Selborne Revisited Part 2

During each visit I make observations and take notes and then over the next couple of weeks let thoughts percolate and do whatever research I can so that I can then write a thousand words or so of reflection. Here I simply post I few general impressions and ideas.

The week before last I visited a former colleague who has now retired to Totnes, where his family originated, and on a walk together he observed that there was a growing problem with the proliferation of memorial benches in coastal beauty spots. Where once there might have been one or two appropriately sited there were now so many that rather than being a boon for the weary traveller they were becoming a problem for the planning department. That state of affairs came to mind when I sat down upon one of the memorial seats in Gilbert White’s garden at the Wakes; the one situated under the century old tulip tree.

This seat was dedicated to the memory of the approprately named Arthur Weed Green, who had planted that tree and been head gardener for 40 years!

The entry I read on this visit was dated 22nd February 1770 and included White’s puzzled observation that fieldfares roost on the ground, unlike all their relatives- in his terminology congeners- such as  thrushes which roost high up in the trees. Whether this observation was accurate or not it does indicate that White was influenced more by the writings of John Ray than any of the popularisers of what came to be called Natural Theology. The latter tended towards a constricted notion of God’s providence- creatures were made as they were in immutable form by God at Creation- but White, following Ray, noticed that such a theory did not quite fit the facts because creatures such as fieldfares, which were nearly identical to birds of similar type, were not identical in their habits. Ray, via Augustine and the Cambridge Platonists, saw nature as something that changed over time and driven by an inner vital force. The classic watchmaker argument associated so much with William Paley and held up to scorn by some prominent contemporary atheists was not the position of Ray or White- God was more the master of the first watch makers guild and the guarantor of the regularity of time!

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