Inquiries: John Muir and William Bartram
(Reprinted from the
John Muir Newsletter
, Vol. 2, No.2, Spring 1992)
Keith E. Kennedy of Quinton, Virginia, is working on an article
about William Bartram, "the first, great American-born naturalist
and author of
," and wants to know if there is any
connection between Bartram and John Muir.
Specifically, he asks if
"Muir was familiar with Bartram's
," if there were "any
letters between Muir and anyone else that discuss Bartram's
contributions or merits," if "any published articles" exist that
compare or discuss Muir and Bartram, and if "any of Muir's recent
biographers have discussed Bartram in their books."
Muir was indeed familiar with Bartram and his Travels, but to
what extent is not clear. Frederick Turner found the only hard
evidence in reading Muir's journal carried during his East Coast
trip of 1898. (
journal, "Botany Trip with Sargent and Canby,"
Jul-Nov 1897, John Muir Papers, Microfilm Edition, Reel 28, 03506).
, Turner noted that "In 1897,
Muir's friend, Charles Sargent, gave him a copy of Bartram's
, which he eagerly read and pronounced 'v. interesting.' [p.
Actually the date was 1898, but Turner was probably
confused by the dating error made by the editors on the microfilm
control card which failed to note that the journal records two
separate trips, one in 1897 and the other a year later. The
editors, in turn, were confused by Muir's own holograph date of
1897 on the journal index. Apparently he went back over the
journal some some years later and simply forgot the year he made
the eastern trip.
Careful scrutiny of Muir's handwritten journal entries
indicates that he did not have much time to read the Bartram work.
In the fall of 1898, Muir and Charles S. Sargent, Director of the
Arnold Arboretum at Harvard, traveled together through much of the
American Southeast on an enlightening but exhausting three-month
botanizing expedition. With them was William M. Canby, whom Linnie
Son of the Wilderness
describes as a "botanist of
Wilmington, New Jersey" (p. 274).
Actually he was a banker,
railroad official, and amateur naturalist from Wilmington,
Delaware -- across the river from Jersey.
The trip ended in Virginia with Sargent ill and exhausted from
lack of sleep. Returning to Boston by way of Canby's Delaware
home, Muir and Sargent arrived at Sargent's home in Brookline
October 13. Turner wrote that Muir read Bartram during the train
ride back from Tennessee (p. 314), but that doesn't square with
Muir's journal entries. On the afternoon of October 14 a
recuperated Sargent took Muir to visit the Arboretum library.
There, Muir wrote, "I spent a few hrs turning over Micheaux's [sic]
-- a fine work, good illustrations, written by the son."
Although Muir read some French, he probably was using the American
edition of Fran=E1ois Andr=C7 Michaux (1770-1855),
The North American Sylvia;
or, A Description of the Forest Trees of the United States,
Canada, and Nova Scotia
... Translated from the French of F. Andrew
Michaux... Philadelphia, 1856. His note continues: " Wonderful
travels. hope to see them[?] & the journal of the elder. Sargent
gave me Bartram's
, a few yrs earlier than Michaeaux, v.
This holograph entry implies Muir received the copy of Bartram
while at the library, not earlier. Apparently he began reading it
at that time, for on the following day, his journal records that he
occupied his time "Reading Bartram," planning an excursion through
the Canadian woods and the White Mountains of Vermont, taking a
walk, dining with an old friend, and touring a local park. On the
16th he left by train for the North.
No additional journal entries have been located that mention
Bartram. We can only infer from the brief notes Muir left behind
that his study of Bartram was cursory at best, occupying probably
no more than a few hours sandwiched in between two busy tours that
took all his time and energy. He couldn't have read Bartram on the
northern tour; he had never seen the Northern woods and spent all
his time glued to the train window; his journal entries are filled
with descriptions of fall colors and scenic wonders. On October 23
he returned to Boston, spent the next two weeks visiting and
touring in Boston and New York City, then headed back south for a
tour of Canby's Delaware and a final excursion through Florida and
Louisiana en route to Martinez.
No additional references to the Bartram volume have been found
either in Muir's journal entries or in his correspondence. The
book is not included in the Muir personal library collections
either at the University of the Pacific or at Huntington Library,
and there is no indication he ever reached Martinez with it. We
are inclined to think that Sargent loaned him a copy from the
Arboretum library, which he left behind when he headed north on
October 16, 1898.
We would welcome other views and speculations on this matter.