Ralph Waldo Emerson
|Emerson & John Muir
Edited by Peter Y. Chou
Preface: In Bliss Perry's The Heart of Emerson's Journal (1926),
I came across a list of names "My Men" that Emerson entered in his Journals in 1871.
On noticing John Muir included with Thomas Carlyle, Louis Agassiz, James Russell Lowell,
Henry David Thoreau, Amos Bronson Alcott, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, I wondered when did
Emerson meet the young naturalist. John Muir (1838-1914)
was 33 when he met Emerson (1803-1882) then nearly 68 in Yosemite during the latter's stay
in California April 21-May 22, 1871. In honor of these two "Giant Sequoias of America",
I've gathered the writings of both men on each other from their journals, letters, and essays.
Web links are provided for E-texts on the Internet. Much of the material are not available on
the Web and were transcribed from books in the Stanford University's Green Library. In my mind's eye, I conjured
the scene East meets West, Age meets Youth, Concord Transcendentalist meets California
Naturalist. However, the reality was more subdued. Emerson's health was in decline by 1870,
and his Journal entries were more sporadic. The California trip was arranged partly out of
concern for his health under the pressure of the Harvard lectures. Writing to his wife Lidian
from California (May 20 & 22, 1871), Emerson suggested that, if he were young, he might stay
for good. California was for America a "new garden" and represented for him the future.
Nevertheless, the meeting with Emerson had a profound effect on John Muir as evidenced by
his writings and his love of Nature and conservation of our Wilderness. John Muir's Yosemite
letters to Emerson are worth repeated readings and contemplation that Emerson received
these illumined words from a young admirer & adventurer reflects the compensation of
the enlightening gifts which Emerson had given so generously to the world through his essays,
lectures, and writings. These lines from Rumi's poem (Mathnawi II.80-2) come to mind:
The Beautiful attracts the beautiful. In this world everything attracts something.
Those of Fire attract those of Fire; those of the Light attract those of the Light."
William B. Wright, Goshen, N.Y., George E. Tufts, C.J. Woodbury, Jackson, Michigan,
Edward King, Springfield, Massachusetts, Tecumseh Steece, Lieut. U.S. Navy,
Forceythe Willson, Henry Howard Brownell, John Muir, San Francisco, Cal.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journal, July 2, 1866 (p. 19)
My men: Thomas Carlyle, Louis Agassiz, Ebenezer Rockwood Hoar, James Elliot Cabot,
John Murray Forbes, Charles King Newcomb, Philip Physick Randolph, Richard Morris Hunt,
Alvah Crocker, William Butler Ogden.
Samuel Gray Ward, James Russell Lowell, Sampson Reed, Henry David Thoreau, Amos Bronson Alcott,
Horatio Greenough, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Muir, James Elliot Cabot
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journal, 1871 (p. 188)
California notes. John Muir...
At the request of Galen Clark, our host at Mariposa, & who is by State appointment
the Protector of the trees, & who went with us to the Mammoth Groves, I selected a
Sequoia Gigantea, near Galen's Hospice, in the presence of our party, & named it
Samoset, in memory of the first Indian ally of the Plymouth Colony, and I gave
Mr. Clark directions to procure a tin plate, & have the inscription painted thereon
in the usual form of the named trees;
Young America: William B. Wright, Goshen, N.Y., George E. Tufts, C.J. Woodbury, Jackson, Michigan, Edward King, Springfield, Massachusetts, Tecumseh Steece, Lieut. U.S. Navy, Forceythe Willson, Henry Howard Brownell, John Muir, San Francisco, Cal.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journal, July 2, 1866 (p. 19)
My men: Thomas Carlyle, Louis Agassiz, Ebenezer Rockwood Hoar, James Elliot Cabot, John Murray Forbes, Charles King Newcomb, Philip Physick Randolph, Richard Morris Hunt, Alvah Crocker, William Butler Ogden.
Samuel Gray Ward, James Russell Lowell, Sampson Reed, Henry David Thoreau, Amos Bronson Alcott, Horatio Greenough, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Muir, James Elliot Cabot
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journal, 1871 (p. 188)
California notes. John Muir...
At the request of Galen Clark, our host at Mariposa, & who is by State appointment the Protector of the trees, & who went with us to the Mammoth Groves, I selected a Sequoia Gigantea, near Galen's Hospice, in the presence of our party, & named it Samoset, in memory of the first Indian ally of the Plymouth Colony, and I gave Mr. Clark directions to procure a tin plate, & have the inscription painted thereon in the usual form of the named trees;
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journal, 1871 (pp. 237-239)
Home again from Chicago, Quincy, Springfield, & Dubuque, which I had not believed I should see again, yet found it easier to visit than before, & the kindest reception in each city... Ah me! I have never yet replied to Mrs James Dana of Detroit, nor to Mrs Neal, of Columbus! nor to John Muir...
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journal, Dec. 14, 1871 (p. 260)
Yesterday, my sixty ninth birthday, I found myself on my round of errands in Summer street, &, though close on the spot where I was born, was looking into a street with some bewilderment... If I should live another year, I think I shall cite still the last stanza of my own poem, "The World-Soul."
"no sign that our mighty rocks had ever tingled with earthquake." John Muir
"I lodged in a crease of the bark of a Sequoia" John Muir
John Muir said he slept in a wrinkle of the bark of a Sequoia, on the night after we left him.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journal, May 26, 1872 (p. 274)
Source: The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson,
John Muir's Letter to Emerson, Yosemite Valley,
Mr. R W Emerson
Now Mr Emerson I do most cordially protest against your going away so soon, & so also I am sure do all your instincts & affinities I trust that you will not 'outweary their yearnings'. Do not thus drift away with the mob while the spirits of these rocks & waters hail you after long waiting as their kinsman & persuade you to closer communion.
But now if Fate or one of those mongrel & mishappen organizations called parties compel you to leave for the present, I shall hope for some other fullness of time to come for you.
If you will call at Mr. Hutchings mill I will give you as many of Yosemite & high Sierra plants as you wish as specimens.
I invite you join me in a months worship with Nature in the high temples of the great Sierra Crown beyond our holy Yosemite. It will cost you nothing save the time & very little of that for you will be mostly in Eternity.
And now once more, in the name of Mts Dana & Gabb of the grand glacial hieroglyphics of Tuolumne meadows & Bloody Canon, In the name of a hundred glacial lakes of a hundred glacial-daisy-gentian meadows, In the name of a hundred cascades that barbarous visitors never see, In the name of the grand upper forests of Picea amabilis & P. grandis, & in the name of all the spirit creatures of these rocks & of this whole spiritual atmosphere Do not leave us now
With most cordial regards, I am yours in Nature,
Source: The Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Volume 6,
John Muir's Letter to Emerson, Yosemite, July 6, 1871
According to the account given by Badè, I.254, the welcoming note brought Emerson to Muir the next day and the two men saw each other every day while Emerson remained in the valley. The experience was a memorable one for Muir, who wrote again [two months later]:
Dear Emerson, You are in the calm of home & perhaps will be glad to hear this small echo from our Mariposa trees. Here is Samoset with whom you are acquainted & with whom I spent a night & day. He is noble in form & behaviour as any Sequoia friend that I have less proper, less orthodox than his two companions but has more dignity more freedom, wh' he manifests by the curving & thrushing of every limb. All three touch & intermingle at the top at least when breathed upon by the winds...
I remember that some of your party remarked the silence of our woods & the absence of birds. Well, ere you were half way down the hill a gush of the richest forest song that ever tingled human soul came in grand confidence from the whole grove choir of trees, birds, & flies. When you went away, I walked to the top of the ridge commanding a view of the arterial grooves of the Fresnoe, to calm, & when I returned to the grove near Samoset I was welcomed by five or six birds. The magnificent pileated woodpecker eighteen inches in length came right up to me & turned round & round as if anxious that I should know all his gestures & notes & observe the color & polish of every feather. A little brown specky titmouse was building a house near the ground beneath a flake of Sequoia bark & she allowed me to remain within five feet of her building without ceasing her work only pausing an instant now & then to look at me. Also a very shy slim ashcolored bird about the size of the robin shewed himself occasionally. He is swift & impulsive in flight & frequently hovers about the ends of spruce boughs like a humming bird. A lot of chickadee like birds flitted abut like moths & one with a rich flutey voice approached in the Ceanothus tangle but did not show himself & after all these were sleeping a big-voiced owl echoed the solemn grove from end to end, & next day as I drifted slowly down to the lower trees I saw birds everywhere: the Grizzly Giant was full of birds, & as I was about to start for Clarks while I lingered among farewell impressions at the base of the last Sequoia a bird came down to one of the lowest branches near my head & uttered loud & clear a bosomful of the most startling worded song that I ever felt. From first to last all of Nature seemed to hear the call of another King David & joined in one grand rejoicing. There was the sweetest wavings & hushings of trees hummings of insect wings open jointed warblings of birds & the rocks too pulsed to the general joy, & every crystal & individual dust
In a few days I start for the high Sierra East of Yosemite & I would willingly walk all the way to your Concord if so I could have you for a companion the indians & hot plains would be nothing. In particular I want to study a certain pinetree at different elevations, & the lavas of Mono.
The dear Mother has told me one magnificent truth since you were here. Two years ago I crossed the basin of Yosemite creek a mile or two back of the top of the falls & observed what appeared as indications of a glacier, & again about a month ago I was upon Mt Hoffman & on my return to the Valley crossed the Yosemite basin & received still more satisfactory hints of the former existence of a glacier which flowed at right angles to those later & larger ones of the summits...
Well I had not gone four miles ere I found all I had so long sought & you might have heard a shout in Concord. This glacier was about 12 meters in length by about 6 in breadth. Of the depth I have as yet no data. Its course was nearly at right angles to the summit glaciers & perhaps it was not born quite so early as they. & I am sure that it died long before they were driven from the canons of the Tenaya & Nevada streams. I have just finished a first reading of your Society & Solitude. The poems I have read several times. I have been very deeply interested with them & am far from being done with them. Excepting the woodnotes which Mrs. Carr read me & the Burly bumblebee I had not seen any of your poems before.
Since I cannot have yourself I want your photograph.
Source: The Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Volume 6,
John Muir's Letter to Emerson, Yosemite Valley, January 10, 1872
Dear Emerson, Here is a sheaflet of winter wheat, ripe & mellow from fields of snow a plume of Libocedrus golden with staminate cones It will give you a tingle of beauty, & I will be glad.
Would you were here to sing our Yosemite snowbound to bathe in these fountain lights to warm in these fountain loves. What prayers push my pen for your coming, but I must hush them all back for our roads are deep blocked with snowbloom
Farewell, J. Muir
Source: The Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Volume 6,
John Muir's Letter to Emerson, Yosemite Valley, March 18, 1872
Dear Emerson, Come to our mountain fountains, Come to Yosemite. Last year you left against law, & I turn to you now in your town & up the Valley to Tissiack to see if there be no misunderstanding betwixt you. There are no apologies in Nature else you would owe her one.
You cannot be content with last years baptism 'Twas only a sprinkle. Come be immersed. Your hitherward affinities are not half satisfied. I can't understand the laws that control you to Concord. You are called of the Sierras an atom elect. Strange you come not to your magnets. If you will come about June & stay until October I will have a hut & horse ready for you. You will see not only Yosemite so-called but a hundred others besides & all their compassing Sierras. Yosemite is only one of many & we will dwell with the whole Merced brotherhood, & we will know how they were made, & how they are now changing from glory to glory. You will lose no time, nothing but civilized sins. Think of the soul lavings & bathings you will get. Think of the glow of your afterlife. You have been able to look past the fogs of culture to the fountain loves & lives beyond. Here those fountains are bare & unmingled. Here are the shores of all our eternities. How blessed 'twill be after all your hard toils to rest hushed & soothed on those plain spirit shores. I do not beckon you here because mountains are more glorious than plains, but because they are less glorious, because they are simple & absorbable. Here we may more easily see God. I know smooth places on the mountains & you will never be wearied. You will have a tent & be warm every night in a sheltered grove or on the plushy bank of a glacier meadow. Do you know the manners of mountain clouds? those angels of lakes & streams? We will travel like them lingering about rockwalls & brows waving softly along glacial curves from mountain to mountain, from dome to dome, halting about the skirts of forests, poising on slender peaks in full exposure to the powers of fountain light. If you come in June we will witness grand upheavals of mountain ranges in the sky, cloud Sierras close allied to the granite at their feet. We are a kind of cumulus cloud ourselves, sun-thrilled vapors condensed at this terrestrial temperature to degrees that we call solid & liquid. Sky clouds may come as glaciers & go about the mountains dense as we.
Your daughter could not come at all last year. May she not come now. The mountains will make her strong. She will dwell in rayless atmospheres of the very Soul of Light. Tell her that, & she will not be weary, for these mountains dissolve human bodies. She will go about effortless & free, & her body will follow light as mist. People speak of sitting in their bones. We will have both bones & flesh melted off & sit in our souls. If Shakespeare were with us we would teach him how to get out of a mortal coil without shuffling. Tell her that she will see glossy glacier polished domes of porphyritic granite so full of life that she will touch them tenderly as if made of nervous shrinking flesh, & she will see countless daisied gentianed meadows beautiful beyond thought & crystal lakes & cascades & falls innumerable spread everywhere like lace, & confiding russet sparrows on the highest summit peaks, & crimson butterflies not found in all the world besides, & she will see the Williamson spruce the most graceful tree creature of the Sierras, & Cassiope the blessed with her showers of purple urns, & she will see sunsets not purple & golden belonging to Earth but of a transparent spirit kind that are windows of heaven. And tell her that angels are abundant everywhere. Above all tell her of the light. She will bathe in holy mountain Light.
Is her husband that is so fond of hunting. If so the Tuolumne Canon which is an immense Yosemite over twenty miles long, is full of bears & deer that are never disturbed & to a bold hunter it will be a paradise & the grandeur of its scenery in which I mingled for the first time last Nov' will make it interesting for all.
I am glad you call me to your house. I will come, but first I have two or three years work to do here on glaciers & mt'n structure. I was about done for myself but Prof Runkle of Boston & Mrs. Carr are making me study it into shape for others, & of course a great deal of arithmetic is involved. I have a low opinion of mountain books, they are like Signal smokes to call attention, little more. No amount of engraving on language or wood will ever make a single soul to know these mountains. As well try to warm the naked & frost bitten by lectures on caloric, or painted fires. One day's exposure will do more than cartload of books. No photographer's plate is so sensitive as those of the human soul provided only that they are pure.
A little time ago a friend sent Tyndall's Hours of Ex' in the Alps, wherein he speaks doubtfully gropingly of mountain structure. It is astonishing to see how little the greatest know in this field. If Tyndall would leave his lectures & books & dwell with the Alps he would finally make a speech or book of everlasting worth, but he does not allow himself time to fill. I wish you could bring him with you. Do you know him? There is a glorious feast here for him. He would emerge from our fountains a new creature. So also would Agazzis & Gray notwithstanding all they have enjoyed...
Thanks for the books & for your generous words. Your time is precious & all the world wants it. My letters look for but little answer, only an electric tap or two of your busy pen to make me feel that we see each other. Let me hear soon concerning your coming. Most cordially yrs John Muir
Source: The Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Volume 6,
Thayer's Account of Emerson's Meeting with John Muir
On the evening of Monday [May 8, 1871] there came an admiring, enthusiastic letter for Mr. Emerson from M., a young man living in the valley, and tending a saw-mill there. He was a Scotchman by birth, who had come to this country at the age of eleven, and was a graduate at Madison University, in Wisconsin. Some friends near San Francisco had written him that Mr. Emerson was coming, and they had also told Mr. Emerson about him. He had read Mr. Emerson's books, but had never seen him, and wrote now with enthusiasm, wishing for an opportunity to come to him. The next morning Mr. Emerson asked my company on horseback for a visit to M. So he mounted his pied mustang, and we rode over, and found M. at the saw-mill alone. He was an interesting young fellow, of real intelligence and character, a botanist mainly, who, after studying a year or two at Madison, had "zigzagged his way," he said, "to the Gulf of Mexico, and at last had found this valley, and had got entangled here, in love with the mountains and flowers; and he didn't know when he should get away." He had built the saw-mill for Hutchings, and was now working it. He had heretofore tended sheep at times, even flocks of twenty-five hundred. Occasionally he rambled among the mountains, and camped out for months; and he urged Mr. Emerson, with an amusing zeal, to stay and go off with him on such a trip. He lodged in the saw-mill, and we climbed a ladder to his room. Here he brought out a great many dried specimens of plants which he had collected, and hundreds of his own graceful pencil-sketches of the mountain peaks and forest trees, and gave us the botanical names, and talked of them with enthusiastic interest. All these treasures he poured out before Mr. Emerson, and begged him to accept them. But Mr. Emerson declined; wishing leave, however, to bring his friends to see them. Other calls were interchanged that day and the next; and when we left, two days later, to see the great trees of the Mariposa grove, M. joined our horseback party... (pp. 88-91)
On the next morning, May 11, we left the great valley before seven o'clock... It was pleasant, as we rode along, to hear him sound M. on his literary points. M. was not strong there; he preferred, for instance, Alice Cary to Byron. Upon these matters Mr. Emerson talked to him, on this day and the next, a good deal...
Clarke's was a plain country tavern on a fork of the Merced River, at about the same level as the Yosemite Valley. It was full, but we were somehow crowded in. In the morning we were off at eight o'clock for the Mariposa grove. Galen Clark, our landlord, a solid, sensible man from New Hampshire, was the State guardian of the great trees, and now accompanied us, honoris causa. It was a sunny and pleasant ride. M. talked of the trees; and we grew learned, and were able to tell a sugar pine from a yellow pine, and to name the silver fir, and the "libocedrus," which is almost our arbor-vitae and second cousin to the great sequoia. By and by M. called out that he saw the sequoias. The general level was now about fifty-five hundred feet above the sea; the trees stood a little lower, in a hollow of the mountain. They were "big trees," to be sure; and yet at first they seemed not so very big. We grew curious, and looked about among them for a while; and soon began to discover what company we were in...
We sat down to lunch near a hut, and had a chance to rest and to look about us more quietly. M. protested against our going away so soon: "It is," said he, "as if a photographer should remove his plate before the impression was fully made;" he begged us to stay there and camp with him for the night. After lunch, Mr. Emerson, at Clark's request, chose and named a tree. This had been done by one distinguished person, and another, and a sign put up to commemorate it. Mr. Emerson's tree was not far from the hut; it was a vigorous and handsome one, although not remarkably large, measuring fifty feet in circumference at two and a half feet from the ground. He named it Samoset, after our Plymouth sachem. He had greatly enjoyed the day. "The greatest wonder," said he, "is that we can see these trees and not wonder more."
We were off at about three o'clock, and left M. standing in the forest alone; he was to pass the night there in solitude, and to find his way back to the valley on foot. We had all become greatly interested in him, and hated to leave him. His name has since grown to be well known at the East, through his valuable articles in the magazines.
James Bradley Thayer, A Western Journey with Mr. Emerson
Muir's 1871 Reminiscence of Emerson at Harvard in 1896
One of the most memorable experiences of John Muir was the coming of Ralph Waldo Emerson to Yosemite Valley, on May 5th, 1871. Muir was thirty three years old and Emerson sixty eight, but the disparity of their years proved no obstacle to the immediate beginning of a warm friendship. The best account of their meeting is contained in a memorandum of after-dinner remarks made by Muir twenty five years later when Harvard University conferred upon him an honorary M. A. degree.
I was fortunate [he said] in meeting some of the choicest of your Harvard men, and at once recognized them as the best of God's nobles. Emerson, Agassiz, Gray these men influenced me more than any others. Yes, the most of my years were spent on the wild side of the continent, invisible, in the forests and mountains. These men were the first to find me and hail me as a brother. First of all, and greatest of all, came Emerson. I was then living in Yosemite Valley as a convenient and grand vestibule of the Sierra from which I could make excursions into the adjacent mountains. I had not much money and was then running a mill that I had built to saw fallen timber for cottages.
When he came into the Valley I heard the hotel people saying with solemn emphasis, "Emerson is here." I was excited as I had never been excited before, and my heart throbbed as if an angel direct from heaven had alighted on the Sierran rocks. But so great was my awe and reverence, I did not dare to go to him or speak to him. I hovered on the outside of the crowd of people that were pressing forward to be introduced to him and shaking hands with him. Then I heard that in three or four days he was going away, and in the course of sheer desperation I wrote him a note and carried it to his hotel telling him that E1 Capitan and Tissiack demanded him to stay longer.
The next day he inquired for the writer and was directed to the little sawmill. He came to the mill on horseback attended by Mr. Thayer [James Bradley Thayer, a member of Emerson's party, who, in 1884, published a little volume of reminiscences under the title of A Western Journey with Mr. Emerson] and inquired for me. I stepped out and said, "I am Mr. Muir." "Then Mr. Muir must have brought his own letter," said Mr. Thayer and Emerson said, "Why did you not make yourself known last evening? I should have been very glad to have seen you." Then he dismounted and came into the mill. I had a study attached to the gable of the mill, overhanging the stream, into which I invited him, but it was not easy of access, being reached only by a series of sloping planks roughened by slats like a hen ladder; but he bravely climbed up and I showed him my collection of plants and sketches drawn from the surrounding mountains which seemed to interest him greatly, and he asked many questions, pumping unconscionably.
He came again and again, and I saw him every day while he remained in the valley, and on leaving I was invited to accompany him as far as the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees. I said, "I'll go, Mr. Emerson, if you will promise to camp with me in the Grove. I'll build a glorious campfire, and the great brown boles of the giant Sequoias will be most impressively lighted up, and the night will be glorious." At this he became enthusiastic like a boy, his sweet perennial smile became still deeper and sweeter, and he said, "Yes, yes, we will camp out, camp out"; and so next day we left Yosemite and rode twenty five miles through the Sierra forests, the noblest on the face of the earth, and he kept me talking all the time, but said little himself. The colossal silver firs, Douglas spruce, Libocedrus and sugar pine, the kings and priests of the conifers of the earth, filled him with awe and delight. When we stopped to eat luncheon he called on different members of the party to tell stories or recite poems, etc., and spoke, as he reclined on the carpet of pine needles, of his student days at Harvard. But when in the afternoon we came to the Wawona Tavern...
There the memorandum ends, but the continuation is found in Muir's volume Our National Parks at the conclusion of the chapter on "The Forests of the Yosemite".
William Frederic Badè,
The Life and Letters of John Muir, Vol. 1, Ch. VIII
John Muir's Essay in Our National Parks (1901)
During my first years in the Sierra I was ever calling on everybody within reach to admire them, but I found no one half warm enough until Emerson came. I had reach his essays, and felt sure that of all men he would best interpret the sayings of these noble mountains and trees. Nor was my faith weakened when I met him in Yosemite. He seemed as serene as a sequoia, his head in the empyrean; and forgetting his age, plans, duties, ties of every sort, I proposed an immeasurable camping trip back in the heart of the mountains. He seemed anxious to go, but considerately mentioned his party. I said: "Never mind. The mountains are calling; run away, and let plans and parties and dragging lowland duties all gang tapsal-teerie. We'll go up a caņon singing your own song, `Good-by, proud world! I'm going home, in divine earnest. Up there lies a new heaven and a new earth; let us go to the show." But alas, it was too late, too near the sundown of his life. The shadows were growing long, and he leaned on his friends. His party, full of indoor philosophy, failed to see the natural beauty and fullness of promise of my wild plan, and laughed at it in good-natured ignorance, as if it were necessarily amusing to imagine that Boston people might be led to accept Sierra manifestations of God at the price of rough camping. Anyhow, they would have none of it, and held Mr. Emerson to the hotels and trails.
After spending only five tourist days in Yosemite he was led away, but I saw him two days more; for I was kindly invited to go with the party as far as the Mariposa big trees. I told Mr. Emerson that I would gladly go to the sequoias with him, if he would camp in the grove. He consented heartily, and I felt sure that we would have at least one good wild memorable night around a sequoia camp-fire. Next day we rode through the magnificent forests of the Merced basin, and I kept calling his attention to the sugar pines, quoting his wood-notes, "Come listen what the pine tree saith," etc., pointing out the noblest as kings and high priests, the most eloquent and commanding preachers of all the mountain forests, stretching forth their century-old arms in benediction over the worshiping congregations crowded about them. He gazed in devout admiration, saying but little, while his fine smile faded away.
Early in the afternoon, when we reached Clark's Station, I was surprised to see the party dismount. And when I asked if we were not going up into the grove to camp they said: "No; it would never do to lie out in the night air. Mr. Emerson might take cold; and you know, Mr. Muir, that would be a dreadful thing." In vain I urged, that only in homes and hotels were colds caught, that nobody ever was known to take cold camping in these woods, that there was not a single cough or sneeze in all the Sierra. Then I pictured the big climate-changing, inspiring fire I would make, praised the beauty and fragrance of sequoia flame, told how the great trees would stand about us transfigured in the purple light, while the stars looked down between the great domes; ending by urging them to come on and make an immortal Emerson night of it. But the house habit was not to be overcome, nor the strange dread of pure night air, though it is only cooled day air with a little dew in it. So the carpet dust and unknowable reeks were preferred. And to think of this being a Boston choice! Sad commentary on culture and the glorious transcendentalism.
Accustomed to reach whatever place I started for, I was going up the mountain alone to camp, and wait the coming of the party next day. But since Emerson was so soon to vanish, I concluded to stop with him. He hardly spoke a word all the evening, yet it was a great pleasure simply to be near him, warming in the light of his face as at a fire. In the morning we rode up the trail through a noble forest of pine and fir into the famous Mariposa Grove, and stayed an hour or two, mostly in ordinary tourist fashion, looking at the biggest giants, measuring them with a tape line, ridding through prostrate fire-bored trunks, etc., though Mr. Emerson was alone occasionally, sauntering about as if under a spell. As we walked through a fine group, he quoted, "There were giants in those days," recognizing the antiquity of the race. To commemorate his visit, Mr. Galen Clark, the guardian of the grove, selected the finest of the unnamed trees and requested him to give it a name. He named it Samoset, after the New England sachem, as the best that occurred to him.
The poor bit of measured time was soon spent, and while the saddles were being adjusted I again urged Emerson to stay. "You are yourself a sequoia," I said. "Stop and get acquainted with your big brethren." But he was past his prime, and was now as a child in the hands of his affectionate but sadly civilized friends, who seemed as full of old-fashioned conformity as of bold intellectual independence. It was the afternoon of the day and the afternoon of his life, and his course was now westward down all the mountains into the sunset. The party mounted and rode away in wondrous contentment, apparently, tracing the trail through ceanothus and dogwood bushes, around the bases of the big trees, up the slope of the sequoia basin, and over the divide. I followed to the edge of the grove. Emerson lingered in the rear of the train, and when he reached the top of the ridge, after all the rest of the party were over and out of sight, he turned his horse, took off his hat and waved me a last good-by. I felt lonely, so sure had I been that Emerson of all men would be the quickest to see the mountains and sing them. Gazing awhile on the spot where he vanished, I sauntered back into the heart of the grove, made a bed of sequoia plumes and ferns by the side of a stream, gathered a store of firewood, and then walked about until sundown. The birds, robins, thrushes, warblers, etc., that had kept out of sight, came about me, now that all was quiet, and made cheer. After sundown I built a great fire, and as usual had it all to myself. And though lonesome for the first time in these forests, I quickly took heart again, the trees had not gone to Boston, nor the birds; and as I sat by the fire, Emerson was still with me in spirit, though I never again saw him in the flesh. He sent books and wrote, cheering me on; advised me not to stay too long in solitude. Soon he hoped that my guardian angel would intimate that my probation was at a close. Then I was to roll up my herbariums, sketches, and poems (though I never knew I had any poems), and come to his house; and when I tired of him and his humble surroundings, he would show me to better people.
But there remained many a forest to wander through, many a mountain and glacier to cross, before I was to see his Wachusett and Monadnock, Boston and Concord. It was seventeen years after our parting on the Wawona ridge that I stood beside his grave under a pine tree on the hill above Sleepy Hollow. He had gone to higher Sierras, and, as I fancied, was again waving his hand in friendly recognition.
Our National Parks, (1901)
John Muir's Autobiography
John Muir loved Emerson's dictim "Hitch your wagon to a star" which appeared in Emerson's Society and Solitude (1870), a year before the two met in Yosemite. In his July 6, 1871 letter to Emerson, Muir mentions finishing reading this book. In the final chapter of his autobiography Stories of My Boyhood and Youth (1913), Muir writes about his Alma Mater, "But I was only leaving one University for another, the Wisconsin University for the University of the Wilderness." Muir also acknowledges his guiding light: "Thus I took Emerson's advice and hitched my dumping-wagon bed to a star."
Stories of My Boyhood and Youth, (1913)
John Muir's Journals
Emerson was the most serene, majestic, sequoia-like soul I ever met. His smile was as sweet and calm as morning light on mountains. There was a wonderful charm in his presence; his smile, serene eye, his voice, his manner, were all sensed at once by everybody. I felt here was a man I had been seeking. The Sierra, I was sure, wanted to see him, and he must not go before gathering them an interview! A tremendous sincerity was his. He was as sincere as the trees, his eye sincere as the sun. (Undated)
John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir,
Sierra Club Article on Emerson & John Muir
Muir was not always the relaxed speaker who held forth at Sierra Club meetings, or the easy companion who conversed so readily with the teen-aged Samuel Merrill. In this selection, compiled by Samuel Farquhar from the writings of Emerson's friend, James Bradley Thayer, and of Muir himself, we see him as the shy and awkward, yet eager and engaging young man he was when he met Emerson in Yosemite in the spring of 1871. Emerson, honored, old, and tired, was on a tour of California. [The three selections quoted in this article Thayer's A Western Journey with Mr. Emerson (1884), Badè's The Life and Letters of John Muir (1924), and Muir's Our National Parks (1901) have been reproduced above.]
Samuel T. Farquhar, "John Muir and Ralph Waldo Emerson in Yosemite" (1934)
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