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Alexander Wilson

Alexander Wilson

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    Alexander Wilson
    Book Description:

    On the bicentennial of his death, this beautifully illustrated volume pays tribute to the Scot who became the father of American ornithology. Alexander Wilson made unique contributions to ecology and animal behavior. His drawings of birds in realistic poses in their natural habitat inspired Audubon, Spencer Fullerton Baird, and other naturalists.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-07373-9
    Subjects: Zoology, History of Science & Technology, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Themes in Wilson’s Life and Writings
    (pp. 1-12)

    Alexander Wilson, Scottish poet and Father of American Ornithology, was a child of the Enlightenment. Like Rousseau he saw in wilderness a natural order to be enjoyed and observed, not an alien world to be feared and conquered. He was an observant teenager whose poetry portrayed Scotland and its people with remarkable insight. Jefferson’s words and principles as stated in the Declaration of Independence, written when Wilson was ten, inspired him. Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man spoke to his soul. A journeyman weaver, Wilson rebelled against the industrialization of weaving and the dishonesty of mill owners. Ultimately, he left...

  5. CHAPTER TWO A Varied Life
    (pp. 13-62)

    Alexander Wilson was born on 6 July 1766. His father, also Alexander Wilson, was a silk weaver, a former soldier, and a smuggler of fine whiskey, which was a tacitly approved expression of Scottish nationalism in the face of British rule. His mother was the beautiful Mary McNab from Rhu. The family was respected with a comfortable income and a modest house at the edge of the White Cart River where it passed through Paisley, Scotland (Figure 2.1). When “Sandy” was four days old, he was christened at the nearby Presbyterian church by Dr. John Witherspoon, who ten years later...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Illustrating American Ornithology
    (pp. 63-280)

    Toward the end of 1805, maybe as late as 1806, Alexander Wilson took his first tentative steps toward publication of his American Ornithology when he concluded that he had mastered the skills needed to complete his portrayal of America’s birds. He was a superb marksman, skilled in wilderness survival, able to endure hardship, familiar with the natural history literature, and a skilled observer who could describe in words and pictures what he saw. His drawing had progressed to the point where his birds were not only accurate in detail, but also had an intensity, a liveliness that had been lacking...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Pioneer Ornithologist
    (pp. 281-330)

    Alexander Wilson was the fortunate victim of two accidents of time and geography. In 1794 his ship, the Swift, landed him near Philadelphia, the intellectual and scientific center of the fledgling United States. And in 1802, he accepted the teaching position at the Union School, Kingsessing, which was founded by John Bartram (1699–1777) and located only a short walk from Bartram’s home and garden—which was then occupied by William (1739–1823), John’s son and the foremost naturalist in the United States, indeed, in the Western Hemisphere. Would Wilson have written the American Ornithology were it not for these...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Wilson’s Legacy
    (pp. 331-352)

    On 23 August 1813, at age forty-seven, Alexander Wilson died in the home of William Jones, where he had lived for several years. The next day, after a simple service, he was buried in the graveyard of Philadelphia’s Gloria Dei Church, better known as Old Swedes Church, in the Jones family plot. The eighth volume of American Ornithology was written, edited, illustrated, and in production. The ninth volume was in preparation, but consisted only of a few drawings for the plates, some text, and a few notes. George Ord decided to edit the ninth and final volume, and although he...

  9. APPENDIX A. On the Shoulders of Giants: Wilson’s Predecessors
    (pp. 355-384)
  10. APPENDIX B. Wilson’s Contemporaries and Correspondents
    (pp. 385-412)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 413-428)
  12. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 429-432)
  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 433-436)
  14. Index
    (pp. 437-444)