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).