[in margin: see last sheet]
A man with the brain of a philosopher, the imagination of a poet, & the heart of a child: that is John Muir Simplicity, unostentatiousness, tenderheartedness characterize him. Imagination of a poet - is he a poet? We may at least class him with those of whom Wordsworth says "Oh, many are the poets that are sown 'By Nature, men endowed with the highest gifts, 'The vision and the faculty divine" Possibly - "wanting the accomplishment of verse" Philosopher? Yes: he goes behind the visible & tangible - phenomena - and seeks answers to the question, How? - or Why? But this account does not fill out the measure of the man.. He is a tireless, restless, but not aimless - not eyeless or
earless rover - from wilderness to wilderness, with mind & soul alert to explore the things of Nature that have been from the foundation of the world. That is John Muir the Naturalist. He is an ardent enthusiast, leading a life of strenuous endeavor; - with a soul kindled and ever kindling with desire to more and still more of Nature's secrets, and to revel in the joy of [them?] - lured on, like Adam, listening to Raphael, "the affable archangel lured on" - as one whose drouth "Yet scarce allayed, still eyes the current stream "Whose liquid murmur heard new thirst excites." His thist is insatiable - one that grows as it is fed. He does not count himself as one [having?] while aught remains unattained but attainable. And he has learned to know meadows and forests, and mountains, and glaciers, rivers and lakes - everything in Flora or Fauna
in the mountain regions of Western North America - every thing that blooms, or sings, or walks, or creeps or climbs or crawls, or flies - or toddles. Loving the things that he knows, he is never a cruel hunter, nor a wanton waster of the woods. A lover of books, a reader versed in literatures, he is still more a lover of Nature - in her wildest woods and most forbidding forests not less than in her peaceful valleys, and all her haunts of beauty (Quatations from Bryant's "Thanatopsis" and "Monument Mountain") Some Englishman of note (Sydeney Smith, I think.) said of Daniel Webster: "He is a steam engine in breeches." We may say of John Muir: he is a storage battery of energy, encased in flexible, elastic steel, & clothed upon with the ordinary conventional garb of civilized man. The battery is never "dead" but instantly ready for his use - responsive to his will. And so he goes whither
he wills to go, daunted by no danger, turned back by no obstacle - man or beast or glacier. Putting his note-book and pocket lens in his pocket, and in his sack bread and tea - the chief of the diet of this man who never is quiet - he starts out, alone, on the wildest of journeys that are [pathless?] often, - and he returns to civilization only when, after weeks days of arduous travel, his stock of bread & tea is exhausted. Meantime he has slept wherever night has overtaken him, now in tent, [rarely?] in house of friends, now on bed & pillows of freshly plucked branches of spicy spruce; now in the lee of some protecting rock on the side of a windswept mountain; now, wrapped in a blanket, lying on smooth cobble stones; and now on the brown needles of the forest where The giant nightwind marches Through the pines' acthedral arches - where he can hold rapt conversation with the star-filled sky. There are no fancy pictures of the man, but [dal?] vero,
Let us try to follow him once - to "camp on his trail." He is going, say, to explore the bee pastures of California. After roughing it for hours - days perhaps - he comes to dense chapparal - miles in extent, through which no man can walk. What does he do? What we do not. Down he goes & on all fours he traverses the whole distance, undisturbed by tufts of hair which bears have left in passing. We lose him - and try, another day, another journey, following: till we find fronting us a sharp incline, so steep and so smooth that only a mountain sheep can climb it - ordinarily. We stop, he goes up, first removing shoes & stockings which he ties to his belt, because his bare feet can hug the slippery steep better than sole leather. A wind storm delights. He hearing one begin to sound early in the day leaves the house of a friend in which he had lodged, and "through the midst of the passionate music & motion he pushes across glens, from ridge to ridge till near midday he reaches the highest summit of the neighborhood." Then [selecting?] from a clump of spruce
trees one of the tallest, whose toughened [fiber?] he knows well he climbs with the ease of a squirrel to its slender top 100 ft form ground and then for hours he clings with fi[illegible] braced [muscle?] like a bobolink on a seed while the swaying top with the tops of the other trees in the group "flap and swish, bending & swirling round & round in indescribable combinations of vertical and horizontal curves." The motion is exhilarating and not less so the scene he beholds - (See his book) One is reminded of the story of Schiller in his youth climbing a tree in a thunderstorm - etc At another time Mr. Muir mounts a high ridge in the midst of a fierce storm, when it was "in full bloom, and the wind-driven rain filled the air like a vast waterfall." Such things he does partly for the grandeur of the scene, the music & the delicious fragrance wrought & brought by the winds - which are, he says, an advertisements of all they touch; - and in part for a study of elemental forces, when the heavens are bowed and come down to wrestle with the earth and sea.
He sets out now to scale Mt. Ritter, 13,300 feet in height, its summit untrodden by men, - girt about by "steeply inclined glaciers, & canons [diacritic] of tremendous depth." He is alone, & has not even his blanket to protect him against the cold. After s[urmoun?]ting many man-defying obstacles, "as if driven by fate," we see him on the second at an elevation of 12,800 feet, at the foot of a sheer drop in the bed of the avalanche channel which he has been tracing. It seems to bar further progress. There is no other way, however, to the mountain-top. He will not go back & wait for a more convenient season. The rock is but 45 or 50 feet high. Its face is somewhat roughened by fissures & projections. He begins to scale it, picking his holds with utmost caution. He is about halfway to the top - and lo! a dead stop! see him flattened against the wall with arms outspread, unable to move hand or foot up or down. He must fall. - (There a reading of your own account.) Tennyson's Fragment[s?] on the Eagle
doubtless have come to your minds as to mine - "He clasps the crags with hooked hands "Close to the sun in lonely lands" This hardy, daring mountaineer - is John Muir, the Naturalist - now - today - Master of Arts, and a Doctor of Laws, eminent as a Botanist, then Geologist & Meteorologist. - author If introduced now as a Husband and manager of a fruit-ranch, it must still be remembered that he is yet a roving naturalist - for so he writes me. The San Francisco Call says: "No man since Thoreau ever had keener sympathy with nature, a quicker vision for her mysteries, or a surer speech for their interpretation than Mr. Muir." Emerson who met Muir in California, and was guided by him through the Yosemite Valley, said - "He is more wonderful than Thoreau." [The the interesting & amusing account of your disappointment etc - as recorded in the Atlantic Magazine quoting parts of E's poem - "Good bye, proud world" [illegible]]
Rubens, it is said, "saw every object of Nature with a painter's eye, and instantly caught the predominating feature by which the object is known & distinguished; and as soon as seen he executed it with astonishing facility. We may say of Mr. Muir - he sees with a painter's eye, but does not execute on canvas with a brush & colors. Sketching he does. His is an eye which nothing escapes, of distinguishing feature in form or color - whether wide opened mountain landscape, or of some [smiling?], happy valley; of forest trees, or flowers; of the tip of an ousel's wing, of squirrel tails, or canon [diacritic] gorges. His pictures are in words - superior to the painter's so far as not limited to little squares of canvas, but as presenting a whole gallery in continuity. - As an author his style is as clear as a mountain brook, and sparkling as a dimpling lake upon which sunbeams fall only to be splintered, and shattered into myriads of flashing diamonds. He is never dull. When you read him, you not only see
but feel what he describes or relates. His writings are stamped with his individuality. His descriptions are made more vivid by touches of personality. He has published but one book - "The Mountains of California", which [illegible] says the N.Y Witness, "high [rank?] among productions of American naturalists for the information it contains, and yet reads like a novel." Another work is in preparation on the national parks & reservations, portions of which work have already appeared in magazines, I believe. He has first & last published about 8 score articles in magazines & newspapers, which have brought the world knowledge of the mountain ranges of western N.A. with their glaciers & forests, their Flora & Fauna, - the meteorology & Geology of all that region from Southern California to the Arctic Circle. He has discovered 65 residual glaciers in the High Sierra. The forests have been his home. Some one has said - "For 20 years
he has been a voice crying in the wilderness - 'Save the forests!'" To him more than to any other man are due the Yosemity & Sequoia National Parks, and the great reservation of of the Sierra forests. "Why has not his man been caught and caged as a Professor by some one of our universities?" do you ask. Professor hunters have been after him, but he declines to be taken, saying he "wishes to be more than a professor heard of or not. Too many professors compared with sutdents are in the field." Such is the man, a child of Nature, & therefore, or not less - a child of God - humble reverent, devoutly worshipful - may I not add - prayerful - for I hold with Coleridge that to love is to pray. He writes "Farewell, farewell ! but this I tell "To thee, thou Wedding Guest, "He prayeth well, who loveth well "Both man & bird & beast. "He prayeth best, who loveth best" etc etc
If Wordsworth & Muir could have met! What contrarity in the men, yet what unity in the love of Nature! Both would say Come forth into the light of things Let Nature be your teacher. She has a world of read wealth Our hearts & minds to bless - Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health, Truth breathed by cheerfulness. One impulse from a vernal wood etc - you know the poem. and these lines: "I am still "A lover of the meadows & the woods "And mountains, & of all that we behold "From this green earth; of all the mighty world "Of eye & ear". "Of ear" - this [reminds?] me to say that Mr. Muir not only sees but hears. Within is an inner ear, a spiritual aeolian harp attuned to all harmonies. To him the woods sing:
[in margin: [Pick?] and sketch of M[illegible].]
there is music in the whispering pine as the wind in passing touches the needles into vibration; the brook sings; streams are tuneful - all nature is God's harp: we may almost believe his ear catches the "ninefold harmony" of the "nine enfolded spheres."
After reading the foregoing, I read your letter to me of last February & [then?] told of our first meeting, of your wonderful clocks & other inventions, & what I knew of your life before you went to California. Then to prove the truth of what I had said previously, I read selected passages from your book. All that to the "20th Century Club" of Maywood. I told them your book should be in the library of every one of their homes. All were interested & thanked me heartily, and then asked sundry
questions about you, some of which I could not answer. Femine curiosity was aroused - "Has he a family?" "Where does he live?" "Is he a singer" (I had read about your charming squirels etc till you fell upon "Old Hundredth"!) "For what Magazine does he write?" "Where can his book be obtained?" - etc. It remains for me to hope that you will not feel that I have taken too great liberties with your personality. It must have been in 1860 that you came to the Fair - for in 1859 I should have been busy in the University at that time of year. When did you leave the U? Poor Mrs. Carr! what do you know of her now? -- My brother who was State Supt. of Schools, is now living in Palo Alto. I have a sister, Mrs Sanborn, living in Pasadena. My son Charles, and attorney in Patent Cases, in Chicago, remembers you with much interest.
Very cordially yours,
Joseph [C?] Pickard
15 Feb. 1901
1901 Feb 15
Original letter dimensions: 22.5 x 14.5 cm.
Pickard, Joseph, "Letter from Joseph Pickard to John Muir, 1901 Feb 15." (1901). John Muir Correspondence (PDFs). 4390.
Reel 11, Image 0601
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Environmentalist, naturalist, travel, conservation, national parks, John Muir, Yosemite, California, history, correspondence, letters