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Artist, writer, botanist, gardener, naturalist, intrepid wilderness explorer, and self-styled "philosophical pilgrim," William Bartram was an extraordinary figure in eighteenth-century American life. The first American to devote himself to what we would now call the environment, Bartram was the most significant American writer before Thoreau and a nature artist who rivals Audubon. He was also a pioneering ethnographer whose works are a crucial source for the study of the Indian cultures of southeastern America. The Library of America presents the first collection of his writings and the largest gathering of his remarkable drawings ever published.

Long recognized as an American classic, Bartram's Travels Through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida (1791) recounts his journeys through the wilderness from 1773 to 1776 in prose famous for its celebratory intensity and lyrical profusion. In the forests, rivers, swamps, and savannahs of the South, Bartram collected botanical specimens and made wildlife drawings, observing the natural abundance around him with a vision shaped by both science and Quaker spirituality. His great descriptive passages reveal him as a poet of the landscape, finding sublime vistas in every shift of light and weather. Whether watching a roaring alligator emerging from a lake, spending the night on an uninhabited island, exuberantly cataloguing the flora of the wilderness, or enjoying the hospitality of Indian tribes, Bartram presents a moving, detailed vision of many living in harmony with nature. Thoreau, Emerson, Cooper, Chateaubriand, Coleridge (in "Kubla Khan"), and Wordsworth drew extensively on the lush imagery of the Travels, which was the most influential pieces of American nature writing before Walden.

Also included in the volume is the sparer and more factual original report of Bartram's Southern travels that he sent to his English patron, John Fothergill, as well as a comprehensive collection of his scientific and ethnographic papers. Especially fascinating is his sympathetic and vividly detailed Observations on the Creek and Cherokee Indians, long unavailable.

A special feature of this edition is a rich selection of Bartram's drawings, which share with the Travels a capacity for finding wonder in the simplest manifestations of nature. Many of the drawings are privately owned and had been seen previously by only a handful of collectors. Some of the most beautiful are produced in full color. Extensive notes, a glossary of botanical terms, a newly researched chronology of Bartram's life, a map tracing the route of his travels, and an index guide the reader.

LIBRARY OF AMERICA is an independent nonprofit cultural organization founded in 1979 to preserve our nation's literary heritage by publishing, and keeping permanently in print, America's best and most significant writing. The Library of America series includes more than 300 volumes to date, authoritative editions that average 1,000 pages in length, feature cloth covers, sewn bindings, and ribbon markers, and are printed on premium acid-free paper that will last for centuries.

Publication Date: 
March 1, 1996