Adventures Among Birds

Dublin Core


Adventures Among Birds


W.H. Hudson


London: Hutchinson & Co., Paternoster Row



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Brief Notes on Book

Black and white photogravure portrait of the author; bookplate of H. Bradley Martin


For many years, my principal collecting interest has been American ornithology, with a particular focus on Audubon and Alexander Wilson. But many collectors have similar material, and one goal of collecting is to plant a flag on unclaimed territory. Collectors highly value the unique items that no one else possesses.

For that reason, I also collect collectors. Material once owned by a prominent ornithologist or ornithology collector has special resonance and connects you in a mysterious way to the great chain of collecting. In ornithology, several collectors have assembled important collections in years past: Dr. William Braislin, John E. Thayer, John Lewis Childs, Dr. Evan Morton Evans, Ralph Ellis, S. Dillon Ripley, and – towering above them all – H. Bradley Martin (1906-1988).

Born to wealth and privilege (one grandfather was Andrew Carnegie’s partner and the other a prominent New York socialite who lived much of the time on an estate in Scotland), Martin started collecting English literature while an undergraduate at Oxford. He later branched out into French literature and assembled important collections in both fields. But ornithology was where he really made his mark. The 1989 auction catalogue for his collection at Sotheby’s comprises nine hard-bound volumes, of which four are devoted to ornithology, with one devoted solely to Auduboniana, including a Double Elephant Folio and many letters and manuscripts of Audubon’s texts.

Martin’s entrée into ornithology was via an unusual route. Around 1929, he came across The Purple Land That England Lost (1885), a novel by W.H. Hudson (1841-1922). A prolific author known today primarily, if at all, for his fantasy novel, Green Mansions (1904), Hudson was born in Argentina to American parents. While in Argentina, he took an immense interest in its bird life, though, as was common among 19th century ornithologists, he lacked formal scientific training. After moving permanently to England in 1874, he published some 31 books, including novels, memoirs, and many nature studies.

In The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway called The Purple Land “a very sinister book if read too late in life,” referring to its account of “splendid imaginary amorous adventures of a perfect English gentleman in an intensely romantic land, the scenery of which is very well described.” Whether Hudson’s influence on Martin should fairly be labeled “sinister” is a matter of opinion. But, as Robert H. Taylor noted in The Book Collector (Vol. 12, No. 2, Summer 1963), the result of Martin’s his encounter with The Purple Land at age 23 “aroused his interest in ornithology and led to his forming one of the best collections on the subject in private hands.” At the same time, Martin assembled perhaps the largest-ever collection of Hudson’s works, including letters, manuscripts, and association material – perhaps the only such collection ever assembled by a bibliophile.

Hudson’s 1913 work, Adventures Among Birds, is typically Hudsonian, a set of essays combining keen observation with a strong inclination toward the pathetic fallacy. It is, frankly, not a book I would have purchased for its scientific significance. But this was H. Bradley Martin’s copy, with his characteristic small bookplate depicting an eagle atop a globe. I have other books from Martin’s collection, but somehow this one by W.H. Hudson connects the great collector to his inspiration and, as an object if not as a text, is a treasured link in the chain.


Steve Tomashefsky


Martin Bookplate.JPG
Hudson Title.JPG
Hudson Portrait.JPG


W.H. Hudson, “Adventures Among Birds,” Caxton Club Exhibits, accessed January 30, 2023,