“The singular structure and habits of the Bat have long since afforded the poets an emblem of darkness and terror, and induced them to consecrate this creature to Proserpine, their queen of Hades. … it is by no means allowable for students of natural history to forget that all beings must live in conformity to the laws of their organization, that the perfection of every species is relative to the situtation in which it exists, and that our notions of beauty and deformity are neither true tests of the excellence nor importance of any inferior animal” – John D. Godman in American Natural History, Volume 1 (1831).
Born in Annapolis, Maryland, John Davidson Godman (1794-1830) was a physician and naturalist. A member of the Philadelphia Academy naturalists and a teacher of medical students, he endeavored to write his own survey of mammals, American Natural History, which he wrote between 1823 and 1828.
In From A Memoir of . . . Dr. John D. Godman (Philadelphia, 1859), Thomas Sewell, M.D., wrote: “He came to the study of natural history as an investigator of facts, and not as a pupil of the schools; his great aim being to learn the instincts, the structure, and the habits of all animated beings. This science was a favourite pursuit, and he devoted himself to it with indefatigable zeal. He has been heard to say that, in investigating the habits of the shrew mole, he walked many hundred miles. His powers of observation were quick, patient, keen, and discriminating: it was these qualities that made him so admirable a naturalist.”
In the last year of his life, as he was dying from tuberculosis, he wrote a number of nature essays for Friend, a Philadelphia weekly, which were collected into a posthumous book entitled Rambles of a Naturalist (1833). He died in Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1830.
Binghamton University Libraries Special Collections owns volume 1 (incomplete) of the 3 volume set of American Natural History. To explore Godman’s text, visit Special Collections located on the second floor of the Glenn G. Bartle Library (off of the North Reading Room). Our hours are Monday – Friday, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.