The Story of My Boyhood and Youth Essay - Critical Essays

John Muir


Written as it was in the winter of life, this autobiography deserves a place among the confessions and apologies which recall eternal spring. The work contains what most pleased the writer’s public and what most endures with posterity, a delightful yet serious account of formative years. Universally applauded for its sweet simplicity, blithe charm, and fresh truth, the book went into nine printings in its first ten years; it remains an inspiration to the young and a pleasant reminder to the old of what life was and yet can be.

Brought up in Calvinist Scotland under the constant surveillance of a most severe but loving father and among beloved brothers and sisters, John Muir received his severest punishments for escaping into nature unaware of time or place. He recalls the many fights and frolics among his schoolmates, his early fears and interests replete with exact Scots dialect, and the school discipline which was all he was to get until his majority; but always he speaks most feelingly of the landscape and its wild inhabitants: “How our young wondering eyes reveled in the sunny, breezy glory of the hills and the sky, every particle of us thrilling and tingling with the bees and glad birds and glad streams! Kings may be blessed; we were glorious, we were free,—school cares and scoldings, heart thrashings and flesh thrashings alike, were forgotten in the fullness of Nature’s glad wildness. These were my first excursions,—the beginnings of lifelong wanderings.”

But all of the wanderings did not come from his love of nature. In school he read Scottish-American ornithologist Alexander Wilson’s accounts of American birds as well as Audubon’s exciting description of the passenger pigeon flights, later to be witnessed by impressionable young Muir. For in 1849 Daniel Muir took part of his family to America. Only the oldest son John, a daughter Sarah, and David, a younger brother, accompanied their father; but the excitement of the journey helped to ease the sadness of leaving behind the...

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