In his biography of Gilbert White (1986), Richard Mabey suggested that the “greatest legacy” of The Natural History of Selborne was a “blending” of scientific responses to nature with emotional ones, including “respect” for living things and a sense of “kindredness” with them. The Natural History, Mabey added, also “helped pioneer that affectionate writing about place” and natural life which has become “part of the mainstream of English literature”. His dozen or more books – which include Flora Britannica (1996) and Nature Cure (2005) – have established Mabey himself as the most distinguished exponent of this “affectionate writing” and, alongside his late friend, Roger Deakin, the main inspiration for such younger writers as Mark Cocker and Robert Macfarlane. He has done more than anyone, perhaps, to ensure that “modern British nature writing”, as anthologies and publishers like to call it, remains in the mainstream of English literature. The word “blending” in Mabey’s tribute to White’s legacy needs stressing. For what characterizes the best nature writing is not an oscillation between two quite separate ways of responding to nature – scientific and emotional, drily objective and merely subjective. Mabey’s books are, instead, ways of presenting or rendering nature in which understanding, insight, mood, sensibility and appreciation are inseparably combined. The presentation, an artful blending of these ingredients, is doubtless a personal one, but not therefore idiosyncratic – no more than the depictions of nature found in, say, the landscapes of Turner. Or, more relevantly, in Albrecht Dürer’s “Large Piece of Turf”, a picture of “a clump of weeds” which Mabey, in his new book, Weeds, admires not least for its fusion of ecological insight and scientific accuracy with “reverence” and “a new humanistic attitude towards nature”.

more from David E. Cooper at the TLS here.