Friday, January 28, 2011

Bartram's Travels

I'm working on finishing up Bartram's Travels.  This Quaker naturalist explored the southeastern portion of the US during the colonial/revolutionary era.  Portions of the book were required for my Florida literature class last semester, and I enjoyed the book so much that I wanted to finish it.  The edition pictured above is pretty much a facsimile, so it has very few reader helps.  I would recommend reading it with something like Brad Sanders' Guide to William Bartram's Travels (which I haven't read) to illuminate some of the more obscure Latin; since Bartram is a naturalist, he's much more familiar than I am with Latin names for plant and animal species.

My favorite part of the book is Bartram's fight with the alligators, which you can read in the wonderful poem "William Bartram Beset by Crocodiles or Alligators" by Campbell McGrath.   I'll never forget that Professor Runge had us draw a scene from the book in class (experimental pedagogy, you know).  I settled for a simple campfire scene, but our animal-lover Susan did tackle the alligator scene.  Her alligator looked something like this.

Other fascinating bits from this book:
  • Bartram's disease that caused his tears to be acid and burn the skin on his face.
  • Bartram's opinions of Indians (very positive). 
  • Bartram's constant cheerfulness while traveling in Florida during the summer.
  • Bartram's plans for escaping the band of Negroes he encounters along the road
  • Apparently, Bartram was a source for Coleridge's Kubla Khan.  
If you enjoy history, nature, or Florida, this book is a must-read. 

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