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The Natures of John and William Bartram Hardcover – September 24, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

John Bartram (1699-1777), "the first native-born American to devote his entire life to the study of nature," was an eminently practical man, a scientist devoted to the rigorous description of living things. Among his subjects was the Venus flytrap, along with hundreds of species of plants and animals, fully "one quarter of all the plants identified and sent to Europe during the colonial period." His son William (1739-1823) was, by contrast, something of a dreamer, and far less methodical a scientist than was his father. Yet his lyrical Travels, an account of specimen-collecting in the Deep South, is read today, while John Bartram's work is not. Thomas Slaughter examines their lives, noting the influence both men had on Henry David Thoreau and the English Romantics, especially Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth.

From Publishers Weekly

Pioneer American naturalists John Bartram (1699-1777) and his son William (1739-1823) emerge as precursors of Thoreau, Emerson and modern environmentalism in this intense, beautifully written dual portrait. Both men were eccentric individualists. John, Royal Botanist to King George III for the North American colonies, was a dissenting Pennsylvania Quaker disowned by his Friends group because he drew parallels between Confucius and Jesus and rejected Christ's divinity. Nature artist/botanist William, a lifelong depressive unable to fulfill his father's expectations, fled from creditors, failed business ventures and a lone, unconsummated love affair to devote himself entirely to nature. Travels, his classic account of his expedition through the South in 1773-1777, inspired the poetry of Coleridge and Wordsworth. This father-son relationship mingled love and hate. Whereas John despised Native Americans (Indians killed his father), William revered their art, religion, government. And unlike John, an ambitious explorer in the service of empire, William turned to unspoiled nature seeking redemption, believing that humans share emotions and intellect on a continuum with other animals. Rutgers historian Slaughter uses the Bartrams' journals and letters to fashion a stunning meditation on how we reconstruct the natural world. Illustrated with William's impassioned, precise drawings of animals and plants.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (September 24, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679430458
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679430452
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #757,034 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By rblasco@umd5.umd.edu on May 21, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Many years ago I read "The Travels of William Bartram" for a seminar course in American Literature. Recently I read "Cold Mountain" in which the main character has discovered Bartram's "Travels" and peripatetically dips into it to pass the time and sharpen his ability to observe nature. Now we have this "Natures" book which details what is known about the Bartrams--father and son. I found Mr. Slaughter's synthesis and presentation of primary sources a model of good scholarship. Perhaps it is just my way, but I found reading about the Bartrams as interesting as so many people found Pamela Harriman. I attribute this to the author's knowledge and perception of them and his ability to bring them alive on the page. I read this book in a library copy, but I just bought my own copy because I know I will want to slip into the 18th century with the Bartrams again.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Big fan of the original plant hunters, and have been collecting all of the books I can find on them for further information and drawings.
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1 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 17, 2001
Format: Paperback
One wonders if in his collection of seeds and specimens maybe William may have been spreading some.
If this is a biography, it is genealogically lacking for the researcher. Ann Bartram, daughter of John, wife of George Bartram, and sister of William did not die in the same year as her father, as quoted in the book. She died much later. She is on the 1790 Philadelphia County Pennsylvania tax list. Is listed as being ill in the early eighteen hundreds, according to the Wright papers, and her son George Bartram, Jr. is the executor of her estate ca. 1824.
Other than this, it is very good reading and Thomas's revelations of the difference and likeness of this father and son seem typical. Since I am not a word for word reader, I am sure that when I pick it up again, I will find more wonderful surprises
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