×

Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

The Natures of John and William Bartram: Two Pioneering Naturalists, Father and Son, in the Wilderness of Eighteenth-Century America
     

The Natures of John and William Bartram: Two Pioneering Naturalists, Father and Son, in the Wilderness of Eighteenth-Century America

4.0 1
by Thomas P. Slaughter
 
"Slaughter has broken the confines of ordinary narrative history. . . . Books about the business of fatherhood and the trials of sonhood are very rare, and this is a fine one."
—Boston Globe

John Bartram was the greatest horticulturist and botanist of eighteenth-century America, a farmer-philosopher who won the patronage of King George III and Benjamin

Overview

"Slaughter has broken the confines of ordinary narrative history. . . . Books about the business of fatherhood and the trials of sonhood are very rare, and this is a fine one."
—Boston Globe

John Bartram was the greatest horticulturist and botanist of eighteenth-century America, a farmer-philosopher who won the patronage of King George III and Benjamin Franklin. His son William was a pioneering naturalist who documented his travels through the Florida wilderness in prose and drawings that inspired a generation of Romantic poets. In telling their stories, Thomas Slaughter creates a complex and compelling dual biography that is also a history of early American attitudes toward nature.

As he follows the Bartrams through their respective careers—and through the tenderness and disappointment of the father-son relationship—Slaughter examines the ways in which each viewed the natural world: as a resource to be exploited, as evidence of divine providence, as a temple in which all life was interconnected and sacred. The Natures of John and William Bartram is a major work of natural and human history—beautifully written, psychologically insightful, and full of provocative ideas concerning the place of nature in the imagination of Americans, past and present.

"A fascinating page-turner that should not be missed. "
—Michael Kammen, Cornell University

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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. (Oct.)
Library Journal
In this biography, which he prefers to call a "story," Rutgers historian Slaughter (Bloody Dawn, Oxford Univ., 1994, and editor of William Bartram: Travels and Other Writings, Classic Returns, LJ 5/15/96), explores the lives and careers of Pennsylvania Quakers John Bartram and his son William. John (1699-1777), a farmer and self-taught botanist who shipped native American plants to contacts in Europe, was ultimately responsible for a quarter of such plants introduced from the New World in colonial times. William (1739-1823) struggled and failed to make his way in the world of commerce but finally found a patron who sponsored his travels in the then-wilderness from North Carolina south to Florida. There he used the skills he gained from trips with his father to explore, botanize, and describe the natural wonders he found, information later published as his Travels. While the writings of both men remain in print today, few if any complete biographies are available, so this fills a gap in early American natural history. The book also succeeds as a penetrating look at father-son relationships of the period. The lack of extensive background and context may leave readers unfamiliar with the milieu a bit at sea, but this is amply compensated for by the rich psychological insights Slaughter brings to his account of the Bartrams' lives. Recommended for academic and comprehensive public libraries.Beth Clewis Crim, Prince William P.L., Va.
Kirkus Reviews
A fine exploration of the history of natural history, focusing on the Bartrams of Pennsylvania, father and son.

Historian Slaughter (Rutgers Univ.; Bloody Dawn, 1991) takes as his subjects two men whose contributions to the growth of American natural science are inestimable. They could not have been less alike, Slaughter notes. John (16991777), "the first native-born American to devote his entire life to the study of nature," was the eminently practical and business-like scientist, given to taxonomic exactitude and rigorous description; it was he, Slaughter relates, who first identified the Venus flytrap, noting its characteristics with almost prurient attention. He courted public recognition, and regularly issued opinions on matters of the day, especially the "Indian problem" ("they skip from tree to tree like monkeys," John wrote) and the education of slaves (which he opposed). For all his faults, Slaughter notes, John Bartram was responsible for describing hundreds of species of plants and animals, fully "one quarter of all the plants identified and sent to Europe during the colonial period." Perhaps in rebellion against his tight-laced father, William (17391823), a retiring man who repeatedly failed at business, tended toward a poetic, dramatic view of nature—-and Slaughter maintains that William's famous book, The Travels, is somewhat untrustworthy as a result. Yet William's homespun, slightly naive view of nature is the one that carried the day over his father's more rigorous approach. Slaughter persuasively argues that Henry David Thoreau, long thought to be sui generis, should instead be viewed as an heir of William Bartram's, and he notes the influence William had on the English Romantics, especially Coleridge. Slaughter suggests as well that to William can be traced the entire tradition of homegrown writing about natural history, as practiced today by the likes of Barry Lopez and Terry Tempest Williams.

An invigorating, accessible contribution to the study of early American science.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679430452
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/24/1996
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
6.69(w) x 9.60(h) x 1.23(d)

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

The Natures of John and William Bartram: Two Pioneering Naturalists, Father and Son, in the Wilderness of Eighteenth-Century America 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
efm More than 1 year ago
Good review of their lives and the colonial period in and around Philadelphia.