J. E. Calkins
Lordsburg, Cal., Dec. 3o, I9o8.
Dear Mr. Muir:-
Your valued letter of Dec. 2 is before me, and has been more than once in the days that have followed its arrival here. It brought good news in three respects, viz: that you are in good health, that Helen is likewise well at Daggett, and that you are steamed up and making good headway with your writing. I suppose if I were to try to tell you how glad I am of the latter I should fail, because I should be likely to put it so strongly that I should make it sound absurd; so I am going to let you imagine my unmeasured satisfaction at this piece of intelligence.
One thing I do not like, and that is your working alone in the big old house up there at Martinez. There are many reasons why that is a good arrangement, and there are some others that seem to me to argue that it is not good. The solitude, for one thing. It is not good for man to be alone too much, even when he is busy, and I can fancy that you would prefer the right sort of company, and the atmosphere of cheer that comes from such companionship. I have gone over my own situation, in my mind, many times, laying it side by side with yours, and my wife and son have held council with me upon it. From what we gather,from our personal knowledge of your situation, and from what you write, you are working at some considerable disadvantage in several respects. We infer that you have very little of the atmosphere of domesticity, in its cheering and comforting aspects;thatyou are doing your work all alone,with no aid of any kind; that you are liable again to that dreadful infection, the grippe, as the weather draws on into the fogs and damps of the winter, with the accompaniment of "the melancholy mud." Out of all this cogitation has finally grown the resolution to risk a proposal, or, perhaps, rather a suggestion in thedirection of your removal of your work to this place. This suggestion I am going to make at the hazard of being suspected of mercenary motives; but I hope that a judicial view of the matter will convince you that I have nothing of that sort in mind.
I have ten acres here, on which I am continually busy. To handle the place aright one must be busy- or keep some other body busy in his place.
We have a dwellingplace of five rooms, none of them too
large, but the house is one of those protean affairs that may be added to at pleasure. Being of "California" construction it would not take long or cost much to throw another room against one side of it, and make it fit the needs, whatever these might be.
Suppose we build such an addition as would suit you to work in, and devote it to your needs all the way through. If you wished you might also use it as your sleeping room, or if you preferred the open air at night we might equip a comfortable tent, or make such other arrangement as you should choose. Suppose you pack up those notes, books, specimens, and what not, and strew them about this added room as you pleased and consider that you have made it the headquarters of your literary work. Then suppose that you consider yourself one of the family, and perfectly at home in all respects. We will order the table, the meal hours, etc to suit you, and laundry, mending, and whatever personal attention you may need from womankind Mrs. C. will be glad to supply.
Then suppose that I give you practically my whole time, to perform whatever service you may require, such as taking dictation, transcribing with the machine, etc., with anything else I may be able to do; and suppose we go at this writing business in earnest. Would this arrangement suit you?
Of course if I retire from the field I shall be compelled to put another man there in my place. If I had the means to do so I should be delighted to give you my service for the pleasure of the work, but my present means and situation do not permit this. It would be necessary for me to have the means to do this hiring. However I should not want to receive more than enough to take care of this increase of expense, and this amount, I imagine, would be less than you would have to pay for living and stenographer where you now are. I should say that a matter of $5o a month would buy all the labor I should need to employ, with the small additional quantity of breadcrumbs and tea you would consume; which sum would cover your living and my services. You should be as much to yourself as you might wish, and, of course, wholly free to come and go as you might wish; your place would always be ready for you whenever you came back. It would be necessary, of course, for me to give the place my supervision, but with the work going on under my eye very little time would suffice for this. Practically all of the time I should be at your disposal; and I should expect to do for you whatever you might wish me to do. It would be left with you to arrange the hours of labor. I belong to no union, and there would be no walking delegate to interfere with overtime.
We have a richly beautiful landscape, the mountains hardly more than half an hour from us, and the groves all about us. We have the finest of water, the brightest of winter-summer sunshine,
andaclimatethatis vauntedby the nativesfor its healthful-ness,and its gentlystimulatingquality,Thealtitude is about I ooofeet,which isabout the right thingfor me, andI think itwouldsuityou well.
Withtheexception ofa headache,nowand then, Mrs. C. is ingood health,and wouldregardyourcoming to us with real satisfaction and pleasure.I thinkyou would find her part of the bargainwell fulfilled. Wehavemany conveniences,even though weare outhere in the country. andthere is no difficulty in maintaininga decentlyvaried menu, andI feelquite certain that youwouldfind the tableadequate.We should certainlytryto have itso.In all respectsyoushould feel that you had entire freedom,and be free to ask forsuch rearrangementas you might wish.We shoulddesire to accommodateyouthoroughly,as far as the circumstances here will permit. We havevery little company, andare notexpectingtoengage inany socialenterprises. 0ne reasonwe cameso far away from our old home and friends was to get out ofa maze ofburdensomesocialobligations, and we are not anxiousto renewthem here.Wekeep ondecent termswith a few of our neighbors, anddoubtless a friend will callnow and then, butthere is not likely to be enough of this to be troublesome.
I trust that youwill understandmymotives in making thissuggestion.It has seemed to me that if we could, between us, shape up a literary workshop down herewe might advancethe labors on whichyou are now engaged.I can see how it can be donein this way,witha promise of fairsatisfaction to us both.If I had the meansitwould bea great pleasure to go to you,whereveryou mightwish,butIam so closelytiedhere that I cannotdo that, and so I make free tomentionthis alternative. I feel sure that youwill give it proper consideration,and say just what youfeel and think about it;also that youwill be free to suggest such modifications of the scheme as may appear desirable to you, in caseyou caretotake it up at all.
PerhapsIshouldsay, in passingthatmatter of the considerationI havesuggested,that itwill benecessary, in very largedegree,to make my arrangements forthis ranch work by the year.That is the manner in which all these contracts are made, and it would hardly be safe to risk gettinga man from month to month as needed, in caseyou were herea month and gone a month. Thisisa detail thatwe could doubtless arrange in the event the proposition appeals to you, and I shouldendeavor to do the right thingin adjusting myend of it, as I know you would do inyour place.Therearesome very warm days here in the summertime; days that would fill youwith longing to go up a cool, shady canon;but theheat is attended witha very low degree of humidity,and is
far lessdisagreeablethan a like temperature at thebeach. Also, there are onlya few hourse, in themiddle of the day,whenit gets hot.The cool strikes usearly in the afternoon, unless onexceptionaldays,and the nights are fine in the coldest as wellasthe hottest weather. Thewinterisdelightful,the rains quickly clearing away,with rare daysfollowing them.But perhapsyouareas familiar with all of this asI can possibly be, so Ishall not lecture on theweather.
Youwould be farther from Yosemiteat this place than you areat Martinez,but your daughter would be onlya little more than 1oo miles distant,and itwould be easy to visit her; and she would always be as welcome as yourself, of course, if you came here.
Anyhow here is the scheme, and you are to do with it as pleases you. It seems to me that, if you are willing, we can make itwork,and work well.
Jan. 3.I have beeninterrupted and delayed in the writing of this letter till its production has coveredseveral days. In the meantime I have received your letter,enclosing circulars relative to the San Francisco grab.I shall be only too glad to do what I cando for Hetch-Hetchy. I must say that you are extremely kind to saysuch fine things of my small efforts in that directionin the autumn of I9o7.Ihopewe may again besuccessful in getting that selfish enterprise hung up, as it deserves to be.Ifwe had the money that theseSan Franciscans have,so we couldmakea good broad fight of it, as well as a hot one,We could beatthem off the earth.If I had nothing to do for the comingtwo months but organizeeffortagainst them Iam sure I could beat them anyhow, using no moneybutthe price ofa little postage and stationery. Weshall hope for the best. Meantimethe familyjoin me in kindest regards and hopes for your continued welfare, and Iam, as ever,
1908 Dec 30
Original letter dimensions: 21.5 x 18.5 cm.
Calkins, J. E., "Letter from J. E. Calkins to John Muir, 1908 Dec 30." (1908). John Muir Correspondence (PDFs). 5624.
Reel 17, Image 1131
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