The Natures of John and William Bartram

Thomas Slaughter, Author
Thomas Slaughter, Author Alfred A. Knopf $27.5 (0p) ISBN 978-0-679-43045-2
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-679-78118-9
Hardcover - 978-0-517-26816-2
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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. (Oct.)
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