Tuesday 26 April 2011

Audubon: A Black Mark

The 226th birthday of Audubon is being marked today with a rather fine picture on the Google home page. No doubt he was a great ornithological artist - perhaps the greatest - but to those of us who love Keats, there will for ever be a black mark against his name for his treatment of George Keats, John's brother.
Early in 1819, George, who was in America hoping to restore the family's finances by profitable investment, naively purchased from Audubon (then based in Henderson, Kentucky, on the Ohio river) a boat laden with merchandise that he was assured could be sold downriver for a handsome profit. The catch - as George soon discovered - was that the boat and its cargo were at the bottom of the river. 'I cannot help thinking Mr Audubon is a dishonest man,' wrote John Keats, with commendable restraint, as a substantial slice of what little money the Keatses had disappeared into the pocket of the great bird man.

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