Philadelphia naturalists contemporary with Audubon also avoided the Romantic expressions of their predecessors, but unlike Audubon they never doubted the compatibility of Romantic and scientific viewpoints in the works of Bartram and Wilson. They continued to cite those authors and to trust their descriptions.

Portrait of John James Audubon
John James Audubon, copy of a painting by John Woodhouse Audubon, via the National Portrait Gallery

One of Bartram’s most striking passages, for example, described a bird he called the wood ibis.1 Nuttall quoted a slightly modified version of this description as late as 1834: “Here, alone the feathered hermit stands listless, on the topmost limb of some tall and decayed cypress, with his neck drawn in upon his shoulders, and his enormous bill resting like a scythe upon his breast.”2

Audubon questioned every aspect of this description and concluded that Bartram had been mistaken in his identification. Bartram’s wood ibis, Audubon decided, was actually the brown pelican, also a water bird wit hi a large pouched bill.3 Yet, however severely Audubon criticized Bartram’s “flowery savings,” he, too, like Wordsworth, was susceptible to the compelling image of the “cypress and her spire.”

In his original watercolor study, Audubon drew the brown pelican alone and perched with its neck drawn in and its enormous beak resting upon its breast.4 Only later for the published illustration did assistant George Lehman add mangrove foliage to soften the otherwise gothic view.”5

Audubon was perhaps the greatest and also the last American naturalist in the early nineteenth-century tradition of artist-naturalist.6 By 1836, the year Nuttall returned from his last expedition, the American scene had changed and so had natural history. Although their books continued to be read and enjoyed, Bartram and Wilson were no longer models for science, and Philadelphia was no longer the center for American natural history.7