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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
John Muir (1838–1914)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
JOHN MUIR, an explorer and naturalist, whose field of work has been particularly the western and northwestern mountain regions of America,—where at least one great glacier now bears his name,—was born at Dunbar, Scotland. With his parents and a large flock of brothers and sisters, he came to the United States in 1850, after some good common-schooling in Dunbar. He began his study of nature in the region near Fort Winnebago, Wisconsin, with an ever-increasing interest and delight in whatever belongs to the world of creatures, plants, and stones, particularly in the waving solitudes of forests and rock-and-snow tracts of the northwestern Sierras.  1
  Muir’s freedom to devote himself to a life of observation and record was delayed: and in the story of his years of manual work as a farmer, mechanic, lumberman, sheep-herder, and what not besides, there comes surprise at his power to find time and energy for other pursuits in the nature of an avocation; and with the surprise we have a sense of pleasure that a man of untiring muscles and mind could win free of all that checked his natural preferences. He studied grammar and mathematics while a farm hand, and read through a library of books when in the fields. He earned enough as a young man to give himself four years of special scientific study in the University of Wisconsin. Then began an independent life, in which he alternated seasons of hard work, wholly or much alone; partly through the circumstances of his wanderings, partly by his own choice. It is said that during ten years of mountaineering in the remoter Sierras, he met no men except one band of Mono tribesmen.  2
  For some ten summers and winters prior to 1876, Mr. Muir was settled near the Yosemite district. In the year named he became a member of the Geodetic Survey of the Great Basin, and attempted much botanical work. During 1879 and subsequently, after he reached Alaska, he explored and charted its vast mountain ranges, discovered Glacier Bay and the Muir Glacier system; and with that expedition and the two succeeding tours he became the foremost authority on Alaska’s geologic and other natural aspects. He also visited the Yukon and Mackenzie Rivers, and traversed the cañon country of California. He was of the party on board the Corwin in 1881, sent out to trace the lost Jeannette, which enterprise added largely to his sketches and notes for scientific use. Since 1879, the year of his marriage, Mr. Muir has had his home in California; but to find him in it at other than a given time, is somewhat an accident, so indefatigable is his industry as a naturalist. He is as ready to-day for an alpine excursion of weeks or months as in the early period of a naturalistic career exceptionally arduous and fruitful.  3
  Mr. Muir has written much less than his explorations would suggest: but as a contributor to the highest class of American and foreign periodicals, and the author of volumes dealing with his experiences, impressions, and discoveries, he is a writer of distinct and unusual individuality. He is less a man of letters in his manner than he is the direct, graphic, and sincere observer, whose aim is to write down simply what he sees or feels, to put the reader in the quickest and closest touch with a topic or a scene. But the simplicity and personal effect of his style give it a peculiar vigor and eloquence. He has been spoken of as a naturalist whose observations “have the force of mathematical demonstration.” In the study of glacial conditions, botanic life, the fauna of the Northwest, and kindred subjects, he is reckoned a specialist by the first scientists of the day; and his personal traits have won him the esteem of the army of scientists who have visited the Western country where he lives and works. His most popular volume, ‘The Mountains of California,’ promises to become a classic; his editorial contributions in Picturesque California are thoroughly effective; and he has won wide favor through descriptive pages, splendid for spontaneous and vivid prose pictures of great scenery,—studies of the wind’s movement of a pine forest, or a delicate flower of California, or a wild-bird’s lonely nest.  4
 
 
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