J. E. Calkins
808 East Tenth Street,
August 23, 1904.
My Dear Mr. Muir:-
Your charming, and really unexpected, letter, dated at Martinez July 18, reached my home here in due time, but has only just reached me. On the day it was penned I was starting for 5 weeks in the Yellowstone National Park, and the Jackson's Lake Country immediately south of the wonderland, and so missed it. But I hope your modesty will suffer me to say that nothing that I saw, or heard, or did, on all that delightful tour gave me the real pleasure and satisfaction that came to me in one little paragraph of a letter of my good wife's, in which she told me I had awaiting me here at home a wonderful letter from John Muir, etc, etc. I walked about the remainder of that day in a good deal of a trance, I surmise; certainly I felt that way.
I must tell you that for years I have found in your work an insight into the natural world, and capacity for telling what you see, and a style and charm in the way of the telling, that are
passed by no other man in literature today. I am not a nature student, I suppose, but I am a nature lover, and I am told by my friends that I see things to which their eyes are closed. I also fail to find in the writings of most of the so-called nature students the inward substance that gives me satisfaction. There is not one of them whose book is laid down with real sorrow. They seem never to reach the real point with me. They tell a great many small things that are not always worth the telling, and some of which are hardly credible, but the inwardness and gist of the story they miss.
But I beg you to let me say that the matter that you write — all too seldom — is real old wheat among all that lot of chaff. It satisfies and nourishes and sustains one. It is, to me, the very ultimate perfection of description. You put the scene before the reader so vividly, and so charmingly, that he really sees it, and actually walks through it. I know of no writer who so completely contents me. You have a rare combination of the meaty terseness of John Bunyan with the fulness and color of Sir Walter Scott. I find myself picking flaws with the framing most other men give their thoughts, because the framing either mars or outshines the picture, but when you take your pen in hand you leave no fulcrum for the lever of the
prying critic to rest upon. Your little sketch concluding chap. IV of Our National Parks, wherein you relate Emerson's visit to the Sequoias, may safely challenge anything ever written in English for beauty of imagery and profound pathos and sweet simple telling's and the story of the birth of the talus, chap. VIII, same volume, is a noble achievement in the more than difficult art of describing the indescribable. At least so I see it, and I make bold to tell you, since in a review I wrote of this book some time ago, and in other occasional references to yourself and your work, as made by me in my paper, I have taken the liberty of saying quite as much as I have said in these scrawled lines. Perhaps your publishers sent you those notices, and, again, perhaps they did not, anyway I send you the gist of them all in this, and thereby do myself the favor of freely speaking my mind, whether you are pleased by it or not.
all this by way of justification of my assertion that your letter gave me the keenest of pleasure. Now that you know how much I have liked you, and wanted to know you, you may understand how much I was delighted at such a letter as you sent me. Like the first check a man gets for the stuff he writes, it seems as though I ought to frame it; only, like marriage certificates and other holy things, such things are rather to be kept hidden away in some secret reliquary, to be taken out and looked at now and then in moments of rare retrospection and reflection; not to be
flaunted in the eyes of all men as though one would boast of them.
And what a grand voyage you had, from Martinez to Martinez via the world! You of all men, I am sure, enjoyed it; and I doubt if there is another man a-living whom you could more delight with the telling than you could delight me. I heard of your going some time in advance of your start, and when I wrote you that letter last winter I had a dubious belief that you were not at home, but I risked it. I am sorry I could not have seen you, but glad you had the journey. And for your gracious invitation to come visit you, and let you tell me "all about the best, most hospitable groves" of sequoias and sugar pines, and make your house my headquarters, I hardly know how to find the words for thanks. You cannot know the pleasure such a visit would give me, or how every moment of it would be treasured. I wish I might accept now, and spend the [illegible]ening months in that delightful state of anticipation with which we children, however old, look ahead to a glad day. I hope some day within a moderate span of years, to be able to meet you face to face, and so feed a hunger I have carried for a scare of years. I am sure that you and I shall be excellent good friends if ever we do meet, and I trust we may before long
In my Yellowstone expedition, just ended, I had a delightful experience. Our party of 5, including as its head a genial, gentle, kindly boy of 76 years, whom I should like to have you meet, traveled by private camping outfit through the park, lingering at will, to Jackson's lake, Wyoming, some 25 miles south of the park. There we abode, in tents and happy. 16 beautiful days, then back through the park by another route, so seeing most of its wonders. Greatest of all, to me, was a band of thousands of elk, grazing, lying down in ruminant peace, "whistling", and all this without the dear of man. It was good to be there. Since my return I have again read your beautiful chapter on the Yellowstone, and this time in full contact with every word and point it contains.
But aside from the Yellowstone park, I had a sweet time on Jackson's Lake; and among the peaks and giant gulches and deep snowfields of the noble Teton range. The grouse fairly walked about my feet. The deer came up to our door and grazed. The elk and the bear were plentiful all about us, and we could hardly set down our feet without stepping in their tracks, while the grandeur of the mountains and the beauty of the waters were all about us. it was a noble recreation spell, and I came back from it almost as well and young as I was before I went to California last November in pursuit of
health that I had shattered by too close devotion to the desk of a daily paper. The mountains, with their rocks, and trees, and cascades, and tarns, and wild things, for me. No other sanatorium likes me half as well.
I hope we shall have more from your inspired pen. The world needs it, and you have the matter in hand with which to supply it. Beside, it is time for another chapter; indeed, a whole book. Some day you will be going a long journey from which you will forget to return to gladden the hearts of men with those inimitable word pictures that chase care out of the heart so quickly for those who love them. You know how the light of late afternoon fails in the forest of the Sequoia, even though it be on the western slope where the sunshine lingers last and longest. I hope you will soon give me a chance to review, in my weak way, another book. It will be a good one when it comes. Meantime I shall live in the hope of further kindly word from you, and a meeting such as you suggest. I have nothing great to show you here - only the Mississippi and lovely Rock island, but if you came by this trail through the eastern wilderness of business I hope you will pull my humble latch string. It has lone swayed and frayed i' the wind for the tug of your fingers: Faithfully yours-
J. E. Calkins.
Mr. John Muir;
1904 Aug 23
Original letter dimensions: 30.5 x 22 cm.
Calkins, J. E., "Letter from J. E. Calkins to John Muir, 1904 Aug 23." (1904). John Muir Correspondence (PDFs). 2856.
Reel 14, Image 0486
Online finding aid for the microform version of the John Muir Correspondence http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/kt0w1031nc
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Environmentalist, naturalist, travel, conservation, national parks, John Muir, Yosemite, California, history, correspondence, letters