The Life and Letters of John Muir
by Houghton Mifflin Company. 1924. 2 vols. 8vo. X+3994+454 pp. $7.50.. Boston:
JOHN MUIR, like much that was good in early California, was an exotic. Born in 1838 of Scotch parents who would be regarded nowadays as uncompromising fundamentalists, he at the age of ten moved with the rest of his family from Scotland to the wilds of Wisconsin. Here as a boy Muir made his first acquaintance with Western farm-life, but it was not long after this that he was struggling for a brief period of study at the State University in Madison. In these surroundings began the making of that peculiarly American product, the poet-naturalist, for at the University plant life engrossed his attention and worked the miracle.
After college followed a winter in Canada and ‘A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf’ in which his chief luggage seems to have been the New Testament, Paradise Lost, and Burns’s Poems. He returned North, but roving was his passion and he took his course by way of Panama with its gorgeous tropical vegetation to what was to be his great tramping-grounds — California.
He arrived in San Francisco in 1868 and climbed at once into the High Sierras. After this first excursion his one hope was that he might visit the heights again. He declined the indoor hospitality of friends, for, as he said, ‘I must return to the mountains — to Yosemite,’ Here, as his journal tells us, he climbed, sketched, wrote, meditated, and botanized. And here too began that long life of discovery and exposition that put him well at the head of those who knew at first hand the grandeur of California. It is interesting to note the change that laid come over him during his wanderings, for in his sugar-pine cabin near the foot of the Lower Yosemite Fall he now had, in addition to books on religion and poetry, the works of Humboldt, Lyell, Tyndall, and Darwin. These were not the guides that his parents with their religious limitations would have chosen for him, but John Muir was of wider gauge and to him all Nature was a revelation.
Now began the long period of Muir’s wanderings. Much of his time was spent in the Sierras, but trips were made to Alaska and other distant regions, and gradually the glories of the West were opening to his gaze. In these vast stretches he saw the great playgrounds of the American people and his pen was incessantly active in arousing public sentiment in favor of their preservation. He rallied to his side a formidable host of protectors of the public rights, with no less a leader than Roosevelt. And when the end came on Christmas, 1914, he could look back on many a beauty spot preserved for future generations and on an aroused public opinion favorable to the protection of Nature’s gifts.
In the two volumes before us much of this is told in Muir’s own words, whose transcription has been most successfully made by Mr. Badè.
G. H. PARKER