Friday, October 9, 2009

Audubon's Mammals

I was looking through some old books, and I came across one by John J. Audubon. That is a painting from the book above.

No, I'm not talking about The Birds of America. Many people are familiar with that famous work of Audubon. Not as many people know that after spending more than 19 years painting for this book and working on the companion text (Ornithological Biographies), Audubon decided to tackle mammals next! He figured he could complete this new book in three years - after all, there aren't as many mammals as there are birds, right?

Fifteen years later, the paintings and text were complete for The Viviparous Quadrupeds Of North America. Those are two great SAT words - that means mammals with fours legs that give birth to live young. This nitpicking title let him off the hook for painting marine mammals, bats and humans. Later editions dropped the word "viviparous", maybe after they realized that the only mammals that lay eggs live in Australia. By the time the book was published, Audubon had already passed away, and the work was completed by his sons and his good friend and co-author John Bachman.

I hope I don't surprise anyone by revealing that Audubon didn't always paint live subjects. Here is a great quote from a letter to a collaborator who was planning to ship Audubon some snowshoe hares. This is from the Introduction to a later edition of the book, edited by Victor H. Cahalane: "The animals ought to be put in a Keg of Common Yankee Rum, and as soon as possible after death, cutting a slit in the abdomen of not exceeding Two Inches in length, and pouring Rum in the apperture [sic] until well filled. The Entrails must remain untouched." And be sure not to use Fancy Yankee Rum or Rebel Rum, it just doesn't pickle the hare properly!


  1. My daughter and I both like your blog.. very interesting, I like the part about the rum didn't know that was how it was done... A great read!

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