Henry David Thoreau
- Writer and poet, best known for the journal he kept at Walden Pond, which became the source of his most famous book, Walden, Or Life in the Woods (1854)
Muir first became acquainted with the writings of Thoreau and
Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1862 (the year of Thoreau's death) when
Muir was at the University of Wisconsin. He apparently continued
to read Thoreau over the rest of his life.
- Muir wrote to Jeanne Carr on May 29, 1870 that he had recently read Thoreau's Maine Woods. In 1872, a friend sent Muir a copy of Thoreau's Walden, which remained in Muir's library the rest of his life. In 1879, Muir took a copy of The Maine Woods on his first trip to Alaska.
copy of the twenty-volume, 1906 edition of The Writings
of Henry David Thoreau is
heavily annotated, underscored, and indexed on the blank pages
with extensive commentary by Muir.
- Several of Muir's literary passages reflect Thoreau, including his comments on "sauntering" and their shared thought that in "wildness lies the hope of the world." But, as Richard Fleck writes, "John Muir was no rote imitator of Thoreau but rather a thoughtful integrator of this New England master into his own system of Sierra values."
- Despite his admiration for Thoreau's writings, Muir found both Emerson and Thoreau insufficiently wild. Muir wrote, "Even open-eyed Thoreau would perhaps have done well had he extended his walks westward to see what God had to show in the lofty sunset mountains."
- According to Muir's friend Henry
Fairfield Osborn, Muir "is a very firm believer in Thoreau and starts my reading deeply of this author... In his attitude toward nature, as well as in his special gifts and abilities, Muir shares many qualities with Thoreau. First among these is his mechanical ability, his fondness for the handling of tools; second, his close identification with nature; third, his interpretation of the religious spirit of nature; fourth, his happiness in solitude with nature; fifth, his lack of sympathy with crowds of people; sixth, his intense love of animals." Osborn goes on to stress that "Thoreau's quiet residence at Walden is to be contrasted with Muir's world-wide journeyings."
See John Muir by Henry Fairfield Osborn.
- In June 1893, John Muir visited Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord and laid flowers on Thoreau's and Emerson's graves. He then visited Walden Pond, reflecting, "No wonder Thoreau lived here two years. I could have enjoyed living here two hundred or two thousand. It is only about one and a half or two miles from Concord, a mere saunter, and how people should regard Thoreau as a hermit on account of his little delightful stay here I cannot guess." Life and Letters of John Muir, Chapter XVI, Trees and Travel, 1891-1897.
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