[Robert Underwood] Johnson
Martinez, Oct 8, 1899
My dear Johnson--
Your letter of Sep. 21 came just a few days before Mr & Mrs Thompson & I enjoyed their visit very much because they have seen something. I still regret your not being on the Harriman trip. It was in every way just the thing for you-more so than for anyone on board. Still I'm glad you passed safely through the hot killing days of N. Y. with your family on Long Island.
I am pegging away at the park & forest Reservations which I hope to get off my hands before the close of the year--Then I'm going to write the Yosemite book I promised you. After which I mean to take up Alaska--first an account of my trip across the Muir Glacier that I promised you then a little book for Houghton Mifflin.
By the way a great many admirers of the dog story are urging me to have it brought out as a New Year's book for children. What do you think of the plan. If the Century Company cares to publish it I ll review it & send some illustrations--
I'm glad to hear Burroughs is going to give you his sparrow & impression of the N. wilderness--I cant help thinking they would have been better had he made the trip 35 or 40 yrs. ago. Still they will be novel & readable even at this late sundownn date-He made us lots of fun on the trip--growled good naturedly all the way repeating over & over again J. B. what a fool you are coming on this blank frost business. He was subject to seasickness & when he got to Dutch Harbor Onalaska propased to stay there until we returned from the Behring Sea trip. I urged him to come on & make the whole round icy excursion
But as luck would have it the weather was stormy & while lying in his bunk half--sick he made rhymes to be posted in the smoking room-reflecting awful on me
& Behring Sea. Thus
"Snapping snarling Behring Sea,
Hissing spitting as we flee-
Where thou art's no clime for me;
Climbing hills that sink & flee
In to vales that bitterness be;Treacherous Sea!
Break thy fang for all of me--
Shallow, foaming Behring Sea!
Still our course is over thee;
Full of anger, full of spite,
Strong in luster, weak in might
Draped in fog both day & night
Only Murres abide with thee,
Had not John Muir put in his lip
Thou hadst not found me in the ship.
Groaning on my narrow bed,
Heaping curses on thy head,
Wishing he were instead.
On green hills my foot would be
Beyond the reach of Muir and thee.
Most everybody wrote this sort of dogerell except me. After I got home I
got a long letter from the four big girls--Harrimans, Averill & Draper In reply to which I fell into doggerrell lik[e] the rest of the party--a copy of which I send you strictly for home private consumption--
The true Story of J. B.& Behring Sea
Said he could never like Behring Sea
And said it most doleful
A whole rhyming soulful
It's big & its blue, he said
And has whales & a crew, he said
Of sea loins & seals
That splash merry reels
With queer ravings & wrangles--
But its waves won't keep level,
They keep only mad revel,
And alas--my interior
Grows queerior queerior
The thing's shaking all over
And its kelp its not clover
And its seals & its whales
And its gulls & its gales
Care nothing whatever for Slabsides or me.
So he lay down & howled it
And shivered & growled it
Flat & limp on a deck—chair
With naught but his nose bare--
Bemoaning & sighing
"Come girls I am dying
Quick tuck in my bluetoes
All ten of 'em's true froze
And shove grim Muir away.
Shove him hard, girls I say
To where his icebergs & glaciers & mad waters play.
And while he is going
Through this mad wind that's blowing
Hit him some hardy whacks
Choke him with Nunataks--
For in all this bad sea
There's nothing there's nothing that's too bad for he.
O Cornelia & Mary
I've no comfort & nary
A glimpse of my York state,
Soon soon I'll be Shark bait--
Dorothea & Betty dears
Should it not draw some wetty tears
That in all this cold water there's nothing for me
But losses & crosses & blank miseree.
But soon a big seachange came over him,
No storm or wabbling wave now bores him
Repentant, Sane, his Slabside days
He spends in changing howls to praise.
And thus he sings from dawn to dark
As glad & blythe's a meadow lark.
"Home again from foreign climes
Jingle Jangle merry chimes
Amid my birds & trees & vines
I fondly trace bright memory's lines.
With heart & soul devout I stand
Gazing on wild Alaska land.
Its mountains clad in snow and ice
Seem calm & pure as paradise--
Kind Nature's love to them hath given
The best of earth, the best of heaven.
Their sculptured domes & peak's & towers
Enwreathed in purple mist & flowers
Rise range o'er range in song and rhyme
Triumpant, wild, serene, sublime,
Fountains of strengh, of life, of motion,
Guardians alike of land & ocean.
The purple tundras far extending
Seen with the purple heavens blending
The round unbounding nightless days
Are filled with their Creators praise.
Endless waters, endless woods
Endless gardens endless floods
Silvery fiords & balmy air
Make endless beauty every where--
New land's, new seas, new heavens, new earth--
Day by Day I saw their birth.
Where all is beauty, all is love
Through earth below to heaven above
Enchanted, wondering, throbbing, glowing
All the show on one flood flowing
I scarce can make my memory bring
From out the whole one separate thing
Unless perhaps,--unless it be
The broad effulgent Behring Sea--
The brightest gem of all the bright North
Reflecting every beauty right forth-
Its miles & leagues of purple dulses
Still thrill & tingle all my pulses,
Its gracious waves & breezes mild
Still rock and fan me like a child
Its flower--embroidered shores & bays
Its wonderous skies, its nightless days
Its teeming life, its bloom--clad islands
Its far blue wavering lines of sky lands
All rise before me now untroubled
Their blessings-beauties more than doubled
Therefore my proudest song must be
The glories of great Behring Sea--
Ah me! poor doubting doleful sinner
I feared its waves might spoil my dinner
And had not H. & Muir insisted
In faithless wreck I might have missed it
I thought to stop at old Dutch Harbor
Boarding with an old Dutch barber
And, while the ship was gone go hunting
The gold-crowned sparrow & snowflake bunting
And thus I might have lost the whole
My head, the sea, perhaps my soul
Where dizzy cloud & fogs roll down
On Oonalaska icy crown
Making the famous wolves howl longer
As they picked my bones to make them stronger
As now I view it o'er again
It seem an awful might—have—been
This dreadful fate Thank Heaven is passed
For Muir most kindly held me fast
And made me leave that old Dutch Harbor
Give up the sparrows, give up the barber
And stay aboard the ship & sail
To Behring Sea with with [sic] blissful gale--
If on that ship there was one angle
Who brought for me a true evangel
Both faith & reason I am sure
Will say his name was just John Muir
And now wherein my lot is cast
As long as life & memory last
My grateful prayer to Heaven shall be
God bless the Harrimans & he
And every wave of Behring Sea--
Do you know Bliss? What sort of an editor is he likely to be
Goodbye with kind regards to your family
1899 Oct 8
Original letter dimensions unknown.
Muir, John, "Letter from John Muir to [Robert Underwood] Johnson, 1899 Oct 8." (1899). John Muir Correspondence (PDFs). 2456.
Reel 10, Image 1015
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Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin. Please contact this institution directly to obtain copies of the images or permission to publish or use them beyond educational purposes.