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PRINT April 1982

PATIENCE, OBSERVATION, AND INVESTIGATION: LEARNING FROM AUDUBON

THE REPUBLICATION OF John James Audubon’s masterpiece, The Birds of America, makes clear the essential goodness of both the man and his art. I had always assumed that I would like Audubon’s work. Well, now that I’ve really looked, I love the work. It is the magnitude of the effort that strikes me first. The sum of Audubon’s original investigation into the ornithology of North America is awesome: a folio of 435 hand-colored etchings, accompanied by a separate five volume set, The Ornithological Biography, giving detailed observations of each species. What also moves me is his uniquely American vision, one very sympathetic to his transcendentalist contemporaries, Emerson and Thoreau. It is a secular vision, but it is permeated with the divine as witnessed by the immensity of nature in all its complexity.

Audubon’s original Double-Elephant Folio was completed in 1838 by the engraver Robert

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