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ORNITHOLOGICAL BIOGRAPHY ***




Produced by Rachael Schultz, Thierry Alberto, Melissa
McDaniel and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at
http://www.pgdp.net (This file was produced from images
generously made available by The Internet Archive/American
Libraries.)







Transcriber's Note:

Inconsistent hyphenation and spelling in the original document have
been preserved. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

Italic text is denoted by _underscores_.

The following inconsistencies were noted and retained:

fly-catcher and flycatcher
bottom lands and bottom-lands
Kestrel and Kestril
Chicasaw and Chickasaw
Redwings and Red-wings
Black-and-yellow Warbler and Black and Yellow Warbler
Chuckwill's Widow and Chuck-Will's Widow
Columbian Jay and Columbia Jay
Shawaney and Shawanee
Falco Haliaetos, Haliäetos, Haliaetus and Haliaëtus
Pont Chartrain and Pontchartrain
Genessee and Gennessee
Musquito and moschetto
Skuylkill and Schuylkil

The following are possible errors, but retained:
Massachusets
napsack
pease
pannel
scissars
"flat and juicy" should possibly be "fat and juicy"
"wet cloths" should possibly be "wet clothes"
Gelseminum should possibly be Gelsemium
Psittaccus should possibly be Psittacus
Gadwal Duck should possibly be Gadwall Duck
Anona should possibly be Annona
The plate number of the Adult Female Great Horned Owl should
possibly be LXI.

Several of the words in the sections in French are unaccented where
modern French uses accents. They have been left as printed.




ORNITHOLOGICAL BIOGRAPHY.




ORNITHOLOGICAL BIOGRAPHY,
OR AN ACCOUNT OF THE HABITS OF THE
BIRDS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA;
ACCOMPANIED BY DESCRIPTIONS OF THE OBJECTS REPRESENTED
IN THE WORK ENTITLED
THE BIRDS OF AMERICA,
AND INTERSPERSED WITH DELINEATIONS OF AMERICAN
SCENERY AND MANNERS.

BY JOHN JAMES AUDUBON, F.R.SS.L.& E.

FELLOW OF THE LINNEAN AND ZOOLOGICAL SOCIETIES OF LONDON; MEMBER
OF THE LYCEUM AND LINNEAN SOCIETY OF NEW YORK, OF THE NATURAL HISTORY
SOCIETY OF PARIS, THE WERNERIAN NATURAL HISTORY SOCIETY OF EDINBURGH;
HONORARY MEMBER OF THE SOCIETY OF NATURAL HISTORY OF MANCHESTER, AND
OF THE SCOTTISH ACADEMY OF PAINTING, ARCHITECTURE, AND SCULPTURE, &C.

EDINBURGH:

ADAM BLACK, 55. NORTH BRIDGE, EDINBURGH;

R. HAVELL JUN., ENGRAVER, 77. OXFORD STREET, AND LONGMAN, REES, BROWN,
& GREEN, LONDON; GEORGE SMITH, TITHEBARR STREET, LIVERPOOL; T. SOWLER,
MANCHESTER; MRS ROBINSON, LEEDS; E. CHARNLEY, NEWCASTLE; POOL & BOOTH,
CHESTER; AND BEILBY, KNOTT, & BEILBY, BIRMINGHAM.

MDCCCXXXI.




NEILL & CO. PRINTERS,
Old Fishmarket, Edinburgh.




INTRODUCTORY ADDRESS.


KIND READER,—Should you derive from the perusal of the following pages,
which I have written with no other wish than that of procuring one
favourable thought from you, a portion of the pleasure which I have felt
in collecting the materials for their composition, my gratification will
be ample, and the compensation for all my labours will be more than,
perhaps, I have a right to expect from an individual to whom I am as
yet unknown, and to whom I must therefore, in the very outset, present
some account of my life, and of the motives which have influenced me in
thus bringing you into contact with an American Woodsman.

* * * * *

I received life and light in the New World. When I had hardly yet
learned to walk, and to articulate those first words always so endearing
to parents, the productions of Nature that lay spread all around,
were constantly pointed out to me. They soon became my playmates; and
before my ideas were sufficiently formed to enable me to estimate the
difference between the azure tints of the sky, and the emerald hue of
the bright foliage, I felt that an intimacy with them, not consisting
of friendship merely, but bordering on phrenzy, must accompany my steps
through life;—and now, more than ever, am I persuaded of the power of
those early impressions. They laid such hold upon me, that, when removed
from the woods, the prairies, and the brooks, or shut up from the view of
the wide Atlantic, I experienced none of those pleasures most congenial
to my mind. None but aërial companions suited my fancy. No roof seemed
so secure to me as that formed of the dense foliage under which the
feathered tribes were seen to resort, or the caves and fissures of the
massy rocks to which the dark-winged Cormorant and the Curlew retired to
rest, or to protect themselves from the fury of the tempest. My father
generally accompanied my steps, procured birds and flowers for me with
great eagerness,—pointed out the elegant movements of the former, the
beauty and softness of their plumage, the manifestations of their pleasure
or sense of danger,—and the always perfect forms and splendid attire of
the latter. My valued preceptor would then speak of the departure and
return of birds with the seasons, would describe their haunts, and, more
wonderful than all, their change of livery; thus exciting me to study
them, and to raise my mind toward their great Creator.

A vivid pleasure shone upon those days of my early youth, attended with a
calmness of feeling, that seldom failed to rivet my attention for hours,
whilst I gazed in ecstacy upon the pearly and shining eggs, as they lay
imbedded in the softest down, or among dried leaves and twigs, or were
exposed upon the burning sand or weather-beaten rock of our Atlantic
shores. I was taught to look upon them as flowers yet in the bud. I
watched their opening, to see how Nature had provided each different
species with eyes, either open at birth, or closed for some time after;
to trace the slow progress of the young birds toward perfection, or
admire the celerity with which some of them, while yet unfledged, removed
themselves from danger to security.

I grew up, and my wishes grew with my form. These wishes, kind reader,
were for the entire possession of all that I saw. I was fervently desirous
of becoming acquainted with nature. For many years, however, I was sadly
disappointed, and for ever, doubtless, must I have desires that cannot
be gratified. The moment a bird was dead, however beautiful it had been
when in life, the pleasure arising from the possession of it became
blunted; and although the greatest cares were bestowed on endeavours to
preserve the appearance of nature, I looked upon its vesture as more than
sullied, as requiring constant attention and repeated mendings, while,
after all, it could no longer be said to be fresh from the hands of its
Maker. I wished to possess all the productions of nature, but I wished
life with them. This was impossible. Then what was to be done? I turned
to my father, and made known to him my disappointment and anxiety. He
produced a book of _Illustrations_. A new life ran in my veins. I turned
over the leaves with avidity; and although what I saw was not what I
longed for, it gave me a desire to copy nature. To Nature I went, and
tried to imitate her, as in the days of my childhood I had tried to raise
myself from the ground and stand erect, before nature had imparted the
vigour, necessary for the success of such an undertaking.

How sorely disappointed did I feel for many years, when I saw that my
productions were worse than those which I ventured (perhaps in silence)
to regard as bad, in the book given me by my father! My pencil gave
birth to a family of cripples. So maimed were most of them, that they
resembled the mangled corpses on a field of battle, compared with the
integrity of living men. These difficulties and disappointments irritated
me, but never for a moment destroyed the desire of obtaining perfect
representations of nature. The worse my drawings were, the more beautiful
did I see the originals. To have been torn from the study would have
been as death to me. My time was entirely occupied with it. I produced
hundreds of these rude sketches annually; and for a long time, at my
request, they made bonfires on the anniversaries of my birth-day.

Patiently, and with industry, did I apply myself to study, for, although
I felt the impossibility of giving life to my productions, I did not
abandon the idea of representing nature. Many plans were successively
adopted, many masters guided my hand. At the age of seventeen, when I
returned from France, whither I had gone to receive the rudiments of my
education, my drawings had assumed a form. DAVID had guided my hand in
tracing objects of large size. Eyes and noses belonging to giants, and
heads of horses represented in ancient sculpture, were my models. These,
although fit subjects for men intent on pursuing the higher branches of
the art, were immediately laid aside by me. I returned to the woods of
the New World with fresh ardour, and commenced a collection of drawings,
which I henceforth continued, and which is now publishing, under the
title of "THE BIRDS OF AMERICA."

To these Illustrations I shall often refer you, good-natured reader,
in the sequel, that you may judge of them yourself. Should you discover
any merit in them, happy would the expression of your approbation render
me, for I should feel that I had not spent my life in vain. You can best
ascertain the truth of these delineations. I am persuaded that you love
nature—that you admire and study her. Every individual, possessed of
a sound heart, listens with delight to the love-notes of the woodland
warblers. He never casts a glance upon their lovely forms without
proposing to himself questions respecting them; nor does he look on the
trees which they frequent, or the flowers over which they glide, without
admiring their grandeur, or delighting in their sweet odours or their
brilliant tints.

* * * * *

In Pennsylvania, a beautiful State, almost central on the line of our
Atlantic shores, my father, in his desire of proving my friend through
life, gave me what Americans call a beautiful "plantation," refreshed
during the summer heats by the waters of the Schuylkil River, and
traversed by a creek named Perkioming. Its fine woodlands, its extensive
fields, its hills crowned with evergreens, offered many subjects to my
pencil. It was there that I commenced my simple and agreeable studies,
with as little concern about the future as if the world had been made
for me. My rambles invariably commenced at break of day; and to return
wet with dew, and bearing a feathered prize, was, and ever will be, the
highest enjoyment for which I have been fitted.

Yet think not, reader, that the enthusiasm which I felt for my favourite
pursuits was a barrier opposed to the admission of gentler sentiments.
Nature, which had turned my young mind toward the bird and the flower,
soon proved her influence upon my heart. Be it enough to say, that the
object of my passion has long since blessed me with the name of husband.
And now let us return, for who cares to listen to the love-tale of a
naturalist, whose feelings may be supposed to be as light as the feathers
which he delineates!

For a period of nearly twenty years, my life was a succession of
vicissitudes. I tried various branches of commerce, but they all proved
unprofitable, doubtless because my whole mind was ever filled with my
passion for rambling and admiring those objects of nature from which
alone I received the purest gratification. I had to struggle against
the will of all who at that period called themselves my friends. I must
here, however, except my wife and children. The remarks of my other
friends irritated me beyond endurance, and, breaking through all bonds,
I gave myself entirely up to my pursuits. Any one unacquainted with the
extraordinary desire which I then felt of seeing and judging for myself,
would doubtless have pronounced me callous to every sense of duty, and
regardless of every interest. I undertook long and tedious journeys,
ransacked the woods, the lakes, the prairies, and the shores of the
Atlantic. Years were spent away from my family. Yet, reader, will you
believe it, I had no other object in view, than simply to enjoy the sight
of nature. Never for a moment did I conceive the hope of becoming in
any degree useful to my kind, until I accidentally formed acquaintance
with the PRINCE of MUSIGNANO at Philadelphia, to which place I went,
with the view of proceeding eastward along the coast.

I reached Philadelphia on the 5th April 1824, just as the sun was sinking
beneath the horizon. Excepting the good Dr MEASE, who had visited me in
my younger days, I had scarcely a friend in the city; for I was then
unacquainted with HARLAN, WETHERELL, MACMURTRIE, LESUEUR, or SULLY. I
called on him, and showed him some of my drawings. He presented me to
the celebrated CHARLES LUCIAN BONAPARTE, who in his turn introduced me
to the Natural History Society of Philadelphia. But the patronage which
I so much needed, I soon found myself compelled to seek elsewhere. I
left Philadelphia, and visited New York, where I was received with a
kindness well suited to elevate my depressed spirits; and afterwards,
ascending that noble stream the Hudson, glided over our broad lakes, to
seek the wildest solitudes of the pathless and gloomy forests.

It was in these forests that, for the first time, I communed with myself
as to the possible event of my visiting Europe again; and I began
to fancy my work under the multiplying efforts of the graver. Happy
days, and nights of pleasing dreams! I read over the catalogue of my
collection, and thought how it might be possible for an unconnected and
unaided individual like myself to accomplish the grand scheme. Chance,
and chance alone, had divided my drawings into three different classes,
depending upon the magnitude of the objects which they represented; and,
although I did not at that time possess all the specimens necessary, I
arranged them as well as I could into parcels of five plates, each of
which now forms a Number of my Illustrations. I improved the whole as
much as was in my power; and as I daily retired farther from the haunts
of man, determined to leave nothing undone, which my labour, my time,
or my purse, could accomplish.

Eighteen months elapsed. I returned to my family, then in Louisiana,
explored every portion of the vast woods around, and at last sailed
towards the Old World. But before we visit the shores of hospitable
England, I have the wish, good-natured reader, to give you some idea of
my mode of executing the original drawings, from which the Illustrations
have been taken; and I sincerely hope that the perusal of these lines
may excite in you a desire minutely to examine them.

Merely to say, that each object of my Illustrations is of the size of
nature, were too vague—for to many it might only convey the idea that
they are so, more or less, according as the eye of the delineator may
have been more or less correct in measurement simply obtained through that
medium; and of avoiding error in this respect I am particularly desirous.
Not only is every object, as a whole, of the natural size, but also
every portion of each object. The compass aided me in its delineation,
regulated and corrected each part, even to the very foreshortening which
now and then may be seen in the figures. The bill, the feet, the legs,
the claws, the very feathers as they project one beyond another, have
been accurately measured. The birds, almost all of them, were killed
by myself, after I had examined their motions and habits, as much as
the case admitted, and were regularly drawn on or near the spot where
I procured them. The positions may, perhaps, in some instances, appear
_outré_; but such supposed exaggerations can afford subject of criticism
only to persons unacquainted with the feathered tribes; for, believe me,
nothing can be more transient or varied than the attitudes or positions
of birds. The Heron, when warming itself in the sun, will sometimes
drop its wings several inches, as if they were dislocated; the Swan may
often be seen floating with one foot extended from the body; and some
Pigeons, you well know, turn quite over, when playing in the air. The
flowers, plants, or portions of trees which are attached to the principal
objects, have been chosen from amongst those in the vicinity of which
the birds were found, and are not, as some persons have thought, the
trees or plants upon which they always feed or perch.

An accident which happened to two hundred of my original drawings,
nearly put a stop to my researches in ornithology. I shall relate it,
merely to show you how far enthusiasm—for by no other name can I call
the persevering zeal with which I laboured—may enable the observer of
nature to surmount the most disheartening obstacles. I left the village
of Henderson, in Kentucky, situated on the bank of the Ohio, where I
resided for several years, to proceed to Philadelphia on business. I
looked to all my drawings before my departure, placed them carefully in
a wooden box, and gave them in charge to a relative, with injunctions
to see that no injury should happen to them. My absence was of several
months; and when I returned, after having enjoyed the pleasures of home
for a few days, I inquired after my box, and what I was pleased to call
my treasure. The box was produced, and opened;—but, reader, feel for
me—a pair of Norway rats had taken possession of the whole, and had
reared a young family amongst the gnawed bits of paper, which, but a few
months before, represented nearly a thousand inhabitants of the air! The
burning heat which instantly rushed through my brain was too great to
be endured, without affecting the whole of my nervous system. I slept
not for several nights, and the days passed like days of oblivion,—until
the animal powers being recalled into action, through the strength of my
constitution, I took up my gun, my note-book, and my pencils, and went
forth to the woods as gaily as if nothing had happened. I felt pleased
that I might now make much better drawings than before, and, ere a period
not exceeding three years had elapsed, I had my portfolio filled again.

America being my country, and the principal pleasures of my life having
been obtained there, I prepared to leave it with deep sorrow, after
in vain trying to publish my Illustrations in the United States. In
Philadelphia, WILSON's principal engraver, amongst others, gave it as
his opinion to my friends, that my drawings could never be engraved. In
New York, other difficulties presented themselves, which determined me
to carry my collections to Europe.

As I approached the coast of England, and for the first time beheld
her fertile shores, the despondency of my spirits became very great. I
knew not an individual in the country; and, although I was the bearer
of letters from American friends, and statesmen of great eminence, my
situation appeared precarious in the extreme. I imagined that every
individual whom I was about to meet, might be possessed of talents
superior to those of any on our side of the Atlantic! Indeed, as I for
the first time walked on the streets of Liverpool, my heart nearly failed
me, for not a glance of sympathy did I meet in my wanderings, for two
days. To the woods I could not betake myself, for there were none near.

But how soon did all around me assume a different aspect! How fresh is
the recollection of the change! The very first letter which I tendered
procured me a world of friends. The RATHBONES, the ROSCOES, the TRAILLS,
the CHORLEYS, the MELLIES, and others, took me by the hand; and so kind
and beneficent, nay, so generously kind, have they all been towards
me, that I can never cancel the obligation. My drawings were publicly
exhibited, and publicly praised. Joy swelled my heart. The first
difficulty was surmounted. Honours, which, on application being made
through my friends, Philadelphia had refused, Liverpool freely accorded.

I left that emporium of commerce, with many a passport, bent upon visiting
fair Edina, for I longed to see the men and the scenes immortalized
by the fervid strains of BURNS, and the glowing eloquence of SCOTT and
WILSON. I arrived at Manchester; and here, too, the GREGGS, the LLOYDS,
the SERGEANTS, the HOLMES, the BLACKWALLS, the BENTLEYS, and many others,
rendered my visit as pleasing as it was profitable to me. Friends pressed
me to accompany them to the pretty villages of Bakewell, Mattlock, and
Buxton. It was a jaunt of pure enjoyment. Nature was then at her best,
at least such was the feeling of our whole party; the summer was full
of promise.

My journey to Scotland was performed along the north-western shores of
England. I passed in view of Lancaster Castle, and through Carlisle. I had
by this time much altered my ideas of this Island and its inhabitants.
I found her churches all hung with her glories, and her people all
alive to the kindest hospitality. I saw Edinburgh, and was struck with
the natural pictorial elegance of her site; and I soon found that her
inhabitants were as urbane as those whom I had left behind me. The
principal scientific and literary characters of the ancient metropolis
of Scotland received me as a brother. It is impossible for me to mention
all the individuals from whom I received the kindest attention; but
gratitude forbids my omitting the names of Professors JAMESON, GRAHAM,
RUSSEL, WILSON, BROWN, and MONRO, Sir WALTER SCOTT, Captain HALL, Dr
BREWSTER, Dr GREVILLE, Mr JAMES WILSON, Mr NEILL, Mr HAY, Mr COMBE,
Mr HAMILTON, the WITHAMS, the LIZARSES, the SYMES, and the NICHOLSONS.
The Royal Society, the Wernerian Natural History Society, the Society
of Scottish Antiquaries, the Society of Useful Arts, and the Scottish
Academy of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, spontaneously and
gratuitously enrolled me among their members.

In this capital commenced the publication of my ILLUSTRATIONS, and there
it might have been accomplished, had not unexpected difficulties come in
the way. My engraver, Mr W. H. LIZARS, advised me to seek an artist in
London. There, after many fruitless inquiries, I became acquainted with
Mr ROBERT HAVELL junior, who has ever since continued to be employed by
me, and who, I am happy in saying, has given general satisfaction to my
patrons.

Four years have passed. One volume of my Illustrations, containing one
hundred plates, is before the public. You may easily see, good-natured
reader, that to Britain I owe nearly all my success. She has furnished
the artists through whom my labours were to be presented to the world;
she has granted me the highest patronage and honours;—in a word, she
has thus far supported the prosecution of my Illustrations. To Britain,
therefore, I shall ever be grateful.

Two objections have been made to the mode in which my work is published:
the great size of the paper upon which the representations are offered
to you, and the length of time necessary for their completion.

As to the size of the paper, which has been complained of by some, it
could not be avoided without giving up the desire of presenting to the
world those my favourite objects in nature, of the size which nature has
given to them. As one of the first ornithologists of the age, who kindly
reviewed a few numbers of the Plates, has spoken upon this subject in
a manner which I cannot here use, I refer you to his observations. The
name of SWAINSON is, doubtless, well known to you. Permit me also to lead
you, for a defence of my resolution in this matter, to one, who, being
the centre of zoological science, is well entitled to your deference in
a question relating to Ornithology. You will readily apprehend that I
allude to the great, the immortal CUVIER.

Secondly, As to the time necessary for finishing my Work, I have only
to observe, that it will be less than the period frequently given by
many persons to the maturation of certain wines placed in their cellars,
several years previous to the commencement of my work, and which will
not be considered capable of imparting their full relish until many
years after the conclusion of the "Birds of America."

Since I became acquainted with Mr ALEXANDER WILSON, the celebrated
author of the well-known and duly appreciated work on American Birds,
and subsequently with my excellent friend CHARLES LUCIAN BONAPARTE,
I have been aware of the keenness with which every student of Natural



Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 1 of 50)