Twenty years after the first companies of forty-niners arrived in California, a unique type of Argonaut landed in San Francisco, crossed the Coast Range and the San Joaquin plain, and, passing through the gold-diggings, went up the Merced until he reached Yosemite valley. Not the gold of California’s placers and mines, but the plant gold and beauty of her still unwasted mountains and plains, were the lure that drew and held John Muir. Forty-six years later, in the closing days of fateful 1914, this widely traveled explorer and observer of the world we dwell in faced the greatest of all adventures, dying as bravely and cheerfully as he had lived.
Not only from his large circle of devoted personal friends, but from among the thousands who had been thrilled by his eloquent pen, arose insistent demands for a fuller presentation of the facts of his life than is available in his incomplete autobiography, The Story of My Boyhood and Youth, and in his other published works. When the present writer, at the request of Mr. Muir’s daughters undertook to edit some of his unpublished journals and to prepare his life and letters, he had no adequate conception of the size and complexity of the task. The amount of the manuscript material to be examined made it vastly more time-consuming than was at first anticipated.
Throughout his life John Muir carried on a prolific and wide-ranging correspondence. His own letters were written by hand, and, with the exception of an occasional preliminary draft, he rarely kept copies. In calendaring the many thousands of letters received from his friends, a systematic effort was made to secure from them and their descendants the originals or copies of Muir’s letters for the purposes of this work. The success of this effort was in part thwarted, in part impeded, by the Great War. To the many who responded, the writer expresses his grateful acknowledgments. The Carr series, with some exceptions like the Sequoia letter, was obtained from Mr. George Wharton James, to whose keeping the correspondence had been committed by Mrs. Carr. The preponderance of letters addressed to women correspondents is partly explained by the fact that Muir’s men-friends did not preserve his letters as generally as the women. It should be added, also, that several valuable series were lost in the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906.
At the time of his death Muir had in preparation a second volume of his autobiography. Though very incomplete, it was found so important that it seemed best to incorporate it in the present work, whose form of presentation and selection of materials had to be accommodated somewhat to make this possible. It is chiefly in the letters, however, that the reader will find revealed the charm of Muir’s personality and the spontaneity of his nature enthusiasms.
In conclusion, the writer desires to acknowledge special obligations to William E. Colby for frequent suggestions and assistance in verifying facts, to Elizabeth Gray Potter for working out a valuable and convenient system of arrangement and indexing for the collection of Muiriana, and to his wife, Elizabeth LeBreton Badè, for much practical help and advice.
William Frederic Badè
Berkeley, California September 23rd, 1923
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