Tuesday, December 20, 2016


A Critic of the Universe

Melville B. Anderson (1851-1933), "The Conversation of John Muir," American Museum Journal 15 (1915) 117-121 (at 119):
Much later on in the same conversation, he chanced to be speaking with humorous indignation, but not unkindly, of certain differences he had had with an Eastern naturalist, and wound up about as follows:
....But I got the better of him once. A number of us, botanists and foresters and others, were examining the mountain region of Tennessee and North Carolina and on down the ridge. The autumn frosts were just beginning, and the mountains and higher hilltops were gorgeous. My friend and the rest were making a little fun of me for my enthusiasm. We climbed slope after slope through the trees till we came out on the bare top of Grandfather Mountain. There it all lay in the sun below us, ridge beyond ridge, each with its typical tree-covering and color, all blended with the darker shades of the pines and the green of the deep valleys.— I couldn't hold in, and began to jump about and sing and glory in it all. Then I happened to look round and catch sight of ———— standing there as cool as a rock, with a half amused look on his face at me, but never saying a word.

"Why don't you let yourself out at a sight like that?" I said.

"I don't wear my heart upon my sleeve," he retorted.

"Who cares where you wear your little heart, man?" I cried. "There you stand in the face of all Heaven come down on earth, like a critic of the universe, as if to say, Come, Nature, bring on the best you have: I'm from BOSTON!" —
The Eastern naturalist was Charles Sprague Sargent, director of Harvard's Arnold Arboretum. See Andrea Wulf, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015), p. 327.

Hat tip: Heather Mackay Roberts.

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