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An Exquisite American Classic

I was just introduced to a book of 18th century travel and nature writings with exquisite illustrations … an American classic.  Sadly, our modern reprint goes unnoticed by potential admirers, no doubt due to its modest size and unadorned cloth cover.  I am referring to William Bartram’s Travels and Other Writings

William Bartram (1739 – 1823), the son of a Quaker farmer, became known for a four year exploration (1773-1777) of the Carolinas, Florida and Georgia during which he observed and recorded native flora and fauna with copious and detailed notes and drawings.  “In 1791, his journals were published as Travels. The book went into several foreign editions and today is regarded as an American natural history classic. The prestigious Library of America recently added Travels to its published library of the works of great American authors.” (bartramsgarden.org). It is this edition of Bartrams’ Travels that you can find in the library on the Staff Picks cart.

To give you a taste, here are some snippets of Bartram’s observations:

“At the request of Dr. Fothergill, of London, to search the Floridas, and the western parts of Carolina and Georgia, for the discovery of rare and useful productions of nature, chiefly in the vegetable kingdom; in April, 1773, I embarked for Charleston, South Carolina, on board the brigantine Charleston packet …” (p. 27)

“I did not approve of my intended habitation from these circumstances; and no sooner had I landed and moored my canoe to the roots of the tree, I saw a huge crocodile rising up from the bottom close by me, who, when he perceived that I saw him, plunged down again under my vessel.  This determined me to be on my guard, and in time to provide against a troublesome night.” (p. 125, 126)
“Now I am come within the atmosphere of the Illicium groves, how reanimating is the fragrance!  Every part of this plant above ground possesses an aromatic scent, but the large stillated pericarpe is the most fragrant part of it, which continually perspires an oleagenous sweat, as warm and vivific as cloves or mace.” (p. 356)

If the writing is not your style, then just pick up the book for its delightful illustrations. There are a large number of black and white drawings and color engravings with detailed views of various plants and animals.  One might immediately think of Audubon prints, but some of Bartram’s illustrations have a more personal tone expressed through the choice of details and compositions.

I hope you enjoy this little gem as much as I did.  Look for it on the Staff Picks cart upstairs under the stained glass dome. 

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