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John James Audubon has left this nation a rich and strangely mixed legacy. His name has been a household word for generations. For Boy Scouts it evokes visions of the resourceful backwoodsman who roamed the wilderness with the freedom and cunning of the wild creatures he discovered there. For earnest nature lovers and all manner of environmentalists it has served as a rallying cry for their different causes. To professional ornithologists it recalls work in the field, which in its day had no precedent and which gave impetus to new and important developments in the study of natural history. And art lovers and collectors, many with apparently no other interest in birds, look for the magic name in galleries or at auction, and are often ready to pay tall prices when a print, painting or drawing comes up for sale with the proper credentials. As just one measure of this last point, a copy of Audubon's monumental The Birds of America was sold for a figure well over a third of a million dollars. Audubon has indeed become an all but legendary figure. As is often true in cases of this sort, the lineaments of the man himself are not always sharply one or another of their languages. At least he could yell like an Indian, and he could John James Audubon as imitate the calls of wild birds, both of which he was depicted on an oil on canvas called upon to do for the entertainment of his hosts painting by John Syme in 1826 in polite parlors. (from Wikipedia Commons) He also spoke the language of the rough river men of the western waterways, eloquently. His command of profanity was the envy of sailors he shipped with. On the other hand, Audubon was titillated by the presence of pretty and proper ladies. He once observed that "without female society I am like a herring on a griddle." He was not unduly hampered by modesty. When he was in Scotland preparing to publish and sell his great work, he wrote his wife, "My hairs are now so beautifully long and curly as ever, and I assure thee do as much for me as my Talent for Painting." However, some kinds of "ladies" made him apprehensive. One night in Liverpool, England, this dauntless frontiersman begged the company of a watchman to see him safely home through the ranks of whores who crowded the pavements. There is some irony in the fact that if during his lifetime anything like Audubon Societies had existed, organized groups dedicated to preserving the nation's wildlife, we might never have heard of the man. In the course of compiling his mammoth inventory of The Birds of America, which once and for all established his fame, Audubon killed a formidable number of specimens. He once boasted that it was a poor day's hunting when he shot fewer than 100 birds. It has to be realized

John james audubon biography and life's work  
John james audubon biography and life's work  
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