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JOHN MUIR AS I KNEW HIM*
BY ROBERT UNDERWOOD JOHNSON
Sometime, in the evolution of America, we shall throw off the two shackles that retard our progress as an artistic nationphilistinism and commercialism—and advance with freedom toward the love of beauty as a principle. Then it will not be enough that one shall love merely one kind of beauty, each worker his own art, or that art shall be separated from life as something too precious for use; men will search for beauty as scientists search for truth, knowing that while truth can make one free, it is beauty of some sort, as addressed to the eye, the ear, the mind, or the moral sense, that alone can give permanent happiness. When that apocalyptic day shall come, the world will look back to the time we live in and remember the voice of one crying in the wilderness and bless the name of John Muir. To some, beauty seems but an accident of creation: to Muir it was the very smile of God. He sung the glory of nature like another Psalmist, and, as a true artist, was unashamed of his emotions.
An instance of this is told of him as he stood with an acquaintance at one of the great view-points of the Yosemite Valley, and, filled with wonder and devotion, wept. His companion, more stolid than most, could not understand his feeling, and was so thoughtless as to say so. “Mon," said Muir, with the Scotch dialect into which he often lapsed, “Can ye see unmoved the glory of the Almighty ?” “Oh, it's very fine," was the reply, "but I do not wear my heart upon my sleeve.” “Ah, ту
dear mon," said Muir, “in the face of such a scene as this, it's no time to be thinkin' o' where you wear your heart.”
No astronomer was ever more devout. The love of nature was his religion, but it was not without a personal God, whom he thought as great in the decoration of a flower as in the launching of a glacier. The old Scotch training persisted
Read, in part, at the meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, in New York, January 6, 1916.
through all his studies of causation, and the keynote of his philosophy was intelligent and benevolent design. His wonder grew with his wisdom. Writing for the first time to a young friend, he expressed the hope that she would "find that going to the mountains is going home, and that Christ's Sermon on the Mount is on every mount.”
It was late in May, 1889, that I first met him. I had gone to San Francisco to organize the series of papers afterward published in the Century Magazine under the title of “The Goldhunters of California," and promptly upon my arrival he came to see me. It was at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. I was dressing for dinner and was obliged to ask him to come up to my room. He was a long time in doing so and I feared he had lost his way. I can remember, as if it were yesterday, hearing him call down the corridor, “Johnson, Johnson ! where are you? I can't get the hang of these artificial cañons," and before he had made any of the conventional greetings or inquiries, he added: "Up in the Sierra, all along the gorges, the glaciers have put up natural sign-posts, and you can't miss your way, but here-there's nothing to tell you where to go.”
With all his Scotch wit and his democratic feeling, Muir bore himself with dignity in every company. He readily adjusted himself to any environment. In the High Sierra he was indeed a voice crying in the wilderness: moreover, he looked like John the Baptist as portrayed in bronze by Donatello and others of the Renaissance sculptors—spare of frame, hardy, keen of eye and visage, and on the march eager of movement. It was difficult for an untrained walker to keep up with him as he leaped from rock to rock as surely as a mountain goat, or skimmed the surface of the ground, a trick of easy locomotion learned from the Indians. If he ever became tired nobody knew it, and yet, though he delighted in badinage at the expense of the "tenderfoot,” he was as sympathetic as a mother. I remember a scramble we had in the upper Tuolumne Cañon which afforded him great fun at my expense. The detritus of the wall of the gorge lay in a confused mass of rocks, varying in size from a market basket to a dwelling house, the interstices overgrown with a most deceptive shrub, the soft leaves of which concealed its iron trunk and branches. Across such a Dantean formation Muir
went with certainty and alertness, while I fell and floundered like a bad swimmer, so that he had to give me many a helpful hand and cheering word, and when at last I was obliged to rest, Muir, before going on for an hour's exploration, sought out for me one of the most beautiful spots I had ever seen, where the rushing river, striking pot-holes in its granite bed, was thrown up into water wheels twenty feet high. When he returned to camp he showered me with little attentions and tucked me into my blankets with the tenderness that he gave to children and animals.
Another Scotch trait was his surface antipathies. He did not hate anything—not even his antagonists, the tree vandals—but spoke of those "misguided worldlings” in terms of pity; yet he had a wholesome contempt for the contemptible. His growl-he never had a bark—was worse than his bite. His pity was often expressed for the blindness of those who through unenlightened selfishness chose the lower utility of nature in place of the higher.
Many have praised the pleasures of solitude—few have known them as Muir knew them, roaming the High Sierra week after week with only bread and tea and sometimes berries for his sustenance, which he would have said were a satisfactory substitute for the “locusts and wild honey” of his prototype. His trips to Alaska were even more solitary and we should say forbidding —but not he, for no weather, no condition of wildness, no absence of animal life could make him lonely. He was a pioneer of nature, but also a pioneer of truth, and he needed no comrade. Many will recall his thrilling adventure on the Muir glacier, told in his story entitled Stickeen, named for his companion, the missionary's dog. I heard him tell it a dozen times—how the explorer and the little mongrel were caught on a peninsula of the glacier-and how they escaped. It is one of the finest studies of dogliness in all literature, and told in Muir's whimsical way, betrayed unconsciously the tenderness of his heart. Though never lonely, he was not at all a professional recluse: he loved companions and craved good talk, and was glad to have others with him on his tramps, but it was rare to find congenial friends who cared for the adventures in which he reveled. He was hungry for sympathy and found it in the visitors