Real and Sham Natural History
Observatory (543 Union St., Brooklyn)
Poet Joshua Beckman and artist James Walsh will discuss John Burroughs’ controversial 1903 essay “Real and Sham Natural History.” After a short introduction to Burroughs the man and the writer, they will read from the essay and from the offending, delightful animal stories it criticizes, and they’ll discuss the controversy and some of the larger issues of fact and fiction it raised.
Burroughs was then at the height of his fame and influence, and was known for his gentle, intimate, closely-observed nature essays. The nature essay, and particularly stories about animals, had become enormously popular, but Burroughs felt that many of the writers had very little direct experience of nature and simply pretended that the animals are just like us. He wrote “Real and Sham Natural History” to set the record straight but he wasn’t prepared for the bitter controversy it unleashed in the popular press. The controversy raged until 1907 when Rough Rider and President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt came to Burroughs’ defense in his article “Nature Fakers,” which effectively ended the debate.