John Muir


[John Muir]


Catherine [Merrill] et al.


[Original letter returned to Miss M. Merrill] Address, Hopeton, Merced Co., California At a farm-house near Snelling on Merced river , California. July 19th, [1868]. To Miss Catherine , and Miss Mina, and Mrs. Moores, and to all of the genus Merrill, my most cordial greeting: I do Wish I could see you all. Our world has gone more than half way 'round the sun since I heard from any of you. I am lonesome. I have not received a single letter from anyone since my departure from Florida, but I mean to settle here for a few months, and hope to see this big gap in tidings from friends well mended. Flowers and fate have carried me to California, and I have reveled and luxuriated in its mountains and plants and bright sky for more than a hundred days, and were it not for a thought now and then of isolation and loneliness, the happiness of my existence would be complete. I saw but little of the tropical grandeur of Panama, for my health was still in wreck, and I did not venture to wait the arrival of another steamer, so I had only half a day to collect specimens - the isthmus train moved with cruel speed, and I could only gaze from the car platform, and weep and pray that the Lord would some day give me strength to see it better. The scenery of the ocean is intensely interesting, very far exceeding in beauty and magnificence the highest of my most ardent conceptions. I arrived in San Francisco about the first of Apr. and struck out at once to the country. I followed the Diabolo [Diablo] foothills along the San Jose valley to Gilroy, thence I traveled over Diabolo [Diablo] Mountains to valley of San Joaquin by the Pacheco pass, thence down the valley until about opposite the mouth, of the Merced,--across the San Joaquin river, and into the Sierra Nevadas to the mammoth trees of Mariposa and glorious Yo-Semite [Yosemite] valley, thence down the Merced to this place. The goodness of the weather and of everything else as I journeyed towards Pacheco was beyond all human description and praise,--bright, and balmy, and fragrant. The air was perfectly delicious - sweet enough for the breath of angel ,-- every inhalation gives a distinct and separate piece of pleasure, and the finely moulded hillsides were robed in the greenest grass and richest light I ever beheld, and all colored and shaded with myriads of precious flowers of every hue , but chiefly of purple and golden yellow. And hundreds of crystal rills joined song with the larks, filling the whole valley with music like a sea, and making it Eden from end to end. The scenery, too,- of the pass is fairly enchanting, - - strange and beautiful mountain ferns everywhere low in the deep canyons and high upon the craggy peaks – blooming shrubs , and countless assemblies of flowers, happy and pure as ever enjoyed the sweets of a mountain home, and thousands of streams are there, beaming, glancing, each with music of its own, singing as they go,leaping and gliding in shadow and light onward along their lovely pathways to the sea; and mountains rise over mountains, and hills over hill s , heaving, waving, swelling in most glorious, overwhelming, unreadable majesty. And when the poor human insect invader is about to escape from the terrible grandeur of these mountain powers, other fountains, other oceans break forth before him, for there in clear view over the heaps and rows of foothills is laid a grand level plain watered by a river, and another range of snow- capped mountains a hundred miles in the distance-- that plain is the valley of the San Joaquin and these mountains are the magnificent Sierra Nevadas. The valley of San Joaquin is the floweriest piece of world I ever walked-one vast level flower - bed - a sheet of flowers - a smooth sea ruffled a little in the middle by the tree fringing of the river, and here and there of smaller cross streams from the mountains. Florida is indeed a "land of flowers,” but for every flower creature that dwells in its most delightsome places more than a hundred [are] (is) living here. Here, here is Florida, Here is it not as in our great western prairie, flowers sprinkled in the grass, but grass in the flowers; not as in Cuba, flowers piled upon flowers, heaped and gathered into deep glowing masses, but flowers side by side, raceme to raceme, petal to petal, touching but [not] entwined, branches weaving past and past each other, but free to separate - one level sheet. True , in looking at this flowerrobe more closely it would seem to be thrice folded, mosses next the ground, petaled flowers above them, grasses over all; but to our eyes they are one. .Before studying the flowers of this valley , and their sky, and all of the furniture and adornments and sounds of their home, one can hardly believe that these vast meetings are permanent, but rather that actuated by some great special plant purpose, they had convened in families and tribes from every mountain, plain, and meadow of their kingdom, and that the different coloring of patches, and acres, and miles marked the various tribe and family [Letter of John Muir to Miss Catherine and other Merrills, July 19th, 1868]. 2 encampments. Just see what I gathered from a single square between the Diabolos and river opp[osite] Merced. I have no books and so cannot give specific names . Nat. Ords. [Natural Orders] Flrs. [Flowers] Species Polemon 401 2 purple Gram' 29830 3 Comp. 132126 2 yellow Leg' 2620, 2 purple & white Scroph' 169 1 “ [purple] Umb ' 620 1 yellow Geran' 22 1 purple Rub ' 40 white ? 85 Nat.Ord. unknown ? 60 yellow u/ Misc. 1,000000 2 purple Total of open flowers 165912 “ " flowers in bud, say 100000 “ " withered flowers 40000 “ “ Nat. Ords. 9-11 “ “ Species 16 Mosses 1,000000 The yellow of these compositae, both of the ray and disc flowers, is extremely deep and rich and bossy, and exceeds the purple of all the others in superficial quantity forty or fifty times their whole amount. But to an observer who first looks downward, then takes a wider and wider view, the yellow gradually fades, and purple predominates, because nearly all of the purple flowers are taller. In depth, the purple stratum is about ten or twelve inches, the yellow seven or eight, and down in the shade, out of sight, is another stratum of purple, one inch in depth, for the ground forests of mosses are there, with purple stems, and purple cups. The color-beauty of these mosses, at least in the mass, was not made for human eyes, nor for the wild horses that inhabit these plains, nor the antelopes, but perhaps the little creatures enjoy their own beauty, and perhaps the insects that dwell in these forests and climb their shining columns enjoy it. But we know that however faint, and however shaded, no part of it is lost, for all color is received into the eyes of God. My four pages are nearly full, and on looking back on what I have written I see that it is nothing- just nothing, and though sent so far it will not carry you a drop, not a drop, my friends , from all these oceans and gulphs [gulfs] and bays of plant loveliness. Can you not come . Yo- Semite [Yosemite] alone is worth the expense and danger of any journey in the world. Miss Catherine, you thought me wrong last year in some of my readings of prairie plants, so now just come yourself and see what you can make of these great lessons of mountain and plain, and you must come too, Miss Mina, for the chiefest things of all this golden land are "without controversy,” and then you could go easily from here to your favorite Russian America, and the pure cool winds , and delicious crystal water of the Sierras would give you, Mrs. Moores, full bright health to enjoy themselves and all the things related to them, but do not bring Merrill with you - he must not see the Yo- Semite [Yosemite] until he is about a hundred years old. In such scenery he is sure to break his neck. Where is Prof. Butler? Were you ever in Cuba? Were, you ever in the graveyard of Bonaventure near Savannah, Ga.? Tell Mrs. Davis that I gathered some lovely Yo-Semite ferns expressly for her and some lillies that made me remember the crocus she brought to my dark room. I wrote to you from New York but have read no answer - perhaps it has been sent to Washington, as I was away from postoffices for three months. I am sorry to know that it will be so long before I can hear from you. My love to all. Remember me to your minister and all my friends, Merrill and Janet and Chas I have some California things to tell you. [John Muir] [Envelope addressed Merrill & Co., For Catherine Merrill, Indianapolis, Indiana].


Hopeton, Calif.

Circa Date

[1868] Jul 19

Resource Identifier


File Identifier

Reel 01, Image 1222

Collection Identifier

Online finding aid for the microform version of the John Muir Correspondence

Copyright Statement

The unpublished works of John Muir are copyrighted by the Muir-Hanna Trust. To purchase copies of images and/or obtain permission to publish or exhibit them, see

Owning Institution

Holt-Atherton Special Collections, University of the Pacific Library. Please contact this institution directly to obtain copies of the images or permission to publish or use them beyond educational purposes.

Copyright Holder

Muir-Hanna Trust

Copyright Date



2 pages


Environmentalist, naturalist, travel, conservation, national parks, John Muir, Yosemite, California, history, correspondence, letters



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