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Whatever compelled him to undertake such a stupendous venture, such an "impossible" task? He was midway in life and virtually penniless; his understanding of ornithology was no more than rudimentary. He was ignorant of most of the literature on the subject and had access to only a fraction of it. In terms of what he aspired to accomplish, his artistic talent was limited. Yet, although he could not clearly foresee what was to come, he was committing himself to twenty years of hard labor and to an enterprise that would cost a small fortune to bring to a conclusion. Except in the farthest reaches of his own vision, no such miracle could be expected. People are continuing to collect modern first editions and modern private-press books, though some say that there are too many of Hand-Colored Lithograph by J.W. Audubon depicting an 'Esquimaux Dog' (Philadelphia J. T. Bowen, 1847 [plate 113, Audubon, J. J. Bachman, J. , The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, New York, 1845-1851]

each and that some are too expensive. Signing sessions at readings and at book stores have made author-autographed books

common, so collectors now seek presentation copies. Think of it as the project finally evolved. All the birds of this vast land that he could identify and document were to be represented in their actual size and in all their natural colors, and shown in their accustomed habitats rendered in meticulous detail - trees, plants, flowers, grubs, insects and all. Even the peripatetic Parson Weems, the most active and imaginative American bookseller of his day, could not have marketed the gigantic tomes Audubon had in mind. What publisher today, for that matter, with all the industry's elaborate apparatus for financing, promotion and distribution, would dream of underwriting a four-volume set of 435 illustrations including more than one thousand individual subjects by a relatively unknown artist, each volume measuring about forty by thirty inches and weighing as much as a strong man could not comfortably carry about, the whole - along with six stout volumes of text - to sell for roughly $1,000 a set, 9 sum that in today's money would be many, many times larger. It would seem utter folly to contemplate such

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