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´╗┐Title: Our Friend John Burroughs
Author: Barrus, Clara, 1864-1931
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Our Friend John Burroughs" ***

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By Clara Barrus

(Illustration of John Burroughs. From a photograph by Theona Peck











We all claim John Burroughs as our friend. He is inextricably blended
with our love for the birds and the flowers, and for all out of doors;
but he is much more to us than a charming writer of books about nature,
and we welcome familiar glimpses of him as one welcomes anything which
brings him in closer touch with a friend.

A clever essayist, in speaking of the "obituary method of appreciation,"
says that we feel a slight sense of impropriety and insecurity in
contemporary plaudits. "Wait till he is well dead, and four or five
decades of daisies have bloomed over him, says the world; then, if
there is any virtue in his works, we will tag and label them and confer
immortality upon him." But Mr. Burroughs has not had to wait till the
daisies cover him to be appreciated. A multitude of his readers has
sought him out and walked amid the daisies with him, listened with him
to the birds, and gained countless delightful associations with all
these things through this personal relation with the author; and
these friends in particular will, I trust, welcome some "contemporary

As a man, and as a writer, Mr. Burroughs has been in the public eye for
many years. At the age of twenty-three he had an article printed in the
"Atlantic Monthly," and in 1910 that journal celebrated the fiftieth
anniversary of his contributions to its columns. Early in his career he
received marked recognition from able critics, and gratifying responses
from readers. It is rare in the history of an author that his books
after fifty years of writing have the freshness, lucidity, and charm
that Mr. Burroughs's later books have. A critic in 1876 speaks of his
"quiet, believing style, free from passion or the glitter of rhetoric,
and giving one the sense of simple eyesight"; and now, concerning one
of his later books, "Time and Change," Mr. Brander Matthews writes: "In
these pellucid pages--so easy to read because they are the result of
hard thinking--he brings home to us what is the real meaning of the
discoveries and the theories of the scientists.... He brings to bear
his searching scientific curiosity and his sympathetic interpreting
imagination.... All of them models of the essay at its best--easy,
unpedantic, and unfailingly interesting."

From school-children all over the United States, from nearly every
civilized country on the globe, from homes of the humble and of the
wealthy, from the scholar in his study, from the clergyman, the
lawyer, the physician, the business man, the farmer, the raftsman, the
sportsman, from the invalid shut in from the great outdoors (but, thanks
to our friend, not shut _out_ from outdoor blessings), have come for
many years heartfelt letters attesting the wholesome and widespread
influence of his works.

President Roosevelt a few years ago, in dedicating one of his books to
"Dear Oom John," voiced the popular feeling: "It is a good thing for our
people that you have lived, and surely no man can wish to have more said
of him."

Some years ago, the New York "Globe," on announcing a new book by Mr.
Burroughs, said, "It has been the lot of few writers of this country or
of any country to gain such good will and personal esteem as for many
years have been freely given to John Burroughs." If we ask why this is
so, we find it answered by Whitman, who, in conversation with a friend,
said, "John is one of the true hearts--one of the true hearts--warm,
sure, firm."

Mr. Burroughs has been much visited, much "appreciated," much rhymed
about, much painted, modeled, and photographed, and--much loved.
Because he has been so much loved, and because his influence has been so
far-reaching, it has seemed to me that a book which gives familiar and
intimate glimpses of him will be welcomed by the legion who call him
friend. The exceptional opportunities I have enjoyed for many years past
of observing him encourage me in the undertaking.

The readers of Mr. Burroughs crave the personal relation with him. Just
as they want to own his books, instead of merely taking them from the
public libraries, so they want to meet the man, take him by the hand,
look into his eyes, hear his voice, and learn, if possible, what it
is that has given him his unfailing joy in life, his serenity, his
comprehensive and loving insight into the life of the universe. They
feel, too, a sense of deep gratitude to one who has shown them how
divine is the soil under foot--veritable star-dust from the gardens of
the Eternal. He has made us feel at one with the whole cosmos, not only
with bird and tree, and rock and flower, but also with the elemental
forces, the powers which are friendly or unfriendly according as we put
ourselves in right or wrong relations with them. He has shown us the
divine in the common and the near at hand; that heaven lies about us
here in this world; that the glorious and the miraculous are not to be
sought afar off, but are here and now; and that love of the earth-mother
is, in the truest sense, love of the divine: "The babe in the womb
is not nearer its mother than are we to the invisible, sustaining,
mothering powers of the universe, and to its spiritual entities, every
moment of our lives." One who speaks thus of the things of such import
to every human soul is bound to win responses; he deals with things that
come home to us all. We want to know him.

Although retiring in habit, naturally seeking seclusion, Mr. Burroughs
is not allowed overindulgence in this tendency. One may with truth
describe him as a contemporary described Edward FitzGerald--"an
eccentric man of genius who took more pains to avoid fame than others
do to seek it." And yet he is no recluse. When disciples seek out the
hermit in hiding behind the vines at Slabsides, they find a genial
welcome, a simple, homely hospitality; find that the author merits the
Indian name given him by a clever friend--"Man-not-afraid-of-company."

The simplicity and gentleness of this author and his strong interest in
people endear him to the reader; we feel these qualities in his writings
long before meeting him--a certain urbanity, a tolerant insight and
sympathy, and a quiet humor. These draw us to him. Perhaps after
cherishing his writings for years, cherishing also a confident feeling
that we shall know him some day, we obey a sudden impulse, write to him
about a bird or a flower, ask help concerning a puzzling natural-history
question, tell him what a solace "Waiting" is, what a joy his books have
been; possibly we write some verses to him, or express appreciation
for an essay that has enlarged our vision and opened up a new world of
thought. Perhaps we go to see him at Slabsides, or in the Catskills, as
the case may be; perhaps in some unexpected way he comes to us--stops in
the same town where we live, visits the college where we are studying,
or we encounter him in our travels. In whatever way the personal
relation comes about, we, one and all, share this feeling: he is no
longer merely the favorite author, he is _our friend_ John Burroughs.

I question whether there is any other modern writer so approachable, or
one we so desire to approach. He has so written himself into his books
that we know him before meeting him; we are charmed with his directness
and genuineness, and eager to claim the companionship his pages seem to
offer. Because of his own unaffected self, our artificialities drop away
when we are with him; we want to be and say and do the genuine, simple
thing; to be our best selves; and one who brings out this in us is sure
to win our love.

(Illustration of Slabsides. From a photograph by Charles S. Olcott)

Mr. Burroughs seems to have much in common with Edward FitzGerald; we
may say of him as has been said of the translator of the "Rubaiyat":
"Perhaps some worship is given him... on account of his own refusal of
worship for things unworthy, or even for things merely conventional."
Like FitzGerald, too, our friend is a lover of solitude; like him he
shuns cities, gets his exhilaration from the common life about him; is
inactive, easy-going, a loiterer and saunterer through life; and could
say of himself as FitzGerald said, on describing his own uneventful days
in the country: "Such is life, and I believe I have got hold of a good
end of it." Another point of resemblance: the American dreamer is like
his English brother in his extreme sensitiveness--he cannot bear to
inflict or experience pain. "I lack the heroic fibre," he is wont to
say. FitzGerald acknowledged this also, and, commenting on his own
over-sensitiveness and tendency to melancholy, said, "It is well if the
sensibility that makes us fearful of ourselves is diverted to become
a case of sympathy and interest with nature and mankind." That this
sensibility in Mr. Burroughs has been so diverted, all who are familiar
with his widespread influence on our national life and literature will

In a bright descriptive article written a few years ago, Miss Isabel
Moore dispels some preconceived and erroneous notions about Mr.
Burroughs, and shows him as he is--a man keenly alive to the human
nature and life around him. "The boys and girls buzzed about him," she
says, "as bees about some peculiarly delectable blossom. He walked with
them, talked with them, entranced them... the most absolutely human
person I have ever met--a born comrade, if there ever was one; in daily
life a delightful acquaintance as well as a philosopher and poet and
naturalist, and a few other things." She describes him riding with a lot
of young people on a billowy load of hay; going to a ball-game, at which
no boy there enjoyed the contest more, or was better informed as to the
points of the game. "Verily," she says, "he has what Bjornson called
'the child in the heart.'"

It is the "child in the heart," and, in a way, the "child" in his books,
that accounts for his wide appeal. He often says he can never think of
his books as _works_, because so much play went into the making of them.
He has gone out of doors in a holiday spirit, has had a good time, has
never lost the boy's relish for his outings, and has been so blessed
with the gift of expression that his own delight is communicated to his

And always it is the man behind the book that makes the widest appeal.
In 1912, a Western architect, in correspondence with the writer
concerning recent essays of Mr. Burroughs, said:--

I have had much pleasure and soul-help in reading and re-reading "The
Summit of the Years." In this, and in "All's Well with the World," is
mirrored the very soul of the gentlest, the most lovable man-character I
have ever come across in literature or life....To me all his books, from
"Wake-Robin" to "Time and Change," radiate the most joyous optimism....
During the past month I have devoted my evenings to re-reading
(them).... He has always meant a great deal more to me than merely
intellectual pleasure, and, next to Walt Whitman, has helped me to keep
my life as nearly open to the influences of outdoors and the stars as
may be in a dweller in a large town.

As I write, a letter comes from a Kansas youth, now a graduate student
at Yale, expressing the hope that he can see Mr. Burroughs at Slabsides
in April: "There is nothing I want to say--but for a while I would like
to be near him. He is my great good teacher and friend.... As you know,
he is more to me than Harvard or Yale. He is the biggest, simplest, and
serenest man I have met in all the East."

I suppose there is no literary landmark in America that has had a more
far-reaching influence than Slabsides. Flocks of youths and maidens from
many schools and colleges have, for the past fifteen years, climbed the
hill to the rustic cabin in all the gayety and enthusiasm of their young
lives. But they have seen more than the picturesque retreat of a
living author; they have received a salutary impression made by the
unostentatious life of a man who has made a profound impression on his
day who has made a profound impression on his day and age; they have
gone their separate ways with an awakened sense of the comradeship it
is possible to have with nature, and with an ennobling affection for the
one who has made them aware of it. And this affection goes with them
to whatever place on the globe their destinies carry them. It is
transmitted to their children; it becomes a very real part of their

"My dear John Burroughs--Everybody's dear John Burroughs," a friend
writes him from London, recounting her amusing experiences in the study
of English birds. And it is "Everybody's dear John Burroughs" who stands
in the wide doorway at Slabsides and gives his callers a quiet, cordial
welcome. And when the day is ended, and the visitor goes his way down
the hill, he carries in his heart a new treasure--the surety that he has
found a comrade.

Having had the privilege for the past twelve years of helping Mr.
Burroughs with his correspondence, I have been particularly interested
in the spontaneous responses which have come to him from his young
readers, not only in America, but from Europe, New Zealand, Australia.
Confident of his interest, they are boon companions from the start. They
describe their own environment, give glimpses of the wild life about
them, come to him with their natural-history difficulties; in short,
write as to a friend of whose tolerant sympathy they feel assured. In
fact, this is true of all his correspondents. They get on easy footing
at once. They send him birds, flowers, and insects to identify;
sometimes live animals and birds--skylarks have been sent from England,
which he liberated on the Hudson, hoping to persuade them to become
acclimated; "St. John's Bread," or locust pods, have come to him from
the Holy. Land; pressed flowers and ferns from the Himalayas, from
Africa, from Haleakala.

Many correspondents are considerate enough not to ask for an answer,
realizing the countless demands of this nature made upon a man like
Mr. Burroughs; others boldly ask, not only for a reply, but for a
photograph, an autograph, his favorite poem written in his own hand, a
list of favorite books, his views on capital punishment, on universal
peace, on immortality; some naively ask for a sketch of his life, or a
character sketch of his wife with details of their home life, and how
they spend their time; a few modestly hope he will write a poem to them
personally, all for their very own. A man of forty-five is tired of the
hardware business, lives in the country, sees Mr. Burroughs's essays
in the "Country Calendar," and asks him to "learn" him to "rite for the

Some readers take him to task for his opinions, some point out
errors, or too sweeping statements (for he does sometimes make them);
occasionally one suggests other topics for him to write about; others
labor to bring him back into orthodox paths; hundreds write of what
a comfort "Waiting" has been; and there are countless requests for
permission to visit Slabsides, as well as invitations to the homes of
his readers.

Many send him verses, a few the manuscripts of entire books, asking for
criticism. (And when he does give criticism, he gives it "unsweetened,"
being too honest to praise a thing unless in his eyes it merits praise.)
Numerous are the requests that he write introductions to books; that he
address certain women's clubs; that he visit a school, or a nature-study
club, or go from Dan to Beersheba to hold Burroughs Days--each writer,
as a rule, urging his claim as something very special, to which a deaf
ear should not be turned. Not all his correspondents are as considerate
as the little girl who was especially eager to learn his attitude toward
snakes, and who, after writing a pretty letter, ended thus: "Inclosed
you will find a stamp, for I know it must be fearfully expensive and
inconvenient to be a celebrity."

Occasionally he is a little severe with a correspondent, especially if
one makes a preposterous statement, or draws absurd conclusions from
faulty observations. But he is always fair. The following letter
explains itself:--

Your first note concerning my cat and hog story made me as mad as a
hornet, which my reply showed. Your second note has changed me into a
lamb, as nearly as a fellow of seventy-five can become one....

I have read, I think, every book you ever wrote, and do not let any
production of yours escape me; and I have a little pile of framed copies
of your inimitable "My Own" to diffuse among people at Christmas; and
all these your writings make me wonder and shed metaphorical tears to
think that you are such a heretic about reason in animals. But even
Homer nods; and it is said Roosevelt has moments of silence. S. C. B.

The questions his readers propound are sometimes very amusing. A
physician of thirty years' practice asks in all seriousness how often
the lions bring forth their young, and whether it is true that there
is a relation between the years in which they breed and the increased
productivity of human beings. One correspondent begs Mr. Burroughs to
tell him how he and his wife and Theodore Roosevelt fold their hands
(as though the last-named ever folded his), declaring he can read their
characters with surprising accuracy if this information is forthcoming.
In this instance, I think, Mr. Burroughs folded his hands serenely,
leaving his correspondent waiting for the valued data.

The reader will doubtless be interested to see the kind of letter the
children sometimes get from their friend. I am fortunate in having one
written in 1887 to a rhetoric class in Fulton, New York, and one in
1911, written to children in the New York City schools, both of which I
will quote:--

West Park, N. Y., February 21, 1887

My Dear Young Friends,--

Your teacher Miss Lawrence has presumed that I might have something to
say to a class of boys and girls studying rhetoric, and, what is
more, that I might be disposed to say it. What she tells me about your
interest in my own writings certainly interests me and makes me wish I
might speak a helpful word to you. But let me tell you that very little
conscious rhetoric has gone into the composition of those same writings.

Valuable as the study of rhetoric undoubtedly is, it can go but a little
way in making you successful writers. I think I have got more help as an
author from going a-fishing than from any textbook or classbook I ever
looked into. Miss Lawrence will not thank me for encouraging you to play
truant, but if you take Bacon's or Emerson's or Arnold's or Cowley's
essays with you and dip into them now and then while you are waiting for
the fish to bite, she will detect some fresh gleam in your composition
when next you hand one in.

There is no way to learn style so sure as by familiarity with nature,
and by study of the great authors. Shakespeare can teach you all there
is to be learned of the art of expression, and the rhetoric of a live
trout leaping and darting with such ease and sureness cannot well be

What you really have in your heart, what you are in earnest about, how
easy it is to say that!

Miss Lawrence says you admire my essay on the strawberry. Ah! but I
loved the strawberry--I loved the fields where it grew, I loved the
birds that sang there, and the flowers that bloomed there, and I loved
my mother who sent me forth to gather the berries; I loved all the rural
sights and sounds, I felt near them, so that when, in after years, I
came to write my essay I had only to obey the old adage which sums up
all of the advice which can be given in these matters, "Look in thy
heart and write."

The same when I wrote about the apple. I had apples in my blood and
bones. I had not ripened them in the haymow and bitten them under the
seat and behind my slate so many times in school for nothing. Every
apple tree I had ever shinned up and dreamed under of a long summer day,
while a boy, helped me to write that paper. The whole life on the farm,
and love of home and of father and mother, helped me to write it. In
writing your compositions, put your rhetoric behind you and tell what
you feel and know, and describe what you have seen.

All writers come sooner or later to see that the great thing is to be
simple and direct; only thus can you give a vivid sense of reality, and
without a sense of reality the finest writing is mere froth.

Strive to write sincerely, as you speak when mad, or when in love; not
with the tips of the fingers of your mind, but with the whole hand.

A noted English historian (Freeman) while visiting Vassar College went
in to hear the rhetoric class. After the exercises were over he said to
the professor, "Why don't you teach your girls to spin a plain yarn?"
I hope Miss Lawrence teaches you to spin a plain yarn. There is nothing
like it. The figures of rhetoric are not paper flowers to be sewed upon
the texture of your composition; they have no value unless they are real
flowers which sprout naturally from your heart.

What force in the reply of that little Parisian girl I knew of! She
offered some trinkets for sale to a lady on the street. "How much is
this?" asked the lady, taking up some article from the little girl's
basket. "Judge for yourself. Madam, I have tasted no food since
yesterday morning." Under the pressure of any real feeling, even of
hunger, our composition will not lack point.

I might run on in this way another sheet, but I will stop. I have been
firing at you in the dark,--a boy or a girl at hand is worth several in
the bush, off there in Fulton,--but if any of my words tingle in your
ears and set you to thinking, why you have your teacher to thank for it.

Very truly yours, John Burroughs.

La Manda Park, Cal., February 24, 1911

My Dear Young Friends,--

A hint has come to me here in southern California, where I have been
spending the winter, that you are planning to celebrate my birthday--my
seventy-fourth this time, and would like a word from me. Let me begin by
saying that I hope that each one of you will at least reach my age, and
be able to spend a winter, or several of them, in southern California,
and get as much pleasure out of it as I have. It is a beautiful land,
with its leagues of orange groves, its stately plains, its park-like
expanses, its bright, clean cities, its picturesque hamlets, and country
homes, and all looked down upon by the high, deeply sculptured mountains
and snow-capped peaks.

Let me hope also that when you have reached my age you will be as
well and as young as I am. I am still a boy at heart, and enjoy almost
everything that boys do, except making a racket.

Youth and age have not much to do with years. You are young so long as
you keep your interest in things and relish your daily bread. The world
is "full of a number of things," and they are all very interesting.

As the years pass I think my interest in this huge globe upon which we
live, and in the life which it holds, deepens. An active interest in
life keeps the currents going and keeps them clear. Mountain streams are
young streams; they sing and sparkle as they go, and our lives may
be the same. With me, the secret of my youth in age is the simple
life--simple food, sound sleep, the open air, daily work, kind thoughts,
love of nature, and joy and contentment in the world in which I live.
No excesses, no alcoholic drinks, no tobacco, no tea or coffee, no
stimulants stronger than water and food.

I have had a happy life. I have gathered my grapes with the bloom upon
them. May you all do the same.

With all good wishes, John Burroughs

"I have no genius for making gifts," Mr. Burroughs once said to me,
but how his works belie his words! In these letters, and in many others
which his unknown friends have received from him, are gifts of rare
worth, while his life itself has been a benefaction to us all.

One day in recounting some of the propitious things which have come to
him all unsought, he said: "How fortunate I have always been! My name
should have been 'Felix.'" But since "John" means "the gracious gift of
God," we are content that he was named John Burroughs.


We are coming more and more to like the savor of the wild and the
unconventional. Perhaps it is just this savor or suggestion of free
fields and woods, both in his life and in his books, that causes so many
persons to seek out John Burroughs in his retreat among the trees and
rocks on the hills that skirt the western bank of the Hudson. To Mr.
Burroughs more perhaps than to any other living American might be
applied these words in Genesis: "See, the smell of my son is as the
smell of a field which the Lord hath blessed"--so redolent of the soil
and of the hardiness and plenitude of rural things is the influence that
emanates from him. His works are as the raiment of the man, and to them
adheres something as racy and wholesome as is yielded by the fertile

We are prone to associate the names of our three most prominent literary
naturalists,--Gilbert White, of England, and Thoreau and John Burroughs,
of America,--men who have been so _en rapport_ with nature that, while
ostensibly only disclosing the charms of their mistress, they have at
the same time subtly communicated much of their own wide knowledge of
nature, and permanently enriched our literature as well.

In thinking of Gilbert White one invariably thinks also of Selborne,
his open-air parish; in thinking of Thoreau one as naturally recalls
his humble shelter on the banks of Walden Pond; and it is coming to pass
that in thinking of John Burroughs one thinks likewise of his hidden
farm high on the wooded hills that overlook the Hudson, nearly opposite
Poughkeepsie. It is there that he has built himself a picturesque
retreat, a rustic house named Slabsides. I find that, to many, the word
"Slabsides" gives the impression of a dilapidated, ramshackle kind of
place. This impression is an incorrect one. The cabin is a well-built
two-story structure, its uneuphonious but fitting name having been given
it because its outer walls are formed of bark-covered slabs. "My friends
frequently complain," said Mr. Burroughs, "because I have not given my
house a prettier name, but this name just expresses the place, and the
place just meets the want that I felt for something simple, homely,
secluded--something with the bark on."

Both Gilbert White and Thoreau became identified with their respective
environments almost to the exclusion of other fields. The minute
observations of White, and his records of them, extending over forty
years, were almost entirely confined to the district of Selborne. He
says that he finds that "that district produces the greatest variety
which is the most examined." The thoroughness with which he examined his
own locality is attested by his "Natural History of Selborne." Thoreau
was such a stay-at-home that he refused to go to Paris lest he miss
something of interest in Concord. "I have traveled a good deal in
Concord," he says in his droll way. And one of the most delicious
instances of provinciality that I ever came across is Thoreau's remark
on returning Dr. Kane's "Arctic Explorations" to a friend who had lent
him the book--"Most of the phenomena therein recorded are to be observed
about Concord." In thinking of John Burroughs, however, the thought of
the author's mountain home as the material and heart of his books does
not come so readily to consciousness. For most of us who have felt
the charm, of his lyrical prose, both in his outdoor books and in his
"Indoor Studies," were familiar with him as an author long before we
knew there was a Slabsides--long before there was one, in fact, since
he has been leading his readers to nature for fifty years, while the
picturesque refuge we are now coming to associate with him has been in
existence only about fifteen years.

Our poet-naturalist seems to have appropriated all outdoors for his
stamping-ground. He has given us in his limpid prose intimate glimpses
of the hills and streams and pastoral farms of his native country; has
taken us down the Pepacton, the stream of his boyhood; we have traversed
with him the "Heart of the Southern Catskills," and the valleys of the
Neversink and the Beaverkill; we have sat upon the banks of the Potomac,
and sailed down the Saguenay; we have had a glimpse of the Blue Grass
region, and "A Taste of Maine Birch" (true, Thoreau gave us this, also,
and other "Excursions" as well); we have walked with him the lanes of
"Mellow England"; journeyed "In the Carlyle Country"; marveled at
the azure glaciers of Alaska; wandered in the perpetual summerland
of Jamaica; camped with him and the Strenuous One in the Yellowstone;
looked in awe and wonder at that "Divine Abyss," the Grand Canon of the
Colorado; felt the "Spell of Yosemite," and idled with him under the
sun-steeped skies of Hawaii and by her morning-glory seas.

Our essayist is thus seen not to be untraveled, yet he is no wanderer.
No man ever had the home feeling stronger than has he; none is more
completely under the spell of a dear and familiar locality. Somewhere he
has said: "Let a man stick his staff into the ground anywhere and say,
'This is home,' and describe things from that point of view, or as they
stand related to that spot,--the weather, the fauna, the flora,--and
his account shall have an interest to us it could not have if not thus
located and defined."

(Illustration of Riverby from the Orchard. From a photograph by Charles
S. Olcott)

Before hunting out Mr. Burroughs in his mountain hermitage, let us
glance at his conventional abode, Riverby, at West Park, Ulster County,
New York. This has been his home since 1874. Having chosen this place
by the river, he built his house of stone quarried from the neighboring
hills, and finished it with the native woods; he planted a vineyard
on the sloping hillside, and there he has successfully combined the
business of grape-culture with his pursuits and achievements as a
literary naturalist. More than half his books have been written since
he has dwelt at Riverby, the earlier ones having appeared when he was a
clerk in the Treasury Department in Washington, an atmosphere supposedly
unfriendly to literary work. It was not until he gave up his work in
Washington, and his later position as bank examiner in the eastern part
of New York State, that he seemed to come into his own. Business life,
he had long known, could never be congenial to him; literary pursuits
alone were insufficient; the long line of yeoman ancestry back of him
cried out for recognition; he felt the need of closer contact with the
soil; of having land to till and cultivate. This need, an ancestral one,
was as imperative as his need of literary expression, an individual
one. Hear what he says after having ploughed in his new vineyard for the
first time: "How I soaked up the sunshine to-day! At night I glowed all
over; my whole being had had an earth bath; such a feeling of freshly
ploughed land in every cell of my brain. The furrow had struck in; the
sunshine had photographed it upon my soul." Later he built him a little
study somewhat apart from his dwelling, to which he could retire and
muse and write whenever the mood impelled him. This little one-room
study, covered with chestnut bark, is on the brow of a hill which slopes
toward the river; it commands an extended view of the Hudson. But
even this did not meet his requirements. The formality and routine of
conventional life palled upon him; the expanse of the Hudson, the noise
of railway and steamboat wearied him; he craved something more
retired, more primitive, more homely. "You cannot have the same kind of
attachment and sympathy for a great river; it does not flow through your
affections like a lesser stream," he says, thinking, no doubt, of the
trout-brooks that thread his father's farm, of Montgomery Hollow Stream,
of the Red Kill, and of others that his boyhood knew. Accordingly
he cast about for some sequestered spot in which to make himself a

(Illustration of The Study, Riverby. From a photograph by Charles S.

During his excursions in the vicinity of West Park, Mr. Burroughs had
lingered oftenest in the hills back of, and parallel with, the Hudson,
and here he finally chose the site for his rustic cabin. He had fished
and rowed in Black Pond, sat by its falls in the primitive forest,
sometimes with a book, sometimes with his son, or with some other hunter
or fisher of congenial tastes; and on one memorable day in April, years
agone, he had tarried there with Walt Whitman. There, seated on a
fallen tree, Whitman wrote this description of the place which was later
printed in "Specimen Days":--

I jot this memorandum in a wild scene of woods and hills where we have
come to visit a waterfall. I never saw finer or more copious hemlocks,
many of them large, some old and hoary. Such a sentiment to them,
secretive, shaggy, what I call weather-beaten, and let-alone--a rich
underlay of ferns, yew sprouts and mosses, beginning to be spotted with
the early summer wild flowers. Enveloping all, the monotone and liquid
gurgle from the hoarse, impetuous, copious fall--the greenish-tawny,
darkly transparent waters plunging with velocity down the rocks, with
patches of milk-white foam--a stream of hurrying amber, thirty
feet wide, risen far back in the hills and woods, now rushing with
volume--every hundred rods a fall, and sometimes three or four in that
distance. A primitive forest, druidical, solitary, and savage--not
ten visitors a year--broken rocks everywhere, shade overhead, thick
underfoot with leaves--a just palpable wild and delicate aroma.

"Not ten visitors a year" may have been true when Whitman described the
place, but we know it is different now. Troops of Vassar girls come
to visit the hermit of Slabsides, and are taken to these falls;
nature-lovers, and those who only think themselves nature-lovers, come
from far and near; Burroughs clubs, boys' schools, girls' schools,
pedestrians, cyclists, artists, authors, reporters, poets,--young and
old, renowned and obscure,--from April till November seek out this lover
of nature, who is a lover of human nature as well, who gives himself and
his time generously to those who find him. When the friends of Socrates
asked him where they should bury him, he said: "You may bury me if you
can _find_ me." Not all who seek John Burroughs really find him; he does
not mix well with every newcomer; one must either have something of Mr.
Burroughs's own cast of mind, or else be of a temperament capable of
genuine sympathy with him, in order to find the real man. He withdraws
into his shell before persons of uncongenial temperament; to such he can
never really speak--they see Slabsides, but they don't see Burroughs. He
is, however, never curt or discourteous to any one. Unlike Thoreau, who
"put the whole of nature between himself and his fellows," Mr. Burroughs
leads his fellows to nature, although it is sometimes, doubtless, with
the feeling that one can lead a horse to water, but can't make him
drink; for of all the sightseers that journey to Slabsides there must of
necessity be many that "Oh!" and "Ah!" a good deal, but never really get
further in their study of nature than that. Still, it can scarcely fail
to be salutary even to these to get away from the noise and the strife
in city and town, and see how sane, simple, and wholesome life is when
lived in a sane and simple and wholesome way. Somehow it helps one
to get a clearer sense of the relative value of things, it makes
one ashamed of his petty pottering over trifles, to witness this
exemplification of the plain living and high thinking which so many
preach about, and so few practice.

"The thing which a man's nature calls him to do--what else so well worth
doing?" asks this writer. One's first impression after glancing about
this well-built cabin, with the necessities of body and soul close at
hand, is a vicarious satisfaction that here, at least, is one who has
known what he wanted to do and has done it. We are glad that Gilbert
White made pastoral calls on his outdoor parishioners,--the birds, the
toads, the turtles, the snails, and the earthworms,--although we
often wonder if he evinced a like conscientiousness toward his human
parishioners; we are glad that Thoreau left the manufacture of lead
pencils to become, as Emerson jocosely complained, "the leader of a
huckleberry party",--glad because these were the things their natures
called them to do, and in so doing they best enriched their fellows.
They literally went away that they might come to us in a closer, truer
way than had they tarried in our midst. It must have been in answer to
a similar imperative need of his own that John Burroughs chose to hie
himself to the secluded yet accessible spot where his mountain cabin is

"As the bird feathers her nest with down plucked from her own breast,"
says Mr. Burroughs in one of his early essays, "so one's spirit must
shed itself upon its environment before it can brood and be at all
content." Here at Slabsides one feels that its master does brood and
is content. It is an ideal location for a man of his temperament; it
affords him the peace and seclusion he desires, yet is not so remote
that he is shut off from human fellowship. For he is no recluse; his
sympathies are broad and deep. Unlike Thoreau, who asserts that "you
cannot have a deep sympathy with both man and nature," and that "those
qualities that bring you near to the one estrange you from the other,"
Mr. Burroughs likes his kind; he is doubtless the most accessible of all
notable American writers,--a fact which is perhaps a drawback to him in
his literary work, his submission to being hunted out often being
taken advantage of, no doubt, by persons who are in no real sense
nature-lovers, but who go to his retreat merely to see the hermit in
hiding there.

After twelve years' acquaintance with his books I yielded to the
impulse, often felt before, to tell Mr. Burroughs what a joy his
writings had been to me. In answering my letter he said: "The genuine
responses that come to an author from his unknown readers, judging
from my own experience, are always very welcome. It is no intrusion but
rather an inspiration." A gracious invitation to make him a visit came

The visit was made in the "month of tall weeds," in September, 1901.
Arriving at West Park, the little station on the West Shore Railway,
I found Mr. Burroughs in waiting. The day was gray and somewhat
forbidding; not so the author's greeting; his almost instant recognition
and his quiet welcome made me feel that I had always known him. It was
like going home to hear him say quietly, "So you are here--really here,"
as he took my hand. The feeling of comradeship that I had experienced
in reading his books was realized in his presence. With market-basket
on arm, he started off at a brisk pace along the country road, first
looking to see if I was well shod, as he warned me that it was quite a
climb to Slabsides.

His kindly face was framed with snowy hair. He was dressed in
olive-brown clothes, and "his old experienced coat" blended in color
with the tree-trunks and the soil with which one felt sure it had often
been in close communion.

We soon left the country road and struck into a woodland path, going
up through quiet, cathedral-like woods till we came to an abrupt rocky
stairway which my companion climbed with ease and agility despite his
five-and-sixty years.

I paused to examine some mushrooms, and, finding a species that I
knew to be edible, began nibbling it. "Don't taste that," he said
imperatively; but I laughed and nibbled away. With a mingling of anxiety
and curiosity he inquired: "Are you sure it's all right? Do you really
like them? I never could; they are so uncanny--the gnomes or evil genii
or hobgoblins of the vegetable world--give them a wide berth."

He pointed to a rock in the distance where he said he sometimes sat and
sulked. "_You_ sulk, and own up to it, too?" I asked. "Yes, and own up
to it, too. Why not? Don't you?"

"Are there any bee-trees around here?" I questioned, remembering that
in one of his essays he has said: "If you would know the delight of
bee-hunting, and how many sweets such a trip yields besides honey, come
with me some bright, warm, late September or early October day. It is
the golden season of the year, and any errand or pursuit that takes
us abroad upon the hills, or by the painted woods and along the
amber-colored streams at such a time is enough." Here was a September
day if not a bright one, and here were the painted woods, and somehow I
felt half aggrieved that he did not immediately propose going in quest
of wild honey. Instead he only replied: "I don't know whether there are
bee-trees around here now or not. I used to find a good deal of wild
honey over at a place that I spoke of casually as Mount Hymettus, and
was much surprised later to find they had so put it down on the maps of
this region. Wild honey is delectable, but I pursued that subject till
I sucked it dry. I haven't done much about it these later years." So
we are not to gather wild honey, I find; but what of that?--am I not
actually walking in the woods with John Burroughs?

Up, up we climb, an ascent of about a mile and a quarter from the
railway station. Emerging from the woods, we come rather suddenly upon a
reclaimed rock-girt swamp, the most of which is marked off in long green
lines of celery. This swamp was formerly a lake-bottom; its rich black
soil and three perennial springs near by decided Mr. Burroughs to drain
and reclaim the soil and compel it to yield celery and other garden

Nestling under gray rocks, on the edge of the celery garden, embowered
in forest trees, is the vine-covered cabin, Slabsides. What a feeling
of peace and aloofness comes over one in looking up at the encircling
hills! The few houses scattered about on other rocks are at a just
comfortable distance to be neighborly, but not too neighborly. Would one
be lonesome here? Aye, lonesome, but--

          "Not melancholy,--no, for it is green
          And bright and fertile, furnished in itself
          With the few needful things that life requires;
          In rugged arms how soft it seems to lie,
          How tenderly protected!"

Mr. Burroughs has given to those who contemplate building a house some
sound advice in his essay "Roof-Tree." There he has said that a man
makes public proclamation of what are his tastes and his manners, or
his want of them, when he builds his house; that if we can only keep our
pride and vanity in abeyance and forget that all the world is looking
on, we may be reasonably sure of having beautiful houses. Tried by his
own test, he has no reason to be ashamed of his taste or his manners
when Slabsides is critically examined. Blending with its surroundings,
it is coarse, strong, and substantial without; within it is snug and
comfortable; its wide door bespeaks hospitality; its low, broad
roof, protection and shelter; its capacious hearth, cheer; all its
appointments for the bodily needs express simplicity and frugality; and
its books and magazines, and the conversation of the host--are they not
there for the needs that bread alone will not supply?

"Mr. Burroughs, why don't you PAINT things?" asked a little boy of four,
who had been spending a happy day at Slabsides, but who, at nightfall,
while nestling in the author's arms, seemed suddenly to realize that
this rustic house was very different from anything he had seen before.
"I don't like things painted, my little man; that is just why I came up
here--to get away from paint and polish--just as you liked to wear your
overalls to-day and play on the grass, instead of keeping on that pretty
dress your mother wanted you to keep clean." "Oh!" said the child in
such a knowing tone that one felt he understood. But that is another

The time of which I am speaking--that gray September day--what a
memorable day it was! How cheery the large, low room looked when the
host replenished the smouldering fire! "I sometimes come up here even
in winter, build a fire, and stay for an hour or more, with long, sad,
sweet thoughts and musings," he said. He is justly proud of the huge
stone fireplace and chimney which he himself helped to construct; he
also helped to hew the trees and build the house. "What joy went into
the building of this retreat! I never expect to be so well content
again." Then, musing, he added: "It is a comfortable, indolent life I
lead here; I read a little, write a little, and dream a good deal.
Here the sun does not rise so early as it does down at Riverby. 'Tired
nature's sweet restorer' is not put to rout so soon by the screaming
whistles, the thundering trains, and the necessary rules and regulations
of well-ordered domestic machinery. Here I really 'loaf and invite my
soul.' Yes, I am often melancholy, and hungry for companionship--not in
the summer months, no, but in the quiet evenings before the fire, with
only Silly Sally to share my long, long thoughts; she is very attentive,
but I doubt if she notices when I sigh. She doesn't even heed me when I
tell her that ornithology is a first-rate pursuit for men, but a bad one
for cats. I suspect that she studies the birds with greater care than
I do; for now I can get all I want of a bird and let him remain in the
bush, but Silly Sally is a thorough-going ornithologist; she must engage
in all the feather-splittings that the ornithologists do, and she isn't
satisfied until she has thoroughly dissected and digested her material,
and has all the dry bones of the subject laid bare."

We sat before the fire while Mr. Burroughs talked of nature, of books,
of men and women whose lives or books, or both, have closely touched his
own. He talked chiefly of Emerson and Whitman, the men to whom he seems
to owe the most, the two whom most his soul has loved.

"I remember the first time I saw Emerson," he said musingly; "it was at
West Point during the June examinations of the cadets. Emerson had been
appointed by President Lincoln as one of the board of visitors. I had
been around there in the afternoon, and had been peculiarly interested
in a man whose striking face and manner challenged my attention. I did
not hear him speak, but watched him going about with a silk hat,
much too large, pushed back on his head; his sharp eyes peering into
everything, curious about everything. 'Here,' said I to myself, 'is a
countryman who has got away from home, and intends to see all that is
going on'--such an alert, interested air! That evening a friend came to
me and in a voice full of awe and enthusiasm said, 'Emerson is in town!'
Then I knew who the alert, sharp-eyed stranger was. We went to the
meeting and met our hero, and the next day walked and talked with him.
He seemed glad to get away from those old fogies and talk with us young
men. I carried his valise to the boat-landing--I was in the seventh
heaven of delight."

"I saw him several years later," he continued, "soon after 'Wake-Robin'
was published; he mentioned it and said: 'Capital title, capital!' I
don't suppose he had read much besides the title."

"The last time I saw him," he said with a sigh, "was at Holmes's
seventieth-birthday breakfast, in Boston. But then his mind was like a
splendid bridge with one span missing; he had--what is it you doctors
call it?--_aphasia_, yes, that is it--he had to grope for his words. But
what a serene, godlike air! He was like a plucked eagle tarrying in the
midst of a group of lesser birds. He would sweep the assembly with
that searching glance, as much as to say, 'What is all this buzzing
and chirping about?' Holmes was as brilliant and scintillating as ever;
sparks of wit would greet every newcomer, flying out as the sparks fly
from that log. Whittier was there, too, looking nervous and uneasy and
very much out of his element. But he stood next to Emerson, prompting
his memory and supplying the words his voice refused to utter. When
I was presented, Emerson said in a slow, questioning way,
'Burroughs--Burroughs?' 'Why, thee knows _him_,' said Whittier, jogging
his memory with some further explanation; but I doubt if he then
remembered anything about me."

It was not such a leap from the New England writers to Whitman as one
might imagine. Mr. Burroughs spoke of Emerson's prompt and generous
indorsement of the first edition of "Leaves of Grass": "I give you joy
of your free, brave thought. I have great joy in it." This and much else
Emerson had written in a letter to Whitman. "It is the charter of an
emperor!" Dana had said when Whitman showed him the letter. The poet's
head was undoubtedly a little turned by praise from such a source,
and much to Emerson's annoyance, the letter was published in the next
edition of the "Leaves." Still Emerson and Whitman remained friends to
the last.

"Whitman was a child of the sea," said Mr. Burroughs; "nurtured by the
sea, cradled by the sea; he gave one the same sense of invigoration and
of illimitableness that we get from the sea. He never looked so much at
home as when on the shore--his gray clothes, gray hair, and far-seeing
blue-gray eyes blending with the surroundings. And his thoughts--the
same broad sweep, the elemental force and grandeur and all-embracingness
of the impartial sea!"

"Whitman never hurried," Mr. Burroughs continued; "he always seemed to
have infinite time at his disposal." It brought Whitman very near to
hear Mr. Burroughs say, "He used to take Sunday breakfasts with us in
Washington. Mrs. Burroughs makes capital pancakes, and Walt was very
fond of them; but he was always late to breakfast. The coffee would boil
over, the griddle would smoke, car after car would go jingling by,
and no Walt. Sometimes it got to be a little trying to have domestic
arrangements so interfered with; but a car would stop at last, Walt
would roll off it, and saunter up to the door--cheery, vigorous, serene,
putting every one in good humor. And how he ate! He radiated health
and hopefulness. This is what made his work among the sick soldiers in
Washington of such inestimable value. Every one that came into personal
relations with him felt his rare compelling charm."

It was all very well, this talk about the poets, but climbing
"break-neck stairs" on our way thither had given the guest an appetite,
and the host as well; and these appetites had to be appeased by
something less transcendental than a feast of reason. Scarcely
interrupting his engaging monologue, Mr. Burroughs went about
his preparations for dinner, doing things deftly and quietly, all
unconscious that there was anything peculiar in this sight to the
spectator. Potatoes and onions were brought in with the earth still on
them, their bed was made under the ashes, and we sat down to more talk.
After a while he took a chicken from the market-basket, spread it on a
toaster, and broiled it over the coals; he put the dishes on the hearth
to warm, washed the celery, parched some grated corn over the coals
while the chicken was broiling, talking the while of Tolstoy and of
Maeterlinck, of orioles and vireos, of whatever we happened to touch
upon. He avowed that he was envious of Maeterlinck on account of his
poetic "Life of the Bee." "I ought to have written that," he said; "I
know the bee well enough, but I could never do anything so exquisite."

Parts of Maeterlinck's "Treasures of the Humble," and "Wisdom and
Destiny," he "couldn't stand." I timorously mentioned his chapter on

"'Silence'? Oh, yes; silence is very well--some kinds of it; but _why
make such a noise about silence_?" he asked with a twinkle in his eyes.

When the chicken was nearly ready, I moved toward the dining-table,
on which some dishes were piled. As though in answer to my thought, he

"Yes, if there's anything you can do there, you may." So I began
arranging the table.

"Where are _my_ knife and fork?" "In the cupboard," he answered without

We brought the good things from the hearth, hot and delicious, and
sat down to a dinner that would have done credit to an Adirondack
guide,--and when one has said this, what more need one say?

In helping myself to the celery I took an outside piece. Mine host
reached over and, putting a big white centre of celery on my plate,
said: "What's the use taking the outside of things when one can have the
heart?" This is typical of John Burroughs's life as well as his art--he
has let extraneous things, conventionalities, and non-essentials go; has
gone to the heart of things. It is this that has made his work so vital.

As we arose from the table, I began picking up the dishes.

"You are going to help, are you?"

"Of course," I replied; "where is your dish-cloth? "--a natural
question, as any woman will agree, but what a consternation it evoked!
A just perceptible delay, a fumbling among pots and pans, and he came
toward me with a most apologetic air, and with the sorriest-looking rag
I had ever seen--its narrow circumference encircling a very big hole.

"Is _that_ the best dish-cloth you have?" I asked.

For answer he held it up in front of his face, but the most of it
being hole, it did not hide the eyes that twinkled so merrily that my
housewifely reproof was effectually silenced. I took the sorry remnant
and began washing the dishes, mentally resolving, and carrying out my
resolution the next day, to send him a respectable dish-cloth. Prosaic,
if you will, but does not his own Emerson say something about giving--

          "to barrows, trays, and pans,
          Grace and glimmer of romance"?

And what graces a dish-pan better than a clean, whole, self-respecting

So there we stood, John Burroughs and his humble reader, washing and
wiping dishes, and weighing Amiel and Schopenhauer in the balance at the
same time; and a very novel and amusing experience it was. Yet it did
not seem so strange after all, but almost as though it had happened
before. Silly Sally purred beseechingly as she followed her master about
the room and out to the wood-pile, reminding him that she liked chicken

While putting the bread in the large tin box that stood on the
stair-landing, I had some difficulty with the clasp. "Never mind that,"
said Mr. Burroughs, as he scraped the potato skins into the fire; "a
Vassar girl sat down on that box last summer, and it's never been the
same since."

The work finished, there was more talk before the fire. It was here
that the author told his guest about Anne Gilchrist, the talented,
noble-hearted Englishwoman, whose ready acceptance of Whitman's message
bore fruit in her penetrating criticism of Whitman, a criticism which
stands to-day unrivaled by anything that has been written concerning the
Good Gray Poet.

Like most of Mr. Burroughs' readers, I cherish his poem "Waiting," and,
like most of them, I told him so on seeing him seated before the fire
with folded hands and face serene, a living embodiment of the faith and
trust expressed in those familiar lines. It would seem natural that
he should write such a poem after the heat of the day, after his ripe
experience, after success had come to him; it is the lesson we expect
one to learn on reaching his age, and learning how futile is the fret
and urge of life, how infinitely better is the attitude of trust that
what is our own will gravitate to us in obedience to eternal laws. But
I there learned that he had written the poem when a young man, life
all before him, his prospects in a dubious and chaotic condition, his
aspirations seeming likely to come to naught.

"I have lived to prove it true," he said,--"that which I but vaguely
divined when I wrote the lines. Our lives are all so fearfully and
wonderfully shot through with the very warp and woof of the universe,
past, present, and to come! No doubt at all that our own--that which
our souls crave and need--does gravitate toward us, or we toward it.
'Waiting' has been successful," he added, "not on account of its poetic
merit, but for some other merit or quality. It puts in simple and happy
form some common religious aspirations, without using the religious
jargon. People write me from all parts of the country that they treasure
it in their hearts; that it steadies their hand at the helm; that it
is full of consolation for them. It is because it is poetry allied
with religion that it has this effect; poetry alone would not do this;
neither would a prose expression of the same religious aspirations do
it, for we often outgrow the religious views and feelings of the past.
The religious thrill, the sense of the Infinite, the awe and majesty of
the universe, are no doubt permanent in the race, but the expression of
these feelings in creeds and forms addressed to the understanding,
or exposed to the analysis of the understanding, is as transient and
flitting as the leaves of the trees. My little poem is vague enough to
escape the reason, sincere enough to go to the heart, and poetic enough
to stir the imagination."

The power of accurate observation, of dispassionate analysis, of keen
discrimination and insight that we his readers are familiar with in his
writings about nature, books, men, and life in general, is here seen to
extend to self-analysis as well,--a rare gift; a power that makes his
opinions carry conviction. We feel he is not intent on upholding any
theory, but only on seeing things as they are, and reporting them as
they are.

A steady rain had set in early in the afternoon, effectually drowning
my hopes of a longer wood-land walk that day, but I was then, and many
a time since then have been, well content that it was so. I learned less
of woodland lore, but more of the woodland philosopher.

In quiet converse passed the hours of that memorable day in the humble
retreat on the wooded hills,--

          "Far from the clank of the world,"--

and in the company of the poet-naturalist. So cordial had my host been,
so gracious the admission to his home and hospitality, that I left the
little refuge with a feeling of enrichment I shall cherish while life
lasts. I had sought out a favorite author; I had gained a friend.


(In response to my request, Mr. Burroughs began in 1903 to write for me
a series of letters, autobiographical in character. It is from them, for
the most part, helped out by interviews to fill in the gaps, that I
have compiled this part of the book. The letters were not written
continuously; begun in 1903, they suffered a long interruption, were
resumed in 1906, again in 1907, and lastly in 1912. The reader will, I
trust, pardon any repetition noted, an occasional return to a subject
previously touched upon being unavoidable because of the long intervals
between some of the letters.

It seems to me that these letters picture our author more faithfully
than could any portrait drawn by another. Thomas Bailey Aldrich has said
that no man has ever yet succeeded in painting an honest portrait of
himself in an autobiography, however sedulously he may have set about
it; that in spite of his candid purpose he omits necessary touches and
adds superfluous ones; that at times he cannot help draping his thought,
and that, of course, the least shred of drapery is a disguise. But,
Aldrich to the contrary notwithstanding, I believe Mr. Burroughs has
pictured himself and his environment in these pages with the same
fidelity with which he has interpreted nature. He is so used to
"straight seeing and straight thinking" that these gifts do not desert
him when his observation is turned upon himself. He seems to be a
shining example of the exception that proves the rule. Besides, when
Aldrich pronounced that dictum, Mr. Burroughs had not produced these

This record was not written with the intention of its being published as
it stood, but merely to acquaint me with the facts and with the author's
feelings concerning them, in case I should some day undertake his
biography. But it seems to me that just because it was so written, it
has a value which would be considerably lessened were it to be worked
over into a more finished form. I have been willing to sacrifice the
more purely literary value which would undoubtedly grace the record,
were the author to revise it, that I may retain its homely, unstudied
human value.

I have arranged the autobiographical material under three headings:
Ancestry and Family Life, Childhood and Youth, and Self-Analysis.--C.


I am, as you know, the son of a farmer. My father was the son of a
farmer, as was his father, and his. There is no break, so far as I know,
in the line of farmers back into the seventeenth century. There was a
Rev. George Burroughs who was hanged (in 1692) for a witch in Salem. He
was a Harvard graduate. I know of no other Harvard graduate by our name
until Julian (Mr. Burroughs's son) graduated in 1901 from Harvard. My
father's cousin, the Rev. John C. Burroughs, the first president of
Chicago University, was graduated from Yale sometime in the early

The first John Burroughs of whom I have any trace came from the West
Indies, and settled in Stratford, Connecticut, where he married in 1694.
He had ten children, of whom the seventh was John, born in August, 1705.
My descent does not come from this John, but from his eldest brother,
Stephen, who was born at Stratford in February, 1695. Stephen had eight
children, and here another John turns up--his last child, born in 1745.
His third child, Stephen Burroughs (born in 1729), was a shipbuilder and
became a noted mathematician and astronomer, and lived at Bridgeport,
Connecticut. My descent is through Stephen's seventh child, Ephraim,
born in 1740.

Ephraim, my great-grandfather, also had a large family, six sons and
several daughters, of which my grandfather Eden was one. He was born in
Stratford, about 1770. My great-grandfather Ephraim left Stratford near
the beginning of the Revolution and came into New York State, first into
Dutchess County, when Grandfather was a small boy, and finally settled
in what is now the town of Stamford, Delaware County, where he died in
1818. He is buried in a field between Hobart and Stamford.

My grandfather Eden married Rachael Avery, and shortly afterward moved
over the mountain to the town of Roxbury, cutting a road through the
woods and bringing his wife and all their goods and chattels on a sled
drawn by a yoke of oxen. This must have been not far from the year 1795.
He cleared the land and built a log house with a black-ash bark roof,
and a great stone chimney, and a floor of hewn logs. Grandmother said it
was the happiest day of her life when she found herself the mistress of
this little house in the woods. Great-grandmother Avery lived with
them later. She had a petulant disposition. One day when reproved for
something, she went off and hid herself in the bushes and sulked--a
family trait; I'm a little that way, I guess.

Grandfather Burroughs was religious,--an Old-School Baptist,--a
thoughtful, quiet, exemplary man who read his Bible much. He was of
spare build, serious, thrifty after the manner of pioneers, and a kind
husband and father. He died, probably of apoplexy, when I was four years
old. I can dimly remember him. He was about seventy-two.

Grandmother Burroughs had sandy hair and a freckled face, and from her
my father and his sister Abby got their red hair. From this source I
doubtless get some of my Celtic blood. Grand-mother Burroughs had nine
children; the earliest ones died in infancy; their graves are on
the hill in the old burying-ground. Two boys and five girls
survived--Phoebe, Betsy, Mary, Abby, Olly, Chauncey (my father), and

I do not remember Grandmother at all. She died, I think, in 1838, of
consumption; she was in the seventies. Father said her last words were,
"Chauncey, I have but a little while to live." Her daughter Oily and
also my sister Oily died of consumption. Grandmother used to work with
Grandfather in the fields, and help make sugar. I have heard them tell
how in 1812 they raised wheat which sold for $2.50 a bushel--a great

Father told me of his uncle, Chauncey Avery, brother of Grandmother
Burroughs, who, with his wife and seven children, was drowned near
Shandaken, by a flood in the Esopus Creek, in April, 1814, or 1816. The
creek rose rapidly in the night; retreat was cut off in the morning.
They got on the roof and held family prayers. Uncle Chauncey tried to
fell a tree and make a bridge, but the water drove him away. The house
was finally carried away with most of the family in it. The father
swam to a stump with one boy on his back and stood there till the water
carried away the stump, then tried to swim with the boy for shore, but
the driftwood soon engulfed him and all was over. Two of the bodies were
never found. Their bones doubtless rest somewhere in the still waters of
the lower Esopus.

(Here follow details concerning one paternal and one maternal aunt,
which, though picturesque, would better be omitted. It is to be noted,
however, that in this simple homely narrative of his ancestors (which,
by the way, gives a vivid picture of the early pioneer days) and later
in his own personal history, there is no attempt to conceal or
gloss over weaknesses or shortcomings; all is set down with engaging
candor.--C. B.)

Father's sister Abby married a maternal cousin, John Kelly. He was of
a scholarly turn. He worked for Father the year I was born, and I was
named after him. I visited him in Pennsylvania in 1873, and while there,
when he was talking with me about the men of our family named John
Burroughs, he said, "One was a minister in the West, one was Uncle
Hiram's son, you are the third, and there is still another I have heard
of,--a writer." And I was silly enough not to tell him that I was that
one. After I reached home, some of my people sent him "Winter Sunshine,"
and when he found that I was its author, he wrote that he "set great
store by it." I don't know why I should have been so reticent about my
books--they were a foreign thing, I suppose; it was not natural to speak
of them among my kinsfolk.

(In this connection let me quote from an early letter of Mr. Burroughs
to me. It was written in 1901 after the death of his favorite sister:
"She was very dear to me, and I had no better friend. More than the rest
of my people she aspired to understand and appreciate me, and with a
measure of success. My family are plain, unlettered farmer folk, and the
world in which you and I live iss a sealed book to them. The have never
read my books. What they value in me is what I have in common with them,
which is, no doubt, the larger part of me. But I love them all just the
same. They are a part of father and mother, of the old home, and of my
youthful days."--C. B.)

Mother's father. Grandfather Kelly, was a soldier of 1776, of Irish
descent, born in Connecticut, I think. His name was Edmund Kelly. He
went into the war as a boy and saw Washington and La Fayette. He was at
Valley Forge during that terrible winter the army spent there. One
day Washington gave the order to the soldiers to dress-parade for
inspection; some had good clothes, some scarcely any, and no shoes. He
made all the well-dressed men go and cut wood for the rest, and excused
the others.

Grandfather was a small man with a big head and quite pronounced Irish
features. He was a dreamer. He was not a good provider; Grandmother did
most of the providing. He wore a military coat with brass buttons, and
red-top boots. He believed in spooks and witches, and used to tell us
spook stories till our hair would stand on end.

He was an expert trout fisherman. Early in the morning I would dig
worms for bait, and we would go fishing over in West Settlement, or in
Montgomery Hollow. I went fishing with him when he was past eighty.
He would steal along the streams and "snake" out the trout, walking as
briskly as I do now. From him I get my dreamy, lazy, shirking ways.

In 1848 he and Grandmother came to live near us. He had a severe fit of
illness that year. I remember we caught a fat coon for him. He was
fond of game. I was there one morning when they entertained a colored
minister overnight, probably a fugitive slave. He prayed--how lustily he

I have heard Grandfather tell how, when he was a boy in Connecticut, he
once put his hand in a bluebird's nest and felt, as he said, "something
comical"; he drew out his hand, which was followed by the head and neck
of a black snake; he took to his heels, and the black snake after him.
(I rather think that's a myth.) He said his uncle, who was ploughing,
came after the black snake with a whip, and the snake slunk away. He
thought he remembered that. It may be a black snake might pursue one,
but I doubt it.

(Mr. Burroughs's ingrained tendency to question reports of improbable
things in nature shows even in these reminiscences of his grandfather.
His instinct for the truth is always on the qui vive.--C. B.)

Grandmother Kelly lived to be past eighty. She was a big woman--thrifty
and domestic--big enough to take "Granther" up in her arms and walk
off with him. She did more to bring up her family than he did; was a
practical housewife, and prolific. She had ten children and made every
one of them toe the mark. I don't know whether she ever took "Granther"
across her knee or not, but he probably deserved it. She was quite
uneducated. Her maiden name was Lavinia Minot. I don't know where her
people came from, or whether she had any brothers and sisters. They
lived in Red Kill mostly, in the eastern part of the town of Roxbury,
and also over on the edge of Greene County. I remember, when Grandfather
used to tell stories of cruelty in the army, and of the hardships of the
soldiers, she would wriggle and get very angry. All her children were
large. They were as follows: Sukie, Ezekiel, Charles, Martin, Edmund,
William, Thomas, Hannah, Abby, and Amy (my mother). Aunt Sukie was a
short, chubby woman, always laughing. Uncle Charles was a man of strong
Irish features, like Grandfather. He was a farmer who lived in Genesee
County. Uncle Martin was a farmer of fair intelligence; Ezekiel was
lower in the scale than the others; was intemperate, and after losing
his farm became a day-laborer. He would carry a gin-bottle into the
fields, and would mow the stones as readily as he would the grass--and
I had to turn the grindstone to sharpen his scythe. Uncle Edmund was a
farmer and a pettifogger. Uncle William died comparatively young; he
had nurseries near Rochester. Uncle Thomas was a farmer, slow and canny,
with a quiet, dry humor. Aunt Hannah married Robert Avery, who drank a
good deal; I can't remember anything about her. Aunt Abby was large and
thrifty; she married John Jenkins, and had a large family.... Amy, my
mother, was her mother's tenth child.

Mother was born in Rensselaer County near Albany, in 1808. Her father
moved to Delaware County when she was a child, driving there with an
ox-team. Mother "worked out" in her early teens. She was seventeen or
eighteen when she married, February, 1827.

Father and Mother first went to keeping house on Grandfather Burroughs's
old place--not in the log house, but in the frame house of which you saw
the foundations. Brother Hiram was born there.

(Mr. Burroughs's last walk with his father was to the crumbling
foundations of this house. I have heard him tell how his father stood
and pointed out the location of the various rooms--the room where they
slept the first night they went there; the one where the eldest child
was born; that in which his mother died. I stood (one August day
in 1902) with Mr. Burroughs on the still remaining joists of his
grandfather's house--grass-grown, and with the debris of stones and
beams mingling with weeds and bushes. He pointed out to me, as his
father had done for him, the location of the various rooms, and mused
upon the scenes enacted there; he showed where the paths led to the barn
and to the spring, and seemed to take a melancholy interest in picturing
the lives of his parents and grandparents. A sudden burst of gladness
from a song sparrow, and his musings gave way to attentive pleasure, and
the sunlit Present claimed him instead of the shadowy Past. He was soon
rejoicing in the discovery of a junco's nest near the foundations of the
old house.--C.B.)

My father, Chauncey Burroughs, was born December 20, 1803. He received a
fair schooling for those times--the three R's--and taught school one or
two winters. His reading was the Bible and hymn-book, his weekly secular
paper, and a monthly religious paper.

He used to say that as a boy he was a very mean one, saucy, quarrelsome,
and wicked, liked horse-racing and card-playing--both alike disreputable
in those times. In early manhood he "experienced religion" and joined
the Old-School Baptist Church, of which his parents were members, and
then all his bad habits seem to have been discarded. He stopped swearing
and Sabbath-breaking, and other forms of wickedness, and became an
exemplary member of the community. He was a man of unimpeachable
veracity; bigoted and intolerant in his religious and political views,
but a good neighbor, a kind father, a worthy citizen, a fond husband,
and a consistent member of his church. He improved his farm, paid his
debts, and kept his faith. He had no sentiment about things and was
quite unconscious of the beauties of nature over which we make such an
ado. "The primrose by the river's brim" would not have been seen by him
at all. This is true of most farmers; the plough and the hoe and the
scythe do not develop their aesthetic sensibilities; then, too, in the
old religious view the beauties of this world were vain and foolish.

I have said that my father had strong religious feeling. He took "The
Signs of the Times" for over forty years, reading all those experiences
with the deepest emotion. I remember when a mere lad hearing him pray in
the hog-pen. It was a time of unusual religious excitement with him, no
doubt; I heard, and ran away, knowing it was not for me to hear.

Father had red hair, and a ruddy, freckled face. He was tender-hearted
and tearful, but with blustering ways and a harsh, strident voice.
Easily moved to emotion, he was as transparent as a child, with a
child's lack of self-consciousness. Unsophisticated, he had no art to
conceal anything, no guile, and, as Mother used to say, no manners. "All
I ever had," Father would rejoin, "for I've never used any of them." I
doubt if he ever said "Thank you" in his life; I certainly never heard
him. He had nothing to conceal, and could not understand that others
might have. I have heard him ask people what certain things cost, men
their politics, women their ages, with the utmost ingenuousness. One day
when he and I were in Poughkeepsie, we met a strange lad on the street
with very red hair, and Father said to him, "I can remember when my hair
was as red as yours." The boy stared at him and passed on.

Although Father lacked delicacy, he did not lack candor or directness.
He would tell a joke on himself with the same glee that he would on
any one else.... I have heard him tell how, in 1844, at the time of the
"anti-renters," when he saw the posse coming, he ran over the hill to
Uncle Daniel's and crawled under the bed, but left his feet sticking
out, and there they found him. He had not offended, or dressed as an
Indian, but had sympathized with the offenders.

He made a great deal of noise about the farm, sending his voice over the
hills (we could hear him calling us to dinner when we were working on
the "Rundle Place," half a mile away), shouting at the cows, the pigs,
the sheep, or calling the dog, with needless expenditure of vocal power
at all times and seasons. The neighbors knew when Father was at home; so
did the cattle in the remotest field. His bark was always to be dreaded
more than his bite. His threats of punishment were loud and severe, but
the punishment rarely came. Never but once did he take a gad to me, and
then the sound was more than the substance. I deserved more than I got:
I had let a cow run through the tall grass in the meadow when I might
easily have "headed her off," as I was told to do. Father used to say
"No," to our requests for favors (such as a day off to go fishing or
hunting) with strong emphasis, and then yield to our persistent coaxing.

One day I was going to town and asked him for money to buy an algebra.
"What is an algebra?" He had never heard of an algebra, and couldn't
see why I needed one; he refused the money, though I coaxed and Mother
pleaded with him. I had left the house and had got as far as the big
hill up there by the pennyroyal rock, when he halloed to me that I might
get the algebra--Mother had evidently been instrumental in bringing him
to terms. But my blood was up by this time, and as I trudged along to
the village I determined to wait until I could earn the money myself
for the algebra, and some other books I coveted. I boiled sap and
made maple-sugar, and the books were all the sweeter by reason of the
maple-sugar money.

When I wanted help, as I did two or three times later, on a pinch.
Father refused me; and, as it turned out, I was the only one of his
children that could or would help him when the pinch came--a curious
retribution, but one that gave me pleasure and him no pain. I was better
unhelped, as it proved, and better for all I could help him. But he was
a loving father all the same. He couldn't understand my needs, but love
outweighs understanding.

He did not like my tendency to books; he was afraid, as I learned later,
that I would become a Methodist minister--his pet aversion. He never
had much faith in me--less than in any of his children; he doubted if
I would ever amount to anything. He saw that I was an odd one, and had
tendencies and tastes that he did not sympathize with. He never alluded
to my literary work; apparently left it out of his estimate of me.
My aims and aspirations were a sealed book to him, as his peculiar
religious experiences were to me, yet I reckon it was the same leaven
working in us both.

I remember, on my return from Dr. Holmes's seventieth birthday
breakfast, in 1879, a remark of father's. He had overheard me telling
sister Abigail about the breakfast, and he declared: "I had rather go to
hear old Elder Jim Mead preach two hours, if he was living, than attend
all the fancy parties in the world." He said he had heard him preach
when he did not know whether he was in the body or out of the body. The
elder undoubtedly had a strong natural eloquence.

Although Father never spoke to me of my writings, Abigail once told me
that when she showed him a magazine with some article of mine in, and
accompanied by a photograph of me, he looked at it a long time; he said
nothing, but his eyes filled with tears.

He went to school to the father of Jay Gould, John Gould--the first
child born in the town of Roxbury (about 1780 or 1790).

He married Amy Kelly, my mother, in 1827. He was six years her senior.
She lived over in Red Kill where he had taught school, and was one of
his pupils. I have often heard him say: "I rode your Uncle Martin's old
sorrel mare over to her folks' when I went courting her." When he
would be affectionate toward her before others, Mother would say, "Now,
Chauncey, don't be foolish."

Father bought the farm of 'Riah Bartram's mother, and moved on it in
1827. In a house that stood where the Old Home does now, I was born,
April 3, 1837. It was a frame house with three or four rooms below and
one room "done off" above, and a big chamber. I was the fifth son and
the seventh child of my parents.

(Illustration of Birthplace of John Burroughs, Roxbury, New York. From a
photograph by Charles S. Olcott)

Mother was in her twenty-ninth year when she was carrying me. She had
already borne four boys and two girls; her health was good and her life,
like that of all farmers' wives in that section, was a laborious one.
I can see her going about her work--milking, butter-making, washing,
cooking, berry-picking, sugar-making, sewing, knitting, mending, and the
thousand duties that fell to her lot and filled her days. Both she and
Father were up at daylight in summer, and before daylight in winter.
Sometimes she had help in the kitchen, but oftener she did not. The work
that housewives did in those times seems incredible. They made their own
soap, sugar, cheese, dipped or moulded their candles, spun the flax and
wool and wove it into cloth, made carpets, knit the socks and mittens
and "comforts" for the family, dried apples, pumpkins, and berries, and
made the preserves and pickles for home use.

Mother went about all these duties with cheerfulness and alacrity. She
more than kept up her end of the farm work. She was more strenuous than
father. How many hours she sat up mending and patching our clothes,
while we were sleeping! Rainy days meant no let-up in her work, as they
did in Father's.

The first suit of clothes I remember having, she cut and made. Then the
quilts and coverlids she pieced and quilted! We used, too, in my boyhood
to make over two tons of butter annually, the care of which devolved
mainly upon her, from the skimming of the pans to the packing of the
butter in the tubs and firkins, though the churning was commonly done by
a sheep or a dog. We made our own cheese, also. As a boy I used to help
do the wheying, and I took toll out of the sweet curd. One morning I
ate so much of the curd that I was completely cloyed, and could eat none
after that.

I can remember Mother's loom pounding away hour after hour in the
chamber of an outbuilding where she was weaving a carpet, or cloth. I
used to help do some of the quilling--running the yarn or linen thread
upon spools to be used in the shuttles. The distaff, the quill-wheel,
the spinning-wheel, the reel, were very familiar to me as a boy; so was
the crackle, the swingle, the hetchel, for Father grew flax which Mother
spun into thread and wove into cloth for our shirts and summer trousers,
and for towels and sheets. Wearing those shirts, when new, made a boy's
skin pretty red. I dare say they were quite equal to a hair shirt to do
penance in; and wiping on a new home-made linen towel suggested wiping
on a brier bush. Dear me! how long it has been since I have seen any
tow, or heard a loom or a spinning-wheel, or seen a boy breaking in his
new flax-made shirt! No one sees these things any more.

Mother had but little schooling; she learned to read, but not to write
or cipher; hence, books and such interests took none of her time. She
was one of those uneducated countrywomen of strong natural traits and
wholesome instincts, devoted to her children; she bore ten, and
nursed them all--an heroic worker, a helpful neighbor, and a provident
housewife, with the virtues that belonged to so many farmers' wives in
those days, and which we are all glad to be able to enumerate in our

She had not a large frame, but was stout; had brown hair and blue eyes,
a fine strong brow, and a straight nose with a strong bridge to it. She
was a woman of great emotional capacity, who felt more than she thought.
She scolded a good deal, but was not especially quick-tempered. She was
an Old-School Baptist, as was Father.

She was not of a vivacious or sunny disposition--always a little in
shadow, as it seems to me now, given to brooding and to dwelling upon
the more serious aspects of life. How little she knew of all that has
been done and thought in the world! and yet the burden of it all was,
in a way, laid upon her. The seriousness of Revolutionary times, out
of which came her father and mother, was no doubt reflected in her own
serious disposition. As I have said, her happiness was always shaded,
never in a strong light; and the sadness which motherhood, and the care
of a large family, and a yearning heart beget was upon her. I see myself
in her perpetually. A longing which nothing can satisfy I share
with her. Whatever is most valuable in my books comes from her--the
background of feeling, of pity, of love comes from her.

She was of a very different temperament from Father--much more
self-conscious, of a more breeding, inarticulate nature. She was richly
endowed with all the womanly instincts and affections. She had a decided
preference for Abigail and me among her children, wanted me to go to
school, and was always interceding with Father to get me books.
She never read one of my books. She died in 1880, at the age of
seventy-three. I had published four of my books then.

She had had a stroke of apoplexy in the fall of 1879, but lived till
December of the following year, dying on father's seventy-seventh
birthday. (He lived four years more.) We could understand but little of
what she said after she was taken ill. She used to repeat a line from an
old hymn--"Only a veil between."

She thought a good deal of some verses I wrote--"My Brother's Farm"--and
had them framed. (You have seen them in the parlor at the Old Home. I
wrote them in Washington the fall that you were born. I was sick and
forlorn at the time.)

I owe to Mother my temperament, my love of nature, my brooding,
introspective habit of mind--all those things which in a literary man
help to give atmosphere to his work. In her line were dreamers and
fishermen and hunters. One of her uncles lived alone in a little house
in the woods. His hut was doubtless the original Slabsides. Grandfather
Kelly was a lover of solitude, as all dreamers are, and Mother's
happiest days, I think, were those spent in the fields after berries.
The Celtic element, which I get mostly from her side, has no doubt
played an important part in my life. My idealism, my romantic
tendencies, are largely her gift.

On my father's side I find no fishermen or hermits or dreamers. I find a
marked religious strain, more active and outspoken than on Mother's. The
religion of the Kellys was, for the most part, of the silent, meditative
kind, but there are preachers and teachers and scholars on Father's
side--one of them, Stephen Burroughs (b. 1765), a renegade preacher.
Doubtless most of my own intellectual impetus comes from this side of
the family. There are also cousins and second cousins on this side who
became preachers, and some who became physicians, but I recall none on
the Kelly side.

In size and physical make-up I am much like my father. I have my
father's foot, and I detect many of his ways in my own. My loud and
harmless barking, when I am angered, I get from him. The Kellys are
more apt to bite. I see myself, too, in my brothers, in their looks and
especially in their weaknesses. Take from me my special intellectual
equipment, and I am in all else one of them.

(Speaking of their characteristics as a family, Mr. Burroughs says that
they have absolute inability to harbor resentment (a Celtic trait); that
they never have "cheek" to ask enough for what they have to sell, lack
decision, and are easily turned from their purpose. Commenting on this,
he has often said: "We are weak as men--do not make ourselves felt in
the community. But this very weakness is a help to me as a writer upon
Nature. I don't stand in my own light. I get very close to bird and
beast. My thin skin lets the shy and delicate influences pass. I can
surrender myself to Nature without effort. I am like her.... That which
hinders me with men, makes me strong with impersonal Nature, and admits
me to her influences.... I am lacking in moral fibre, but am tender and

To see Mr. Burroughs stand and fondly gaze upon the fruitful,
well-cultivated fields that his father had cared for so many years, to
hear him say that the hills are like father and mother to him, was to
realize how strong is the filial instinct in him--that and the home
feeling. As he stood on the crest of the big hill by the pennyroyal
rock, looking down on the peaceful homestead in the soft light of a
midsummer afternoon, his eye roamed fondly over the scene:--

"How fertile and fruitful it is now, but how lonely and bleak the old
place looked in that winter landscape the night I drove up from the
station in the moonlight after hearing of Father's death! There was a
light in the window, but I knew Father would not meet me at the door
this time--beleaguering winter without, and Death within!

"Father and Mother! I think of them with inexpressible love and
yearning, wrapped in their last eternal sleep. They had, for them,
the true religion, the religion of serious, simple, hard-working.
God-fearing lives. To believe as they did, to sit in their pews, is
impossible to me--the Time-Spirit has decreed otherwise; but all I am or
can be or achieve is to emulate their virtues--my soul can be saved only
by a like truthfulness and sincerity."

The following data concerning his brothers and sisters were given me by
Mr. Burroughs in conversation:--

Hiram, born in 1827, was an unpractical man and a dreamer; he was a
bee-keeper. He showed great aptitude in the use of tools, could make
axe-handles, neck-yokes, and the various things used about the farm, and
was especially skilled in building stone walls. But he could not elbow
his way in a crowd, could not make farming pay, and was always pushed
to the wall. He cared nothing for books, and although he studied
grammar when a boy, and could parse, he never could write a grammatical
sentence. He died at the age of seventy-five.

Olly Ann was about two years younger than Hiram. Mr. Burroughs remembers
her as a frail, pretty girl, with dark-brown eyes, a high forehead, and
a wasp-like waist. She had a fair education for her time, married and
had two children, and died in early womanhood of phthisis.

Wilson was a farmer, thrifty and economical. He married but had no
children. He was evidently somewhat neurotic; as a child, even when
well, he would groan and moan in his sleep, and he died, at the age of
twenty-eight, after a short illness, of a delirious fever.

Curtis also was a farmer, but lacked judgment; could not look ahead;
thought if he gave his note a debt was canceled, and went on piling up
other indebtedness. He had a very meagre schooling, but was apt at witty
remarks. He was temperate; was much given to reading "The Signs of the
Times," like his father before him. He married and had five children.
For many years previous to his death he lived at the homestead, dying
there in his eightieth year, in the summer of 1912. Two of his unmarried
children still live at the Old Home,--of all places on the earth the one
toward which Mr. Burroughs turns with the most yearning fondness.

Edmund died in infancy.

Jane, a tender-hearted, old-fashioned woman, who cried and fretted
easily, and worried over trifles, was a good housekeeper, and a fond
mother--a fat, dumpy little woman with a doleful voice. She was always
urging her brother not to puzzle his head about writing; writing and
thinking, she said, were "bad for the head." When he would go away on
a journey of only a hundred miles, she would worry incessantly lest
something happen to him. She married and had five daughters. Her death
occurred in May, 1912, at the age of seventy-seven. "Poor Jane!" said
Mr. Burroughs one day, when referring to her protests against his
writing; "I fear she never read a dozen printed words of mine--or shall
I say 'lucky Jane'?"

John, born in 1837, was always "an odd one." (One is reminded of what
William R. Thayer said of the Franklin family: "Among the seventeen
Franklin children one was a Benjamin, and the rest nobodies.")

Eden was born in 1839. Frail most of his life, in later years he has
become robust, and now (1913) is the only surviving member of the family
besides Mr. Burroughs. He is cheery and loquacious, methodical and
orderly, and very punctilious in dress. (One day, in the summer of 1912,
when he was calling at "Woodchuck Lodge,"--the summer home where Mr.
Burroughs has lived of late years, near the old place where he
was born,--this brother recounted some of their youthful exploits,
especially the one which yielded the material for the essay "A White Day
and a Red Fox." "I shot the fox and got five dollars for it," said
Mr. Eden Burroughs, "and John wrote a piece about it, and got

Abigail, the favorite sister of our author, appreciated her brother's
books and his ideals more than any other member of the family. She
married and had two children. At the time of her death, in 1901, of
typhoid fever (at the age of fifty-eight) the band of brothers and
sisters had been unbroken by death for more than thirty-seven years.
Her loss was a severe blow to her brother. He had always shared his
windfalls with her; she had read some of his essays, and used to talk
with him about his aspirations, encouraging him timidly, before he had
gained recognition.

Eveline died at the age of five years.

The death of his brother Hiram, in 1904, made the past bleed afresh for
Mr. Burroughs. "He was next to Father and Mother in my affections,"
he wrote. "Oh! if I had only done more for him--this is my constant
thought. If I could only have another chance! How generous death makes
us! Go, then, and make up by doing more for the living."

As I walked with him about the Old Home, he said, "I can see Hiram in
everything here; in the trees he planted and grafted, in these stone
walls he built, in this land he so industriously cultivated during the
years he had the farm."

So large a place in his affections did this brother hold, and yet how
wide apart were these two in their real lives! I know of no one who has
pictured the pathos of lives so near and yet so far apart as has George
Eliot when she says: "Family likeness has often a deep sadness in it.
Nature, that great tragic dramatist, knits us together by bone and
muscle, and divides us by the subtler web of our brains; blends yearning
and repulsion, and ties us by our heart-strings to the beings that jar
us at every moment. We hear a voice with the very cadence of our
own uttering the thoughts we despise; we see eyes--ah! so like our
mother's--averted from us in cold alienation."

We cannot tell why one boy in a family turns out a genius, while the
others stay in the ancestral ruts and lead humdrum, placid lives, any
more than we can tell why one group of the hepaticas we gather in the
April woods has the gift of fragrance, while those of a sister group in
the same vicinity are scentless. A caprice of fate, surely, that "mate
and mate beget such different issues."

"Hiram was with me at Slabsides," said Mr. Burroughs, "much of the time
when I was writing the Whitman book, but never referred to it in any
way. When it came from the press, I said to him, 'Hiram, here is the
book you have heard me speak about as having cost me nearly four years'
work, and which I rewrote four times.'"

"'That's the book, is it?' he replied, showing no curiosity about it, or
desire to look into it, but kept drumming on the table--a habit of his
that was very annoying to me at times, but of which he was not aware.
When 'A Year in the Fields' came out, he looked at some of the pictures,
but that was all."

There is something very pathetic in all this--these two brothers living
in that isolated cabin in the woods, knit together by the ties of
kinship, having in common a deep and yearning love for each other,
and for the Old Home in the Catskills,--their daily down-sittings and
up-risings outwardly the same, yet so alienated in what makes up one's
real existence. The one, the elder, intent on his bees, his thoughts
by day revolving about his hives, or concerned with the weather and the
daily happenings; at night, as he idly drums with his fingers, dreaming
of the old days on the farm--of how he used to dig out rocks to build
the fences, of the sugar-making, of cradling the oats in July; while the
other--ah! the other, of what was he not thinking!--of the little
world of the hives (his thoughts yielding the exquisite "Idyl of the
Honey-Bee"), of boyhood days upon the farm, of the wild life around his
cabin, of the universe, and of the soul of the poet Whitman, that then
much misunderstood man, than whom no one so much as he has helped us to
appreciate. Going out and in, attending to his homely tasks (for these
brothers did their own housework), the younger brother was all the time
thinking of that great soul, of all that association with him had meant
to him, and of all that Whitman would mean to America, to the world,
as poet, prophet, seer--thinking how out of his knowledge of Whitman as
poet and person he could cull and sift and gather together an adequate
and worthy estimate of one whom his soul loved as Jonathan loved David!

The mystery of personality--how shall one fathom it? I asked myself this
one rainy afternoon, as I sat in the Burroughs homestead and looked from
one brother to another, the two so alike and yet so unlike. The one
a simple farmer whose interests are circumscribed by the hills which
surround the farm on which as children they were reared; the other,
whose interests in the early years were seemingly just as circumscribed,
but who felt that nameless something--that push from within--which first
found its outlet in a deeper interest in the life about him than his
brothers ever knew; and who later felt the magic of the world of books;
and, still later, the need of expression, an expression which finally
showed itself in a masterly interpretation of country life and
experiences. The same heredity here, the same environment, the same
opportunities--yet how different the result! The farmer has tended and
gathered many a crop from the old place since they were boys, but has
been blind and deaf to all that has there yielded such a harvest to
the other. That other, a plain, unassuming man, "standing at ease
in nature," has become a household word because of all that he has
contributed to our intellectual and emotional life.

A man who as a lad had roamed the Roxbury hills with John Burroughs and
his brothers, and had known the boy John as something of a dreamer,
and thought of him in later years as perhaps of less account than his
brothers (since they had settled down, owned land, and were leading
industrious lives), was traveling in Europe in the eighties. On the
top of a stage-coach in the Scottish Highlands he sat next a
scholarly-looking man whose garb, he thought, betokened a priest. From
some question which the traveler put, the Englishman learned that the
stranger was from America. Immediately he showed a lively interest.
"From America! Do you, then, know John Burroughs?"

Imagine the surprise of the Delaware County farmer at being questioned
about his schoolmate, the dreamer, who, to be sure, "took to books"; but
what was he that this Englishman should inquire about him as the one man
in America he was eager to learn about! Doubtless Mr. Burroughs was
the one literary man the Delaware County farmer did know, though his
knowledge was on the personal and not on the literary side. And imagine
the surprise of the priest (if priest it was) to find that he had
actually lighted upon a schoolmate of the author!--C. B.)


I seem to have been a healthy, active child, very impressionable, and
with more interests and a keener enjoyment of things than most farm boys
have. I was fond of the girls back as early as I can remember, and had
my sweethearts at a very early age....

I learned my letters at school, when I was five or six, in the
old-fashioned way by being called up to the teacher several times a
day and naming the letters as he pointed at them where they stood in a
perpendicular column in Cobb's Spelling-Book. The vowels and consonants
stood in separate columns, and had to be learned one by one, by
continued repetition. It took me a long time, I remember, to distinguish
_b_ from _d_, and _c_ from _e_. When and how I learned to read I do not
remember. I recall Cobb's Second Reader, and later Olney's Geography,
and then Dayballs Arithmetic.

I went to school summers till I was old enough to help on the farm, say
at the age of eleven or twelve, when my schooling was confined to the

(Illustration of The Old Schoolhouse, Roxbury, New York. From a
photograph by M.H. Fanning)

As a boy, the only farm work that appealed to me was sugar-making in the
maple woods in spring. This I thoroughly enjoyed. It brought me near to
wild nature and was freer from routine than other farm work. Then I soon
managed to gather a little harvest of my own from the sugar bush. I used
to anticipate the general tapping by a few days or a week, and tap a few
trees on my own account along the sunny border of the Woods, and boil
the sap down on the kitchen stove (to the disgust of the womenfolks),
selling the sugar in the village. I think the first money I ever earned
came to me in this way. My first algebra and first grammar I bought
with some of this precious money. When I appeared in the village with my
basket of small cakes of early sugar, how my customers would hail me and
call after me! No one else made such white sugar, or got it to market so
early. One season, I remember, I got twelve silver quarters for sugar,
and I carried them in my pockets for weeks, jingling them in the face of
my envious schoolmates, and at intervals feasting my own eyes upon them.
I fear if I could ever again get hold of such money as that was I should
become a miser.

Hoeing corn, weeding the garden, and picking stone was drudgery, and
haying and harvesting I liked best when they were a good way off;
picking up potatoes worried me, but gathering apples suited my hands and
my fancy better, and knocking "Juno's cushions" in the spring meadows
with my long-handled knocker, about the time the first swallow was heard
laughing overhead, was real fun. I always wanted some element of play in
my work; buckling down to any sort of routine always galled me, and does
yet. The work must be a kind of adventure, and permit of sallies into
free fields. Hence the most acceptable work for me was to be sent
strawberrying or raspberrying by Mother; but the real fun was to
go fishing up Montgomery Hollow, or over on Rose's Brook, this
necessitating a long tramp, and begetting a hunger in a few hours that
made a piece of rye bread the most delectable thing in the world; yet a
pure delight that never sated.

Mother used to bake her bread in the large old-fashioned brick oven, and
once or twice a week we boys had to procure oven wood.

"You must get me oven wood this morning," she would say; "I am going
to bake today." Then we would scurry around for dry, light, quick
wood--pieces of old boxes and boards, and dry limbs. "One more armful,"
she would often say, when we were inclined to quit too soon. In a
half-hour or so, the wood would be reduced to ashes, and the oven
properly heated. I can see Mother yet as she would open the oven door
and feel the air inside with her hand. "Run, quick, and get me a few
more sticks--it is not quite hot enough." When it was ready, the coals
and ashes were raked out, and in went the bread, six or seven big loaves
of rye, with usually two of wheat. The wheat was for company.

When we would come in at dinner- or supper-time and see wheat bread
on the table we would ask: "Who's in the other room?" Maybe the answer
would be, "Your Uncle Martin and Aunt Virey." How glad I would be! I
always liked to see company. Well, the living was better, and then,
company brought a new element into the day; it gave a little tinge of
romance to things. To wake up in the morning and think that Uncle Martin
and Aunt Virey were there, or Uncle Edmund and Aunt Saliny, quickened
the pulse a little. Or, when any of my cousins came,--boys near my own
age,--what joy filled the days! And when they went, how lonesome I would
be! how forlorn all things looked till the second or third day! I early
developed a love of comrades, and was always fond of company--and am
yet, as the records of Slabsides show.

I was quite a hunter in my youth, as most farm boys are, but I never
brought home much game--a gray squirrel, a partridge, or a wild pigeon
occasionally. I think with longing and delight of the myriads of wild
pigeons that used to come every two or three years--covering the sky
for a day or two, and making the naked spring woods gay and festive with
their soft voices and fluttering blue wings. I have seen thousands of
them go through a beech wood, like a blue wave, picking up the sprouting
beechnuts. Those in the rear would be constantly flying over those in
front, so that the effect was that of a vast billow of mingled white and
blue and brown, rustling and murmuring as it went. One spring afternoon
vast flocks of them were passing south over our farm for hours, when
some of them began to pour down in the beech woods on the hill by the
roadside. A part of nearly every flock that streamed by would split off
and, with a downward wheel and rush, join those in the wood. Presently I
seized the old musket and ran out in the road, and then crept up behind
the wall, till only the width of the road separated me from the swarms
of fluttering pigeons. The air and the woods were literally blue with
them, and the ground seemed a yard deep with them. I pointed my gun
across the wall at the surging masses, and then sat there spellbound.
The sound of their wings and voices filled my ears, and their numbers
more than filled my eyes. Why I did not shoot was never very clear to
me. Maybe I thought the world was all turning to pigeons, as they still
came pouring down from the heavens, and I did not want to break the
spell. There I sat waiting, waiting, with my eye looking along the
gun-barrel, till, suddenly, the mass rose like an explosion, and with a
rush and a roar they were gone. Then I came to my senses and with keen
mortification realized what an opportunity I had let slip. Such a chance
never came again, though the last great flight of pigeons did not take
place till 1875.

When I was about ten or twelve, a spell was put upon me by a red fox
in a similar way. The baying of a hound upon the mountain had drawn
me there, armed with the same old musket. It was a chilly day in early
December. I took up my stand in the woods near what I thought might be
the runway, and waited. After a while I stood the butt of my gun upon
the ground, and held the barrel with my hand. Presently I heard a rustle
in the leaves, and there came a superb fox loping along past me, not
fifty feet away. He was evidently not aware of my presence, and, as for
me, I was aware of his presence alone. I forgot that I had a gun, that
here was the game I was in quest of, and that now was my chance to add
to my store of silver quarters. As the unsuspecting fox disappeared over
a knoll, again I came to my senses, and brought my gun to my shoulder;
but it was too late, the game had gone. I returned home full of
excitement at what I had seen, and gave as the excuse why I did not
shoot, that I had my mitten on, and could not reach the trigger of
my gun. It is true I had my mitten on, but there was a mitten, or
something, on my wits also. It was years before I heard the last of that
mitten; when I failed at anything they said, "John had his mitten on, I

I remember that I had a sort of cosmogony of my own when I was a mere
boy. I used to speculate as to what the world was made of. Partly
closing my eyes, I could see what appeared to be little crooked chains
of fine bubbles floating in the air, and I concluded that that was the
stuff the world was made of. And the philosophers have not yet arrived
at a much more satisfactory explanation.

In thinking of my childhood and youth I try to define to myself wherein
I differed from my brothers and from other boys in the neighborhood,
or wherein I showed any indication of the future bent of my mind. I see
that I was more curious and alert than most boys, and had more interests
outside my special duties as a farm boy. I knew pretty well the ways
of the wild bees and hornets when I was only a small lad. I knew the
different bumblebees, and had made a collection of their combs and
honey before I had entered my teens. I had watched the little frogs, the
hylas, and had captured them and held them till they piped sitting in my
hand. I had watched the leaf-cutters and followed them to their nests in
an old rail, or under a stone. I see that I early had an interest in
the wild life about me that my brothers did not have. I was a natural
observer from childhood, had a quick, sure eye and ear, and an eager
curiosity. I loved to roam the hills and woods and prowl along the
streams, just to come in contact with the wild and the adventurous. I
was not sent to Sunday-school, but was allowed to spend the day as I
saw fit, provided I did not carry a gun or a fishing-rod. Indeed, the
foundation of my knowledge of the ways of the wild creatures was laid
when I was a farm boy, quite unconscious of the natural-history value of
my observations.

What, or who, as I grew up, gave my mind its final push in this
direction would not be easy to name. It is quite certain that I got it
through literature, and more especially through the works of Audubon,
when I was twenty-five or twenty-six years of age.

The sentiment of nature is so full and winsome in the best modern
literature that I was no doubt greatly influenced by it. I was early
drawn to Wordsworth and to our own Emerson and Thoreau, and to the
nature articles in the "Atlantic Monthly," and my natural-history tastes
were stimulated by them.

I have a suspicion that "nature-study" as now followed in the
schools--or shall I say in the colleges?--this classroom peeping and
prying into the mechanism of life, dissecting, probing, tabulating, void
of free observation, and shut away from the open air--would have cured
me of my love of nature. For love is the main thing, the prime thing,
and to train the eye and ear and acquaint one with the spirit of the
great-out-of-doors, rather than a lot of minute facts about nature, is,
or should be, the object of nature-study. Who cares about the anatomy
of the frog? But to know the live frog--his place in the season and the
landscape, and his life-history--is something. If I wanted to instill
the love of nature into a child's heart, I should do it, in the first
place, through country life, and, in the next place, through the best
literature, rather than through classroom investigations, or through
books of facts about the mere mechanics of nature. Biology is all right
for the few who wish to specialize in that branch, but for the mass of
pupils, it is a waste of time. Love of nature cannot be commanded or
taught, but in some minds it can be stimulated.

Sweet were the days of my youth! How I love to recall them and dwell
upon them!--a world apart, separated from the present by a gulf like
that of sidereal space. The old farm bending over the hills and
dipping down into the valleys, the woods, the streams, the springs, the
mountains, and Father and Mother under whose wings I was so protected,
and all my brothers and sisters-how precious the thought of them all!
Can the old farm ever mean to future boys what it meant to me, and enter
so deeply into their lives? No doubt it can, hard as it is to believe
it. The "Bundle place," the "barn on the hill," the "Deacon woods,"
the clover meadow, the "turn in the road," the burying-ground, the
sheep-lot, the bush-lot, the sumac-lot, the "new-barn meadow," the
"old-barn meadow," and so on through the list--each field and section of
the farm had to me an atmosphere and association of its own. The long,
smooth, broad hill--a sort of thigh of the mountain (Old Clump) upon
the lower edge of which the house is planted--shut off the west and
southwest winds; its fields were all amenable to the plough, yielding
good crops of oats, rye, buckwheat, potatoes, or, when in grass,
yielding good pasture, divided east and west by parallel stone walls;
this hill, or lower slope of the mountain, was one of the principal
features of the farm. It was steep, but it was smooth; it was
broad-backed and fertile; its soil was made up mainly of decomposed old
red sandstone. How many times have I seen its different sections grow
ruddy under the side-hill plough! One of my earliest recollections of
my father is seeing him, when I was a child of three or four, striding
across the middle side-hill lot with a bag slung across his breast,
scattering the seed-grain.

How often at early nightfall, while the west was yet glowing, have I
seen the grazing cattle silhouetted against the sky. In the winter the
northwest winds would sweep the snow clean from the other side, and
bring it over to our side and leave it in a long, huge drift that buried
the fences and gave the hill an extra full-breasted appearance. The
breast of the old hill would be padded with ten or fifteen feet of snow.
This drift would often last till May. I have seen it stop the plough.
I remember once carrying a jug of water up to Brother Curtis when his
plough was within a few feet of the snow. Woodchucks would sometimes
feel the spring through this thick coverlid of snow and bore up through
it to the sunlight. I think the woodchuck's alarm clock always goes off
before April is done, and he comes forth, apparently not to break his
long fast, but to find his mate.

I remember working in oats in the middle side-hill lot one September
during the early years of the Civil War, when Hiram was talking of
enlisting as a drummer, and when Father and Mother were much worried
about it. I carried together the sheaves, putting fifteen in a "shock."

I have heard my father tell of a curious incident that once befell his
hired man and himself when they were drawing in oats on a sled from the
first side-hill lot. They had on a load, and the hired man had thrust
his fork into the upper sides of it and was bringing his weight to bear
against its tendency to capsize. But gravity got the better of them and
over went the load; the hired man (Rueb Dart) clung to his fork, and
swung over the load through the air, alighting on his feet none the
worse for the adventure.

The spring that supplies the house and the dairy with water comes from
the middle side-hill lot, some forty or fifty rods from the house, and
is now brought down in pipes; in my time, in pump-logs. It was always an
event when the old logs had to be taken up and new ones put down. I saw
the logs renewed twice in my time; once poplar logs were used, and once
hemlock, both rather short-lived. A man from a neighboring town used
to come with his long auger and bore the logs--a spectacle I was never
tired of looking at.

Then the sap bush in the groin of the hill, and but a few minutes' walk
from the house, what a feature that was! In winter and in summer, what
delightful associations I have with it! I know each of its great sugar
maples as I know my friends or the members of the family. Each has a
character of its own, and in sap-producing capacity they differ greatly.
A fringe of the great trees stood out in the open fields; these were the
earliest to run.

In early March we used to begin to make ready for sugar-making by
overhauling the sap "spiles," resharpening the old ones, and making new
ones. The old-fashioned awkward sap-gouge was used in tapping in those
days, and the "spiles" or spouts were split out of basswood blocks with
this gouge, and then sharpened so as to fit the half-round gash which
the gouge made in the tree. The dairy milk-pans were used to catch the
sap, and huge iron kettles to boil it down in.

When the day came to tap the bush, the caldrons, the hogsheads, and the
two hundred or more pans with the bundles of spiles were put upon the
sled and drawn by the oxen up to the boiling-place in the sap bush.
Father and Brother Hiram did the tapping, using an axe to cut the gash
in the tree, and to drive in the gouge below it to make a place for
the spile, while one of my younger brothers and I carried the pans and
placed them in position.

It was always a glad time with me; the early birds were singing and
calling, the snowbanks were melting, the fields were getting bare, the
roads drying, and spring tokens were on every hand. We gathered the sap
by hand in those days, two pails and a neck-yoke. It was sturdy work.
We would usually begin about three or four o'clock, and by five have the
one hundred and fifty pailfuls of sap in the hogsheads. When the sap ran
all night, we would begin the gathering in the morning. The syruping-off
usually took place at the end of the second day's boiling, when two or
three hundred pailfuls of sap had been reduced to four or five of syrup.
In the March or April twilight, or maybe after dark, we would carry
those heavy pails of syrup down to the house, where the liquid was
strained while still hot. The reduction of it to sugar was done upon the
kitchen stove, from three hundred to five hundred pounds being about the
average annual yield.

The bright warm days at the boiling-place I love best to remember; the
robins running about over the bare ground or caroling from the treetops,
the nuthatches calling, the crows walking about the brown fields, the
bluebirds flitting here and there, the cows lowing or restless in the

When I think of the storied lands across the Atlantic,--England, France,
Germany, Italy, so rich in historical associations, steeped in legend
and poetry, the very look of the fields redolent of the past,--and then
turn to my own native hills, how poor and barren they seem!--not one
touch anywhere of that which makes the charm of the Old World--no
architecture, no great names; in fact, no past. They look naked and
prosy, yet how I love them and cling to them! They are written over with
the lives of the first settlers that cleared the fields and built the
stone walls--simple, common-place lives, worthy and interesting, but
without the appeal of heroism or adventure.

The land here is old, geologically, dating back to the Devonian Age, the
soil in many places of decomposed old red sandstone; but it is new in
human history, having been settled only about one hundred and fifty

Time has worn down the hills and mountains so that all the outlines
of the country are gentle and flowing. The valleys are long, open, and
wide; the hills broad and smooth, no angles or abruptness, or sharp
contrasts anywhere. Hence it is not what is called a picturesque
land--full of bits of scenery that make the artist's fingers itch. The
landscape has great repose and gentleness, so far as long, sweeping
lines and broad, smooth slopes can give this impression. It is a
land which has never suffered violence at the hands of the interior
terrestrial forces; nothing is broken or twisted or contorted or thrust
out or up abruptly. The strata are all horizontal, and the steepest
mountain-slopes clothed with soil that nourishes large forest growths.

I stayed at home, working on the farm in summer and going to school in
winter, till I was seventeen. From the time I was fourteen I had had
a desire to go away to school. I had a craving for knowledge which my
brothers did not share. One fall when I was about fifteen I had the
promise from Father that I might go to school at the Academy in the
village that winter. But I did not go. Then the next fall I had the
promise of going to the Academy at Harpersfield, where one of the
neighbor's boys, Dick Van Dyke, went. How I dreamed of Harpersfield!
That fall I did my first ploughing, stimulated to it by the promise
of Harpersfield. It was in September, in the lot above the sugar
bush--cross-ploughing, to prepare the ground for rye. How many days I
ploughed, I do not remember; but Harpersfield was the lure at the end of
each furrow, I remember that. To this day I cannot hear the name without
seeing a momentary glow upon my mental horizon--a finger of enchantment
is for an instant laid upon me.

But I did not go to Harpersfield. When the time drew near for me to go,
Father found himself too poor, or the expense looked too big--none of
the other boys had had such privileges, and why should I? So I swallowed
my disappointment and attended the home district school for another
winter. Yet I am not sure but I went to Harpersfield after all. The
desire, the yearning to go, the effort to make myself worthy to go, the
mental awakening, and the high dreams, were the main matter. I doubt
if the reality would have given me anything more valuable than these
things. The aspiration for knowledge opens the doors of the mind and
makes ready for her coming.

These were my first and last days at the plough, and they made that
field memorable to me. I never cross it now but I see myself there--a
callow youth being jerked by the plough-handles but with my head in a
cloud of alluring day-dreams. This, I think, was in the fall of 1853. I
went to school that winter with a view to leaving home in the spring to
try my luck at school-teaching in an adjoining county. Many Roxbury boys
had made their first start in the world by going to Ulster County to
teach a country school. I would do the same. So, late in March, 1854,
about the end of the sugar season, I set out for Olive, Ulster County.
An old neighbor, Dr. Hull, lived there, and I would seek him.

There was only a stage-line at that time connecting the two counties,
and that passed twelve miles from my home. My plan was to cross the
mountain into Red Kill to Uncle Martin Kelly's, pass the night there,
and in the morning go to Clovesville, three miles distant, and take
the stage. How well I remember that walk across the mountain in a
snow-squall through which the sun shone dimly, a black oilcloth satchel
in my hand, and in my heart vague yearnings and forebodings! I had but
a few dollars in my pocket, probably six or seven, most of which I had
earned by selling maple sugar. Father was willing I should go, though my
help was needed on the farm.

Well, I traversed the eight miles to my uncle's in good time, and in the
morning he drove me down to the turnpike to take the stage. I remember
well my anxious and agitated state of mind while waiting at the hotel
for the arrival of the stage. I had never ridden in one, I am not sure
that I had even seen one, and I did not know just what was expected
of me, or just how I should deport myself. An untraveled farm boy at
seventeen is such a vague creature anyway, and I was, in addition, such
a bundle of sensibilities, timidities, and embarrassments as few farm
boys are. I paid my fare at the hotel at the rate of a sixpence a mile
for about thirty-two miles, and when the stage came, saw my name entered
upon the "waybill," and got aboard with a beating heart.

Of that first ride of my life in a public conveyance, I remember little.
The stage was one of those old-fashioned rocking Concord coaches, drawn
by four horses. We soon left the snow-clad hills of Delaware County
behind, and dropped down into the milder climate of Ulster, where no
snow was to be seen. About three in the afternoon the stage put me down
at Terry's Tavern on the "plank-road" in Olive. I inquired the way to
Dr. Hull's and found the walk of about a mile an agreeable change. The
doctor and his wife welcomed me cordially. They were old friends of my
family. I spent a day with them, riding about with the doctor on his
visits to patients, and making inquiries for a school in want of a
teacher. On the third day we heard of a vacancy in a district in the
west end of the town, seven or eight miles distant, called Tongore.
Hither I walked one day, saw the trustees, and made my application. I
suspect my youth and general greenness caused them to hesitate; they
would consider and let me know inside of a week. So, in a day or two,
hearing of no other vacancies, I returned home the same way I had come.
It was the first day of April when I made the return trip. I remember
this because at one of the hotels where we changed horses I saw a copper
cent lying upon the floor, and, stooping to pick it up, found it nailed
fast. The bartender and two or three other spectators had a quiet
chuckle at my expense. Before the week was out a letter came from the
Tongore trustees saying I could have the school; wages, ten dollars the
first month, and, if I proved satisfactory, eleven for the other five
months, and "board around."

I remember the handwriting of that letter as if I had received it but
yesterday. "Come at your earliest opportunity." How vividly I recall the
round hand in which those words were written! I replied that I would be
on hand the next week, ready to open school on Monday, the 11th.

Again I took the stage, my father driving me twelve miles to Dimmock's
Corners to meet it, a trip which he made with me many times in after
years. Mother always getting up and preparing our breakfast long before
daylight. We were always in a more or less anxious frame of mind upon
the road lest we be too late for the stage, but only once during the
many trips did we miss it. On that occasion it had passed a few minutes
before we arrived, but, knowing it stopped for breakfast at Griffin's
Corners, four or five miles beyond, I hastened on afoot, running most of
the way, and arrived in sight of it just as the driver had let off the
first crack from his whip to start his reluctant horses. My shouting was
quickly passed to him by the onlookers, he pulled up, and I won the race
quite out of breath.

On the present occasion we were in ample time, and my journey ended at
Shokan, from which place I walked the few miles to Tongore, in the
late April afternoon. The little frogs were piping, and I remember how
homesick the familiar spring sound made me. As I walked along the road
near sundown with this sound in my ears, I saw coming toward me a man
with a gait as familiar as was the piping of the frogs. He turned out
to be our neighbor Warren Scudder, and how delighted I was to see him in
that lonesome land! He had sold a yoke of oxen down there and had been
down to deliver them. The home ties pulled very strongly at sight of
him. Warren's three boys, Reub and Jack and Smith, were our nearest
boy neighbors. His father, old Deacon Scudder, was one of the notable
characters of the town. Warren himself had had some varied experiences.
He was one of the leaders in the anti-rent war of ten years before.
Indeed, he was chief of the band of "Indians" that shot Steel, the
sheriff, at Andes, and it was charged that the bullet from his pistol
was the one that did the fatal work. At any rate, he had had to flee the
country, escaping concealed in a peddler's cart, while close pressed
by the posse. He went South and was absent several years. After the
excitement of the murder and the struggle between the two factions had
died down, he returned and was not molested. And here he was in the
April twilight, on my path to Tongore, and the sight of him cheered my

I began my school Monday morning, April the 11th, 1854, and continued it
for six months, teaching the common branches to twenty or thirty pupils
from the ages of six to twelve or thirteen. I can distinctly recall
the faces of many of those boys and girls to this day--Jane North, a
slender, clean-cut girl of ten or eleven; Elizabeth McClelland, a fat,
freckled girl of twelve; Alice Twilliger, a thin, talkative girl with a
bulging forehead. Two or three of the boys became soldiers in the Civil
War, and fell in the battle of Gettysburg.

(In April, 1912, Mr. Burroughs received the following: "Hearty
congratulations upon your seventy-fifth birthday, from your old Tongore
pupil of many years ago. R--B--.")

I "boarded round," going home with the children as they invited me. I
was always put in the spare room, and usually treated to warm biscuit
and pie for supper. A few families were very poor, and there I was lucky
to get bread and potatoes. In one house I remember the bedstead was very
shaky, and in the middle of the night, as I turned over, it began to
sway and lurch, and presently all went down in a heap. But I clung to
the wreck till morning, and said nothing about it then.

I remember that a notable eclipse of the sun occurred that spring on the
26th of May, when the farmers were planting their corn.

What books I read that summer I cannot recall. Yes, I recall one--"The
Complete Letter-Writer," which I bought of a peddler, and upon which I
modeled many of my letters to various persons, among others to a Roxbury
girl for whom I had a mild fancy. My first letter to a girl I wrote
to her, and a ridiculously stiff, formal, and awkward letter it was, I
assure you. I am positive I addressed her as "Dear Madam," and started
off with some sentence from "The Complete Letter-Writer," so impressed
was I that there was a best way to do this thing, and that the book
pointed it out. Mary's reply was, "To my absent, but not forgotten
friend," and was simple and natural as girls' letters usually are. My
Grandfather Kelly died that season, and I recall that I wrote a letter
of condolence to my people, modeled upon one in the book. How absurd and
stilted and unreal it must have sounded to them!

Oh, how crude and callow and obtuse I was at that time, full of vague
and tremulous aspirations and awakenings, but undisciplined, uninformed,
with many inherited incapacities and obstacles to weigh me down. I was
extremely bashful, had no social aptitude, and was likely to stutter
when anxious or embarrassed, yet I seem to have made a good impression.
I was much liked in school and out, and was fairly happy. I seem to see
sunshine over all when I look back there. But it was a long summer to
me. I had never been from home more than a day or two at a time before,
and I became very homesick. Oh, to walk in the orchard back of the
house, or along the road, or to see the old hills again--what a Joy it
would have been! But I stuck it out till my term ended in October, and
then went home, taking a young fellow from the district (a brother of
some girls I fancied) with me. I took back nearly all my wages, over
fifty dollars, and with this I planned to pay my way at Hedding Literary
Institute, in the adjoining county of Greene, during the coming winter

I left home for the school late in November, riding the thirty miles
with Father, atop a load of butter. It was the time of year when the
farmers took their butter to Catskill. Father usually made two trips.
This was the first one of the season, and I accompanied him as far as
Ashland, where the Institute was located.

I remained at school there three months, the length of the winter term,
and studied fairly hard. I had a room by myself and enjoyed the life
with the two hundred or more boys and girls of my own age. I studied
algebra, geometry, chemistry, French, and logic, wrote compositions, and
declaimed in the chapel, as the rules required. It was at this time that
I first read Milton. We had to parse in "Paradise Lost," and I recall
how I was shocked and astonished by that celestial warfare. I told one
of my classmates that I did not believe a word of it. Among my teachers
was a young, delicate, wide-eyed man who in later life became well known
as Bishop Hurst, of the Methodist Church. He heard our small class in
logic at seven o'clock in the morning, in a room that was never quite
warmed by the newly kindled fire. I don't know how I came to study logic
(Whately's). I had never heard of such a study before; maybe that is why
I chose it. I got little out of it. What an absurd study, taught, as
it was, as an aid to argumentation!--like teaching a man to walk by
explaining to him the mechanism of walking. The analysis of one sound
argument, or of one weak one, in terms of common sense, is worth any
amount of such stuff. But it was of a piece with grammar and rhetoric
as then taught--all preposterous studies viewed as helps toward correct
writing and speaking. Think of our parsing Milton as an aid to mastering
the English language!

I remember I stood fairly high in composition--only one boy in the
school ahead of me, and that was Herman Coons, to whom I became much
attached, and who became a Methodist minister. He went home with me
during the holiday vacation. After leaving school we corresponded for
several years, and then lost track of each other. I do not know that
there is one of my school-mates of that time now living. I know of none
that became eminent in any field. One of the boys was fatally injured
that winter while coasting. I remember sitting up with him many nights
and ministering to him. He died in a few weeks.

It was an event when Father and Mother came to visit me for a few hours,
and Mother brought me some mince pies. What feasts two or three other
boys and I had in my room over those home-made pies!

Toward spring we had a public debate in the chapel, and I was chosen as
one of the disputants. We debated the question of the Crimean War, which
was on then. I was on the side of England and France against Russia. Our
side won. I think I spoke very well. I remember that I got much of my
ammunition from a paper in "Harper's Magazine," probably by Dr. Osgood.
It seems my fellow on the affirmative had got much of his ammunition
from the same source, and, as I spoke first, there was not much powder
left for him, and he was greatly embarrassed.

What insignificant things one remembers in a world of small events! I
recall how one morning when we had all gathered in chapel for prayers,
none of the professors appeared on the platform but our French teacher,
and, as praying for us was not one of his duties, he hurried off to find
some one to perform that function, while we all sat and giggled.

In the spring of 1855, with eight or ten dollars in my pocket which
Father had advanced me, I made my first visit to New York by steamer
from Catskill, on my way to New Jersey in quest of a position as
school-teacher. Three of our neighborhood boys were then teaching in or
near Plainfield, and I sought them out, having my first ride on the cars
on that trip from Jersey City. As I sat there in my seat waiting for the
train to start, I remember I actually wondered if the starting would be
so sudden as to jerk my hat off!

I was too late to find a vacancy in any of the schools in the districts
I visited. On one occasion I walked from Somerville twelve miles to a
village where there was a vacancy, but the trustees, after looking
me over, concluded I was too young and inexperienced for their large
school. That night the occultation of Venus by the moon took place. I
remember gazing at it long and long.

On my return in May I stopped in New York and spent a day prowling about
the second-hand bookstalls, and spent so much of my money for books that
I had only enough left to carry me to Griffin's Corners, twelve miles
from home. I bought Locke's "Essay on the Human Understanding," Dr.
Johnson's works, Saint-Pierre's "Studies of Nature," and Dick's works
and others. Dick was a Scottish philosopher whose two big fat volumes
held something that caught my mind as I dipped into them. But I got
little from him and soon laid him aside. On this and other trips to New
York I was always drawn by the second-hand bookstalls. How I hovered
about them, how good the books looked, how I wanted them all! To this
day, when I am passing them, the spirit of those days lays its hand upon
me, and I have to pause a few moments and, half-dreaming, half-longing,
run over the titles. Nearly all my copies of the English classics I have
picked up at these curbstone stalls. How much more they mean to me than
new books of later years! Here, for instance, are two volumes of Dr.
Johnson's works in good leather binding, library style, which I have
carried with me from one place to another for over fifty years, and
which in my youth I read and reread, and the style of which I tried
to imitate before I was twenty. When I dip into "The Rambler" and "The
Idler" now how dry and stilted and artificial their balanced sentences
seem! yet I treasure them for what they once were to me. In my first
essay in the "Atlantic," forty-six years ago (in 1860), I said that
Johnson's periods acted like a lever of the third kind, and that the
power applied always exceeded the weight raised; and this comparison
seems to hit the mark very well. I did not read Boswell's Life of him
till much later. In his conversation Johnson got the fulcrum in the
right place.

I reached home on the twentieth of May with an empty pocket and an empty
stomach, but with a bagful of books. I remember the day because the
grass was green, but the air was full of those great "goose-feather"
flakes of snow which sometimes fall in late May.

I stayed home that summer of '55 and worked on the farm, and pored over
my books when I had a chance. I must have found Locke's "Essay" pretty
tough reading, but I remember buckling to it, getting right down on "all
fours," as one has to, to follow Locke.

I think it was that summer that I read my first novel, "Charlotte
Temple," and was fairly intoxicated with it. It let loose a flood of
emotion in me. I remember finishing it one morning and then going out
to work in the hay-field, and how the homely and familiar scenes fairly
revolted me. I dare say the story took away my taste for Locke and
Johnson for a while.

In early September I again turned my face Jerseyward in quest of a
school, but stopped on my way in Olive to visit friends in Tongore. The
school there, since I had left it, had fared badly. One of the teachers
the boys had turned out of doors, and the others had "failed to give
satisfaction"; so I was urged to take the school again. The trustees
offered to double my wages--twenty-two dollars a month. After some
hesitation I gave up the Jersey scheme and accepted the trustees' offer.

It was during that second term of teaching at Tongore that I first
met Ursula North, who later became my wife. Her uncle was one of the
trustees of the school, and I presume it was this connection that
brought her to the place and led to our meeting.

If I had gone on to Jersey in that fall of '55, my life might have been
very different in many ways. I might have married some other girl, might
have had a large family of children, and the whole course of my life
might have been greatly changed. It frightens me now to think that I
might have missed the Washington life, and Whitman,... and much else
that has counted for so much with me. What I might have gained is, in
the scale, like imponderable air.

I read my Johnson and Locke that winter and tried to write a little
in the Johnsonese buckram style. The young man to-day, under the same
conditions, would probably spend his evenings reading novels or the
magazines. I spent mine poring over "The Rambler."

In April I closed the school and went home, again taking a young fellow
with me. I was then practically engaged to Ursula North, and I wrote
her a poem on reaching home. About the middle of April I left home for
Cooperstown Seminary. I rode to Moresville with Jim Bouton, and as the
road between there and Stamford was so blocked with snowdrifts that the
stage could not run, I was compelled to walk the eight miles, leaving
my trunk behind. From Stamford I reached Cooperstown after an all-night
ride by stage.

My summer at Cooperstown was an enjoyable and a profitable one. I
studied Latin, French, English literature, algebra, and geometry. If I
remember correctly, I stood first in composition over the whole school.
I joined the Websterian Society and frequently debated, and was one of
the three or four orators chosen by the school to "orate" in a grove on
the shore of the lake, on the Fourth of July. I held forth in the true
spread-eagle style.

I entered into the sports of the school, ball-playing and rowing on the
lake, with the zest of youth.

One significant thing I remember: I was always on the lookout for books
of essays. It was at this time that I took my first bite into Emerson,
and it was like tasting a green apple--not that he was unripe, but I
wasn't ripe for him. But a year later I tasted him again, and said,
"Why, this tastes good"; and took a bigger bite; then soon devoured
everything of his I could find.

I say I was early on the lockout for books of essays, and I wanted the
essay to begin, not in a casual way by some remark in the first person,
but by the annunciation of some general truth, as most of Dr. Johnson's
did. I think I bought Dick's works on the strength of his opening
sentence--"Man is a compound being."

As one's mind develops, how many changes in taste he passes through!
About the time of which I am now writing, Pope was my favorite poet.
His wit and common sense appealed to me. Young's "Night Thoughts" also
struck me as very grand. Whipple seemed to me a much greater writer than
Emerson. Shakespeare I did not come to appreciate till years later, and
Chaucer and Spenser I have never learned to care for.

I am sure the growth of my literary taste has been along the right
lines--from the formal and the complex, to the simple and direct.
Now, the less the page seems written, that is, the more natural and
instinctive it is, other things being equal, the more it pleases me. I
would have the author take no thought of his style, as such; yet if his
sentences are clothed like the lilies of the field, so much the better.
Unconscious beauty that flows inevitably and spontaneously out of the
subject, or out of the writer's mind, how it takes us!

My own first attempts at writing were, of course, crude enough. It took
me a long time to put aside all affectation and make-believe, if I have
ever quite succeeded in doing it, and get down to what I really saw
and felt. But I think now I can tell dead wood in my writing when I see
it--tell when I fumble in my mind, or when my sentences glance off and
fail to reach the quick.

(In August, 1902, Mr. Burroughs wrote me of a visit to Cooperstown,
after all these years: "I found Cooperstown not much changed. The lake
and the hills were, of course, the same as I had known them forty-six
years ago, and the main street seemed but little altered. Of the old
seminary only the foundations were standing, and the trees had so grown
about it that I hardly knew the place. I again dipped my oar in the
lake, again stood beside Cooper's grave, and threaded some of the
streets I had known so well. I wished I could have been alone there....
I wanted to muse and dream, and invoke the spirit of other days, but the
spirits would not rise in the presence of strangers. I could not quite
get a glimpse of the world as it appeared to me in those callow days. It
was here that I saw my first live author (spoken of in my 'Egotistical
Chapter') and first dipped into Emerson."

After leaving the Seminary at Cooperstown in July of 1856, the young
student worked on the home farm in the Catskills until fall, when he
began teaching school at Buffalo Grove, Illinois, where he taught until
the following spring, returning East to marry, as he says, "the girl I
left behind me."

He then taught in various schools in New York and New Jersey, until the
fall of 1863. As a rule, in the summer he worked on the home farm.

During this period he was reading much, and trying his hand at writing.
There was a short intermission in his teaching, when he invested his
earnings in a patent buckle, and for a brief period he had dreams of
wealth. But the buckle project failed, the dreams vanished, and he began
to read medicine, and resumed his teaching.

From 1859 to 1862 he was writing much, on philosophical subjects mainly.
It was in 1863 that he first became interested in the birds.--C. B.)

Ever since the time when in my boyhood I saw the strange bird in the
woods of which I have told you, the thought had frequently occurred to
me, "I shall know the birds some day." But nothing came of the thought
and wish till the spring of '63, when I was teaching school near West
Point. In the library of the Military Academy, which I frequently
visited of a Saturday, I chanced upon the works of Audubon. I took fire
at once. It was like bringing together fire and powder! I was ripe for
the adventure; I had leisure, I was in a good bird country, and I
had Audubon to stimulate me, as well as a collection of mounted birds
belonging to the Academy for reference. How eagerly and joyously I took
up the study! It fitted in so well with my country tastes and breeding;
it turned my enthusiasm as a sportsman into a new channel; it gave to my
walks a new delight; it made me look upon every grove and wood as a
new storehouse of possible treasures. I could go fishing or camping
or picknicking now with my resources for enjoyment doubled. That first
hooded warbler that I discovered and identified in a near-by bushy field
one Sunday morning--shall I ever forget the thrill of delight it gave
me? And when in August I went with three friends into the Adirondacks,
no day or place or detention came amiss to me; new birds were calling
and flitting on every hand; a new world was opened to me in the midst of
the old.

At once I was moved to write about the birds, and I began my first
paper, "The Return of the Birds," that fall, and finished it in
Washington, whither I went in October, and where I lived for ten years.
Writing about the birds and always treating them in connection with the
season and their environment, was, while I was a government clerk, a
kind of vacation. It enabled me to live over again my days amid the
sweet rural things and influences. The paper just referred to is, as you
may see, mainly written out of my memories as a farm boy. The enthusiasm
which Audubon had begotten in me quickened and gave value to all my
youthful experiences and observations of the birds.

(This brings us to the time when our subject is fairly launched on early
manhood. He has regular employment--a clerkship in the office of the
Comptroller of the Currency, which, if not especially congenial in
itself, affords him leisure to do the things he most wishes to do. He is
even now growing in strength and efficiency as an essayist.--C. B.)


March, 1909

My Dear Friend,--

You once asked me how, considering my antecedents and youthful
environment, I accounted for myself; what sent me to Nature, and to
writing about her, and to literature generally. I wish I could answer
you satisfactorily, but I fear I cannot. I do not know, myself; I can
only guess at it.

I have always looked upon myself as a kind of sport; I came out of
the air quite as much as out of my family. All my weaknesses and
insufficiencies--and there are a lot of them--are inherited, but of
my intellectual qualities, there is not much trace in my immediate
forbears. No scholars or thinkers or lovers of books, or men of
intellectual pursuits for several generations back of me--all obscure
farmers or laborers in humble fields, rather grave, religiously inclined
men, I gather, sober, industrious, good citizens, good neighbors,
correct livers, but with no very shining qualities. My four brothers
were of this stamp--home-bodies, rather timid, non-aggressive men,
somewhat below the average in those qualities and powers that insure
worldly success--the kind of men that are so often crowded to the
wall. I can see myself in some of them, especially in Hiram, who had
daydreams, who was always going West, but never went; who always wanted
some plaything--fancy sheep or pigs or poultry; who was a great lover of
bees and always kept them; who was curious about strange lands, but who
lost heart and hope as soon as he got beyond the sight of his native
hills; and who usually got cheated in every bargain he made. Perhaps
it is because I see myself in him that Hiram always seemed nearer to me
than any of the rest. I have at times his vagueness, his indefiniteness,
his irresolution, and his want of spirit when imposed upon.

Poor Hiram! One fall in his simplicity he took his fancy Cotswold sheep
to the State Fair at Syracuse, never dreaming but that a farmer entirely
outside of all the rings and cliques, and quite unknown, could get the
prize if his stock was the best. I can see him now, hanging about the
sheep-pens, homesick, insignificant, unnoticed, living on cake and pie,
and wondering why a prize label was not put upon his sheep. Poor Hiram!
Well, he marched up the hill with his sheep, and then he marched down
again, a sadder and, I hope, a wiser man.

Once he ordered a fancy rifle, costing upwards of a hundred dollars, of
a gunsmith in Utica. When the rifle came, it did not suit him, was not
according to specifications; so he sent it back. Not long after that the
man failed and no rifle came, and the money was not returned. Then Hiram
concluded to make a journey out there. I was at home at the time, and
can see him yet as he started off along the road that June day, off for
Utica on foot. Again he marched up the hill, and then marched down, and
no rifle or money ever came.

For years he had the Western fever, and kept his valise under his bed
packed ready for the trip. Once he actually started and got as far as
White Pigeon, Michigan. There his courage gave out, and he came back.
Still he kept his valise packed, but the end of his life's journey came
before he was ready to go West again.

Hiram, as you know, came to live with me at Slabsides during the last
years of his life. He had made a failure of it on the old farm, after
I had helped him purchase it; nearly everything had gone wrong, indoors
and out; and he was compelled to give it up. So he brought his forty or
more skips of bees to West Park and lived with me, devoting himself, not
very successfully, to bee-culture. He loved to "fuss" with bees. I think
the money he got for his honey looked a little more precious to him than
other money, just as the silver quarters I used to get when a boy for
the maple sugar I made had a charm and a value no quarters have ever had
in my eyes since.

That thing in Hiram that was so appealed to by his bee-culture, and
by any fancy strain of sheep or poultry, is strong in me, too, and
has played an important part in my life. If I had not taken it out in
running after wild nature and writing about it I should probably have
been a bee-man, or a fancy-stock farmer. As it is, I have always been
a bee-lover, and have usually kept several swarms. Ordinary farming
is prosy and tiresome compared with bee-farming. Combined with
poultry-raising, it always had special attractions for me. When I was a
farm boy of twelve or thirteen years, one of our neighbors had a breed
of chickens with large topknots that filled my eye completely. My
brother and I used to hang around the Chase henyard for hours, admiring
and longing for those chickens. The impression those fowls made upon
me seems as vivid to-day as it was when first made. The topknot was
the extra touch--the touch of poetry that I have always looked for in
things, and that Hiram, in his way, craved and sought for, too.

There was something, too, in my maternal grandfather that probably
foreshadowed the nature-lover and nature-writer. In him it took the form
of a love of angling, and a love for the Bible. He went from the Book to
the stream, and from the stream to the Book, with great regularity. I do
not remember that he ever read the newspapers, or any other books than
the Bible and the hymn-book. When he was over eighty years, old he would
woo the trout-streams with great success, and between times would pore
over the Book till his eyes were dim. I do not think he ever joined the
church, or ever made an open profession of religion, as was the wont
in those days; but he had the religious nature which he nursed upon
the Bible. When a mere boy, as I have before told you, he was a soldier
under Washington, and when the War of 1812 broke out, and one of his
sons was drafted, he was accepted and went in his stead. The half-wild,
adventurous life of the soldier suited him better than the humdrum of
the farm. From him, as I have said, I get the dash of Celtic blood in my
veins--that almost feminine sensibility and tinge of melancholy that, I
think, shows in all my books. That emotional Celt, ineffectual in some
ways, full of longings and impossible dreams, of quick and noisy
anger, temporizing, revolutionary, mystical, bold in words, timid
in action--surely that man is in me, and surely he comes from my
revolutionary ancestor, Grandfather Kelly.

I think of the Burroughs branch of my ancestry as rather retiring,
peace-loving, solitude-loving men--men not strongly sketched in on
the canvas of life, not self-assertive, never roistering or
uproarious--law-abiding, and church-going. I gather this impression from
many sources, and think it is a correct one.

Oh, the old farm days! how the fragrance of them still lingers in my
heart! the spring with its farm, the returning birds, and the full,
lucid trout-streams; the summer with its wild berries, its haying,
its cool, fragrant woods; the fall with its nuts, its game, its
apple-gathering, its holidays; the winter with its school, its sport
on ice and snow, its apple-bins in the cellar, its long nights by the
fireside, its voice of fox-bounds on the mountains, its sound of flails
in the barn--how much I still dream about these things!

But I am slow in keeping my promise to try to account for myself. Yet
all these things are a part of my antecedents; they entered into my very
blood--father and mother and brothers and sisters, and the homely life
of the farm, all entered into and became a part of that which I am.

I am certain, as I have told you before, that I derived more from
my mother than from my father. I have more of her disposition--her
yearning, breeding nature, her subdued and neutral tones, her curiosity,
her love of animals, and of wild nature generally. Father was neither a
hunter nor a fisherman, and, I think, was rarely conscious of the beauty
of nature around him. The texture of his nature was much less fine than
that of Mother's, and he was a much easier problem to read; he was as
transparent as glass. Mother had more of the stuff of poetry in her
soul, and a deeper, if more obscure, background to her nature. That
which makes a man a hunter or a fisherman simply sent her forth in quest
of wild berries. What a berry-picker she was! How she would work to get
the churning out of the way so she could go out to the berry lot! It
seemed to heal and refresh her to go forth in the hill meadows for
strawberries, or in the old bushy bark-peelings for raspberries. The
last work she did in the world was to gather a pail of blackberries as
she returned one September afternoon from a visit to my sister's, less
than a mile away.

I am as fond of going forth for berries as my mother was, even to this
day. Every June I must still make one or two excursions to distant
fields for wild strawberries, or along the borders of the woods for
black raspberries, and I never go without thinking of Mother. You could
not see all that I bring home with me in my pail on such occasions;
if you could, you would see the traces of daisies and buttercups and
bobolinks, and the blue skies, with thoughts of Mother and the Old Home,
that date from my youth. I usually eat some of the berries in bread and
milk, as I was wont to do in the old days, and am, for the moment, as
near a boy again as it is possible for me to be.

(Illustration of One of Mr. Burroughs's Favorite Seats, Roxbury, New
York. From a photograph by Clifton Johnson)

No doubt my life as a farm boy has had much to do with my subsequent
love of nature, and my feeling of kinship with all rural things. I feel
at home with them; they are bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. It
seems to me a man who was not born and reared in the country can hardly
get Nature into his blood, and establish such intimate and affectionate
relations with her, as can the born countryman. We are so susceptible
and so plastic in youth; we take things so seriously; they enter into
and color and feed the very currents of our being. As a child I think I
must have been more than usually fluid and impressionable, and that
my affiliations with open-air life and objects were very hearty and
thorough. As I grow old I am experiencing what, I suppose, all men
experience, more or less; my subsequent days slough off, or fade away,
more and more, leaving only the days of my youth as a real and lasting

When I began, in my twenty-fifth or twenty-sixth year, to write about
the birds, I found that I had only to unpack the memories of the farm
boy within me to get at the main things about the common ones. I had
unconsciously absorbed the knowledge that gave the life and warmth to my
page. Take that farm boy out of my books, out of all the pages in which
he is latent as well as visibly active, and you have robbed them of
something vital and fundamental, you have taken from the soil much of
its fertility. At least, so it seems to me, though in this business of
self-analysis I know one may easily go far astray. It is probably
quite impossible correctly to weigh and appraise the many and complex
influences and elements that have entered into one's life.

When I look back to that twilight of early youth, to that half-mythical
borderland of the age of six or seven years, or even earlier, I can
see but few things that, in the light of my subsequent life, have much
significance. One is the impression made upon me by a redbird which the
"hired girl" brought in from the woodpile, one day with a pail of chips.
She had found the bird lying dead upon the ground. That vivid bit of
color in the form of a bird has never faded from my mind, though I could
not have been more than three or four years old.

Another bird incident, equally vivid, I have related in "Wake-Robin,"
in the chapter called "The Invitation,"--the vision of the small bluish
bird with a white spot on its wing, one Sunday when I was six or seven
years old, while roaming with my brothers in the "Deacon woods" near
home. The memory of that bird stuck to me as a glimpse of a world of
birds that I knew not of.

Still another bird incident that is stamped upon my memory must have
occurred about the same time. Some of my brothers and an older boy
neighbor and I were walking along a road in the woods when a brown
bird flew down from a bush upon the ground in front of us. "A brown
thrasher," the older boy said. It was doubtless either the veery, or the
hermit thrush, and this was my first clear view of it. Thus it appears
that birds stuck to me, impressed me from the first. Very early in my
life the coming of the bluebird, the phoebe, the song sparrow, and the
robin, in the spring, were events that stirred my emotions, and gave a
new color to the day. When I had found a bluebird's nest in the cavity
of a stump or a tree, I used to try to capture the mother bird by
approaching silently and clapping my hand over the hole; in this I
sometimes succeeded, though, of course, I never harmed the bird. I used
to capture song sparrows in a similar way, by clapping my hat over the
nest in the side of the bank along the road.

I can see that I was early drawn to other forms of wild life, for I
distinctly remember when a small urchin prying into the private affairs
of the "peepers" in the marshes in early spring, sitting still a long
time on a log in their midst, trying to spy out and catch them in the
act of peeping. And this I succeeded in doing, discovering one piping
from the top of a bulrush, to which he clung like a sailor to a mast; I
finally allayed the fears of one I had captured till he sat in the palm
of my hand and piped--a feat I have never been able to repeat since.

I studied the ways of the bumblebees also, and had names of my own
for all the different kinds. One summer I made it a point to collect
bumblebee honey, and I must have gathered a couple of pounds. I found it
very palatable, though the combs were often infested with parasites. The
small red-banded bumblebees that lived in large colonies in holes in
the ground afforded me the largest yields. A large bee, with a broad
light-yellow band, was the ugliest customer to deal with. It was a
fighter and would stick to its enemy like grim death, following me
across the meadow and often getting in my hair, and a few times up my
trousers leg, where I had it at as great a disadvantage as it had me.
It could stab, and I could pinch, and one blow followed the other pretty

As a child I was always looked upon and spoken of as an "odd one" in the
family, even by my parents. Strangers, and relatives from a distance,
visiting at the house, would say, after looking us all over, "That is
not your boy," referring to me, "who is he?" And I am sure I used to
look the embarrassment I felt at not being as the others were. I did not
want to be set apart from them or regarded as an outsider. As this was
before the days of photography, there are no pictures of us as children,
so I can form no opinion of how I differed in my looks from the
others. I remember hearing my parents say that I showed more of the
Kelly--Mother's family.

I early "took to larnin'," as Father used to say, differing from my
brothers and sisters in this respect. I quickly and easily distanced
them all in the ordinary studies. I had gone through Dayball's
Arithmetic while two of my older brothers were yet in addition.
"Larnin'" came very hard to all of them except to Hiram and me, and
Hiram did not have an easy time of it, though he got through his
Dayball, and studied Greenleaf's Grammar.

There was a library of a couple of dozen of volumes in the district, and
I used to take home books from it. They were usually books of travel or
of adventure. I remember one, especially, a great favorite, "Murphy,
the Indian Killer." I must have read this book several times. Novels, or
nature books, or natural-history books, were unknown in that library. I
remember the "Life of Washington," and I am quite certain that it was a
passage in this book that made a lasting impression upon me when I was
not more than six or seven years old. I remember the impression, though
I do not recall the substance of the passage. The incident occurred
one Sunday in summer when Hiram and a cousin of ours and I were playing
through the house, I carrying this book in my hand. From time to time
I would stop and read this passage aloud, and I can remember, as if
it were but yesterday, that I was so moved by it, so swept away by its
eloquence, that, for a moment, I was utterly oblivious to everything
around me. I was lifted out of myself, caught up in a cloud of feeling,
and wafted I know not whither. My companions, being much older than I
was, regarded not my reading.

These exalted emotional states, similar to that just described, used
occasionally to come to me under other conditions about this time, or
later. I recall one such, one summer morning when I was walking on
the top of a stone wall that ran across the summit of one of those
broad-backed hills which you yourself know. I had in my hand a bit of a
root of a tree that was shaped much like a pistol. As I walked along the
toppling stones, I flourished this, and called and shouted and exulted
and let my enthusiasm have free swing. It was a moment of supreme
happiness. I was literally intoxicated; with what I do not know. I only
remember that life seemed amazingly beautiful--I was on the crest of
some curious wave of emotion, and my soul sparkled and flashed in the
sunlight. I have haunted that old stone wall many times since that day,
but I have never been able again to experience that thrill of joy and
triumph. The cup of life does not spontaneously bead and sparkle in
this way except in youth, and probably with many people it does not
even then. But I know from what you have told me that you have had the
experience. When one is trying to cipher out his past, and separate the
factors that have played an important part in his life, such incidents,
slight though they are, are significant.

The day-dreams I used to indulge in when twelve or thirteen, while at
work about the farm, boiling sap in the spring woods, driving the cows
to pasture, or hoeing corn,--dreams of great wealth and splendor, of
dress and equipage,--were also significant, but not prophetic. Probably
what started these golden dreams was an itinerant quack phrenologist
who passed the night at our house when I was a lad of eight or nine.
He examined the heads of all of us; when he struck mine, he grew
enthusiastic. "This is the head for you," he said; "this boy is going
to be rich, very rich"; and much more to that effect. Riches was the one
thing that appealed to country people in those times; it was what all
were after, and what few had. Hence the confident prophesy of the old
quack made an impression, and when I began to indulge in day-dreams I
was, no doubt, influenced by it. But, as you know, it did not come true,
except in a very limited sense. Instead of returning to the Old Home in
a fine equipage, and shining with gold,--the observed of all observers,
and the envy of all enviers,--as I had dreamed, and as had been
foretold, I came back heavy-hearted, not indeed poor, but far from rich,
walked up from the station through the mud and snow unnoticed, and took
upon myself the debts against the old farm, and so provided that it
be kept in the family. It was not an impressive home-coming; it was to
assume burdens rather than to receive congratulations; it was to bow my
head rather than to lift it up. Out of the golden dreams of youth had
come cares and responsibilities. But doubtless it was best so. The
love that brought me back to the old home year after year, that made me
willing to serve my family, and that invested my native hills with such
a charm, was the best kind of riches after all.

As a youth I never went to Sunday-school, and I was not often seen
inside the church. My Sundays were spent rather roaming in the woods and
fields, or climbing to "Old Clump," or, in summer, following the streams
and swimming in the pools. Occasionally I went fishing, though this was
to incur parental displeasure--unless I brought home some fine trout, in
which case the displeasure was much tempered. I think this Sunday-school
in the woods and fields was, in my case, best. It has always seemed,
and still seems, as if I could be a little more intimate with Nature
on Sunday than on a week-day; our relations were and are more ideal, a
different spirit is abroad, the spirit of holiday and not of work, and
I could in youth, and can now, abandon myself to the wild life about me
more fully and more joyously on that day than on any other.

The memory of my youthful Sundays is fragrant with wintergreens, black
birch, and crinkle-root, to say nothing of the harvest apples that grew
in our neighbor's orchard; and the memory of my Sundays in later years
is fragrant with arbutus, and the showy orchid, and wild strawberries,
and touched with the sanctity of woodland walks and hilltops. What day
can compare with a Sunday to go to the waterfalls, or to "Piney Ridge,"
or to "Columbine Ledge," or to stroll along "Snake Lane"? What sweet
peace and repose is over all! The snakes in Snake Lane are as free from
venom as are grasshoppers, and the grasshoppers themselves fiddle and
dance as at no other time. Cherish your Sundays. I think you will read
a little deeper in "Nature's infinite book of secrecy" on Sunday than on
Monday. I once began an essay the subject of which was Sunday, but never
finished it. I must send you the fragment.

But I have not yet solved my equation--what sent me to nature? What made
me take an intellectual interest in outdoor things? The precise value of
the _x_ is hard to find. My reading, no doubt, had much to do with it.
This intellectual and emotional interest in nature is in the air in our
time, and has been more or less for the past fifty years. I early read
Wordsworth, and Emerson and Tennyson and Whitman, and Saint-Pierre's
"Studies of Nature," as I have before told you. But the previous
question is, why the nature poets and nature books appealed to me. One
cannot corner this unknown quantity. I suppose I was simply made that
way--the love of nature was born in me. I suppose Emerson influenced me
most, beginning when I was about nineteen; I had read Pope and Thomson
and Young and parts of Shakespeare before that, but they did not kindle
this love of nature in me. Emerson did. Though he did not directly treat
of outdoor themes, yet his spirit seemed to blend with Nature, and to
reveal the ideal and spiritual values in her works. I think it was this,
or something like it, that stimulated me and made bird and tree and sky
and flower full of a new interest. It is not nature for its own sake
that has mainly drawn me; had it been so, I should have turned out a
strict man of science; but nature for the soul's sake--the inward world
of ideals and emotions. It is this that allies me to the poets; while it
is my interest in the mere fact that allies me to the men of science.

I do not read Emerson much now, except to try to get myself back
into the atmosphere of that foreworld when a paradox, or a startling
affirmation, dissolved or put to flight a vast array of commonplace
facts. What a bold front he did put on in the presence of the tyrannies
of life! He stimulated us by a kind of heavenly bragging and saintly
flouting of humdrum that ceases to impress us as we grow old. Do we
outgrow him?--or do we fall away from him? I cannot bear to hear Emerson
spoken of as a back-number, and I should like to believe that the young
men of to-day find in him what I found in him fifty years ago, when he
seemed to whet my appetite for high ideals by referring to that hunger
that could "eat the solar system like gingercake." But I suspect they do
not. The world is too much with us. We are prone to hitch our wagon to
a star in a way, or in a spirit, that does not sanctify the wagon, but
debases the star. Emerson is perhaps too exceptional to take his place
among the small band of the really first-class writers of the world.
Shear him of his paradoxes, of his surprises, of his sudden inversions,
of his taking sallies in the face of the common reason, and appraise him
for his real mastery over the elements of life and of the mind, as we
do Bacon, or Shakespeare, or Carlyle, and he will be found wanting. And
yet, let me quickly add, there is something more precious and divine
about him than about any or all the others. He prepares the way for
a greater than he, prepares the mind to accept the new man, the new
thought, as none other does.

But how slow I am in getting at my point! Emerson took me captive. For
a time I lived and moved and had my intellectual being in him. I think I
have always had a pretty soft shell, so to speak, hardly enough lime and
grit in it, and at times I am aware that such is the fact to this day.
Well, Emerson found my intellectual shell very plastic; I took the form
of his mould at once, and could not get away from him; and, what is
more, did not want to get away from him, did not see the need of getting
away from him. Nature herself seemed to speak through him. An intense
individuality that possesses the quality of lovableness is apt to impose
itself upon us in this way. It was under this spell, as you know, that
I wrote "Expression," of which I have told you. The "Atlantic," by the
way, had from the first number been a sort of university to me. It had
done much to stimulate and to shape my literary tastes and ambitions. I
was so eager for it that when I expected it in the mail I used to run
on my way to the post office for it. So, with fear and trembling, I sent
that essay to its editor. Lowell told a Harvard student who was an old
schoolmate of mine that when he read the paper he thought some young
fellow was trying to palm off an early essay of Emerson's upon him as
his own, and that he looked through the "Dial" and other publications in
the expectation of finding it. Not succeeding in doing so, he concluded
the young man had written it himself. It was published in November,
1860, and as the contributors' names were not given at that time, it was
ascribed to Emerson by the newspaper reviewers of that number. It went
into Poole's Index as by Emerson, and later. Professor Hill

(Some years ago I took it upon myself to let Professor Hill know the
real author of "Expression." He appeared grateful, though some what
chagrined, and said the error should be corrected in the next edition.
Mr. Burroughs smiled indulgently when he learned of my zeal in the
matter: "Emerson's back is broad; he could have afforded to continue to
shoulder my early blunders," he said. C. B.)

of Harvard, quoted a line from it in a footnote in his "Rhetoric," and
credited it to Emerson. So I had deceived the very elect. The essay had
some merit, but it reeked with the Emersonian spirit and manner. When
I came to view it through the perspective of print, I quickly saw that
this kind of thing would not do for me. I must get on ground of my own.
I must get this Emersonian musk out of my garments at all hazards. I
concluded to bury my garments in the earth, as it were, and see what my
native soil would do toward drawing it out. So I took to writing on all
manner of rural themes--sugar-making, cows, haying, stone walls. These,
no doubt, helped to draw out the rank suggestion of Emerson. I wrote
about things of which I knew, and was, therefore, bound to be more
sincere with myself than in writing upon the Emersonian themes. When a
man tells what he knows, what he has seen or felt, he is pretty sure to
be himself. When I wrote upon more purely intellectual themes, as I
did about this time for the "Leader," the Emersonian influence was more
potent, though less so than in the first "Atlantic" essay.

Any man progresses in the formation of a style of his own in proportion
as he gets down to his own real thoughts and feelings, and ceases to
echo the thoughts and moods of another. Only thus can he be sincere; and
sincerity is the main secret of style. What I wrote from "the push of
reading," as Whitman calls it, was largely an artificial product; I had
not made it my own; but when I wrote of country scenes and experiences,
I touched the quick of my mind, and it was more easy to be real and

I also wrote in 1860 or 1861 a number of things for the "Saturday Press"
which exhaled the Emersonian perfume. If you will look them over,
you will see how my mind was working in the leading-strings of
Analogy--often a forced and unreal Analogy.

December, 1907

My Dear Friend,--

You ask me to tell you more about myself, my life, how it has been with
me, etc. It is an inviting subject. How an old man likes to run on about

I see that my life has been more of a holiday than most persons', much
more than was my father's or his father's. I have picnicked all along
the way. I have on the whole been gay and satisfied. I have had no great
crosses or burdens to bear; no great afflictions, except such as must
come to all who live; neither poverty, nor riches. I have had uniform
good health, true friends, and some congenial companions. I have done,
for the most part, what I wanted to do. Some drudgery I have had, that
is, in uncongenial work on the farm, in teaching, in clerking, and in
bank-examining; but amid all these things I have kept an outlook, an
open door, as it were, out into the free fields of nature, and a buoyant
feeling that I would soon be there.

My farm life as a boy was at least a half-holiday. The fishing, the
hunting, the berrying, the Sundays on the hills or in the woods, the
sugar-making, the apple-gathering--all had a holiday character. But the
hoeing corn, and picking up potatoes, and cleaning the cow stables, had
little of this character. I have never been a cog in the wheel of any
great concern. I have never had to sink or lose my individuality. I have
been under no exacting master or tyrant.... I have never been a slave to
any bad habit, as smoking, drinking, over-feeding. I have had no social
or political ambitions; society has not curtailed my freedom or dictated
my dress or habits. Neither has any religious order or any clique.
I have had no axe to grind. I have gone with such men and women as
I liked, irrespective of any badge of wealth or reputation or social
prestige that they might wear. I have looked for simple pleasures
everywhere, and have found them. I have not sought for costly pleasures,
and do not want them--pleasures that cost money, or health, or time. The
great things, the precious things of my life, have been without money
and without price, as common as the air.

Life has laid no urgent mission upon me. My gait has been a leisurely
one. I am not bragging of it; I am only stating a fact. I have never
felt called upon to reform the world. I have doubtless been culpably
indifferent to its troubles and perplexities, and sins and sufferings.
I lend a hand occasionally here and there in my own neighborhood, but I
trouble myself very little about my neighbors--their salvation or their
damnation. I go my own way and do my own work.

I have loved nature, I have loved the animals, I have loved my
fellow-men. I have made my own whatever was fair and of good report. I
have loved the thoughts of the great thinkers and the poems of the great
poets, and the devout lines of the great religious souls. I have not
looked afar off for my joy and entertainment, but in things near at
hand, that all may have on equal terms. I have been a loving and dutiful
son, and a loving and dutiful father, and a good neighbor. I have got
much satisfaction out of life; it has been worth while.

I have not been a burden-bearer; for shame be it said, perhaps, when
there are so many burdens to be borne by some one. I have borne those
that came in my way, or that circumstances put upon me, and have at
least pulled my own weight. I have had my share of the holiday spirit;
I have had a social holiday, a moral holiday, a business holiday. I
have gone a-fishing while others were struggling and groaning and losing
their souls in the great social or political or business maelstrom. I
know, too, I have gone a-fishing while others have labored in the slums
and given their lives to the betterment of their fellows. But I have
been a good fisherman, and I should have made a poor missionary, or
reformer, or leader of any crusade against sin and crime. I am not a
fighter, I dislike any sort of contest, or squabble, or competition,
or storm. My strength is in my calm, my serenity, my sunshine. In
excitement I lose my head, and my heels, too. I cannot carry any citadel
by storm. I lack the audacity and spirit of the stormer. I must reduce
it slowly or steal it quietly. I lack moral courage, though I have
plenty of physical and intellectual courage. I could champion Walt
Whitman when nearly every contemporaneous critic and poet were crying
him down, but I utterly lack the moral courage to put in print what he
dared to. I have wielded the "big stick" against the nature-fakers, but
I am very uncomfortable under any sort of blame or accusation. It is so
much easier for me to say yes than no. My moral fibre is soft compared
to my intellectual. I am a poor preacher, an awkward moralizer. A moral
statement does not interest me unless it can be backed up by natural
truth; it must have intellectual value. The religious dogmas interest me
if I can find a scientific basis for them, otherwise not at all.

I shall shock you by telling you I am not much of a patriot. I have but
little national pride. If we went to war with a foreign power to-morrow,
my sympathies would be with the foreigner if I thought him in the right.
I could gladly see our navy knocked to pieces by Japan, for instance, if
we were in the wrong. I have absolutely no state pride, any more than
I have county or town pride, or neighborhood pride. But I make it up in
family or tribal affection.

I am too much preoccupied, too much at home with myself, to feel any
interest in many things that interest my fellows. I have aimed to live
a sane, normal, healthy life; or, rather, I have an instinct for such a
life. I love life, as such, and I am quickly conscious of anything that
threatens to check its even flow. I want a full measure of it, and I
want it as I do my spring water, clear and sweet and from the original
sources. Hence I have always chafed in cities, I must live in the
country. Life in the cities is like the water there--a long way from the
original sources, and more or less tainted by artificial conditions.

The current of the lives of many persons, I think, is like a muddy
stream. They lack the instinct for health, and hence do not know when
the vital current is foul. They are never really well. They do not look
out for personal inward sanitation. Smokers, drinkers, coffee-tipplers,
gluttonous eaters, diners-out, are likely to lose the sense of perfect
health, of a clear, pure life-current, of which I am thinking. The dew
on the grass, the bloom on the grape, the sheen on the plumage, are
suggestions of the health that is within the reach of most of us.

The least cloud or film in my mental skies mars or stops my work. I
write with my body quite as much as with my mind. How persons whose
bread of life is heavy, so to speak,--no lightness or buoyancy or
airiness at all,--can make good literature is a mystery to me; or those
who stimulate themselves with drugs or alcohol or coffee. I would live
so that I could get tipsy on a glass of water, or find a spur in a whiff
of morning air.

Such as my books are, the bloom of my life is in them; no morbidity, or
discontent, or ill health, or angry passion, has gone to their making.
The iridescence of a bird's plumage, we are told, is not something
extraneous; it is a prismatic effect. So the color in my books is not
paint; it is health. It is probably nothing to brag of; much greater
books have been the work of confirmed invalids. All I can say is that
the minds of these inspired invalids have not seemed to sustain so close
a relation to their bodies as my mind does to my body. Their powers seem
to have been more purely psychic. Look at Stevenson--almost bedridden
all his life, yet behold the felicity of his work! How completely his
mind must have been emancipated from the infirmities of his body! It is
clearly not thus with me. My mind is like a flame that depends entirely
upon the good combustion going on in the body. Hence, I can never write
in the afternoon, because this combustion is poorest then.

Life has been to me simply an opportunity to learn and enjoy, and,
through my books, to share my enjoyment with others. I have had no other
ambition. I have thirsted to know things, and to make the most of them.
The universe is to me a grand spectacle that fills me with awe and
wonder and joy, and with intense curiosity. I have had no such religious
burden to bear as my fathers did--the conviction of sin, the struggle,
the agony, the despair of a soul that fears it is lost. The fear of hell
has never troubled me. Of sin in the theological sense, the imputed sin
of Adam's transgression, which so worried the old people, I have not had
a moment's concern. That I have given my heart to Nature instead of to
God, as these same old people would have said, has never cast a shadow
over my mind or conscience--as if God would not get all that belonged to
Him, and as if love of his works were not love of Him! I have acquiesced
in things as they are, and have got all the satisfaction out of them
that I could.

Over my personal sins and shortcomings, I have not been as much troubled
as I should; none of us are. We do not see them in relief as others do;
they are like the color of our eyes, or our hair, or the shapes of our

I do not know that it is true that my moral fibre is actually weak. If
I may draw a figure from geology, it is probably true that my moral
qualities are the softer rock in the strata that make up my being--the
easiest worn away. I see that I carry the instinct of the naturalist
into all my activities. If a thing is natural, sane, wholesome, that is
enough. Whether or not it is conventionally correct, or square with the
popular conception of morality, does not matter to me.

I undoubtedly lack the heroic fibre. My edge is much easier turned than
was that, say, of Thoreau. Austerity would ill become me. You would see
through the disguise. Yes, there is much soft rock in my make-up. Is
that why I shrink from the wear and tear of the world?

The religious storm and upheaval that I used to hear so much of in my
youth is impossible with me. I am liable to deep-seated enthusiasms; but
to nothing like a revolution in my inward life, nothing sudden, nothing
violent. I can't say that there has been any abandonment of my opinions
on important subjects; there has been new growth and evolution, I hope.
The emphasis of life shifts, now here, now there; it is up hill and
down dale, but there is no change of direction.... Certain deep-seated
tendencies and instincts have borne me on. I have gravitated naturally
to the things that were mine.

I could not make anything I chose of myself; I could only be what I am.
In my youth I once "went forward" at a "protracted meeting," but nothing
came of it. The change in me that I was told would happen did not
happen, and I never went again. My nature was too equable, too
self-poised, to be suddenly overturned and broken up.

I am not a bit gregarious. I cannot herd with other men and be "Hail,
fellow, well met!" with them as I wish I could. I am much more at home
with women; we seem to understand one another better. Put me with a
lot of men, and we naturally separate as oil and water separate. On
shipboard it is rarely that any of the men take to me, or I to them--I
do not smoke or drink or tell stories, or talk business or politics, and
the men have little use for me. On my last voyage across the Atlantic,
the only man who seemed to notice me, or to whom I felt drawn at all,
was a Catholic priest. Real countrymen, trappers, hunters, and farmers,
I seem to draw near to. On the Harriman Alaskan Expedition the two men
I felt most at home with were Fred Dellenbaugh, the artist and explorer,
and Captain Kelly, the guide. Can you understand this? Do you see why
men do not, as a rule, care for me, and why women do?

I accuse myself of want of sociability. Probably I am too thin-skinned.
A little more of the pachyderm would help me in this respect.

Some day I will give you more self-analysis and self-criticism.

I am what you might call an extemporaneous writer--I write without any
previous study or preparation, save in so far as my actual life from day
to day has prepared me for it. I do not work up my subject, or outline
it, or sketch it in the rough. When I sit down to write upon any theme,
like that of my "Cosmopolitan" article last April ("What Life Means to
Me," 1906), or of my various papers on animal intelligence, I do not
know what I have to say on the subject till I delve into my mind and see
what I find there. The writing is like fishing or hunting, or sifting
the sand for gold--I am never sure of what I shall find. All I want is a
certain feeling, a bit of leaven, which I seem to refer to some place in
my chest--not my heart, but to a point above that and nearer the centre
of the chest--the place that always glows or suffuses when one thinks of
any joy or good tidings that is coming his way. It is a kind of hunger
for that subject; it warms me a little to think of it, a pleasant thrill
runs through me; or it is something like a lover's feeling for his
sweetheart--I long to be alone with it, and to give myself to it. I am
sure I shall have a good time. Hence, my writing is the measure of my
life. I can write only about what I have previously felt and lived. I
have no legerdemain to invoke things out of the air, or to make a dry
branch bud and blossom before the eyes. I must look into my heart and
write, or remain dumb. Robert Louis Stevenson said one should be able
to write eloquently on a broomstick, and so he could. Stevenson had the
true literary legerdemain; he was master of the art of writing; he could
invest a broomstick with charm; if it remained a broomstick, it was one
on which the witches might carry you through the air at night. Stevenson
had no burden of meaning to deliver to the world; his subject never
compelled him to write; but he certainly could invest common things and
thoughts with rare grace and charm. I wish I had more of this gift,
this facility of pen, apart from any personal interest in the subject.
I could not grow eloquent over a broomstick, unless it was the stick of
the broom that used to stand in the corner behind the door in the old
kitchen at home--the broom with which Mother used to sweep the floor,
and sweep off the doorstones, glancing up to the fields and hills as she
finished and turned to go in; the broom with which we used to sweep the
snow from our boots and trouser-legs when we came from school or from
doing the chores in winter. Here would be a personal appeal that would
probably find me more inevitably than it would Stevenson.

I have never been in the habit of doing a thing, of taking a walk,
or making an excursion, for the purpose of writing it up. Hence, when
magazine editors have asked me to go South or to California, or here
or there, to write the text to go with the pictures their artist would
make, I have felt constrained to refuse. The thought that I was expected
to write something would have burdened me and stood in the way of my
enjoyment, and unless there is enjoyment, there is no writing with me.

I was once tempted into making an excursion for one of the magazines to
a delightful place along the Jersey coast in company with an artist,
and a memorable day it was, too, with plenty of natural and of human
interest, but nothing came of it--my perverse pen would not do what it
was expected to do; it was no longer a free pen.

When I began observing the birds, nothing was further from my thoughts
than writing them up. I watched them and ran after them because I loved
them and was happy with them in the fields and woods; the writing came
as an afterthought, and as a desire to share my enjoyment with others.
Hence, I have never carried a notebook, or collected data about nature
in my rambles and excursions. What was mine, what I saw with love and
emotion, has always fused with my mind, so that in the heat of writing
it came back to me spontaneously. What I have lived, I never lose.

My trip to Alaska came near being spoiled because I was expected to
write it up, and actually did so from day to day, before fusion and
absorption had really taken place. Hence my readers complain that they
do not find me in that narrative, do not find my stamp or quality as in
my other writings. And well they may say it. I am conscious that I am
not there as in the others; the fruit was plucked before it had ripened;
or, to use my favorite analogy, the bee did not carry the nectar long
enough to transform it into honey. Had I experienced a more free and
disinterested intercourse with Alaskan nature, with all the pores of my
mind open, the result would certainly have been different. I might then,
after the experience had lain and ripened in my mind for a year or two,
and become my own, have got myself into it.

When I went to the Yellowstone National Park with President Roosevelt,
I waited over three years before writing up the trip. I recall the
President's asking me at the time if I took notes. I said, "No;
everything that interests me will stick to me like a burr." And I may
say here that I have put nothing in my writings at any time that did not
interest me. I have aimed in this to please myself alone. I believe it
to be true at all times that what does not interest the writer will not
interest his reader.

From the impromptu character of my writings come both their merits
and their defects--their fresh, unstudied character, and their want
of thoroughness and reference-book authority. I cannot, either in
my writing or in my reading, tolerate any delay, any flagging of the
interest, any beating about the bush, even if there is a bird in it. The
thought, the description, must move right along, and I am impatient of
all footnotes and quotations and asides.

A writer may easily take too much thought about his style, until it
obtrudes itself upon the reader's attention. I would have my sentences
appear as if they had never taken a moment's thought of themselves, nor
stood before the study looking-glass an instant. In fact, the less a
book appears written, the more like a spontaneous product it is, the
better I like it. This is not a justification of carelessness or haste;
it is a plea for directness, vitality, motion. Those writers who are
like still-water fishermen, whose great virtues are patience and a
tireless arm, never appealed to me any more than such fishing ever did.
I want something more like a mountain brook--motion, variety, and the
furthest possible remove from stagnation.

Indeed, where can you find a better symbol of good style in
literature than a mountain brook after it is well launched towards the
lowlands--not too hurried, and not too loitering--limpid, musical, but
not noisy, full but not turbid, sparkling but not frothy, every shallow
quickly compensated for by a deep reach of thought; the calm, lucid
pools of meaning alternating with the passages of rapid description, of
moving eloquence or gay comment--flowing, caressing, battling, as the
need may be, loitering at this point, hurrying at that, drawing together
here, opening out there--freshness, variety, lucidity, power.

(We wish that, like the brook, our self-analyst would "go on forever";
but his stream of thought met some obstacle when he had written thus
far, and I have never been able to induce it to resume its flow. I have,
there-fore, selected a bit of self-analysis from Mr. Burroughs's diary
of December, 1884, with which to close this subject. C.B.)

I have had to accomplish in myself the work of several generations.
None of my ancestors were men or women of culture; they knew nothing of
books. I have had to begin at the stump, and to rise from crude things.
I have felt the disadvantages which I have labored under, as well as the
advantages. The advantages are, that things were not hackneyed with me,
curiosity was not blunted, my faculties were fresh and eager--a kind of
virgin soil that gives whatever charm and spontaneity my books possess,
also whatever of seriousness and religiousness. The disadvantages are an
inaptitude for scholarly things, a want of the steadiness and clearness
of the tone of letters, the need of a great deal of experimenting, a
certain thickness and indistinctness of accent. The farmer and laborer
in me, many generations old, is a little embarrassed in the company of
scholars; has to make a great effort to remember his learned manners and

The unliterary basis is the best to start from; it is the virgin soil of
the wilderness; but it is a good way to the college and the library,
and much work must be done. I am near to nature and can write upon these
themes with ease and success; this is my proper field, as I well know.
But bookish themes--how I flounder about amid them, and have to work and
delve long to get down to the real truth about them in my mind!

In writing upon Emerson, or Arnold, or Carlyle, I have to begin, as it
were, and clear the soil, build a log hut, and so work up to the point
of view that is not provincial, but more or less metropolitan.

My best gift as a writer is my gift for truth; I have a thoroughly
honest mind, and know the truth when I see it. My humility, or modesty,
or want of self-assertion, call it what you please, is also a help in
bringing me to the truth. I am not likely to stand in my own light; nor
to mistake my own wants and whims for the decrees of the Eternal. At
least, if I make the mistake to-day, I shall see my error to-morrow.

(The discerning reader can hardly fail to trace in the foregoing
unvarnished account of our subject's ancestry and environment many of
the factors which have contributed to the unique success he has attained
as a writer. Nor can he fail to trace a certain likeness, of which our
author seems unconscious, to his father. To his mother he has credited
most of his gifts as a writer, but to that childlike unselfconsciousness
which he describes in his father, we are doubtless largely indebted for
the candid self-analysis here given.

But few writers could compass such a thing, yet he has done it simply
and naturally, as he would write on any other topic in which he was
genuinely interested. To be naked and unashamed is a condition lost by
most of us long ago, but retained by a few who still have many of the
traits of the natural man. C.B.)


I once asked Mr. Burroughs about his early writings, his beginnings. He
replied, "They were small potatoes and few in a hill, although at the
time I evidently thought I was growing some big ones. I had yet to
learn, as every young writer has to learn, that big words do not
necessarily mean big thoughts." Later he sent me these maiden efforts,
with an account of when and where they appeared.

These early articles show that Mr. Burroughs was a born essayist. They
all took the essay form. In his reading, as he has said, any book of
essays was pretty sure to arrest his attention. He seems early to have
developed a hunger for the pure stuff of literature--something that
would feed his intellect at the same time that it appealed to his
aesthetic sense. Concerning his first essays, he wrote me:--

The only significant thing about my first essays, written between the
ages of eighteen and twenty-three, is their serious trend of thought;
but the character of my early reading was serious and philosophical.
Locke and Johnson and Saint-Pierre and the others no doubt left their
marks upon me. I diligently held my mind down to the grindstone of
Locke's philosophy, and no doubt my mind was made brighter and sharper
by the process. Out of Saint-Pierre's "Studies of Nature," a work I had
never before heard of, I got something, though it would be hard for
me to say just what. The work is a curious blending of such science
as there was in his time, with sentiment and fancy, and enlivened by a
bright French mind. I still look through it with interest, and find that
it has a certain power of suggestion for me yet.

He confessed that he was somewhat imposed upon by Dr. Johnson's
high-sounding platitudes. "A beginner," he said, "is very apt to feel
that if he is going to write, the thing to do is to write, and get as
far from the easy conversational manner as possible. Let your utterances
be measured and stately." At first he tried to imitate Johnson, but soon
gave that up. He was less drawn to Addison and Lamb at the time, because
they were less formal, and seemingly less profound; and was slow in
perceiving that the art of good writing is the art of bringing one's
mind and soul face to face with that of the reader. How different
that early attitude from the penetrating criticism running through his
"Literary Values"; how different his stilted beginnings from his own
limpid prose as we know it, to read which is to forget that one is

Mr. Burroughs's very first appearance in print was in a paper in
Delaware County, New York,--the Bloomfield "Mirror,"--on May 18, 1856.
The article--"Vagaries vs. Spiritualism"--purports to be written
by "Philomath," of Roxbury, New York, who is none other than John
Burroughs, at the age of nineteen. It starts out showing impatience at
the unreasoning credulity of the superstitious mind, and continues in
a mildly derisive strain for about a column, foreshadowing the
controversial spirit which Mr. Burroughs displayed many years later
in taking to task the natural-history romancers. The production was
evidently provoked by a too credulous writer on spiritualism in a
previous issue of the "Mirror." I will quote its first paragraph:--

Mr. Mirror,--Notwithstanding the general diffusion of knowledge in
the nineteenth century, it is a lamentable fact that some minds are so
obscured by ignorance, or so blinded by superstition, as to rely
with implicit confidence upon the validity of opinions which have no
foundation in nature, or no support by the deductions of reason. But
truth and error have always been at variance, and the audacity of the
contest has kept pace with the growing vigor of the contending parties.
Some straightforward, conscientious persons, whose intentions are
undoubtedly commendable, are so infatuated by the sophistical theories
of the spiritualist, or so tossed about on the waves of public opinion,
that they lose sight of truth and good sense, and, like the philosopher
who looked higher than was wise in his stargazing, tumble into a ditch.

In 1859 or 1860, Mr. Burroughs began to contribute to the columns of the
"Saturday Press," an organ of the literary bohemians in New York, edited
by Henry Clapp. These were fragmentary things of a philosophical cast,
and were grouped under the absurd title "Fragments from the Table of an
Intellectual Epicure," by "All Souls." There were about sixty of
these fragments. I have examined most of them; some are fanciful
and far-fetched; some are apt and felicitous; but all foreshadow the
independent thinker and observer, and show that this "Intellectual
Epicure" was feeding on strong meat and assimilating it.

I assume that it will interest the reader who knows Mr. Burroughs only
as the practiced writer of the past fifty years to see some of his first
sallies into literature, to trace the unlikeness to his present style,
and the resemblances here and there. Accordingly I subjoin some extracts
by "All Souls" from the time-stained pages of the New York "Saturday
Press" of 1859 and 1860:--

A principle of absolute truth, pointed with fact and feathered with
fancy, and shot from the bow-string of a master intellect, is one of the
most potent things under the sun. It sings like a bird of peace to those
who are not the object of its aim, but woe, woe to him who is the butt
of such terrible archery!

For a thing to appear heavy to us, it is necessary that we have heft
to balance against it; to appear strong, it is necessary that we have
strength; to appear great, it is necessary that we have an idea of
greatness. We must have a standard to measure by, and that standard must
be in ourselves. An ignorant peasant cannot know that Bacon is so wise.
To duly appreciate genius, you must have genius; a pigmy cannot measure
the strength of a giant. The faculty that reads and admires, is the
green undeveloped state of the faculty that writes and creates.

A book, a principle, an individual, a landscape, or any object in
nature, to be understood and appreciated, must answer to something
within us; appreciation is the first step toward interpreting a

To feel terribly beaten is a good sign; the more resources a man is
conscious of, the deeper he will feel his defeat. But to feel unusually
elated at a victory indicates that our strength did not warrant it,
that we had gone beyond our resources. The boy who went crowing all day
through the streets, on having killed a squirrel with a stone, showed
plainly enough that it was not a general average of his throwing, and
that he was not in the habit of doing so well; while the rifleman picks
the hawk from the distant tree without remark or comment, and feels
vexed if he miss.

The style of some authors, like the manners of some men, is so naked,
so artificial, has so little character at the bottom of it, that it is
constantly intruding itself upon your notice, and seems to lie there
like a huge marble counter from behind which they vend only pins and
needles; whereas the true function of style is as a means and not as an
end--to concentrate the attention upon the thought which it bears, and
not upon itself--to be so apt, natural, and easy, and so in keeping with
the character of the author, that, like the comb in the hive, it shall
seem the result of that which it contains, and to exist for _its_ sake

It is interesting to note, in these and other extracts, how the young
writer is constantly tracing the analogy between the facts of everyday
life about him, and moral and intellectual truths. A little later he
began to knit these fragments together into essays, and to send the
essays to the "Saturday Press" under such titles as "Deep," and "A
Thought on Culture." There is a good deal of stating the same thing in
diverse ways. The writer seems to be led on and on to seek analogies
which, for the most part, are felicitous; occasionally crudities and
unnecessarily homely comparisons betray his unformed taste. The first
three paragraphs of "Deep" give a fair sample of the essay:--

Deep authors? Yes, reader, I like deep authors, that is, authors of
great penetration, reach, and compass of thought; but I must not be
bored with a sense of depth--must not be required to strain my mental
vision to see into the bottom of a well; the fountain must flow out at
the surface, though it come from the centre of the globe. Then I can
fill my cup without any artificial aid, or any painful effort.

What we call depth in a book is often obscurity; and an author whose
meaning is got at only by severe mental exertion, and a straining of the
mind's eye, is generally weak in the backbone of him. Occasionally it is
the dullness of the reader, but oftener the obtuseness of the writer.

A strong vigorous writer is not obscure--at any rate, not habitually so;
never leaves his reader in doubt, or compels him to mount the lever and
help to raise his burden; but clutches it in his mighty grasp and hurls
it into the air, so that it is not only unencumbered by the soil that
gave it birth, but is wholly detached and relieved, and set off against
the clear blue of his imagination. His thought is not like a rock
propped up but still sod-bound, but is like a rock held aloft, or built
into a buttress, with definite shape and outline.

Let me next quote from "A Thought on Culture," which appeared in the
same publication a little later, and which is the first to bear his

In the conduct of life a man should not show his knowledge, but his
wisdom; not his money--that were vulgar and foolish--but the result
of it--independence, courage, culture, generosity, manliness, and that
noble, humane, courteous air which wealth always brings to the right
sort of a man.

A display of mere knowledge, under most circumstances, is pedantry; an
exercise of wisdom is always godlike. We cannot pardon the absence of
knowledge, but itself must be hid. We can use a thing without absolutely
showing it, we can be reasonable without boring people with our logic,
and speak correctly without parsing our sentences.

The end of knowledge is not that a man may appear learned, any more than
the end of eating is that a man may seem to have a full stomach; but the
end of it is that a man may be wise, see and understand things as they
are; be able to adjust himself to the universe in which he is placed,
and judge and reason with the celerity of instinct, and that without
any conscious exercise of his knowledge. When we feel the food we have
eaten, something is wrong; so when a man is forever conscious of his
learning, he has not digested it, and it is an encumbrance....

The evolution of this author in his use of titles is interesting.
Compare the crudity of "Vagaries vs. Spiritualism," and "Deep," for
example, with those he selects when he begins to publish his books.
"Wake-Robin," "Winter Sunshine," "Locusts and Wild Honey," "Leaf and
Tendril,"--how much they connote! Then how felicitous are the titles
of most of his essays! "Birch Browsings," "The Snow-Walkers," "Mellow
England," "Our Rural Divinity" (the cow), "The Flight of the Eagle" (for
one of his early essays on Whitman), "A Bunch of Herbs," "A Pinch of
Salt," "The Divine Soil," "The Long Road" (on evolution)--these and many
others will occur to the reader.

Following "A Thought on Culture" was a short essay on poetry, the drift
of which is that poetry as contrasted with science must give us
things, not as they are in themselves, but as they stand related to our
experience. Our young writer is more at his ease now:--

Science, of course, is literal, as it ought to be, but science is not
life; science takes no note of this finer self, this duplicate on a
higher scale. Science never laughs or cries, or whistles or sings, or
falls in love, or sees aught but the coherent reality. It says a soap
bubble is a soap bubble--a drop of water impregnated with oleate of
potash or soda, and inflated with common air; but life says it is a
crystal sphere, dipped in the rainbow, buoyant as hope, sensitive as
the eye, with a power to make children dance for joy, and to bring youth
into the look of the old....

Who in his youth ever saw the swallow of natural history to be the
twittering, joyous bird that built mud nests beneath his father's shed,
and in the empty odorous barn?--that snapped the insects that flew up in
his way when returning at twilight from the upland farm; and that filled
his memory with such visions of summer when he first caught its note on
some bright May morning, flying up the southern valley? Describe water,
or a tree, in the language of exact science, or as they really are
in and of themselves, and what person, schooled only in nature, would
recognize them? Things must be given as they seem, as they stand
represented in the mind. Objects arrange themselves in our memory, not
according to the will, or any real quality in themselves, but as they
affect our lives and stand to us in our unconscious moments. The hills
we have dwelt among, the rocks and trees we have looked upon in all
moods and feelings, that stood to us as the shore to the sea, and
received a thousand impresses of what we lived and suffered, have
significance to us that is not accounted for by anything we can see or
feel in them.

Here we see the youth of twenty-three setting forth a truth which he has
sedulously followed in his own writing about nature, the following of
which accounts so largely for the wide appeal his works have made.

Some time in 1860, Mr. Burroughs began to send essays to the New York
"Leader," a weekly paper, the organ of Tammany Hall at that time. His
first article was made up of three short essays--"World Growth," "New
Ideas," and "Theory and Practice." Here beyond question is the writer we

The ideas that indicate the approach of a new era in history come like
bluebirds in the spring, if you have ever noticed how that is. The bird
at first seems a mere wandering voice in the air; you hear its carol on
some bright morning in March, but are uncertain of its course or origin;
it seems to come from some source you cannot divine; it falls like a
drop of rain when no cloud is visible; you look and listen, but to no
purpose. The weather changes, and it is not till a number of days that
you hear the note again, or, maybe, see the bird darting from a stake in
the fence, or flitting from one mullein-stalk to another. Its notes now
become daily more frequent; the birds multiply; they sing less in
the air and more when at rest; and their music is louder and more
continuous, but less sweet and plaintive. Their boldness increases and
soon you see them flitting with a saucy and inquiring air about barns
and outbuildings, peeping into dove-cota and stable windows, and
prospecting for a place to nest. They wage war against robins, pick
quarrels with swallows, and would forcibly appropriate their mud houses,
seeming to doubt the right of every other bird to exist but themselves.
But soon, as the season advances, domestic instincts predominate; they
subside quietly into their natural places, and become peaceful members
of the family of birds.

So the thoughts that indicate the approach of a new era in history at
first seem to be mere disembodied, impersonal voices somewhere in the
air; sweet and plaintive, half-sung and half-cried by some obscure and
unknown poet. We know not whence they come, nor whither they tend. It
is not a matter of sight or experience. They do not attach themselves
to any person or place, and their longitude and latitude cannot be
computed. But presently they become individualized and centre in some
Erasmus, or obscure thinker, and from a voice in the air, become a
living force on the earth. They multiply and seem contagious, and assume
a thousand new forms. They grow quarrelsome and demonstrative, impudent
and conceited, crowd themselves in where they have no right, and would
fain demolish or appropriate every institution and appointment of
society. But after a time they settle into their proper relations,
incorporate themselves in the world, and become new sources of power and
progress in history.

This quotation is especially significant, as it shows the writer's
already keen observation of the birds, and his cleverness in
appropriating these facts of nature to his philosophical purpose. How
neatly it is done! Readers of "Wake-Robin" will recognize a part of
it in the matchless description of the bluebird which is found in the
initial essay of that book.

In 1860, in the "Leader," there also appeared a long essay by Mr.
Burroughs, "On Indirections." This has the most unity and flow of
thought of any thus far. It is so good I should like to quote it all.
Here are the opening paragraphs:--

The South American Indian who discovered the silver mines of Potosi by
the turning up of a bush at the roots, which he had caught hold of to
aid his ascent while pursuing a deer up a steep hill, represents very
well how far intention and will are concerned in the grand results
that flow from men's lives. Every schoolboy knows that many of the most
valuable discoveries in science and art were accidental, or a kind of
necessity, and sprang from causes that had no place in the forethought
of the discoverer. The ostrich lays its eggs in the sand, and the sun
hatches them; so man puts forth an effort and higher powers second him,
and he finds himself the source of events that he had never conceived or
meditated. Things are so intimately connected and so interdependent,
the near and the remote are so closely related, and all parts of the
universe are so mutually sympathetic, that it is impossible to tell what
momentous secrets may lurk under the most trifling facts, or what grand
and beautiful results may be attained through low and unimportant
means. It seems that Nature delights in surprise, and in underlying our
careless existences with plans that are evermore to disclose themselves
to us and stimulate us to new enterprise and research. The simplest act
of life may discover a chain of cause and effect that binds together the
most remote parts of the system. We are often nearest to truth in some
unexpected moment, and may stumble upon that while in a careless mood
which has eluded our most vigilant and untiring efforts. Men have seen
deepest and farthest when they opened their eyes without any special
aim, and a word or two carelessly dropped by a companion has revealed to
me a truth that weeks of study had failed to compass....

Nature will not be come at directly, but indirectly; all her ways are
retiring and elusive, and she is more apt to reveal herself to her
quiet, unobtrusive lover, than to her formal, ceremonious suitor. A man
who goes out to admire the sunset, or to catch the spirit of field and
grove, will very likely come back disappointed. A bird seldom sings when
watched, and Nature is no coquette, and will not ogle and attitudinize
when stared at. The farmer and traveler drink deepest of this cup,
because it is always a surprise and comes without forethought or
preparation. No insulation or entanglement takes place, and the
soothing, medicinal influence of the fields and the wood takes
possession of us as quietly as a dream, and before we know it we are
living the life of the grass and the trees.

How unconsciously here he describes his own intercourse with Nature! And
what an unusual production for a youth of twenty-three of such meagre
educational advantages!

In 1862, in an essay on "Some of the Ways of Power," which appeared
in the "Leader," he celebrated the beauty and completeness of nature's
inexorable laws:--

There is an evident earnestness and seriousness in the meaning of
things, and the laws that traverse nature and our own being are as fixed
and inexorable, though, maybe, less instantaneous and immediate in their
operation, as the principle of gravitation, and are as little disposed
to pardon the violator or adjourn the day of adjudication.

There seems to be this terrible alternative put to every man on entering
the world, _conquer or be conquered_. It is what the waves say to the
swimmer, "Use me or drown"; what gravity says to the babe, "Use me or
fall"; what the winds say to the sailor, "Use me or be wrecked"; what
the passions say to every one of us, "Drive or be driven." Time in its
dealings with us says plainly enough, "Here I am, your master or your
servant." If we fail to make a good use of time, time will not fail to
make a bad use of us. The miser does not use his money, so his money
uses him; men do not govern their ambition, and so are governed by

These considerations are valuable chiefly for their analogical
import. They indicate a larger truth. Man grows by conquering his
limitations--by subduing new territory and occupying it. He commences
life on a very small capital; his force yet lies outside of him,
scattered up and down in the world like his wealth--in rocks, in trees,
in storms and flood, in dangers, in difficulties, in hardships,--in
short, in whatever opposes his progress and puts on a threatening front.
The first difficulty overcome, the first victory gained, is so much
added to his side of the scale--so much reinforcement of pure power.

I have said elsewhere that Mr. Burroughs has written himself into his
books. We see him doing this in these early years; he was an earnest
student of life at an age when most young men would have been far less
seriously occupied. Difficulties and hardships were roundabout him, his
force was, indeed, "scattered up and down in the world, in rocks and
trees," in birds and flowers, and from these sources he was even then
wresting the beginnings of his successful career.

It was in November, 1860, when twenty-three years of age, that he made
his first appearance in the pages of the "Atlantic Monthly," in the
essay "Expression," comments upon which by its author I have already
quoted. At that time he was under the Emersonian spell of which he
speaks in his autobiographical sketch. Other readers and lovers of
Emerson had had similar experiences. Brownlee Brown, an "Atlantic"
contributor (of "Genius" and "The Ideal Tendency," especially), was a
"sort of refined and spiritualized Emerson, without the grip and gristle
of the master, but very pleasing and suggestive," Mr. Burroughs says.
The younger writer made a pilgrimage to the home of Brownlee Brown in
the fall of 1862, having been much attracted to him by the above-named
essays. He found him in a field gathering turnips. They had much
interesting talk, and some correspondence thereafter. Mr. Brown admitted
that his mind had been fertilized by the Emersonian pollen, and declared
he could write in no other way.

Concerning his own imitation of Emerson, Mr. Burroughs says:--

It was by no means a conscious imitation. Had I tried to imitate him,
probably the spurious character of my essay would have deceived no
one. It was one of those unconscious imitations that so often give an
impression of genuineness.... When I began to realize how deeply Emerson
had set his stamp upon me, I said to myself: "This will never do. I must
resist this influence. If I would be a true disciple of Emerson, I must
be myself and not another. I must brace myself by his spirit, and not go
tricked out in his manner, and his spirit was _'Never imitate.'_"

It was this resolution, as he has before told us, that turned him to
writing on outdoor subjects.

In rereading "Expression" recently, I was struck, not so much by
its Emersonian manner, as by its Bergsonian ideas. I had heard Mr.
Burroughs, when he came under the spell of Bergson in the summer of
1911, say that the reason he was so moved by the French philosopher was
doubtless because he found in him so many of his own ideas; and it was
with keen pleasure that I came upon these forerunners of Bergson written
before Bergson was born.

At the time when Mr. Burroughs was dropping the Emersonian manner,
and while his style was in the transition stage, he wrote an essay on
"Analogy," and sent it also to the "Atlantic," receiving quite a damper
on his enthusiasm when Lowell, the editor, returned it. But he sent it
to the old "Knickerbocker Magazine," where it appeared in 1862. Many
years later he rewrote it, and it was accepted by Horace Scudder, then
the "Atlantic's" editor; in 1902, after rewriting it the second time, he
published it in "Literary Values."

Because of the deep significance of them at this time in the career of
Mr. Burroughs, I shall quote the following letters received by him
from David A. Wasson, a Unitarian clergyman of Massachusetts, and a
contributor to the early numbers of the "Atlantic." Their encouragement,
their candor, their penetration, and their prescience entitle them to
a high place in an attempt to trace the evolution of our author. One
readily divines how much such appreciation and criticism meant to the
youthful essayist.

Groveland, Mass., May 21, 1860

Mr. Burroughs,--

My Dear Sir,--Let me tell you at the outset that I have for five years
suffered from a spinal hurt, from which I am now slowly recovering,
but am still unable to walk more than a quarter of a mile or to write
without much pain. I have all the will in the world to serve you, but,
as you will perceive, must use much brevity in writing.

"Expression" I do not remember,--probably did not read,--for I read
no periodical literature--not even the "Atlantic," which is the best
periodical I know--unless my attention is very especially called to it,
and often, to tell the truth, do not heed the call when it is given.
Where I am at present I have not access to back numbers of the
"Atlantic," but shall have soon. The essay that you sent me I read
carefully twice, but unfortunately left it in Boston, where it reached
me. I can therefore only speak of it generally. It certainly shows
in you, if my judgment may be trusted, unusual gifts of pure
intellect--unusual, I mean, among scholars and literary men; and the
literary execution is creditable, though by no means of the same grade
with the mental power evinced. You must become a fine literary worker
to be equal to the demands of such an intellect as yours. For the
deeper the thought, the more difficult to give it a clear and attractive
expression. You can write so as to command attention. I am sure you can.
Will you? that is the only question. Can you work and wait long enough?
Have you the requisite patience and persistency? If you have, there is
undoubtedly an honorable future before you.

But I will not conceal from you that I think you too young to have
written "numerous essays" of the class you attempt, or to publish a
book consisting of such. No other kind of writing requires such mental
maturity; stories may be written at any age, though good ones are seldom
written early. Even poems and works of art have been produced by some
Raphael or Milton at a comparatively early season of life, and have not
given shame to the author at a later age; though this is the exception,
not the rule. But the purely reflective essay belongs emphatically to
maturer life. Your twenty-four years have evidently been worth more
to you than the longest life to most men; but my judgment is that you
should give your genius more time yet, and should wait upon it with more
labor. This is my frank counsel. I will respect you so much as to offer
it without disguise. Let me fortify it by an example or two. Mr. Emerson
published nothing, I think, until he was past thirty, and his brother
Charles, now dead, who was considered almost superior to him, maintained
that it is almost a sin to go into print sooner. Yet both these had all
possible educational advantages, and were familiar with the best books
and the best results of American culture from infancy almost. I myself
printed nothing--saving some poetical indiscretions--until I was
twenty-seven, and this was only a criticism on Dr. Isaac Barrow--not a
subject, you see, that made great demands upon me. Two years later an
article on Lord Bacon, for which I had been indirectly preparing more
than two years, and directly at least one; and even then I would say
little respecting his philosophy, and confined myself chiefly to a
portraiture of his character as a man. At thirty-two years of age I sent
to press an essay similar in character to those I write now--and am at
present a little ashamed of it. I am now thirty-nine years old, and all
that I have ever put in print would not make more than one hundred
and thirty or one hundred and forty pages in the "Atlantic." Upon
reflection, however, I will say two hundred pages, including pamphlet
publications. I would have it less rather than more. But for this
illness it would have been even less, for this has led me to postpone
larger enterprises, which would have gone to press much later, and
prepare shorter articles for the "Atlantic." Yet my literary interest
began at a very early age.

In writing essays such as it seems to me you have a genius for, I

1. That one should get the range--the largest _range_--of the laws he
sets forth. This is the _sine qua num_. Every primary law goes through
heaven and earth. Go with it. This is the business and privilege of

2. When one comes to writing, let his discourse have a beginning and an
end. Do not let the end of his essay be merely the end of his sheet,
or the place where he took a notion to stop writing, but let it be
necessary. Each paragraph, too, should represent a distinct advance,
a clear step, in the exposition of his thought. I spare no labor in
securing this, and reckon no labor lost that brings me toward this
mark. I reckon my work ill done if a single paragraph, yes, or a single
sentence, can be transposed without injuring the whole.

3. Vivid expression must be sought, must be labored for unsparingly.
This you, from your position, will find it somewhat hard to attain,
unless you have peculiar aptitude for it. Expression in the country is
far less vivacious than in cities.

I have spoken frankly; now you must decide for yourself. You have mental
power enough; if you have accessory qualities (which I think you must
possess), you cannot fail to make your mark.

The brevity that I promised you will not find in this letter, but you
will find haste enough to make up for the lack of it.

If now, after the foregoing, you feel any inclination to send me the
essay on "Analogy" (capital subject), pray do so. I will read it, and if
I have anything to say about it, will speak as frankly as above.

I shall be in this place--Groveland, Mass.--about three weeks; after
that in Worcester a short while.

Very truly yours,


Groveland, Mass., June 18, 1862.

Mr. Burroughs,--

My Dear Sir,--

I am sorry to have detained your MS. so long, but part of the time I
have been away, and during the other portion of it, the fatigue that I
must undergo was all that my strength would bear.

I read your essay carefully in a few days after receiving it and laid
it aside for a second perusal. Now I despair of finding time for such
a second reading as I designed, and so must write you at once my
impressions after a single reading.

The inference concerning your mind that I draw from your essay enhances
the interest I previously felt in you. All that you tell me of yourself
has the same effect. You certainly have high, very high, mental power;
and the patience and persistency that you must have shown hitherto
assures me that you will in future be equal to the demands of your
intellect. As to publishing what you have now written, you must judge.
The main question, is whether you will be discouraged by failure of your
book. If not, publish, if you like; and then, if the public ignores your
thought, gather up your strength again and write so that they cannot
ignore you. For, in truth, the public does not like to think; it likes
to be amused; and conceives a sort of hatred against the writer who
would force it to the use of its intellect. This is invariably the case;
it will be so with you. If the public finds anything in your work that
can be condemned, it will be but too happy to pass sentence; if it can
make out to think that you are a pretender, it will gladly do so; if it
can turn its back upon you and ignore you, its back, and nothing else,
you will surely see. And this on account of your merits. You really have
thoughts. You make combinations of your own. You have freighted your
words out of your own mental experience. You do not flatter any of the
sects by using their cant. Now, then, be sure that you have got to do
finished work, finished in every minutest particular, for years, before
your claims will be allowed.

If you _were_ a pretender, your success in immediate prospect would
be more promising; the very difficulty is that you are not--that you
think--that the public must read you _humbly_, confessing that you have
intelligence beyond its own. I said that the general public wants to be
amused: I now add that it dearly desires to be flattered, or at least
allowed to flatter itself. Those people who have no thoughts of their
own are the very ones who hate mortally to admit to themselves that any
intelligence in the world is superior to their own. A noble nature
is indeed never so delighted as when it finds something that may be
lawfully reverenced; but all the ignoble keep up their self-complacence
by shutting their eyes to all superiority.

I state the case strongly, as you will feel it bye and bye. Mind, I am
not a disappointed man; and have met as generous appreciation as I ought
to wish. I am not misanthropic, nor in the least soured. I say all this,
not _against_ the public, but _for_ you.

Now, then, as to the essay. It is rich in thought. Everywhere are the
traces of a penetrating and sincere intellect. Much of the expression
is also good. The faults of it, _me judice_, are as follows: The
introduction I think too long. I should nearly throw away the first five
pages. Your true beginning I think to be near the bottom of the sixth
page, though the _island_ in the middle paragraph of that page is too
fine to be lost. From the sixth to about the twentieth I read with
hearty pleasure. Then begin subordinate essays in illustration of your
main theme. These are good in themselves, but their subordination is a
little obscured. I think careless readers--and most of your readers, be
sure, will be careless--will fail to perceive the connection. You are
younger than I, and will hope more from your readers; but I find even
superior men slow, _slow_, SLOW to understand--missing your point so
often! I think the relationship must be brought out more strongly,
and some very good sentences must be thrown out because they are more
related to the subordinate than the commanding subject. This is about
all that I have to say. Sometimes your sentences are a little heavy, but
you will find, little by little, happier terms of expression. I do not
in the least believe that you cannot in time write as well as I. What I
have done to earn expression I know better than you The crudities that I
have outgrown or outlabored, I also know.

You must be a little less careless about your spelling, simply because
these slips will discredit your thought in the eyes of superficial

You understand, of course, that I speak above of the general public--not
of the finer natures, who will welcome you with warm hands.

I fear that the results of my reading will not correspond to your
wishes, and that it was hardly worth your while to send me your MS. But
I am obliged to you for informing me of your existence, for I augur good
for my country from the discovery of every such intelligence as yours,
and I pledge to you my warm interest and regard.

Very cordially yours,

David A. Wasson

Worcester, Sept. 29, 1862,

My Dear Mr. Burroughs,--

To the medicine proposition I say. Yes. A man of your tastes and mental
vigor should be able to do some clean work in that profession. I know
not of any other established profession that allows a larger scope of
mind than this. There is some danger of materialism, but this you have
already weaponed yourself against, and the scientific studies that come
in the line of the profession will furnish material for thought and
expression which I am sure you will know well how to use.

I am glad if my suggestions about your essay proved of some service to
you. There is thought and statement in it which will certainly one day
come to a market. The book, too, all in good season. Life for you
is very long, and you can take your time. Take it by all means. Give
yourself large leisure to do your best. I am about setting up my
household gods in Worcester. This makes me in much haste, and therefore
without another word I must say that I shall always be glad to hear from
you, and that I am always truly your friend.

D. A. Wasson

Of the early nature papers which Mr. Burroughs wrote for the New York
"Leader," and which were grouped under the general title, "From the
Back Country," there were five or six in number, of two or three columns
each. One on "Butter-Making," of which I will quote the opening passage,
fairly makes the mouth water:--

With green grass comes golden butter. With the bobolinks and the
swallows, with singing groves, and musical winds, with June,--ah, yes!
with tender, succulent, gorgeous June,--all things are blessed. The
dairyman's heart rejoices, and the butter tray with its virgin treasure
becomes a sight to behold. There lie the rich masses, fold upon fold,
leaf upon leaf, fresh, sweet, and odorous, just as the ladle of the
dairymaid dipped it from the churn, sweating great drops of buttermilk,
and looking like some rare and precious ore. The cool spring water is
the only clarifier needed to remove all dross and impurities and bring
out all the virtues and beauties of this cream-evolved element. How firm
and bright it becomes, how delicious the odor it emits! what vegetarian
ever found it in his heart, or his palate either, to repudiate butter?
The essence of clover and grass and dandelions and beechen woods is
here. How wonderful the chemistry that from elements so common and near
at hand produces a result so beautiful and useful! Eureka! Is not this
the alchemy that turns into gold the commonest substances? How can
transformation be more perfect?

During the years of this early essay-writing, Mr. Burroughs was teaching
country schools in the fall and winter, and working on the home farm
in summer; at the same time he was reading serious books and preparing
himself for whatever was in store for him. He read medicine for only
three months, in the fall of 1862, and then resumed teaching. His first
magazine article about the birds was written in the summer or fall of
1863, and appeared in the "Atlantic" in the spring of 1885. He learned
from a friend to whom Mr. Sanborn had written that the article had
pleased Emerson.

It was in 1864, while in the Currency Bureau in Washington, that he
wrote the essays which make up his first nature book, "Wake-Robin." His
first book, however, was not a nature book, but was "Walt Whitman as
Poet and Person." It was published in 1867, preceding "Wake-Robin" by
four years. It has long been out of print, and is less known than his
extended, riper work, "Whitman, A. Study," written in 1896.

A record of the early writings of Mr. Burroughs would not be complete
without considering also his ventures into the field of poetry. In the
summer of 1860 he wrote and printed his first verses (with the exception
of some still earlier ones written in 1856 to the sweetheart who became
his wife), which were addressed to his friend and comrade E. M. Allen,
subsequently the husband of Elizabeth Akers, the author of "Backward,
turn backward, O Time, in your flight." The lines to E. M. A. were
printed in the "Saturday Press." Because they are the first of our
author's verses to appear in print, I quote them here:--

             TO E. M. A.

    A change has come over nature
       Since you and June were here;
    The sun has turned to the southward
       Adown the steps of the year.

    The grass is ripe in the meadow,
       And the mowers swing in rhyme;
    The grain so green on the hillside
       Is in its golden prime.

    No more the breath of the clover
       Is borne on every breeze,
    No more the eye of the daisy
       Is bright on meadow leas.

    The bobolink and the swallow
       Have left for other clime--
    They mind the sun when he beckons
       And go with summer's prime.

    Buttercups that shone in the meadow
       Like rifts of golden snow,
    They, too, have melted and vanished
       Beneath the summer's glow.

    Still at evenfall in the upland
       The vesper sparrow sings,
    And the brooklet in the pasture
       Still waves its glassy rings.

    And the lake of fog to the southward
       With surges white as snow--
    Still at morn away in the distance
       I see it ebb and flow.

    But a change has come over nature,
       The youth of the year has gone;
    A grace from the wood has departed,
       And a freshness from the dawn.

Another poem, "Loss and Gain," was printed in the New York "Independent"
about the same time.

             LOSS AND GAIN

    The ship that drops behind the rim
    Of sea and sky, so pale and dim,
        Still sails the seas
        With favored breeze,
    Where other waves chant ocean's hymn.

    The wave that left this shore so wide,
    And led away the ebbing tide,
        Is with its host
        On fairer coast,
    Bedecked and plumed in all its pride.

    The grub I found encased in clay
    When next I came had slipped away
        On golden wing,
        With birds that sing,
    To mount and soar in sunny day.

    No thought or hope can e'er be lost--
    The spring will come in spite of frost.
        Go crop the branch
        Of maple stanch,
    The root will gain what you exhaust.

    The man is formed as ground he tills--
    Decay and death lie 'neath his sills.
        The storm that beats,
        And solar heats,
    Have helped to form whereon he builds.

    Successive crops that lived and grew,
    And drank the air, the light, the dew,
        And then deceased,
        His soil increased
    In strength, and depth, and richness, too.

    From slow decay the ages grow,
    From blood and crime the centuries blow,
        What disappears
        Beneath the years,
    Will mount again as grain we sow.

These rather commonplace verses, the first showing his love for
comrades, the others his philosophical bent, were the forerunners of
that poem of Mr. Burroughs's--"Waiting"--which has become a household
treasure, often without the ones who cherish it knowing its source.
"Waiting" was Written in the fall of 1862. In response to my inquiry as
to its genesis, its author said:--

I was reading medicine in the office of a country doctor at the time and
was in a rather gloomy and discouraged state of mind. My outlook upon
life was anything but encouraging. I was poor. I had no certain means
of livelihood. I had married five years before, and, at a venture, I had
turned to medicine as a likely solution of my life's problems. The Civil
War was raging and that, too, disturbed me. It sounded a call of duty
which increased my perturbations; yet something must have said to me,
"Courage! all will yet be well. You are bound to have your own, whatever
happens." Doubtless this feeling had been nurtured in me by the brave
words of Emerson. At any rate, there in a little dingy back room of Dr.
Hull's office, I paused in my study of anatomy and wrote "Waiting." I
had at that time had some literary correspondence with David A. Wasson
whose essays in the "Atlantic" I had read with deep interest. I sent
him a copy of the poem. He spoke of it as a vigorous piece of work, but
seemed to see no special merit in it. I then sent it to "Knickerbocker's
Magazine," where it was printed, in December, I think, in 1862. It
attracted no attention, and was almost forgotten by me till many years
afterwards when it appeared in Whittier's "Songs of Three Centuries."
This indorsement by Whittier gave it vogue. It began to be copied by
newspapers and religious Journals, and it has been traveling on the
wings of public print ever since. I do not think it has any great poetic
merit. The secret of its success is its serious religious strain, or
what people interpret as such. It embodies a very comfortable optimistic
philosophy which it chants in a solemn, psalm-like voice. Its sincerity
carries conviction. It voices absolute faith and trust in what, in the
language of our fathers, would be called the ways of God with man. I
have often told persons, when they have questioned me about the poem,
that I came of the Old School Baptist stock, and that these verses show
what form the old Calvinistic doctrine took in me.

Let me quote here the letter which Mr. Wasson wrote to the author of
"Waiting," on receiving the first autograph copy of it ever written:--

Worcester, Dec. 22,1862.

Mr. Burroughs,--

My Dear Sir,--I beg your pardon a thousand times for having neglected so
long to acknowledge the letter containing your vigorous verses. Excess
of work, and then a dash of illness consequent upon this excess, must be
my excuse--by your kind allowance.

The verses are vigorous and flowing, good in sentiment, and certainly
worthy of being sent to "some paper," if you like to print them. On the
other hand, they do not indicate to me that you have any special call
to write verse. A man of your ability and fineness of structure must
necessarily be enough of a poet not to fail altogether in use of the
poetical form. But all that I know of you indicates a predominance of
reflective intellect--a habit of mind quite foreign from the lyrical. I
think it may be very good practice to compose in verse, as it exercises
you in terse and rhythmical expression; but I question whether your
vocation lies in that direction.

After all, you must not let anything which I, or any one, may say stand
in your way, if you feel any clear leading of your genius in a given
direction. What I have said is designed to guard you against an
expenditure of power and hope in directions that may yield you but a
partial harvest, when the same ought to be sown on more fruitful fields.
I think you have unusual reflective power; and I am sure that in time
you will find time and occasion for its exercise, and will accomplish
some honorable tasks.

Very truly yours,

D. A. Wasson

It maybe fancy on my part, but I have a feeling that, all unconsciously
to Mr. Burroughs, a sentence or two in Mr. Wasson's letter of September
29, 1862, had something to do with inspiring the mood of trustfulness
and the attitude of waiting in serenity, which gave birth to this

... The book, too, all in good season. Life for you is very long,
and you can take your time. Take it by all means. Give yourself large
leisure to do your best.

Whether or not this is so, I am sure the sympathy and understanding of
such a man as Mr. Wasson was a godsend to our struggling writer, and was
one of the most beautiful instances in his life of "his own" coming to

"Waiting" seems to have gone all over the world. It has been several
times set to music, and its authorship has even been claimed by others.
It has been parodied, more's the pity; and spurious stanzas have
occasionally been appended to it; while an inferior stanza, which the
author dropped years ago, is from time to time resurrected by certain
insistent ones. Originally, it had seven stanzas; the sixth, discarded
by its author, ran as follows:--

    You flowret, nodding in the wind,
       Is ready plighted to the bee;
    And, maiden, why that look unkind?
       For, lo! thy lover seeketh thee.

This stanza is a detraction from the poem as we know it, and assuredly
its author has a right to drop it. Concerning the fifth stanza, Mr.
Burroughs says he has never liked it, and has often substituted one
which he wrote a few years ago. The stanza he would reject is--

    The waters know their own and draw
       The brook that springs in yonder heights;
    So flows the good with equal law
       Unto the soul of pure delights.

    The one he would offer instead--

    The law of love binds every heart,
       And knits it to its utmost kin,
    Nor can our lives flow long apart
       From souls our secret souls would win.

And yet he is not satisfied with this; he says it is too subtle and
lacks the large, simple imagery of the original lines.

The legion who cherish this poem in their hearts are justly incensed
whenever they come across a copy of it to which some one, a few years
ago, had the effrontery to add this inane stanza:--

    Serene I fold my hands and wait,
       Whate'er the storms of life may be,
    Faith guides me up to heaven's gate,
       And love will bring my own to me.

One of Mr. Burroughs's friends (Joel Benton), himself a poet, in
an article tracing the vicissitudes of this poem, shows pardonable
indignation at the "impudence and hardihood of the unmannered meddler"
who tacked on the "heaven's gate" stanza, and adds:--

The lyric as Burroughs wrote it embodies a motive, or concept, that has
scarcely been surpassed for amenability to poetic treatment, and for
touching and impressive point. Its partly elusive outlines add to its
charm. Its balance between hint and affirmation; its faith in universal
forces, and its tender yet virile expression, are all shining qualities,
apparent to the critical, and hypnotic to the general, reader. There
is nothing in it that need even stop at "heaven's gate." It permits the
deserving reader by happy instinct to go through that portal--without
waiting outside to parade his sect mark. But the force of the poem
and catholicity of its sanctions are either utterly destroyed or
ridiculously enfeebled, by capping it with a sectarian and narrowly
interpreted climax.

Although the poem is so well known, I shall quote it here in the form
preferred by its author;--


    Serene, I fold my hands and wait,
       Nor care for wind, nor tide, nor sea;
    I rave no more 'gainst time or fate,
       For lo! my own shall come to me.

    I stay my haste, I make delays,
       For what avails this eager pace?
    I stand amid th' eternal ways,
       And what is mine shall know my face.

    Asleep, awake, by night or day,
       The friends I seek are seeking me;
    No wind can drive my bark astray,
       Nor change the tide of destiny.

    What matter if I stand alone?
       I wait with joy the coming years;
    My heart shall reap where it hath sown,
       And garner up its fruit of tears.

    The waters know their own and draw
       The brook that springs in yonder heights;
    So flows the good with equal law
       Unto the soul of pure delights.

    The stars come nightly to the sky,
       The tidal wave comes to the sea;
    Nor time, nor space, nor deep, nor high,
       Can keep my own away from me.


"Come and go to Slabsides for over Sunday--I think we can keep warm. We
will have an old-fashioned time; I will roast a duck in the pot; it will
be great fun."

This invitation came from Mr. Burroughs in 1911 to friends who proposed
to call on him early in December. Riverby was closed for the season, its
occupants tarrying in Poughkeepsie, but, ever ready for an adventure,
the Sage of Slabsides proposed a winter picnic at his cabin in the

A ride of some two hours from New York brings us to West Park, where our
host awaits us. A stranger, glancing at his white hair and beard, might
credit his seventy-five years, but not when looking at his ruddy face
with the keen, bright eyes, or at his alert, vigorous movements.

Together with blankets and a market-basket of provisions we are stowed
away in a wagon and driven up the steep, winding way; at first along a
country road, then into a wood's road with huge Silurian rocks cropping
out everywhere, showing here and there seams of quartz and patches of
moss and ferns.

"In there," said Mr. Burroughs, pointing to an obscure path, "I had a
partridge for a neighbor. She had a nest there. I went to see her every
day till she became uneasy about it, and let me know I was no longer

"Yonder," he continued, indicating a range of wooded hills against the
wintry sky, "is the classic region of 'Popple Town Hill,' and over there
is 'Pang Yang.'"

Some friendly spirit has preceded us to the cabin; a fire is burning in
the great stone fireplace, and mattresses and bedding are exposed to the
heat. Moving these away, the host makes room for us near the hearth. He
piles on the wood, and we are soon permeated by the warmth of the fire
and of the unostentatious hospitality of Slabsides.

How good it is to be here! The city, with its rush and roar and
complexities, seems far away. How satisfying it is to strip off the
husks and get at the kernel of things! There is more chance for high
thinking when one is big enough to have plain living. How we surround
ourselves with non-essentials, how we are dominated with the "mania
of owning things"--one feels all this afresh in looking around at this
simple, well-built cabin with its few needful things close at hand, and
with life reduced to the simplest terms. One sees here exemplified the
creed Mr. Burroughs outlined several years ago in his essay "An Outlook
upon Life":--

I am bound to praise the simple life, because I have lived it and found
it good.... I love a small house, plain clothes, simple living. Many
persons know the luxury of a skin bath--a plunge in the pool or the wave
unhampered by clothing. That is the simple life--direct and immediate
contact with things, life with the false wrappings torn away--the fine
house, the fine equipage, the expensive habits, all cut off. How free
one feels, how good the elements taste, how close one gets to them, how
they fit one's body and one's soul! To see the fire that warms you, or
better yet, to cut the wood that feeds the fire that warms you; to see
the spring where the water bubbles up that slakes your thirst, and to
dip your pail into it; to see the beams that are the stay of your four
walls, and the timbers that uphold the roof that shelters you; to be in
direct and personal contact with the sources of your material life; to
want no extras, no shields; to find the universal elements enough; to
find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning
walk or an evening saunter; to find a quest of wild berries more
satisfying than a gift of tropic fruit; to be thrilled by the stars
at night; to be elated over a bird's nest, or over a wild flower in
spring--these are some of the rewards of the simple life.

(Illustration of The Living-Room. From a photograph by M. H. Fanning)

The two men were soon talking companionably. When persons of wide
reading and reflection, and of philosophic bent, who have lived long
and been mellowed by life, come together, the interchange of thought is
bound to be valuable; things are so well said, so inevitably said, that
the listener thinks he cannot forget the manner of saying; but thoughts
crowd thick and fast, comments on men and measures, on books and events,
are numerous and varied, but hard to recapture. The logs ignite, sending
out their cheering heat, the coals glow, the sparks fly upward, warmth
and radiance envelop us; but an attempt to warm the reader by the
glow of that fireside talk is almost as futile as an effort to dispel
to-day's cold by the fire of yesterday.

A few deserted cottages perched on the rocks near by show us where the
summer neighbors of our host live, but at all seasons his wild neighbors
are the ones he hobnobs with the most; while his indoor companions are
Montaigne, Sainte-Beuve, Carlyle, Arnold, Wordsworth, Darwin, Huxley,
Emerson, Whitman, Bergson, and many others, ancient and modern.

"I've been rereading Emerson's essay on 'Immortality' lately, evenings
in my study down there by the river," said Mr. Burroughs. "I had
forgotten it was so noble and fine--he makes much of the idea of

In this connection he spoke of John Fiske and his contributions to
literature, telling of the surprise he felt on first meeting Fiske
at Harvard, to see the look of the _bon vivant_ in one in whom the
intellectual and the spiritual were so prominent. Laughing, he recalled
the amusement of the college boys at Fiske's comical efforts to discover
a piece of chalk dropped during his lecture on "Immortality." Standing
on the hearth, a merry twinkle in his eyes, he recited some humorous
lines which he had written concerning the episode.

Reverting to the question of immortality in a serious vein, he summed up
the debated question much as he has done in one of his essays,--that it
has been good to be here, and will be good to go hence; that we know not
whence we come, nor whither we go; were not consulted as to our coming,
and shall not be as to our going; but that it is all good; all for "the
glory of God;" though we must use this phrase in a larger sense than the
cramped interpretation of the theologian. All the teeming life of
the globe, the millions on millions in the microscopic world, and
the millions on millions of creatures that can be seen by the naked
eye--those who have been swept away, those here now, those who will come
after--all appearing in their appointed time and place, playing their
parts and vanishing, and to the old question "Why?" we may as well
answer, "For the glory of God"; if we will only conceive a big enough
glory, and a big enough God. His utter trust in things as they are
seemed a living embodiment of that sublime line in "Waiting"--

    "I stand amid the Eternal ways";

and, thus standing, he is content to let the powers that be have their
way with him.

"To all these mysteries I fall back upon the last words I heard Whitman
say, shortly before the end--commonplace words, but they sum it up:
'It's all right, John, it's all right'; but Whitman had the active,
sustaining faith in immortality--

   'I laugh at what you call dissolution,
    And I know the amplitude of time.'"

As the afternoon wanes, Mr. Burroughs hangs the kettle on the crane,
broils the chops, and with a little help from one of the guests, soon
has supper on the table, a discussion of Bergson's philosophy suffering
only occasional interruptions; such as, "Where _have_ those women
(summer occupants of Slabsides) put my holder?" or, "See if there isn't
some salt in the cupboard."

"There! I forgot to bring up eggs for breakfast, but here are other
things," he mutters as he rummages in his market-basket. "That memory of
mine is pretty tricky; sometimes I can't remember things any better than
I can find them when they are right under my nose. I've just found
a line from Emerson that I've been hunting for two days--'The worm
striving to be man.' I looked my Emerson through and through, and no
worm; then I found in Joel Benton's Concordance of Emerson that the line
was in 'May-Day'; he even cited the page, but my Emerson had no printing
on that page. I searched all through 'May-Day,' and still no worm; I
looked again with no better success, and was on the point of giving up
when I spied the worm--it almost escaped me--"

"It must have turned, didn't it?"

"Yes, the worm surely turned, or I never should have seen it," he

The feminine member of the trio wields the dish-mop while the host dries
the dishes, and the Dreamer before the fire luxuriates in the thought
that his help is not needed.

The talk on philosophy and religion does not make the host forget
to warm sheets and blankets and put hot bricks in the beds to insure
against the fast-gathering cold.

The firelight flickers on the bark-covered rafters, lighting up the
yellow-birch partition between living-room and bedroom downstairs, and
plays upon the rustic stairway that leads to the two rooms overhead, as
we sit before the hearth in quiet talk. Outside the moonlight floods
the great open space around the cabin, revealing outlines of the rocky
inclosure. No sounds in all that stillness without, and within only the
low voices of the friends, and the singing logs.

Mr. Burroughs tells of his visit, in October, to the graves of his
maternal grandparents:--

"They died in 1854, my first season away from home, and there they have
lain for fifty-seven years, and I had never been to their graves! I'm
glad I went; it made them live again for me. How plainly I could see the
little man in his blue coat with brass buttons, with his decidedly Irish
features! And Grandmother, a stout woman, with quaint, homely ways. The
moss is on their gravestones now, and two evergreen trees wax strong
above them. I found an indigo-bird had built her nest above their
graves. I broke off the branch and brought it home."

"There! get up and use that water before it freezes over," the host
calls out the next morning, as, mounting the stairs, he places a pitcher
of hot water by the door. It is bitter cold, one's fingers ache, and one
wonders if, after all, it is so much fun to live in a cabin in the woods
in the dead of winter. But a crackling fire below and savory smells of
bacon and coffee reconcile one, and the day begins right merrily.

And what a dinner the author sets before us! what fun to see him prepare
it, discussing meanwhile the glory that was Greece and the grandeur
that was Rome, recounting anecdotes of boyhood, touching on politics and
religion, on current events, on conflicting views of the vitalists and
the chemico-physicists, on this and on that, but never to the detriment
of his duck. It is true he did serenely fold his hands and wait, between
times. Then what an event to see him lift the smoking cover and try the
bird with a fork--" to see if the duck is relenting," he explains. At a
certain time he arises from a grave psychological discussion to rake out
hollow places in the coals where he buries potatoes and onions.

"The baking of an onion," he declares, "takes all the conceit out of
him. He is sweet and humble after his baptism of fire." Then the
talk soars above ducks and onions, until he gives one of the idlers
permission to prepare the salad and lay the table.

For a dinner to remember all one's days, commend me to a thoroughly
relented duck; a mealy, ash-baked potato; an onion (yea, several of
them) devoid of conceit, and well buttered and salted; and a salad
of Slabsides celery and lettuce; with Riverby apples and pears, and
beechnuts to complete the feast--beechnuts gathered in October up in
the Catskills, gathered one by one as the chipmunk gathers them, by the
"Laird of Woodchuck Lodge," as he is called on his native heath, though
he is one and the same with the master of Slabsides.

We hear no sounds all the day outside the cabin but the merry calls of
chickadees, until in mid-afternoon an unwelcome "Halloa!" tells us
the wagon is come to take us down to Riverby. Reluctantly the fire is
extinguished, and the wide, hospitable door of Slabsides closes behind

Riverby, "the house that Jack built," as the builder boasted, is a
house interesting and individual, though conforming somewhat to the
conventions of the time when it was built (1874). It is as immaculate
within as its presiding genius can make it, presenting a sharp contrast
to the easy-going housekeeping of the mountain cabin.

We tarry a few minutes in the little bark-covered study, detached from
the house and overlooking the Hudson, where Mr. Burroughs does his
writing when at home; we see the rustic summer-house near by, and the
Riverby vineyards, formerly husbanded by "the Vine-Dresser of Esopus,"
as his friends used to call him; now by his son Julian, who combines,
like his father before him, grape-growing with essay-writing.

A pleasant hour is spent in the artistic little cottage, planned and
built by the author and his son, where live Mr. Julian Burroughs and
his family. Here the grandfather has many a frolic with his three
grandchildren, who know him as "Baba." John Burroughs the younger is his
special pride. Who knows but the naturalist stands somewhat in awe of
his grandson?--for as the youngster reaches for his "Teddy," and says
sententiously, "Bear!" the elder never ventures a word about the dangers
of "sham natural history."

Boarding the West Shore train, laden with fruit and beechnuts and
pleasant memories, we return to the city's roar and whirl, dreaming
still of the calls of chickadees in the bare woods and of quiet hours
before the fire at Slabsides.


There has always been a haunting suggestiveness to me about the
expression _Rue du Temps Perdu_--the Street of Lost Time. Down this
shadowy vista we all come to peer with tear-dimmed eyes sooner or later.
Usually this pensive retrospection is the premonitory sign that one is
nearing the last milestone before the downhill side of life begins.
But to some this yearning backward glance comes early; they feel its
compelling power while still in the vigor of middle life. Why this is so
it is not easy to say, but imaginative, brooding natures who live much
in their emotions are prone to this chronic homesickness for the Past,
this ever-recurring, mournful retrospect, this tender, wistful gaze into
the years that are no more.

It is this tendency in us all as we grow older that makes us drift back
to the scenes of our youth; it satisfies a deep-seated want to look
again upon the once familiar places. We seek them out with an eagerness
wholly wanting in ordinary pursuits. The face of the fields, the hills,
the streams, the house where one was born--how they are invested with
something that exists nowhere else, wander where we will! In their
midst memories come crowding thick and fast; things of moment, critical
episodes, are mingled with the most trivial happenings; smiles and tears
and sighs are curiously blended as we stroll down the Street of Lost

While we are all more or less under this spell of the Past, some natures
are more particularly enthralled by it, even in the very zenith of life,
showing it to be of temperamental origin rather than the outcome of the
passing years. Of such a temperament is John Burroughs. Now, when the
snows of five-and-seventy winters have whitened his head, we do not
wonder when we hear him say, "Ah! the Past! the Past has such a hold on
me!" But even before middle life he experienced this yearning, even then
confessed that he had for many years viewed everything in the light of
the afternoon's sun--"a little faded and diluted, and with a
pensive tinge." "It almost amounts to a disease," he reflects, "this
homesickness which home cannot cure--a strange complaint. Sometimes when
away from the old scenes it seems as if I must go back to them, as if I
should find the old contentment and satisfaction there in the circle
of the hills. But I know I should not--the soul's thirst can never be
slaked. My hunger is the hunger of the imagination. Bring all my dead
back again, and place me amid them in the old home, and a vague longing
and regret would still possess me."

As early as his forty-fifth birthday he wrote in his Journal: "Indeed,
the Past begins to grow at my back like a great pack, and it seems as
if it would overwhelm me quite before I get to be really an old man.
As time passes, the world becomes more and more a Golgotha,--a place
of graves,--even if one does not actually lose by death his friends and
kindred. The days do not merely pass, we bury them; they are of us,
like us, and in them we bury our own image, a real part of ourselves."
Perhaps, among the poems of Mr. Burroughs, next to "Waiting" the verses
that have the most universal appeal are those of--

                  THE RETURN

    He sought the old scenes with eager feet--
       The scenes he had known as a boy;
    "Oh, for a draught of those fountains sweet,
       And a taste of that vanished joy!"

    He roamed the fields, he wooed the streams,
       His school-boy paths essayed to trace;
    The orchard ways recalled his dreams,
       The hills were like his mother's face.

    Oh, sad, sad hills! Oh, cold, cold hearth!
       In sorrow he learned this truth--
    One may return to the place of his birth,
       He cannot go back to his youth.

But a half-loaf is better than no bread, and Mr. Burroughs has now
yielded to this deep-seated longing for his boyhood scenes, and has gone
back to the place of his birth amid the Catskills; and one who sees him
there during the midsummer days--alert, energetic, curious concerning
the life about him--is almost inclined to think he has literally gone
back to his youth as well, for the boy in him is always coming to the

It was on the watershed of the Pepacton (the East Branch of the
Delaware), in the town of Roxbury, Delaware County, New York, that John
Burroughs was born, and there that he gathered much of the harvest of
his earlier books; it was there also that most of his more recent books
were written. Although he left the old scenes in his youth, his heart
has always been there. He went back many years ago and named one of his
books ("Pepacton") from the old stream, and he has now gone back and
arranged for himself a simple summer home on the farm where he first saw
the light.

Most of his readers have heard much of Slabsides, the cabin in the
wooded hills back of the Hudson, and of his conventional home, Riverby,
at West Park, New York; but as yet the public has heard little of his
more remote retreat on his native heath.

(Illustration of Woodchuck Lodge and Barn. From a photograph by Charles
S. Olcott)

For several years it has been his custom to slip away to the old home in
Delaware County on one pretext or another--to boil sap in the old
sugar bush and rejoice in the April frolic of the robins; to meander
up Montgomery Hollow for trout; to gather wild strawberries in the June
meadows and hobnob with the bobolinks; to saunter in the hemlocks in
quest of old friends in the tree-tops; and--yes, truth compels me to
confess--to sit in the fields with rifle in hand and wage war against
the burrowing woodchuck which is such a menace to the clover and
vegetables of the farmer.

In the summer of 1908, Mr. Burroughs rescued an old dwelling fast
going to decay which stood on the farm a half-mile from the Burroughs
homestead, and there, with friends, camped out for a few weeks, calling
the place, because of the neighbors who most frequented it, "Camp
Monax," or, in homelier language, "Woodchuck Lodge." In the succeeding
summers he has spent most of his time there. Though repairing and adding
many improvements, he has preserved the simple, primitive character of
the old house, has built a roomy veranda across its front, made tables,
bookcases, and other furniture of simple rustic character, and there in
summer he dwells with a few friends, as contented and serene a man as
can be found in this complicated world of to-day. There his old friends
seek him out, and new ones come to greet him. Artists and sculptors
paint and model him, and photographers carry away souvenirs of their

In order to withdraw himself completely during his working hours from
the domestic life, Mr. Burroughs instituted a study in the hay-barn, a
few rods up the hill from the house. A rough box, the top of which
is covered with manilla paper, an old hickory chair, and a hammock
constitute his furnishings. The hay carpet and overflowing haymows yield
a fragrance most acceptable to him, and through the great doorway he
looks out upon the unfrequented road and up to Old Clump, the mountain
in the lap of which his father's farm is cradled, the mountain which he
used to climb to salt the sheep, the mountain which is the haunt of the
hermit thrush. (His nieces and nephews at the old home always speak of
this songster as "Uncle John's bird.")

(Illustration of Mr. Burroughs in the Hay-Barn Study, Woodchuck Lodge.
From a photograph by R. J. H. DeLoach)

As I watched Mr. Burroughs start out morning after morning with his
market-basket of manuscripts on his arm, and briskly walk to his rude
study, I asked myself, "Is there another literary man anywhere, now
that Tolstoy has gone, who is so absolutely simple and unostentatious in
tastes and practice as is John Burroughs?" How he has learned to
strip away the husks and get at the kernels! How superbly he ignores
non-essentials! how free he is from the tyranny of things! There in the
comfort of the hills among which his life began, with his friends around
him, he rejoices in the ever-changing face of Nature, enjoys the fruits
of his garden, his forenoons of work, and the afternoons when friends
from near and far walk across the fields, or drive, or motor up to
Woodchuck Lodge; and best of all, he enjoys the peace that evening
brings--those late afternoon hours when the shadow of Old Clump is
thrown on the broad mountain-slope across the valley, and when the long,
silvery notes of the vesper sparrow chant "Peace, goodwill, and then
good-night." As the shadows deepen, he is wont to carry his Victor
out to the stone wall and let the music from Brahms's "Cradle Song" or
Schubert's "Serenade" float to us as we sit on the veranda, hushed into
humble gratitude for our share in this quiet life.

To see Mr. Burroughs daily amid these scenes; to realize how they are a
part of him, and how inimitably he has transferred them to his books;
to roam over the pastures, follow the spring paths, linger by the stone
walls he helped to build, sit with him on the big rock in the
meadow where as a boy he sat and dreamed; to see him in the everyday
life--hoeing in the garden, tiptoeing about the house preparing
breakfast while his guests are lazily dozing on the veranda; to eat
his corn-cakes, or the rice-flour pudding with its wild strawberry
accompaniment; to see him rocking his grandson in the old blue cradle
in which he himself was rocked; to picnic in the beech woods with him,
climb toward Old Clump at sunset and catch the far-away notes of the
hermit; to loll in the hammocks under the apple trees, or to sit in
the glow of the Franklin stove of a cool September evening while he and
other philosophic or scientific friends discuss weighty themes; to hear
his sane, wise, and often humorous comments on the daily papers, and his
absolutely independent criticism of books and magazines--to witness and
experience all this, and more, is to enjoy a privilege so rare that I
feel selfish unless I try to share it, in a measure, with less fortunate
friends of Our Friend.

(Illustration of Cradle in which John Burroughs was rocked. From a
photograph by Dr. John D. Johnson)

It has been my good fortune to spend many delightful summers with Mr.
Burroughs at his old home, and also at Woodchuck Lodge. On my first
visit he led me to a hilltop and pointed off toward a deep gorge where
the Pepacton, although it is a placid stream near Roxbury, rises amid
scenery wild and rugged. It drains this high pastoral country, where the
farms hang upon the mountainsides or lie across the long, sloping hills.
The look of those farms impressed me as the fields of England impressed
Mr. Burroughs--"as though upon them had settled an atmosphere of ripe
and loving husbandry." I was often reminded in looking upon them of that
line of Emerson's: "The day, immeasurably long, sleeps over the wide,
warm fields." There is a fresh, blue, cleansed appearance to the hills,
"like a newly-washed lamp chimney," as Mr. Burroughs sometimes said.

Our writer's overmastering attachment to his birthplace seems due
largely to the fact that the springs, the hills, and the wooded
mountains are inextricably blended with his parents and his youth. As he
has somewhere said, "One's own landscape comes in time to be a sort of
outlying part of him; he has sown himself broadcast upon it... planted
himself in the fields, builded himself in the stone walls, and evoked
the sympathy of the hills in his struggle."

From a hilltop he pointed off to the west and said, "Yonder is the
direction that my grandparents came, in the 1790's, from Stamford,
cutting a road through the woods, and there, over Batavia Hill, Father
rode when he went courting Mother."

Then we went up the tansy-bordered road, past the little graveyard,
and over to the site where his grandfather's first house stood. As
we wandered about the old stone foundations, his reminiscences were
interrupted by the discovery of a junco's nest. On the way back he
pointed across the wide valley to the West Settlement schoolhouse where
he and his brothers used to go, although his first school was in a
little stone building which is still standing on the outskirts of
Roxbury, and known thereabouts as "the old stone jug." Mr. Burroughs
remembers his first day in this school, and the little suit he wore, of
bluish striped cotton, with epaulets on the shoulders which flopped when
he ran. He fell asleep one day and tumbled off the seat, cutting his
head; he was carried to a neighboring farmhouse, and he still vividly
recalls the smell of camphor which pervaded the room when he regained
consciousness. He was about four years of age. He remembers learning
his "A-b ab's," as they were called, and just how the column of letters
looked in the old spelling-book; remembers sitting on the floor under
the desks and being called out once in a while to say his letters:
"Hen Meeker, a boy bigger than I was, stuck on _e_. I can remember the
teacher saying to him; 'And you can't tell that? Why, little Johnny
Burroughs can tell you what it is. Come, Johnny.' And I crawled out and
went up and said it was e, like a little man."

Up the hill a short distance from the old homestead he indicated the
"turn 'n the road," as it passes by the "Deacon Woods"; this, he said,
was his first journey into the world. He was about four years old when,
running away, he got as far as this turn; then, looking back and seeing
how far he was from the house, he became frightened and ran back crying.
"I have seen a young robin," he added, "do the very same thing on its
first journey from the nest."

"One of my earliest recollections," he said, "is that of lying on the
hearth one evening to catch crickets that Mother said ate holes in our
stockings--big, light-colored, long-legged house crickets, with long
horns; one would jump a long way.

"Another early recollection comes to me: one summer day, when I was
three or four years old, on looking skyward, I saw a great hawk sailing
round in big circles. I was suddenly seized with a panic of fear and hid
behind the stone wall.

"The very earliest recollection of my life is that of the 'hired girl'
throwing my cap down the steps, and as I stood there crying, I looked
up on the sidehill and saw Father with a bag slung across his shoulders,
striding across the furrows sowing grain. It was a warm spring day,
and as I looked hillward wistfully, I wished Father would come down
and punish the girl for throwing my cap down the stairs--little
insignificant things, but how they stick in the memory!"

"I see myself as a little boy rocking this cradle," said Mr. Burroughs,
as he indicated the quaint blue wooden cradle (which I had found in
rummaging through the attic at the old home, and had installed in
Woodchuck Lodge), "or minding the baby while Mother bakes or mends
or spins. I hear her singing; I see Father pushing on the work of the

Most of the soil in Delaware County is decomposed old red sandstone.
Speaking of this soil Mr. Burroughs said, "In the spring when the plough
has turned the turf, I have seen the breasts of these broad hills glow
like the breasts of robins." He is fond of studying the geology of the
region now. I have seen him dig away the earth the better to expose
the old glacier tracings, and then explain to his grandchildren how the
glaciers ages ago made the marks on the rocks. To me one of the finest
passages in his recent book "Time and Change" is one wherein he
describes the look of repose and serenity of his native hills, "as if
the fret and fever of life were long since passed with them." It is
a passage in which he looks at his home hills through the eye of
the geologist, but with the vision of the poet--the inner eye which
assuredly yields him "the bliss of solitude."

One evening as we sat in the kitchen at the old home, he described the
corn-shelling of the olden days: "I see the great splint basket with the
long frying-pan handle thrust through its ears across the top, held
down by two chairs on either end, and two of my brothers sitting in
the chairs and scraping the ears of corn against the iron. I hear the
kernels rattle, a shower of them falling in the basket, with now and
then one flying out in the room. With the cobs that lie in a pile beside
the basket I build houses, carrying them up till they topple, or till
one of the shelters knocks them over. Mother is sitting by, sewing, her
tallow dip hung on the back of a chair. Winter reigns without. How it
all comes up before me!"

He remembers when four or five years old crying over a thing which had
caused him deep chagrin: A larger boy--"the meanest boy I ever knew, and
he became the meanest man," he said with spirit--"found me sulking
under a tree in the corner of the school-yard; he bribed me with a slate
pencil into confessing what I was crying about, but as soon as I had
told him, he ran away with the pencil, shouting my secret to the other

One day we went 'cross lots after spearmint for jelly for the table at
Woodchuck Lodge, and an abandoned house near the mint-patches recalled
to Mr. Burroughs the first time he had heard the word "taste" used,
except in reference to food. The woman who had lived in this house,
while calling at his home and seeing his attempt at drawing
something, had said, "What taste that boy has!" "It made me open my
eyes--'taste'!--then there was another kind of taste than the one I knew
about--the taste of things I ate!"

At a place in the road near the old stone schoolhouse, he showed me
where, as a lad of thirteen, perhaps, he had stopped to watch some men
working the road, and had first heard the word "antiquities" used. "They
had uncovered and removed a large flat stone, and under it were other
stones, probably arranged by the hands of earlier roadmakers. David
Corbin, a man who had had some schooling, said, as they exposed the
earlier layers, 'Ah! here are antiquities!' The word made a lasting
impression on me."

(Illustration of View of the Catskills from Woodchuck Lodge. From a
photograph by Charles S. Olcott)

One of our favorite walks at sunset was up the hill beyond the old
home where the road winds around a neglected graveyard. From this high
vantage-ground one can see two of the Catskill giants--Double Top and
Mount Graham. It was not a favorite walk of the boy John Burroughs. He
told how, even in his early teens, at dusk, he would tiptoe around the
corner past the graveyard, afraid to run for fear a gang of ghosts would
be at his heels. "When I got down the road a ways, though, how I would
run!" He was always "scairy" if he had to come along the edge of the
woods alone at nightfall, and was even afraid of the big black hole
under the barn in the daytime: "I was tortured with the thought of what
might lurk there in that great black abyss, and would hustle through my
work of cleaning the stable, working like Hercules, and often sending in
'Cuff,' the dog, to scare 'em out."

Fed on stories of ghosts and hobgoblins in childhood, his active,
sensitive imagination became an easy prey to these fears. But we do
outgrow some things. In the summer of 1911 this grown-up boy waxed so
bold that he sat in the barn with its black hole underneath and wrote
of "The Phantoms Behind Us." There was still something Herculean in his
task; he looked boldly down into the black abysms of Time, not without
some shrinking, it is true, saw the "huge first Nothing," faced the
spectres as they rose before him, wrestled with them, and triumphantly
conquered by acknowledging each phantom as a friendly power--a creature
on whose shoulders he had raised himself to higher and higher levels;
he saw that though the blackness was peopled with uncouth and gigantic
forms, out of all these there at last arose the being Man, who could put
all creatures under his feet.

Along the road between the old home and Woodchuck Lodge are some rocks
which were the "giant stairs" of his childhood. On these he played,
and he is fond now of pausing and resting there as he recalls events of
those days.

"Are these rocks very old?" some one asked him one day.

"Oh, yes; they've been here since Adam was a kitten."

Whichever way he turns, memories of early days awaken; as he himself
has somewhere said in print, "there is a deposit of him all over the
landscape where he has lived."

As we have learned, Mr. Burroughs seems to have been more alive than
his brothers and playmates, to have had wider interests and activities.
When, a lad, he saw his first warbler in the "Deacon Woods," the
black-throated blue-back, he was excited and curious as to what the
strange bird could be (so like a visitant from another clime it seemed);
the other boys met his queries with indifference, but for him it was the
event of the day; it was far more, it was the keynote to all his days;
it opened his eyes to the life about him--here, right in the "Deacon
Woods," were such exquisite creatures! It fired him with a desire to
find out about them. That tiny flitting warbler! How far its little
wings have carried it! What an influence it has had on American
literature, and on the lives of readers for the past fifty years,
sending them to nature, opening their eyes to the beauty that is common
and near at hand! One feels like thanking the Giver of all good that
a little barefoot boy noted the warbler that spring day as it flitted
about in the beeches wood. Life has been sweeter and richer because of

Down the road a piece is the place where this boy made a miniature
sawmill, sawing cucumbers for logs. On this very rock where we sit he
used to catch the flying grasshoppers early of an August morning--"the
big brown fellows that fly like birds"; they would congregate here
during the night to avail themselves of the warmth of the rocks, and
here he would stop on his way from driving the cows to pasture, and
catch them napping.

Yonder in the field by a stone wall, under a maple which is no longer
standing, in his early twenties he read Schlemiel's "Philosophy of
History," one of the volumes which, when a youth, he had found in an old
bookstall in New York, on the occasion of his first trip there.

"Off there through what we used to call the 'Long Woods' lies the road
along which Father used to travel in the autumn when he took his butter
to Catskill, fifty miles away. Each boy went in turn. When it came my
turn to go, I was in a great state of excitement for a week beforehand,
for fear my clothes would not be ready, or else it would be too cold, or
that the world would come to an end before the time of starting. Perched
high on a spring-seat, I made the journey and saw more sights and
wonders than I have ever seen on a journey since."

On the drive up from the village he showed me the place, a mile or more
from their haunts on the breezy mountain lands, where the sheep were
driven annually to be washed. It was a deep pool then, and a gristmill
stood near by. He said he could see now the huddled sheep, and the
overhanging rocks with the phoebes' nests in the crevices.

"Down in the Hollow," as they call the village of Robbery, he drew my
attention to the building which was once the old academy, and where
he had his dream of going to school. He remembers as a lad of thirteen
going down to the village one evening to hear a man, McLaurie, talk up
the academy before there was one in Roxbury. "I remember it as if it
were yesterday; a few of the leading men of the village were there. I
was the only boy. I've wondered since what possessed me to go. In
his talk the man spoke of what a blessing it would be to boys of that
vicinity, pointing me out and saying, 'Now, like that boy, there.' I
recall how I dropped my head and blushed. He was a small man, very much
in earnest. When I heard of his death a few years ago, it gave me long,
long thoughts. He finally got the academy going, taught it, and had a
successful school there for several years, but I never got there. The
school in the West Settlement, Father thought, was good enough for me.
But my desire to go, and dreaming of it, impressed it and him upon me
more, perhaps, than the boys who really went were impressed. How outside
of it all I felt when I used to go down there to the school exhibitions!
It was after that that I had my dream of going to Harpersfield
Seminary--the very name had a romantic sound. Though Father had promised
me I might go, when the time came he couldn't afford it; he didn't mean
to go back on his word, but there was very little money--I wonder how
they got along so well as they did with so little."

"As a boy it had been instilled into my mind that God would strike one
dead for mocking him. One day Ras Jenkins and I were crossing this
field when it began to thunder. Ras turned up his lips to the clouds
contemptuously. 'Oh, don't, you'll be struck,' I cried, cringing in
expectation of the avenging thunderbolt. What a revelation it was when
he was not struck! I immediately began to think, 'Now, maybe God isn't
so easily offended as I thought'; but it seemed to me any God with
dignity ought to have been offended by such an act."

Mr. Burroughs showed me the old rosebush in the pasture, all that was
left to mark the site where a house had once stood; even before his
boyhood days this house had become a thing of the past. The roses,
though, had always been a joy to him, and had played such a part in his
early days that he had transplanted some of the old bush to a spot near
his doorsteps at Slabsides. Once when he sent me some of the roses he
wrote of them thus: "The roses of my boyhood! Take the first barefooted
country lad you see with homemade linen trousers and shirt, and ragged
straw hat, and put some of these roses in his hand, and you see me as
I was fifty-five years ago. They are the identical roses, mind you.
Sometime I will show you the bush in the old pasture where they grew."

One day we followed the course he and his brothers and sisters used to
take on their way to school. Leaving the highway near the old graveyard,
we went down across a meadow, then through a beech wood, and on through
the pastures in the valley along which a trout brook used to flow, on
across more meadows and past where a neglected orchard was, till we came
to where the little old schoolhouse itself stood.

How these trout streams used to lure him to play hookey! All the summer
noonings, too, were spent there. He spoke feelingly of the one that
coursed through the hemlocks--"loitering, log-impeded, losing itself in
the dusky, fragrant depths of the hemlocks." They used to play hookey
down at Stratton Falls, too, and get the green streaks in the old red
sandstone rocks to make slate pencils of, trying them on their teeth to
make sure they were soft enough not to scratch their slates. The woods
have been greatly mutilated in which they used to loiter on the way to
school and gather crinkle-root to eat with their lunches,--though they
usually ate it all up before lunch-time came, he said. In one of his
books Mr. Burroughs speaks of a schoolmate who, when dying, said, "I
must hurry, I have a long way to go over a hill and through a wood, and
it is getting dark." This was his brother Wilson, and he doubtless had
in mind this very course they used to take in going to school.

This school (where Jay Gould was his playmate) he attended only until he
was twelve years of age. A rather curious reciprocal help these two lads
gave each other--especially curious in the light of their subsequent
careers as writer and financier. The boy John Burroughs was one day
feeling very uncomfortable because he could not furnish a composition
required of him. Eight lines only were sufficient if the task was
completed on time, but the time was up and no line was written. This
meant being kept after school to write twelve lines. In this extremity.
Jay Gould came to his rescue with the following doggerel:--

    "Time is flying past,
    Night is coming fast,
    I, minus two, as you all know,
    But what is more
    I must hand o'er
    Twelve lines by night,
    Or stay and write.
    Just eight I've got
    But you know that's not
    Enough lacking four,
    But to have twelve
    It wants no more."

"I have never been able to make out what the third line meant," said Mr.
Burroughs. A few years later, when Jay Gould was hard up (he had left
school and was making a map of Delaware County), John Burroughs helped
him out by buying two old books of him, paying him eighty cents. The
books were a German grammar and Gray's "Elements of Geology." The embryo
financier was glad to get the cash, and the embryo writer unquestionably
felt the richer in possessing the books.

Mr. Burroughs loves to look off toward Montgomery Hollow and talk of the
old haunt. "I've taken many a fine string of trout from that stream," he
would say. One day he and his brother Curtis and I drove over there
and fished the stream, and he could hardly stay in the wagon the last
half-mile. "Isn't it time to get out now, Curtis?" he fidgeted every
little while. "Not yet, John,--not yet," said the more phlegmatic
brother. But it was August, and although the rapid mountain brook seemed
just the place for trout, the trout were not in their places. I shall
long remember the enticing stream, the pretty cascades, the high
shelving rocks sheltering the mossy nest of the phoebe, and the glowing
masses of bee-balm blooming beside the stream; yes, and the eagerness of
one of the fishermen as he slipped along ahead of me, dropping his hook
into the pools. Occasionally he would relinquish the rod, putting it
into my hands with a rare self-denial as we came to a promising pool;
but I was more deft at gathering bee-balm than taking trout, and
willingly spared the rod to the eager angler. And even he secured only
two troutling to carry back in his mint-lined creel.

"Trout streams gurgled about the roots of my family tree," he was wont
to say as he told of his grandfather Kelly's ardor for the pastime. One
day, in crossing the fields near the old home, he showed me the stone
wall where he and his grandfather tarried the last time they went
fishing together, he a boy of ten and his grandfather past eighty. As
they rested on the wall, the old man, without noticing it, sat on the
lad's hand as it lay on the wall. "It hurt," Mr. Burroughs said, "but I
didn't move till he got ready to get up."

It was a great pleasure to go through the old sap bush with Mr.
Burroughs, for there he always lives over again the days in early spring
when sugar-making was in progress. He showed where some of the old trees
once stood,--the grandmother trees,--and mourned that they were no more;
but some of the mighty maples of his boyhood are still standing, and
each recalls youthful experiences. He sometimes goes back there now in
early spring to re-create the idyllic days. Their ways of boiling sap
are different now, and he finds less poetry in the process. But the look
of the old trees, the laugh of the robins, and the soft nasal calls
of the nuthatch, he says, are the same as in the old times. "How these
sounds ignore the years!" he exclaimed as a nuthatch piped in the
near-by trees.

Sometimes he would bring over to Woodchuck Lodge from the homestead a
cake of maple sugar from the veteran trees, and some of the maple-sugar
cookies such as his mother used to make; though he eats sparingly of
sweets nowadays. Yet, when he and a small boy would clear the table and
take the food down cellar, it was no uncommon thing to see them emerge
from the stairway, each munching one of those fat cookies, their eyes
twinkling at the thought that they had found the forbidden sweets we had
hidden so carefully.

He and this lad of eleven were great chums; they chased wild bees
together, putting honey on the stone wall, getting a line on the bees;
shelled beechnuts and cracked butternuts for the chipmunks; caught
skunks in a trap, just to demonstrate that a skunk can be carried by the
tail with impunity, if you only do it right (and, though succeeding one
day, got the worst of the bargain the next); and waged war early and
late on the flabby woodchucks which one could see almost any hour in the
day undulating across the fields. We called these boys "John of Woods,"
and "John of Woodchucks"; and it was sometimes difficult to say which
was the veriest boy, the one of eleven or the one of seventy-four.

One morning I heard them laughing gleefully together as they were
doing up the breakfast work. Calling out to learn the cause of their
merriment, I found the elder John had forgotten to eat his egg--he had
just found it in his coat-pocket, having put it in there to carry from
the kitchen to the living-room.

He often amused us by his recital of Thackeray's absurd "Little Billee,"
and by the application of some of the lines to events in the life at
Woodchuck Lodge.

(Illustration of Living-Room, Woodchuck Lodge, with Rustic Furniture
made by Mr. Burroughs. From a photograph by M. H. Fanning)

As the evenings grew longer and cooler, we would gather about the table
and Mr. Burroughs would read aloud, sometimes from Bergson's "Creative
Evolution," under the spell of which he was the entire summer of 1911,
sometimes from Wordsworth, sometimes from Whitman. "No other English
poet has touched me quite so closely," he said, "as Wordsworth.... But
his poetry has more the character of a message, and a message special
and personal, to a comparatively small circle of readers." As he read
"The Poet's Epitaph" one evening, I was impressed with the strong
likeness the portrait there drawn has to Mr. Burroughs:--

    "The outward shows of sky and earth,
       Of hill and valley, he has viewed;
    And impulses of deeper birth
       Have come to him in solitude.

    In common things that round us lie
       Some random truths he can impart,--
    The harvest of a quiet eye
       That broods and sleeps on his own heart."

What are the books, and notably the later philosophical essays, of Mr.
Burroughs but the "harvest of a quiet eye"? His "Summit of the Years,"
his "Gospel of Nature" (which one of his friends calls "The Gospel
according to Saint John"), his "Noon of Science," his "Long Road"?
And most of this rich harvest he has gathered in his journeys back to
Pepacton, inspired by the scenes amid which he first felt the desire to

Seeing him daily in these scenes, one feels that it may, indeed, be said
of him as Matthew Arnold said of Sophocles, that he sees life steadily,
and sees it whole. What a masterly handling is his of the facts of the
universe, giving his reader the truths of the scientist touched with an
idealism such as is only known to the poet's soul! A friend, writing me
of "The Summit of the Years," spoke of "its splendid ascent by a rapid
crescendo from the personal to the cosmic," and of how gratifying it is
to see our author putting forth such fine work in his advancing years.
Another friend called it "a beautiful record of a beautiful life."
I recall the September morning on which he began that essay. He had
written the first sentence--"The longer I live, the more I am impressed
with the beauty and the wonder of the world"--when he was interrupted
for a time. He spoke of what he had written, and said he hardly knew
what he was going to make of it. Later in the day he brought me a large
part of the essay to copy, and I remember how moved I was at its beauty,
how grateful that I had been present at its inception and birth.

One afternoon he called us from our separate work, the artist from
her canvas and me from my typewriter, to look at a wonderful rainbow
spanning the wide valley below us. The next day he brought me a short
manuscript saying, "If that seems worth while to you, you may copy
it--I don't know whether there is anything in it or not." It was "The
Rainbow," which appeared some months later in a popular magazine--a
little gem, and a good illustration of his ability to throw the witchery
of the ideal around the facts of nature. The lad with us had been
learning Wordsworth's "Rainbow," a favorite of Mr. Burroughs, and it
was no unusual thing of a morning to hear the rustic philosopher while
frying the bacon for breakfast, singing contentedly in a sort of tune of
his own making:--

    "And I could wish my days to be
     Bound each to each by natural piety."

One afternoon a neighbor came and took him in her automobile a ride of
fifty miles or more, the objective point of which was Ashland, the place
where he had attended a seminary in 1854 and 1855. On his return he said
it seemed like wizard's work that he could be whisked there and back
in one afternoon, to that place which had been the goal of his youthful
dreams! They had also called on a schoolmate whom he had not seen for
forty years. He told us how a possession of that boy's had been a thing
he had coveted for many months--a slate pencil with a shining copper
gun-cap! "How I longed for that pencil! I tried to trade for buttons
(all I had to offer in exchange), but it was too precious for my small
barter, and I coveted it in vain." The wistful Celt began early to sigh
for the unattainable.

We picked wild strawberries in June from the "clover lot" where the boy
John Burroughs and his mother used to pick them. "I can see her now," he
said reminiscently, "her bent figure moving slowly in the summer fields
toward home with her basket filled. She would also go berrying on
Old Clump, in early haying, long after the berries were gone in the

During this summer of which I speak, the fields were a gorgeous mass of
color--buttercups and daisies, and the orange hawkweed--a display that
rivaled the carpet of gold and purple we had seen in the San Joaquin
Valley, in company with John Muir three summers before. Mr. Muir was
done before starting for South America. He had promised to come to the
Catskills, but had to keep putting it off to get copy ready, and the
Laird of Woodchuck Lodge was exasperated that the mountaineer would
stay in that hot Babylon,--he, the lover of the wild,--when we in the
Delectable Mountains were calling him hither. As we looked upon the riot
of color one day, Mr. Burroughs said, "John Muir, confound him! I wish
he was here to see this at its height!"

Returning to the little gray farmhouse in the gathering dusk one late
September day, Mr. Burroughs paused and turned, looking back at the old
home, and up at the cattle silhouetted against the horizon. He gazed
upon the landscape long and long. How fondly his eye dwells upon these
scenes! So I have seen him look when about to part from a friend--as if
he were trying to fix the features and expression in his mind forever.

"The older one grows, the more the later years erode away, as do the
secondary rocks, and one gets down to bed-rock,--youth,--and there he
wants to rest. These scenes make youth and all the early life real to
me, the rest is more like a dream. How incredible it is!--all that is
gone; but here it lives again."

(Illustration of On the Porch at Woodchuck Lodge. From a photograph by
Charles S. Olcott)

And yet, though he is face to face with the past at his old home, his
days there are not so sad as some of his reminiscent talk would seem to
indicate. In truth, he is serenely content, so much so that he sometimes
almost chides himself for living so much in the present. "Oh, the power
of a living reality to veil or blot out the Past!" he sighed. "And yet,
is it not best so? Does not the grass grow above graves? Why should
these lovely scenes always be a cemetery to me? There seems to have been
a spell put upon them that has laid the ghosts, and I am glad." And to
see him bird-nesting with his grandchildren, hunting in the woods for
crooked sticks for his rustic furniture, waking the echo in the "new
barn" (a barn that was new in 1844), routing out a woodchuck from a
stone wall, blackberrying on the steep hillsides, or going a half-mile
across the fields just to smell the fragrance of the buckwheat bloom, is
to know that, wistful Celt that he is, and dominated by the spell of
the Past, he is yet very much alive to the Present, out of which he is
probably getting as full a measure of content as any man living to-day.

He looked about him at the close of his first stay at Woodchuck Lodge
after the completion of the repairs which had made the house so homelike
and comfortable, and said contentedly: "A beautiful dream come true! And
to think I've stayed down there on the Hudson all these years with never
the home feeling, when here were my native hills waiting to cradle me
as they did in my youth, and I so slow to return to them! I've been
homesick for over forty years: I was an alien there; I couldn't take
root there. It was a lucky day when I decided to spend the rest of my
summers here"


In February, 1909, I was one of a small party which set out with Mr.
Burroughs for the Pacific Coast and the Hawaiian Islands. The lure held
out to him by the friend who arranged his trip was that John Muir
would start from his home at Martinez, California, and await him at
the Petrified Forests in Arizona; conduct him through, that weirdly
picturesque region, and in and around the Grand Canon of the Colorado;
camp and tramp with him in the Mojave Desert; tarry awhile in Southern
California; then visit Yosemite before embarking on the Pacific
preparatory to lotus-eating in Hawaii. The lure held out to the more
obscure members of the party was all that has been enumerated, plus that
of having these two great, simple men for traveling companions. To see
the wonders of the Southwest is in itself great good fortune, but to
see them in company with these two students of nature, and to study
the students while the students were studying the wonders, was an
incalculable privilege.

It frightens me now when I think on what a slight chance hung our
opportunity for this unique Journey; for Mr. Burroughs, though at first
deciding to go, had later given it up, declaring himself to be too much
of a tenderfoot to go so far from home alone at his age.

"Why should I go gadding about to see the strange and the
extraordinary?" he wrote me, when trying to argue himself into
abandoning the trip. "The whole gospel of my books (if they have any
gospel) is 'Stay at home; see the wonderful and the beautiful in the
simple things all about you; make the most of the common and the near at
hand.' When I have gone abroad, I have carried this spirit with me,
and have tested what I have seen by the nature revealed to me at my own
doorstep. Well, I am glad I have triumphed at last; I feel much better
and like writing again, now that this incubus is off my shoulders." But
the incubus soon rested on him again, for the next mail carried a letter
begging him to reconsider and let two of his women friends accompany
him. So it all came about in a few days, and we were off.

We wondered how Mr. Muir would relish two women being in the party, but
assured Mr. Burroughs we should not hamper them, and should be ready to
do whatever they were.

"Have no fears on that score," he said; "Muir will be friendly if
you are good listeners; and he is well worth listening to. He is very
entertaining, but he sometimes talks when I want to be let alone; at
least he did up in Alaska."

"But you won't be crusty to him, will you?"

"Oh, no, I shan't dare to be--he is too likely to get the best of one;
he is a born tease."

The long journey across the Western States (by the Santa Fe route) was
full of interest at every point. Even the monotony of the Middle West
was not wearisome, while the scenery and scenes in New Mexico and
Arizona were fascinating in the extreme.

Mr. Burroughs had been to the Far West by a northern route, but this was
all fresh territory to him, and he brought to it his usual keen appetite
for new phases of nature, made still keener by a recently awakened
interest in geological subjects. It enhanced the pleasure and profit
of the trip a hundredfold to get his first impressions of the moving
panorama, as I did when he dictated notes to me from his diary, or
descriptive letters to his wife and son. The impression one gets out
there of earth sculpture in process is one of the chief attractions of
the region, and Mr. Burroughs never tired of studying the physiognomy
of the land, and the overwhelming evidences of time and change, and of
contrasting these with our still older, maturer landscapes in the East.

In passing through Kansas he commented on the monotonous level expanse
of country as being unbearable from any point of view except as good
farm land. Used to hills and mountains, inviting brooks and winding
roads, he turned away from this unpicturesque land, saying if it was a
good place to make money, it was also a place to lose one's own soul--he
was already homesick for the beauty and diversity of our more winsome

Two days' journey from Chicago and we reached the desert town of
Adamana. As the train stopped near the little inn, a voice called out in
the darkness, "Hello, Johnnie, is that you?"

"Yes, John Muir"; and there under the big dipper, on the great Arizona
desert, the two friends met after a lapse of ten years.

"Muir, aren't you surprised to find me with two women in my wake?" asked
Mr. Burroughs, introducing us.

"Yes; surprised that there are only two, Johnnie." Then to us, "Up in
Alaska there were a dozen or two following him around, tucking him up in
steamer rugs, putting pillows to his head, running to him with a flower,
or a description of a bird--Oh, two is a very moderate number, Johnnie,
but we'll manage to worry through with them, somehow." And picking up
part of our luggage, the tall, grizzly Scot led the way to the inn.

The next day we drove nine miles over the rolling desert to visit one of
the petrified forests, of which there are five in that vicinity. Blended
with the unwonted scenes--the gray sands dotted with sagebrush and
greasewood, the leaping jack rabbits, the frightened bands of half-wild
horses, the distant buttes and mesas, and the brilliant blue of the
Arizona sky--is the memory of that talk of Mr. Muir's during the long
drive, a talk which for range and raciness I have never heard equaled.
He often uses the broad dialect of the Scot, translating as he
goes along. His forte is in monologue. He is a most engaging
talker,--discursive, grave and gay,--mingling thrilling adventures,
side-splitting anecdotes, choice quotations, apt characterizations,
scientific data, enthusiastic descriptions, sarcastic comments, scornful
denunciations, inimitable mimicry.

Mr. Burroughs, on the contrary, is not a ready talker; he gives of his
best in his books. He establishes intimate relations with his reader,
Mr. Muir with his listener. He is more fond of an interchange of ideas
than is Mr. Muir; is not the least inclined to banter or to get the
better of one; is so averse to witnessing discomfiture that even when
forced into an argument, he is loath to push it to the bitter end. Yet
when he does engage in argument, he drives things home with very telling
force, especially when writing on debatable points.

As we drove along the desert, Mr. Muir pointed to a lofty plateau toward
which we were tending,--"Robbers' Roost,"--where sheep-stealers
hie themselves, commanding the view for hundreds of miles in every
direction. I wish I could make vivid the panorama we saw from this
vantage-ground--the desert in the foreground, and far away against the
sky the curiously carved pink and purple and lilac mountains, while
immediately below us lay the dry river-bed over which a gaunt raven
flew and croaked ominously, and a little beyond rose the various buttes,
mauve and terra-cotta colored, from whose sides and at whose bases
projected the petrified trees. There lay the giant trees, straight and
tapering--no branching as in our trees of to-day. The trunks are often
flattened, as though they had been under great pressure, often the very
bark seemed to be on them (though it was petrified bark), and on some
we saw marks of insect tracery like those made by the borers of to-day.
Some of the trunks were more than one hundred and fifty feet long, and
five to seven feet in diameter, prostrate but intact, looking as though
uprooted where they lay. Others were broken at regular intervals, as
though sawed into stove lengths. In places the ground looks like a
chip-yard, the chips dry and white as though bleached by the sun. The
eye is deceived; chips these surely are, you think, but the ear corrects
this impression, for as your feet strike the fragments, the clinking
sound proves that they are stone. In some of the other forests, visited
later, the chips and larger fragments, and the interior of the trunks,
are gorgeously colored, so that we walked on a natural mosaic of jasper,
chalcedony, onyx, and agate. In many fragments the cell-structure of
the wood is still visible, but in others nature has carried the process
further, and crystallization has transformed the wood of these old,
old trees into the brilliant fragments we can have for the
carrying--"beautiful wood replaced by beautiful stone," as Mr. Muir was
fond of saying.

With what wonder and incredulity we roamed about witnessing the strange
spectacle!--the prostrate monarchs with hearts of jasper and chalcedony,
now silent and rigid in this desolate region where they basked in the
sunlight and swayed in the winds millions of years ago. Only a small
part of the old forest is as yet exposed; these trees, buried for ages
beneath the early seas, becoming petrified as they lay, are, after ages
more, gradually being unearthed as the softer parts of the soil covering
them wears away.

The scenic aspects of the place, the powerful appeal it made to the
imagination, the evidences of infinite time, the wonderful metamorphosis
from vegetable life to these petrified remains which copy so faithfully
the form and structure of the living trees, were powerfully enhanced by
the sight of these two men wandering amid these ruins of Carboniferous
time, sometimes in earnest conversation, oftener in silence; again in
serious question from the one and perhaps bantering answer from the
other; for although Mr. Burroughs was intensely interested in this
spectacle, and full of cogitations and questions as to the cause and
explanation of it all, Mr. Muir was not disposed to treat questions

"Oh, get a primer of geology, Johnnie," he would say when the earnest
Eastern student would ask for a solution of some of the puzzles arising
in his mind--a perversity that was especially annoying, since the Scot
had carefully explored these regions, and was doubtless well equipped to
adduce reasonable explanations had he been so minded. That very forest
to which we went on that first day, and where we ate our luncheon from
the trunk of a great petrified Sigillaria, had been discovered by Mr.
Muir and his daughter a few years before as they were riding over the
sandy plateau. He told us how excited he was that night--he could not
sleep, but lay awake trying to restore the living forest in imagination,
for, from the petrified remains, he could tell to what order these
giants belonged.

When others congregate to eat, the Scot seems specially impelled to
talk. With a fine disregard for food, he sat and crumbled dry bread,
occasionally putting a bit in his mouth, talking while the eating
was going on. He is likewise independent of sleep. "Sleep!" he would
exclaim, when the rest of us, after a long day of sight-seeing, would
have to yield to our sense of fatigue, "why, you can sleep when you get
back home, or, at least, in the grave."

Mr. Burroughs, on the contrary, is specially dependent upon sleep and
food in order to do his work or to enjoy anything. On our arrival at the
Grand Canon in the morning, after a night of travel and fasting, all the
rest of us felt the need of refreshing ourselves and taking breakfast
before we would even take a peep at the great rose-purple abyss out
there a few steps from the hotel, but the teasing Scot jeered at us for
thinking of eating when there was that sublime spectacle to be seen.
When we did go out to the rim, Mr. Muir preceded us, and, as we
approached, waved toward the great abyss and said: "There! Empty your
heads of all vanity, and look!" And we did look, overwhelmed by what
must be the most truly sublime spectacle this earth has to offer--a
veritable terrestrial Book of Revelation, as Mr. Burroughs said.

We followed a little path along the rim, led by Mr. Muir, to where we
could escape from the other sight-seers, and there we sat on the rocks,
though the snow lay in patches on the ground that bright February day.
Mr. Burroughs made a fire of Juniper brush, and as the fragrant incense
rose on the air, with that wondrous spectacle before our eyes, we
listened to Mr. Muir reciting some lines from Milton--almost the only
poet one would think of quoting in the presence of such solemn, awful

Mr. Muir tried to dissuade us the next day from going down into the
canon: "Don't straddle a mule and poke your noses down to the ground,
and plunge down that dangerous icy trail, imagining, because you get a
few shivers down your backs, you are seeing the glories of the canon, or
getting any conception of the noble river that made it. You must climb,
climb, to see the glories, always." But when Mr. Burroughs would ask him
where we could climb to, to see the canon, since under his guidance
we had been brought to the very edge on the top, he did not deign to
explain, but continued to deride the project of the descent into the
depths--a way the dear man has of meeting an argument that is a bit
annoying at times.

We did go down into the canon on mule-back,--down, down, over four
thousand feet,--and the jeering Scot went with us, sitting his mule
uncompromisingly, and indulging in many a jest at the expense of the
terrified women who felt, when too late to retreat, that it would have
been better to heed his advice. Still, after the descent, and then
the ascent, were safely accomplished, we were glad we had not let him
dissuade us. None of us can ever forget that day, with its rich and
varied experiences, the mingled fear and awe and exultation, the
overpowering emotions felt at each new revelation of the stupendous
spectacle, often relieved by the lively sallies of Mr. Muir. We ate
our luncheon on the old Cambrian plateau, the mighty Colorado, still a
thousand feet below us, looking entirely inadequate to have accomplished
the tremendous results we were witnessing.

One day at the canon, feeling acutely aware of our incalculable
privilege, I said, "To think of having the Grand Canon, and John
Burroughs and John Muir thrown in!"

"I wish Muir _was_ thrown in, sometimes," retorted Mr. Burroughs, with a
twinkle in his eye, "when he gets between me and the canon."

In contrast to Mr. Muir, the Wanderer, is Mr. Burroughs, the Home-lover,
one who is under the spell of the near and the familiar. The scenes of
his boyhood in the Catskills, the woods he wandered in about Washington
during the years he dwelt there, his later tramping-ground along the
Hudson--these are the scenes he has made his readers love because he has
loved them so much himself; and however we may enjoy his journeyings in
"Mellow England," in "Green Alaska," in Jamaica, or his philosophical
or speculative essays, we find his stay-at-home things the best. And he
likes the familiar scenes and things the best, much as he enjoyed the
wonders that the great West offered. The robins in Yosemite Valley and
the skylarks in the Hawaiian Islands, because these were a part of his
earlier associations, did more to endear these places to him than did
the wonders themselves. On Hawaii, where we saw the world's greatest
active volcano throwing up its fountains of molten lava sixty or more
feet high, the masses falling with a roar like that of the "husky-voiced
sea," Mr. Burroughs found it difficult to understand why some of us were
so fascinated that we wanted to stay all night, willing to endure the
discomforts of a resting-place on lava rocks, occasional stifling gusts
of sulphur fumes, dripping rain, and heat that scorched our veiled
faces, so long as we could gaze on that boiling, tumbling, heaving,
ever-changing lake of fire. Such wild, terrible, unfamiliar beauty could
not long hold him under its spell.

(Illustration of John Muir and John Burroughs, Pasadena, California.
From a photograph by George R. King)

A veritable homesickness came over him amid unfamiliar scenes. One day
in early March, after journeying all day over the strange region of the
California desert, with its giant cacti, its lava-beds, its volcanic
cones, its rugged, barren mountains, its deep gorges and canons, its
snow-capped peaks, on reaching San Bernardino, so green and fresh and
smiling in the late afternoon sun, and riding through miles and miles
of orange groves to Riverside, this return to a winsome nature (though
unlike his own), after so much of the forbidding aspect had been before
us, was to Mr. Burroughs like water brooks to the thirsty hart.

His abiding love for early friends, too, crops out on all occasions.
Twice while away on this trip be received the proffer of honorary
degrees from two of our American universities. Loath to accept such
honors at any time, he was especially so now, and declined, defending
himself by saying that the acceptance would have necessitated his
hurrying straight home across the States to have the degrees conferred
upon him, when he was planning to tarry in Iowa and see an old

"I didn't want to do it," he said petulantly; "I wanted to stop and see
Sandy Smith"--his tone being not unlike what he would have used when as
a boy he doubtless coaxed to "go out and play with Sandy."

Mr. Burroughs is too much a follower of the genuinely simple life to be
long contented in hotels, however genial the hospitality. He declared
the elegant suite at the Mission Inn at Riverside, which was tendered
to him and his party in the most cordial, unobtrusive way, was too
luxurious for a "Slabsider" like him. It was positively painful to him
to be asked, as he was frequently on the Western and Hawaiian tour, to
address audiences, or "just to come and meet the students" at various
schools and colleges. Such meetings usually meant being "roped in" to
making a speech, often in spite of assurances to the contrary. I have
known him to slip away from a men's club early in the evening, before
dinner was announced, and return to our little cottage in Pasadena,
where he would munch contentedly an uncooked wafer, drink a cup of hot
water, read a little geology, and go to bed at the seasonable hour of
nine, the next morning awakening with a keen appetite for the new day,
for his breakfast, and for his forenoon of work, whereas, had he stayed
out till eleven or twelve, eaten a hearty dinner, and been stimulated
and excited by much talk, he would have awakened without the joy in the
morning which he has managed to carry through his seventy-six years, and
which his readers, who rejoice in the freshness and tranquillity of his
pages, hope he will keep till he reaches the end of the Long Road.

Mr. Muir is as averse to speaking in public as is Mr. Burroughs, much as
he likes to talk. They both dislike the noise and confusion of cities,
and what we ordinarily mean by social life. Mr. Burroughs is less an
alien in cities than is Mr. Muir, yet, on the whole, he is more of a
solitaire, more of a recluse. He avoids men where the other seeks them.
He cannot deal or dicker with men, but the canny Scot can do this, if
need be, and even enjoy it. Circumstances seem to have made Mr. Muir
spend most of his years apart from his fellows, although by nature he
is decidedly gregarious; circumstances seem to have decreed that Mr.
Burroughs spend the greater part of his life among his fellow-men,
though there is much of the hermit in his make-up.

Mr. Muir gets lost in cities--this man who can find his way on the
trackless desert, the untrodden glaciers, and in the most remote and
inaccessible mountain heights. He will never admit that his wanderings
were lonely: "You can always have the best part of your friends with
you," he said; "it is only when people cease to love that they are

One Sunday in Pasadena we had planned to have a picnic up one of the
canons, but the rain decreed otherwise. So, discarding tables and other
appurtenances of life within doors, we picnicked on the floor of our
sitting-room, making merry there with the luncheon we had prepared
for the jaunt. While passing back and forth through the room in our
preparations, we heard the men of the party talk in fragments, and
amusing fragments they were. Once when Mr. Browne, the editor of
the "Dial," was discussing some point in connection with the
Spanish-American War, I heard Mr. Muir say, with a sigh of relief, "I
was getting flowers up on the Tuolumne meadows then, and didn't have to
bother about those questions." When another friend was criticizing Mr.
Roosevelt for the reputed slaughter of so many animals in Africa, and
Mr. Burroughs declared he did not credit half the things the papers said
the hunter was doing, Mr. Muir said, half chidingly, half tolerantly,
"Roosevelt, the muggins, I am afraid he is having a good time putting
bullets through those friends of his." Now I had heard him call Mr.
Burroughs "You muggins" in the same winning, endearing way he said
"Johnnie"; I had heard him speak of a petrified tree in the Sigillaria
forest as a "muggins"; of a bear that trespassed on his flowery domains
in the Sierra meadows as a "muggins" that he tried to look out of
countenance and failed; of a "comical little muggins of a daisy" that
some one had named after him; and one day he had rejoiced my heart by
dubbing me "You muggins, you"; and behold! here he was now applying the
elastic term to our many-sided (I did not say "strenuous") ex-President!
Later I heard him apply it to a Yosemite waterfall, and by then should
not have been surprised to hear him speak of a mighty glacier, or a
giant sequoia, as a "muggins."

"Stickeen," Mr. Muir's incomparable dog story, came out in book form
while we were in Pasadena. I sent a copy to my brother, who wrote later
asking me to inquire of Mr. Muir why he did not keep Stickeen after
their perilous adventures together. So I put the question to him one
day. "Keep him!" he ejaculated, as he straightened his back, and the
derisive wrinkles appeared on one side of his nose; "keep him! he wasn't
mine--I'm Scotch, I never steal." Then he explained that Stickeen's real
master was attached to him; that he could not take him from him; and
besides, the dog was accustomed to a cold climate, and would have been
very unhappy in California. "Oh, no, I couldn't keep Stickeen," he said
wistfully, but one felt that he _had_ kept Stickeen, the best part of
him, by immortalizing him in that story.

While we were housekeeping in Pasadena, Mr. Burroughs began writing on
the Grand Canon. One morning, after having disposed of several untimely
callers, he had finally settled down to work. We sat around the big
table writing or reading. Mr. Burroughs was there in the body, but
in spirit we could see he was at the "Divine Abyss," as he called
the Canon. Once he read us a few sentences which were so good that I
resolved we must try harder to prevent interruptions, that he might
keep all his writing up to that standard. But while engaged in
letter-writing, some point arose, and, forgetting my laudable
resolution, I put a question to him. Answering me abstractedly, he went
on with his writing. Then I realized how inexcusable it was to intrude
my trivialities at such a time. Castigating myself and resolving anew,
I wrote on in contrite silence. After a little Mr. Burroughs paused and
lifted his head; his expression was puzzled, as though wrestling with
some profound thought, or weighing some nicety of expression; I saw he
was about to speak--perhaps to utter his latest impression concerning
the glories of the Canon. As he opened his lips this is what we heard:
"_Couldn't we warm up those Saratoga chips for luncheon?_" Whereupon
it will be seen that the abyss he was then cogitating about was in the
epigastric region, instead of in Arizona.

Mr. Muir likes a laugh at his own expense. He told us of a
school-teacher in the vicinity of his home instructing her pupils about
Alaska and the glaciers; and on telling them that the great Muir Glacier
was named after their neighbor, who discovered it, one little boy piped
up with, "What, not that old man that drives around in a buggy!"

I may as well offset this with one of our Hawaiian experiences. When we
were in Honolulu, we heard that one of the teachers there, thinking
to make a special impression upon her pupils, told them the main facts
about Mr. Burroughs's writings, their scope and influence, what he stood
for as a nature writer, his place in literature, and then described his
appearance, and said, "And this noted man, this great nature lover, is
right here--a guest in our city!" A little lad broke in with, "I know--I
saw him yesterday--he was in our yard stealing mangoes."

One day, while still in Pasadena, I told Mr. Muir that on April 3d a few
of us wished to celebrate Mr. Burroughs's birthday, his seventy-second,
by a picnic up one of the Mount Lowe canons. He said it would be
impossible for him to be with us on that day, as he had to go up to
San Francisco. On my expressing keen disappointment he teasingly
said:--"Why, you will have Johnnie, and Mr. Browne, and the
mountains--what more do you want?"

"But we want _you_," I protested, assuring him that this was not a case
where one could say,--

    "How happy could I be with either,
     Were t'other dear Johnnie away!"

"Well, then, why can't you have it some other day?"

"Because he wasn't born some other day."

"But why must you be tied to the calendar? Can't you celebrate Johnnie's
birthday a few days later just as well? Such a stickler for the exact
date as you are, I never saw."

Thus he bantered, but when he had to leave us, we knew he was as
disappointed as we all were that he could not be with us on that "exact

How he did enjoy hectoring us for our absurd mistake in not reading our
long tickets through, consequently getting on the Santa Fe train to go
up to San Francisco when a little coupon stated that the ticket took us
by the Coast line. We were bound to let the Scot know of our mistake,
and our necessary transfer to the other road (as we had arranged to
meet him at a certain point on the Santa Fe), else, I suppose, we never
should have given him that chance to jeer at us. He made us tell him all
about it when we met, and shaking with laughter at all the complications
the mistake entailed, he declared, "Oh, but that's a bully story!"

"It'll put an inch of fat on Muir's ribs," retorted "Oom John," who was
not without chagrin at the fiasco.

"Johnnie, when you sail for Honolulu, I expect, unless you're narrowly
watched, you'll get on the wrong ship and go off to Vancouver," teased
the fun-loving Scot.

In Yosemite, Mr. Muir told us about the great trees he used to saw into
timber during his early years in the valley, showing us the site of his
old mill, and bragging that he built it and kept it in repair at a cost
of less than twenty-five cents a year. It seemed strange that he, a
tree-lover, could have cut down those noble spruces and firs, and I
whispered this to Mr. Burroughs.

"Ask him about it," said the latter, "ask him." So I did.

"Bless you, I never cut down the trees--I only sawed those the Lord had

The storms that swept down the mountains had laid these monarchs low,
and the thrifty Scot had merely taken advantage of the ill winds, at the
same time helping nature to get rid of the debris.

"How does this compare with Esopus Valley, Johnnie?" Mr. Muir was fond
of asking Mr. Burroughs, when he saw the latter gazing in admiration at
mighty El Capitan, or the thundering Yosemite Falls. Or he would say,
"How is that for a piece of glacial work, Johnnie?" as he pointed to
Half Dome and told how the glacier had worn off at least half a mile
from its top, and then had sawed right down through the valley.

"O Lord! that's too much, Muir," answered Mr. Burroughs. He declared
that it stuck in his crop--this theory that ice alone accounts for this
great valley cut out of the solid rocks. When the Scot would get to
riding his ice-hobby too hard, Mr. Burroughs would query, "But, Muir,
the million years before the ice age--what was going on here then?'

"Oh, God knows," said Mr. Muir, but vouchsafed no further explanation.

(Illustration of John Burroughs and John Muir in the Yosemite. From a
photograph by F. P. Clatworthy)

"With my itch for geology," said Mr. Burroughs, "I want it scratched
all the time, and Muir doesn't want to scratch it." So he dropped his
questions, which elicited only bantering answers from the mountaineer,
and gave himself up to sheer admiration of the glories and beauties of
the region, declaring that of all the elemental scenes he had beheld,
Yosemite beat them all--"The perpetual thunder peal of the waters
dashing like mad over gigantic cliffs, the elemental granite rocks--it
is a veritable 'wreck of matter and crush of worlds' that we see here."

Mr. Burroughs urged Mr. Muir again and again to reclaim his early
studies in the Sierra which were printed in the "Overland Monthly" years
ago, and give them to the public now with the digested information which
he alone can supply, and which is as yet inaccessible in his voluminous
notes and sketches of the region. At Mr. Muir's home we saw literally
barrels of these notes. He admitted that he had always been dilatory
about writing, but not about studying or note-taking; often making
notes at night when fatigued from climbing and from two and three days'
fasting; but the putting of them into literature is irksome to him. Yet,
much as he dislikes the labor of writing, he will shut himself away
from the air and sunshine for weeks at a time, if need arises, and write
vigorously in behalf of the preservation of our forests. He did this
back in the late seventies, and in more recent years has been tireless
in his efforts to secure protection to our noble forests when danger has
threatened them.

Mr. Muir's knowledge of the physiognomy and botany of most of the
countries of the globe is extensive, and he has recently added South
America and South Africa to his list; there is probably no man living,
and but few who have lived, so thoroughly conversant with the effects of
glaciation as is he; yet, unless he puts his observations into writing,
much of his intimate knowledge of these things must be lost when he
passes on. And, as Mr. Burroughs says, "The world wants this knowledge
seasoned with John Muir, not his mere facts. He could accumulate enough
notes to fill Yosemite, yet that would be worth little. He has spent
years studying and sketching the rocks, and noting facts about them,
but you can't reconstruct beauty and sublimity out of mere notes and
sketches. He must work his harvest into bread." But concerning this
writing Mr. Muir confesses he feels the hopelessness of giving his
readers anything but crumbs from the great table God has spread: "I can
write only hints to incite good wanderers to come to the feast."

Here we see the marked contrast between these two nature students: Mr.
Muir talks because he can't help it, and his talk is good literature; he
writes only because he has to, on occasion; while Mr. Burroughs writes
because he can't help it, and talks when he can't get out of it. Mr.
Muir, the Wanderer, needs a continent to roam in; while Mr. Burroughs,
the Saunterer, needs only a neighborhood or a farm. The Wanderer is
content to scale mountains; the Saunterer really climbs the mountain
after he gets home, as he makes it truly his own only by dreaming
over it and writing about it. The Wanderer finds writing irksome; the
Saunterer is never so well or so happy as when he can write; his food
nourishes him better, the atmosphere is sweeter, the days are brighter.
The Wanderer has gathered his harvest from wide fields, just for the
gathering; he has not threshed it out and put it into the bread of
literature--only a few loaves; the Saunterer has gathered his harvest
from a rather circumscribed field, but has threshed it out to the last
sheaf; has made many loaves; and it is because he himself so enjoys
writing that his readers find such joy and morning freshness in his
books, his own joy being communicated to his reader, as Mr. Muir's own
enthusiasm is communicated to his hearer. With Mr. Burroughs, if his
field of observation is closely gleaned, he turns aside into subjective
fields and philosophizes--a thing which Mr. Muir never does.

One of the striking things about Mr. Muir is his generosity; and though
so poor in his youth and early adult life, he has now the wherewithal to
be generous. His years of frugality have, strange to say, made him feel
a certain contempt for money. At El Tovar he asked, "What boy brought
up my bags?" Whereupon a string of bell-boys promptly appeared for their
fees, and Mr. Muir handed out tips to all the waiting lads, saying in
a droll way, "I didn't know I had so many bags." When we tried to
reimburse him for the Yosemite trip, he would have none of it, saying,
almost peevishly, "Now don't annoy me about that." Yet, if he thinks one
is trying to get the best of him, he can look after the shekels as well
as any one. One day in Yosemite when we were to go for an all day's
tramp and wished a luncheon prepared at the hotel, on learning of
the price they were to charge, he turned his back on the landlord and
dispatched one of us to the little store, where, for little more than
the hotel would have charged for one person, a luncheon for five was
procured, and then he really chuckled that he had been able to snap his
fingers at mine host, who had thought he had us at his mercy.

I see I have kept Mr. Muir close to the footlights most of the time,
allowing Mr. Burroughs to hover in the background where he blends with
the neutral tones; but so it was in all the thrilling scenes in the
Western drama--Mr. Muir and the desert, Mr. Muir and the petrified
trees, Mr. Muir and the canon, Mr. Muir and Yosemite; while with "Oom
John," it was a blending with the scene, a quiet, brooding absorption
that made him seem a part of them--the desert, the petrified trees, the
Grand Canon, Yosemite, and Mr. Burroughs inseparably linked with them,
but seldom standing out in sharp contrast to them, as the "Beloved
Egotist" stood out on all occasions.

Perhaps the most idyllic of all our days of camping and tramping with
John of Birds and John of Mountains was the day in Yosemite when we
tramped to Nevada and Vernal Falls, a distance of fourteen miles,
returning to Camp Ahwahnee at night, weary almost to exhaustion, but
strangely uplifted by the beauty and sublimity n which we had lived and
moved and had our being. Our brown tents stood hospitably open, and out
in the great open space in front we sat around the campfire under the
noble spruces and firs, the Merced flowing softly on our right, mighty
Yosemite Falls thundering away in the distance, while the moon rose over
Sentinel Rock, lending a touch of ineffable beauty to the scene, and a
voice, that is now forever silenced, lent to the rhymes of the poets its
richness of varied emotion, as it chanted choicest selections from the
Golden Poems of all time. We lingered long after the other campers
had gone to rest, loath to bring to its close a day so replete with
sublimity and beauty. Mr. Burroughs summed it up as he said good-night:
"A day with the gods of eld--a holy day in the temple of the gods."


"John is making an impression on his age--has come to stay--has
veritable, indisputable, dynamic gifts," Walt Whitman said familiarly
to a friend in 1888, in commenting on our subject's place in literature.
And of a letter written to him by Mr. Burroughs that same year he said:
"It is a June letter, worthy of June; written in John's best outdoor
mood. Why, it gets into your blood, and makes you feel worth while. I
sit here, helpless as I am, and breathe it in like fresh air."

Minot Savage once asked in a sermon if it did not occur to his hearers
that John Burroughs gets a little more of June than the rest of us do,
and added that Mr. Burroughs had paid years of consecration of thought
and patient study of the lives of birds and flowers, and so had bought
the right to take June and all that it means into his brain and heart
and life; and that if the rest of us wish these joys, we must purchase
them on the same terms. We are often led to ask what month he has not
taken into his heart and life, and given out again in his writings.
Perhaps most of all he has taken April into his heart, as his essay on
it in "Birds and Poets" will show:--

How it (April) touches one and makes him both glad and sad! The voices
of the arriving birds, the migrating fowls, the clouds of pigeons
sweeping across the sky or filling the woods, the elfin horn of the
first honey-bee venturing abroad in the middle of the day, the clear
piping of the little frogs in the marshes at sundown, the camp-fire in
the sugar-bush, the smoke seen afar rising over the trees, the tinge of
green that comes so suddenly on the sunny knolls and slopes, the full
translucent streams, the waxing and warming sun,--how these things and
others like them are noted by the eager eye and ear! April is my natal
month, and I am born again into new delight and new surprises at
each return of it. Its name has an indescribable charm to me. Its two
syllables are like the calls of the first birds,--like that of the
phoebe-bird, or of the meadowlark.

But why continue? The whole essay breathes of swelling buds, springing
grass, calls of birds, April flowers, April odors, and April's uncloying
freshness and charm. As we realize what the returning spring brings to
this writer, we say with Bliss Carman:--

    "Make (him) over.  Mother April,
     When the sap begins to stir."

I fancy there are many of his readers who will echo what one of his
friends has said to him: "For me the 3d of April will ever stand apart
in the calendar with a poignant beauty and sweetness because it is your
birthday. It is the keynote to which the whole springtime music is set."
Or another: "If April 3d comes in like any other day, please understand
that it will be because she does not dare to show how glad she is over
her own doings." On another birthday, the same correspondent says: "I
find that you are so inwoven with the spring-time that I shall never
again be able to resolve the season into its elements. But I am the
richer for it. I feel a sort of compassion for one who has never seen
the spring through your eyes."

Mr. Burroughs puts his reader into close and sympathetic communion with
the open-air world as no other literary naturalist has done. Gilbert
White reported with painstaking fidelity the natural history of
Selborne; Thoreau gave Thoreau with glimpses of nature thrown in;
Richard Jefferies, in dreamy, introspective descriptions of rare beauty
and delicacy, portrayed his own mystical impressions of nature; but
Mr. Burroughs takes us with him to the homes and haunts of the wild
creatures, sets us down in their midst, and lets us see and hear and
feel just what is going on. We read his books and echo Whitman's verdict
on them: "They take me outdoors! God bless outdoors!" And since God
_has_ blessed outdoors, we say, "God bless John Burroughs for taking us
out of doors with him!"

Our writer never prates about nature, telling us to look and admire. He
loves the common, everyday life about him, sees it more intimately than
you or I see it, and tells about it so simply and clearly that he begets
a like feeling in his reader. It was enjoined of the early Puritans "to
walke honestlie in the sweete fields and woodes." How well our friend
has obeyed this injunction!

And what an unobtrusive lover he is! Although it is through him that his
mistress stands revealed, it is not until we look closely that we spy
her adorer in the background, intent only on unveiling her charms.
How does he do this? First by succumbing himself--Nature's graces, her
inconsistencies, even her objectionable traits appeal to him. Like
the true lover, he is captivated by each of her phases, and surrenders
himself without reserve. Such homage makes him the recipient of her
choicest treasures, her most adorable revelations.

(Illustration of Mr. Burroughs sitting for a Statuette. From a
photograph by Charles S. Olcott)

I have mentioned Gilbert White's contributions to the literature about
nature: one must admire the man's untiring enthusiasm, but his book is
mainly a storehouse of facts; how rarely does he invest the facts with
charm! To pry into nature's secrets and conscientiously report them
seems to be the aim of the English parson; but we get so little of the
parson himself. What were his feelings about all these things he has
been at such pains to record? The things themselves are not enough. It
is not alluring to be told soberly:--

Hedge-hogs abound in my garden and fields. The manner in which they eat
the roots of the plaintain in the grass walk is very curious; with their
upper mandible, which is much larger than the lower, they bore under
the plant, and so eat the root off upward, leaving the tuft of leaves

And so on. By way of contrast, see how Mr. Burroughs treats a similar
subject. After describing the porcupine, mingling description and human
encounter, thereby enlisting the reader's interest, he says:--

In what a peevish, injured tone the creature did complain of our unfair
tactics! He protested and protested, and whimpered and scolded like some
infirm old man tormented by boys. His game after we led him forth was
to keep himself as much as possible in the shape of a ball, but with two
sticks and the cord we finally threw him over on his back and exposed
his quill-less and vulnerable under side, when he fairly surrendered and
seemed to say, "Now you may do with me as you like."

Here one gets the porcupine and Mr. Burroughs too.

Thoreau keeps his reader at arm's length, invites and repels at the
same time, piques one by his spiciness, and exasperates by his
opinionatedness. You want to see his bean-field, but know you would be
an intruder. He might even tell you to your face that he was happiest
the mornings when nobody called. He likes to advise and berate, but at
long range. Speaking of these two writers, Whitman once said, "Outdoors
taught Burroughs gentle things about men--it had no such effect upon

Richard Jefferies appeals to lovers of nature and lovers of literature
as well. He has the poet's eye and is a sympathetic spectator, but
seldom gives one much to carry away. His descriptions, musical as they
are, barely escape being wearisome at times. In his "Pageant of Summer"
he babbles prettily of green fields, but it is a long, long summer and
one is hardly sorry to see its close. In some of his writings he affects
one unpleasantly, gives an uncanny feeling; one divines the invalid
as well as the mystic back of them; there is a hectic flush, perhaps a
neurotic taint. Beautiful, yes, but not the beauty of health and sanity.
It is the same indescribable feeling I get in reading that pathetically
beautiful book, "The Road-Mender," by "Michael Fairless"--the gleam of
the White Gate is seen all along the Road, though the writer strives so
bravely to keep it hidden till it must open to let him pass. One of the
purest gems of Jefferies--"Hours of Spring"--has a pathos and haunting
melody of compelling poignancy. It is like a white violet or a hepatica.

But with Mr. Burroughs we feel how preeminently sane and healthy he is.
His essays have the perennial charm of the mountain brooks that flow
down the hills and through the fertile valleys of his Catskill home.
They are redolent of the soil, of leaf mould, of the good brown earth.
His art pierces through our habitual indifference to Nature and kindles
our interest in, not her beauty alone, but in her rugged, uncouth, and
democratic qualities.

Like the true walker that he describes, he himself "is not merely a
spectator of the panorama of nature, but is a participator in it. He
experiences the country he passes through,--tastes it, feels it, absorbs
it." Let us try this writer by his own test. He says: "When one tries to
report nature he has to remember that every object has a history which
involves its surroundings, and that the depth of the interest which it
awakens in us is in the proportion that its integrity in this respect is
preserved." He must, as we know Mr. Burroughs does, bring home the river
and the sky when he brings home the sparrow that he finds singing at
dawn on the alder bough; must make us see and hear the bird _on
the bough_, and this is worth a whole museum of stuffed and labeled
specimens. To do this requires a peculiar gift, one which our essayist
has to an unusual degree--an imagination that goes straight to the
heart of whatever he writes about, combined with a verbal magic that
re-creates what he has seen. Things are felicitously seen by Mr.
Burroughs, and then felicitously said. A dainty bit in Sidney's
"Apologie for Poetrie" seems to me aptly to characterize our author's
prose: "The uttering sweetly and properly the conceits of the minde,
which is the end of speech."

One can pick out at random from his books innumerable poetic conceits;
the closed gentian is the "nun among flowers"; a patch of fringed
polygalas resembles a "flock of rose-purple butterflies" alighted on the
ground; the male and female flowers of the early everlasting are "found
separated from each other in well-defined groups, like men and women
in an old-fashioned country church"; "the note of the pewee is a human
sigh"; the bloodroot--"a full-blown flower with a young one folded in
a leaf beneath it, only the bud emerging, like the head of a papoose
protruding from its mother's blanket." Speaking of the wild orchids
known as "lady's-slippers," see the inimitable way in which he puts
you on the spot where they grow: "Most of the floral ladies leave
their slippers in swampy places in the woods, only the stemless one
(_Cypripedium acaule_) leaves hers on dry ground before she reaches the
swamp, commonly under evergreen trees where the carpet of pine needles
will not hurt her feet." Almost always he invests his descriptions with
some human touch that gives them rare charm--nature and human nature
blended--if it is merely the coming upon a red clover in England--

  "The first red clover head just bloomed... but like
  the people I meet, it has a ruddier cheek than those at home."

When we ask ourselves what it is that makes his essays so engaging, we
conclude it is largely due to their lucidity, spontaneity, and large
simplicity--qualities which make up a style original, fresh, convincing.
His writing, whether about nature, literature, science, or philosophy,
is always suggestive, potent, pithy; his humor is delicious; he says
things in a crisp, often racy, way. Yet what a sense of leisureliness
one has in reading him, as well as a sense of companionability!

What distinguishes him most, perhaps, is his vivid and poetic
apprehension of the mere fact. He never flings dry facts at us, but
facts are always his inspiration. He never seeks to go behind them, and
seldom to use them as symbols, as does Thoreau. Thoreau preaches and
teaches always; Mr. Burroughs, never. The facts themselves fill him with
wonder and delight--a wonder and delight his reader shares. The seasons,
the life of the birds and the animals, the face of nature, the ever new,
the ever common day--all kindle his enthusiasm and refresh his soul. The
witchery of the ideal is upon his page without doubt, but he will not
pervert natural history one jot or tittle for the sake of making a
pretty story. His whole aim is to invest the fact with living interest
without in the least lessening its value as a fact. He does not deceive
himself by what he wants to be true; the scientist in him is always
holding the poet in check. Of all contemporary writers in this field, he
is the one upon whom we can always depend to be intellectually honest.
He has an abiding hankering after the true, the genuine, the real;
cannot stand, and never could stand, any tampering with the truth. Had
he been Cromwell's portrait painter, he would have delighted in his
subject's injunction: "Paint me as I am, mole and all." And he would
have made the mole interesting; he has done so, but that is a mole of
another color.

This instinct for the truth being so strong in him, he knows it when he
sees it in others; he detects its absence, too; and has no patience and
scant mercy for those past-masters in the art of blinking facts,--those
natural-history romancers who, realizing that "the crowd must have
emphatic warrant," are not content with the infinite Variety of nature,
but must needs spend their art in the wasteful and ridiculous excess of
painting the lily, perfuming the violet, and giving to the rainbow an
added hue. Accordingly, when one warps the truth to suit his purpose,
especially in the realm of nature, he must expect this hater of shams
to raise a warning voice--"Beware the wolf in sheep's clothing!" But
he never cries "Wolf!" when there is no wolf, and he gives warm and
generous praise to deserving ones.

It has surprised some of his readers, who know how kindly he is by
nature, and how he shrinks from witnessing pain, in beast or man, much
less inflicting it, to see his severity when nature is traduced--for he
shows all the fight and fury and all the defense of the mother bird
when her young are attacked. He won't suffer even a porcupine to be
misrepresented without bristling up in its defense.

I have said that he never preaches, never seeks to give a moral twist to
his observations of nature, but I recall a few instances where he does
do a bit of moralizing; for example, when he speaks of the calmness
and dignity of the hawk when attacked by crows or kingbirds: "He seldom
deigns to notice his noisy and furious antagonist, but deliberately
wheels about in that aerial spiral, and mounts and mounts till his
pursuers grow dizzy and return to earth again. It is quite original,
this mode of getting rid of an unworthy opponent--rising to heights
where the braggart is dazed and bewildered and loses his reckoning! I'm
not sure but it is worthy of imitation." Or, in writing of work on the
farm, especially stone-fence making, he speaks of clearing the fields of
the stones that are built into boundaries: "If there are ever sermons
in stones, it is when they are built into a stone wall--turning your
hindrances into helps, shielding your crops behind the obstacles to
your husbandry, making the enemies of the plough stand guard over its
products." But do we find such sermonizing irksome?

Just as "all architecture is what you do to it when you look upon it,"
so is all nature. Lovers of Nature muse and dream and invite their
own souls. They interpret themselves, not Nature. She reflects their
thoughts and minds, gives them, after all, only what they bring to
her. And the writer who brings much--much of insight, of devotion, of
sympathy--is sure to bring much away for his reader's delectation. Does
not this account for the sense of intimacy which his reader has with
the man, even before meeting him?--the feeling that if he ever does meet
him, it will be as a friend, not as a stranger? And when one does meet
him, and hears him speak, one almost invariably thinks: "He talks just
as he writes." To read him after that is to hear the very tones of his

We sometimes hear the expression, "English in shirt-sleeves," applied to
objectionable English; but the phrase might be applied in a commendatory
way to good English,--to the English of such a writer as Mr.
Burroughs,--simple, forceful language, with homely, everyday
expressions; English that shows the man to have been country-bred,
albeit he has wandered from the home pastures to distant woods and
pastures new, browsing in the fields of literature and philosophy,
or wherever he has found pasturage to his taste. Or, to use a figure
perhaps more in keeping with his main pursuits, he is one who has
flocked with birds not of a like feather with those that shared with him
the parent nest. Although his kin knew and cared little for the world's
great books, he early learned to love them when he was roaming his
native fields and absorbing unconsciously that from which he later
reaped his harvest. It is to writers of _this_ kind of "English
in shirt-sleeves" that we return again and again. In them we see
shirt-sleeves opposed to evening dress; naturalness, sturdiness,
sun-tan, and open sky, opposed to the artificial, to tameness,
constriction, and characterless conformity to prescribed customs.

Do we not turn to writers of the first class with eagerness, slaking our
thirst, refreshing our minds at perennial springs? How are we glad that
they lead us into green pastures and beside still waters, away from
the crowded haunts of the conventional, and the respectably commonplace
society garb of speech! What matter if occasionally one even gives a
wholesome shock by daring to come into the drawing-room of our minds
in his shirt-sleeves, his hands showing the grime of the soil, and his
frame the strength that comes from battling with wind and weather? It is
the same craving which makes us say with Richard Hovey:--

     "I am sick of four walls and a ceiling;
     I have need of the sky,
     I have business with the grass."

But it will not do to carry this analogy too far in writing of Mr.
Burroughs lest it be inferred that I regard the author's work as having
in it something of the uncouth, or the ill-timed, or the uncultured.
His writing is of the earth, but not of the earth earthy. He sees divine
things underfoot as well as overhead. His page has the fertility of a
well-cultivated pastoral region, the limpidness of a mountain brook, the
music of our unstudied songsters, the elusive charm of the blue beyond
the summer clouds; it has, at times, the ruggedness of a shelving rock,
combined with the grace of its nodding columbines.

Mr. Burroughs has told us, in that June idyl of his, "Strawberries,"
that he was a famous berry-picker when a boy. It was with a peculiar
pleasure that I wandered with him one midsummer day over the same
meadows where he used to gather strawberries. My first introduction to
him as a writer, many years before, had been in hearing this essay read.
And since then never a year passes that I do not read it at least three
times--once in winter just to bring June and summer near; once in spring
when all outdoors gives promise of the fullness yet to be; and once in
the radiant summer weather when daisies and clover and bobolinks and
strawberries riot in one's blood, making one fairly mad to bury one's
self in the June meadows and breathe the clover-scented air. And it
always stands the test--the test of being read out in the daisy-flecked
meadows with rollicking bobolinks overhead.

What quality is it, though, that so moves and stirs us when Mr.
Burroughs recounts some of the simple happenings of his youth? What is
it in his recitals that quickens our senses and perceptions and makes
our own youth alive and real? It is paradise regained--the paradise of
one's lost youth. Let this author describe his boyhood pastures, going
'cross lots to school, or to his favorite spring, whatsoever it is--is
it the path that he took to the little red schoolhouse in the Catskills?
Is it the spring near his father's sugar bush that we see? No. One is a
child again, and in a different part of the State, with tamer scenery,
but scenery endeared by early associations. The meadow you see is the
one that lies before the house where you were born; you read of the
boy John Burroughs jumping trout streams on his way to school, but see
yourself and your playmates scrambling up a canal bank, running along
the towpath, careful to keep on the land side of the towline that
stretches from mules to boat, lest you be swept into the green,
uninviting waters of the Erie. On you run with slate and books; you
smell the fresh wood as you go through the lumber yard. Or, read another
of his boyish excursions, and you find yourself on that first spring
outing to a distant, low-lying meadow after "cowslips"; another, and you
are trudging along with your brother after the cows, stopping to
nibble spearmint, or pick buttercups by the way. Prosaic recollections,
compared to spring paths and trout brooks in the Catskill valleys, yet
this is what our author's writings do--re-create for each of us our own
youth, with our own childhood scenes and experiences, invested with a
glamour for us, however prosy they seem to others; and why? Because,
though nature's aspects vary, the human heart is much the same the world
over, and the writer who faithfully adds to his descriptions of nature
his own emotional experiences arouses answering responses in the soul of
his reader.

Perhaps the poet in Mr. Burroughs is nowhere more plainly seen than in
his descriptions of bird life, yet how accurately he gives their salient
points; he represents the bird as an object in natural history, but
ah! how much more he gives! Imagine our bird-lover describing a bird as
Ellery Channing described one, as something with "a few feathers, a hole
at one end and a point at the other, and a pair of wings"! We see the
bird Mr. Burroughs sees; we hear the one he hears. Long before I had the
memorable experience of standing with him on the banks of the Willowemoc
and listening at twilight to the slow, divine chant of the hermit
thrush, I had heard it in my dreams, because of that inimitable
description of its song in "Wake-Robin." It does, indeed, seem to be
"the voice of that calm, sweet solemnity one attains to in his best
moments." As one listens to its strain in the hush of twilight, the
pomp of cities and the pride of civilization of a truth seem trivial and

What a near, human interest our author makes us feel in the birds, how
we watch their courtships, how we peer into their nests, and how lively
is our solicitude for their helpless young swung in their "procreant
cradles," beset on all sides by foes that fly and creep and glide! And
not only does he make the bird a visible living creature; he makes it
sing joyously to the ear, while all nature sings blithely to the eye. We
see the bird, not as a mass of feathers with "upper parts bright blue,
belly white, breast ruddy brown, mandibles and legs black," as the
textbooks have it, but as a thing of life and beauty: "Yonder bluebird
with the earth tinge on his breast and the sky tinge on his back,--did
he come down out of heaven on that bright March morning when he told us
so softly and plaintively that, if we pleased, spring had come?" Who is
there in reading this matchless description of the bluebird that does
not feel the retreat of winter, that does not feel his pulse quicken
with the promise of approaching spring, that does not feel that the bird
did, indeed, come down out of heaven, the heaven of hope and promise,
even though the skies are still bleak, and the winds still cold? Who,
indeed, except those prosaic beings who are blind and deaf to the most
precious things in life?

"I heard a bluebird this morning!" one exclaimed exultantly, so stirred
as to forget momentarily her hearer's incapacity for enthusiasm. "Well,
and did it sound any different from what it did last year, and the year
before, and the year before that?" inquired in measured, world-wearied
tones the dampener of ardors. No, my poor friend, it did not. And just
because it sounded the same as it has in all the succeeding springs
since life was young, it touched a chord in one's heart that must be
long since mute in your own, making you poor, indeed, if this dear
familiar bird voice cannot set it vibrating once more.


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