S. M. Brown
Wiarton, Ontario, Can -Feb 17th/10Prof. John Muir,Dear SirSeems to be much too formal and impersonal a way to address you, but I much bear in mind that altho' you are not a stranger to me, I am probably wholly so to you. Whenever I see your name - which is not infrequently, memory, that wonderful and blessed gift to humanity carries me backward across fifty years, or nearly so, to a delightful hollow among the wooded hills in the vicinity of Meaford, where the "Trout sawmill was built, and also a log cabin beside the river where the boys and girls of the family lived for a time, and worked and were happy. A partition formed a little room in one corner of the cabin for the accommodation of a young Scotch man named John Muir who had taken up his abode with the family of young people, for a winter, as I remember it. Memory brings that little room clearly before me. with its various contents of curious and cunning workmanship, and of many devices.The bedstead, so contrived as to 04705 set its occupant upon his feet at any hour that the scythe-[illegible] had been directed to awaken him. And many other things there were not spare of the marvellous ingenuity patience and skill of the young man who occupied the room at that time.It is possible tho' not probable that you may remember the two girls, - MacMillans - who were intimate friends and companions of the Trout family. John Trout married my elder sister - Eliza - as you doubtless knew. he long since "crossed the bar"- and "met his pilot face to face" - I did 'nt marry William, and so my name is not Trout, but a much more common one - Brown-I said that you are not a stranger to me. I would take shame to myself if you were, since your name is of more than continental fame.About 5 or 6 years ago,- I think - there was a short biographical sketch and a portrait of John Muir in the N. Y. Outlook - a magazine that I have read since before it took its present name - The works of Art- for they were surely such - that I saw in the long cabin so long ago, were mentioned in it, and came again before my mind's eye. But on the portrait, with its patriarchal beard, I looked in vain for the smooth boyish face that memory04705
3 brings before me. Ah well, there would be many incongruities in life, if of those who started about the same time on life's journey, some grew old- while others retained unchanging youth- But you, how should you grow old who have lived "close hand in hand" with Nature in her most inspiring forms and woods, and who is ever renewing her youth? Age should never find you out, and as touching the mind and spirit I am sure it has not done so, nor ever will - But neither have I cause of complaint, for I can yet "feel the wild joy of living" - and, by the way, there is no finer piece of literature in our tongue than Browning's "[Soul?]". - I think that what has moved me now to speak to you across the continent, after fifty years of silence, was reading lately an account by Mrs J. M. Philputt, of a visit that she and a friend made to John Burroughs at "[Slabsides?]" - I do not admire his choice of a name - in Oct' last, In it she spoke of a trip that J. B. and others, had made last spring to the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forests and the Yosemite, there they were "personally conducted and entertained by John Muir, the two Johnnies behaving like ten-year-olds"047054 afterwards Mr. Burroughs had written Mr. Muir saying how much it had all meant to him, and added that "the Yosemite could not possibly seem so marvelous and impressive to one who sees it familiarly as to one seeing it for the first time; to which Mr Muir replied "Not so grand to me who has known it in all its changing moods and seasons for twenty years as to him who sees it for the first time? Why Johnny, Johnny, Johnny"!That last touch caught me irresistibly. There are three separate volumes in the last three words. And there one is dumb with amazement that John Burroughs could have said such a thing. Many a man might have said it, but John Burroughs ought to have known better. If it had been a great work of art, one might not have been so much surprised, for the greatest work of man has its limitations. Not so with Nature, for tomorrow she may show some manifestation of her power beyond all previous conceptions, even to the man who has lived heart to heart with her for twenty years - and one who has lived with her as John Burroughs has, must have learned her power of growing upon one until she possesses herself of the very roots of life within usIt has not fallen to my lot to travel so that I could see the places and things that I would. But from
5 my earliest childhood Nature has called to me with imperious power, and she has been a most timid and precious mother and teacher to me and has told me many of her secrets. but in the majesty and sublimity of her mightiest power I have not seen herBut I fully expect to have that privilege when freed from the limitations of this material body. I shall then "take the wings of the morning" and visit not only the parts and scenes of this so fair earth that I have long desired to see, but many, it may be all of the other Mansions of the Father's house. Some years ago I saw - in The Atlantic Monthly I think - your account of a great electric storm, and of your rushing out of your mountain cabin into the midst of the [illegible] and flying rocks, in order to be present at the birth of a talus. Many times since I have thought of that scene. Would that I had been there. Neither warring elements nor flying rocks could have hindered me from being "a sharer in its fierce and far delight, a portion of the tempest, and of the night" What a perennial joy it must be to have lived amid the sights and sounds. and silences that have been your6 environment for so many years.And yet the all-wise Father has ordained that we shall have reminders that the "things that are seen are only temporal" "The string that bids us sit nor stand, but go" is ever with us, and "the joy that [illegible] us thro' pain" is the sweetest of all, and the only one that abides.Whenever the foot of man has trod his pathway has been marred by graves, [but?] from those he looks up into the face of God, and sees heaven opened.I presume there are conventional rules that would say that I ought to apologize for the liberty I have taken in writing you, but I have paid but little heed to such thro' my life, and it is now too late to begin. It may be that when we shall meet on the other side of the curtain that now shuts us from the unseen world that lies about us all' that we shall not need an introductionEven now I venture to subscribe myself asYour sincere friendS. M. Brown
Wiarton, Ontario, Canada
1910 Feb 17
Original letter dimensions: 26.5 x 16.5 cm.
Brown, S. M., "Letter from S. M. Brown to John Muir, 1910 Feb 17." (1910). John Muir Correspondence (PDFs). 4944.
Reel 19, Image 0153
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