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Page:Ornithological biography, or an account of the habits of the birds of the United States of America, volume 1.djvu/550

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plated Nature as she really is, not as she is represented in books; they sought her in her sanctuaries. The shore, the mountain, and the forest were alternately their study, and there they drank the pure stream of knowledge at its fountain-head. The observations of such men, are the corner-stones of every attempt to discover the system of nature. Their writings will be consulted when our favourite theories shall have passed into oblivion. Ardently, therefore, do I hope, that M. Audubon will alternately become the historian and the painter of his favourite objects, that he will never be made a convert to any system, but instruct and delight us as a true and unprejudiced biographer of nature.

I am now to speak of M. Audubon more particularly as a painter. I shall, therefore, view the work before me as a specimen of the fine arts, and judge of it by those rules which constitute pictorial criticism. The size of the plates exceeds any thing of the kind I have ever seen or heard of; they are no less than 3 feet 3 inches long by 2 feet 2 inches broad. On this vast surface every bird is represented in its full dimensions. Large as is the paper, it is sometimes (as in the Male Wild Turkey, pl. I.) barely sufficient for the purpose. In other cases, it enables the painter to group his figures, in the most beautiful and varied attitudes, on the trees or plants they frequent. Some are feeding, others darting, pursuing, or capturing their prey; all have life and animation. The plants, fruits and flowers which enrich the scene are alone still. These latter, from their critical accuracy, are as valuable to the botanist as the birds are to the ornithologist.

Such is the general character of the work, but it is of a nature to demand a more particular notice. What I have said might, in a general way, be repeated of others. This, as I shall presently shew, is perfectly unique, both in its conception and execution. To explain this, I shall call the reader's attention to the following plates, or rather pictures.

Turtle-Doves of Carolina. (Plate 17.) It is quite impossible to treat this subject with greater truth or delicacy of conception, than it has here received. In a thicket of the beautiful Stuartia Malacodendron, (whose white blossoms are emblematic, like the dove, of chasteness and purity), a pair of turtles have built their nest. The female is sitting, and, their union being consummated, she is receiving the caresses of the male. Above is another pair; their love is in its infancy. The male, seated on the same branch with his intended partner, is eagerly pressing forwards to reach a "stolen kiss," but the