God and John Muir: A Psychological Interpretation of John Muir's Life and Religion
by Mark R. Stoll
When, on December 5, 1871, readers of the New York Tribune, the leading
newspaper of its day, turned to an article entitled "Yosemite Glaciers,"
they found themselves reading descriptions of nature like none they had seen
before. It was the first attempt of the author, John Muir, to write for
publication, and it was also the beginning of a long, affectionate
relationship between Muir and his readers. Decades after the appearance of
some of his articles, readers would write him to thank him belatedly for the
enjoyment he had given them.
Nothing could have given Muir more pleasure, for he lived to bring people
back to the wilderness for the spiritual and physical healing it could give
them. But even in the 1870s he realized that the pure wilderness areas of
America were fast disappearing before the woodsman's axe, the shepherd's
flock, and the miner's pick. Muir's prose served to awaken the public to the
thoughtless waste and unrestrained exploitation that were destroying the
natural beauty of the United States. More than anyone else, he massed public
sentiment behind the preservation of America's forests and mountains. The
entire American environmentalist tradition--from the National Park Service
to Earth First!--owes him a great debt.
In all that has been written about Muir, his journey on the road to
preservationism has been explored often and in detail. However, one question
has never been satisfactorily answered: What drove Muir to become a
preservationist? The answer to this question must explain why he departed
from his strict Scottish evangelical background for a religious view of
nature so different as to lead some to believe that he had abandoned
Emerging from the religious revivals in Europe and America of the 1820s and
1830s, Protestantism experienced during Muir's youth the shocks of the rapid
advances of science, the scrutiny of higher criticism, and the defection of
the Romantics and transcendentalists. Muir's thought combined those
elements--evangelical Protestantism, science, Romanticism and
transcendentalism--in a way that was unique and, through his writings,
widely influential. The new amalgam of these elements in Muir's life was
forged in the fiery religion and strict discipline of his father, Daniel
Muir, whose specter haunted Muir's entire life. From a close examination of
the individuals who peopled his life, the kind of events that filled it, and
the modes of thought that enlivened it, a psychological understanding of
John Muir emerges that helps show why he turned onto the paths he trod.1
Daniel Muir was born in 1804 to Scottish parents and orphaned in infancy.
Settling in Dunbar, Scotland, he married Anne Gilrye in 1833 following the
deaths of his first wife and child, and became a prosperous merchant and
grain dealer. John Muir, their third child and first son, was born in 1838.
Scotland at the time was a land of tremendous religious schism and
controversy. Those sects which rejected orthodox Calvinism and which
emphasized free grace to the repentant and a religion of the heart had
attracted Daniel after his religious conversion at age fourteen. He searched
in several congregations for the right combination of holiness and zeal
until the Campbellites came to Dunbar in the 1840s. Ancestor to the
present-day Disciples of Christ and Churches of Christ, this sect was
founded by two Scottish immigrants in Ohio, Thomas Campbell and his son
Alexander, in the years after 1807. Their rational, simple, straightforward
approach to doctrine and Biblical interpretation appealed to frontiersmen
and Scotsmen alike, and the sect spread rapidly from an axis centered on the
Inspired by the Campbellite desire to recreate the primitive Church, Daniel
Muir practiced a hard and humorless religion. Every evening at family
worship Daniel prayed long and fervently; he was a strict disciplinarian,
and required John to memorize Bible verses or hymns daily or face a
whipping. After a while Daniel stopped playing the violin he had built as a
teenager, and his wife, by nature a fun-loving and boisterous woman, learned
to keep her lighter side to herself and to practice such small pleasures as
knitting and needlepoint (when not strictly necessary) only when her husband
would not see her. Anne's role in the family was ambiguous. In her husband's
absence, she either encouraged or at least did not oppose lighter activities
in the household than Daniel would have approved. At other times, she seemed
an obedient Christian wife, either accommodating or acquiescing in her
subordinate place within the Biblically-ordained patriarchal family.
When Daniel heard from Campbellite leaders of religious freedom and cheap
land in America, he made the decision to move and settled among a community
of Campbellites in Wisconsin. In the comparative isolation of the frontier,
deprived of the buffers provided by the network of kith and kin, and
surrounded by many fellow Campbellites, Daniel's propensities towards
religion and discipline (and profit) were exacerbated. While his children,
often including the girls, labored to clear the forest and raise the crops,
Daniel retired to his study to read the Bible. The Disciples of Christ had
no regular clergy but relied on "preaching elders," usually self-taught,
like Daniel. Very popular as a preacher, he traveled around the countryside
to whichever churches would hear him.
At home he was a tyrant, and allowed no stopping of work, even for sickness,
and his children were afraid to rest in the shade or get a drink of water.
Only once, when John had pneumonia, did Daniel allow him to stay in bed,
although no doctor was called, for "God and hard work were by far the best
doctors."2 For any infraction, major or minor, real or imagined, the
punishment was a severe whipping. The family kept their small pleasures out
of his sight, and John spent his free Sunday afternoons enjoying nature and
the changing seasons.
Daniel had forbidden all but religious or practical books as frivolous or
impious. Muir's intellectual horizons suddenly opened up at age fifteen when
two neighbor boys with whom he was working recited to him their favorite
poets--Byron, Poe, Wordsworth, Milton. He discovered that many neighbors had
small libraries in their homes, and secretly but avidly he began to read the
Romantic poets, as well as the travels of Mungo Park and Alexander von
Humboldt, novels, biographies, natural history, mathematics, and philosophy.
Here began Muir's life-long love of poetry. The Romantics attracted him with
their love of nature, mountains and wilderness, and their rejection of a too
utilitarian view of nature in favor of an investment of nature with human
moods and emotions.
Around the same time, Muir began to rise hours before breakfast in order to
gain some free time. In the summer he read, but in the darkness of winter he
invented and built an astonishing array of devices: wooden clocks,
thermometers, pyrometers, hygrometers, a barometer, a combination lock--all
without any formal training or knowledge beyond simple mathematics. His
father was clearly impressed but refrained from praising John, which he
feared would encourage the sin of pride. The neighbors were far more
effusive, and in 1860, in spite of his father's pointed refusal of money or
blessing, Muir took his inventions to the state fair at Madison, where he
hoped to win the attention of an inventor or machine shop with whom he could
work. He won renown but no permanent job, but to his joy, the struggling
young University of Wisconsin gladly accepted him.
The knowledge Muir acquired during his short time at the university would be
invaluable to him in later life. Away from his father's tyranny, he threw
himself with great delight into his studies at the university. His New
England-educated professors had been students of Emerson and Louis Agassiz,
the geologist who first hypothesized the Ice Age. Dr. Ezra Slocum Carr
taught science. Muir's fascination with glaciation dated from Carr's
introduction of Agassiz's works and his class field trips to see local
evidence of glaciation. His classics teacher had Muir read Wordsworth,
Thoreau, and Emerson, and acquainted him with the transcendentalist regard
for nature. In imitation of Emerson, he began to keep a journal, the first
of great stacks of journals he would create by the time of his death.
Finally, one of Muir's fellow students introduced him to one of his life's
Muir's exposure to geology and botany brought him face to face with science
which could not be harmonized with a literal reading of the Bible, but
exposure to liberal Christianity showed him a way to reconcile religion and
science. Carr's wife, Jeanne, introduced him to the thought of William
Ellery Channing, with his positive view of a loving God and indwelling
divinity. Muir also accepted Agassiz's precept that "a physical fact is as
sacred as a moral principle."3 Toward Darwin he was not so charitable; he
accepted evolution, but rejected "Darwin's mean ungodly word `struggle'"4 in
favor of a principle of divine guidance. At this point, Muir still held
actively to his Christian beliefs and an evangelical concern for the state
of everyone else's soul. When the Civil War broke out he went down to the
newly established army encampment and gave moral talks to the soldiers. In
1863 he was elected president of the local Young Men's Christian
Association, at that time a club where young men met to study the Bible and
put Christian belief into practice.
Muir left Wisconsin before finishing his studies and lived in Canada until
1866. He took with him books by Humboldt, who powerfully influenced Muir's
thought, both as a life model and as a theorist of cosmic unity amidst the
complexity of phenomena. Without intellectual stimulation, lonely,
approaching thirty, unmarried and with no prospects, Muir wrote to the Carrs
in 1865, the start of a long friendship with Mrs. Carr. She became a sort of
mother/mentor figure for Muir, while at the same time, a friend of Emerson
and an intellectually frustrated housewife, she seemed to live vicariously
through Muir and constantly encouraged his ambitions.
Intent on a life as an inventor, Muir in 1866 went to Indianapolis, a
railroad and industrial center located in the midst of a great deciduous
forest where he could botanize. Inventions, he had reasoned in Canada,
improved the lot of mankind; thus an inventor filled a high calling in
service to humanity. Working in a major machine shop, Muir so increased
efficiency and productivity that the impressed owners were on the verge of
making him a partner. Then a file slipped and pierced Muir's right eye. His
sight quickly drained out of the one eye, and the other went into temporary
This was the central, pivotal event in Muir's life. Plunged into despair,
depression, and literal darkness, Muir experienced something of a conversion
as his sight slowly returned, and he came away from the accident inspired
with a new sense of purpose. When a doctor first told him his sight would
return, he wrote Mrs. Carr, "Now had I arisen from the grave."5 Convalescing
in bed with a brochure on Yosemite valley in his lap, he mused about the
industrial accident that nearly robbed him of the ability to investigate the
glory of God's creation. When the shop owners came to offer him partnership
in the firm, after some consideration he declined. In a letter to Mrs. Carr
he explained, "God has to nearly kill us sometimes, to teach us lessons."6
Much later he remembered,
"As soon as I got out into Heaven's light I started on another long
excursion, making haste with all my heart to store my mind with the Lord's
beauty and thus be ready to any fate, light or dark. And it was from this
time that my long continuous wanderings may be said to have fairly
commenced. I bade adieu to all my mechanical inventions, determined to
devote the rest of my life to the study of the inventions of God."7
This brush with blindness called Muir to a higher purpose, beyond any
purpose defined in terms of wealth or human utility. Ever afterwards aware
of the preciousness of sight, Muir referred to God and nature in terms of
light, and dubbed the Sierras the "Range of Light."
When he was sufficiently recovered, Muir set out to live a fantasy he had
conceived while wandering in Canada: he would be a new Humboldt. First, he
made a farewell trip to Wisconsin, where he met with the constant criticism
and disapproval of his father. As Muir was about to leave, Daniel asked him
for money for room and board for the time he had stayed. Muir complied but
told him he could be sure it would be a long time before he returned. They
did not see each other until nearly twenty years later, just before Daniel's
death in 1885.
Returning to Indianapolis, Muir set out by foot for the Gulf Coast, with the
vague intention of continuing on to South America in imitation of Humboldt.
During his trip he had plenty of time to think and write in his journal, and
he developed the principles that would guide him the rest of his life. The
main intellectual influences of his life appeared in his journals and
publications from then on: from the university he acquired a scientific
appreciation for the workings and wonders of nature; from Humboldt a sense
of the ecological interconnectedness of things; from the transcendentalists
and Romantics the beliefs in nature's connection with higher impulses and
powers, and in a near pantheistic immanence; from liberal Christianity a
feeling for a benign God of love; and from evangelical Christianity a desire
to preach salvation to the nations, albeit not a heavenly but a wilderness
A severe malarial fever in Florida kept Muir from getting any closer to
South America than Cuba. With the encouragement of Mrs. Carr, now at the
University of California in Berkeley with her husband, he headed instead to
the Yosemite Valley in California, which he had read about while in Indiana.
He spent the next years climbing mountains and exploring the Sierra range.
Mrs. Carr sent a parade of important visitors his way, and Muir did not fail
to make an impression on each: biologists, philosophers, professors,
painters, scientists. The inspiration and rapture in his steady stream of
letters to Mrs. Carr caused her to encourage him to write for publication.
His success at writing brought him fame and embroiled him in the
controversial movement to preserve the wilderness. His marriage and ten-year
stint as family-man and fruit-grower brought a temporary lull to his
activity in the 1880s. Then he returned to the fight to establish and defend
national parks. In 1892 he founded the Sierra Club, and he later befriended
Presidents Roosevelt and Taft. By the time he died of double pneumonia in
1914, he had become something of a national treasure.
This bare biography of John Muir has concentrated on his childhood and
sketched the foundations upon which he based his life and thought. But
within it, across all of Muir's life and works, lay the shadow of one man,
without whom both Muir's boundless drive and departure from the religious
mainstream are nearly inconceivable: his father, Daniel. Psychologists have
developed a model which does much to illuminate the workings of the
father-son relationship. This model describes the relationship in light of
three processes: the son's identification with the father; the father's
counter-identification with the son; and the father's competition with his
teenage son.9 Applied to Daniel and John Muir, it highlights and brings into
perspective many of the motivations, emotions and tensions of their
relationship and their lives.
Boys identify with their fathers, and in doing so emulate not only
attitudes, values, roles, gestures, and emotional reactions but
problem-solving strategies, thinking processes, and vocabulary as well.
Thus, in many sundry ways John Muir's life paralleled Daniel's. Daniel found
God at age fourteen; Muir discovered the world of poetry and books at age
fifteen. Daniel took his family to homestead in Wisconsin, sold the improved
land and homesteaded again; as a family man during the 1880s, Muir owned and
ran a fruit ranch and won a reputation as a sharp haggler who always got the
best prices for his produce.
The strongest similarity between Muir and his father is that each rejected
orthodox religion and preached the Gospel according to his own lights--for
Daniel the Campbellite Gospel, for Muir the Gospel of Nature. Both father
and son were only too happy to abandon mundane tasks to dedicate themselves
to higher, holy causes. Daniel did well as a merchant in Dunbar and a farmer
in Wisconsin, but eventually abandoned all work to devote himself to his
religion. Inventing brought Muir escape from the farm, notoriety, and the
beginnings of worldly success, but the he abandoned this career to study
"the inventions of God"; later, after a decade as a responsible family man,
he heeded the call a second time to lead the cause of wilderness.
Scottish preachers have long been popular in the United States for their
serious demeanor and declamatory style of "Thus saith the Lord."10 Although
Daniel's sermons are lost to history, this style easily accords with his
character and religion. Similarly, especially during the Hetch-Hetchy dam
controversy, Muir's increasingly strident rhetoric grew to resemble this
style, inspiring his friend, Congressman William Kent, to make the remark,
"With him, it is me and God and the rock where God put it."11 Muir liked to
describe himself in biblical terms, a John the Baptist preaching the
wilderness gospel. The sight of Muir, long beard flowing in the breeze,
descending from the Sierras caused visitors to recall images of prophets
returning from the wilderness. Interestingly enough, just as the biblical
Daniel, prophet of the Old Testament God of Wrath, was succeeded by John,
prophet of the New Testament God of Love, so was the wrathful Daniel Muir
succeeded by the loving John Muir.
The process of a son's identification with his father proceeds very well
with nurturing, supportive, and sufficiently masculine fathers. Boys reject
as models undemonstrative, frustrating, critical fathers. This is not an
unfair description of Daniel, and many incidents could be cited to show how
strongly Muir rejected his example. For instance, John Muir's affection and
compassion for children and animals may have roots in his rejection of the
model offered by his punishing father, and his identification instead with
fellow victims of the whip. Muir could never bring himself to strike
children or animals. He once wrote, "When the rod is falling on the flesh of
a child, and, what may oftentimes be worse, heart-breaking scolding falling
on its tender little heart, it makes the whole family seem far from the
Kingdom of Heaven."12 As a university student, Muir taught school for a
while and caused parents to complain that "he don't half whip."13 Muir saw
animals overworked on his parents' farm, and Daniel once drove a horse to
death. As an adult, John Muir fired on the spot any hand abusing an animal
on his ranch. Ranch ownership was perhaps too close to his father's life and
values to be comfortable to Muir. He never seemed happy there, and a
possibly asthmatic cough constantly bothered him; allergies are sometimes
psychosomatic, and conceivably his cough was related psychologically to the
pneumonia that excused him from farmwork as a boy.
As John Muir rejected Daniel's harsher aspects, he also rejected his
father's concepts of God and nature. Daniel subscribed to the contemporary
view, based on the Bible and strengthened by the Enlightenment and the
necessities of frontier life, that God made nature for man's dominion and
use. John Muir broke from this view and developed a conception of the value
in itself of all creation and the ecological interconnectedness of all
things. God made nature for man's use, yes, but also for his spirit. A walk
into the wilderness was a religious experience, for there one immersed
oneself in the glory of God's immaculate handiwork. The study of nature was
also a religious activity, for there the scientist read the manuscripts of
God as surely as he read them in the Bible. Muir's distaste for an
understanding of wilderness solely in terms of its "usefulness" later led
him inexorably into conflict with the scientific-management school of
A father's idea of God the Father and conception of Him either as benevolent
and merciful, or stern and judgmental, influence the way he governs his
family.14 The wrathful, punishing aspects of evangelical fatherhood such as
Daniel's reflected the stern image of God found in the Old Testament and in
certain sections of the New. In the Bible, divine wrath often took the form
of natural disasters--floods, earthquakes, storms. When John Muir rejected
the wrathful, punishing model of fatherhood, he also rejected the same
concept of God, and with it the identification of natural disasters with
divine fury. For him, the God of Love was revealed in all nature, even
storms and earthquakes.
Daniel's preaching emphasized sin and damnation at least as much as joy and
salvation, for hatred of sin and fear of damnation could move a potential
convert to repentance. Muir remembered burning a pile of brush and waste
wood during his Wisconsin boyhood. He and his brothers enjoyed the spectacle
of the flames until his father turned the fire into a lesson on the horrible
flames of hell awaiting every unrepentant sinner. As an adult, Muir reversed
Daniel's emphasis and spoke much less of sin and damnation than the promises
of salvation that the wilderness offered. In Muir's wilderness catechism,
sin was a product of the man-made environment of the city. Cutting oneself
off from nature could cut oneself off from God. But rarely did Muir discuss
sin, concentrating instead on the promise of renewal, both spiritual and
physical, that nature held for humanity.
Within our psychological model, the son identifies with his father while a
second process unfolds: the father's counter-identification with his son.
Here the father sees in his present situation his son's probable general
future situation, while the son's present behavior may remind the father of
his own past. Perhaps difficulties he now sees in the son he once overcame
successfully, sometimes after a struggle which may now be unconsciously
reactivated. Counter-identification may thus motivate the father to
counteract these disturbing behaviors in his son, and to attempt at the same
time to stifle the same tendencies in himself.
Seen in this light, Daniel's overactive concern for his children's souls was
simply a reflection of his concern for his own. "Strange to say," wrote John
Muir, "father carefully taught us to consider ourselves very poor worms of
the dust, conceived in sin, etc., and devoutly believed that quenching every
spark of pride and self-confidence was a sacred duty, without realizing that
in so doing he might at the same time be quenching everything else. Praise
he considered most venomous. . . ."15 Daniel was simply applying evangelical
theology to family government: a hatred of sinful flesh which reflected a
basic tenet of Protestantism, and the evangelical morphology of conversion,
whereby the conviction of one's worthlessness and helplessness without God
precedes a conversion experience. Thereafter, the convert attempts to
suppress all sin and sinful thoughts in himself and to achieve Christian
perfection in this life.16 John Muir internalized hatred of sin as
self-criticism and low self-esteem, which manifested themselves in his
lonely avocations of botanizing and mountain-climbing, and in his youthful
lack of grooming habits, which drew comments even by the slack standards of
frontier Madison. So self-effacing could he be that some of his early
letters lack date or signature.
Anxious to raise obedient and pure-minded Christian children, Daniel
controlled, restricted, and punished them. Psychologists have noted that
such childraising methods impede the masculinity of sons.17 Indeed, Muir was
quite shy and did not "court" girls as a youth, or as far as is known for
certain until he got married at age 42. During his Yosemite days his friends
thought that he was a woman-hater or a confirmed bachelor. His botanist's
fascination with flowers brought the occasional questioning remark about the
manliness of the pursuit.18
As adolescent boys become men, the third process in father-son relations
begins as sons and fathers see each other as competitors and rivals. One of
the striking aspects of John Muir's adolescence is how much he tried to
outdo his father. He constantly competed with the hired farmworkers, who
were older, larger, and stronger, to do the most farmwork. He split rails so
much better than Daniel that the latter gave over the entire job to his son.
Though Father had made his violin, his son constructed so many wondrous
inventions that the whole township came to admire them. As Daniel inspected
his son's creations, perhaps he felt a pride of counter-identification
mingled with the envy of competition, and envy won out. Even in their more
spiritual adult callings, no matter how much Daniel preached to whoever
would hear, it was John Muir whose preaching stirred the nation.
John Muir's competition with his father continued until Daniel's death, and
Muir in some ways succeeded in sharing his place, or even replacing him, in
the responsibilities as head of his household. Beginning with his withdrawal
from work to study his Bible when John Muir was a teenager, Daniel slowly
began to abdicate his role as head of the household. In his old age, he
lived apart from his wife and stayed with a daughter in Kansas City, from
which one might infer a certain marital estrangement. John Muir, however,
sent his mother letters, copies of his publications, pressed flowers and
plants, and seeds for her garden. These actions seem more appropriate for a
suitor in competition for her affections (and contrast with his much more
restrained later courtship and marriage). John Muir also gave advice and
significant financial help to every one of his siblings at one time or
another, even convincing one sister to move to California and live close to
him. Daniel performed increasingly poorly the role the nineteenth century
expected of him as husband and father, and John Muir stepped into his
One result of Muir's strained relationship with his father was his lifelong
attraction to mother figures. It was his mother who gave to him her love of
flowers and nature and who enjoyed reading her son's articles and books.
Muir's first biographer noted a scarcity of letters to men, which he
attributed to the fact that men are less apt to keep letters than women.
However, the rich correspondence to the women in his life, particularly
older women, seems to point to something else: Muir's dependence on mother
figures for encouragement and support. One of these, Mrs. Carr, whom he even
addressed as "mother" in some of his letters, was as responsible as anyone
for the course of his later life.
Muir published his autobiography in 1913, when he was seventy-five. He
expressed the resentment and hostility he still bore towards his father in
many stories of the latter's harshness and cruelty, which contrasted with
the rare but affectionate mention of his mother. But any man's feelings
towards his father constitute a complex mixture; Muir always claimed that
Daniel had a good heart, and to some degree admired him and identified with
him. But so driven was Daniel in his pursuit of godliness that he drove his
son away from him, his life model, and his religion, and into a wilderness
suffused with the divine light of a loving, accepting Deity. That Muir was
thus reborn, not from a life of sin to submission to the God of the Bible,
but from a life of repression to revelation of the God of Nature, has left
us the rich and inspiring legacy of his wilderness gospel.
1. The following biography of Muir is drawn from his autobiography, The
Story of My Boyhood and Youth (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1913); from Ronald
H. Limbaugh and Kirsten E. Lewis, eds., The John Muir Papers (Cambridge,
U.K.: Chadwyck-Healy, 1986); and from several biographies: William Frederic
Badè, The Life and Letters of John Muir (2 vols., Boston: Houghton-Mifflin,
1924); Linnie Marsh Wolfe, Son of the Wilderness: The Life of John Muir (New
York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945); Stephen Fox, The American Conservation
Movement: John Muir and His Legacy (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press,
1985); and Frederick Turner, Rediscovering America: John Muir in His Time
and Ours (New York: Viking, 1985).
2. Muir, p. 224.
3. Quoted in Badè, I, p. 146.
4. Quoted in Badè, I, p. 380.
5. Quoted in Wolf, p. 104.
6. Quoted in Wolf, p. 105.
7. Quoted in Badè, I, p. 155.
8. In this paragraph, I wish to correct two misperceptions. First, I have
found no positive evidence of Stephen Fox's assertion that Muir ever
rejected Christianity outright. In fact, his emphasis on divine immanence
and deemphasis on Jesus were quite consonant with liberal religious trends
of the day. Second, Muir's ecological and religious ideas were less original
and more mainstream than Michael P. Cohen recognizes. In his otherwise
excellent biography, The Pathless Way: John Muir and American Wilderness
(Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984), Cohen sees Muir as a kind of
Western Taoist, an interpretation which removes Muir from his historical
9. Norma Radin develops this model in "The Role of the Father in Cognitive,
Academic, and Intellectual Development," in Michael E. Lamb, ed., The Role
of the Father in Child Development (New York: John Wiley and sons, 1976).
There are many possible ways to approach a father-son relationship. This
model recommended itself for a variety of reasons: it was empirical and
lacked elaborate theory or esoteric jargon; it intuitively made sense; it
was very suggestive; and it made clear certain themes that ran through
10. David Read, "The Scottish Tradition of Preaching," in Duncan B.
Forrester and Douglas M. Murray, eds., Studies in the History of Worship in
Scotland (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1984).
11. Quoted in Fox, p. 144.
12. Quoted in Badè, I, p. 57.
13. Quoted in Badè, I, p. 86.
14. See John Nash, "Historical and Social Changes in the Perception of the
Role of the Father," in Lamb.
15. Muir, p. 263.
16. Actually, the exact content of Campbellite theology in general or
Daniel's in particular is problematic. Campbellites had a very broad
definition of what a Christian was and hoped thereby to unite the warring
denominations. But their abandonment of such Calvinist doctrines as innate
depravity did not imply a belief in the innate goodness of man, as Daniel's
comment shows. Alexander Campbell, himself a product of a strict Calvinistic
upbringing, wrote in 1835 that man, although "not under an invincible
necessity to sin," nevertheless was "greatly prone to evil, [and] easily
seduced into transgression." (Christian System, p. 49, quoted in A.T.
DeGroot, Disciple Thought: A History (Fort Worth: Texas Christian
University, 1965), p. 69.)
The Muir family forms an example of the evangelical family type that Philip
Greven describes in The Protestant Temperament: Patterns of Child-Rearing,
Religious Experience, and the Self in Early America (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1977), Part Two. In this type of family, children are taught
to love and fear both parents and God. The role of the father is
authoritarian, while the mother is loving. The parents try to separate the
family from the sinful world, oftentimes resorting to migration and
uprootedness to escape bad influences, such as friends and grandparents.
Within this authoritarian and repressive family government, disobedience is
sinful, and tenderness and indulgence are guarded against; children must be
controlled, their wills broken, to prevent license and self-destruction.
Simple pleasures might be the gateways to lust and sensuality and must be
minimized. Children often rebel during their youth, but the self-confidence,
self-assurance, and self-approval they achieve tend to make them feel
unhappy, anxious, and guilty, and often lead them to return to the fold.
Also, suppression of aggressive masculine traits (many of which contradict
such Christian commandments as turning the other cheek, loving one's enemy,
and submitting to the will of God) may impede masculinity and promote latent
homosexuality. Seen theologically, the destruction of self-worth and
self-righteousness that occurs in Greven's evangelical family is a necessary
aspect of the process of conversion, for it prepares the convert to submit
totally to and rely completely upon God, and to deny his own will in perfect
17. See Henry B. Biller, "The Father and Personality Development: Paternal
Deprivation and Sex Role Development," in Lamb. See also Biller, Father,
Child, and Sex Role: Paternal Determinants of Personality Development
(Lexington, Mass.: Heath Lexington Books, 1971).
18. Michael L. Smith, in chapter 4 of Pacific Visions: California Scientists
and the Environment, 1850-1915 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987),
discusses Muir's domestication of landscape (the mountain as "hospitable," a
"home") and the genderization of science in the nineteenth century. The
public tended to feminize and marginalize the life sciences, to which Muir
was most attracted, and masculinize the hard sciences.
19. This paragraph answers a question to the author by Ron Limbaugh at a
session of the John Muir Conference at the University of the Pacific,
Stockton, California, April 18-22, 1990. Dr. Limbaugh wondered if Muir in
his relationships with his siblings had replaced his father. See also Keith
Kennedy's paper, "Affectionately Yours, John Muir: The Correspondence
between John Muir and His Parents, Brothers, and Sisters," presented at the
Copyright 1993 by
Mark R. Stoll