I arrived at Selborne yesterday morning just as the last of the mist cleared, making way for a clear warm sky which was to preside over the warmest day of the year to date. Selborne common was deserted by humans but with so little leaf cover the jays shy flight could not escape my eyes. I also got a good look at a lesser spotted woodpecker in flight and a glimpse of one of its green cousins, which made its presence known in typically noisy fashion. And had a close encounter with a truculent great tit which scolded me from the tip of an overhanging branch!
The first letter I read was dated the 30th March 1771 and consisted almost entirely of a tirade against various agricultural pests. From it I conclude that White wrote at at a time when he was busy with his garden and thus had what he called ‘noxious insects’ much in mind . He was particularly harsh about the harvest bug, given the taxonomic name Acarus by Linnaeus just a few decades before, which bites everything with warm blood and soft skin every late summer. White’s impassioned plea for further research into the lifestyles of creatures that bite people and damage crops was based more on hostility than curiosity. Those who think White was some romantic rural sentimentalist forget he was a devoted gardener as much out of need as love and might be surprised by his pragmatism as expresssed in that letter.
‘ A knowledge of the properties,economy,propogation, and in short the life and conversation of these animals, is a necessary step to lead us to some method of preventing their depredations.’