Dog Days Reading for Summer Reflection: Wandering With A Divergent Friend

William Bartram: Divergent Friend

I’ve taken a fancy to do some traveling for the dog Days this year. I plan to join William Bartram, an independent-minded Quaker naturalist and artist, in a  journey through much of the southeast U.S.

WilliamBartramThis is not the Southeast of today, but that of 1773, so technically there wasn’t a U.S. yet; whatever. Bartram spent four years wandering the Southeast, drawing plants and animals, maps, and doing sketch portraits of Indians he visited with, and he visited with many.

I first noticed Bartram a few years ago, and prepared a series  of posts about him & his solitary exploring journeys for times of reflection. I call him a “Divergent Friend” because he went his own way, following his own leading.  He was not a “rebel” or a troublemaker; yet he was hardly typical or “normal” either.

Consider: at home, a revolution was brewing; slavery was a spreading plague; many diseases threatened. But Bartram was drawn away from all that, the “activism” and the debates, into the natural world: seeking out creatures without voices, and  territories not yet claimed by his ancestral “civilization.” He’s remembered today (by those who remember him) as a pioneer. Leadings are like that: not always driven by the “news of the day,” with significance that may not  be discernible until many years after they were followed.

Here’s the book he produced from his long rambling. Although he returned to his Pennsylvania home in 1777, he didn’t publish the book til 1791; he was in no hurry.

Travels-full-title-page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here is one of his charming, often lovely, plant drawings. I was struck early on, in looking at these, by a feature that comes out more in his writing: while his art was definitely “scientific,” aimed at adding to the knowledge of plants animals and geography, it was also religious (or, if thee insist, “spiritual”). That’s one reason I’m drawn to it for what many churches call “Lent,” a season of reflection.

Some of Bartram’s images have been used  on postage stamps. Here’s one.

It reminds me of one of William Blake’s stanzas:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
A Robin Redbreast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.
A dove house fill’d with doves and pigeons
Shudders Hell thro’ all its regions.

Bartram-Stamp-01

 

6 thoughts on “Dog Days Reading for Summer Reflection: Wandering With A Divergent Friend”

  1. He is well remembered in Florida as a botanist, not so much as a Quaker. Interesting guy. Until I moved to Florida, I had not realized the extent of his travels here.

  2. Love the Bartrams. When I stepped into the kitchen of JB’s house, my heart stood still as I had stepped back into the (long demolished) farmhouse where I grew up, in the south of England. I remain convinced that there is some connection though I can never prove it. That house, dating probably from the 16C had been modernised in the late 18C, and its grounds planted with many unusual imported trees and shrubs. All were wildly overgrown, and the house was sliding into disrepair by the austere post-war years that my family was fortunate enough to live there, but it was a magical childhood home.

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