American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES (1785-1851). Born in Haiti and raised in France, John James Audubon became the world’s premier bird artist with the publication of The Birds of America (1827-1838). Audubon accompanied his life-size drawings with five volumes of text, the Ornithological Biography (1831-1839). In the first three of these volumes, Audubon varied his bird biographies by interspersing what he called “Delineations of American Scenery and Character.” These sketches, many of them maritime in character, sit firmly in the tradition of southwest humor but range widely in subject matter, moving from the floodwaters of the Mississippi valley to the Florida Keys to the wastes of Labrador. As in the sketches of Washington Irving* and Nathaniel Hawthorne,* the distinction between accurate journalism and fiction is frequently blurred. The sketches were collected and given separate publication by Francis Hobart Herrick in 1926.

As a science writer, Audubon’s maritime observations are equally interesting: his “Labrador Journal,” published posthumously by Maria R. Audubon in 1897, records the difficulties of pursuing science and art under shipboard conditions and imaginatively captures the sea-dependent culture of the Maritime Provinces of Canada.* A recent representative sampling of Audubon’s writings is Selected Journals and Other Writings, edited by Ben Forkner (1996). [See also KEY WEST LITERATURE]

R. D. Madison