Volume 6, Issue 1, Spring 2017
Gardens as Laboratories. The History of Botany through the History of Gardens
Gabriel R. Ricci
Science, Art and the Classical World in the Botanizing Travels of William Bartram
William Bartram would accompany his botanizing father, John, into the wilderness and he would famously memorialize his own explorations with an account that mixed romantic conventions with natural history and Quaker theology. William’s interior life corresponds to the spirit of Virgil’s Eclogues with its promise of the restoration of a Golden Age, replete with bucolic scenes of shepherds tending their flocks and singing nature’s praises. This paper addresses some of the political interpretations that Bartram’s work has received and argues that William was focused on a distant past which he was introduced to through the classical curriculum at the newly founded Academy of Philadelphia (1752). William’s curriculum guaranteed an introduction to the conventions of the sublime and the picturesque, since Addison’s Spectator was also required reading and he was well-versed in Linnaean nomenclature, but wherever William botanized his observations of the natural world were framed by classical literature. His tour of ancient Indian ruins where he imagined an Areopagus and a space free of strife and bloodshed is a dramatic example of William’s habit of importing a place defined by classical literature into his natural history.