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JOHN JAMES AUDUBON (1785-1851)
JOHN JAMES AUDUBON (1785-1851)

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JOHN JAMES AUDUBON (1785-1851)

Autograph letter signed to Richard Harlan, St Augustine, Florida, 16-18 January 1832, 3 pages, 4to, integral address panel (light staining and discolouration, slight splitting along fold, seal tear).

A fine letter describing not only Audubon's observations during the early part of his tour in Florida, but also his intentions for the publication of The Birds of America. Though disappointed by the Florida countryside ('poor beyond any idea that can be given in a common letter'), Audubon reports his discovery of a new species of ibis, which he proposes to name 'Fantatus Fuscus', describes shells, '3 diferrent [sic] Species of Heaths', and other discoveries, and mentions his 'curious observation' of warblers, 'moving easterwards every warm day and returning every cold one'; and he sets out his plans to travel up the St John river aboard the US Navy schooner the Spark. Moving on from his immediate circumstances, Audubon discusses the prospects of governmental assistance for his work, including the possibility of Congress subscribing for 50 copies of The Birds of America: 'What do you think of such a plan and how could it be brought to bear on the hearts of the Backwoodsman or on the Arts of the Metropolitans?'. With this thought Audubon gives way to an almost lyrical outburst of joy at the increasing patronage in the United States of the Sciences in general and himself in particular - 'I am prouder of my country than ever ... should I live long enough to deserve her applause I shall die happy'.

Audubon's tone in this letter may not be quite as artless as it seems, since in a letter of 4 January 1832 to his wife he describes his correspondence from Florida with Harlan and others as 'Long accounts on my Peregrinations here abouts for Publication - and thou wilt see in the Papers more of my progress than through my letters I dare say'. His expedition to Florida, projected as 'my last Journey after Birds in North America', lasted from November 1831 until June 1832. Richard Harlan, a physician and naturalist of Philadelphia, had been a close friend and frequent correspondent of Audubon's since 1824; he was a subscriber to Birds of America.

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