got, in their way to town from liath, as far as Marl-
borough, after strange embarrassments, here met willi a
ne plus ultra. The ladies fretted, and offered large
rewards to labourers, if they would shovel them a track to
London ; but the relentless heaps of snow were too bulky
to be removed; and so the i8th
passed over, leaving
the company in very uncomfortable circumstances at the
Castle and other inns.
On the 20th the sun shone out for the first time since
the frost began ; a circumstance that has been remarked
before much in favour of vegetation. All this time the
cold was not very intense, for the thermometer stood at
29, 28, 25, and thereabout ; but on the 21st it descended
to 20. The birds now began to be in a very pitiable and
starving condition. Tamed by the season, skylarks
settled in the streets of towns, because they saw the
ground was bare ; rooks frequented dunghills close to
houses ; and crows watched horses as they passed, and
greedily devoured what dropped from them; hares now
came into men's gardens, and, scraping away the snow,
devoured such plants as they could find.
On the 22nd the author had occasion to go to London
through a sort of Laplandian-scene, very wild and
grotesque indeed. But the metropolis itself exhibited a
still more singular appearance than the
country ; for,
being bedded deep in snow, the pavement of the streets
could not be touched by the wheels or the horses' feet, so
that the carriages ran about without the least noise.
Such ari exception from din and clatter was strange, but
not pleasant ; it seemed to convey an uncomfortable idea
of desolation :

ipsa silenlia tcrrcnt."

On the 27th much snow fell all day, and in the

evening the frost became very intense. At South
Lambeth, for the four following nights, the thermometer
fell to II, 7, 6, 6 ; and at Selborne to 7, 6, 10 and on ;

the 31st of January, just before sunrise, with rime on the

trees and on the tube of the glass, the quicksilver sunk
246 The Natural History
exactly to zero, being 32 degrees below the freezing
point ; but by eleven in the morning, though in the
shade, it sprung up to

16^^ a most unusual degree of
cold this for the south of England During these four

nights the cold was so penetrating that it occasioned ice

in warm chambers and under beds ;
andday thein the
wind was so keen that persons of robust constitutions
could scarcely endure to face it. The Thames was at
once so frozen over both above and below bridge that
crowds ran about on the ice. The streets were now
strangely incumbered with snow, which crumbled and
trod dusty ; and, turning grey, resembled bay-salt ; what
had fallen on the roofs was so perfectly dry that, from
first to last, it lay twenty-six days on the houses in the

city ; a longer time than had been remembered by the

oldest housekeepers living. According to all appearances
we might now have expected the continuance of this
rigorous weather for weeks to come, since every night
increased in severity ; but behold, without any apparent
cause, on the ist of February a thaw took place, and some
rain followed before night ; making good the observation
above, that frosts often go off as it were at once, without
any gradual declension of cold. On the second of
February the thaw persisted ; and on the 3d swarms of
littleinsects were frisking and sporting in a court-yard at
South Lambeth, as if they had felt no frost. Why the
juices in the small bodies and smaller limbs of such
minute beings are not frozen is a matter of curious
Severe frosts seem to be partial, or to run in currents ;
for, atthe same juncture, as the author was informed by
accurate correspondents, at Lyndon in the county of
Rutland, the thermometer stood at 19 at Blackburn, in

Lancashire, at 19and at Manchester at 21, 20, and i8.


Thus does some unknov/n circumstance strangely over-

At Selborne the cold was greater than at any other place that
the author could hear of with certainty : though some
reported at
the time that at a village in Kent, the thermometer fell two
below zero, viz., 34 degrees below the freezing point.
The thermometer used at Selborne was graduated by Benjamin
of Selborne 247
balance latitude, and render the cold sometimes much
greater in the southern than in the northern parts of this
The consequences of this severity were, that in
shire, at the melting of the snow, the wheat looked well,
and the turnips came forth little injured. The laurels
and laurustines were somewhat damaged, but only in hot
aspects. No evergreens were quite destroyed and not;

half the damage sustained that befell in January, 1768.

Those laurels that were a little scorched on the south-
sides were perfectly untouched on their north-sides. The
care taken to shake the snow day by day from the
branches seemed greatly to avail the author's evergreens.
A neighbour's laurel-hedge, in a high situation, and
facing to the north, was perfectly green and vigorous ;
and the Portugal laurels remained unhurt.
As to the birds, the thrushes and blackbirds were
mostly destroyed ;
and the partridges, by the weather
and poachers, were so thinned that few remained to breed
the following year.



As the frost in December, 1784, was very extraordinary,
you, I trust, will not be displeased to hear the particulars :
and especially when I promise to say no more about the
severities of winter after I have finished this letter.
The first week in December was very wet, with the
barometer very low. On the 7th, with the barometer at
28, five-tenths, came on a vast snow, which continued all
that day and the next, and most part of the following
night ; so that by the morning of the 9th the
works of
men were quite overwhelmed, the lanes filled so as to be
impassable, and the ground covered
twelve or fifteen
inches without any drifting. In the evening of the 9th
the air began to be so very sharp that we thought it
would be curious to attend to the motions of a
248 The Natural History
thermometer we therefore hung out two ; one made

by Martin and one by DoUand, which soon began to

show us what we were to expect ; for, by ten o'clock,
they fell to 21, and at eleven to 4, when we went to bed.
On the I oth, in the morning, the quicksilver of DoUand's
glass was down to half a degree below zero ; and that of
Martin's, which was absurdly graduated only to four
degrees above zero, sunk quite into the brass guard of
the ball ; so that when the weather became most
interesting this was useless. On the loth, at eleven at
night, though the air was perfectly still, Dolland's glass
went down to one degree below zero This strange

severity of the weather made me

very desirous to know
what degree of cold there might be in such an exalted
and near situation as Newton. We had therefore, on
the morning of the loth, written to Mr. and ,

entreated him to hang out his thermometer, made by

Adams ; and to pay some attention to it morning and
evening ; expecting wonderful phaenomena, in so elevated
a region, at two hundred feet or more above my house.
But, behold on the loth, at eleven at night, it was down

only to 17, and the next morning at 22, when mine was
at 10. We were so disturbed at this unexpected reverse
of comparative local cold, that we sent one of my glasses
up, thinking that of Mr. must, somehow, be wrongly
constructed. But, when the instruments came to be
confronted, they went exactly together so that, for one

night at least, the cold at Newton was 18 degrees less

than at Selborne ; and, through the whole frost, 10 or 12
degrees ; and indeed, when we came to observe conse-
quences, we could readily credit this ; for all my
laurustines, bays, ilexes, arbutuses, cypresses, and even
my Portugal laurels,^ and (which occasions more regret)
my fine sloping laurel hedge, were scorched up while, at ;

Newton, the same trees have not lost a leaf 1

Mr. Miller, in his Gardener's Dictionary, says positively that
the Portugal laurels remained untouched in the remarkable frost of
1739-40- So that eitlier that accurate observer wa.s much mistaken,
or else the frost of December, 1784, was much more severe and
destructive than that in the year above mentioned.
of Selborne 249
We had steady frost on to the 25th, when the
thermometer in the morning was down to 10 with us,
and at Newton only to 21. Strong frost continued till
the 3rst, when some tendency to thaw was observed,
and, by January the 3rd, 1785, the thaw was confirmed,
and some rain fell.
A circumstance that I must not omit, because it was
new to us, is, that on Friday, December the lolh, beinp;
bright sun-shine, the air w^as full of icy spiculm^ floating in
all directions, like atoms in a sun-beam let into a dark
room. We
thought them at first particles of the rime
falling my tall hedges ; but were soon convinced to
the contrary, by making our observations in open places
where no rime could reach us. Were they watery parti-
cles of the air frozen as they floated ; or were they
evaporations from the snow frozen as they mounted ?
We were much obliged to the thermometers for the
early information they gave us and hurried our apples,

pears, onions, potatoes, etc., into the cellar, and

closets ; while those who had not, or neglected such
warnings, lost all their stores of roots and fruits, and had
their very breadand cheese frozen.
must not omit to tell you that, during those two
Siberian days, my parlour-cat was so electric, that had a
person stroked her, and been properly insulated,
shock might have been given to a whole circle of
I forgot to mention before, that, during the two severe
in the snow, had
days, two men, who were tracing hares
their feet frozen ; and two men, who were much better
the frost, while
employed, had their fingers so affected by
they were thrashing in a barn, that a mortification
followed, from which they did not recover for many
This frost killed all the furze and most of the ivy, and
many places stripped the hollies of all their leaves.
in It

came at a very early time of the year, before old Novem-

ber ended ; and yet it may be allowed from its effects to
have exceeded any since 1739-40.
250 The Natural History


As the effects of heat are seldom very remarkable in the

northerly climate of England, where the summers are
often so defective in warmth and sunshine as not to ripen
the fruits of the earth so well as might be wished, I shall
be more concise in my account of the severity of a summer
season, and so make a little amends for the prolix account
of the degrees of cold, and the inconveniences that we
suffered from late rigorous winters.
The summers of 178 1 and 1783 were unusually hot and
dry j to them therefore I shall turn back in my journals,
without recurring to any more distant period. In the
former of these years my peach and nectarine-trees suffered
so much from the heat that the rind on the bodies was
scalded and came off; since which the trees have been in a
decaying state. This may prove a hint to assiduous
gardeners to fence and shelter their wall-trees with mats
or boards, as they may easily do, because such annoyance
is seldom of long continuance.
During that summer also,
I my apples were coddled, as it were, on
observed that
the trees so that they had no quickness of flavour, and

would not keep in the winter. This circumstance put me

in mind of what I have heard travellers assert, that they
never ate a good apple or apricot in the south of Europe,
where the heats were so great as to render the juices vapid
and insipid.
The great pests of a garden are wasps, which destroy all
the finer fruits just as they are coming into perfection. In
1781 we had none; in 1783 there were myriads; which
would have devoured all the produce of my garden, had
not we set the boys to take the nests, and caught thousands
with hazel twigs tipped with bird-lime : we have since
employed the boys to take and destroy the large breeding
wasps in the spring. Such expedients have a great effect
on these marauders, and will keep them under. Though
of Selborne 251
wasps do not abound but in hot summers, yet they do not
prevail in every hot summer, as I have instanced in the
two years above mentioned.
In the sultry season of 1783 honey-dews were so fre-
quent as to deface and destroy tlie beauties of my garden.
My honey-suckles, which were one week the most sweet
and lovely objects that the eye could behold, became the
next the most loathsome ; being enveloped in a viscous
substance, and loaded with black aphides, or smother-
flies. The occasion of this clammy appearance seems to
be this, that in hot weather the effluvia of flowers in fields
and meadows and gardens are drawn up in the day by a
brisk evaporation, and then in the night
again fall down
with the dews, in which they are entangled that the air ;

is strongly scented, and therefore impregnated with the

particles of flowers in summer weather, our senses

will in-
form us ; and that this clammy sweet substance is of the
vegetable kind we may learn from bees, to whom it is very
grateful : and we may be assured that it falls in the night,
because it is always seen first in warm still mornings.
On chalky and sandy soils, and in the hot villages about
London, the thermometer has been often observed to mount
as high as 83 or 84 but with us, in this hilly and woody

district, I have hardly ever seen it exceed 80 ;

nor does it

often arrive at that pitch. The reason, I conclude, is,

that our dense clayey soil, so much shaded by trees, is not
so easily heated through as those above-mentioned and, :

besides, our mountains cause currents of air and breezes ;

and the vast effluvia from our woodlands temper and
moderate our heats.

The summer of the year 1783 was an amazing and por-
tentous one, and full of horrible phrenomcna for besides ;

the alarming meteors and tremendous thunder-storms that

affrighted and distressed the different counties of this
252 The Natural History
kingdom, the peculiar haze, or smokey fog, that prevailed
for many weeks in this island, and in every part of Europe,
and even beyond its limits, was a most extraordinary
appearance, unlike anything known within the memory
of man. By my journal I find that I had noticed this
strange occurrence from June 23 to July 20 inclusive,
during which period the wind varied to every quarter with-
out making any alteration in the air. The sun, at noon,
looked as blank as a clouded moon, and shed a rust-
coloured ferruginous light on the ground, and floors of
rooms ; but was particularly lurid and blood-coloured at
rising and setting. All the time the heat was so intense
that butchers' meat could hardly be eaten on the day after
it was killed ; and tlie flies swarmed so in the lanes and

hedges that they rendered the horses half frantic, and riding
irksome. The country people began to look with a super-
stitious awe, at the red, louring aspect of the sun ; and
indeed there was reason for the most enlightened person
to be apprehensive ; for, all the while, Calabria and part
of the isle of Sicily, were torn and convulsed with earth-
quakes ; and about that juncture a volcano sprung out of
the sea on the coast of Norway. On this occasion Milton's
noble simile of the sun, in his first book of Paradise Lost,
frequently occurred to my mind ; and it is indeed par-
ticularly applicable, because, towards the end, it alludes
to a superstitious kind of dread, with which the minds of
men are always impressed by such strange and unusual
. . . **As when the sun, new risen,
Looks through the horizontal, misty air,
Shorn of liis beams or from behind the moon,

In dim eclipse, disastrous twilight sheds

On half the nations, and with fear of change
Perplexes monarchs." . . .
of Selborne 253

We are very seldom annoyed with thunder-storms and ;

it is no remarkable than true, that those which arise

in the south have
hardly been known to reach this village;
for before they
get over us, they take a direction to the
east or to the west, or sometimes divide into two, and
in part to one of those
quarters, and in part to the other ;
as was truly the case in summer 1783, when
though the
country round was continually harassed with tempests
and often from the south, yet we escaped them all as ;

appears by my journal of that summer. The only way

that I can at all account for this fact — for such it is — is

that, on between us and the sea, there are

that quarter,
continual mountains, hill behind hill, such as Nore-hill,
the Barnet, Butser-hill, and Ports-down, which somehow
divert the storms, and give them a different direction.
High promontories, and elevated grounds, have always
been observed to attract clouds and disarm them of their
mischievous contents, which are discharged into the trees
and summits as soon as they come in contact with those
turbulent meteors ; while the humble vales escape, because
they are so far beneath them.
But, when I say I do not remember a thunder-storm
from the south, I do not mean that we never have sufTered
from thunder-storms at all; for on June 5th, 1784, the
thermometer in the morning being at 64, and at noon at
70, the barometer at 29, six-tenths one-half, and the wind
north, I observed a blue mist, smelling strongly of sulphur,
hanging along our sloping woods, and seeming to indicate
that thunder was at hand. I was called in about two in
the afternoon, and so missed seeing the gathering of the
clouds in the north which they who were abroad assured

me had something uncommon in its appearance. At

about a quarter after two the storm began in the parish of
Hartley, moving slowly from north to south ;
and from
254 The Natural History
thence it came over Norton-farm, and so to Grange-farm,
both in this parish. It began with vast drops of rain,
which were soon succeeded by round hail, and then by
convex pieces of ice, which measured three inches in girth,
Had it been as extensive as it was violent, and of any con-
tinuance (for it was very short), it must have ravaged all
the neighbourhood. In the parish of Hartley it did some
damage to one farm ; but Norton, which lay in the centre
of the storm, was greatly injured ; as was Grange, which
lay next to it. It did but just reach to the middle
of the village, where the hail broke my north windows,
and all my garden-lights and hand-glasses, and many
of my neighbours* windows. The extent of the storm
was about two miles in length and one in breadth. We
were just sitting down to dinner ; but were soon diverted
from our repast by the clattering of tiles and the jing-
ling of glass. There fell at the same time prodigious
torrents of rain on the farms above-mentioned, which
occasioned a flood as violent as it was sudden ; doing
great damage to the meadows and fallows, by deluging
the one and washing away the soil of the other. The
hollow lane towards Alton was so torn and disordered as
not to be passable till mended, rocks being removed that
weighed 200 weight. Those that saw the effect which
the great hail had on ponds and pools say that the dashing
of the water made an extraordinary appearance, the froth
and spray standing up in the air three feet above the
surface. The rushing and roaring of the hail, as it ap-
proached, was truly tremendous.
Though the clouds at South Lambeth, near London,
were at that juncture thin and light, and no storm was in
sight, nor within hearing, yet the air was strongly electric

for the bells of an electric machine at that place rang re-

peatedly, and fierce sparks were discharged.

When I first took the present work in hand I proposed
to have added an Afmns Historico-7iaturalis^ or the Natural
History of the Twelve Months of the Year; which would
have comprised many incidents and occurrences that have
not fallen in my way to be mentioned in my series of
letters ; —
but, as Mr. Aikin of Warrington has lately pub-
of Selborne 255
lisbed somewhat of this sort, and as the length of my
correspondence has sufficiently put your patience to the
test, I shall here take a respectful leave of you and natural
history together ;
and am,
With all due deference and regard,
Your most obliged,
And most humble servant,

June 25, 1787.
Richard Clay S: Sons, Limited,
bread street hill, e.c., and
bungay, suffolk.
This preservation photocopy was made
at BookLab. Inc. in compliance with copyright law.

The paper meets the requirements of ANSI/NISO

Z39.48-1992 (Permanence of Paper)


Austin 1997

Related Interests