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The Natural History of Selborne

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Excerpts from the Book: The Natural History of Selborne by Rev. Gilbert White – published 1861

Spring is in the air and the weather is turning warmer so we start to do more things outdoors and observe the bird and wildlife around us.  The Natural History of Selborne is an endearing book containing a collection of letters and poems by the Rev. Gilbert White, with observations on various parts of nature, in particular the bird and wildlife.  Here is one of his letters to Thomas Pennant, Esq. written on September 9, 1767 regarding the local birdlife at his home in Selborne.

To Thomas Pennant, Esq. Letter XI, Selborne, September 9, 1767

The Osprey (Falco)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 a 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 ornamental 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 grossbeaks (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.

The CrossbillA crossbill (loxia curvirostra) was killed last year in this neighbourhood.  Our streams, which are small, and rise only at the end of the village, yield nothing but the bull’s head, or miller’s thumb (gobiusfluviatilis capitatus), the trout (trutta fluviatilis), the eel (anguilla), the lampern (lampatra parva 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 eat.

The young of the barn-owl are not easily raised, as they want a constant supply of fresh mice; whereas the young of the brown owl will eat indiscriminately all that is brought; snails, rats, kittens, puppies, magpies, and any kind of carrion or offal.

The house-martins have eggs still, and squab young.  The last swift I observed was about the 21st of August:The House Martin it was a straggler.

Redstarts, 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 20th of November.

At present, I know only two species of bats, the common vespertilio murinus, and the vespertilio auribus.

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A Book of North Wales


CONCERNING the purpose and scope of this little book I have but to repeat what I have said in the prefaces to my other works of the same nature—A Book of the West, A Book of Dartmoor, A Book of Brittany—that it is not intended as a Guide, but merely as an introduction to North Wales, for the use of intending visitors, that they may know something of the history of that delightful land they are about to see.

Welsh history is a puzzle to most Englishmen; accordingly I have made an attempt to simplify it sufficiently for the visitor to grasp its outlines. Without a knowledge of the history of a country in which one travels more than half its interest is lost.

I have to return my warmest thanks to kind friends who have helped me with information, notably the Rev. J. Fisher, B.D., of Cefn, S. Asaph; Mr. J. E. Griffith, of Bryn Dinas, Bangor; the Rev. E. Evans, of Llansadwrn; Mr. C. H. Jones, of the Public Library, Welshpool; Mr. A. Foulkes-Roberts, of Denbigh; Mr. D. R. Daniel, of Four Crosses, Chwilog; and Mr. R. Williams, of Celynog, New-town.  I am also much indebted to Mr. R. J. Lloyd Price, of Rhiwlas, for kindly allowing me to reproduce the portrait of Catherine of Berain in his possession; and to Mr. Prys-Jones, of Bryn-Tegid, Pontypridd, for sending me a photograph of the painting.  But, indeed, everywhere in Wales I have met with general kindness and hospitality; and if I have failed to interest readers in the country and people the fault is all mine.  It is a glorious country,  and its people delightful.


General characteristics—The Iberian race—Linguistic survivals—Brython and Goidel—Roman conquest—Irish occupation of Wales— Their expulsion by Cunedda—Saxon occupation of Britain—Causes of subjection of the Celtic races—The Celt in the Englishman of to-day—Divisions of Wales.

IT cannot be said that the Welsh have any very-marked external characteristics to distinguish them from the English.  But there is certainly among them a greater prevalence of dark hair and eyes, and they are smaller in build.  This is due to the Iberian blood flowing in the stock which occupied the mountain land from a time before history began, at least in these isles.  It is a stock so enduring, that although successive waves of conquest and migration have passed over the land, and there has been an immense infiltration of foreign blood, yet it asserts itself as one of predominant and indestructible vitality.

Moreover, although the language is Celtic, that is to say, the vocabulary is so, yet the grammar reveals the fact that it is an acquired tongue. It is a comparatively easy matter for a subjugated people to adopt the language of its masters, so far as to accept the words they employ, but it is another matter altogether to acquire their construction of sentences.  The primeval population belonged to what is called the Hamitic stock, represented by ancient Egyptian and modern Berber.  This people at a vastly remote period spread over all Western Europe, and it forms the subsoil of the French nation at the present day.

The constant relations that existed between the Hebrews and the Egyptians had the effect of carrying into the language of the former a number of Hamitic words.  Moreover, the Sons of Israel were brought into daily contact with races of the same stock on their confines in Gilead and Moab, and the consequence is that sundry words of this race are found in both Hebrew and Welsh.  This was noticed by the Welsh scholar Dr. John Davies, of Mallwyd, who in 1621 drew up a Welsh Grammar, and it is repeated by Thomas Richards in his Welsh-English Dictionary in 1753.  He says: “It hath been observed, that our Language hath not a great many Marks of the original Simplicity of the Hebrew, but that a vast Number of Words are found therein, that either exactly agree with, or may be very naturally derived from, that Mother-language of Mankind.”

The fact is that these words, common to both, belong radically to neither, but are borrowed from the tongue of the Hamitic people.  This original people, which for convenience we will call Iberian, migrated at some unknown period from Asia, and swept round Europe, whilst a second branch colonised the Nile basin and Northern Africa, and a third streamed east and occupied China and Japan.


The master idea in the religion of this people was the cult of ancestors, and the rude stone monuments, menhirs, cromlechs, and kistvaens they have left everywhere, where they have been, all refer to commemoration of the sacred dead. The obelisk in Egypt is the highly refined menhir, and the elaborate, ornamented tombs of the Nile valley are the expression of the same veneration for the dead, and belief in the after life connected with the tomb, that are revealed in the construction of the dolmen and kistvaen.


This same people occupied Ireland. It was a dusky, short-statured race, with long heads, and was mild and unwarlike in character.

Then came rushing from the East great hordes of fair-haired, round-headed men, with blue eyes.  Their original homes were perhaps the Alps, but more probably Siberia.  This new race was the Celt.  It was divided into two branches, the Goidels and the Brythons, and the Goidels came first.  Considerable difference as well as affinity exists between the dialects spoken by each.  Where a Brython or Britton would speak of his head as “pen,” the Goidel or Gael would call it “Ceann,”  pronouncing the c hard, as k. So “five” in Manx is “queig,” but in Welsh “pump.”   A like difference was found in Italy, where the Roman would name a man Quinctius (Fifth), but a Samnite would call him Pontius.

The Gael is now represented by the Irish, the Manx, and the Highlander: the Britton, so far as language goes, by the Welsh and Breton.  Where such names are found as Penmon in Anglesey, Pentire in Cornwall, Pen-y-gent in York-shire, there we know that the Britton lived long enough to give names to places.  But where we find Kenmare, Kentire, Kinnoul, there we know that the Gael was at home.

Library Updates 26th Oct 2010

Another pass on the library this month has unearthed some literary gems that were lost on dusty selves for close to a century or more.

The Library now includes 128,447 documents. Featured in todays updates are:

  • Chronicles of London Bridge – 1827
  • The Railway Shareholders Manual – 1847
  • Leaves from the Diary of an Army Surgeon – 1863
  • Inquisition Unmasked – Vol 2-1816
  • The Scientific Monthly – Nov 1916
  • Popular Science Monthly – 1902

For a full listing of todays updates click here.

Ultrapedia/Wikipedia Federated Search

19th July 2010 – Wikipedia Federated Search

We’re pleased to announce the introduction of Wikipedia federated searching to the Ultrapedia Library. What this means is that when you search the Ultrapedia Library for a given search term, the search results will also have an entry from Wikipedia at the top the the page.

Below are some example searches to help you get started and for you to try.

  • Tower Bridge London
  • Medieval Literature
  • Napoleon Bonaparte
  • Julius Caesar

Library Updates 12th June 2010

12th June 2010

European Historical Collections

We’ve been busy working behind the scenes for the last few months. We want to bring the cream of the library to the surface in a natural manner, this equates to hands on work by a human rather than a computer, spending time reviewing and grading the library documents. The first pass is to remove documents that slipped through our filtering system, so we have removed 472 documents. The total documents in the library now stands at 135,555.

This months popular documents include:

  • Our Planet Its Past and Future by William Denton in 1873
  • Scientific American Journal
  • View Music & Moods virtual video illustrations from John Keats, Samuel Daniels, Edgar Allan Poe, William Shakespeare
  • The Diplomacy of Revolution by William Henry Trescot

16th April 2010 Library Updates

1116 new documents were added to the Ultrapedia Library today.

For a full listing of todays updates click here


Featured Book – A Pictorial History of France

A Pictorial History of France


Topical books selected from todays updates include:

  • Ancient Armour and Weapons in Europe by John Hewitt in 1860
  • An Enquiry into the Scriptural Views of Slavery by Albert Barnes in 1857
  • A History of New York by Washington Irving in 1854
  • A Pictorial History of France by Samuel Griswold Goodrich in 1861 **Featured**
  • A Practical Guide to Climates and Weather… by Henry Francis Blanford in 1889
  • The Queens of England and Their Times by Francis Lancelott
  • The Voyages and Travels of Captain Ross… by John Ross and others in 1838

This brings the total documents in the Library to 136,458 with the total number of pages at 4,301,630 and the total number of Bookmarks now standing at 596,237.

28th March 2010 Library Updates

28th March 2010 Library Updates

With spring in the air and summer not far away we’ve selected a few titles below for your reading pleasure; coming from the 1066 new documents added to the Ultrapedia Library.

For a full listing of todays updates click here.

Topical books featured todays updates include:

  • A Serious Fall in the Value of Gold by William Stanley Jevons in 1863
  • A Synopsis of Popery by William Hogan in 1847
  • A System of Phrenology by George Combe in 1860
  • Animal Physiology by William Benjamin Carpenter in 1859
  • Annals of British Legislation in 1863
  • An Easter Offering for the Whigs by Henry Bathurst in 1842

This brings the total documents in the Library to 135,450 with the total number of pages at 4,305,982 and the total number of Bookmarks now standing at 592,999.

1st March 2010 Library Updates

1st March 2010 Library Updates

Today we added 7311 new documents to the Ultrapedia Library. Many are letters, lectures, journals, narratives and diaries from notable historical figures – they are a joy to read and explore. We hope you enjoy discovering them.

We also continue to clean up the Library and have removed a further 910 documents that had more than their fair share of recognition errors, leaving a crisper and more accurate representation of the original written work.

For a full listing of todays updates click here.

Also featured in todays updates are:

  • A General History of the County of Norfolk by John Chambers in 1829
  • A Handbook for Travellers in Gloucestershire by John Murray in 1872
  • A Painters Camp in the Highlands by Philip Gilbert Hamerton in 1862
  • An Excursion to the Mammoth Cave by Robert Davidson in 1840
  • After Prison – What? by Maud Ballington Booth in 1903
  • The Life and Public Services of General Andrew Jackson, Seventh President of the USA by John S Jenkins

This brings the total documents in the Library to 134,386 with the total number of pages at 4,266,725 and the total number of Bookmarks now standing at 590,045.