The writings of John Muir (1838-1914), American naturalist and explorer, are important for their scientific observations and their contributions to the cause of conservation.
John Muir was born in Dunbar, Scotland, on April 21, 1838. If his recollections in The Story of My Boyhood and Youth (1913) can be credited, his father was harsh and tyrannical, enforcing piety and industry by frequent whippings. In 1849 the Muirs moved to America, establishing a homestead near Portage, Wis. When Muir's father forbade him to waste daylight hours on reading, he asked and received permission to rise early in order to study. He invented "an early-rising machine" that dumped him out of bed at one o'clock each morning. In 1860 he displayed this and other inventions at the Wisconsin State Fair.
In 1861 Muir entered the University of Wisconsin to study science. Subsequently he tried studying medicine but soon gave it up for various jobs that challenged his inventive skills. In 1867 he made the career decision he never regretted: to give up his own inventions "to study the inventions of God." He set out on the tour described in A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf (1916). Actually he went as far as Cuba. In 1868 he traveled to San Francisco and worked on a sheep ranch. Exploring Yosemite Valley occupied much of the next 6 years. On all explorations he kept a journal of scientific and personal observations and also pencil sketches.
In 1880, returning from exploring in Alaska, Muir married Louie Wanda Strentzel. In 1881, after another trip to Alaska, he settled on a fruit ranch near Martinez, Calif. He worked 10 years to make the ranch pay enough to enable him to give it up. Having thus provided permanently for his wife, two daughters, and himself, he turned his full attention to the study of nature. Glaciation particularly interested him, and his work contributed to its explanation.
In 1889 Muir argued in Century Magazine that Yosemite Valley should become a national park. The passage of legislation for that in 1890 owed much to his influence. The Mountains of California (1893), Our National Parks (1901), and his many articles in popular magazines greatly advanced the conservation movement.
Muir's wife died in 1905. During the 10 years Muir survived her, he published four books, including Stickeen (1909), which was a much-admired dog story, and My First Summer in the Sierra (1911). He died in Los Angeles on Dec. 24, 1914. John of the Mountain, drawn from Muir's journal of his 1899 Alaskan expedition, appeared in 1938.
Further Reading on John Muir
Linnie M. Wolfe, Son of the Wilderness: The Life of John Muir (1945), is an admiring biography. Edwin Way Teale, The Wilderness World of John Muir (1954), provides an introduction to Muir and a selection of his writings. The development of Muir's ideas and character is surveyed in Herbert F. Smith, John Muir (1965). Muir is discussed at length in Norman Foerster, Nature in American Literature (1923).