Of Alexander Wilson

Category : book

Alexander Wilson started off as a Scottish weaver, then as a poet, then itinerant peddler. His poetry tended towards the political, which got him thrown into prison for libel. Once released, he emigrated to America for a fresh start as a schoolteacher, first in New Jersey then Pennsylvania. It was only after he got to Pennsylvania that he got interested in birds.

The naturalist William Bartram was his neighbor and encouraged the penniless, self-educated immigrant to start collecting and studying birds. Wilson began teaching himself everything he could about birds, and how to illustrate them.

In 1802 he began traveling around looking for birds to paint, and collecting subscriptions for his planned illustrated ornithological study of all the birds of North America. He ended up with 268, 26 of them completely new, in his nine-volume American Ornithology.  One of the people he tried to solicit for a subscription was Audubon himself, who was still in Kentucky in 1810, minding his soon-to-be-bankrupt mercantile business. Wilson’s book is often cited as one of the inspirations of Audubon’s Birds of America.

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