Sketches, maps and random musings are all contained within such objects, alongside moments of despair and exhilaration. The books are ‘usually private, often never intended to be seen in public,’ so they tend to lack artifice, and the editors’ choices of which to include in this volume – ‘deliberately eclectic’ – are inspired.
You’ll find ravishing images of Carolina Parakeets by the 19th century naturalist John James Audubon, the frantic notes of Colin Thubron, and Alexandrine Tinne’s evocative portrayals of life in the Near East.
Personality and passion are frequently on display. The sense of scientific excitement is palpable in extracts from Carl Linnaeus’s ‘Lapland Journal’, and who could resist the tale of Margaret Mee finally locating, and painting, a night-blooming Amazonian Moonflower at the age of 78, after a search of 24 years?
We also hear from living adventurers, including Ghillean Prance, another veteran of the Amazon. ‘On every expedition,’ he recalls, ‘I took time to fill my journals with observations: colours, contexts, encounters, sights and sounds, and list upon list of data.’
So, too, did many of the trail-blazers seen here, from 19th century Austrian artist Eugene von Guerard and his depictions of the Australian gold fields, to German Anthropologist Franz Boas sketching icebergs en route to Baffin Bay in 1883. The legacy is wonderful and, as Prance puts it, ‘the careful notes that you make in a journal will be the things that outlive you.’
This review was published in the October 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.