Louie [Strentzel Muir]
Sep. 10th, 1885.
I have just returned from a visit to the old people and old places about our first homes in America,ten or twelve miles to the north of this place, and am glad to hear from you at last. Your two letters dated (Aug.) 23d and 28th and the Dr.'s of the lst Sep. have just been received, one of ^hem having been forwarded from the Yellowstone, making altogether four letters from home besides Wanda's neat little notes which read and look equally well whichever side is uppermost. Now I feel better, for I had begun to despair of hearing from you at all, and the weeks since leaving home,having been crowded with novel scenes and events, seemed about as long as years.
As for the old freedom I used to enjoy in the wilderness, that, like Youth and its enthusiasms,is evidently a thing of the past, though I feel that I could still do some good scientific work if the necessary leisure could be secured. Your letters and the Doctor's cheer and reassure me, as I felt that I was staying away too long and leaving my burdens for others to carry who had enough of their own, and though you encourage me to prolong my stay and reap all the benefit I can in the way of health and pleasure and knowledge, I cannot shut my eyes to the fact that the main vintage will soon be on and require my presence, to say nothing of your uncertain state of health. Therefore I mean to begin the return journey next Saturday morning by way of Chicago and Kansas City.[Willis Hand and Mary are now at Kansas City. They leave for home next Monday, and I fear I may miss them]
Still another of your letters has just arrived, dated .Aug. 31, by which I learn that Wanda is quite well and grandma getting stronger, while you are not well as you should be. I have tried to get you conscious of the necessity of the utmost care of your health -- especially at present -- and again remind you of it.
The Yellowstone period was, as you say, far too short, and it required bitter resolution to leave all. The trip, however, as a whole has been far from fruitless in any direction. I have gained telling glimpses of the Continent from the car windows, and have seen most of the old friends and neighbors of boyhood times who without exception were almost oppressively kind, while a two weeks' visit with mother and the family is a great satisfaction to us all, however much we might wish it extended..,.
[Mother is still strong and well and alive to everything, and takes long walks to church and to visit her many old friends in town, and evidently enjoys life here. She will never leave Portage while any of the family remain here. Anna has decided at the last moment to come with me,at least as far as Kansas City, as she dreads the winter. If she can stand the fatigue she will probably come to California.
Sarah is looking very sick and miserable, and I am troubled about her. She cannot bear any excitement or exertion without suffering from nervous prostration. The death of both son and husband, the breaking up of home, sale of the farm, etc. have been too heavy, and she is badly crushed. I suppose she will remain here with mother. The girls can take care of themselves, except Gracie, who is rapidly growing and will soon be a woman, and there is property enough to support her in comfort, as far as property can. John Reid has been investing some of her money in Nebraska land, and I think if she leaves Portage she will settle in Nebraska.
David is tied up securely in his store. He is looking very old and gray and shows too plainly the scars of life's battles. The death of his wife, to whom he was unreservedly devoted, was a terrible blow, and her long painful illness (cancer in the breast), with its night and day waiting and watching, with the suffering of sympathy, has made sad havoc with the David Muir I used to know. Still, my visit with him to the old home and meeting all the old neighbors has brightened him up considerably, and all the rest say that it was worth my journey here just to cheer and revive Dave. He looks older than I do.
[Letter of John Muir to Mrs. Muir, dated Sep. 10, 1885, continued]
Carrie left the day after my arrival for some place 200 miles or so to the Northward of here to teach music, and as she is living with an old friend of the family and has or is likely to have plenty of scholars, she will get on fast enough in a money way.
Anna, the next eldest, is keeping house. She graduated from the high school last year. Both she and Carrie are good girls and respected by everybody -- fine scholars and well behaved.
The two boys, John and Willie are fine, smart, well-behaved fellows, very quiet and bashful. Willie is about 16 years old, and little John Muir is about 12 -- a queer, cute, quiet, observant, narrow-faced, clipper-built boy, noticing everything, saying nothing, knows every dog, cow, horse, man, woman, and child in Portage.]
I saw nearly all of the old neighbors, the young folk, of course, grown out of memory and unrecognizable; but most of the old I found but little changed by the 18 years since last I saw them, and the warmth of my welcome was in most instances excruciating. William Duncan, the old Scotch stone-mason who loaned me books when I was little and always declared that "Johnie Moor will make a name for himsel some day" I found hale and hearty, 81 years of age, and not a gray hair in his curly bushy locks-erect, firm of step, voice firm with a clear calm ring to it; memory as good as ever apparently, and his interest in all the current news of the world as fresh and as far-reaching. I stopped over night with [him] and talked till midnight.
We were four days in making the round and had to make desperate efforts to get away. We climbed the Observatory that used to be the great cloud-capped mountain of our child' is imagination, but it dwindled now to a mere hill 250 feet high, half the height of that vineyard hill opposite the house. The porphyry out crop on the summit is very hard, and I was greatly interested in finding it grooved and polished by the ice sheet. I begin to get an appetite and feel quite well. Tell Wanda I'll write her a letter soon. Everybody out in the country seemed disappointed [at] not seeing you also. Love to all,
Portage City, [Wisc]
1885 Sep 10
Original letter dimensions: 33 x 21.5 cm.
Muir, John, "Letter from John Muir to Louie [Strentzel Muir], 1885 Sep 10." (1885). John Muir Correspondence (PDFs). 1629.
Reel 05, Image 0426
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 http://www.pacific.edu/Library/Find/Holt-Atherton-Special-Collections/Fees-and-Forms-.html
University of the Pacific Library Holt-Atherton Special Collections. Please contact this institution directly to obtain copies of the images or permission to publish or use them beyond educational purposes.