Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Writings of John Muir
Volume 10 - Life and Letters of John Muir, Volume 2
Chapter XVI. Trees and Travel, 1891-1897

THE sudden death of Dr. Strentzel on the last of October, 1890, brought in its train a change of residence for the Muir family. At the time of his marriage, Muir had first rented and later purchased from his father-in-law the upper part of the Alhambra ranch. Dr. Strentzel thereupon left the old home to his daughter, and removed to the lower half of the ranch, where he and his wife built and occupied a large new frame house on a sightly hill-top. Since Mrs. Strentzel, after her husband's death, needed the care of her daughter, the Muirs left the upper ranch home, hi which they had lived for ten years, and moved to the more spacious, but on the whole less comfortable, house which thereafter became known as the Muir residence.

At the beginning of his father-in-law's illness, Muir was on the point of starting on a trip up the Kings River Cañon in order to secure additional material for a" Century" article. The project, naturally, had to be abandoned. "It is now so snowy and late," he wrote to Mr. Johnson in November, "I fear I shall not be able to get into the caflons this season. I think, however, that I can write the article from my old notes. I made three trips through the Kings River Cañon, and one through the wild Middle Fork Cañon with its charming Yosemite." The deeper purpose of this article was to serve as a starter for another national park. It means that two weeks after the successful issue of the campaign for the creation of the Yosemite National Park, Muir, ably assisted by Mr. R. U. Johnson, began to advocate the enlargement of the Sequoia National Park so as to embrace the Kings River region and the Kaweah and Tule Sequoia groves. John W. Noble was then Secretary of the Interior (188993), and it is fair to say that, measured by the magnitude of benefits conferred upon the country, no more useful incumbent has ever filled that office. He at once declared himself ready to withdraw the region from entry if Muir would delimit upon Land Office maps the territory that should go into a park.

"I am going to San Francisco this morning," Muir wrote to Johnson on May 13, 1891, "and will get the best map I can and will draw the boundaries of the proposed new park. . . . This map I shall send you to-morrow." During the same month he made another trip up the cañon of the Kings River, particularly the South Fork, and afterwards wrote for the "Century" [November, 1891.] an unusually telling description of it under the title of "A Rival of the Yosemite." "This region," he said in concluding the article, "contains no mines of consequence; it is too high and too rocky for agriculture, and even the lumber industry need suffer no unreasonable restriction. Let our law-givers then make haste, before it is too late, to save this surpassingly glorious region for the recreation and well-being of humanity, and the world will rise up and call them blessed."

Advance sheets of the article, placed in the hands of Secretary Noble, moved him to bring Muir's proposal to the immediate attention of Congress with the recommendation of "favorable consideration and action." But over thirty years have passed since then, and Muir's dream of good still awaits realization at the hands of our law-givers. The Roosevelt- Sequoia National Park bill, now before Congress, is substantially Muir's original proposal, and fittingly recognizes the invaluable service which Theodore Roosevelt rendered to the cause of forests and parks, partly in coöperation with Muir, as shown in a succeeding chapter. This bill should be speedily passed, over the paltering objections of adventurers who place their private farthing schemes above the immeasurable public benefit of a national playground that not only rivals the already overcrowded Yosemite in beauty and spaciousness, but is, in the words of Muir, "a veritable song of God."

Muir had now reached the stage in his career when he had not only the desire, but also the power, to translate his nature enthusiasms into social service. Increasing numbers of progressive citizens, both East and West, were looking to him for leadership when corrupt or incompetent custodians of the public domain needed to be brought to the bar of public opinion. And there was much of this work to be done by a man who was not afraid to stand up under fire. Muir's courageous and outspoken criticism of the mismanagement of Yosemite Valley by the State Commissioners aroused demands in Washington for an investigation of the abuses and a recession of the Valley to the Federal Government as part of the Yosemite National Park.

Since there was likelihood of a stiff battle over this and other matters, Muir's friends, particularly Mr. R. U. Johnson, urged him to get behind him a supporting organization on the Pacific Coast through which men of kindred aims could present a united front. This led to the formal organization of the Sierra Club on the 4th of June, 1892. It declared its purpose to be a double one: first, "to explore, enjoy, and render accessible the mountain regions of the Pacific Coast," and "to publish authentic information concerning them"; and, second, "to enlist the support and cooperation of the people and government in preserving the forests and other natural features of the Sierra Nevada Mountains." The Club, in short, was formed with two sets of aims, and it gathered into its membership on the one hand persons who were primarily lovers of mountains and mountaineering, and on the other hand those whose first interest was to conserve the forests and other natural features for future generations. In no single individual were both these interests better represented than in the person of Muir, who became the first president of the Club, and held the office continuously until his death twenty-two years later. Among the men who deserve to be remembered in connection with the organization and early conservation activities of the Club were Warren Olney, Sr., and Professors Joseph LeConte, J. H. Senger, William Dallam Armes, and Cornelius Beach Bradley.

One of the first important services of the Club was its successful opposition to the so- called "Caminetti Bill," a loosely drawn measure introduced into Congress in 1892 with the object of altering the boundaries of the Yosemite National Park in such a way as to eliminate about three hundred alleged mining claims, and other large areas desired by stockmen and lumbermen. The bill underwent various modifications, and finally, in 1894, it was proposed to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to make the alterations. Muir's public interviews and the organized resistance of the Club, fortunately, repelled this contemplated raid upon the new park; for watchful guardians of the public domain regarded it as of ill omen that Secretary Hoke Smith, who had succeeded John W. Noble in 1893, reported that he had no objection to interpose to the bill's passage.

It should be recorded to the lasting honor of President Harrison and the Honorable John W. Noble that they established the first forest reserves under an Act of Congress [The authorization of the President to make forest reservations is contained in a clause inserted in the Sundry Civil Bill of that year. The credit of it belongs to Edward A. Bowers ,whose name deserves to be held in remembrance for other noble services to the cause of forest conservation.] passed March 3, 1891. It was the first real recognition of the practical value of forests in conserving water-flow at the sources of rivers. The Boone and Crockett Club on April 8, 1891, made it the occasion of a special vote of thanks addressed to the President and Secretary Noble on the ground that "this society recognizes in these actions the most important steps taken in recent years for the preservation of our forests." Though not so recognized at the time, it was a happy augury for the future that the resolution was inspired, signed, and transmitted by Theodore Roosevelt.

Among the few surviving Muir letters of the early nineties is the following one to his Indianapolis friend Mrs. Graydon, who had expressed a hope that, if he returned to her home city during the current year, she might be able to arrange for a social evening with the poet James Whitcomb Riley.

To Mrs. Mary Merrill Graydon

MARTINEZ, February 28, 1893


I am glad to hear from you once more. You say you thought on account of long silence we might be dead, but the worst that could be fairly said is "not dead but sleeping" - hardly even this, for, however silent, sound friendship never sleeps, no matter how seldom paper letters fly between.

My heart aches about Janet - one of the sad, sad, sore cases that no human wisdom can explain. We can only look on the other side through tears and grief and pain and see that pleasure surpasses the pain, good the evil, and that, after all, Divine love is the sublime boss of the universe.

The children greatly enjoy the [James Whitcomb] Riley book you so kindly sent. I saw Mr. Riley for a moment at the close of one of his lectures in San Francisco, but I had to awkwardly introduce myself, and he evidently couldn't think who I was. Professor [David Starr] Jordan, who happened to be standing near, though I had not seen him, surprised me by saying, "Mr. Riley, this man is the author of the Muir Glacier." I invited Mr. Riley to make us a visit at the ranch, but his engagements, I suppose, prevented even had he cared to accept, and so I failed to see him save in his lecture.

I remember my visit to your home with pure pleasure, and shall not forget the kindness you bestowed, as shown in so many ways. As to coming again this year, I thank you for the invitation, but the way is not open so far as I can see just now.

I think with Mr. Jackson that Henry Riley [One of his fellow workmen in the wagon factory in Indianapolis, 1866-67. "Your name is a household word with us," wrote Mr. Riley in acknowledging Muir's gift. "The world has traveled on at a great rate in the twenty-five years since you and I made wheels together, and you, I am proud to say, have traveled with it."] shows forth one of the good sides of human nature in so vividly remembering the little I did for him so long ago. I send by mail with this letter one of the volumes of "Picturesque California" for him in your care, as I do not know his address. Merrill Moores knows him, and he can give him notice to call for the book. It contains one of my articles on Washington, and you are at liberty to open and read it if you wish.

Katie [Graydon] I have not seen since she went to Oakland, though only two hours away. But I know she is busy and happy through letters and friends. I mean to try to pass a night at McChesney's, and see her and find out all about her works and ways. The children and all of us remember her stay with us as a great blessing.

Remember me to the Hendricks family, good and wholesome as sunshine, to the venerable Mr. Jackson, and all the grand Merrill family, your girls in particular, with every one of whom I fell in love, and believe me, noisy or silent,

Ever your friend


Muir had long cherished the intention of returning to Scotland in order to compare his boyhood memories of the dingles and dells of his native land with what he described, before the California period of his life, as "all the other less important parts of our world." In the spring of 1893 he proceeded to carry out the plan. The well-remembered charms of the old landscapes were still there, but he was to find that his standards of comparison had been changed by the Sierra Nevada. On the way East he paid a visit to his mother in Wisconsin, lingered some days at the Chicago World's Fair, and then made his first acquaintance with the social and literary life of New York and Boston. The following letters give some hint of the rich harvest of lasting friendships which he reaped during his eastern sojourn.

To Mrs. Muir

May 29, 1893, 9 A.M.


I leave for New York this evening at five o'clock and arrive there to-morrow evening at seven, when I expect to find a letter from you in care of Johnson at the "Century" Editorial Rooms. The Sellers' beautiful home has been made heartily my own, and they have left nothing undone they could think of that would in any way add to my enjoyment. Under their guidance I have been at the [World's] Fair every day, and have seen the best of it, though months would be required to see it all.

You know I called it a "cosmopolitan rat's [Refers to the wood rat or pack rat (Neotoma) which builds large mound-like nests and "packs" into them all kinds of amusing odds and ends.] nest," containing much rubbish and commonplace stuff as well as things novel and precious. Well, now that I have seen it, it seems just such a rat's nest still, and what, do you think, was the first thing I saw when I entered the nearest of the huge buildings? A high rat's nest in a glass case about eight feet square, with stuffed wood rats looking out from the mass of sticks and leaves, etc., natural as life! So you see, as usual, I am "always right."

I most enjoyed the art galleries. There are about eighteen acres of paintings by every nation under the sun, and I wandered and gazed until I was ready to fall down with utter exhaustion. The Art Gallery of the California building is quite small and of little significance, not more than a dozen or two of paintings all told: four by Keith, not his best, and four by Hill, not his best, and a few others of no special character by others, except a good small one by Yelland. But the National Galleries are perfectly overwhelming in grandeur and bulk and variety, and years would be required to make even the most meager curiosity of a criticism.

The outside view of the buildings is grand and also beautiful. For the best architects have done their best in building them, while Frederick Law Olmsted laid out the grounds. Last night the buildings and terraces and fountains along the canals were illuminated by tens of thousands of electric lights arranged along miles of lines of gables, domes, and cornices, with glorious effect. It was all fairyland on a colossal scale and would have made the Queen of Sheba and poor Solomon in all their glory feel sick with helpless envy. I wished a hundred times that you and the children and Grandma could have seen it all, and only the feeling that Helen would have been made sick with excitement prevented me from sending for you.

I hope Helen is well and then all will be well. I have worked at my article at odd times now and then, but it still remains to be finished at the "Century" rooms. Tell the children I'll write them from New York to-morrow or next day. Love to all. Good-bye.

Ever yours


To Mrs. Muir

BOSTON, MASS., June 12, 1893


I have been so crowded and overladen with enjoyments lately that I have lost trace of time and have so much to tell you I scarce know where and how to begin. When I reached New York I called on Johnson, and told him I meant to shut myself up in a room and finish my articles and then go with Keith to Europe. But he paid no attention to either my hurry or Keith's, and quietly ordered me around and took possession of me.

NEW YORK, June 13


I was suddenly interrupted by a whole lot of new people, visits, dinners, champagne, etc., and have just got back to New York by a night boat by way of Fall River. So I begin again. Perhaps this is the 13th, Tuesday, for I lose all track of time.

First I was introduced to all the "Century" people, with their friends also as they came in. Dined with Johnson first. Mrs. J. is a bright, keen, accomplished woman.

Saw Burroughs the second day. He had been at a Walt Whitman Club the night before, and had made a speech, eaten a big dinner, and had a headache. So he seemed tired, and gave no sign of his fine qualities. I chatted an hour with him and tried to make him go to Europe with me. The "Century" men offered him five hundred dollars for some articles on our trip as an inducement, but he answered to-day by letter that he could not go, he must be free when he went, that he would above all things like to go with me, etc., but circumstances would not allow it. The "circumstances" barring the way are his wife. I can hardly say I have seen him at all.

Dined another day with [Richard Watson] Gilder. He is charming every way, and has a charming home and family.... I also dined in grand style at Mr. Pinchot's, whose son is studying forestry. The home is at Gramercy Park, New York. Here and at many other places I had to tell the story of the minister's dog. Everybody seems to think it wonderful for the views it gives of the terrible crevasses of the glaciers as well as for the recognition of danger and the fear and joy of the dog. I must have told it at least twelve times at the request of Johnson or others who had previously heard it. I told Johnson I meant to write it out for "St. Nicholas," but he says it is too good for "St. Nick," and he wants it for the "Century" as a separate article. When I am telling it at the dinner-tables, it is curious to see how eagerly the livened servants listen from behind screens, half-closed doors, etc.

Almost every clay in town here I have been called out to lunch and dinner at the clubs and soon have a crowd of notables about me. I had no idea I was so well known, considering how little I have written. The trip up the Hudson was delightful. Went as far as West Point, to Castle Crags, the residence of the [Henry Fairfield] Osborns. Charming drives in the green flowery woods, and, strange to say, all the views are familiar, for the landscapes are all freshly glacial. Not a line in any of the scenery that is not a glacial line. The same is true of all the region hereabouts. I found glacial scoring on the rocks of Central Park even.

Last Wednesday evening Johnson and I started for Boston, and we got back this morning, making the trip both ways in the night to economize time. After looking at the famous buildings, parks, monuments, etc., we took the train for Concord, wandered through the famous Emerson village, dined with Emerson's son, visited the Concord Bridge, where the first blood of the Revolution was shed, and where "the shot was fired heard round the world." Went through lovely, ferny, flowery woods and meadows to the hill cemetery and laid flowers on Thoreau'sand Emerson's graves. I think it is the most beautiful graveyard I ever saw. It is on a hill perhaps one hundred and fifty feet high in the woods of pine, oak, beech, maple, etc., and all the ground is flowery. Thoreau lies with his father, mother, and brother not far from Emerson and Hawthorne. Emerson lies between two white pine trees, one at his head, the other at [his] feet, and instead of a mere tombstone or monument there is a mass of white quartz rugged and angular, wholly uncut, just as it was blasted from the ledge. I don't know where it was obtained. There is not a single letter or word on this grand natural monument. It seems to have been dropped there by a glacier, and the soil he sleeps in is glacial drift almost wholly unchanged since first this country saw the light at the close of the glacial period. There are many other graves here, though it is not one of the old cemeteries. Not one of them is raised above ground. Sweet kindly Mother Earth has taken them back to her bosom whence they came. I did not imagine I would be so moved at sight of the resting- places of these grand men as I found I was, and I could not help thinking how glad I would be to feel sure that I would also rest here. But I suppose it cannot be, for Mother will be in Portage.

After leaving Thoreau and Emerson, we walked through the woods to Walden Pond. It is a beautiful lake about half a mile long, fairly embosomed like a bright dark eye in wooded hills of smooth moraine gravel and sand, and with a rich leafy undergrowth of huckleberry, willow, and young oak bushes, etc., and grass and flowers in rich variety. No wonder Thoreau lived here two years. I could have enjoyed living here two hundred years or two thousand. It is only about one and a half or two miles from Concord, a mere saunter, and how people should regard Thoreau as a hermit on account of his little delightful stay here I cannot guess.

We visited also Emerson's home and were shown through the house. It is just as he left it, his study, books, chair, bed, etc., and all the paintings and engravings gathered in his foreign travels. Also saw Thoreau's village residence and Hawthorne's old manse and other home near Emerson's. At six o'clock we got back from Walden to young Emerson's father- in-law's place in Concord and dined with the family and Edward Waldo Emerson. The latter is very like his father - rather tall, slender, and with his father's sweet perennial smile. Nothing could be more cordial and loving than his reception of me. When we called at the house, one of the interesting old colonial ones, he was not in, and we were received by his father-in-law, a college mate of Thoreau, who knew Thoreau all his life. The old man was sitting on the porch when we called. Johnson introduced himself, and asked if this was Judge Keyes, etc. The old gentleman kept his seat and seemed, I thought, a little cold and careless in his manner. But when Johnson said, "This is Mr. Muir," he jumped up and said excitedly, "John Muir! Is this John Muir?" and seized me as if I were a long-lost son. He declared he had known me always, and that my name was a household word. Then he took us into the house, gave us refreshments, cider, etc., introduced us to his wife, a charming old- fashioned lady, who also took me for a son. Then we were guided about the town and shown all the famous homes and places. But I must hurry on or I will be making a book of it.

We went back to Boston that night on a late train, though they wanted to keep us, and next day went to Professor Sargent's grand place, where we had a perfectly wonderful time for several days. This is the finest mansion and grounds I ever saw. The house is about two hundred feet long with immense verandas trimmed with huge flowers and vines, standing in the midst of fifty acres of lawns, groves, wild woods of pine, hemlock, maple, beech, hickory, etc., and all kinds of underbrush and wild flowers and cultivated flowers - acres of rhododendrons twelve feet high in full bloom, and a pond covered with lilies, etc., all the ground waving, hill and dale, and clad in the full summer dress of the region, trimmed with exquisite taste.

The servants are in livery, and everything is fine about the house and in it, but Mr. and Mrs. Sargent are the most cordial and unaffected people imaginable, and in a few minutes I was at my ease and at home, sauntering where I liked, doing what I liked, and making the house my own. Here we had grand dinners, formal and informal, and here I told my dog story, I don't know how often, and described glaciers and their works. Here, the last day, I dined with Dana, of the New York "Sun," and Styles, of the "Forest and Stream," Parsons, the Superintendent of Central Park, and Matthews, Mayor of Boston. Yesterday the Mayor came with carriages and drove us through the public parks and the most interesting streets of Boston, and he and Mr. and Mrs. Sargent drove to the station and saw us off. While making Sargent's our headquarters, Mr. Johnson took me to Cambridge, where we saw the classic old shades of learning, found Royce, who guided us, saw Porter, and the historian Parkman, etc., etc. We called at Eliot's house, but he was away.

We also went to the seaside at Manchester, forty miles or so from Boston, to visit Mrs. [James T. Fields, a charming old lady, and how good a time! Sarah Orne Jewett was there, and all was delightful. Here, of course, Johnson made me tell that dog story as if that were the main result of glacial action and all my studies, but I got in a good deal of ice-work better than this, and never had better listeners.

Judge Howland, whom I met in Yosemite with a party who had a special car, came in since I began this letter to invite me to a dinner to-morrow evening with a lot, of his friends. I must get that article done and set the day of sailing for Europe, or I won't get away at all. This makes three dinners ahead already. I fear the tail of my article will be of another color from the body. Johnson has been most devoted to me ever since I arrived, and I can't make him stop. I think I told you the "Century" wants to publish my book. They also want me to write articles from Europe.

Must stop. Love to all. How glad I was to get Wanda's long good letter this morning, dated June 2! All letters in Johnson's care will find me wherever I go, here or in Europe.


To Mrs. Muir

July 6, 1893


I left Liverpool Monday morning, reached Edinburgh early the same day, went to a hotel, and then went to the old book-publisher David Douglas, to whom Johnson had given me a letter. He is a very solemn-looking, dignified old Scotchman of the old school, an intimate friend and crony of John Brown, who wrote "Rab and His Friends," knew Hugh Miller, Walter Scott, and indeed all the literary men, and was the publisher of Dean Ramsay's "Reminiscences of Scottish Life and Character," etc. He had heard of me through my writings, and, after he knew who I was, burst forth into the warmest cordiality and became a perfect gushing fountain of fun, humor, and stories of' the old Scotch writers. Tuesday morning he took me in hand, and led me over Edinburgh, took me to all the famous places celebrated in Scott's novels, went around the Calton Hill and the Castle, into the old churches so full of associations, to Queen Mary's Palace Museum, and I don't know how many other places.

In the evening I dined with him, and had a glorious time. He showed me his literary treasures and curiosities, told endless anecdotes of John Brown, Walter Scott, Hugh Miller, etc., while I, of course, told my icy tales until very late - or early - the most wonderful night as far as humanity is concerned I ever had in the world. Yesterday forenoon he took me out for another walk and filled me with more wonders. His kindness and warmth of heart, once his confidence is gained, are boundless. From feeling lonely and a stranger in my own native land, he brought me back into quick and living contact with it, and now I am a Scotchman and at home again.

In the afternoon I took the train for Dunbar and in an hour was in my own old town. There was no carriage from the Lorne Hotel that used to be our home, so I took the one from the St. George, which I remember well as Cossar's Inn that I passed every day on my way to school. But I'm going to the Lorne, if for nothing else [than] to take a look at that dormer window I climbed in my nightgown, to see what kind of an adventure it really was.

I sauntered down the street and went into a store on which I saw the sign Melville, and soon found that the proprietor was an old playmate of mine, and he was, of course, delighted to see me. He had been reading my articles, and said he had taken great pride in tracing my progress through the far-off wildernesses. Then I went to William Comb, mother's old friend, who was greatly surprised, no doubt, to see that I had changed in forty years. "And this is Johnnie Muir! Bless me, when I saw ye last ye were naething but a small mischievous lad." He is very deaf, unfortunately, and was very busy. I am to see him again to-day.

Next I went in search of Mrs. Lunam, my cousin, and found her and her daughter in a very pretty home half a mile from town. They were very cordial, and are determined to get me away from the hotel. I spent the evening there talking family affairs, auld lang syne, glaciers, wild gardens, adventures, etc., till after eleven, then returned to the hotel.

Here are a few flowers that I picked on the Castle hill on my walk with Douglas, for Helen and Wanda. I pray heaven in the midst of my pleasure that you are all well. Edinburgh is, apart from its glorious historical associations, far the most beautiful town I ever saw. I cannot conceive how it could be more beautiful. In the very heart of it rises the great Castle hill, glacier-sculptured and wild like a bit of Alaska in the midst of the most beautiful architecture to be found in the world. I wish you could see it, and you will when the babies grow up.


J. M.

To Helen Muir

July 12, 1893


Are you all right? I'm in Scotland now, where I used to live when I was a little boy, and I saw the places where I used to play and the house I used to live in. I remember it pretty well, and the school where the teacher used to whip me so much, though I tried to be good all the time and learn my lessons. The round tower on the hill in the picture at the beginning of the letter is one of the places I used to play at on Saturdays when there was no school.

Here is a little sprig of heather a man gave me yesterday and another for Wanda. The heather is just beginning to come into bloom. I have not seen any of it growing yet, and I don't know where the man found it. But I'm going pretty soon up the mountains, and then I'll find lots of it, and won't it be lovely, miles and miles of it, covering whole mountains and making them look purple. I think I must camp out in the heather.

I'm going to come home just as soon as I get back from Switzerland, about the time the grapes are ripe, I expect. I wish I could see you, my little love.

Your papa


To Mrs. Muir

July 12, 1893


I have been here nearly a week and have seen most of my old haunts and playgrounds, and more than I expected of my boy playmates. Of course it is all very interesting, and I have enjoyed it more than I anticipated. Dunbar is an interesting place to anybody, beautifully located on a plateau above the sea and with a background of beautiful hills and dales, green fields in the very highest state of cultivation, and many belts and blocks of woods so arranged as to appear natural. I have had a good many rides and walks into the country among the fine farms and towns and old castles, and had long talks with people who listen with wonder to the stories of California and far Alaska.

I suppose, of course, you have received my Edinburgh letter telling the fine time with David Douglas. I mean to leave here next Monday for the Highlands, and then go to Norway and Switzerland.

I am stopping with my cousin, who, with her daughter, lives in a handsome cottage just outside of town. They are very cordial and take me to all the best places and people, and pet me in grand style, but I must on and away or my vacation time will be past ere I leave Scotland.

At Haddington I visited Jeanie Welch Carlyle's grave in the old abbey. Here are two daisies, or gowans, that grew beside it.

I was on a visit yesterday to a farmer's family three miles from town - friends of the Lunarns. This was a fine specimen of the gentleman-farmers' places and people in this, the best part of Scotland. How fine the grounds are, and the buildings and the people!...

I begin to think I shall not see Keith again until I get back, except by accident, for I have no time to hunt him up; but anyhow I am not so lonesome as I was and with David Douglas's assistance will make out to find my way to fair advantage.

The weather here reminds me of Alaska, cool and rather damp. Nothing can surpass the exquisite fineness and wealth of the farm crops, while the modulation of the ground stretching away from the rocky, foamy coast to the green Lammermoor Hills is charming. Among other famous places I visited the old castle of the Bride of Lammermoor and the field of the bat- tie of Dunbar. Besides, I find fine glacial studies everywhere.

I fondly hope you are all well while I am cut off from news.

Ever yours


To Wanda Muir

July 13, 1893


It is about ten o'clock in the forenoon here, but no doubt you are still asleep, for it is about midnight at Martinez, and sometimes when it is to-day here it is yesterday in California on account of being on opposite sides of the round world. But one's thoughts travel fast, and I seem to be in California whenever I think of you and Helen. I suppose you are busy with your lessons and peaches, peaches especially. You are now a big girl, almost a woman, and you must mind your lessons and get in a good store of the best words of the best people while your memory is retentive, and then you will go through the world rich.

Ask mother to give you lessons to commit to memory every day. Mostly the sayings of Christ in the gospels and selections from the poets. Find the hymn of praise in Paradise Lost "These are thy glorious works, Parent of Good, Almighty," and learn it well.

Last evening, after writing to Helen, I took a walk with Maggie Lunam along the shore on the rocks where I played when a boy. The waves made a grand show breaking in sheets and sheaves of foam, and grand songs, the same old songs they sang to me in my childhood, and I seemed a boy again and all the long eventful years in America were forgotten while I was filled with that glorious ocean psalm.

Tell Maggie I'm going to-day to see Miss Jaifry, the minister's daughter who went to school with us. And tell mamma that the girl Agnes Purns, that could outrun me, married a minister and is now a widow living near Prestonpans. I may see her. Good-bye, dear. Give my love to grandma and everybody.

Your loving father


To Mrs. Muir

July 22, 1893


I stayed about ten days at Dunbar, thinking I should not slight my old home and cousins. I found an extra cousin in Dunbar, Jane Mather, that I had not before heard of, and she is one to be proud of, as are the Lunams. I also found a few of the old schoolmates, now gray old men, older-looking, I think, and grayer than I, though I have led so hard a life. I went with Maggie Lunam to the old schoolhouse where I was so industriously thrashed half a century ago. The present teacher, Mr. Dick, got the school two years after I left, and has held it ever since. He had been reading the "Century," and was greatly interested. I dined with him and at table one of the guests said, "Mr. Dick, don't you wish you had the immortal glory of having whipped John Muir?"

I made many short trips into the country, along the shores, about the old castle, etc. Then I went back to Edinburgh, and then to Dumfries, Burns's country for some years, where I found another cousin, Susan Gilroy, with whom I had a good time. Then I went through Glasgow to Stirling, where I had a charming walk about the castle and saw the famous battle-field, Bruce's and Wallace's monuments, and glacial action.

This morning I left Stirling and went to Callander, thence to Inversnaid by coach and boat, by the Trossachs and Loch Katrine, thence through Loch Lomond and the mountains to a railroad and on to this charming Oban. I have just arrived this day on Lochs Katrine and Lomond, and the drives through the passes and over the mountains made famous by Scott in the "Lady of the Lake" will be long remembered - "Ower the muir amang the heather."

The heather is just coming into bloom and it is glorious. Wish I could camp in it a month. All the scenery is interesting, but nothing like Alaska or California in grandeur. To-morrow I'm going back to Edinburgh and next morning intend to start for Norway, where I will write.

Possibly I may not be able to catch the boat, but guess I will. Thence I'll return to Edinburgh and then go to Switzerland. Love to all. Dear Wanda and Helen, here is some bell heather for you.

Ever yours

J. M.

To Mrs. Muir

September 1, 1893


Yesterday afternoon I went to the home of Sir Joseph Hooker at Sunningdale with him and his family.. . . Now I am done with London and shall take the morning express to Edinburgh to-morrow, go thence to the Highlands and see the heather in full bloom, visit some friends, and go back to Dunbar for a day....

I have been at so many places and have seen so much that is new, the time seems immensely long since I left you. Sir Joseph and his lady were very cordial. They have a charming country residence, far wilder and more retired than ours, though within twenty-five miles of London. We had a long delightful talk last evening on science and scientific men, and this forenoon and afternoon long walks and talks through the grounds and over the adjacent hills. Altogether this has been far the most interesting day I have had since leaving home. I never knew before that Sir Joseph had accompanied Ross in his famous Antarctic expedition as naturalist. He showed me a large number of sketches he made of the great icecap, etc., and gave me many facts concerning that little known end of the world entirely new to me. Long talks, too, about Huxley, Tyndall, Darwin, Sir Charles Lyell, Asa Gray, etc. My, what a time we had! I never before knew either that he had received the Copley Medal, the highest scientific honor in the world.

I hope to hear from you again before sailing, as I shall order my mail forwarded from London the last thing. I feel that my trip is now all but done, though I have a good many people to see and small things to do, ere I leave. The hills in full heather bloom, however, is not a small thing.

Much love


To Helen Muir

September 7, 1893


After papa left London he went to the top of Scotland to a place called Thurso, where a queer Scotch geologist [Robert Dick] once lived; hundreds of miles thereabouts were covered with heather in full bloom. Then I went to Inverness and down the canal to Oban again. Then to Glasgow and then to Ireland to see the beautiful bogs and lakes and Macgillicuddy's Reeks. Now I must make haste tomorrow back towards Scotland and get ready to sail to New York on the big ship Campania, which leaves Liverpool on the sixteenth day of this month, and then I'll soon see darling Helen again. Papa is tired traveling so much, and wishes he was home again, though he has seen many beautiful and wonderful places, and learned a good deal about glaciers and mountains and things. It is very late, and I must go to bed. Kiss everybody for me, my sweet darling, and soon I'll be home.


To James and Hardy Hay

September 16, 1893

James and Hardy Hay and all the glorious company about them, young and old.


I am now fairly aff and awa' from the old home to the new, from friends to friends, and soon the braid sea will again roar between us; but be assured, however far I go in sunny California or icy Alaska, I shall never cease to love and admire you, and I hope that now and then you will think of your lonely kinsman, whether in my bright home in the Golden State or plodding after God's glorious glaciers in the storm-beaten mountains of the North.

Among all the memories that I carry away with me this eventful summer none stand out in so divine a light as the friends I have found among my own kith and kin: Hays, Mathers, Lunams, Gilroys. In particular I have enjoyed and admired the days spent with the Lunams and you Hays. Happy, Godful homes; again and again while with you I repeated myself those lines of Burns: "From scenes like these old Scotia's grandeur springs, that makes her loved at home, revered abroad."

Don't forget me and if in this changing world you or yours need anything in it that I can give, be sure to call on

Your loving and admiring cousin


From George W. Cable

December 18, 1893


I am only now really settled down at home for a stay of a few weeks. I wanted to have sent to you long ago the book I mail now and which you kindly consented to accept from me - Lanier's poems. There are in Lanier such wonderful odors of pine, and hay, and salt sands and cedar, and corn, and such whisperings of Eolian strains and every outdoor sound -I think you would have had great joy in one an- other's personal acquaintance.

And this makes me think how much I have in yours. Your face and voice, your true, rich words, are close to my senses now as I write, and I cry hungrily for more. The snow is on us everywhere now, and as I look across the white, crusted waste I see such mellowness of yellow sunlight and long blue and purple shadows that I want some adequate manly partnership to help me reap the rapture of such beauty. In one place a stretch of yellow grass standing above the snow or blown clear of it glows golden in the slant light. The heavens are blue as my love's eyes and the elms are black lace against their infinite distance.

Last night I walked across the frozen white under a moonlight and starlight that made the way seem through the wastes of a stellar universe and not along the surface of one poor planet.

Write and tell me, I pray you, what those big brothers of yours, the mountains, have been saying to you of late. It will compensate in part, but only in part, for the absence of your spoken words.

Yours truly


To Robert Underwood Johnson

MARTINEZ, April 3, 1894


The book, begotten Heaven knows when, is finished and out of me, therefore hurrah, etc., and thanks to you, very friend, for benevolent prodding. Six of the sixteen chapters are new, and the others are nearly so, for I have worked hard on every one of them, leaning them against each other, adding lots of new stuff, and killing adjectives and adverbs of redundant growth - the verys, intenses, gloriouses, ands, and buts, by the score. I feel sure the little alpine thing will not disappoint you. Anyhow I've done the best I could. Read the opening chapter when you have time. In it I have ventured to drop into the poetry that I like, but have taken good care to place it between bluffs and buttresses of bald, glacial, geological facts.

Mrs. Muir keeps asking me whether it is possible to get Johnson to come out here this summer. She seems to regard you as a Polish brother. Why, I'll be hanged if I know. I always thought you too cosmically good to be of any clannish nation. By the way, during these last months of abnormal cerebral activity I have written another article for the "Century" which I'll send you soon.


The book mentioned in the preceding letter was his "Mountains of California," which appeared in the autumn of 1894 from the press of the Century Company. "I take pleasure in sending you with this a copy of my first book," he wrote to his old friend Mrs. Carr. "You will say that I should have written it long ago; but I begrudged the time of my young mountain-climbing days." To a Scotch cousin, Margaret Hay Lunam, he characterized it as one in which he had tried to describe and explain what a traveler would see for himself if he were to come to California and go over the mountain- ranges and through the forests as he had done.

The warmth of appreciation with which the book was received by the most thoughtful men and women of his time did much to stimulate him to further literary effort. His friend Charles S. Sargent, director of the Arnold Arboretum, then at work upon his great work "The Silva of North America," wrote as follows: "I am reading your Sierra book and I want to tell you that I have never read descriptions of trees that so picture them to the mind as yours do. No fellow who was at once a poet, naturalist, and keen observer has to my knowledge ever written about trees before, and I believe you are the man who ought to have written a silva of North America. Your book is one of the great productions of its kind and I congratulate you on it."

Equally enthusiastic was the great English botanist J. D. Hooker. "I have just finished the last page of your delightful volume," he wrote from his home at Sunningdale, "and can therefore thank you with a full heart. I do not know when I have read anything that I have enjoyed more. It has brought California back to my memory with redoubled interest, and with more than redoubled knowledge. Above all it has recalled half-forgotten scientific facts, geology, geography, and vegetation that I used to see when in California and which I have often tried to formulate in vain. Most especially this refers to glacial features and to the conifers; and recalling them has recalled the scenes and surroundings in which I first heard them."

The acclaim of the book by reviewers was so enthusiastic that the first edition was soon exhausted. It was his intention to bring out at once another volume devoted to the Yosemite Valley in particular. With this task he busied himself in 1895, revisiting during the summer his old haunts at the headwaters of the Tuolumne and passing once more alone through the cañon to Hetch-Hetchy Valley. As in the old days he carried no blanket and a minimum of provisions, so that he had only a handful of crackers and a pinch of tea left when he reached Hetch-Hetchy. "The bears were very numerous," he wrote to his wife on August 17th, "this being berry time in the cañon. But they gave no trouble, as I knew they wouldn't. Only in tangled underbrush I had to shout a good deal to avoid coming suddenly on them."

Having no food when he reached Hetch-Hetchy, he set out to cover the twenty miles from there to Crocker's on foot, but had gone only a few miles when he met on the trail two strangers and two well-laden pack-animals. The leader, T. P. Lukens, asked his name, and then told him that he had come expressly to meet John Muir in the hope that he might go back with him into Hetch-Hetchy. "On the banks of the beautiful river beneath a Kellogg oak" the bonds of a new mountain friendship were sealed while beautiful days rolled by unnoticed. "I am fairly settled at home again," he wrote to his aged mother on his return, "and the six weeks of mountaineering of this summer in my old haunts are over, and now live only in memory and notebooks like all the other weeks in the Sierra. But how much I enjoyed this excursion, or indeed any excursion in the wilderness, I am not able to tell. I must have been born a mountaineer and the climbs and 'scootchers' of boyhood days about the old Dunbar Castle and on the roof of our house made fair beginnings. I suppose old age will put an end to scrambling in rocks and ice, but I can still climb as well as ever. I am trying to write another book, but that is harder than mountaineering."

During the spring of the following year, Mr. Johnson saw some article on Muir which moved him to ask whether he had ever been offered a professorship at Harvard, and whether Professor Louis Agassiz had declared him to be "the only living man who understood glacial action in the formation of scenery."

To Robert Underwood Johnson

MARTINEZ, May 3, 1895


To both your questions the answer is, No. I hate this personal rubbish, and I have always sheltered myself as best I could in the thickest shade I could find, celebrating only the glory of God as I saw it in nature.

The foundations for the insignificant stories you mention are, as far as I know, about as follows. More than twenty years ago Professor Runkle was in Yosemite, and I took him into the adjacent wilderness and, of course, night and day preached to him the gospel of glaciers. When he went away he urged me to go with him, saying that the Institute of Technology in Boston was the right place for me, that I could have the choice of several professorships there, and every facility for fitting myself for the duties required, etc., etc.

Then came Emerson and more preaching. He said, Don't tarry too long in the woods. Listen for the word of your guardian angel. You are needed by the young men in our colleges. Solitude is a sublime mistress, but an intolerable wife. When Heaven gives the sign, leave the mountains, come to my house and live with me until you are tired of me and then I will show you to better people.

Then came Gray and more fine rambles and sermons. He said, When you get ready, come to Harvard. You have good and able and enthusiastic friends there and we will gladly push you ahead, etc., etc. So much for Ha-a-a-rvard. But you must surely know that I never for a moment thought of leaving God's big show for a mere profship, call who may.

The Agassiz sayings you refer to are more nearly true than the college ones. Yosemite was my home when Agassiz was in San Francisco, and I never saw him. When he was there I wrote him a long icy letter, telling what glorious things I had to show him and urging him to come to the mountains. The reply to this letter was written by Mrs. Agassiz, in which she told me that, when Agassiz read my letter, he said excitedly, "Here is the first man I have ever found who has any adequate conception of glacial action." Also that he told her to say in reply to my invitation that if he should accept it now he could not spend more than six weeks with me at most. That he would rather go home now, but next year he would come and spend all summer with me. But, as you know, he went home to die.

Shortly afterward I came down out of my haunts to Oakland and there met Joseph LeConte, whom I had led to the Lyell Glacier a few months before Agassiz's arrival. He (LeConte) told me that, in the course of a conversation with Agassiz on the geology of the Sierra, he told him that a young man by the name of Muir studying up there perhaps knew more about the glaciation of the Sierra than any one else. To which Agassiz replied warmly, and bringing his fist down on the table, "He knows all about it." Now there! You've got it all, and what a mess of mere J. M. you've made me write. Don't you go and publish it. Burn it.

Ever cordially yours


What of the summer day now dawning? Remember you have a turn at the helm. How are you going to steer? How fares Tesla and the auroral lightning? Shall we go to icy Alaska or to the peaks and streets and taluses of the Sierra? That was a good strong word you said for the vanishing forests.

To Robert Underwood Johnson

MARTINEZ, September 12, 1895


I have just got home from a six weeks' ramble in the Yosemite and Yosemite National Park. For three years the soldiers have kept the sheepmen and sheep out of the park, and I looked sharply at the ground to learn the value of the military influence on the small and great flora. On the sloping portions of the forest floor, where the soil was loose and friable, the vegetation has not yet recovered from the dibbling and destructive action of the sheep feet and teeth. But where a tough sod on meadows was spread, the grasses and blue gentians and erigerons are again blooming in all their wild glory.

The sheepmen are more than matched by the few troopers in this magnificent park, and the wilderness rejoices in fresh verdure and bloom. Only the Yosemite itself in the middle of the grand park is downtrodden, frowsy, and like an abandoned backwoods pasture. No part of the Merced and Tuolumne wilderness is so dusty, downtrodden, abandoned, and pathetic as the Yosemite. It looks ten times worse now than when you saw it seven years ago. Most of the level meadow floor of the Valley is fenced with barbed and unbarbed wire and about three hundred head of horses are turned loose every night to feed and trample the flora out of existence. I told the hotel and horsemen that they were doing all they could to prevent lovers of wild beauties from visiting the Valley, and that soon all tourist travel would cease. This year only twelve hundred regular tourists visited the Valley, while two thousand campers came in and remained a week or two....

I have little hope for Yosemite. As long as the management is in the hands of eight politicians appointed by the ever-changing Governor of California, there is but little hope. I never saw the Yosemite so frowsy, scrawny, and downtrodden as last August, and the horsemen began to inquire, "Has the Yosemite begun to play out?"...

Ever yours


At the June Commencement in 1896, Haryard bestowed upon Muir an honorary M. A. degree. [President Eliot's salutation, spoken in Latin, was as follows: "Johannem Muir, loeorum ineognitoruxn exploratorem insignem; fluminum qui stint in Alaska serratisque montibus conglaciatorum studiosum; diligentem silvarum et rerum agrestium ferarumque indagatorem, artium magistrurn."] The offer of the honor came just as he was deciding, moved by a strange presentiment of her impending death, to pay another visit to his mother. Among Muir's papers, evidently intended for his autobiography, I find the following description of the incident under the heading of "Mysterious Things":

As in the case of father's death, while seated at work in my library in California in the spring of 1896, I was suddenly possessed with the idea that I ought to go back to Portage, Wisconsin, to see my mother once more, as she was not likely to live long, though I had not heard that she was failing. I had not sent word that I was coming. Two of her daughters were living with her at the time, and, when one of them happened to see me walking up to the house through the garden, she came running out, saying, "John, God must have sent you, because mother is very sick." I was with her about a week before she died, and managed to get my brother Daniel, the doctor, to come down from Nebraska to be with her. He insisted that he knew my mother's case very well, and didn't think that there was the slightest necessity for his coming. I told him I thought he would never see her again if he didn't come, and he would always regret neglecting this last duty to mother, and finally succeeded in getting him to come. But brother David and my two eldest sisters, who had since father's death moved to California, were not present.

The following letter gives a brief summary of his Eastern experiences up to the time when he joined the Forestry Commission in Chicago. It should be added that Muir went along unofficially at the invitation of C. S. Sargent, the Chairman of the Commission. Of the epochal work of this Commission and Muir's relation to it, more later.

To Helen Muir

CHICAGO, July 3d, 1896


I have enjoyed your sweet, bright, illustrated letters ever and ever so mach; both the words and the pictures made me see everything at home as if I was there myself - the peaches, and the purring pussies, and the blue herons flying about, and all the people working and walking about and talking and guessing on the weather.

So many things have happened since I left home, and I have seen so many people and places and have traveled so fast and far, I have lost the measure of time, and it seems more than a year since I left home. Oh, dear! how tired I have been and excited and swirly! Sometimes my head felt so benumbed, I hardly knew where I was. And yet everything done seems to have been done for the best, and I believe God has been guiding us....

I went to New York and then up the Hudson a hundred miles to see John Burroughs and Professor Osborn, to escape being sunstruck and choked in the horrid weather of the streets; and then, refreshed, I got back to New York and started for Boston and Cambridge and got through the Harvard business all right and caught a fast train. . . back to Portage in time for the funeral. Then I stopped three or four days to settle all the business and write to Scotland, and comfort Sarah and Annie and Mary; then I ran down a half-day to Madison, and went to Milwaukee and stayed a night with William Trout, with whom I used to live in a famous hollow in the Canada woods thirty years ago. Next day I went to Indianapolis and saw everybody there and stopped with them one night. Then came here last night and stopped with [A. H.] Sellers. I am now in his office awaiting the arrival of the Forestry Commission, with whom I expect to start West tonight at half-past ten o'clock. It is now about noon. I feel that this is the end of the strange lot of events I have been talking about, for when I reach the Rocky Mountains I'll feel at home. I saw a wonderful lot of squirrels at Osborn's, and Mrs. Osborn wants you and Wanda and Mamma to visit her and stay a long time.

Good-bye, darling, and give my love to Wanda and Mamma and Grandma and Maggie. Go over and comfort Maggie and tell Mamma to write to poor Sarah. Tell Mamma I spent a long evening with [Nicola] Tesla and I found him quite a wonderful and interesting fellow.


To Wanda Muir

July 5th, 1896


I am now fairly on my way West again, and a thousand miles nearer you than I was a few days ago. We got here this morning, after a long ride from Chicago. By we I mean Professors Sargent, Brewer, Hague, and General Abbot - all interesting wise men and grand company. It was dreadfully hot the day we left Chicago, but it rained before morning of the 4th, and so that day was dustless and cool, and the ride across Iowa was delightful. That State is very fertile and beautiful. The cornfields and wheatfields are boundless, or appear so as we skim through them on the cars, and all are rich and bountiful-looking. Flowers in bloom line the roads, and tall grasses and bushes. The surface of the ground is rolling, with hills beyond hills, many of them crowned with trees. I never before knew that Iowa was so beautiful and inexhaustibly rich.

Nebraska is monotonously level like a green grassy sea - no hills or mountains in sight for hundreds of miles. Here, too, are cornfields without end and full of promise this year, after three years of famine from drouth.

South Dakota, by the way we came, is dry and desert-like until you get into the Black Hills. The latter get their name from the dark color they have in the distance from the pine forests that cover them. The pine of these woods is the ponderosa or yellow pine, the same as the one that grows in the Sierra, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and all the West in general. No other pine in the world has so wide a range or is so hardy at all heights and under all circumstances and conditions of climate and soil. This is near its eastern limit, and here it is interesting to find that many plants of the Atlantic and Pacific slopes meet and grow well together.


To Helen and Wanda Muir

CUSTER, S.D., July 6, 1896


My!! if YOU could only come here when I call you how wonderful you would think this hollow in the rocky Black Hills is! It is wonderful even to me after seeing so many wild mountains - curious rocks rising alone or in clusters, gray and jagged and rounded in the midst of a forest of pines and spruces and poplars and birches, with a little lake in the middle and carpet of meadow gay with flowers. It is in the heart of the famous Black Hills where the Indians and Whites quarreled and fought so much. The whites wanted the gold in the rocks, and the Indians wanted the game- the deer and elk that used to abound here. As a grand deer pasture this was said to have been the best in America, and no wonder the Indians wanted to keep it, for wherever the white man goes the game vanishes.

We came here this forenoon from Hot Springs, fifty miles by rail and twelve by wagon. And most of the way was through woods fairly carpeted with beautiful flowers. A lovely red lily, Lilium Pennsylvanicum, was common, two kinds of spirea and a beautiful wild rose in full bloom, anemones, calochortus, larkspur, etc. etc., far beyond time to tell. But I must not fail to mention linnaa. How sweet the air is! I would like to stop a long time and have you and Mamma with me. What walks we would have!!

We leave to-night for Edgemont. Here are some mica flakes and a bit of spiraa I picked up in a walk with Professor Sargent.

Good-bye, my babes. Sometime I must bring you here. I send love and hope you are well.


The following letter expresses Muir's stand in the matter of the recession of Yosemite Valley by the State of California to the Federal Government. The mismanagement of the Valley under ever-changing political appointees of the various Governors had become a national scandal, and Muir was determined that, in spite of some objectors, the Sierra Club should have an opportunity to express itself on the issue. The bill for recession was reported favorably in the California Assembly in February, but it encountered so much pettifogging and politically inspired opposition that it was not actually passed until 1905.

To Warren Olney, Sr.

MARTINEZ, January 18, 1897


I think with you that a resolution like the one you offered the other day should be thoroughly studied and discussed before final action is taken and a close approximation made to unanimity, if possible. Still, I don't see that one or two objectors should have the right to kill all action of the Club in this or any other matter rightly belonging to it. Professor Davidson's objection is also held by Professor LeConte, or was, but how they can consistently sing praise to the Federal Government in the management of the National Parks, and at the same time regard the same management of Yosemite as degrading to the State, I can't see. For my part, I'm proud of California and prouder of Uncle Sam, for the U.S. is all of California and more. And as to our Secretary's objection, it seemed to me merely political, and if the Sierra Club is to be run by politicians, the sooner mountaineers get out of it the better. Fortunately, the matter is not of first importance, but now it has been raised, I shall insist on getting it squarely before the Club. I had given up the question as a bad job, but so many of our members have urged it lately I now regard its discussion as a duty of the Club.


Return to Volume 10 Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus