Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/305

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301
PIONEERS OF SCIENCE IN AMERICA

John James Audubon

 

By Dr. C. HART MEHRIAM

U. S. BIOLOGICAL SURVEY

Of the naturalists of America no one stands out in more picturesque relief than Audubon, and no name is clearer than his to the hearts of the American people.

Born at an opportune time, Audubon undertook and accomplished one of the most gigantic tasks that has ever fallen to the lot of one man to perform. Although for years diverted from the path nature intended him to follow, and tortured by half-hearted attempts at a commercial life, against which his restive spirit rebelled, he finally, by the force of his own will, broke loose from his bondage and devoted the remainder of his days to the grand work that has made his memory immortal.

His principal contributions to science are his magnificent series of illustrated volumes on the birds and quadrupeds of North America, his Synopsis of Birds and the Journals of his expeditions to Labrador and to the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers.

The preparation and publication of his elephant folio atlases of life-size colored plates of birds, begun in 1827 and completed in 1838, with the accompanying volumes of text (the 'Ornithological Biography,' 1831-1839), was a colossal task. But no sooner was it accomplished than an equally sumptuous work on the mammals was undertaken, and, with the assistance of Bachman, likewise carried to a successful termination. For more than three quarters of a century the splendid paintings which adorn these works, and which for spirit and vigor are still unsurpassed, have been the admiration of the world.

In addition to his more pretentious works, Audubon wrote a number of minor articles and papers and left a series of Journals, since published by his granddaughter, Miss Maria B. Audubon. The Journals are full to overflowing with observations of value to the naturalist, and, along with the entertaining 'Episodes,' throw a flood of light on contemporary customs and events—and incidentally are by no means to be lost sight of by the historian.

In searching for material for his books, Audubon traveled thousands of miles afoot in various parts of the eastern states, from Maine to Louisiana; he also visited Texas, Florida and Canada, crossed the ocean a number of times, and conducted expeditions to far-away Labrador and the then remote Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers. When we remember the limited facilities for travel in his clay—the scarcity of railroads, steamboats and other conveniences—we are better prepared to appreciate the zeal, determination and energy necessary to accomplish his self-imposed task.