William Bartram

William Bartram

William Bartram (1739–1823) had not initially intended to follow in his father's footsteps, but after a series of financial and career setbacks he was commissioned to explore and document South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. His account was first published in a 1791 Philadelphia edition, quickly followed by a 1792 London edition. In addition to observations on plants, William Bartram also provides ample descriptions of birds, fish, and the natural landscape. He was fascinated by the Native Americans with whom he frequently interacted on his travels, some of whom called him “the flower hunter.” The book was popular, in part due to his engaging and romantic style: within the first several pages of the book he has recounted a storm at sea, a meal of bass (“a large and delicious fish”), and the appearance of the sea at night “when all the waters seem transmuted into liquid silver.”

Bartram’s training in botanical observation informs his writing, with routine documentation of the plants encountered and collected on his travels. He rhapsodizes on nature, and in particular on plants. One characteristic exclamation follows:

“What a beautiful display of vegetation is here before me! seemingly unlimited in extent and variety: how the dew-drops twinkle and play upon the sight, trembling on the tips of the lucid, green savanna, sparkling as the gem that flames on the turban of the eastern prince; see the pearly tears rolling off the buds of the expanding Granadilla; behold the azure fields of cerulean Ixea! what can equal the rich golden flowers of the Canna lutea, which ornament the banks of yon serpentine rivulet, meandering over the meadows; the almost endless varieties of the gay Phlox, that enamel the swelling green banks, associated with the purple Verbena corymbosa, Viola, pearly Gnaphalium, and silvery Perdicium? How fantastical looks the libertine Clitoria, mantling the shrubs, on the vistas skirting the groves! My morning excursion finished, I returned to my camp, breakfasted, then went on board my boat, gently descended the noble river, and passed by several openings of extensive plains and meadows, environing the east lake, charming beyond compare.”


Braund, Kathryn E. Holland, and Charlotte M. Porter, eds. Fields of Vision: Essays on the Travels of William Bartram. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2010.

Global Plants. “William Bartram (1739–1823)." http://plants.jstor.org/person/bm000362702?s=t (accessed December 3, 2013).

Meyers, Amy R. W. Knowing Nature: Art and Science in Philadelphia, 1740–1840. With the assistance of Lisa L. Ford. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011.

Slaughter, T. P. "The Nature of William Bartram." Pennsylvania History 62, no. 4 (1975): 429–51.




 
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