[Gilbert White]
An extraordinary family copy owned and inscribed by the author of the Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, Gilbert White, and subsequentl… Read more
Published in 1700 by Unknown.

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An extraordinary family copy owned and inscribed by the author of the Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, Gilbert White, and subsequently by his favourite niece Mary White who copy-edited his book, and her husband - and cousin - Benjamin White who published their uncle’s masterpiece.

This comprehensive web of ownership and association is revealed in a sequence of ownership inscriptions that appears on the front pastedown and flyleaf opposite. Earliest is ‘Thomas Holt’ (Gilbert White’s grandfather, Vicar of Streatham, 1653-1710) who has twice written his name at the head of the flyleaf as well as contributing a couple of lines below and several annotations to the text (see below) Opposite his ownership inscription he has written at right angles on the blank pastedown most of the names of the other books of the Bible as well as the Apocrypha, allowing him to locate these books within the sequence of the wider text. On Holt’s death in 1710 this book passed to Holt’s only daughter Anne who married Gilbert White’s father John White (1688-1758) a barrister, giving birth to Gilbert on 18th July 1720 - neither of these two inscribed the book. But when John White died in 1758 his son the naturalist Gilbert White inherited the couple’s book, and added his ownership signature next to that of his maternal grandfather, writing: ‘Gil: White: Octob:r 1758’. Gilbert White kept the book at his home in Selborne until his death in 1793 when it passed to his niece Mary White, known as Molly, who was married to Gilbert White’s nephew, also her first cousin, Benjamin White, who had published The Natural History four years earlier. The following year Mary added her ownership inscription ‘Mary White Nov. 1794.’ Mary’s husband Benjamin has added his own note below his wife’s note: ‘D.d. [dono dedit - gave this offering] BW “formerly belonging to the Rev. Mr Holt of Streatham, our Great Grandfather” BW see the Couplet annexed in his handwriting’ - referring to Thomas Holt’s notes at the head of the page. Benjamin seems to have predeceased his wife as Mary has recorded that the book was ‘Given by Mary White to her Niece Maria White at Mountford; No.r 16th 1823.’ Continuing down the generations of the White family, in 1893 Francis Gilbert White gave the book to his son, also Gilbert White (1859-1933) Bishop of Willochra in Australia. The final inscription is on a slip of paper tipped onto the front pastedown opposite, from this recipient: ‘This book which belonged to Gilbert White of Selborne was presented to the Gilbert White Fellowship by Gilbert White Bishop of Willochra - S Aust. July 1922’. The Gilbert White Fellowship was a short-lived organisation which disbanded in 1945 when this copy was deacquisitioned. The book is housed on a drop-back solander box with the label of ‘Church Congress Exhibition’ which suggests that the book was loaned for exhibition during the first half of the 20th century. There is a further cardboard box that houses the solander box which has a partially inaccurate typed list of the book’s many owners.

White’s copy of the Apocrypha is in a binding of panelled calf c1600-1700 which feels amateurish in construction, complete with reinforcement to the backstrip by means of a pasted piece of leather and remnants of a paper label. There is a small burn mark at the tail of the preliminary blanks. The printed text has been excerpted from a larger volume; there are more blank endpapers (4 preliminaries and 5 terminals) than would be expected. Our supposition is that the book was constructed for or on behalf of Thomas Holt, possibly while he was at Oxford in the 1680s, giving him access to the books of the Bible that were not always printed with the canonically accepted text. Certainly the annotations to the text are his. The printed text which comes from an unidentified late 17th century edition is printed in two columns, octavo in format and collates A1-I4v. Thomas Holt’s annotations appear at C1r (Tobit, Chapter V) D4r (Wisdom of Solomon, Chapter IX) E1v (Ecclesiasticus, Chapter VIII) and a marginal line at E5v ‘All bread is sweet to a whoremonger, he will not leave off till he die’ which is referenced in Holt’s notes made to the terminal blank that follows the printed text. Further pen marks to F2v.

The naturalist Gilbert White was born at the vicarage, Selborne, Hampshire in July 1720, eldest son of John White (1688-1750) and Anne (1693-1739), daughter of Thomas Holt, rector of Streatham. He stayed in his paternal grandfather’s Selborne house all his life, finally publishing The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne close to the end of his life in 1789 although his choice of the ‘wrong’ Oxford college meant that he remained as Curate rather than becoming full Vicar of Selborne. This classic of English nature writing was edited by his niece Mary White and published by her husband, his nephew, the second generation printer, Benjamin White. Mary White was one of the most important figures in Gilbert White’s life, acting as copy editor, and sub-editor, of The Natural History of Selborne while her husband handled publication of the work. According to the ODNB Gilbert would send her pages of his manuscript to read and correct while she sent him her sons for the writer to look after. Our remarkable association copy was owned by every member of the family so far mentioned - and inscribed by most of them, already a treasured family relic by the time that Gilbert White inherited it in 1758 and made further valuable by the posthumous fame he won with his Natural History. The book’s multiple inscriptions reveal how it was guarded down the generations as it was repeatedly inscribed by further members of the family, gifted into semi-institutional ownership only to break free when the Gilbert White Fellowship broke up. Books from Gilbert White’s library are rare; we can locate no other examples in commerce and institutionally held, examples such as the Whipple Library’s copy of John Ray’s Synopsis, formerly owned by Gilbert White and Pope’s translation of Homer, presented by him to White, and now in the BL, are few and far between.

Full details

Added under Book
Publisher Unknown
Date published 1700
Subject 1 Book
Signed Yes
Product code 8334

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