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Tributes to John Muir From Those Who Knew Him

In addition to the excerpts we provide below - most reprinted from the "John Muir Memorial Issue", Sierra Club Bulletin , Vol. 10, No. 1, January, 1916.], you will find additonal typescript reminiscences by John Muir's contemporaries that had a direct bearing on Muir's life and career at the University of the Pacific's John Muir Papers. Several of those were collected by William F. Badè probably as research for his book Life and Letters of John Muir.

A word from the President ... Theodore Roosevelt :

He was a dauntless soul... Not only are his books delightful, not only is he the author to whom all men turn when they think of the Sierras and Northern glaciers, and the giant trees of the California slope, but he was also - what few nature-lovers are - a man able to influence contemporary thought and action on the subjects to which he had devoted his life. He was a great factor in influencing the thought of California and the thought of the entire country so as to secure the preservation of those great natural phenomena - wonderful canyons, giant trees, slopes of flower-spangled hillsides - which make California a veritable Garden of the Lord.... Our generation owes much to John Muir. Full Text

[from The Outlook , January 6, 1915, pp. 27-28.]


[The following are reprinted from the "John Muir Memorial Issue", Sierra Club Bulletin , Vol. 10, No. 1, January, 1916.]

James Bryce :
He was the patriarch of American lovers of mountains, one who had not only a passion for the splendours of Nature, but a wonderful power of interpreting her to men. The very air of the granite peaks, the very fragrance of the deep and solemn forest, seem to breathe round us and soothe our sense as we read the descriptions of his lonely wanderings in the Sierras when their majesty was first revealed. California may well honour the service of one who did so much to make known her charms and to shield them from desecration. And yo of the [Sierra] Club will cherish the memory of a singularly pure and simple character, who was in his life all that a worshipper of nature ought to be. Full Text

Enos Mills :
The grandest character in national park history and nature literature is John Muir. He rendered mankind a vast and heroic service. We are yet too close to the deeds of this magnificent man to comprehend the helpfulness of his work to humanity. His books and his work are likely to be the most influential force in this century. His memory is destined to be ever with the silent places, with the bird songs, with wild flowers, with the great glaciers, with snowy peaks, with dark forests, with white cascades that leap in glory, with sunlight and shadow, with the splendid national parks, and with every song that Nature sings in the wild gardens of the world. Full Text

Robert Underwood Johnson :
One almost hesitates to use the word "great" of one who has just passed away, but I believe that history will give a very high place to the indomitable explorer who discovered the great glacier named after him, and whose life for eleven years in the High Sierra resulted in a body of writing of marked excellence, combining accurate and carefully co-ordinated scientific observation with poetic sensibility and expression. But Muir's public services were not merely scientific and literary. His countrymen owe him gratitude as the pioneer of our system of national parks. Out of the fight which he led for the better care of the Yosemite by the State of California grew the demand for the extension of the system. To this many persons and organizations contributed, but Muir's writings and enthusiasm were the chief forces that inspired the movement. All the other torches were lighted from his.
. . . . .
Muir was not without wide and affectionate regard in his own state, but California was too near to him to appreciate fully his greatness as a prophet, or the service he did in trying to recall her to the gospel of beauty. She has, however, done him and herself honor in providing for a path in the High Sierra, from the Yosemite to Mount Whitney, to be called the John Muir trail. William Kent, during Muir's life, paid him a rare tribute in giving to the nation a park of redwoods with the understanding that it should be named Muir Woods. But the nation owes him more. It is most appropriate and fitting that a wild Sierra region should be named for him. The best monument to him, however, would be a successful movement, even at this late day, to save the Hetch Hetchy Valley from appropriation for commercial purposes. Full Text

William E. Colby :
John Muir will never be fully appreciated by those whose minds are filled with money getting and the sordid things of modern every-day life. To such Muir is an enigma - a fanatic - visionary and impractical.... That a man should brave the storms and thread the pathless wilderness, exult in the earthquake's violence, rejoice in the icy blasts of the northern glaciers, and that he should do all this alone and unarmed, year in and year out, is a marvel that but few can understand.... His latter days were so full of the rich experiences of these earlier years of devotion to his chosen work and he looked with such calm and serenity out upon the feverish haste and turmoil of those about him, engaged in making everything within reach "dollarable," that he seemed to be living in a world apart - a world created by his own wonderful spirit and efforts. Full Text

David Starr Jordan :
The impression of his personality was so strong on those who knew him that all words seem cheap beside it. Those who never knew him can never, through any word of ours, be brought to realize what they have missed. He had a quaint, crisp way of talking, his literary style in fact, and none of the nature lovers, the men who know how to feel in the presence of great things and beautiful, have expressed their craft better than he. Full Text

Charles Keeler :
Never have I met another man of such singleness of mind in his devotion to nature as Muir. He lived and moved and had his being as a devotee. Of himself he took little heed, but no zealous missionary ever went abroad to spread the gospel with his fervor in communicating a love of nature. And with him a love of nature meant an understanding of her laws. Every tree and flower, every bird and stone was to him the outward token of an invisible world in process of making.... He sauntered over the mountains, claiming kinship with the rocks and growing things and gathering them all to his heart. He has told me that he found it necessary, in getting people to listen, to tell them stories such as his immortal tale of Stickeen , but the real hope in his heart was to awaken their interest so they would want to go to nature themselves and to delve into the mysteries of her ways. Full Text

Robert B. Marshall :
His simplicity was his power. He knew nature as no one else did... His affection for the commonplace little pine-needle was as genuine as that for the most beautiful flower or the grandest tree, and the little flakes of snow and the little crumbs of granite were each to him real life, and each has a personality worthy of his wonderful mind's attention; and he talked and wrote of them as he did of the ouzel or the Douglas squirrel - made real persons of them, and they talked and lived with him and were a part of his life as is our own flesh and blood. One cannot describe Mount Rainier, one cannot describe the Grand Canyon, one cannot describe his beloved Yosemite; humanity is silent in their presence. So it was with John Muir to all who knew him; so has his influence affected mankind, and so will his life and work impress generations to come. This most wonderful of men, lifted above death and time by his human sympathy no less than by his genius, will forever influence the world, and it will be the better for his example and his inspiration. Full Text

Harriet Monroe :
I wonder sometimes if there was ever such another lover of nature as John Muir. Never at least for me! He really loved every littlest thing that grows; studied the mole, the beetle, the lily, with complete and perfect sympathy. Full Text

Henry Fairfield Osborn :
I believe that John Muir's name is destined to be immortal through his writings on mountains, forest, rivers, meadows, and the sentiment of the animal and plant life they contain. I do not believe anyone else has ever lived with just the same sentiment toward trees and flowers and the works of nature in general as that which John Muir manifested in his life, his conversations and his writings. Full Text

William Frederic Badé :
To few men was it given to realize so completely the elements of eternity - of time-effacing enjoyment in work - as it was to John Muir. The secret of it all was in his soul, the soul of a child, of a poet, and of a strong man, all blended into one. An innate nobility of character, an unstudied reverence for all that is sublime in nature or in life, unconsciously called forth the best in his friends and acquaintances. In the spiritual as in the physical realm flowers blossomed in his footsteps where he went. After all it is to such men as John Muir that we must look for the sustenance of those finer feelings that keep men in touch with the spiritual meaning and beauty of the universe, and make them capable of understanding those rare souls whose insight has invested life with imperishable hope and charm. To all who knew John Muir intimately his gentleness and humaneness toward all creatures that shared the world with him, was one of the finest attributes of his character. He was ever looking forward to the time when our wild fellow creatures would be granted their indisputable right to a place in the sun.... John Muir's writings are sure to live - by the law that men who lift their eyes at all from the commonplace ideals of work-a-day life will inevitably fix them on the snowy crests of human thought and achievement.... Among those who have won title to remembrance as prophets and interpreters of nature he rises to a moral as well as poetical altitude that will command the admiring attention of men so long as human records shall endure. Full Text

Source: Sierra Club Bulletin John Muir Memorial Number, January, 1916

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