"Because the volume’s inclusion of correspondence, botanical materials, philosophical tracts, draft documents, and illustrations provides a richly multidimensional representation of Bartram’s experiences and achievements, William Bartram: The Search for Nature’s Design comes closer than any previous work on Bartram to showing us not only the whole career but also the whole person: the failed businessman, insecure son, devout Quaker, wilderness traveler, assiduous gardener, loyal friend, advisor and mentor, and tireless student of a natural world that he felt offered a continuing revelation of divinity. It is an ambitious book, impressive in both execution and presentation."
An important figure in early American science and letters, William Bartram (1739–1823) has been known almost exclusively for his classic book, Travels. William Bartram, The Search for Nature’s Design presents new material in the form of art, letters, and unpublished manuscripts. These documents expand our knowledge of Bartram as an explorer, naturalist, artist, writer, and citizen of the early Republic.
Part One, the correspondence, includes letters to and from Bartram’s family, friends, and peers, establishing his developing consciousness about the natural world as well as his passion for rendering it in drawing. The difficult business of undertaking scientific study and commercial botany in the eighteenth century comes alive through letters that detail travel arrangements, enduring hardship, and mentoring. Commonly regarded as a recluse or eccentric, Bartram instead emerges as deeply engaged with the major ideas, issues, and intellectual life of his time.
Part Two presents selections from Bartram’s diverse but little-known unpublished writings. Leading scholars in their field introduce manuscripts such as a draft for Travels, garden diaries faithfully kept, an antislavery treatise scrawled on the back of a plant catalog, a commonplace book, pharmacopia compiled for his brothers, and exacting accounts of Native American culture. Each selection reveals another dimension of Bartram’s unending interest in the world he encountered at home and traveling the southern colonies.
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