From The Passenger Pigeon in Pennsylvania
By John C. French
John J. Audubon
John J. Audubon, author of “Birds of America,” has been termed a man of “mystery.” The date and place of his birth has been variously given, his parentage and antecedents, as well as his early life have been described at most as “shadowy.” Thanks to Prof. Francis H. Herrick of Western Reserve University, the gifted author of “The Home Life of Wild Birds,” all the doubt and mystery have been cleared away and set before the public in a substantial two volume biography, issued in 1917, entitled, “Audubon the Naturalist.” It appears that Audubon was the natural son of a wealthy Frenchman, and was born in Haiti, April 26, 1785. His mother was a French Creole girl known as Miss Rabin. At four years of age he was taken to France, with his little half sister Muguet, where both children were cordially received by the childless wife of the substantial Frenchman, and were later legally adopted by the couple. The boy studied art under the great master, J.L. David, in Paris, and returned to America in 1803. He settled in “Mill Grove,” on Perkiomen Creek, in Pennsylvania, and for a time resided at Lititz, Lancaster County. In 1806, he returned to France and for a short period served in the French Navy. In 1808 he married Miss Lucy Bakewell, of Philadelphia, daughter of a former employer. Then began his period of wanderings with his family, into the wild regions of the middle west, which were the inspiration of his later ornithological works. He engaged in many business enterprises, but much of his time was spent studying and sketching the birds. He was many times in desperate straits, and for a time gave dancing lessons in Mississippi. With the nucleus of his marvelous life portraits of birds he sailed for England on May 17, 1826, feeling that he would find a greater appreciation there. He was splendidly received in the British Isles, and in France, his work was eulogized in Paris by Cuvier. He returned to America in 1829. The ensuing years were spent in this country and abroad brining out his monumental work, the first volume of which appeared in 1831. The fifth and concluding volume of the “Ornithological Biography” appeared in 1839. “The Birds of America” appeared in 1840. In 1842 he established his home in the upper part of New York City, in the section now known as Audubon Park. In 1846, in collaboration with Rev. John Bachman, whose two daughters had married Audubon’s two sons, appeared “The Viparious Quadrupeds of North America.”
In 1847 his health began to fail, and he lingered for several
years, worn out by his arduous labors, dying at Audubon Park, January 27,
1851, aged 65 years. His body rests in Trinity Cemetery, not far
from his former residence, under a handsome monument, which, however, was
not erected until about thirty years ago. His name as a naturalist
is secure, and he occupies a lofty and unique position in the ornithological
world. His interest in the Passenger Pigeon was very deep, his illustrations
of this noble bird being the best extant. In Prof. Herrick’s “biography”
Vol. 1, facing page 292, appears a truly lifelike sketch of a male pigeon
made by the famous bird-lover in the Ohio Valley, on December 11, 1809.
It is interesting to note that he calls it “Passenger Pigeon, Columba migratoria
. . . . . appele’ ici Wild Pigeon.” While in Edinburgh in the winter
of 1827 he prepared and read a paper entitled “Habits of the Wild Pigeon
of America,” before the members of a learned society of that city.
He began the preparation of the paper and kept at the work during an entire
day finishing it at half past three in the morning; so completely said
he, was he transported to the woods of America and to the pigeons, that
his ears “were as if really filled with the noise of their wings.”
Evidently the poetry and romance of the pigeons were in his soul, as with
every other out-door American who came in contact with them, or learned
to know them in his dreams as the result of conversations with the old
people. If the spirits of the dead hover in the ether surrounding
their final seputure the soul of Audubon must have been stirred that wild
night in the autumn of 1876, when as the result of a heavy storm in the
Hudson Valley a large flock of those wonderful birds, appele’ ici Wild
Pigeon, were driven into the Trinity Cemetery, and found refuge in the
old trees, and on his grave. In the morning the gardeners noticed
them, the first time that many had ever seen the species, though they were
sorely bedraggled specimens, heavy of wing and unsteady of foot.
The gardeners in sweeping aside the masses of fallen leaves, had to brush
some of the jaded birds out of the pats, and when towards evening they
suddenly took their flight, winging in a long line across the river a few
birds remained on the ground, where they fell victims to the neighboring
squatters’ cats. Could it have been, in the eternal verity of things,
that some spiritual compass drew these storm-tossed and much persecuted
birds towards the then unmarked resting place of their friend, who even
in far distant Edinburgh, as he wrote of their beauty and mystic life,
the history of their majestic flights, felt his ears filled “as if with
the sound of their wings,” and there found surcease for their sorrows.
On July 6, 1766, at Paisley, Scotland, Alexander Wilson was born. Hew was apprenticed to a weaver, for whom he worked seven years and amused himself, at the same time, by writing verses. As soon as he was free, with a peddler’s pack, he traveled to Edinburgh and took part in the literary discussions of that period. He wrote “The Laurel Disputed, a Poem,” and “Watty and Meg,” a droll poem in Scottish dialect, and became a contributor to “The Bee,” lampooning a resident of Paisley; for which he was condemned to a short term in prison, and to burn the libel, with his own hand, at the Paisley cross. Disgusted at this unappreciation of his genius, he sailed from Belfast and landed at New Castle, Delaware, July 14, 1794, with a few borrowed shillings in his pocket, and no acquaintances in the Land of the Free.
At Philadelphia, he found employment with a copper-plate printer, and later, he worked for a weaver; then, as a peddler, he traveled through New Jersey where the brilliant plumage of the wild birds attracted his attention. Then he returned to Pennsylvania and became a school teacher, for a while, then walked 800 miles to visit his nephew, in New York state, returning to New Jersey, where he taught school, living near the botanic gardens of William Bartram, who encouraged him to study natural history. In October, 1804, Wilson set out to make a collection of birds, walking to Niagara Falls, and wrote his poem, “The Foresters.”
During 1805, Wilson learned etching from a Mr. Lawson, who had previously taught him to draw; and Wilson was then employed on the American edition of Ree’s Cyclopedia and prevailed upon Mr. Bradford, the publisher, to undertake an American Ornithology. The first volume appeared in 1808, and the second in the early months of 1810. Then Wilson traveled down the Ohio River, and overland from Memphis to New Orleans and returned to Nashville, through forests and mountain trails, collecting material for the third volume, published in 1812. Later he explored New England; and at Haverhill, New Hampshire, he was arrested, as a British spy, a circumstance which probably hastened his death, at Philadelphia, August 23, 1813, when he had completed seven volumes of his work. The eighth and ninth volumes were published after his death by George Ord, the companion of his travels and his labors. – John C. French.
Prince Charles Lucien Bonaparte
On May 24, 1803, at Paris, France, the first son of the Prince
of Canino was born, and he was christened, Charles Lucien Jules Laurent
Bonaparte, Prince of Canino and Musignano. He had no inclinations
for political life, preferring the more wholesome pursuits of literature
and science. He became a naturalist and a writer on ornithology,
continuing Alexander Wilson’s “Ornithology of America,” in four volumes
brought out, from 1828 to 1833, at Philadelphia, where he lived many years.
He died on July 29, 1857. So this nephew of the great Napoleon Bonaparte,
by residing in America, was enabled to finish the great work that Wilson
and Ord had begun and left unfinished, besides other important work, and
he stimulated and encouraged Audubon to publish his drawings and notes
of America’s great bird population. – John C. French.
Charles Darwin, F.R.S.
The Great English Naturalist
On February 12, 1809, Charles Darwin was born at Shrewsbury, England, grandson of Erasmus Darwin, M.D. and son of Robert Darwin, F.R.S. – Abraham Lincoln was born on the same day. On Decemeber 27, 1831, he sailed away on the H.M Ship Beagle, as a naturalist, for a survey of South America, returning to England, October 2, 1836, from circum navigating the earth. His entire life was devoted to scientific researches and writing of his deductions from his observations and from reliable records, made by many other men. Among other works, his “Voyage of a Naturalist” is a beautiful work; his “Journal of Researches into Geology and Natural history of the various Countries visited by H.M.S. Beagle;” the “Zoology of the Voyage;” and his “Geological Observations on South America” are of great interest and benefit to us all.
His “Origin of Species;” and “The Descent of Man,” contain many deductions, made from breeding various domesticated pigeons, and other birds and animals, and are of priceless value to all students who seek understanding along the lines of his discussions. On plants and their powers he left many valuable hints and interesting comments upon their sex characteristics and their principal life work.
His contention that the various species of plants and animals, instead of having been each specially created and immutable, are constantly subject to change, through a process of adaptation, by which those best fitted to survive in changing environments, become the prevailing species, at the expense of other species and varieties. This process of natural selection being so potent and universal that it seems capable, with other less important causes, of explaining how all of the existing species have descended from one or a very few low forms of life – has excited a controversy which seems incapable of being laid to rest; but Darwin’s theory has been embraced by many of the ablest naturalists. It has induced great changes in the methods of biology and kindred sciences. His death occurred April 20, 1882. – John C. French