The New International Encyclopædia/Audubon, John James
AUDUBON, a̤′dụ-bon, John James (1780-1851). An American naturalist. He was born at Mandeville, in Louisiana, then a Spanish colony, on May 5, 1780, and died January 27, 1851. This date of his birth, however, is merely a tradition; and probably he was born some years before that. His father was a wealthy French naval officer, who owned estates in Santo Domingo; his mother, a Spanish Creole. His childhood and youth were spent in France, where he was educated, and where he was given instruction in drawing by the painter David. In 1798 he came to America and settled on a farm on the Perkiomen River, near Philadelphia. His father had acquired the property during the Revolutionary War, and now gave it to him. Here he lived ten years, collecting and sketching birds, and applying himself otherwise merely to field sports and social enjoyment. In 1808 he married Lucy Bakewell, the daughter of a neighbor, an Englishman, and at once migrated to the West. After passing ten years in a vain effort to establish himself in business in Kentucky and Louisiana, and finally losing all his property, he was reduced to supporting himself by drawing portraits, and even teaching dancing and fencing. This came about from his persistent inattention to business, which was constantly neglected, as he acknowledges in his autobiographic memoranda, for the sake of pursuing his studies and drawings in natural history, or merely for the pleasures of hunting, fishing, and wandering in the woods. No deepening of his difficulties could cure him of his heedlessness, or cause him to forego any opportunity to add to his knowledge or series of drawings of birds.
In 1824 his projects were forwarded by a visit to Philadelphia, where he first became known to the intellectual society of the country and his abilities were recognized. Two years more of painting, teaching, and study, aided by his wife, enabled him to go to England to try to carry out his long-cherished plan of publishing his drawings of birds in a complete series of life-sized colored figures. He interested a sufficient number of subscribers to enable him to begin in London, in 1827, the publication in folio parts, at two guineas each, of his Birds of America, which excelled anything of the sort then extant. About five were then issued annually until its completion, in 1838, in 87 parts, containing 435 plates, giving 1065 figures. A complete good copy (of which about 175 sets are supposed to be in
existence, 80 of which are in America) is now worth about $2000. No reading matter accompanied these plates, but this was prepared later, and published in Edinburgh, from 1831 to 1839, in five successive volumes, entitled Ornithological Biography, the technical part of which was prepared by William McGillivray. Several editions and reprints, with reduced drawings, were made subsequently, of which the most important was the octavo edition of 1844, entitled Birds of America. A complete account of these combined works, and of all Audubon's other ornithological writings, is given in the appendix to Elliott Coues's Birds of the Colorado Valley (Washington, 1898). The years from 1830 to 1842 were spent in almost incessant travel in all accessible parts of the United States and Canada in search of new materials, or else in Europe, attending to the publication and sale of his great work. In 1842, however, Audubon purchased an estate on the bank of the Hudson River, now included within the city of New York, where a beautiful home was established for himself and his sons, Victor and John Woodhouse, and their families. In 1843, Audubon made a fruitful journey to the upper Missouri River region, the results of which were included in the first octavo edition of his Birds of America (1844). Thenceforth he devoted his energies mainly to the preparation of a standard work on American mammals, for which his sons not only collected much material, but for which John drew half of the colored plates; while John Bachman contributed technical and other parts. It was published in New York as Audubon and Bachman's Quadrupeds of North America, the first volume dated 1846 and the last 1853-54.
Audubon failed rapidly after 1847, gradually lost the use of his mind, died in 1851, and was buried in Trinity Cemetery, New York, close to his home woods, which now form a beautiful district called Audubon Park. As a man he was endowed with a hardy and most attractive frame, a most winning disposition, and a brilliant, poetic mind, animated by untiring enthusiasm. He was not learned in science, nor an artist in any broad sense of the term; but his work has been a source of immense pleasure and inspiration.
The best and fullest biography of him is by his granddaughter, Maria R. Audubon, entitled Audubon and His Journals, with zoölogical and other notes by Elliott Coues (2 vols., New York, 1897). A previous Life of John James Audubon, the Naturalist (New York, 1869) was written by another relative, Lucy Audubon. Still earlier is Buchanan's Life and Adventures of J. J. Audubon (2d ed., New York, 1864), which contained many errors and was not approved by his family.