John Burroughs and the Place of Nature

John Burroughs and the Place of Nature

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 280
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    John Burroughs and the Place of Nature
    Book Description:

    This study situates John Burroughs, together with John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt, as one of a trinity of thinkers who, between the Civil War and World War I, defined and secured a place for nature in mainstream American culture. Though not as well known today, Burroughs was the most popular American nature writer of his time. Prolific and consistent, he published scores of essays in influential large-circulation magazines and was often compared to Thoreau. Unlike Thoreau, however, whose reputation grew posthumously, Burroughs wasa celebrity during his lifetime: he wrote more than thirty books, enjoyed a continual high level of visibility, and saw his work taught widely in public schools. James Perrin Warren shows how Burroughs helped guide urban and suburban middle-class readers "back to nature" during a time of intense industrialization and urbanization. Warren discusses Burroughs's connections not only to Muir and Roosevelt but also to his forebears Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman. By tracing the complex philosophical, creative, and temperamental lineage of these six giants, Warren shows how, in their friendships and rivalries, Burroughs, Muir, and Roosevelt made the high literary romanticism of Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman relevant to late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Americans. At the same time, Warren offers insights into the rise of the nature essay as a genre, the role of popular magazines as shapers and conveyors of public values, and the dynamism of place in terms of such opposed concepts as retreat and engagement, nature and culture, and wilderness and civilization. Because Warren draws on Burroughs's personal, critical, and philosophical writings as well as his better-known narrative essays, readers will come away with a more informed sense of Burroughs as a literary naturalist and a major early practitioner of ecocriticism. John Burroughs and the Place of Nature helps extend the map of America's cultural landscape during the period 1870-1920 by recovering an unfairly neglected practitioner of one of his era's most effective forces for change: nature writing.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-3081-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION. The Power of Place (pp. 1-13)

    For the fifty years from 1870 through 1920, John Burroughs was the most famous and widely published nature writer in America. Today, less than a century after his death, he is largely unread, even by teachers of environmental writing. He shares his fate, of course, with scores of writers whose style and vision find little sympathy among modern readers. But Burroughs may not deserve that fate. He gave voice to the art of simple living and to the beauty and power of nature found near at hand. In both respects, his work may speak to modern readers who seek an...

  6. 1 Great Neighbors: Emerson, Thoreau, and the Writer’s Place (pp. 14-41)

    Nearing the end of his long life and lengthy career, John Burroughs made plans for publishing three volumes of essays over a three-year period, in return for which the publisher Houghton Mifflin guaranteed him an annuity of two thousand dollars. Burroughs regarded the amount as insufficient. On October 12, 1918, he wrote to the editor Ferris Greenslet that he would need double the sum; a year later, he lowered his request to twenty-five hundred dollars. Greenslet resisted, pointing out in a letter of November 26, 1919, that the sales of all of Burroughs’s books in 1918 had dipped below five...

  7. 2 Whitman Land: John Burroughs’s Pastoral Criticism (pp. 42-72)

    As important as Emerson and Thoreau were to John Burroughs as a literary naturalist and critic, Walt Whitman exercised the longest-lasting and most profound influence on his career as a writer. The two first met in Washington, D.C., in 1863, and they were close friends to the very end of Whitman’s life, when he spoke to Burroughs from his deathbed. In his journal of December 1891, Burroughs recorded that he stepped out of Whitman’s bedroom, “for fear of fatiguing him. He says, ‘It is all right, John,’ evidently referring to his approaching end.” Though Whitman lived another three months, Burroughs...

  8. 3 Pastoral Illustration: Burroughs, Muir, and the Century Magazine (pp. 73-112)

    John Burroughs never spared his friends. Writing on February 1, 1891, to Richard Watson Gilder, editor of the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, Burroughs criticized the magazine, especially the latest issue, which featured illustrations of poor white southerners, for printing “ugly pictures of ugly objects.” The right purpose of an illustration, said Burroughs, is to suggest “something pleasing,” for “why should the eye be greeted with something ugly in an illustrated magazine, any more than the nose should be greeted by a bad odor in a house, or the ear by a discordant sound? These Georgia crackers are hideous. Think what...

  9. 4 Landscapes Beginning to Be Born: Alaska and the Pictorial Imagination (pp. 113-149)

    In an apparent aside in the late essay “Emerson and His Journals,” Burroughs combines three of his most important influences: “A remark of Emerson’s upon Thoreau calls up the image of John Muir to me” (Writings 23:23). Burroughs quotes Emerson’s journal entry, a perception repeated in his 1862 eulogy—“If I knew only Thoreau, I should think cooperation of good men impossible. Must we always talk for victory, and never once for truth, for comfort, and joy?” Despite Emerson’s thorough admiration of Thoreau, he finds his younger friend’s paradoxical temperament and oppositional temper unfriendly. As he puts it in the...

  10. 5 The “Best of Places”: Roosevelt as Literary Naturalist (pp. 150-193)

    In a dedicatory letter to John Burroughs, penned at the White House on October 2, 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt opened his fourth book on American hunting, Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter, by addressing his friend as “Oom John”—Dutch for “Uncle John”—a pet name he had given Burroughs during their trip to Yellowstone National Park in April 1903. Roosevelt’s affection and admiration for Burroughs are evident in the letter. “Every lover of outdoor life must feel a sense of affectionate obligation to you,” the president writes. “Your writings appeal to all who care for the life of the...

  11. 6 The Divine Abyss: Burroughs and Muir in the New Century (pp. 194-226)

    In an editorial titled “The President’s Trip and the Forests,” Robert Underwood Johnson reflected on President Roosevelt’s famous tour of the western wonders in the spring of 1903: “The President’s trip is also likely to induce more of his countrymen to see the magnificent scenery of the West. He was happy in his choice, among his companions, of two such lovers and interpreters of nature as John Burroughs and John Muir, writers whose preaching of the gospel of outdoor life is one of the sanest influences of our berated times” (Century 66:635). Burroughs accompanied the president for two weeks in...

  12. CONCLUSION. The Place of Elegy (pp. 227-234)

    John Burroughs outlived nearly all his friends, and his direct reflections on those who died are often curiously brief, bordering on the perfunctory. On Christmas Day 1914, upon learning of John Muir’s death, Burroughs writes telegraphically in his journal that it was “an event I have been expecting and dreading for more than a year.” He calls Muir a “unique character—greater as a talker than as a writer” and says, “I shall greatly miss him” (Life and Letters 2:214–15). Writing two years later in response to an invitation from the University of Wisconsin, Burroughs expands on his honest...

  13. NOTES (pp. 235-250)
  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 251-258)
  15. INDEX (pp. 259-266)

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