1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Alexander Wilson

Anonymous, "Memento of Wilson, the Naturalist" Port Folio [Philadelphia] S4 18 (December 1824) 487-88.



"Baron Cuvier, in a report made to the Royal Academy of Sciences, at their annual public meeting in Paris, April 24th, 1824, gives a view of the state and progress of natural history, since the return of maritime peace. In an intelligent summary of the labourers in different countries, he introduces this remark relative to our own. 'Wilson's Birds of the United States, designed, engraved and printed in the United States, and by artists of the country, are not inferior to our best collections.'"

ALEXANDER WILSON, author of the American Ornithology, the most splendid work that has yet been produced on this side the Atlantic, was a native of Paisly, in Scotland, where the first effusions of his genius, in poetry and romance, not meeting with encouragement, he came over to America at the age of six and twenty. Arriving at New Castle, with only a few shillings in his pocket, in the summer of 1794, he walked up to Philadelphia, with a fowling piece upon his shoulder; when the first bird that presented itself in the woods, happened to be a red headed wood-pecker, the brilliant colours of which, exciting his admiration, would seem to have been the stimulating cause of his future pursuits; as it does not appear that he had discovered any particular predilection for the study of natural history in the land of his nativity, and his earliest engagements in his adopted country were necessarily in the line of school-keeping, for a livelihood.

A very interesting account of the first essays of our adventurer, as a scientific delineator, is given by his biographer, in the ninth and last volume of the Ornithology, which was not published until after his decease; but which nearly completed the magnificent undertaking to which he had devoted his life, at the sacrifice of every customary indulgence. On the very day whereon he was seized with his last illness, he had made out a list of those birds which he intended should, for the present at least, terminate the work.

This indefatigable naturalist died of a dysentery, brought on by inattention to his own personal wants, and the necessary relaxation from incessant labours, to perfect the work he had undertaken; and his remains were interred under the trees, in the cemetery of the Swedish church, in the banks of the Delaware.

Whilst in the enjoyment of health, this enthusiastic admirer of the productions of nature, had expressed a wish to be buried "in some rural spot, sacred to peace and solitude, where the charms of nature might invite the steps of the votary of the Muses, and the lover of science — and where the birds might sing over his grave."