Infomotions, Inc.The Natural History of Selborne / White, Gilbert, 1720-1793

Author: White, Gilbert, 1720-1793
Title: The Natural History of Selborne
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): selborne; daines barrington; honourable daines; barrington selborne; daines; barrington; esquire selborne; thomas pennant; birds; species; nest; insects
Contributor(s): Garnett, Constance, 1861-1946 [Translator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 86,093 words (short) Grade range: 14-17 (college) Readability score: 48 (average)
Identifier: etext1408
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The Natural History of Selborne

by Gilbert White

July, 1998  [Etext #1408]

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This Etext created by Tokuya Matsumoto <>

The Natural History of Selborne

by Gilbert White


See, Selborne spreads her boldest beauties round 
The varied valley, and the mountain ground, 
Wildly majestic ! What is all the pride, 
Of flats, with loads of ornaments supplied ?-- 
Unpleasing, tasteless, impotent expense, 
Compared with Nature's rude magnificenee.

Arise, my stranger, to these wild scenes haste; 
The unfinish'd farm awaits your forming taste: 
Plan the pavilion, airy, light, and true; 
Through the high arch call in the length'ning view; 
Expand the forest sloping up the hill; 
Swell to a lake the scant, penurious rill; 
Extend the vista; raise the castle mound 
In antique taste, with turrets ivy-crown'd: 
O'er the gay lawn the flow'ry shrub dispread, 
Or with the blending garden mix the mead; 
Bid China's pale, fantastic fence delight; 
Or with the mimic statue trap the sight.

Oft on some evening, sunny, soft, and still,
The Muse shall lead thee to the beech-grown hill,
To spend in tea the cool, refreshing hour,
Where nods in air the pensile, nest-like bower; 
Or where the hermit hangs the straw-clad cell,
Emerging gently from the leafy dell,
By fancy plann'd; as once th' inventive maid 
Met the hoar sage amid the secret shade:
Romantic spot ! from whence in prospect lies
Whate'er of landscape charms our feasting eyes'-- 
The pointed spire, the hall, the pasture plain,
The russet fallow, or the golden grain,
The breezy lake that sheds a gleaming light, 
Till all the fading picture fail the sight.

Each to his task; all different ways retire:
Cull the dry stick; call forth the seeds of fire; 
Deep fix the kettle's props, a forky row,
Or give with fanning hat the breeze to blow.

Whence is this taste, the furnish'd hall forgot, 
To feast in gardens, or th' unhandy grot ?
Or novelty with some new charms surprises, 
Or from our very shifts some joy arises.
Hark, while below the village bells ring round,
Echo, sweet nymph, returns the soften'd sound; 
But if gusts rise, the rushing forests roar,
Like the tide tumbling on the pebbly shore. 

Adown the vale, in lone, sequester'd nook, 
Where skirting woods imbrown the dimpling brook, 
The ruin'd convent lies: here wont to dwell
The lazy canon midst his cloister'd cell,
While Papal darkness brooded o'er the land,
Ere Reformation made her glorious stand:
Still oft at eve belated shepherd swains
See the cowl'd spectre skim the folded plains.

To the high Temple would my stranger go, 
The mountain-brow commands the woods below: 
In Jewry first this order found a name,
When madding Croisades set the world in flame; 
When western climes, urged on by pope and priest 
Pour'd forth their minions o'er the deluged East:
Luxurious knights, ill suited to defy 
To mortal fight Turcestan chivalry.

Nor be the parsonage by the Muse forgot --
The partial bard admires his native spot; 
Smit with its beauties, loved, as yet a child, 
Unconscious why, its capes, grotesque and wild. 
High on a mound th' exalted gardens stand, 
Beneath, deep valleys, scoop'd by Nature's hand. 
A Cobham here, exulting in his art, 
Might blend the general's with the gardener's part; 
Might fortify with all the martial trade 
Of rampart, bastion, fosse, and palisade; 
Might plant the mortar with wide threat'ning bore, 
Or bid the mimic cannon seem to roar:

Now climb the steep, drop now your eye belong 
Where round the blooming village orchards grow; 
There, like a picture, lies my lowly seat, 
A rural, shelter'd, unobserved retreat.

Me far above the rest Selbornian scenes, 
The pendent forests, and the mountain greens, 
Strike with delight; there spreads the distant view, 
That gradual fades till sunk in misty blue: 
Here Nature hangs her slopy woods to sight, 
Rills purl between and dart a quivering light.



The bard, who sang so late in blithest strain 
Selbornian prospects, and the rural reign, 
Now suits his plaintive pipe to sadden'd tone, 
While the blank swains the changeful year bemoan.

How fallen the glories of these fading scenes ! 
The dusky beech resigns his vernal greens; 
The yellow maple mourns in sickly hue, 
And russet woodlands crowd the dark'ning view.

Dim, clust'ring fogs involve the country round, 
The valley and the blended mountain ground 
Sink in confusion; but with tempest-wing 
Should Boreas from his northern barrier spring, 
The rushing woods with deaf'ning clamour roar, 
Like the sea tumbling on the pebbly shore. 
When spouting rains descend in torrent tides, 
See the torn zigzag weep its channel'd sides: 
Winter exerts its rage; heavy and slow, 
From the keen east rolls on the treasured snow; 
Sunk with its weight the bending boughs are seen, 
And one bright deluge whelms the works of men. 
Amidst this savage landscape, bleak and bare, 
Hangs the chill hermitage in middle air; 
Its haunts forsaken, and its feasts forgot, 
A leaf-strown, lonely, desolated cot ! 
Is this the scene that late with rapture rang, 
Where Delphy danced, and gentle Anna sang ? 
With fairy step where Harriet tripp'd so late, 
And, on her stump reclined, the musing Kitty sate ?

Return, dear nymphs; prevent the purple spring, 
Ere the soft nightingale essays to sing; 
Ere the first swallow sweeps the fresh'ning plain, 
Ere love-sick turtles breathe their amorous pain; 
Let festive glee th' enliven'd village raise, 
Pan's blameless reign, and patriarchal days; 
With pastoral dance the smitten swain surprise, 
And bring all Arcady before our eyes.

Return, blithe maidens; with you bring along 
Free, native humour; all the charms of song; 
The feeling heart, and unaffected ease; 
Each nameless grace, and ev'ry power to please.

Nov. 1, 1763.


" Look upon the Rainbow, and praise him that made it: very 
beautiful is it in the brightness thereof."-- Eccles., xliii. 11.

On morning or on evening cloud impress'd,
Bent in vast curve, the watery meteor shines
Delightfully, to th' levell'd sun opposed:
Lovely refraction ! while the vivid brede
In listed colours glows, th' unconscious swain,
With vacant eye, gazes on the divine
Phenomenon, gleaming o'er the illumined fields,
Or runs to catch the treasures which it sheds.

Not so the sage: inspired with pious awe,
He hails the federal arch ; and looking up,
Adores that God, whose fingers form'd this bow
Magnificent, compassing heaven about
With a resplendent verge, " Thou mad'st the cloud,
" Maker omnipotent, and thou the bow;
" And by that covenant graciously hast sworn
" Never to drown the world again: henceforth,
" Till time shall be no more, in ceaseless round,
" Season shall follow season: day to night,
" Summer to winter, harvest to seed time,
" Heat shall to cold in regular array
" Succeed. " -- Heav'n taught, so sang the Hebrew bard.


Waked by the gentle gleamings of the morn,
Soon clad, the reaper, provident of want,
Hies cheerful-hearted to the ripen'd field:
Nor hastes alone: attendant by his side
His faithful wife, sole partner of his cares, 
Bears on her breast the sleeping babe; behind, 
With steps unequal, trips her infant train; 
Thrice happy pair, in love and labour join'd !

All day they ply their task; with mutual chat, 
Beguiling each the sultry, tedious hours. 
Around them falls in rows the sever'd corn, 
Or the shocks rise in regular array.

But when high noon invites to short repast, 
Beneath the shade of sheltering thorn they sit, 
Divide the simple meal, and drain the cask: 
The swinging cradle lulls the whimpering babe 
Meantime; while growling round, if at the tread 
Of hasty passenger alarm'd, as of their store 
Protective, stalks the cur with bristling back, 
To guard the scanty scrip and russet frock.



Th' imprison'd winds slumber within their caves, 
Fast bound: the fickle vane, emblem of change, 
Wavers no more, long settling to a point.

All Nature nodding seems composed: thick steams, 
From land, from flood up-drawn, dimming the day, 
" Like a dark ceiling stand: " slow through the air 
Gossamer floats, or, stretch'd from blade to blade, 
The wavy net-work whitens all the field.

Push'd by the weightier atmosphere, up springs 
The ponderous mercury, from scale to scale 
Mounting, amidst the Torricellian tube.

While high in air, and poised upon his wings, 
Unseen, the soft, enamour'd woodlark runs
Through all his maze of melody; the brake, 
Loud with the blackbird's bolder note, resounds.

Sooth'd by the genial warmth, the cawing rook 
Anticipates the spring, selects her mate, 
Haunts her tall nest-trees, and with sedulous care 
Repairs her wicker eyrie, tempest-torn.

The ploughman inly smiles to see upturn
His mellow globe, best pledge of future crop:
With glee the gardener eyes his smoking beds;
E'en pining sickness feels a short relief

The happy schoolboy brings transported forth 
His long-forgotten scourge, and giddy gig: 
O'er the white paths he whirls the rolling hoop, 
Or triumphs in the dusty fields of taw.

Not so the museful sage:--abroad he walks 
Contemplative, if haply he may find 
What cause controls the tempest's rage, or whence, 
Amidst the savage season, Winter smiles.

For days, for weeks, prevails the placid calm. 
At length some drops prelude a change: the sun 
With ray refracted, bursts the parting gloom, 
When all the chequer'd sky is one bright glare.

Mutters the wind at eve; th' horizon round 
With angry aspect scowls: down rush the showers, 
And float the deluged paths, and miry fields.


In a series of letters addressed to THOMAS PENNANT, ESQ. and 


The Author of the following Letters takes the liberty, with all 
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, for their liberal behaviour in 
permitting their archives to 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.

If the writer should at all appear to have induced any of his leaders 
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 enlargement 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--that 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 afforded him 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.

Gil. White. 
Selborne, January 1st, 1788.



Letter I
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

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 miles south-west of 
London, in latitude 51, and near midway between the towns of 
Alton and Peters field. Being very large and extensive, it abuts 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 assemblage of hill, dale, wood-lands, 
heath, and water. The prospect is bounded to the south-east and 
east by the vast range of mountains called the Susses-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 

At the foot of this hill, one stage or step from the uplands, lies 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 stiff 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 malm, 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 Core Hill, a noble chalk promontory, 
remarkable 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 stream at Tilford-bridge, swells into a considerable river, 
navigable at Godalming; from whence it passes to Guildford, and 
so into the Thames at Weybridge; and thus at the Nore into the 
German Ocean.
(* 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 

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 fair 
enclosures, consisting of what is called a white malm, a sort of 
rotten or rubble stone, which, when turned up to the frost and rain, 
moulders to pieces, and becomes manure to itself.**
(** This soil produces good wheat and clover.)

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 

Letter II
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

In the court of Norton-farmhouse, a manor farm to the north-west 
of the village, on the white maims, stood within these twenty years 
a broad-leaved elm, or wych hazel, ulmus 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; 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, and vulgarly called the Plestor. In 
the midst of this spot stood, in old times, a vast oak, with a 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 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 1703 
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 his care could not avail; the tree 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 furnished with a set of oaks of a peculiar 
growth and great value; they were tall and taper lice 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.

In the centre of this 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.

Letter III
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

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 Mytilus, and the species of Crista Galli; 
called by Lister, Rastellum; by Rumphius, Ostreum plicatum 
minus; by D'Argenville, Auris Porci, s. Crista Galli, and by those 
who make collections cock's comb. Though I applied to several 
such in London, I could never 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 several of 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.

Cornua Ammonis 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-west end of the Hanger, 
large nautili are sometimes observed.

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.

Letter IV
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

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 vitrified, coat 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 
pavements, because, probably, some degree of saltness prevailing 
within it, the rain tears the slabs to pieces.*** Though this 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.
(* 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 
(** To surbed stone is to set it edgewise, contrary to the posture it 
had in the quarry, says Dr. Plot, Oxfordsh., p. 77. But surbedding 
does not succeed in our dry walls; neither do we use it so in ovens, 
though he says it is best for Teynton stone.)
(*** 'Firestone is full of salts, and has no sulphur: must be close 
grained, and have no interstices. Nothing supports fire like salts; 
saltstone perishes exposed to wet and frost.' Plot's Staff., p. 152.)

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 large nail; and then stick the pieces into the 
wet mortar along 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.'

Letter V
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

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 abound.

The manor of Selborne, was it strictly looked after, with its 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 are employed part of three 
days in the business, and are of opinion that the outline, in all its 
curves and indentings, 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 

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 quantity.*
(*A very intelligent gentleman assures me (and he speaks from 
upwards of forty years' experience) that the mean rain of any plate 
cannot be ascertained till a person has measured it for a very long 
period. 'If I had only measured the rain,' says he, 'for the four first 
years from 1740 to 1743, I should have said the mean rain at 
Lyndon was 16 and a half inches for the year, if from 1740 to 1750, 
18 and a half inches. The mean rain before 1763 was 20 and a 
quarter, from 1763 and since, 25 and a half; from 1770 to 1780, 26. 
If only 1773, 1774 and 1775 had been measured, Lyndon mean rain 
would have been called 32 inches.')

I only know that:

From May 1, 1779, the end of the year, there fell     28 Inch.     37! 
From Jan. 1, 1780, to Jan. 1, 1781, there fell     27     32
From Jan. 1, 1781, to Jan. 1, 1782, there fell     30     71
From Jan. 1, 1782, to Jan. 1, 1783, there fell     50     26!
From Jan. 1, 1783, to Jan. 1, 1784, there fell     33     71
From Jan. 1, 1784, to Jan. 1, 1785, there fell     33     80
From Jan. 1, 1785, to Jan. 1, 1786, there fell     31     55
From Jan. 1, 1786, to Jan. 1, 1787, there fell     39     57

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 hundred and seventy inhabitants.* 
We abound with poor; many of whom are sober and industrious, 
and live comfortably in good stone or brick cottages, which are 
glazed, and have chambers above stairs: mud buildings we have 
none. Besides the employment from husbandry the men work in 
hop gardens, of which we have many; and fell and bark timber. In 
the spring and summer the women weed the corn; and enjoy a 
second harvest in September by hop-picking. Formerly, in the dead 
months they availed themselves greatly by spinning wool, for 
making of barragons, a genteel corded stuff, much in vogue at that 
time for summer wear; and chiefly manufactured at Alton, a 
neighbouring town, by some of the people called Quakers: but 
from circumstances this trade is at an end.** The inhabitants enjoy 
a good share of health and longevity: and the parish swarms with 

(* A state of the parish of Selborne, taken October 4, 1783.

The number of tenements or families, 136.
The number of inhabitants in the street is ... 313
In the rest of the parish ... 363
Total, 676; near five inhabitants to each tenement. 

In the time of the Rev. Gilbert White, vicar, who died in 1727-8, 
the number of inhabitants was computed at about 500.)

(** 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.)

Average of baptisms for 60 years.

From 1720 to 1729, both years inclusive     Males   6,9     Females   
6,0     12,9
From 1730 to 1739, both years inclusive     Males   8,2     Females   
7,1     15,3
From 1740 to 1749, inclusive     Males   9,2     Females   6,6     15,8
From 1750 to 1759, inclusive     Males   7,6     Females   8,1     15,7
From 1760 to 1769, inclusive     Males   9,1     Females   8,9     18,0
From 1770 to 1779, inclusive     Males   10,5     Females   9,8     20 

Total baptisms of Males     515
                             Females     465     980
Total of baptisms from 1720 to 1779, both inclusive, 60 years     

Average of burials for 60 years.

From 1720 to 1729, both years inclusive     Males   4,8     Females   
5,1     9,9
From 1730 to 1739, both years inclusive     Males   4,8     Females   
5,8     10,6
From 1740 to 1749, inclusive     Males   4,6     Females   3,8     8,4
From 1750 to 1759, inclusive     Males   4,9     Females   5,1     10,0
From 1760 to 1769, inclusive     Males   6,9     Females   6,5     13,4
From 1770 to 1779, inclusive     Males   5,5     Females   6,2     11,7

Total of burials of Males   315
                              Females   325     640

Total of burials from 1720 to 1779 both inclusive, 60 years   640.
Baptisms exceed burials by more them one-third. 

Baptisms of Males exceed Females by one-tenth, or one in ten. 

Burials of Females exceed Males by one m thirty.

It appears that a child, born Ed bred m this parish, has Em equal 
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 of the Baptisms, Burials, and Marriages, from January 2, 
1761, to December 25, 1780, in the Parish of Selborne.


1761     Males   8     Females   10     Total   18
1762     7     8      15
1763     8     10     18
1764     11     9     20
1765     12     6     18
1766     9     13     22
1767     14     5     19
1768     7     6     13
1769     9     14     23
1770     10     13     23
1771     10     6     16
1772     11     10     21
1773     8     5     13
1774     6     13     19
1775     20     7     27
1776     11     10     21
1777     8     13     21
1778     7     13     20
1779     14     8      22
1780     8     9     17
        198     188     386


1761     Males   2     Females   4     Total     6
1762     10    10     20
1763     3     4     7
1764     10     8     18
1765     9     7     16
1766     10     6     16
1767     6      5      11
1768     2     5     7
1769     6     5     11
1770     4     7     11
1771     3     4     7
1772     6     10     16
1773     7     5     12
1774     2     8      10
1775     13     8     21
1776     4     6      10
1777     7     2      9
1778     3     9      12
1779     5     6     11
1780     11     4      15
        123     123     246


1761     3
1762     6
1763     7
1764     6
1765     6
1766     4
1767     2
1768     6
1769     2
1770     3
1771     4
1772     3
1773     3
1774     1
1775     6
1776     6
1777     4
1778     5
1779     0
1780     3

During this period of twenty years the births of Males exceeded 
those of Females     10.

The burials of each sex were equal.

And the births exceeded the deaths     140.

Letter VI
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

Should I omit to describe with some exactness the forest of 
Wolmer, of which three-fifths perhaps lie in this parish, my 
account of Selborne would be very imperfect, as it is a district 
abounding with many curious productions, both animal and 
vegetable; and has often afforded me much entertainment both as a 
sportsman and as a naturalist.

The royal forest of Wolmer is a tract of land of about seven miles 
in length, by two and a half in breadth, running 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 hiss 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 a black 
hard wood, looking like oak, which the owners assured me they 
procured from the bogs by probing the soil with spits, or some such 
instruments: but the peat is so much cut out, and the moors have 
been so wed examined, that 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.
(* See his Hist. of Staffordshire.)
(** 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 
surrounding 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 
promoting 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, 1731, 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, 
dies, and the tops of walls.' See Hales's Haemastatics, p. 360. 
Quaere.-- 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 ?)

This lonely domain is a very agreeable haunt for many 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 within 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 day.

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 greyhen.

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. For 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 five hundred 
head. A sight this, worthy the attention of the greatest sovereign! 
But he further adds that, by means of the Waltham Hacks, or, to 
use his own expression, as soon as they began blacking, 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 
yeoman-prickers, in scarlet jackets laced with gold, attended by the 
stag-hounds; ordering 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 extraordinary 
diversion; but, in the following winter, when the hinds were also 
carried off, such fine chases were exhibited as served the country 
people for matter of talk and wonder for years afterwards. I saw 
myself one of the yeoman-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.

Letter VII
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

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 crops. 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 deer-stealing. Unless he was a hunter, as they affected 
to call themselves, no young person was allowed to be possessed of 
manhood or gallantry. The Waltham 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 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.'
(* Statute 9 Geo. I. c. 22.)
(** This chase remains unstocked to this day; the bishop was Dr. 

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 prevent its escape, till it was large and fat 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 extraordinary 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 huntsmen, 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 
are 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; and 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, bidentibus exceptis.* 
The reason, I 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.
(* For the privilege the owner of that estate used to pay to the king 
annually seven bushels of oats.)
(** In the Holt, where a fun stock of fallow-deer has been kept up 
till lately, no sheep are admitted to this day.)

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 correction'; 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 communicated 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 fume, 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 lives beyond Andover, coming to 
my house, when he got on the 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 Alresford 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 Brimstone-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 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.

Letter VIII
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

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 with 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. Barrington.]
(* I mean that sort which, rising into tall hassocks, is called by the 
foresters turrets, 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 set down by 

By a perambulation of Wolmer-forest and the Holt, made in 1635, 
and in the eleventh year of Charles the First (which now lies before 
me), it appears that the limits of the former are much 
circumscribed. For, to say nothing on 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; comprehending also Short-heath, Oakhanger, and 
Oakwoods; a large district, now private property, though once 
belonging to the royal domain.

It is remarkable that the term purlieu is never once mentioned is, 
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 Halt; 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-

Within the present limits of the forest are three considerable 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 constantly 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 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 circumstance escape him. He 
says, in his Summer:

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
The circling surface.

Wolmer-pond, so called, I suppose, for eminence sake, is a vast 
lake for this part of the world, containing, in its 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, which 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 

On 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 themselves, till towards sunset, when they 
issue forth in little 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 
discoveries 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.

Letter IX
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

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 old records, is held by 
grant from the crown for a term of years.
(*In 'Rot. Inquisit. de statu forest. in Scaccar.,' 36, Ed. 3, it is called 
Aisholt. In the same, 'Tit. Woolmer and Aisholt Hantisc. Dominus 
Rex habet unam capellam in haia sua de Kingesle.' 'Haia, sepes, 
sepimentum, parcus: a Gall. haie and haye.'--Spelman's Glossary.)

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 father's constructing, who was a distinguished 
mechanic and artist,** 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.
(** This prince was the inventor of mezzotinto.)
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 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 
spirit of sporting, which seems to be inherent in human nature.

General Howe turned out some German wild boars and sows in his 
forests, to the great terror of the neighbourhood; and, at one time, a 
wild bull or buffalo: but the country rose upon them and destroyed 

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 
Frinsham, Bentley and Kingsley, assert that it belongs to them; and, 
assembling in a riotous manner, 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 not half that distance, 
since the Wey is made navigable up to the town of Godalming in 
the county of Surrey.

Letter X
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

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 companion 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.

As to swallows (hirundines rusticae) 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 (hirundines apodes) 
among the rubbish, which were, at first 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 urbicae) 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 migration? Nay, some young martins 
remained in their nests last year so late as September the twenty-
ninth; 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 bird (it is either a species of the alauda trivialis, or rather 
perhaps of the motacilla trochilus) still continues to make a 
sibilous shivering noise in the tops of tall woods. The stoparola 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 
trochilus: Mr. Derham supposes, in Ray's 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 (motacilla 
atricapilla) be a bird of passage or not: I chink 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 songsters.

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, at which time I will take care to get 
more; and will endeavour 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 mus amphibius of Linnaeus (see Syst. Nat.), 
which he says 'natat in fossis et urinator.' I should be glad to 
procure one 'plantis palmatis.' Linnaeus seems to be in a puzzle 
about his mus amphibius, and to doubt whether it differs from his 
mus terrestris; which if it be, as he allows, the 'mus agrestis capite 
grandi brachyuros' of Ray, is widely different from the water-rat, 
both in size, make, and mariner of life.

As to the falco, which I mentioned in town, I shall take 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 'qualem dices.. . antehac fuisse, 
tales cum sint religuiae!'

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 barn, 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.

Letter XI
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

Selborne, September 9, 1767.

It will 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 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.

Three gross-beaks (loxia coccothraustes) 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 curvirostra) was killed last year in this 

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 capitatus), the trout (trutta fluviatilis), the eel (anguilla), 
the lampern (lampaetra parka et fluviatilis), and the stickle-back 
(pisciculus aculeatus).

We are twenty miles from the sea, and almost as many from a 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, it hides what it cannot 

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 cristati, 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 as the 
twentieth of November.

At present I know only two species of bats, the common vespertilio 
murinus 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 it 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 offered: 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.

Letter XII
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

November 4, 1767. 


It gave me no small satisfaction to hear that the falco* turned out 
an uncommon one. I must confess I should 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.
(* This hawk proved to be the falco peregrinus; a variety.)

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 domesticus 
medius of Ray; and have more of the squirrel or dormouse colour: 
their belly is white, a straight line 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 

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 tame 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 different places 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 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 Philosoph. Letters, 
that great flocks of them, feeding upon hews, appeared in this 
kingdom in the winter of 1685.

The mention of hews 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 missal-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 procure me a 
specimen, but without success. See Letter XX.

Query.....Might not canary birds be naturalized 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 sits 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 Flora, as 
familiarly of the swallows going under water in the beginning of 
September, as he would of his poultry going to roost a little before 

An observing gentleman in 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 the equator? *
(* See Adamson's Voyage to Senegal.)

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!

Letter XIII
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

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 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 departure.

You may depend on it that the bunting, emberiza 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 bird.

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.

Mr. Stillingfleet, in his Tracts, says that 'if the wheatear (oenanthe) 
does not quit England, it certainly shifts places; for about 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 gentlemen 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 squatty 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 at 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 kingdom; 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 
(* See Ray's Travels, p. 466.)

I have no friend left now at Sunbury to apply to about the swallows 
roosting on the aits of the Thames: nor can I hear any more about 
those birds which I suspected were merulae torquatae,.

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 a third of an ounce avoirdupois: so that I 
suppose they are the smallest quadrupeds in this island. A full-
grown mus medius 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 suffered prodigiously. There is reason to believe that some 
days were more severe than any since the year 1739-40.

I am, etc., etc.

Letter XIV
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

Selborne, March 12, 1768.

Dear Sir,

If some curious gentleman would procure the head of a fallow-
deer, and have it dissected, he would find it furnished with two 
spiracula, or breathing-places, beside the nostrils; probably 
analogous to the puncta lachrymalia 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 
inconvenience, 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 free respiration: and no doubt these additional nostrils are 
thrown open when 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 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, applying them to the fruit, and seeming to smell it through 

Oppian, the Greek poet, by the following line, seems to have had 
some notion that stags have four spiracula:

Quadrifidae nares, quadruplices ad respirationem canales.
Opp. Cyn. lib. ii. 1. 181. 

Writers, copying from one another, make Aristotle say that goats 
breathe at their ears; whereas he asserts just the contrary: 
'Alcmaeon does not advance what is true, when he avers that goats 
breathe through their ears.'--History of Animals. Book I. chap. xi.

Letter XV
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

Selborne, Mark 30, 1768.

Dear Sir,

Some intelligent country people have a notion that we have, in 
these parts, a species of the genus mustelinum, 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 cane. 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 rookery. I saw the birds myself nailed against the 
end of a barn, and was surprised to find that their bills, legs, feet, 
and claws were milk-white.

A shepherd saw, as he thought, some white larks on a down above 
my house this winter: were not these the emberiza nivalis, the 
snow-flake of the Brat. Zool.? No doubt they were.

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 (arum) 
was frequently scratched out of the dry banks of hedges, and eaten 
in severe snowy weather. After observing, with some exactness, 
myself, and getting 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 
paws, and was too long and too big for the golden-crowned wren, 
appearing most like the largest willow-wren. It hung sometimes 
with its back downwards, but never continuing one moment in the 
same place. I shot at it, but it was so desultory that I missed my 

I wonder that the stone curlew, charadrius 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.

I can show you some good specimens of my new mice. Linnaeus, 
perhaps, would call the species mus minimus.

Letter XVI
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

Selborne, April 18, 1768.

Dear Sir,

The history of the stone curlew, charadrius oedicnemus 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. Though I might not be able, just when 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. Oedicnemus is a 
most apt and expressive name for them, since their legs seem 
sworn 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 
constancy, 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 is 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 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, black.

The grasshopper-lark began his sibilous note in my fields last 
Saturday. 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 oil.. 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 locusta 
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 cristati, from which it is very distinct. See Ray's 
Philosophical Letters, p. 108.

The fly-catcher (stoparola) 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.

A List of the summer birds of passage discovered in this 
neighbourhood, ranged somewhat in the order in which they 
Smallest willow-wren,          Linnaei Nomina          Motacilla 
Wryneck,                                                                   Lynx torquilla.
House-swallow,                                                         Hirundo 
Martin,                                                                       Hirundo urbica.
Sand-martin,                                                              Hirundo riparia 
Cuckoo,                                                                     Cuculus 
Nightingale,                                                               Motacilla 
Black-cap,                                                                  Motacilla 
White-throat,                                                             Motacilla 
Middle willow-wren,                                                 Motacilla 
Swift,                                                                          Hirundo apus.
Stone curlew?                                                            Charadrius 
Turtle-dove?                                                              Turtur 
Grasshopper-lark,                                                      Alauda trivialis.
Landrail,                                                                     Rallus crex.
Largest willow-wren,                                                 Motacilla 
Redstart,                                                                     Motacilla 
Goat-sucker, or fern-owl,                                           Caprimulgus 
Fly-catcher,                                                                 Muscicapa 

My countrymen talk much of a bird that makes a clatter with its 
bill against a dead bough, or some old pales, calling it a jar-bird. I 
procured one to be shot in the very fact; it proved to be the sitta 
europaea (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 a turkey? Some suspect it is made by 
their wings.

This morning I saw the golden-crowned wren, whose crown glitters 
like burnished gold. It often hangs lice a titmouse, with its back 

Yours, etc., etc.

Letter XVII
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

Selborne, June 18, 1768.

Dear Sir,

On Wednesday last arrived your agreeable letter of June the 10th. 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 cryptogamia 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 ' eso men ootokoi, exo de dzootokoi,(in Greek), 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 penis intrans) is 
notorious to everybody: because we see them sticking upon 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 this village, ate a toad to make the country people 
stare; afterwards he drank oil.

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, kenning 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 reading of the 
excellent account there is from Mr. Derham, in Ray's Wisdom of 
God in the Creation (p. 365), concerning 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. 
Swammerdam 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 trust, is widely mistaken when he advances that the rana 
arborea is an English reptile; it abounds in Germany and 

It is to be remembered that the salamandra 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 
salamandra aquatica was hatched, lived, and died in the water. But 
John Ellis, Esq., F.R.S. (the coralline Ellis), asserts, in a letter to 
the Royal Society, dated June 5th, 1766, in his account of the mud 
inguana, an amphibious bides, 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 opercula 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 
lacerta, known by the name of eft, or newt; which serve them for 
coverings to their gills, and for fins to swim with while in this 
state; and which they lose, as well as the fins of their tails, when 
they change their state, and become land animals, as I have 
observed, by keeping them alive for some time myself:'

Linnaeus, in his Systema Naturae, 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 (anguis fragilis, so called because it snaps in sunder with a 
small blow), I have found, on examination, that it is perfectly 
innocuous. A neighbouring 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 intelligent folks assure me that 
they have seen the viper open 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 natrix) 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.

Letter XVIII
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

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 queries, which I wanted to resolve in the best manner that I 
am able.

A person, by my order, has searched our brooks, but could find no 
such fish as the gasterosteus pungitius: he found the gasterosteus 
aculeatus 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 bull's 
heads; but I could produce no minnows. This basket will be 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 particulars 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 diving 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 for her 
situation, told her chat 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 it 
expedient to amuse the country with this dark and mysterious 

The water-eft has not, that I can discern, the least appearance of 
any gills; for want of which it is continually 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 
colour; and some have fins up their tail and back, and some have 

Letter XIX
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

Selborne, Aug. 17, 1768.

Dear Sir,

I have now, past dispute, made out three distinct species of the 
willow-wrens (motacillae trochili) which constantly and invariably 
use distinct notes. But, at the same time, I am obliged to confess 
that I know nothing of your willow-lark.* In my letter of April the 
18th, 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 motacilla trochilus; only that it is a size larger than 
the two other, and the 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 tipped 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 with its wings when it sings; and is, I make no 
doubt now, the regulus non cristatus of Ray, which he says 'cantat 
voce stridula locustae.' Yet this great ornithologist never suspected 
that there were three species.
(*Brit. Zool. edit. 1776, octavo, p. 381.)

Letter XX
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

Selborne, October 8, 1768.

It is, I find, in zoology as it is in botany: all nature is so full, that 
that district produces the greatest 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 species 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 ponds near the village; and, as 
it had a companion, doubtless intended to have bred near that 
water. Besides, the 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, lanius 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, turdi 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 dock, 
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 rigour 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 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 April.

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 63 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 discoveries reach at 
present, they seem much to corroborate my suspicions; and I hope 
Mr. ... may find reason to give his decision in my favour; and 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 oedicnemus, 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.

Letter XXI
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

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 the dead of the winter. When I have obtained 
information with respect to this circumstance, I shall have finished 
my history of the stone curlew; which I hope will prove 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 
extraordinary, 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 monedulae) 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 
prodigious 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 is such a propensity in 
mankind towards deceiving and being deceived, that one cannot 
safely relate any thing from common report, especially in print, 
without expressing 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 

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 productions: but as I have lived mostly in 
inland parts, and in an upland district, my knowledge of fishes 
extends little farther than to those common sorts which our brooks 
and lakes produce. 

I am, etc.

Letter XXII
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

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 furnished with churches as almost any counties in the 
kingdom. We have many livings of two or three hundred pounds a 
year, whose houses of worship make little better appearance than 
dovecots. When I first saw Northamptonshire, 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.' *
(* James, chap. iii. 7.)

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 well 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 certainly 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 entertainment in your 
description of the heronry at Cressi-hall; which is a curiosity I 
could never manage to see. Fourscore 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 sufficiently explored. If half a 
dozen gentlemen, furnished with a good strength of water-spaniels, 
were to beat them over for a week, they would certainly find more 
(* Cressi-hall is near Spalding, in Lincolnshire .)

There is no bird, I believe, whose manners I have studied more 
than that of the caplimulgus (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 
quivering, 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 hermitage 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 

Though I must not pretend to great skill in entomology, yet I 
cannot say that I am ignorant of that kind of knowledge: 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 thirty years, says, in a late letter, 
that more has fallen this year than in any he ever attended to; 
though, from July 1763 to January 1764, more fell than in any 
seven months of this year.

Letter XXIII
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

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 return 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' nests; 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 
caprimulgus: 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 impulse, 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 rusticae) clustering on the stinted 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 that, as he was walking with some friends 
under Merton-wall on a remarkably hot noon, either in the last 
week in December or the first week in January, he espied three or 
four swallows 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, 
imprinted on their minds by their great Creator; and with some 
degree of mortification, when I reflected that, after all our pains 
and inquiries, we are yet not quite certain to what regions they do 
migrate; and are still farther embarrassed to find that some do not 
actually migrate at all.

These reflections made so strong an impression on my imagination, 
that they became productive of a composition that may perhaps 
amuse you for a quarter of an hour when next I have the honour of 
writing to you.

Letter XXIV
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

Selborne, May 29, 1769.

Dear Sir,

The scarabaeus 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 it might 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 it juicy and well-flavoured. It is 
remarkable that they 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 punctual 
in their return; and exhibit a new migration unnoticed 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 salicaria, 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: 'It is a size less than the grasshopper-lark; the head, 
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. 108. He also procured me a grasshopper-
(* For this salicaria see letter August 30, 1769.)

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 of 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 odi.'

To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

The Naturalist's Summer-evening Walk

... equidem credo, quia sit divinitus illis
Virg. Georg. 

When day declining sheds a milder gleam,
What time the may-fly * haunts the pool or stream; 
When the still 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, 
Or the soft quail his tender pain relate;
To see 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, 
The God of Nature is your secret guide!
While deep'ning 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; 
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 woodlark***** 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 see, the glow-worm lights her amorous fire!******
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.
(*The angler's may-fly, the ephemera vulgata Linn., comes forth 
from its aurelia state, and emerges out of the water about six in the 
evening, and dies about eleven at night, determining the date of its 
fly state in about five or six hours. They usually begin to appear 
about the 4th of June, and continue in succession for near a 
fortnight. 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 aedicnemus.)
(**** Gryllus campetris.)
(***** 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 scarabaeus.)
(******* See the story of Hero and Leander.)

Letter XXV
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

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 autumnal migration is southward? 
Was not candour and openness the very life of natural history, I 
should pass over this query just as the sly commentator does over a 
crabbed passage in a classic; but common ingenuousness 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 northward 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 I have 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 rump. I have surveyed 
it alive and dead, and have 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 affines. It ought no doubt to have gone among 
his aviculae cauda unicolore, and among your slender-billed small 
birds of the same division. Linnaeus might with great propriety 
have put it into his genus of motacilla; and the motacilla salicaria 
of his Fauna Suecica seems to come the nearest to it. It is no 
uncommon bird, haunting the sides of ponds and rivers where there 
is covert, 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. 
My specimens correspond most minutely to the description of your 
fen salicaria, shot near Revesby. Mr. Ray has given an excellent 
characteristic of it when he says, 'Rostrum & pedes in hac avicula 
multo majores sunt quam pro corporis ratione.' See letter May 29, 

I have got you the egg of an oedicnemus, or stone curlew, which 
was picked up in a fallow on the naked ground: There were two; 
but the fender 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 defendendo. 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 Synop. Ouadr. 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 nodding can be more horrible.

A gentleman sent me lately a fine specimen of the lanius minor 
cinerascens cum macula in scapulis alba 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 drawing.

Letter XXVI
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

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 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 discoveries, and laid 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 
considering 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.

It pleases me to find that white hares are so frequent on the 
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 acquisition.

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 find, 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 particular 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 Buffon, I know, has described the water shrew-mouse: but still I 
am pleased to find you have discovered 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 hybernaculum artificially 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 amphibius 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 little in analogous reasoning, knowing how 
fallacious it is with respect to natural history; yet, in the following 
instance, I cannot help being 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 
apus, 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 
and 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 hirundines, and the larger bats, are supported 
by some sorts of high-flying gnats, scarabs, or phalaenae, that are 
of short continuance; and that the short stay of these strangers is 
regulated by the defect of their food.
(* 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.)

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 third.

Letter XXVII
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

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 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; but they 
deface the waffles 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 hybernaculum 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 (turdus 
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 the Fauna 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. 
Why these birds, in the matter of roosting, should differ from all 
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 

I 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.

To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

Selborne, March, 1770.

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 at 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 grallae 
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 backward, 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 
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 is very reasonable to 
suppose that 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 delights in eating the nymphaea, 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 tibia, 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-
grown 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.

Letter XXIX
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

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 the grasshopper-lark 
and largest willow-wren. As to 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, two 
swallows discovered themselves as long ago as the 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 May came in.

Among the monogamous birds several are to be found, 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 every couple of partridges 
upon his grounds; supposing that the rivalry of many males 
interrupted the breed: he used to say, that, though he had widowed 
the same hen several times, yet he found she was still provided 
with a fresh paramour, that did not take her away from her usual 

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 bachelors.

There is a propensity belonging to common house-cats that is 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 element.

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 shadow 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-

Letter XXX
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

Selborne, Aug. 1, 1770.

Dear Sir,

The French, I think, in general, are strangely prolix in their natural 
history. What Linnaeus says with respect to insects holds good in 
every other branch: 'Verbositas praesentis saeculi, calamitas artis.'

Pray how do you approve of Scopoli's new work? As I admire his 
Entomologia, I long to see it.

I forgot to mention in my last 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 it 
was on that errand in the river St. Lawrence: it was a monstrous 
beast, he told me; but he did not take the dimensions.

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; but I 
have not seen that house lately.

Mr. Barrington showed me many astonishing collections 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 motacillae, or muscicapae, 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 succedaneum 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.

Letter XXXI
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

Selborne, Sept. 14, 1770. 

Dear Sir,

You 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 

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 November, 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 
presence 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 could wish: he advances some false facts; as when he says of 
the hirundo urbica that 'pullos extra nidum non nutrit.' 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 
rostra portat fugiens 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 affection.
(*Annus Primus Historico-Naturalis.)

I am, etc.

Letter XXXII
T Thomas Pennant, Esquire

Selborne, October 29, 1770.

Dear Sir,

After an ineffectual search in Linnaeus, 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 
murina, subtus albida; rectrices macula ovali alba in latere inferno; 
pedes nudi, nigri; rostrum nigrum; remiges obscuriores quam 
plumae dorsales; rectrices remigibus concolores; cauda 
emarginata, nec forcipata,' agrees very well with the bird in 
question; but when he comes to advance that it is 'statura hirundinis 
urbicae,' and that 'definitio hirundinis ripariae Linnaei 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 circumstance 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 ordines and genera are clear, just, and 
expressive, and much in the spirit of Linnaeus. These few remarks 
are the result of my first perusal of Scopoli's Annus Primus.

The bane of our science is the comparing one animal to the other 
by memory: for want of caution in this 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 
(* See his Elenchus vegerabilium et animalium per Austriam 
inferiorem, etc.)

I am pleased to see that my description of the moose corresponds 
so well with yours.

I am, etc.

To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

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 certain, that many 
soft-billed birds that come to Gibraltar 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 decline 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 fund 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 hirundo melba, the great 
Gibraltar swift, in Tirol, without knowing it. For what is his 
hirundo alpina but the afore-mentioned bird in other words? Says 
he, 'Omnia prioris' (meaning the swift); 'sed pectus album; paulo 
major priore.' I do not suppose this to be a new species. It is true 
also of the melba, that 'nidificat in excelsis Alpium rupibus.' Vid. 
Annum Primum.

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 any one 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 lay-fields 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 in common 
but two at a time. There is reason to think their 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 feeding, which, for the most 
part, is in the night.' Thus far my friend.

In the manners of this bird you see there is something very 
analogous to the bustard, whom it also somewhat resembles in 
aspect and make, and in the structure of its feet.

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 oedicnemus flies it stretches out its legs straight behind, 
like an heron.

I am, etc.

Letter XXXIV
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

Selborne, March 30, 1771.

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 to be met with in gardens on kidney-beans, 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 housewife, by getting into the chimneys, and laying its eggs in 
the bacon while it is 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 musca putris 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 seedling leaves) is an 
animal that wants to be better known. The country people here call 
it the turnip-fly and black dolphin; but I know it to be one of the 
coleoptera; the 'chrysomela oleracea, saltatoria, femoribus posficis 
crassissimis.' 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 is an oestrus, known in these parts to every ploughboy; 
which, because it is omitted by Linnaeus, is also passed over by 
late writers, and that is the curvicauda 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 musca 
chamaeleon: see Geoffrey, t. 17, f. 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, propagation, 
and in short of the life and conversation of these animals, is a 
necessary step to lead us to some method of preventing their 

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.

Letter XXXV
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

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 

I should tell you that I have got an uncommon calculus 
aegogropila, 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.

Letter XXXVI
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

Sept. 1771.

Dear Sir,

The summer through I have seen but two of that large species of 
bat which I call vespertilio altivolans, from its 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 wale 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 observation of the 
curious anatomist. These creatures send forth a vary rancid and 
offensive smell.

To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

Selborne, 1771.

Dear Sir,

On the twelfth of July I had a fair opportunity of contemplating the 
motions of the caprimulgus, or fern-owl, as it was playing round a 
large oak that swarmed with scarabaei solstitiales, 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 September the twenty-second, 
they rendezvoused in a neighbour'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 ad together in 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 or August --a rare 
instance! for they usually withdraw within the first week.*
(*See Letter LIII to Mr. Barrington.)

On September the twenty-fourth three or four ring-ousels appeared 
in my fields for the first time this season: how punctual are these 
visitors in their autumns and spring migrations!

To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

Selborne, March 15, 1773.

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 hybernaculum, and afford them a ready and 
obvious retreat?

We now begin to expect our vernal migration of ring-ousels every 
week. Persons worthy 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 that they show for men or guns, 
that they have been little accustomed to places of much resort. 
Navigators mention that in the Isle of Ascension, and other such 
desolate 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 
young man at Lewes, in Sussex, assured me 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.

Letter XXXIX
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

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 Frinshampond, a great 
lake, at about six 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 Selborne: they are rarae aves 
in this country.

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 

The people of Hampshire and Sussex call the missel-bird the 
storm-cock, because it sings early in the spring in blowing showery 
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 particularly 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 winter to Senegal: he does 
not talk at all like an ornithologist; and probably saw only the 
swallows of that country, which I know build within Governor 
O'Hara'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 twenty-third.

The swift appears about ten or twelve days later than the house-
swallow: viz., about the twenty-fourth or twenty-sixth of April.

Whin-chats and stone-chattel stay with us the whole year.

Some wheat-ears continue with us the winter through.

Wagtails, all sorts, remain with us all the winter.

Bullfinches, when fed on hempseed, 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 cock-snipes make a 
bleating noise, and I a drumming (perhaps I should have rather said 
an humming), I suspect we mean the same doing. 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 
ventriloquous, or proceeds from the motion of their wings, I cannot 
say; but this I know, that when this noise happens the bird is 
always descending, and his wings are violently agitated.

Soon after the lapwings have done breeding they congregate, and, 
leaving the moors and marshes, betake themselves to downs and 

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 Wolmerforest in the 
beginning of July last, along with flappers, or young wild-ducks.

Speaking of the swift, chat page says 'its drink the 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, 'flumina summa libant.' In this method of 
drinking 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, 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.

Letter XL
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

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 pulli: 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 the hedges as they walk: these last 
sounds seem intended for menace and defiance.

The grasshopper-lark chirps all night in the height of summer.

Swans turn white the second year, and breed the third.

Weasels prey on moles, as appears by their being sometimes 
caught in mole-traps.

Sparrow-hawks sometimes breed in old crows' nests, and the 
kestrel in churches and ruins.

There are supposed to be two sorts of eels in the island of Ely. The 
threads sometimes discovered in eels are perhaps their young: the 
generation of eels is very 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 they 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 

Linnaeus 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 

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 in their favour, they do 
much mischief in gardens to the summer-fruits.*
(* They eat also the berries of the ivy, the honeysuckle, and the 
euonymus europaeus, or spindle-tree.)

The titmouse, which early in February begins to make two quaint 
notes, like 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 scarabaeus solstitialis, 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 

The note of the white-throat, which is continually repeated, 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 in breeding-time, avoiding neighbourhoods, and 
haunting lonely lanes and commons; nay even the very 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 excepted.

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 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 maypole.

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-one. Let me add also that it has 
shown near half the species that were ever known in Great 
(* Sweden, 221; Great Britain, 252 species.)

On a retrospect, I observe that my long letter carries with it a 
quaint and magisterial air, and is very sententious: but, when I 
recollect that you requested stricture and anecdote, I hope you will 
pardon the didactic manner for the sake of the information it may 
happen to contain.

Letter XLI
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

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 
wryneck (so much resembling the hardy race of wood-peckers) 
migrates, while the feeble little golden-crowned wren, that shadow 
of a bird, braves our severest frosts without availing 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 aurelia state. All 
the species of wagtails in severe weather haunt shallow streams 
near their spring-heads, where they never freeze; and, by wading, 
pick out the aurelias of the genus of Phryganeae,* etc.
(* See Derham's Physico-theology, p. 235.)

Hedge-sparrows frequent sinks and gutters in hard weather, where 
they pick up crumbs and other sweepings: and in mild weather they 
procure worms, which are stirring every month in the year, as any 
one 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 files that have laid themselves up during the cold season. But 
the grand support of the soft-billed birds in winter is that infinite 
profusion of aureliae of the lepidoptera ordo, which is fastened to 
the twigs of trees and their trunks; to the pales 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 Linnaean genera of fringilla and motacilla. 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 titmouse, or nun (parus 
caeruleus), the cole-mouse (parus ater), the great black-headed 
titmouse (fringillago), and the marsh titmouse (parus palustris), all 
resort, at times, to buildings; and in hard weather particularly. The 
great titmouse, driven by stress of weather, much frequents houses, 
and, in deep snows, I have seen this bird, while it hung with 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 numbers 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 sunflower. 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 spend their time on wild 
heaths and warrens; the former especially, where there are stone 
quarries: most probably it is that their maintenance arises from the 
aureliae of the lepidoptera ordo, which furnish them with a 
plentiful table in the wilderness. 

I am, etc.

Letter XLII
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

Selborne, March 9, 1775.

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 
unaccompanied 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 received.

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.

The great obvious defect that I have remarked in all 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. Moreover, all the great avenues to that mountainous 
and romantic country want to be well distinguished. The military 
roads formed by General Wade are so great and 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. 
Mall takes notice of Hamilton and Drumlanrig, 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.

Letter XLIII
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

Dear Sir,

A pair of honey-buzzards, buteo opivorus, sive vespivorus 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 1780. 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 contained the 
embrio of a young bird. The egg was smaller, and not so round as 
those of the common buzzard; was 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. When 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 to grow 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 
they 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.

Letter XLIV
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire

Selborne, Nov. 30, 1780.

Dear Sir,

Every incident that occasions a renewal of our correspondence will 
ever be pleasing and agreeable to me.

As to the wild wood-pigeon, the oenas, or vinago, of Ray, I am 
much of your mind; and see no reason for making it the origin of 
the common house-dove: but suppose those that have advanced 
that opinion may have been misled by another appellation, often 
given to the oenas, 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 all, nor does it ever haunt the woods; but the 
former, as long as it stays with us, from November perhaps to 
February, lives the same wild life with the ring-dove, palumbus 
torquatus; 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.

You received, you say, last 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 supposing that 
house-doves are derived from the small 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 remarkable 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 arguments is, the instance you give in Sir Roger Mostyn's 
house-doves, in Caernarvonshire; which, though tempted by plenty 
of food and gentle treatment, can never be prevailed on to inhabit 
their cote for any time; but as 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.

Naturam expellas furca, tamen 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 astonishing; that he has often killed near twenty in a 
day; and that with a long wildfowl piece he has shot seven or eight 
at a time on the wing as they came wheeling over his head: he 
moreover adds, which I was not aware of, that often there were 
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 thus 
rendezvoused here by thousands, if they happened to be suddenly 
roused from their roost-trees on an evening,

Their rising all at once was like the sound
Of thunder heard remote....
(* Some old sportsmen say that the main part of these flocks used 
to withdraw as soon as the heavy Christmas frosts were over.)

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 Dryden has 
rendered it so happily in our language, that without farther excuse I 
shall add his translation also.

Qualis spelunca subito commota Columba,
Cui domus, et dulces latebroso in pumice nidi, 
Fertur in arva volans, plausumque exterrita pennis
Dat tecto ingentem--mox aere lapse quieto,
Radit 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 she flies, 
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.


Letter I
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, June 30, 1769.

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 which I 
have discovered in this neighbourhood, ranged somewhat in the 
order in which they appear.

1. Wry-neck, 
Raii nomina: Jynx, sive torquilla: 
Usually appears about:
The middle of March: harsh note.

2. Smallest willow-wren,
Regulus non cristatus: 
March 23: chirps till September.

3. Swallow, 
Hirundo domestica:	
April 13.

4. Martin, 
Hirundo rustica:

5. Sand-martin, 
Hirundo riparia:

6. Black-cap,	
Ditto: a sweet wild note.

7. Nightingale,
Beginning of April.

8. Cuckoo,
Middle of April.

9. Middle willow-wren,
Regulus non cristatus: 
Ditto, a sweet plaintive note.

10. White-throat, 
Ficedulae affinis:
Middle of April: mean note; sings on till September.

11. Red-start, 
Ditto: more agreeable song.

12. Stone curlew, 
End of March; loud nocturnal whistle.

13. Turtle-dove, 

14. Grasshopper-lark,
Alauda minima locustae voce:
Middle of April: a small sibilous note, till the end of July.

15. Swift,
Hirundo apus: 
About April 27.

16. Less reed-sparrow,
Passer arundinaceus minor:
A sweet polyglot, but hurrying: it has the notes of many birds.

17. Land-rail,	
A loud harsh note, crex, crex.

18. Largest willow-wren,
Regulus non cristatus: 
Cantat voce stridula locustae; end of April, on the tops of high 

19. Goat-sucker, or fern-owl,
Beginning of May; chatters by night with a singular noise.

20. Fly-catcher,
May 12. A very mute 	bird: this is the latest 	summer bird of 

This assemblage of curious and amusing birds belongs to ten 
several genera of the Linnaean system; and are all of the ordo of 
passeres, save the jynx and cuculus, which are picae, and the 
charadrius (oedicnemus) and rallus (ortygometra) which are 

These birds, as they stand numerically, belong to the following 
Linnaean genera:


2, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 16, 18.

3, 4, 5, 15.







20. Muscicapa.

Most soft-billed birds live on insects, and not on grain and seeds; 
and therefore at the end of summer they retire: but the following 
soft-billed birds, though insect-eaters, stay with us the year round:

Raii nomina: Rubecula:

Passer troglodytes:
These frequent houses; and haunt outbuildings in the winter; eat 

Haunt sinks for crumbs and other sweepings.

Motacilla alba:

Motacilla flava:

Motacilla cinerea:
These frequent shallow rivulets near the spring heads, where they 
never freeze: eat the aureliae of Phryganea. The smallest birds that 

Some of these are to be seen with us the winter through.

OEnanthe secunda:

OEnanthe tertia:

Golden-crowned wren,
Regulus cristatus:
This is the smallest British bird: haunts the tops of tall trees; stays 
the winter through.

A List of the Winter Birds of Passage round this neighbourhood, 
ranged somewhat in the order in which they appear:
1.  Ring-ousel,	
Raii nomina: Merula torquata:
This is a new migration which I have lately 	discovered about 
Michaelmas week, and again about the fourteenth of March.

2.  Redwing,
Turdus iliacus:
About Michaelmas.

3.  Fieldfare,
Turdus pilaris,
Though a percher by day, roosts on the ground.

4. Royston-crew,
Cornix cinerea:
Most frequent on downs.

5. Wood-cock,
Appears about old Michaelmas.

6. Snipe,
Gallinago minor:
Some snipes constantly breed with us.

7. Jack-snipe,	
Gallinago minima:

8. Wood-pigeon, 
Seldom appears till late: not in such plenty as formerly.

9. Wild-swan,	
Cygnus ferus:
On some large waters.

10. Wild-goose,
Anser ferus:

11. Wild-duck, 
Anas torquata minor:

12. Pochard,
Anas fera fusca:

13. Widgeon,

14. Teal, breeds with us in Wolmer-forest,
On our lakes and streams.

15. Gross-beak,

16. Cross-bill,	

17. Silk-tail,
Garrulus bohemicus:
These are only wanderers that appear occasionally, and are not 
observant of any regular migration.

These birds, as they stand numerically, belong to the following 
Linnaean genera:

1, 2, 3.


5, 6, 7.


9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14.

15, 16.


Birds that sing in the night are but few:

'In shadiest covert hid.'--MILTON.

Alauda arborea:
Suspended in mid air.

Less reed-sparrow,
Passer arundinaceus minor:
Among reeds and willows.

I should now proceed to such birds as continue to sing after 
Midsummer, but, as they are rather numerous, they would exceed 
the bounds of this paper: besides, as this is now the season for 
remarking on that subject, I am willing to repeat my observations 
on some birds concerning the continuation of whose song I seem at 
present to have some doubt.

I am, etc.

Letter II
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, Nov. 2, 1769.

Dear Sir,

When I did myself the honour to write to you about the end of last 
June on the subject of natural history, I sent you a list of the 
summer birds of passage which I have observed in this 
neighbourhood; and also a list of the winter birds of passage; I 
mentioned besides those soft-billed birds that stay with us the 
winter through in the south of England, and those that are 
remarkable for singing in the night.

According to my proposal, I shall now proceed to such birds 
(singing birds strictly so called) as continue in full song till after 
Midsummer; and shall range them somewhat in the order in which 
they first begin to open as the spring advances.

1. Woodlark,	
Raii nomina: Alauda arborea:
In January, and continues to sing through all the summer and 

2. Song-thrush, 
Turdus simpliciter dictus:
In February and on to August, reassume their song in autumn.

3. Wren,
Passer troglodytes:
All the year, hard frost excepted.

4. Red-breast,	

5. Hedge-sparrow,
Early in February to July the 10th.

6.  Yellow-hammer,
Emberiza flava:
Early in February, and on through July to August the 21st.

7.  Skylark,
Alauda vulgaris:
In February, and on to October.

8. Swallow,
Hirundo domestica:
From April to September.

9. Black-cap,
Beginning of April to July 13.

10. Titlark,
Alauda pratorum:
From middle of April to July the 16th.

11. Blackbird,
Merula vulgaris:
Sometimes in February and March, and so on to July the twenty 
third; reassumes in autumn.

12. White-throat,
Ficedulcae affinis:
In April and on to July 23.

13. Goldfinch,
April and through to September 16.

14. Greenfinch,
On to July and August 2.

15. Less reed-sparrow,
Passer arundinaceus minor:
May, on to beginning of July.

16. Common linnet,
Linaria vulgaris:
Breeds and whistles on till August; reassumes its note when they 
begin to congregate in October, and again early before the flock 

Birds that cease to be in full song, and are usually silent at or 
before Midsurnmer:

17. Middle willow-wren,
Regulus non cristatus:
Middle of June: begins in April.

18. Red-start,
Middle of June: begins in May.

19. Chaffinch,
Beginning of June: sings first in February.

20. Nightingale,
Middle of June: sings first in April.

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

21. Missel-bird,
Turdus viscivorus:
January the 2nd, 1770, in February. Is called in Hampshire and 
Sussex the storm -cock, because its song is supposed to forebode 
windy wet weather: is the largest 	singing bird we have.

22. Great tit-mouse, or ox-eye,
In February, March, April: reassumes for a short time in 

Birds that have somewhat of a note or song, and yet are hardly to 
be called singing birds:

23. Golden-crowned wren,
Regulus cristatus:
Its note as minute as its person; frequents the tops of high oaks and 
firs; the smallest British bird.

24. Marsh titmouse,
Parus palustris:
Haunts great woods; two harsh sharp notes.

25. Small willow-wren,
Regulus non cristatus:
Sings in March and on to September.

26. Largest ditto,
Cantat voce stridula locustae: from end of April to August.

27. Grasshopper-lark,
Alauda minima voce locustae:
Chirps all night, from the middle of April to the end of July

28. Martin,
Hirundo agrestis:
All the breeding time; from May to September.

29. Bullfinch,

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

All singing birds, and those that have any pretensions 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.

2, 11, 21.

3, 4, 5, 9, 12, 15, 17, 18, 20, 23, 25, 26.

6, 30.

8, 28.

13, 16, 19.

22, 24.

14, 29.

Birds that sing as they fly are but few:

Raii nomina.
Alauda vulgaris:
Rising, suspended, and falling.

Alauda pratorum:
In its descent; also sitting on trees, and walking on the ground.

Alauda arborea:
Suspended; in hot summer nights all night long.

Sometimes from bush to bush.

Ficedulae affinis:
Uses when singing on the wing odd jerks and gesticulations.

Hirundo domestica:
In soft sunny weather.

Passer troglodytes:
Sometimes from bush to bush.

Birds that breed most early in these parts:

Hatches in February and March.

In March.

In March.

Cornix frugilega:
Builds the beginning of March.

Alauda arborea:
Hatches in April.

Palurnbus torquatus:
Lays the beginning of April.

All birds that continue in full song till after Midsummer appear to 
me to breed more than once.

Most kinds of birds seem to me to be wild and shy somewhat in 
proportion to their bulk; I mean in this island, where they are much 
pursued and annoyed: but 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 advanced, 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 (otis), the largest British land fowl, does not care 
to admit a person within so many furlongs. 

I am, etc.

Letter III
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

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 punctually. 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 

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 beginning of 

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 to the most incurious observer that they whistle 
the year round, hard frost excepted; especially the latter.

It was not in my power to procure 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 bird 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 the wild bird's throat.-Shakespeare.

The latter has a surprising variety of notes resembling the song of 
several other birds; but then it also has an hurrying mariner, not at 
all to its advantage; it is notwithstanding 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 
mentioned, 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 young 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 subsistence might be: all that I could ever 
find was a soft mucus, among which lay many pellucid small 

I am, etc.

Letter IV
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, Feb. 19, 1770.

Dear Sir,

Your observation that '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 
consider 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 palumbus (ring-dove), and of 
the fringilla (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 dropping 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 the 
natural storge(in Greek) that seems to raise the kind in general 
above themselves, and inspire them with extraordinary 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 disregarded 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 
Providence are not subjected to any mode or rule, but astonish us 
in new lights, and in various and changeable appearances.

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 against her young ones, as though they were not 

Because God hath deprived her of wisdom, neither hath he 
imparted to her understanding.' *
(* Job xxxix. 16, 17.)

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

I am, etc.

Letter V
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, April 12, 1770.

Dear Sir,

I heard many birds of several species sing last year after 
Midsummer; enough to prove that the summer solstice is 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 goldfinch, 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 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. 

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 
scandalized at the vast disproportioned size of the supposititious 
egg; but the brute creation, I suppose, 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, moreover, 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 good size, doubtless then she would that 
spring lay more than one.

I will endeavour to get a hen, and to examine.

Your supposition that 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 caprimulgus, 
or fern-owl; you were, I find, acquainted with the bird before.

When we meet, I shall be glad to have some conversation 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 compass.

Some extracts from your ingenious 'Investigations of the difference 
between the present temperature of the air in Italy,' etc., 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.

Letter VI
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, May 21, 1770.

Dear Sir,

The severity and turbulence of last month so interrupted 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 unfavourable 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 time.

I am not pleased to find that some people seem so little satisfied 
with Scopoli's new publication; * there is 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 
(* This work he calls his Annus Primus Historico-Naturalis.)

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 Raii) 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-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 Zoology, till I reminded him of his 
omission. See British Zoology last published, p. 16.**
(** See Letter XXV to Mr. Pennant.)

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.*
(* See Letter XLIII to Mr. Barrington.)

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:

Quem si puellarum insereres choro,
Mire sagaces falleret hospites
Discrimen obscurum, solutis
Crinibus, ambiguoque vultu.--HOR.

Letter VII
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

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 hirundines of that hot and distant island 
would be great entertainment to me.

The Anni of Scopoli are now in my possession; and I have read the 
Annus Primus with satisfaction: for though 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 monographer.

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 Linnaean 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 observations of those 
birds, I never could discover the least degree of rivalry or hostility 
between the species.

Ray remarks that birds of the gallinae order, as cocks and hens, 
partridges, and pheasants, etc., are pulveratrices, 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 frequency seen grovelling and wallowing in 
dusty roads; and yet they are great washers. Does not the skylark 

Query.--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 extraordinary 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
Majores 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 

In July I saw several cuckoos skimming over a large pond; and 
found, after some observation, that they were feeding on the 
libellulae, 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.

This district affords some birds that are hardly ever heard of at 
Selborne. In the first place considerable flocks of cross-beaks 
(loxiae curvirostrae) have appeared this summer in the pine-groves 
belonging to this house; the water-ousel is said to haunt the mouth 
of the Lewes river, near Newhaven; and the Cornish chough builds, 
I know, all along the chalky cliffs of the Sussex 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 auspicious 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 remarkable 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 

As I rode along near the coast I kept a very sharp lookout 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 to this 
place annually about this time. The birds most common along the 
coast at present are the stone-chatters, whin-chats, buntings, 
linnets, some few wheatears, titlarks, etc. Swallows and house-
martins abound yet, induced to prolong their stay by this soft, still, 
dry season.

A land-tortoise, which has been kept for thirty years in a little 
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 weeks in 
autumn it hardly eats at all. Milky plants, such as lettuces, 
dandelions, sow-thistles, 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 

Letter VIII
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, Dec. 20, 1770.

Dear Sir,

The birds that I took for aberdavines were reed-sparrows (passeres 

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 half of the species appears: therefore we may conclude 
that the fringillae caelebes, 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 separately, 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 Systema Naturae, 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, 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 is 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 particularly 
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 I 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. Fieldfares 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-
east winds continued to blow on through April and 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.

The best authority that we can have for the nidification of the birds 
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, Linnaeus, in his Fauna Suecica, says of it 
that 'maximis in arboribus nidificat'; and of the redwing he says, in 
the same place, that 'nidificat in mediis arbusculis, sive sepibus: 
ova sex caeruleo-viridia maculis nigris variis.' Hence we may be 
assured that fieldfares and redwings breed in Sweden. Scopoli says, 
in his Annus Primus, of the woodcock, that 'nupta ad nos venit 
circa aequinoctium vernale'; 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 haec septentrionalium 
provinciarum aestivo tempore incola est; ubi plerumque nidificat. 
Appropinquante hyeme australiores provincias petit: hinc circa 
plenilunium mensis Octobris plerumque Austriam transmigrat. 
Tunc rursus circa plenilunium potissimum mensis Martii per 
Austriam matrimonio juncta ad septentrionales provincias redit. ' 
For the whole passage (which I have abridged) see Elenchus, etc., 
p. 351. This seems to be a full proof of the migration of 
woodcocks; though little is proved concerning the place of 

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 one year is 
twenty inches and an half.

Letter IX
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

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 kingdom seem to justify you in 
your suspicions, that at least many 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 demonstration 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 
hirundines but of bee-birds, hoopoes, oro pendolos 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 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 Mediterranean: 
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 ...


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 letters we 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 mentioned 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; and, to the best of my remembrance, the collar 
was in the possession of the rector.
(* I have read a like anecdote of a swan.)

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 et 
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 skylarks do not 
dust. I think they do: and if they do, whether they wash also.

The alauda pratensis 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 their 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 Andalusian birds; I hope they answered your 
expectation. Royston, or grey crows, are winter birds that come 
much about the same time with the woodcock: 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 
appearance 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 

The stock-dove, or wood-pigeon, oenas Raii, 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, palumbus Raii, stays with us the whole year, and breeds 
several times through the summer.

Before I received your letter of October last I had just remarked in 
my journal that the trees were unusually green. This uncommon 
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.

I am, etc., etc.

Letter X
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, Aug. 1, 1771.

Dear Sir,

From what follows, it will appear that neither owls nor cuckoos 
keep to one note. A friend remarks that many (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, 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 different 
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 criterion.

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 they 
retreat from Scandinavian winters: and much more the ordo of 
grallae, who, all to a bird, forsake the northern parts of Europe at 
the approach of winter. 'Grallae tanquam conjugatae unanimiter in 
fugam se conjiciunt; ne earum unicam quidem inter nos habitantem 
invenire possimus; ut enim aestate in australibus degere nequeunt 
ob defectum lumbricorum, terramque siccam; ita nec in frigidis ob 
eandem causam,' says Eckmarck the Swede, in his ingenious little 
treatise called Migrationes Avium, which by all means you ought 
to read while your thoughts run on the subject of migration. See 
Amoenitates Academicae, vol. iv, p. 565.

Birds may be so circumstanced as to be obliged to migrate in one 
country and not in another: but the grallae (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 should be able to account 
for the motions and manner of life of the animals of his own Fauna.

Faunists, as you observe, are too apt to acquiesce in bare 
descriptions, and a few synonyms: the reason is plain; 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 difficulty, and is not to be attained but by the active 
and inquisitive, and by those that reside much in the country.

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 when I was a 
sportsman; but, upon my mentioning 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 inaptitude 
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.

Letter XI
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

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 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 

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? Perhaps 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 dews, 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 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.

Letter XII
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

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 knowledge, we were surprised to 
see three house-swallows gliding very swiftly by 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 than retire again to their 
latebrae. Nor make I the least doubt but that, if I lived at 
Newhaven, 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 time, viz., the thirteenth or 
fourteenth of April, yet meeting with an harsh reception, and 
blustering cold north-east winds, they immediately withdrew, 
absconding for several days, till the weather gave them better 

Letter XIII
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

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 first of November I remarked that the old tortoise, 
formerly mentioned, began first to dig the ground in order to the 
forming its hybernaculum, 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 till the 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 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 knoweth his owner, and the ass has 
master's crib,' * but the most abject reptile and torpid of beings 
distinguishes the hand that feeds it, and is touched with the feelings 
of gratitude!
* Isaiah i. 3.

I am, etc., etc.

P.S. In about three days after I left Sussex the tortoise retired into 
the ground under the hepatica.

Letter XIV
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, March 26, 1773.

Dear Sir,

The more I reflect on the storge (in Greek) 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 invention, and 
sharpens the sagacity of the brute creation. Thus an hen, just 
become a mother, 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 helpless covey. In the time of 
nidification the most feeble birds will assault the most rapacious. 
All the hirundines 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 fondness, 
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 illustration.

The fly-catcher of the Zoology (the stoparola 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 inadvertently placed their nest on 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 expedient, 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 instance I once saw of notable sagacity in a 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 went 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 
otorge (in Greek), 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 
sometimes 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 offspring, I am not so much 
amazed; since reason perverted, and the bad passions let loose, are 
capable of any enormity: but why the 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.

Letter XV
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

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. As 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 offspring. But a piece of 
address, which they show 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 liberty to take hold 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 occasion, 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 persons. The 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 I am 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 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, after 
the manner of hawks. He believes, he told me, 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 every ray of light, and large 
concave ears to command the smallest degree of sound or noise.

I am, etc.

The hirundines are a most inoffensive, harmless, entertaining, 
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 
Guiaquil,* are 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 
hirundines 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 hirundines 
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 
hippoboscae hirundinis 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 feathers.

A species of them is familiar to horsemen in the south of England 
under the name of forest-fly; and, to some, 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 little regards them.

The curious Reaumur discovered the large eggs, or rather pupae, of 
these flies as big as the flies themselves, which he hatched in his 
own bosom. Any person that will take the troupe to examine the 
old nests of either species of swallows may find in them the black 
shining cases of the pupae of these insects: but for other 
particulars, too long for this place, we refer the reader to L'Histoire 
d'Insectes of that admirable entomologist. Tom. iv. pi. ii.

Letter XVI
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, 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 hirundines -- the swallow, the swift, and the 

A few 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 hirundines 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, if 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 be formed of such dirt or loam as comes most 
readily to hand, and is tempered and wrought together with little 
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 
itself by 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 lithe bird) raise but a 
moderate layer at a time, and then desist; lest the work should 
become top-heavy, and so be ruined by is 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 was intended. 
But then nothing is more common than for the house-sparrow, as 
soon as the shell is finished, to seize on it as is own, to eject the 
owner, and to line it after is own manner.

After so much labour is bestowed in erecting a mansion, as nature 
seldom works in vain, martins win 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 shed 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 with wool. In this nest 
they tread, or engender, frequently 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 elikia (in Greek) 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 them 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 mobs of churches 
and houses. These congregations 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 buildings, and playing about before them, make people 
think that several old ones attend one nest. They are often 
capricious in fixing on a nesting place, beginning many edifices, 
and leaving them unfinished; but when once a nest is completed in 
a sheltered place, it serves for several seasons. Those which breed 
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 than 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 
frequency as swallows. It has been observed that martins usually 
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 ruinas.' 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 dinginess of their aspect 
that their feathers partook of the filth of that sooty atmosphere. 
Martins are by far the least agile 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 surface 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 docks increase in 
numbers daily by 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 eight 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 ate very short-lived indeed, or unless 
they do not return to the district where they are bred, they must 
undergo vast devastations somehow, sad somewhere; for the birds 
that return yearly bear no manner of proportion to the birds that 

House-martins ate distinguished from that congeners by having that 
legs coveted 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.

Letter XVII
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

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 
ought not make many additions, since subjects of this kind are 

If you think my letter worthy the notice of your respectable society, 
you are at liberty to lay it before them; and they win 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 hirundines.

Though I have now travelled the Sussex-downs upwards 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 hips, and was so ravished 
with the prospect from Plumpton-plain near Lewes, that he 
mentions those scopes in his Wisdom of God in the Works of the 
Creation with the utmost satisfaction, and thinks them equal to 
anything he had seen in the finest parts of Europe.
(* Mr. Courthope, of Danny.)

For my own part, I think there is somewhat peculiarly 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 smooch fungus-like 
protuberances, their fluted sides, and regular hollows and slopes, 
that carry at once the air of vegetative dilation and expansion.... Or 
was there ever a time when these immense masses of calcareous 
matter were drown 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 

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 au average at about the rate of five hundred 

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 the 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 variegated 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 immemorial: and smile at your 
simplicity if you ask them whether the situation of these 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, 
entre nous, the disappearing of the latter is more marvellous than 
that of the former, and much more unaccountable. The hirundines, 
if they please, are certainly capable of migration; and yet no doubt 
are often found in a torpid state: but redstarts, 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 inquisitive, which 
from day to day discern the other small birds that are known to 
abide our winters. But, notwithstanding 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 
considerable 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 withdraw 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 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 Arun.

I did not fail to look particularly after my new migration 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 stay.

The old tortoise, that I have mentioned in a former letter, still 
continues in this garden; and retired under 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 is a large rookery round this house, the inhabitants 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 evening 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.

Letter XVIII
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, Jan. 29, 1774.

Dear Sir,

The house-swallow, or chimney-swallow, is undoubtedly the first 
comer of all the British hirundines; and appears in general on or 
about the thirteenth of April, as I have remarked from many years' 
observation. Not but now and then a straggler is seen much earlier: 
and, in particular, 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; 
since 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
Garrulla quam tignis nidos suspendat hirundo.

In Sweden she builds in barns, and is called ladu swala, the barn-
swallow. Besides, in the warmer parts of Europe there are no 
chimneys to houses, except they are English-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 of an old well, through 
which chalk had been formerly drawn up for the purpose of 
manure: but in general with us this hirundo 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 perpetual 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 nestlings.

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 progressive 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 their own food; therefore they play 
about near the place where the dams are hawking for flies; and 
when a mouthful is collected, at a 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 supported, 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 interspersed; 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 appears, with a shrill alarming note 
he calls all the swallows and martins about him; who pursue in a 
body, and buffet 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 of hirundo 
drinks as it flies along, sipping the surface of the water; but the 
swallow alone, in general, washes on the wing, by dropping into a 
pool 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 flying; 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 dislike; nay, even frequenting exposed sea-port towns, and 
making little excursions over the salt water. Horsemen 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 expedient, they are often forced to settle to pick up 
their lurking prey.

This species feeds much on little coleoptera, as well as on gnats 
and flies: and often settles on dug ground, or paths, for gravels to 
grind and 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 week in November.

Some few pairs haunt the new and open streets of London next the 
fields, but do not enter, like the house-martin, the close and 
crowded parts of the city.

Both male and female are distinguished from their congeners 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 discerning otorge (in 
Greek) of the swallow, I shall add, for your farther amusement, an 
anecdote or two not much in favour of her sagacity:

A 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 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 person 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 appearance, and 
are not the least curious specimens in that wonderful collection of 
art and nature.*
(* Sir Ashton Lever's Museum.)

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.

Letter XIX
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, Feb. 14, 1774.

Dear Sir,

I received your favour of the eighth, and am pleased to find that 
you 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 
hirundo Virgil might intend in the lines in question, since the 
ancients did not attend to specific 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 first place the epithet garrula suits the swallow well, who is 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 tignum 
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 it: 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 represent 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 Aeneas. The verb sonat also seems to imply 
a bird that is somewhat loquacious.*
(* Nigra velut magnas domini cum divitis aedes
Pervolat, et pennis alta atria lustrat hirundo, 
Pabula parva legens, nidisque loquacibus escas: 
Et nunc porticibus vacuis, nunc humida circum 
Stagna sonat ...)

We have had a very wet autumn and winter, so as to raise the 
springs to a pitch beyond any thing 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-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 inflame 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.

Letter XX
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, Feb. 26, 1774.

Dear Sir,

The sand-martin, or bank-martin, is by much the least of any of the 
British hirundines; 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 hirundo esculenta.

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 conversation of this little bird, 
since it is fera natura, at least in this part of the kingdom, 
disclaiming all domestic attachments, and haunting wild heaths 
and commons 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 themselves 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; 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 London-

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 fixing crusts or shells of loam as cunabula 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 

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 disabling 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 sun.

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 any naturalist to make his remarks. This I have 
often taken notice of, that 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 perhaps too much foresight and rerum 
prudentia to a simple bird. May not the cause of these latebrae 
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 ? Or 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), swarming 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 
hybernacula, 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 
the species is cryptogame, 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; and sometimes they are fed with libellulae 
(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 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 

When they happen to breed near hedges and enclosures, they are 
dispossessed of their breeding holes by the house-sparrow, which is 
on the same account a fell adversary to house-martins.

These hirundines 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 
congeners in the autumn. Undoubtedly they breed a second time, 
like the house-martin and swallow; and withdraw about 

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 hirundines 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 swallow.

Notwithstanding what has been advanced above, some few sand-
martins, I see, haunt the skirts of London, frequenting 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 neighbourhood: perhaps they nestle in the scaffold-
holes of some old or new deserted building. They dip and wash as 
they fly sometimes, like the house-martin and swallow.

Sand-martins differ from their congeners in the diminutiveness of 
their size, and in their colour, which is what is usually called a 
mouse-colour. Near Valencia in Spain, they are taken, says 
Willughby, and sold in the markets for the table; and are called by 
the country people, probably from their desultory jerking manner 
of flight, Papilion de montagna.

Letter XXI
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, Sept. 28, 1774.

Dear Sir,

As the swift or black-martin is the largest of the British hirundines, 
so is it 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 it of dry grasses 
and feathers, very rudely and inartificially put 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 matters, 
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 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 Odiham, 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 peculiar 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 fact that I would advance is, that swifts tread, or 
copulate, on the wing: and I would wish any nice observer, that is 
startled at this supposition, to use his own eyes, and I think he will 
soon be convinced. 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 amorous rites, was it not 
enabled to indulge them in the air. If any person would watch these 
birds of a fine morning in May, as they 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, at it 
seems, propagates on the wing; it appears to live more in the air 
than any other bird, and to perform all functions there save those of 
sleeping and incubation.

This hirundo 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 till a 
quarter before nine in the evening, being the latest of all day 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 

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 minutes, 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 proportion 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.

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 phryganeae, 
ephemerae, and libellulae (cadew-flies, may-flies, and dragon-
flies) 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 nest only two squab naked 
pulli: on the eighth of July I 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 perpetually on the wing would not be 
able to quit their nest till the end of the month. Swallows and 
martins, that have numerous families, 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 many 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, 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, which are white; but, by being all day long 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, dissenting from all 
their congeners not only in the number of their young, but in 
breeding but once in a summer; whereas all the other British 
hirundines breed invariably twice. It is past all doubt that swifts 
can breed but once, 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 
hirundines 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 retire, as to the main body of them, 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 early 
retreat is mysterious and wonderful, since that time is often the 
sweetest season in the year. But, what 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 heat; 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 in natural history that not only 
baffles our searches, but almost eludes our guesses!

These hirundines 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 hippoboscae hirundinis; and often wriggle and scratch 
themselves, in their flight, to get rid of that clinging annoyance.

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 weather.

They never settle on the ground but through accident; and when 
down can hardly rise, on account of the shortness 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 

The particular formation of the foot discriminates the swift from 
all British hirundines; and indeed from all other known birds, the 
hirundo melba, great white-bellied swift of Gibraltar, excepted; for 
it is so disposed as to carry 'omnes 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 genus per se.
(* John Antony Scopoli, of Carniola, M.D.)

In London a party of swifts frequents the Tower, playing and 
feeding over the river just below the bridge; 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 ring swala, form the perpetual rings or circles that it takes 
round the scene of its nidification.

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 with 
hippoboscae, 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, I again 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 storge (in Greek) for her brood, which she 
supposed to be in danger, that, regardless 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 abdomina, 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 elikia (in Greek) or 
state of perfection; while the progressive growth of men and large 
quadrupeds is slow and tedious!

I am, etc.

Letter XXII
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

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 consideraable 
depth in the chimney, was somewhat interrupted by apprehensions 
lest my eyes might undergo the same fate with those of Tobit.*
(* Tobit ii. 10.)

Perhaps it may be some amusement to you to hear at what times 
the different species of hirundines 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 1st; 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 1st. 
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.

Linnaeus says that hawks 'paciscuntur inducias cum avibus, 
quamdiu cuculus cuculat' but it appears to me that, during that 
period, many little birds are taken and 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 pro aris & focis; but numbers at last prevailed, they tore 
the nest to pieces, and swallowed the young alive.

In the season of notification 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, 

And Wisdom at one entrance quite shut out.

Letter XXIII
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, 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 cobweb, 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 occurrence.

As the morning advanced the sun became bright and warm, and the 
day turned out one of those most lovely ones which no season but 
the autumn produces; cloudless, calm, serene, and worthy of the 
South of France itself.

About nine an appearance very unusual began to demand our 
attention, a shower of cobwebs falling from very elevated regions, 
and continuing, without any interruption, 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, and 
five or six long, which fell with a degree of velocity which showed 
they were considerably heavier than the atmosphere.

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.

How far this wonderful shower extended would be difficult to say; 
but we know that it reached Bradley, Selborne, and Alresford, three 
places which 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 upon the hill above 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 appearance 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 that I shall make on these cobweb-like appearances, 
called gossamer, is, that, strange and superstitious 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 rapturous 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 supposition, 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 the region where clouds are formed: and if 
the spiders have a power of coiling and thickening their webs in the 
air, as Dr. Lister says they have [see his Letters to Mr. Ray], then, 
when they were 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 then the air 

Letter XXIV
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, Aug. 15, 1775.

Dear Sir,

There is a wonderful spirit of sociality in the brute creation, 
independent of sexual attachment: the congregating of gregarious 
birds in the winter is a remarkable instance.

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 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 longings and menacing horns, drive the 
assailants 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 

Much less can bird with beast, or fish with fowl, 
So well converse, nor with the ox the ape.

I am, etc.

Letter XXV
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

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 as Mezeray and the gravest historians all 
agree that these vagrants did certainly migrate from Egypt 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 

With regard to those peculiar people, the gypsies, one thing is 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 extended on a few hazel-
rods bent hoop-fashion, and 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 
which 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.*
(* See Bell's Travels in China.)

Gypsies are called in French, Bohemians; in Italian and modern 
Greek, Zingari.

I am, etc.

Letter XXVI

To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, Nov. 1, 1775.

Dear Sir,

Hic ... taedae pingues, hic plurimus ignis
Semper, et assidua postes fuligine nigri.

I shall make no apology for troubling you with the detail of a very 
simple piece of domestic Economy, 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 

The proper species of rush for this purpose seems to be the juncus 
effusus, or common soft rush, which is to be found in most moist 
pastures, by the sides of streams, 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 autumn. 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, even rib from top to bottom that may support the pith: but 
this, like other feats, soon becomes 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 scumrnings 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 

These rushes give a good clear light. Watch-lights (coated with 
tallow), it is true, shed a dismal one, 'darkness visible'; but then the 
wicks of those have two ribs of the rind, or peel, to support the 
pith, while the 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, which 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 
dipping, costs 1/33 of a farthing, and 1/11 afterwards. Thus a poor 
family will enjoy 5&1/2 hours of comfortable light for a farthing. 
An experienced old housekeeper assures me that one pound and a 
half 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 economists, 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 polytricum 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, it is probable they might come much in use 
for the purpose above-mentioned.*
(*A besom of this sort is to be seen in Sir Ashton Lever's Museum.)

I am, etc.

Letter XXVII
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

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 fireside, 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. Honeybees, humble-
bees, and wasps, were his prey wherever he found them: he had no 
apprehensions from their stings, but would seize them nudis 
manibus, and at once disarm 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; 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 noise with his lips, resembling 
the buzzing of bees. This lad was lean and sallow, and of a 
cadaverous complexion; and, except in his favourite pursuit, in 
which he was wonderfully adroit, discovered no manner of 
understanding. 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, 

... Thou,
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.

To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, Jan. 8, 1776.

Dear Sir,

It is the hardest thing in the world to shake off superstitious 
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 impressions, become so interwoven into 
our very constitutions, that the strongest good sense is required to 
disengage ourselves from them. No wonder therefore that the lower 
people retain them their whole lives through, since their minds are 
not invigorated by a liberal 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 suspected of 
exaggeration in a recital of practices too gross for this enlightened 

But the people of Tring, in Hertfordshire, would do 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 overwhelmed with infirmities, on a 
suspicion of witchcraft; and, by trying experiments, drowned them 
in a horse-pond.

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 persuasion 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, 
where 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 
practiced 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 shrew-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 anguish, and threatened with the loss of the use of the 
limb. Against this accident, to which they were continually 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 understood, all succession is at an end, 
and no such tree is known to subsist in the manor, or hundred.
(* For a similar practice, see Plot's Staffordshire.)

As to that on the Plestor,

The late vicar stubb'd and burnt it,

when he was way-warden, regardless of the remonstrances of the 
by-standers, who interceded in vain for its preservation, urging its 
power and efficacy, and alleging that it had been 

Religione patrum multos servata per annos.

I am, etc.

Letter XXIX
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

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 the ruts ran with water, 
though the ground in general was dusty.

In some of our smaller islands in the West-Indies, if I mistake not, 
there are no springs or rivers; but the people are supplied with that 
necessary element, water, merely by the dripping 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 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 moist: no wonder therefore that 
they contribute much to pools and streams.

That trees are great promoters of lakes and rivers 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.
(* Vide Kalm's Travels to North America.)

To a thinking 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 droughts of summer. On chalk-hills I 
say, because in many rocky and gravelly soils springs usually break 
out pretty high on the sides of elevated grounds and mountains; 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 for at least twenty head of large cattle beside. 
This pond, it is true, is over-hung 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, without 
overflowing in the wettest seasons, as they would do if supplied by 
springs. By my journal of May 1775, it appears 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 is more 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; and that the air, when loaded with fogs and vapours, 
and even with copious dews, can alone advance a considerable 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.

Letter XXX

To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, April 3, 1776.

Dear Sir,

Monsieur Herissant, a French anatomist, seems persuaded that 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 sternum at the bottom of the neck, as in the gallinae 
columbae, etc., but immediately behind it, on and over the bowels, 
so as to make a large protuberance in the belly.*
(* Histoire de l'Academie Royale, 1752.)

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 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 sternum in this bird seemed to us to be remarkably short, 
between which and the anus 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 business 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 proposed 
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 sternum, 
immediately on the viscera, between them and the skin of the belly. 
It was bulky, and stuffed hard with large phalaenae, 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 practice 
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 canorus.

We found the case to be the same with the ring-tail hawk, in 
respect to formation; and, as far as I can recollect, with the swift; 
and probably it is so with many more sorts of birds that are not 

I am, etc.

Letter XXXI
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

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 
earthworms. 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 set 
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 fangs 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 probably we should have found them 
somewhere in the neck, and not in the abdomen.

Letter XXXII
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Castration has a strange effect: it emasculates both man, beast, and 
bird, and brings them to a near resemblance of the other sex. Thus 
eunuchs have smooth unmuscular arms, thighs, and legs; and broad 
hips, and beardless chins, and squeaking voices. Gelt-stags and 
bucks have hornless heads, like hinds and does. 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 they 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 it is plain that the deprivation of masculine vigour puts a 
stop to the growth of those parts or appendages 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 then his powers forsook him, and he 
neglected those females to whom before he was passionately 
attached, and from whom no fences could restrain him.

To The Honourable Daines Barrington

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 the 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.

Letter XXXIV
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, May 9, 1776.

Dear Sir,

... admorunt ubera tigres.

We have remarked in a former letter how much incongruous 
animals, in a lonely state, may be attached 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 friend had 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 dispatched and buried. The hare was 
soon lost, and supposed to be gone the way of most foundlings, to 
be killed by some dog or cat. However, in about a fortnight, 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 murium leo, as Linnaeus calls it, should be 
affected with any tenderness towards an animal which is its natural 
prey, is not so easy to determine.

This strange affection probably was occasioned by that desiderium, 
those tender maternal feelings, which the loss of her kittens had 
awakened in her breast; and by the complacency and ease she 
derived to herself from the 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 

This incident is no bad solution of that strange circumstance 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 little sucking leveret should be fostered 
and cherished by a bloody grimalkin.

... viridi foetam 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.

Letter XXXV
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

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 drowned. The 
most insignificant insects and reptiles are of much more 
consequence, and have much more influence in the Economy 
nature, than the incurious are aware of; and are mighty in their 
effect, from their minuteness, which renders them less an object of 
attention; and from their numbers and fecundity. Earth-worms, 
though in appearance a small and despicable link in the chain of 
nature, yet, if lost, would make a lamentable chasm. For, 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 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 infinite numbers of lumps of earth called worm-casts, which, 
being their excrement, is a fine manure for grain and grass. Worms 
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 coleoptera 
(scarabs), and tipulae (long-legs), in their larva, or grub-state; and 
by unnoticed myriads of small shell-less snails, called slugs, which 
silently and imperceptibly make amazing havoc in the field and 
(* Farmer Young, of Norton-farm, says that 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.)

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 consequently very prolific.

I am, etc.

Letter XXXVI
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, 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 thermometer 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 prevail.

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 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 Hanger, 
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 1/2 ; 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 month.

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.

To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, Jan. 8, 1778.

Dear Sir,

There was in this village several years ago a miserable pauper, 
who, from his birth, was addicted with a leprosy, as far as we are 
aware of a singular kind, since it affected only the palms of his 
hands and the soles of his feet. This 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 inactivity. 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 was relieved 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 afflicted with it from the 
most remote times; as appears 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 
commonwealth, as may be seen in many passages of the New 
(* See Leviticus, chap. xiii. and xiv.)

Some 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, when he 
contemplates how nearly this pest is eradicated, and observes that a 
leper now is a rare sight. 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, 
before 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** t in the days of Edward the Second, 
even so late in 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.
(** Viz. : Six hundred bacons, eighty carcasses of beef, and six 
hundred muttons.)

One cause 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 Lent; 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 subject to foul eruptions.

The plenty of good wheaten bread that now is found among all 
ranks of people in the south, instead of that 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 own 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, which 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 

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.
(* 'In 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 
Dalrymple's Annals of Scotland.)

It was not till gentlemen took up the study of horticulture 
themselves that the knowledge of gardening made such hasty 
advances. Lord Cobham, Lord Ila, and Mr. Waller of Beaconsfield, 
were some of the first people of rank that promoted the elegant 
science of ornamenting without 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., selleri (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.

To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Forte puer, comitum seductus ab agmine fido, 
Dixerat, ecquis adest ? et, adest, responderat echo. 
Hic stupet; utque aciem partes divisit in omnes; 
Voce, veni, clamat magna. Vocat illa vocantem.

Selborne, Feb. 12, 1778.

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 
company in a summer evening walk, and was calling after them, 
stumbled upon a very curious one in a spot where it might least be 
expected. At first he was much surprised, 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 distinctly, especially if quick 
dactyls were chosen. The last syllables of

Tityre, tu patulae recubans ...

were as audibly and intelligibly returned as the first: and there is no 
doubt, could trial have been made, but that at midnight, when 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 horrendum, informe, ingens ...

we could perceive a return but of four or five.

All echoes have some one place to which they are 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, is 
the stone-built, tiled hop-kiln in Galleylane, which measures in 
front 40 feet, and from the ground to the eaves 12 feet. The true 
centrum 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 speaker either retires or advances, that his 
mouth would at once be above or below the object.

We measured this polysyllabical echo with great exactness, and 
found the distance to fall very short of Dr. Plot's rule for distinct 
articulation: for the Doctor, in his history of Oxfordshire, allows 
120 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 philosopher 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.

One should have imagined that echoes, if not entertaining, must at 
least have been harmless and inoffensive; yet Virgil advances a 
strange notion, that they are injurious 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 pulsu
Saxa sonant, vocisque offensa resultat image.

This wild and fanciful assertion will hardly be admitted by the 
philosophers of these days; especially as they all 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 in any 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 employments 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 purpose 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 expected.

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 centrum phonicum 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 than can with truth of every individual of her sex; 
since she is 

... quae nec reticere loquenti, 
Nec prior ipsa loqui didicit resonabilis echo.

I am, etc.

P.S. -- The classic reader will, I trust, pardon the following lovely 
quotation, so finely describing echoes, and so poetically accounting 
for their causes from popular superstition:

Quae bene quom videas, rationem reddere possis
Tute tibi atque alus, quo pacto per loca sola
Saxa pareis formas verborum ex ordine reddant,
Palanteis comites quom monteis inter opacos
Quaerimus, et magna dispersos voce ciemus.
Sex etiam, aut septem loca vidi reddere voces
Unam quom jaceres: ita colles collibus ipsis
Verba repulsantes iterabant dicta referre.
Haec loca capripedes Satyros, Nymphasque tenere
Finitimi fingunt, et Faunos esse loquuntur;
Quorum noctivago strepitu, ludoque jocanti
Adfirmant volgo taciturna silentia rumpi,
Chordarumque sonos fieri, dulceisque querelas,
Tibia quas fundit digitis pulsata canentum:
Et genus agricolum late sentiscere, quom Pan
Pinea semiferi capitis velamina quassans,
Unco saepe labro calamos percurrit hianteis,
Fistula silvestrem ne cesset fundere musam.

Lucretius, lib. iv. 1. 576.

Letter XXXIX
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, May 13, 1778.

Dear Sir,

Among the many singularities attending those amusing birds the 
swifts, I 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 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 I have attended to the subject of ornithology, I have 
always supposed that that sudden reverse of affection, that strange 
antistorge (in Greek), 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 district 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 

Letter XL
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, June 2, 1778.

Dear Sir,

The standing objection to botany has always been, that it is a 
pursuit that amuses the fancy and exercises the memory, without 
improving the mind or advancing any real knowledge: and where 
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, pursuit.

Vegetation is highly worthy of our attention; and in itself is of the 
utmost consequence to mankind, and productive 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 of nature, seems to be subsisted by spontaneous 
vegetation: in middle climes, where grasses 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.*
(* See the late Voyages to the South-seas.)

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, tea, 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.

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 least one sort of wheat or barley from 

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.

Letter XLI
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, July 3, 1778.

Dear Sir,

In a district 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 with fungi. 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 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 foetidus, 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 worms; but it is a violent remedy, and ought to be 
administered with caution.

Helleborus 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 plant dies down to the ground 
early in autumn, and springs again about February, flowering 
almost as soon as it appears above ground.

Vaccinium oxycoccos, creeping bilberries or cranberries, -- in the 
bogs of Bin's-pond.

Vaccinium myrtillus, whortle, or bleaberries, -- on the dry hillocks 
of Wolmer-forest.

Drosera rotundifolia, round-leaved sun-dew. Drosera longifolia, 
long-leaved ditto. In the bogs of Bin's-pond.

Comarum palustre, purple comarum, or marsh cinquefoil, -- in the 
bogs of Bin's-pond.

Hypericon androsaemum, tutsan, St. John's wort, -- in the stony, 
hollow lanes.

Vinca minor, less periwinkle, -- in Selborne Hanger and 

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, Blackstonia perfoliata, Hudsoni, perfoliated 
yellow-won, -- on the banks in the King's-field.

Paris quadrifolia, herb Paris, true-love, or one-berry, -- in the 
Church Litten coppice.

Chrysosplenium oppositifolium, opposite golden saxifrage, -- in 
the dark and rocky hollow lanes.

Gentiana amarella, autumnal gentian or fellwort, -- on the Zig-zag 
and Hanger;

Lathraea squamaria, 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 pilosus, small teasel, -- in the Short and Long Lith.

Lathyrus sylvestris, narrow-leaved, or wild lathyrus, -- in the 
bushes at the foot of the Short Lith, near the path.

Ophrys spiralis, ladies' traces, -- in the Long Lith, and towards the 
south-corner of the common.

Ophrys nidus 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 latifolia, helleborine, -- in the High-wood under the shady 

Daphne laureola, spurge laurel, -- in Selborne Hanger and the 

Daphne mezereum, the mezereon, -- in Selborne Hanger among the 
shrubs at the south-east end above the cottages.

Lycoperdon tuber, truffles, -- in the Hanger and High-wood.

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 foetidus and helleborus niger blowing at 
Christmas, the helleborus hyemalis in January, and the helleborus 
viridis 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 only instance at present in the crocus sativus, 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 phaenomenon 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.

Letter XLII
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Omnibus animalibus reliquis certus et uniusmodi, et in suo cuique 
genere incessus est: aves solae vario meatu feruntur, et in terra, et 
in aere. -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 is somewhat in most genera at least, that at first 
sight discriminates them, and enables a judicious observer to 
pronounce upon them with some certainty. Put a bird in moron

... 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 undoso, 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 gallinae 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 particularly the sort called 
smiters, have a way of clashing their wings the 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 
wing 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 king-fisher 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 missal-thrushes use a wild 
and desultory flight; swallows sweep over the surface of the ground 
and water, and distinguish themselves 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 perpendicularly as they sing: 
woodlarks hang poised in the air; and titlarks rise and fall in large 
cubes, 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 compedes of Linnaeus. Geese and cranes, 
and most wild-fowls, move in figured flights, often changing their 
position. The secondary rerniges of tringae, 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 

Letter XLIII
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, Sept. 9, 1778.

Dear Sir,

From the motion of birds, the transition is natural enough to their 
notes and language, of which I shall say 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 
confined 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.
(* See Spectator, Vol. VII., No. 512.)

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 
humana, 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; 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; doves 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 hirundines, and bids them be aware that the hawk is at 
hand. Aquatic and gregarious birds, especially 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 

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, 
which are most known, and therefore best understood. At first the 
peacock, 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 a most 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 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 redoubled.

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 complacency; 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 confined 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 command, 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 proclaims 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 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.

Letter XLIV
To The Honourable Daines Barrington


... monstrent.
* * * * *
Quid tantum 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 heliotrope.

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 constructed 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.

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 contemplate, 
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 winter 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.

Letter XLV
To The Honourable Daines Barrington


... Mugire videbis
Sub pedibus terram, et descendere montibus ornos.

When I was a boy I used to read, with astonishment and implicit 
assent, accounts in Baker's Chronicle 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, affording 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 since, justifies our suspicions; which, though it 
befell 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 nature.

The months of January and February, in the year 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 for 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 solicitude and confusion, expecting every 
moment to be buried under the ruins of their shattered edifices. 
When day-light came they were 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 versa; 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 cliff 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 fell was two hundred and fifty-one yards. About 
fifty acres of land suffered from this violent convulsion; 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 plough 
or safe for pasturage, till considerable labour and expense had been 
bestowed in levelling the surface and filling in the gaping fissures.

Letter XLVI
To The Honourable Daines Barrington


... resonant arbusta ...

There is a 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 distinguish 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 
tail, which probably is 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 humane 
inquirer may gratify his curiosity without injuring the object of it. It 
is remarkable that, though these insects are furnished with long 
legs behind, and brawny thighs for leaping, like grasshoppers; yet 
when driven from their holes they show no activity, but crawl 
along in a shiftless manner, so as easily to be taken: and again, 
though provided with a curious apparatus of wings, yet they never 
exert them when there seems to be the 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. They are solitary beings, 
living singly male or female, each as it may happen: hut 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 they seemed distressed by 
being taken out of their knowledge, yet the first that got possession 
of the chinks would 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 themselves, 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 they make 
just by, they drop their dung; and never, in 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 sweetness 
and melody; nor do harsh sounds always displease. We are more 
apt to be captivated or disgusted with the associations which they 
promote, than with the notes themselves. Thus the shrilling of the 
field-cricket, 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 joyous.

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.
(* We have observed that they cast these skins in April, which are 
then seen lying at the mouths of their holes.)

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 
their wings in attempting to return to the spot from which they 
were taken.

One of these crickets, when confined in a paper cage and set in the 
sun, and supplied with plants moistened with water, will feed and 
thrive, and become so merry and loud as to be irksome in the same 
room where a person is sitting: if the plants are not wetted it will 

Letter XLVII
To The Honourable Daines Barrington


Far from all resort of mirth
Save the cricket on the hearth.
MILTON'S Il Penseroso.

Dear Sir,

While many other insects must be sought after in fields and woods, 
and waters, the gryllus domesticus, 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 to open 
communications from one room to another. They are particularly 
fond of kitchens and bakers' ovens, on account of their perpetual 

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, 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 housewife's barometer, foretelling her when it will 
rain; and are prognostic sometimes, she thinks, of in 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 superstition. 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 activity accounts 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 
undoso,' in waves or curves, like wood-packers, 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 fined 
with beer, or any liquid, and set in their haunts; for, being always 
eager to drink, they will crowd in till the bottles are full.
(* Exod. viii. 3.)

To The Honourable Daines Barrington


How diversified are the modes of life not only of incongruous 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 
gryllotalpa (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 

As mole-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 inward.

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 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:

... ingentem lato dedit ore fenestram: 
Apparet domus intus, et atria longa patescunt: 
Apparent ... penetralia.

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 mole-crickets fly they move 'cursu undoso,' rising 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!

Letter XLIX
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

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 

In the last week of last month five of those most rare birds, too 
uncommon to have obtained an English name, but known to 
naturalists by the terms of himantopus, or loripes, 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 caricature; 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 l'echasse. 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 himantopus; 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 thighs seem to be 
furnished with. At best one should expect it to be but a bad walker: 
but what adds to the wonder is that it has no back toe. Now without 
that steady prop 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 of himantopus 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. Hasselquist 
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 Andalusia.

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 wanderers 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.

Letter L
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, April 21, 1780.

Dear Sir,

The old Sussex tortoise, that I have mentioned to you so often, is 
become my property. I dug it out of its winter dormitory in March 
last, when it was enough awakened to express its resentments by 
hissing; and, packing it in a box with earth, carried it eighty miles 
in post-chaises. The rattle 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; however, 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 breathing 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 

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 troupe 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 occurrence! to see such a 
similarity of feelings between the two phereoikoi (in Greek) for so 
the Greeks call both the shell-snail and the tortoise.

Summer birds are, this cold and backward spring, unusually late: I 
have seen but one swallow yet. This conformity with the weather 
convinces me more and more that they sleep in the winter.

Letter LI
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, Sept. 3, 1781.

I have now read your miscellanies through with much care and 
satisfaction: and am to return you my best 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-martins do not depart in the winter far from this village. I 
therefore determined to make 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 11th 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 village 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 observed, not till the 16th of April, and then 
only a pair. Martins in general were remarkably late this year.

Letter LII
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

Selborne, Sept. 9, 1781.

I have just met with a circumstance respecting swifts, which 
furnishes an exception to the whole tenor of my observations ever 
since I have bestowed any attention on that species of hirundines. 
Our swifts, in general, withdrew 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 attachment to her 
young, could alone occasion so late a stay. I watched therefore till 
the twenty-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 
remained 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 hippoboscae hirundinis.

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 
contrary the case, the occurrence above could neither be new nor 

P.S. One swift was seen at Lyndon, in the county of Rutland, in 
1782, so late as the third of September.

Letter LIII
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

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 viniferae 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 for their support and increase, I cannot but suspect 
still that these cocci 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 with 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 product 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 Reaumur, I found this 
matter perfectly described and accounted for. Those husky shells, 
which I had observed, were no other than the female coccus, 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 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 1st, 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 which several insects shift their quarters, 
see Derham's Physico-Theology.)

Letter LIV
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

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 they seem to eat nothing, yet the 
consequences of eating 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 sparingly, lest, 
turning sour, it corrupt the water. They will also feed on the water-
plant called lemna (duck's meat), and also on small fry.

When they want to move a little they gently protrude themselves 
with their pinnae pectorales; 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 a 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 auratus.

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 becomes 
whimsical and unnatural, and liable to the objection due to him,

Qui variare cupit rem prodigialiter unam.

I am, etc.

Letter LV
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

October 10, 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 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 
underwood 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 pursuit.

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 different secret dormitories; and that, so far from 
withdrawing into warmer climes, it would appear that they never 
depart three hundred yards from the village.

Letter LVI
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

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 chat 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 chat by many methods which instinct 
effects by 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 chat every species of bird has a mode of 
nidification peculiar to itself; so that a schoolboy 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 remarkable in the edifices of the 
little architect. Again, the regular nest of the house-martin is 
hemispheric; but where a rafter, 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 (sitta Europaea), which live much 
on hazel nuts; and yet they open them each in a different way. The 
first, after rasping 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 

'Praehabebat porro vocibus humanis, instrumentisque harmonicis 
musicam illam avium: non quad alia quoque non delectaretur; sed 
quod ex musica humana relinqueretur in animo continens 
qaemdam, attentionemque et somnum conturbans agitatio; dum 
ascensus, exscensus, tenores, ac mutationes illae sonorum et 
consonantiarum euntque redeuntque per phantasiam: -- cum nihil 
tale relinqui possit ex modulationibus avium, quae, quod non sunt 
perinde a nobis imitabiles, non possunt perinde internam 
facultatem commovere.' -- GASSENDUS in Vita 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 my recollection at seasons, and even when I am 
desirous of thinking of more serious matters.

I am, etc.

Letter LVII
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

A rare, and I think a new little bird frequents my garden, which I 
have great reason to think is the pettichaps: 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 drawn 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 conceal 
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 falcon, 
which he shot on the verge of that district as it was devouring a 
wood-pigeon. The falco peregrinus, or haggard falcon, is a noble 
species of hawk seldom seen in 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.
(* See my tenth and eleventh letter to that gentleman. )

I am, etc.

Letter LVIII
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

My near neighbour, a young gentleman in the service of the East-
India Company, has brought home a dog and a bitch of the Chinese 
breed from Canton; such as are fattened in the 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 leg; 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 domesticated, but bred up in sties, where they are fed 
for the table with rice-meal and other farinaceous food. These 
dogs, having been taken on board as soon as weaned, could not 
learn much from their dam; yet they did not relish 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 circumnavigators.

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 prick-ears, like those from Canton. The 
Kamschatdales 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.

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 ending 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 scent 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 providential 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-scavengers 
to remove all cadaverous nuisances from the face of the earth.
(* Hasselquist, in his Travels to the Levant, observes that the dogs 
and vultures at Grand Cairo maintain such a friendly intercourse as 
to bring up their young together in the same place.)
(** The Chinese word for a dog to an European ear sounds like 

I am, etc.

Letter LIX
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

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 this village, this was the butt-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 (charadrius oedicnemus). 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 they wheel round in the air, and sport 
and dive in a playful manner, all the while exerting their voices, 
and making a loud cawing, which, being blended and softened by 
the distance that we at the village are below them, becomes a 
confused noise or chiding; or rather a pleasing murmur, very 
engaging to the imagination, and not unlike 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.

Letter LX
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

In reading Dr. Huxham's Observationes de 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 
17.266 in. and in 1741, 20.354 in.; and again in 1743 only 20.908 
in. 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 situations appear wet, when the rain is not 
considerable. In the wettest years at Plymouth the Doctor measured 
only once 36 in.; and again once, viz., 1734, 37.114 in.: 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 
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 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 
Weybridge, and so to London. Of course therefore there must be 
lower ground all the way from Selborne to Sough Lambeth; the 
distance between which, all the windings and indentings of the 
streams considered, cannot be less than an hundred miles. I am, 

Letter LXI
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

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 themselves from the rest during the course of my 

As the frost in January 1768 was, for the small 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 

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 succeeded; but from that day the air became 
entirely clear; and the heat of the sun about noon had a 
considerable 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 melting and 
freezing of the snow that is so fatal to vegetation, rather than the 
severity of the cold. Therefore it highly behaves every planter, who 
wishes to escape the cruel mortification 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 quarter.

This observation might without any impropriety be carried into 
animal life; for discerning bee-masters 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 

The coincidents attending this short but intense frost were, that the 
horses fell sick with an epidemic distemper, 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.*
(* See Letter XLI to Mr. Pennant.)

On the 3d of January, Benjamin Martin's thermometer within 
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 17.5, 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 originate under 
ground from warm vapours which arise; else how should 
subterraneous 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.

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 paroxysm.

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 14th 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.

Letter LXII
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

There were some circumstances attending the remarkable frost in 
January 1776 so singular and striking, that a short detail of them 
may not be unacceptable.

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 winters.
(* The autumn preceding January 1768 was very wet, and 
particularly 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 1739-40 set in after a rainy season, 
and when the springs were very high.)

January 7th. -- Snow driving all the day, which was followed by 
frost, sleet, and some snow, till the 12th, 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 
footsteps, 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, were strangely 
incommoded: many carriages of persons, who got, in their way to 
town from Bath, as far as Marlborough, after strange 
embarrassments, here met with 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 18th 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 an 
exception from din and clatter was strange, but not pleasant; it 
seemed to convey an uncomfortable idea of desolation:

... ipsa silentia terrent.

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 11, 7, 6, 6; and at Selborne to 7, 6, 
10; and on the 31st January, just before sunrise, with rime on the 
trees and on the tube of the glass, the quicksilver sunk exactly to 
zero, being 32 degrees below the freezing point; but by eleven in 
the morning, though in the shade, it sprung up to 16.5 * -- 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; and in the day 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 1st 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 
little insects 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 inquiry.
(* 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 degrees 
below zero, viz., 34 degrees below the freezing point.
The thermometer used at Selborne was graduated by Benjamin 

Severe frosts seem to be partial, or to run in currents; for, at the 
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 19: and at 
Manchester at 21, 20, and 18. Thus does some unknown 
circumstance strangely overbalance latitude, and render the cold 
sometimes much greater in the southern than in the northern parts 
of this kingdom.

The consequences of this severity were, that in Hampshire, 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.

Letter LXIII
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

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 thermometer: we therefore hung out two; one made by 
Martin and one by Dollond, 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 10th, in the morning, the 
quicksilver of Dollond'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 10th, at eleven at night, though the air was perfectly still, 
Dollond'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 10th, 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 10th, 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 consequences, 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!
(* Mr. Miller, in his Gardener's Dictionary, says positively that the 
Portugal laurels remained untouched in the remarkable frost of 
1739 - 40. So that either that accurate observer was much 
mistaken, or else the frost of December, 1784, was much more 
severe and destructive than that in the year above mentioned.)

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 31st, 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 10th, being bright sun-shine, the air 
was full of icy spiculae, 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 from 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 particles 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 warm closets; while those who 
had not, or neglected such warnings, lost all their stores of roots 
and fruits, and had their very bread and cheese frozen.

I 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, the shock might have been given to a whole 
circle of people.

I forgot to mention before, that, during the two severe days, two 
men, who were tracing hares in the snow, had their feet frozen; and 
two men, who were much better employed, had their fingers so 
affected by the frost, while 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 in many 
places stripped the hollies of all their leaves. It came at a very early 
time of the year, before old November ended; and yet it may be 
allowed from its effects to have exceeded any since 1739 - 40.

Letter LXIV
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

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 1781 and 1783 were unusually hot and dry; 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 observed that my apples 
were coddled, as it were, on 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 beats were so great as to render the juices vapid and 

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 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 frequent as to 
deface and destroy the 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 fall down again 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 inform 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.

Letter LXV
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

The summer of the year 1783 was an amazing and portentous one, 
and full of horrible phaenomena; for besides the alarming meteors 
and tremendous thunder-storms that affrighted and distressed the 
different counties of this 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 without 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 the 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 superstitious 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 earthquakes; 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, frequency occurred to my mind; and it is indeed 
particularly 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 phaenomena.

... As when the sun, new risen,
Looks through the horizontal, misty air,
Shorn of his beams; or from behind the moon,
In dim eclipse, disastrous twilight sheds
On half the nations, and with fear of change
Perplexes monarchs....

Letter LXVI
To The Honourable Daines Barrington

We are very seldom annoyed with thunder-storms; and it is no less 
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 go 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 that quarter, between us and the sea, 
there are 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 suffered 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 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 continuance (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 jingling 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 
approached, 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 repeatedly, and fierce sparks were 

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 not fallen in my way to be 
mentioned in my series of letters; -- but, as Mr. Aikin of 
Warrington has lately published 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.

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