You’ve heard of Charles Darwin. Also, concordantly, Henry David Thoreau. If you’re really into national parks, naturally you’re familiar with John Muir (“Father of the National Parks”). If you have an avian fixation, you’re birds-of-a-feather with John James Audubon, world famous ornithologist and painter of our feathered friends. But I suspect that the name of John Burroughs probably drew a blank when you saw it in my last post.
Fame is fickle. In his day, Burroughs (1837-1921) was as well known as any of the above naturalists who remain well remembered today. But, according to biographer Edward Renehan, he was more “a literary naturalist” than a scientific one, which (along with his rejection of religious orthodoxy) may account somewhat for his fading into relative obscurity. Whatever the case, Burroughs, who was a contemporary of Thoreau and Audubon, a good friend of Muir (as well as of Walt Whitman and Theodore Roosevelt), and has been called “America’s Darwin,” has been left in their shadow. More’s the pity.
The last of his many books was ACCEPTING THE UNIVERSE (1920), from whence the quote in my 9/20 post. Other quotes I like from Burroughs’ works include these:
Nature is not moral. There is no moral law until it is born of human intercourse. The law of the jungle begins and ends in the jungle; when we translate it into human affairs, we must take the cruelty of the jungle out of it, and read it in terms of beneficent competition. Man is the jungle humanized.
The greatest of human achievements and the most precious is that of the creative artist. In words, in color, in sounds, in forms, man comes closest to emulating the Creative Energy itself. It seems as if the pleasure and the purpose of the Creative Energy were endless invention.
How beautifully the leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days.
Only a living tree drops its fruit or its leaves; only a growing man drops his outgrown opinions.
I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I close with a curio: a 1919 prizmacolor film of “a day in the life of John Burroughs,” which ends with words wise in the ways of what really matters: