The earliest recollection that I have of Father was of one spring day when he was chasing and stoning the cat, our pet cat, who had caught a bluebird. I remember the fierce look in the cat's eyes, and her nose flattened over the back of blue, her nervously twitching tail, and the speed and strength with which Father pursued her, and the language he used, language that impressed me, at least, if not the cat, and which discredited the cat and her ancestry as well. As I remember it we rescued the bluebird, and there the picture fades. Just how Father himself looked then I do not know; doubtless, childlike, I accepted him as a matter of course, along with all the other interesting things in this world in which I was finding myself. Again I remember riding on his shoulder in the downstairs hall, as he skipped about with me, and of being face to face, on equal terms, with the hall lamp, and of telling Father that when I grew up I was going to be a king, and of Father telling me at once that they hung kings on a sour-apple tree. It was always a sour-apple tree, never a sweet one, used for hangings. So I was glad to relinquish the idea of being a king and to become instead a "finder-out of things." How Father did laugh at that! He had been telling me something of his readings in astronomy and the sciences, just at that time coming into their own, and I was so impressed and fired with emulation that I, too, declared for wanting to be "a finder-out of things," and Father would repeat it and laugh heartily. It is a joy to think of him as he was then, virile in body, full fleshed, active, leading in walking and skating and swimming — what a flood of memories! What an interest he took in all the things I did, and how often a most active part. One day in May I had gone out with our one shot of shad net, and was to try an experiment. I had told Father that I would row a ways up the river and throw out the net and then row on up to the mouth of Black Creek and fish for perch, and when the tide turned would row out and take up the net, which would catch the flood slack not far above. What he thought I do not know, for he went to Dick Martin, an experienced shad fisherman, and told him what I was going to do. Dick hastened to tell him, in alarm, that what I intended was impossible, that there was a row of old stakes out from the black barn just below the mouth of Black Creek and that my net would get fast on these and I would lose it, and perhaps come to harm besides. So Father walked the two miles, hurrying up along the steep and rocky shore, and found me just coming out from the creek. He told me what Dick had said and got into the boat and we rowed out to the net, which was acting very queerly.
"You're fast now, boy, it's just as Dick said," he exclaimed as I rowed as hard as I could for the long line of buoys. Never can I forget the hour of alarm and distress, for me, that followed. The tide turned and the loitering flood gave way to the sweeping ebb, the dark water from the creek came rushing down on us, the buoys swirled and twisted in the running water and began to disappear one by one. We quickly got hold of the end and I picked up as much as I could; then Father got hold and tried to pull the net loose. He pulled and pulled until he literally pulled the stern of the skiff under water.
"You'll have to cut the net, it is the only way," he said finally, red-faced and panting, so we did cut the net, leaving a middle section there on the old stake in the bottom of the river. There is no denying that it was thoughtful of him to come, and that he had my safety and welfare at heart. Though I was always cautious and wise to the way of the river, something might have happened and my bones might be there beside the old stake — and what a lot I would have missed! — or as Father once so aptly expressed it: "I'm not afraid to die, but I enjoy so much living!"
Setting up a home for the birds at Riverby
When first Father saw some smokeless powder he was surprised at its
appearance, and would not believe it was powder, until he threw some on the hot
stove. I used it in our old shotgun and he was much alarmed, yet he told me
that in his hunt for Thomas's Lake, of which he speaks in "Wake
Robin," he loaded his little muzzle-loading gun with an entire handful of
powder and then, for he felt it would burst, he held it at arm's length over
his head to fire. This he did time after time, in his attempt to signal to his
companions. The little gun survived the ordeal and hangs now in the gun room.
With it is the little cane gun, a small shotgun that looked exactly like a
cane, but which was quite effective for small birds, and which he used when
making collections of birds about
There was one quality which Father possessed to a marked degree and which I always envied him, a thing small in itself, yet which enabled him to accomplish what he did in literature, and that was the ability to lay aside the business or cares of life, as one would hang up one's hat, absolutely and completely, and turn to his writing. The world will think of him as a poet naturalist, as a gentle sage and philosopher, when he was in truth a literary craftsman, and one who could never give but a portion of his time and effort to his life's work until he was sixty years of age. I first remember him as a bank examiner. I remember his going away for trips to examine banks, of his packing his valise and putting on a white or "boiled" shirt, the gold cuff buttons, his combing his beard, the wonder and mystery of it all. Then he became a "mugwump" and the new party gave his bank-examining to someone else; and, as he expressed it, "I had to stir my stumps," and he took up the raising of fine grapes.
Just as his boyhood had the cow for its centre of interest, mine had the
"I had the rare good fortune to be born in the country upon a farm and to share in the duties and responsibilities of farm life. My poor grandson John is not so lucky in this respect and he has not had to pick up potatoes and stone and gather apples and husk corn and hoe corn and spread and rake hay and drive the cows and hunt up the sheep in the mountain and spread manure and weed the garden and clean the cow stables, and so on, and go two miles through snow-choked fields and woods to school in winter and have few books to read and see no illustrated papers or magazines. John has the movies by night and his bicycle by day and a graded school to attend and a hundred aids and spurs where I had none. My fate was better than John's and I can but hope he has advantages that I did not have that may offset the advantages I had."
In this case I know that time and distance lend enchantment, for of the hard work in the vineyards Father did very little — the cultivating with a horse on days so hot that the horse was covered with lather and the dust rose in a cloud over one's perspiration-soaked clothes, the days following the spray cart with the lime and blue vitriol flying in one's face and running down one's legs, the tying in March and early April until one's fingers were raw and one's neck ached from reaching up — of all these and other tasks he knew nothing. Often he said of himself that he was lazy; and, though what he accomplished in his life stands like a monument in one sense of the word, he was lazy. Routine work, a daily grind at tasks for which he had no liking, would have shortened his days and perhaps even embittered him. Yet with what eagerness he went at his writing! For sixty years and over he found his greatest joy in his craft — as he once wrote me, "There is no joy like it, when sap runs there is no fun like writing." As he said of his books in a preface to a new edition, "Very little real 'work' has gone into them." One day out at La Jolla, California, up on the hillside overlooking the blue Pacific there was a gathering in one of the biological laboratories and the school children came trooping in. Father was asked to talk to them and among other things he asked them if a bee got honey from the flowers. "No," he said, "the bee gets nectar from the flower, a thin sweetish liquid which the bee, by processes in its own body, turns into honey." I have always suspected that Father liked to think of himself as a bee, out in the sunshine and warmth, in the fields and woods, among the flowers, gathering delightful impressions of it all which with his handicraft he could preserve in an imperishable form that others might also enjoy. And does a bee really work? Is it not doing exactly what it enjoys or wants to do? Does it have to make any conscious effort to fare forth among the flowers? Does it have to keep on doing what it dislikes to do long after it is tired out? So whether the life of John Burroughs was one long life of happiness and lazy play, or whether it was one of hard work, depends, like so many other things, on the point of view. I like to think of his long and happy life as one in which he turned all work to play, and in so doing he accomplished mightily.
Often Father tried to account for himself, how he happened to break away
from the life of his family and early environment so absolutely and completely
and become, not a weak, easy-going, though picturesque farmer in the farther
Catskills, but a man of letters, a unique and picturesque literary craftsman.
"I had it in my blood, I guess," he once said. With it he had what
most of us have, the love of the woods and fields and the hunting and fishing.
Trout fishing, the most delightful of all, had for him a perennial charm, and
bee-hunting, too, and camping out, exploring new streams and woods. All this
was fostered and developed by his farm life and early associations, and then
when he became vault keeper in the Treasury Department in
"I must have been a sport," he says of himself — a born word worshipper, a man fired with unquenchable literary ambition, a lover of the best of the world's books, born of parents who knew not the meaning even of the words. I doubt very much that any of his immediate family, that is of his own generation, read a line in any of his books. His sister told him not to write, that "it was bad for the head" — how different he was from them all is shown in an incident Mother once related, and which can be told only with a word of explanation. During the war he and Mother had gone "out home," as he always spoke of visiting the parents on the homestead, and during dinner Grandfather exclaimed: "I'd like to see Abe Lincoln hung higher than Haman and I'd like to have hold of the rope!" Father sat speechless with pain and amazement, then silently pushing back his plate he rose and silently walked from the room. Then Grandmother "went for" Grandfather. But Grandfather did not realize what he was saying, and he would have been one of the very last to have harmed Lincoln, or any one else for that matter. The incident shows how different those passionate, intense, and bitter-feeling times were from ours, and how the spread of the magazines and the illustrated papers has broadened and mellowed the feelings of the people.
Father often spoke of his joy when the Atlantic accepted his first article, the one on
"Expression" which was attributed to Emerson — he felt a new world had opened up for him, new
worlds to explore and conquer with unlimited possibilities. His ambition to
write got a tremendous incentive. At that time he was teaching school at a
small town near
Those years were hard ones in many ways for Father, the years in the late
'50's when he was teaching school and trying many things, trying to find
himself and make a living and appease the material ambitions of Mother. One
summer he spent on the old homestead and grew onions; the seed he used was
poor, few came up, and a summer of hard work, for both him and Mother, came to
nothing. For a time he studied medicine in the office of Doctor Hull near
Ashokan, and there, sitting in the little office at a spot now just on the edge
of the water of what is now the great Ashokan Reservoir, he wrote his poem,
"Waiting." One cannot but marvel at the prophecy of it, the vision of
the discouraged boy of twenty-five every line of which has had such a
fulfilment. He tried several ventures, blindly groping, hoping for success
which never came to any of them. One of his ventures was a share in a patent
buckle from which he was to get rich, but from which he got losses and
discouragement — in fact, he had borrowed money to go into it and on his
non-payment he was arrested and brought up the river on a night boat. Waking
when the boat stopped at
One day a young man called at my office and said to me that he understood that the force of the bureau was to be increased, and that he should be glad to be employed. I asked him if he had any recommendations. "I have not," he replied; "I must be my own." I looked at his sturdy form and intelligent face, which impressed me so favourably that I sent his name to the Secretary, and the next day he was at work as a twelve-hundred-dollar clerk. I was not mistaken. He was an excellent clerk, competent, faithful, willing.
And Father has said that of the hundred dollars a month he received, he
and Mother saved just half. And the real cost of living then was as high as it
is now; the actual cost of food and clothing and the manner of living have
changed. Father's first book: "Notes on Walt Whitman, Poet and
Person," published in 1867, now long out of print, a small brown volume
with gilt lettering, was brought out in those
It was in 1872 that Father and Mother came here and bought about a nine-acre
place, sloping from the road down to the water, living for a time, nearly a
year, in a small house up by the road, during which time they were building the
stone house, the building of which Father has described in
"Roof-Tree." He had wanted a stone house, and here was plenty of
stone, "wild stone" as a native called them, to be picked up,
weathered and soft in colouring, only a short haul and a few touches with the
hammer or peen needed to make them into building stone. He has often spoken of
Mother's first visit to her new home, just as the foundation was nicely
started, and of her grief and disappointment when she saw the size of the
building. The foundation of a house, open to the sky, gives no idea of the size
of the finished building, and it was in vain that Father tried to explain this.
"I showed her the plans," he often said, "so many feet this way
and so many that, such a size to this room and such a size to that, but it was
no use, she cried and took on at a great rate." Father was bank receiver
then, getting three thousand a year, and on that he was building this big,
three-story stone house. He took great pleasure in it — he loved to tell of the
Irish mason who went off on a drunk just when he was working on the stone
chimney. Disgusted at the delay Father went up, and with hammer and trowel went
at the chimney himself, and the sobering mason could see him from
The southwest bedroom on the third floor Father was to have for his room, his study, where he could write. This room he panelled to the ceiling with native woods: maple, oak, beech, birch, tulip, and others, and I like to think of his happy anticipation, his dreams of the happy hours he would spend in this room, and of the writing he would do. But he did no writing here, for a few years later he built the bark-covered study down on the edge of the bank, then a few years later yet he built Slabsides, two miles over the low mountain. It was there, especially in the study, that he did the bulk of all his literary work.
Mother was a materialist; she never rated literary efforts very high; she often seemed to think that Father should do the work of the hired man and then do his writing nights and holidays. She could see no sense in taking the best hours of the day for "scribbling," and it was only in the later years when Father had a steady income from his writings that her point of view softened. She was what they called in those days a "good housekeeper" and she kept it so well that Father had to move out for his working hours, first to the study, then two miles away. When it came to housework, Mother possessed the quality called inevitableness to an extraordinary degree. She had a way of fastening a cloth about her head, a sort of forerunner of the boudoir cap of to-day, a means of protecting her hair from any imaginary dust, and this became a symbol, a battle flag of the goddess of housecleaning. Father was ordered out of the library, where he did his writing, and his thread was rudely broken; it was a day when sap did not run. For a high-strung, temperamental being, hasty and quick tempered, I think he showed wonderful patience, a patience that does him great credit. And yet in many ways Mother was an invaluable helpmate, she was a balance wheel that kept their world moving steadily, and I am sure saved Father from many mistakes and extravagances.
It was only years afterward, when he began to ship grapes, that Father named his place "Riverby." He had been reading a book of adventure to me, Stevenson's "Black Arrow," and in it there was a place named "Shoreby," or "by-the-shore." This suggested the name of "Riverby," or "by-the-river," to Father for his place. So it was adopted and became the trademark, "Riverby Vineyards," an oval stamp with a bunch of grapes in the middle and the address below. It became the name of the place, the name of one of Father's books, and was stamped on the lid of every crate or basket of grapes.
Father was an absolutely honest man, honest not only in packing a crate
of grapes, but honest as to his own weaknesses and shortcomings. I can never
forget how he admired an exclamation attributed to General Lee at
At another time the boys were stealing his grapes, the first
Onteora Club, July 25, 1891.
I want you to write me when you receive this if the dog has turned up yet. If he has not you better drive down to Bundy's again and see if he has been there. Also tell me if the hawk flies, etc. Has there been a heavy rain, and has it done any damage to the vineyard? It rained very hard here the night I arrived. If it has damaged the vineyard I will come back. Look about and see if there is any grape rot yet. I want Zeke to send me a crate of those pears there in the currants.... It is very pleasant up here, but I fear I will be dined and tead and drove and walked until I am sick. I have had no good sleep yet. Mr. Johnson of the Century is here. We sleep in a large fine tent. It is in the woods and is just like camping out, except that we do not have a bed of boughs. It is warm and rainy here this morning. Tell me if you and your mother are going out to Roxbury, or anywhere else. Tell Northrop to send on my letters if there are any. I have not received any yet. Tell me what Dude and Zeke have been doing.
Your affectionate father,
The dog spoken of was Dan, or Dan Bundy-ah, a pretty medium-sized dog that won Father's heart and was bought for two dollars, which seemed a big price for a dog then, of a workman who helped us in the vineyards. He was always running off home. "It breaks a dog all up to change his home, or rather household; it makes of him a citizen of the world," said Father. How he did love a nice dog! Even in his last illness he often spoke of the one we owned; he had a true feeling of comradeship for a dog.
The hawk referred to is the young marsh hawk we got from the nest and raised ourselves. I know it fell to me to supply this hawk with food: English sparrows, red squirrels, and small game, a ceaseless undertaking and one which took most of my time, so much so that Mother took me to task for it time and again. When later Father "wrote up" the hawk and got something for the article I felt that I should be paid for what I had been compelled to endure in the cause! "Fifty cents for every scolding I got," was what I demanded. "You are getting your pay now," Father replied as he watched me eat.
Did the rain do any damage to the vineyard? — Yes, that was a fear that was always present. The steep side hills would often wash very badly, the soil being carried down the hill, costing us much labour in bringing it back. When there was a slack time there was always dirt to drag up the steep slopes. I know one time some of it was carried up the hill by hand. We nailed two sticks for handles on a box and Charley and I spent days carrying this box full of dirt up a very steep spot — "just like two jackasses," Father exclaimed in fun. Though he could say in his poem —
"I rave no more 'gainst time or fate"
he did often rave against the weather, especially the "mad, intemperate," as he called them, summer showers. Once there was a hailstorm. We were "out home," and after supper Mother brought forth a telegram, saying, "I did not give you this until after you had eaten." Even I was conscious of the tactless way she did it, the household looking on. With drawn face Father slowly opened and read: "Hailstorm, grapes all destroyed." How limp Father felt! He said: "I had complimented myself when I looked at those grapes. I had seen several statements that grapes would bring a good price this fall." Well, we found that half of them could be saved and that the terrific hailstorm had extended over only two vineyards — the path of the storm not half a mile across in either direction, a curious freak, but one that in ten minutes took away all profits for the year.
If I can invent a phrase I will say that Father had the pride of humility; that is, he had the true spirit of the craftsman — pride in and for his work, and not pride of self. Nothing was too good for his art, nothing too poor for himself. The following letter, written twenty-eight years ago, gives us a glimpse of himself as he was then, alone and introspective. There evidently had been a family jar, something that came far too frequently, and Father was alone here at Riverby.
West Park, July 24, .
MY DEAR JULIAN,
Your letter is rec'd. Glad you are going to try the hay field. Don't try to mow away. But in the open air I think you can stand it. It is getting very dry here. I think you had a fine shower Saturday night about eight o'clock. I stood on the top of Slide Mountain at that hour all alone and I could look straight into the heart of the storm and when it lightened I could see the rain sweeping down over the Roxbury hills. The rain was not heavy on Slide and I was safely stowed away under a rock. I left here Friday afternoon, went up to Big Indian where I stayed all night. I found Mr. Sickley and his family boarding there at Dutchers. Saturday I tried to persuade Mr. S. to go with me to Slide, but he had promised his party to go another way. So I pushed on alone with my roll of blankets on my back. I was very hot and I drank every spring dry along the route. I reached the top of Slide about two o'clock and was glad after all to have the mountain all to myself. It is very grand. I made myself a snug camp under a shelving rock. Every porcupine on the mountain called on me during the night, but I slept fairly well. I stayed till noon on Sunday, when I went down to Dutchers. I made the trip easily and without fatigue, tramping 13 miles that hot Saturday with my traps. Big Indian valley is very beautiful. Monday morning Mr. Sickley walked down to the station with me and I got home on the little boat, well paid for my trip. I doubt if I come up to Roxbary now, I fear the air will not agree with me. Do not follow your mother's example in one respect, that is, do not think very highly of yourself and very meanly of other people; but rather reverse it — think meanly of yourself and well of other people — think anything is good enough for yourself and nothing too good for others. The berries are about done — too dry for them. I may go to Johnsons and Gilders, am not in the mood yet. Write me when you get this. Love to all.
Your affectionate father,
In these early letters to me he always signed his name in full, something he never did later.
The blankets were two army blankets, of a blue-gray with two blackish stripes at each end: they were smoke-scented from a hundred camp fires and there were holes burned in them from sparks. They had been in many woods and forests.
Actively at work at eighty
The berries so lightly spoken of were those of a large patch below the study, a venture which Father made in small fruit and which he was glad enough not to repeat. The berries were too insistent in their demands; they just had to be picked over every day or they wept little reddish tears and became too soft to be shipped. When Father bought the place it was nearly all out in red berries — the old Marlboroughs and Antwerps and Cuthberts, and Father continued them until they tried his patience beyond endurance.
In winter there were no grapes or berries and for a time Father went on some lecture trips, but only for a time, for he was too nervous, too easily embarrassed, too excitable for lecturing. It took too much out of him. Somewhere, something unpleasant happened, and for a long time afterward he did not give a formal lecture, if he ever did make a formal address.
He told one of his audiences that Emerson said we gain strength by doing what we do not like to do, and everyone laughed, for it was exactly the way Father felt about his lecturing. Nevertheless, he seemed to have a pretty good time while on a lecture trip, as the following letter, written when away lecturing, will show:
Cambridge, Mass., Feb. 6, '96.
MY DEAR JULIAN,
Things have gone very well with me so far. I reached Boston Sunday night at 9:05. I went to the Adams house that night. Monday at 3 P. M. I went out to Lowell and spoke before the women — a fine lot of them. I got along very well. One of them took me home to dinner. I came back to the Adams house at 9 o'clock. Tuesday night I went home with Kennedy and stayed all night. Wednesday I came out to Cambridge to the house of Mrs. Ole Bull, who had sent me an invitation. I am with her now: it is raining furiously all day. To-night I am to speak before the Procopeia club, and to-morrow night before the Metaphysical Society. I met Clifton Johnson in Boston and I am going to his place on Saturday and may stay over Sunday or I may come home on the 5:04 train Sunday.... I saw some Harvard professors last night. I hope you and your mother keep well and live in peace and quiet. Love to you both.
Your affectionate father,
One of the enemies we had to fight in the vineyard was the rot, the black rot, an imported disease of the grape that for a few years swept everything. Then spraying with the Bordeaux mixture of lime and copper sulphate checked and finally stopped it altogether — but it was the early sprayings that counted. One year I remember Father neglected this, in his easy, optimistic way, and later, when the rot began, spraying was in vain, and I know that I took him to task for it, to my regret now. The following letter speaks of this and of my going to college, something we did not consider until the last moment. Father, not being a college man, had not thought of it:
I rec'd your letter this morning. I am having a nice time here, but think I shall go back home this week, as the rot seems to be working in the Niagaras quite badly, and the rain and heat continue. Mr. Taylor is dead and buried. He died the day I left (Friday). Rodman likes Harvard very much and says he will do anything he can for you He says if you want to mess in Memorial Hall you ought to put your name down at once. There is a special Harvard student here, a Mr. Hickman, who is tutoring Mr. Gilder's children. I like him very much. He is in the Lawrence Scientific School — about your age and a fine fellow — from Nova Scotia. I have been to the Johnsons at Stockbridge. Owen is in love with Yale and wants you to come there. Owen will be a writer, he has already got on the Yale "Lit." He is vastly improved and I like him much. We had a five mile walk together yesterday. Rodman I think will be a journalist. He is already one of the editors of a Harvard paper — "The Crimson" I think. The country here is much like the Delaware below Hobart. I shall stop at Salisbury to visit Miss Warner and then home Friday or Saturday. I will write to my publishers to send you Hill's Rhetoric. I think you better come home early next week and stop with me at SS. Love to all.
Your loving father,
If the grapes fail we will try to raise the money for your Harvard expenses. At the end of 1898, I expect to get much more money from my books — at least $1,500 a year.
This last was in pencil, a postscript. Evidently Father had the grape rot in mind, but at this date, July 21st, the die was cast; there was nothing one could do then. If they had been properly sprayed in May and June one could laugh at the black rot, but very likely Father had not attended to it; that is, he had made the hired man spray. He had other fish to fry, as he often said. To me the marvel of it all is that he had so many irons in the fire and was always able to write. The different properties that Father accumulated in his lifetime were alone enough to take all his time were it not for his happy nature and wonderful faculty of being able to put them aside when the muse nudged his elbow.
First he had the place here, Riverby, to which he added another nine
acres later, clearing and ditching it all and getting it all out in the best
grapes, the ones that made the most work and trouble:
Then in the early nineties he bought the land and built Slabsides, clearing up the three acres of celery swamp; and for a while he spent much time there. "Wild Life About My Cabin" was one of the nature essays written of Slabsides. The cabin was covered with slabs, and Father wanted to give it a name that would stick, he said, one that would be easily associated with the place, and he certainly succeeded, for everyone knows of Slabsides. Uncle Hiram, Father's oldest brother, spent much time with him there, the two brothers, worlds apart in their mental make-up and their outlook, spending many lonely evenings together, Father reading the best philosophy or essays, Uncle Hiram drumming and humming under his breath, dreaming his dreams, too, but never looking at a book or even a magazine. Soon he would be asleep in his chair, and before the low-burning open fire Father would be dreaming his dreams, so many of which he made come true, listening to the few night sounds of the woods. Father tried hard to make Uncle Hiram's dreams come true. He gave him a home for many years and helped him with his bee-keeping and sympathized with him fully and understood his hope that "next year" the bees would pay and return all.
Someone caught a big copperhead, one of the meanest of all poisonous snakes, and one which is quite rare here, fortunately, and for a time Father kept it in a barrel near Slabsides. Later he grew tired of it, but he had not the heart to kill it, his prisoner. "After keeping a thing shut up and watching it every day I can't go out and kill it in cold blood," he said in half apology for his act. He told the man who worked on the swamp to carry the snake, barrel and all, up among the rocks and let him go. The man, when out of sight, promptly killed the snake. It seems to me that they were both right and the snake, though innocent himself, had to suffer.
It was about two miles to Slabsides, a good part of it through the woods, and some of it up a very steep hill. I can see Father starting off with his market basket on his arm, the basket as full of provisions and reading matter as his step was full of vigour. I'll admit he did often raid Mother's pantry, and he was not averse to taking pie and cake. In fact, he was brought up on cake largely, and always ate of it freely until these last years. "His folks," as Mother would say, always had at least three kinds of cake three times a day, and then more cake the last thing before going to bed. At Slabsides most of the cooking was done over the open fire — potatoes and onions baked in the ashes, lamb chops broiled over the coals, peas fresh from the garden — how Father did enjoy it all — the sweetness of things! He would hum:
"He lived all alone, close to the bone
Where the meat is sweetest, he constantly eatest,"
and he liked to think of this old rhyme as applying to himself.
The interior of Slabsides was finished in birch and beech poles, with the bark on them, and much of the furniture he made of natural crooks and crotches. He always had his "eye peeled," as he said, for some natural piece of wood that he could use. The bittersweet has a way of winding itself about some sapling, and as the two grow it puts a mark about the tree that makes it look as though it were twisted. One such piece, a small hemlock, is over the fireplace, and Father would tell how he told the girls who visited Slabsides that he and the hired man twisted this stick by hand. "We told them we took it when it was green," he would laugh, as he told the story, "and twisted it as you see it, then fastened it and it dried or seasoned that way — and they believed it!" and he would chuckle over it mightily.
In 1913, Father was able, with the help of a friend, to buy the old homestead at Roxbury, and then he developed one of the farmhouses there, one built long ago by his brother Curtis, and thus made the third landmark in his life, any one of which was enough to occupy the time and care of one man. He called it Woodchuck Lodge, and the last years of his life were spent largely there, going out in June and returning in October.
At the time the following letter was written, Father spent much of his time at Slabsides and his interest in both the celery and lettuce grown there, as well as the grapes at Riverby, was most keen. The black duck referred to was one I had winged and brought home; it was excessively wild until we put it with the tame ducks, whereupon, as Father expressed it, "He took his cue from them and became tamer than the tame ones."
Slabsides, July 13, '97.
MY DEAR JULIAN,
I enclose a circular from Amherst College that came to you yesterday. You would doubtless do as well or better at one of the small colleges as you would at Harvard. The instruction is quite as good. It is not the college that makes the man, but the reverse. Or you might go to Columbia this fall. You would be nearer home and have just as able instructors as at Harvard. Harvard has no first class men now. But if you have set your heart on Harvard, you would of course do just as well as a special student as if admitted to college. You would miss only non-essentials. Their sheep skin you do not want; all you want is what they can teach you.
It has rained here most of the time since you left. The grapes are beginning to rot and if this rain and heat continues we may lose all of them. If the grapes go I shall not have money for you to go away this year.
Another duck was killed Saturday night, one of the last brood. It looked like the work of a coon and I and Hiram watched all Sunday night with the gun, but nothing came and nothing came last night as we know of.
Let me know what you hear from your chum. I shall look for a letter from you to-night. It is still raining and at four o'clock the sky looks as thick and nasty as ever. It threatens to be like eight years ago when you and I were in the old house. Tell me what Mr. Tooker says, etc. I may go to Gilders the last of the week.
Your affectionate father,
Your black duck is getting tame and does not hide at all.
It is hard for the present
generation to realize what a shadow, or rather influence, the Civil War cast
over the days of Father's generation. War veterans, parades, pensions, stories
of the war — it coloured much of the life, civil, social, political, and even
the literature of the day. Some have spoken of it, in architecture, as the
General Grant Period. The "panoramas" — what has become of them? I
remember visiting one with Father — you went into a building and up a flight of
stairs and came out on a balcony, a round balcony in the centre, and all around
was a picture of one of the battlefields of the war, bursting shells, men
charging, falling, and all, always the two flags, smoke enshrouded. It made a
great impression on my boyish mind. Father knew many war veterans and together
we read the impressions of his friend, Charles Benton, "As Seen from the
Ranks," and he kept up the friendships he had made those years he lived in
Washington, D. C.,
Mch. 2nd. [1897.]
I came on from N. Y. last night, left N. Y. at 3:30 and was here at 8:45, round trip $8, ticket good till next Monday. I had a nice time in N. Y. and improved all the time, though I was much broken of my sleep. I stayed with Hamlin Garland at the hotel New Amsterdam, I like him much, he is coming on here. I was out to dinner and to lunch every day. The Century paid me $125 for another short article on bird songs. I wrote it the week before my sickness. It is lovely here this morning, warm and soft like April, the roads dusty. Baker's people are all well and very kind to me. They have a large house on Meridian Hill where it was all wild land when I lived here. I shall stay here until next Monday. Write me when you get this how matters go and how your mother is. Tell Hiram you have heard from me.
Your loving father,
When I went away to college in the fall of 1897 I was able to see our home life there at Riverby from a new angle, as one must often do, get a short distance away to get a clear perspective of a place. And it being my first time away from home Father wrote more frequently, and he dropped the formality of his earlier letters.
West Park, N. Y., Oct. 11. [1897.]
MY DEAR JULIAN,
Your letter was here Monday morning. I am sorry you did not send some message to your mother in it. You know how quick she is to take offence. Why not hereafter address your letters to us both — thus "Dear Father and Mother." But write to her alone next time. How about that course in Geology given by Shaler? I thought you were going to take that? I had rather you take that than any course in English Composition. Read Ruskin's "Modern Painters" when you get a chance. Read Emerson's "English Traits" and his "Representative Men."
Send me some of the pictures you took at Slabsides of the Suter girls and any others that would interest me.
I go to-day to the Harrimans at Arden for two or three days. On Saturday last I had 25 Vassar girls at SS and expect more this Saturday. Lown said Black Creek was full of ducks on Sunday — I see but few on the river. Give my love to the Suter girls.... Much fog here lately.
Your affectionate father,
Ducks in Black Creek — it was tantalizing to read that! It brought back the memories of the days Father and I hunted them there — I shall never forget how impressed he was by one duck, so impressed that he spoke of it at length in an article he wrote — "The Wit of a Duck." He was paddling me up the sun-lit reaches of the Shataca on Black Creek when suddenly two dusky mallards or black ducks tore out of the willow herb and dodder and came like the wind over our heads. I was using a high-powered duck gun, and brought down both ducks, one, however, with a broken wing. The duck came tumbling down and with a fine splash struck the water, where for a moment it shone and glistened in the sun. And that was all, the duck was gone instantly, we never saw it again. What happened of course was that the duck dived, using its other wing and feet, and came up in the brush, where it hid, no doubt with only half an inch of its bill out of water. Its presence of mind, working instantly and without hesitation, caused Father to exclaim in wonder.
At the study at Riverby
Father was never a sportsman in the strict sense — he never had a shotgun that was really good for anything, or any hunting dogs or hunting clothes — a pair of rubber boots used for trout fishing was as far as he got in that direction — unless the soft felt hat, gray, torn, with some flies or hooks stuck in the band, could be counted. He was an expert trout fisherman, but was not averse to using grasshoppers, worms, live bait, or caddis fly larvae. I know we stood one day in the Shataca and Father shot and shot at the black ducks that flew overhead, and he bemoaned his lack of skill in not being able to bring them down. "Dick Martin would bring those fellows down every time," he would say. As I look back on it with the light of later experience I am sure the ducks were out of range, and the borrowed gun was a weak poor thing, not a duck gun. We built ourselves a bough house out on a little island in the swamp and got in it, crouched down, and soon some ducks came down, down, lowering their feet to drop in the water. "Don't shoot, Poppie, don't shoot!" I exclaimed, and he did not shoot, and to this day he never knew why I gave such bad advice — I was afraid of the noise of the gun! Father thought I wanted him to wait until they were nearer. But the chance never came again and we went home duckless.
In one of his essays Father spoke of a large family as being like a big
tree with many branches which, though it was exposed to the perils of the
storms and all enemies of trees, had as compensation more of the sun, more
places for birds and their nests, more beauty, and so on. I told him that
Balzac expressed the same idea in fewer words, and for a moment he looked
worried. Balzac said, "Our children are our hostages to Fate." And
each way of expressing the similar idea is characteristic of the man. In many
ways Father was like a wide-spreading tree — his intense nature was one that
caught all the sun and beauty of life, enough and more to compensate for the
sorrow and pain he knew. To adventures out-of-doors, the rise of a big trout to
his fly, the sudden appearance of some large wild animal, how his whole nature
would react! He was well aware of this trait and often spoke of it — in fact,
he had no desire to be cold and calculating before either the unusual or
beautiful in nature. Something as illustrating this trait of his comes vividly
to mind: one early March day I was out duck hunting here on the Hudson and
Father was watching me from shore with field glasses. He was sitting in a sunny
nook beside the high rocks below the hill. I was out in the drifting ice with
my duck boat, which I had painted to resemble a cake of ice, and was very
carefully paddling up on a flock of about a hundred
The following three letters show how he watched the river for the migrating wild fowl:
Riverby, Mch. 26, [1898.]
MY DEAR JULIAN,
Your letter rec'd. I enclose check for $10 as I have no bills by me. You can get it cashed at Houghton, Mifflin Co., No. 4 Park St. — ask for Mr. Wheeler. Or may be the treasurer of the college will cash it. We are all well and beginning the spring work. Hiram and I are grafting grapes, and the boys are tying up and hauling ashes. The weather is fine and a very early spring is indicated. I have not seen a wild goose and only two or three flocks of ducks. I should like to have been with you at the Sportsman's Fair. If you make those water shoes or foot boats I should advise you to follow copy — make them like those you saw.
Your sentence about the whispering of the ducks' wings, etc., was good. Ruskin invented that phrase "the pathetic fallacy." You will probably find it in your rhetoric. It was all right as applied to your sentence.
Susie is very quick witted.
The shad men are getting ready. I hope you will go and hear the lectures of the Frenchman Domnic. He is worth listening to. I shall be very glad when the Easter vacation brings you home once more, you are seldom out of my thoughts. I made two gallons of maple syrup. Walt Dumont has an auction this P. M. Nip and I are going.
Your loving father,
Nip was a fox terrier that was for years Father's constant companion, and they had many adventures together.
Riverby, Mch. 8 
MY DEAR JULIAN,
I wish you were here to enjoy this fine spring morning. It is like April, bright, calm, warm, and dreamy, sparrows singing, robins and blue birds calling, hens cackling, crows cawing, while now and then the ear detects the long drawn plaint of the meadow lark. The ice in the placid river floats languidly by and I dare say your hunting ground is alive with ducks. I am boiling sap on the old stove set up here in the chip yard. I have ten trees tapped and lots of sap. I wish you had some of the syrup. Your mother came back yesterday and she is now busy in the kitchen, good natured as yet, if it only lasts. She has hired a girl who is expected soon. Your letter came yesterday. No doubt you will have fun acting as "supe" with the boys. It will be a novel experience. Tell me all about it. A note from Kennedy says he saw Trowbridge lately and that T is going to ask you out to see him. Go if he asks you, he is an old friend of mine and a fine man. You have read his stories when you were a boy. He has some nice girls. Remember me to him if you go.
I do not see or hear any ducks lately, I think they are slow in coming. But I must stop. Write soon.
Your loving father,
When you get time look over my article in the March Century, I think the style is pretty good.
West Park Mch. 2 
MY DEAR BOY,
Your letter came in due course last week and yesterday your mother was up and brought me your last letter to her. It is a great pleasure to know you keep well and in good heart and courage. I see you have pains in your arms which you vainly think the waists of girls would alleviate. But they would not, they would only increase the pains I have tried it and I know.
It is quite spring like here — blue birds and clear bright days and half bare ground and drying roads and cackling hens. Ice still in the river down to the elbow.
Keep Lent all you can — that is slow up in your meat — not more than once a day at most. Your head will be all the clearer. I am very well since my return and am still writing. This thought came into my head as I lay in bed this morning — You go to college for two things, knowledge and culture. In the technical schools the student gets much knowledge and little culture. The sciences and mathematics give us knowledge, only literature can give us culture. In the best history we get a measure of both, we get facts and are brought in contact with great minds. Chemistry, physics, geology, etc., are not sources of culture. But Lessing, Goethe, Schiller, Shakespeare, etc., are. The discipline of mathematics is not culture in the strict sense; but the discipline that chastens the taste, feeds the imagination, kindles the sympathies, clarifies the reason, stirs the conscience and leads to self-knowledge and self-control, is culture. This we can only get from literature. Work this idea up in one of your themes and show that the highest aim of a university like Harvard should be culture and not knowledge.
Your mother is well and will soon be back. I see no ducks yet. Hiram is still on his hives and the music of his saw and hammer sounds good in my ears. I shall tap a tree to-day.
Your loving father,
After I had been settled in
Slabsides, Oct. 16, 1897.
MY DEAR JULIAN,
...We reached home safely Thursday night after a dusty ride and tiresome. It is very lonesome in the house. I think we both miss you now more than we did before we left home; it is now a certainty that you are fixed there in Harvard and that a wide gulf separates us. But if you will only keep well and prosper in your studies we shall endure the separation cheerfully. Children have but little idea how the hearts of their parents yearn over them. When they grow up and have children of their own, then they understand and sigh, and sigh when it is too late. If you live to be old you will never forget how your father and mother came to visit you at Harvard and tried so hard to do something for you. When I was your age and was at school at Ashland, father and mother came one afternoon in a sleigh and spent a couple of hours with me. They brought me some mince pies and apples. The plain old farmer and his plain old wife, how awkward and curious they looked amid the throng of young people, but how precious the thought and the memory of them is to me! Later in the winter Hiram and Wilson came each in a cutter with a girl and stayed an hour or so.... The world looks lovely but sad, sad. Write us often.
Your affectionate father,
"When it is too late" — how he understood, how broad were his sympathies! What anguish those words must cost all of us at some time! Father understood, I did not — and now it is too late.
West Park, N. Y., Nov. 7, 1897.
MY DEAR JULIAN,
If you will look westward now across New England about seven o'clock in the evening you will see a light again in my study window — a dim light there on the bank of the great river — dim even to the eye of faith. If your eye is sharp enough you will see me sitting there by my lamp, nibbling at books or papers or dozing in my chair wrapped in deep meditation. If you could penetrate my mind you would see that I am often thinking of you and wondering how your life is going there at Harvard and what the future has in store for you. I found my path from the study grass grown, nearly obliterated. It made me sad. Soon, soon, I said, all the paths I have made in this world will be overgrown and neglected. I hope you may keep some of them open. The paths I have made in literature, I hope you may keep open and make others of your own.
Your affectionate father,
It was always a source of disappointment to Father that I did not write more, that I could not carry on his work — but this was more than he should have expected. He was an essayist, fired with a literary ambition that never faltered or grew dim for over sixty years. Once I wrote a brief introduction to a hunting story that won a prize in a sporting journal and I can never forget how pleased Father was with it — "It filled me with emotion," he said, "it brought tears to my eyes — write a whole piece like that and I'll send it to the Atlantic."
How he loved the telling phrase, the turn of words that was apt and made the form and substance one! I know I had a little silver cup or mug that I used at table, and when I saw my first locomotive bell slowly ringing I watched it and exclaimed, "Cup open bell." How Father did laugh and repeat it to me afterward — the childish way of expressing the strange and new in terms of the familiar and old. The small son of a friend of Father's when he first saw the ocean exclaimed, "Oh, the great rainy!" and Father would laugh over this expression and slap his sides in glee. The homely expressions always pleased him. One day some children came to see him. They had been sent by their parents with strict instructions to see "the man himself," and when they asked Father if he was "the man himself" he had a good laugh and told them he guessed he was. He always liked to tell and act out the story of the man who went down into the cellar for a pitcher of milk. In going down he fell down the stone stairs and bruised himself painfully. As he lay groaning and rubbing himself he heard his wife call, "John, did you break the pitcher?" Looking about in his anguish he saw the pitcher, unbroken. "No," he called back, gritting his teeth, "but, by thunder, I will," and seizing it by the handle he savagely smashed it over the stones. And Father understood exactly how he felt.
The deep interest he took in self-knowledge is well shown in the following letter:
Riverby, Nov. 17, 1897.
MY DEAR JULIAN,
I was very sorry to hear of that "D" and "E." I was probably quite as much cut up as you were. I have been melancholy ever since I heard of it. But you will feel better by and by.... One thing you are greatly lacking in, as I suppose most boys are — self-knowledge. You do not seem to know what you can or cannot do, or when you have failed or succeeded. You have always been fond of trying things beyond your powers (I the same) as in the case of the boat. I think you over estimate yourself, which I never did. You thought you ought to have had an "A" in English, and were not prepared for your low mark in French and German. Do a little self-examination and nip the bud of conceit; get a fair estimate and make it too low rather than too high. I am sure I know my own weak points, see if you can't find yours. That saying of the ancients, "know thyself," is to be pondered daily. I always keep my expectations down, so that I am not disappointed if I get a "D" or an "E." My success in life has been far beyond my expectations. I know several authors who think they have not had their just deserts; but it is their own fault. I have just read this in Macaulay: "If a man brings away from Cambridge [where he graduated in eighteen hundred and twenty-two] self-knowledge, accuracy of mind and habits of strong intellectual exertion he has got the best the college can give him." That is what I think too.
Your loving father,
Slabsides, Oct. 27. [1897.]
MY DEAR BOY,
I found your letter here yesterday on my return from N. J. whither I had gone on Saturday to visit Mr. Mabie. I was glad to hear from you. You must write at least once a week. Get the rowing pants you refer to and anything else you really need.... Do not try to live on less than $3.50 a week, Select the simplest and most nourishing food — meat only once a day — no pie but fruit and puddings. The weather still keeps fine here and dry; no rain yet and no heavy frosts.
Celery is most off; not more than $175 for this second crop. I am taking out the Niagaras below the hill — nothing pays, but Delawares in the grape line. I have had a good deal of company as usual. It cheers me up and keeps me from the blue devils. Your mother is cleaning house and groaning as usual. I can only keep my temper by flight to SS.
Hiram goes to Roxbury to-morrow for two months or more. I shall miss him very much. He stands to me for father and mother and the old home. He is part of all those things. When he is here my chronic homesickness is alleviated.
I hope you will do some reading outside of your courses. Read and study and soak yourself in some great author for his style. Try Hawthorne or Emerson or Ruskin or Arnold. The most pregnant style of all is in Shakespeare. Go into the laboratory some day and have your strength tested. Binder says they can tell you what part is weakest. Watch your health and keep regular hours. Write us as often as you can. How I wish I was a Harvard student too.
With deepest affection,
Doubtless it is a wise provision of Nature that we find our mates in our opposites. It is some natural law working for the good of the race, something to maintain the balance and uniformity of mankind. Certainly in many ways two people could not have been more unlike than Father and Mother. She said he was as weak as water, and he said he could get tipsy on a glass of water. He always said that Mother made the housekeeping an end in itself, and she said, "You know how he is, he never takes care of anything." How many evenings have I spent in the study when the lamp would begin to burn low for lack of oil and Father would have to run and fill lit and Mother would complain, "Just like you, come mussing around after dark. Why didn't you fill it by daylight?" Ah, me, when it was daylight Father did not need the lamp! It was Mother who filled the lamps, trimmed them and polished the chimneys regularly in the afternoon, while the sun was still up; but it was Father who trimmed and filled his lamp and let it so shine that all the world might see! After all, I am not sure but what Mother was just the wife for him; he had a streak stubborn determination along with his ambition to write that carried him through any trials of housecleaning or complaints about the housework. A wife in full sympathy with his work, who coddled him and made him think that everything he wrote was perfect, would never have done at all, nor would a selfish, extravagant, or society-mad woman. Father was temperamental, moody, irritable, easily influenced, easily led, suffering at times with attacks of melancholy, with but one fixed purpose, and that was to write. Mother was economical, thrifty, material, suspicious of people, determined to bring their ship to a snug harbour before old age, and she took the best of care of Father and held him steady and no doubt by her strength of character and firmness gave strength and firmness to his life. Their last years were most happy together and filled with a sympathy and understanding that were beautiful.
Sometimes Father would talk to himself, though but very seldom, and the following two letters are almost as though he were talking to himself. "I am far less forlorn when he is here," he says of himself and Uncle Hiram. With all his self-analysis he did not see that being forlorn was part of the price he must pay for the simple but intense joy he experienced from the beauty life and Nature.
W. P. Tuesday, Jan. 25 .
MY DEAR JULIAN,
It still keeps mild here — snow nearly gone, but ice in the river to the elbow. We do not get away yet. Your mother will not stir and Hiram and I will probably go to Slabsides, as she wants to shut up the house.
Hiram came a week ago and stays and eats here in the study — I am far less forlorn when he is here. It probably seems strange to you, I know you have never looked upon him very kindly. But you have never seen Hiram — not the Hiram I see. This little dull ignorant old man whom you have seen is only a transparent mask through which I see the Hiram of my youth, and see the old home, the old days and father and mother and all the life on the old farm. It is a feeling you cannot understand, but you may if you live to be old.
I hope you have given up that boat crew business by this time. It is not the thing for you. You do not go to Harvard for that. As I wrote you, you have not the athletic temperament, but something finer and better. Good sharp daily exercise you need, but not severe training. If you had been half my age probably those cold baths would have killed you. Old men often die in the cold bath. The blood is driven in and makes too great a strain on the arteries. Write me when you get this and tell me about yourself.
Your loving father,
Very likely what I did write told Father much more than I suspected, and he always stood ready with any advice he could give, especially about matters of health. Those were the years when he had many troubles: insomnia, neuralgia, and especially a trouble he called malaria, but which was largely autotoxemia. One doctor seared his arm with a white-hot iron in an effort to do away with the pain of the neuralgia and years afterward Father would laugh about it — "just like African medicine man, driving out the devils in my arm with a white-hot iron — the trouble was not there, it was the poison in my system from faulty elimination." When at last he did discover the source of his troubles how happy he was!
Riverby, Feb. 3 
MY DEAR JULIAN,
Your letter came this morning. Winter is rugged here too. Snow about 20 inches and zero weather at night. I almost froze the top of my head up there in the old house. The ice men are scraping off the snow, ice 8 or 9 inches. Your mother is in Poughkeepsie, I was down there Monday night. I doubt if she comes to Cambridge and I am wondering whether I had better come or stay here and save my money. If you can come home on the Easter holidays perhaps I had better not come. If you get a week had you rather not come home then than to have me come now? Tell me how you feel. But I may feel different next week, I may be written out by that time. If I thought I could go on with my work there I would come at once. I am in excellent health and do not need a change. I could not do much with your English Exams. I have a poor opinion of such stuff. That is not the way to make writers or thinkers. I enclose my check for the bill which you must get receipted. Write me at once about the Easter holidays.
Your loving father,
Later when he visited me in
Saturday P. M., Jan. 29 .
MY DEAR JULIAN,
Hiram and I are with the Ackers [who were living in the old house then]. I find the food and give them the rent and they do the work. I shall have peace now and it will taste good. If I come to C when would you rather I should come? I am not done with my writing yet but may be in eight or ten days. Writing is like duck hunting, one doesn't know what game he will get or when he will be back: that is why I am undecided. I make everything wait upon my writing. It is cold here, down to four two mornings; good sleighing. I rec'd your letter yesterday, I do not know about those plays — ask Mr. Page or Rodman. I hope you are prospering in your exams. This is the new pen, do not like it much yet. The prospect for an ice harvest brightens. Write.
Your loving father
W. P., Saturday Jan. 15 
MY DEAR JULIAN,
I was glad to get your letter and to see you in such high feather. I hope you will keep so. Watch your health and habits and you may. Still your letter did not give me unmixed satisfaction. If you knew how I dislike slang, especially the cheap vulgar kind, you would spare me the affliction of it. There is slang and slang. Some has wit in it some is simply a stupid perversion of language. The latter I dislike as I do the tobacco habit to which it is close akin. You had so far escaped the tobacco habit and I had hoped you would escape the slang habit. It is not a bit more manly than the cigaret or cigar. Some slang phrases, like "you're not in it" or "you're off your trolley" and others, may do in familiar conversation with friends, but "bunches of cold" or "cuts no ice" etc., are simply idiotic. When you write return me again the postal card that I may see what words I misspelled. It still keeps very mild here, but is snowing this morning. Nip and I have had some fine skating — like a mirror for over a mile here in front: but the ice is getting thin. I do not know when I will come to Cambridge. Your mother has just been passing through the winter solstice of her temper and declares she is not going anywhere. I shall get away by and by, even if she stays here. I read Balzac and enjoyed it. The first half is much the best. The ending is weak and absurd. The old miser is clearly and strongly drawn, so are most of the characters. But we do not pity or sympathize with the heroine. How large and fine is that New Paltz girl, but probably like a big apple, she lacks flavour....
Your affectionate father,
It was very easy to see why Father
disliked slang — it was a perversion of his art, and as I have said he had the
true pride of the craftsman in his art. No one loved more the apt and witty
expression; he was forever seeking them, and slang was something that
overstepped the bounds and was therefore something truly abhorrent. Often I
have heard him tell the story with delighted relish of some men who were
spending a winter night in a country hotel. Eugene Field I think it was who
made the remark that so delighted Father, and J. T. Trowbridge recounts it in
"My own Story." It was a bitter cold night and covers were scanty;
and more than that, there were several panes out of the window. Field rummaged
about in the closet and found the hoops of an old hoop skirt, just then going
out of fashion, and these he hung over the broken window, saying "That
will keep out the coarsest of the cold!" "Coarsest of the cold,"
Father would repeat the expression and laugh again. I remember his envious
acknowledgment of an apt illustration: two famous wood choppers were chopping
in a match to see which could fell his tree first, and so great was their skill
and so swift their blows that the chips literally poured out of the tree as
though it had sprung a leak. "That is good," he said of the phrase
and lowered his eyes. Once we were motor-boating upon the
In those days we had much fun skating; Father had a curious pair of old skates that he fastened on a pair of shoes so that they would not come off. These shoes he tucked, skates and all, under his arm and we were off. He would slip off his "Congress" shoes and slip on the shoes with skates attached and start over the ice, his dog running by his side. Once he rigged up an attempt at a sail with one of his army blankets and some pieces of moulding left over from building the study, but it would not work. People on shore said they thought it was some kind of a life-saving contraption in case he broke through the ice. One day in the Shataca we had as fine a skate as we ever could imagine — there had been a thaw with high water and Black Creek had flooded the swamp, the water going out over the heavily timbered Shataca back to the upland. This had then frozen and the water gone out from under it, leaving the glassy ice hanging from the boles of the trees. The ice sagged a little between the trees which gave one a most delightful up and down motion as they glided over it on skates, as near flying as one could imagine at that time.
In spirit and often in fact Father went to college with me, he attended lectures in the courses I was taking, and often when I had read a book required I sent the copy on to him to read and he would comment upon it. In the following letter he comments upon a book I had sent him, and draws at the same time a picture of days at Slabsides:
Slabsides, Sunday, May 22 .
MY DEAR SON,
The other day when I went home your mother "jumped" me about two things, — my going down to R's to lunch and my taking you to that 5 cent show in Boston....
Heavy thunder showers here Thursday night, cloudy to-day. Pretty warm the last three days. The Primus is a great success. It uses rather more than one half cent's worth per hour. The Van B's with two Vassar girls were just over here. The "Iceland Fisherman" is a sweet tender pathetic story. One does not forget Yann: and what a picture of the life of those fishermen! I did not know that France had such an industry. I paddled up Black Creek again on Friday, but saw no ducks.... There were 35 people here last week. Write what you conclude to do about your room. The woods are nearly in full leaf now.
Your loving father —
Comparing the life of Father's
boyhood with our life here at Riverby in those days and again comparing that
with the life to-day, one cannot but wonder what will be the final outcome. In
a primitive society every individual knows everything about everything that he
has in life; as civilization becomes more complex we become more and more
specialists, more and more the thing that the economists call the
"division of labour" becomes operative, and individuals go through
life to-day knowing how to do but a very few of the things necessary to their
existence. The early or primitive civilization produced an independent race,
and individuals picturesque and unique in character. Father noticed this. He
loved the old-fashioned man or woman who was so strongly individual and
picturesque. I remember one such character, "Old blind Jimmy" he was
called, who went about the country with a staff, and when Father saw him
coming, one day "out home," he asked me to run with my camera and
station myself down the road and get a picture of old blind Jimmy as he came
along. I did so, and I knew at once that Jimmy knew I was there. He must have
heard me in some way, and surely must have heard the purr of the focal plane
shutter as I took his picture. One day in the market place in
Much of the old order clung to us here at Riverby — Mother always made
buckwheat cakes, we got a sack of flour from "out home" and she set
the cakes to rise; I can hear the sound of the wooden spoon as she mixed them
up in the evening and then set them behind the stove. Now we get the flour all
ready to mix with water. No more running for buttermilk to use in them, no more
having them rise over the batter pitcher during the night. Father always ate
them, five or six. No day was begun in cold weather without
"pancakes." And "out home" they made their own soap, but
here Mother got a box of soap and carefully piled it up to dry and harden.
There was a pail in the cellar for "soap grease," into which was put
every scrap of fat or grease and saved until the day when the "soap
man" came around and bought it. Those were the days when potatoes were
less than fifty cents a bushel, eggs a dollar a hundred, and the very finest
roe shad could be had for twenty-five cents. And shad nets were knit by hand. I
can remember Father telling how the Manning family, who lived below the hill,
knit shad nets all winter. Now one can buy the net already knit practically as
cheaply as one can buy the twine. Sail boats dotted the
"The little boat" referred to in the letter of July 24, 1893,
and on which Father shipped his peaches, was a small steamer that ran from
Rondout to Poughkeepsie and was more or less of a family institution when the
river was open. It landed when we hailed it, at the dock at the bottom of our
vineyard, and Father mostly went to town to do his shopping on "the little
boat." Once he went to get his garden seeds and, coming back, a violent
squall blew his basket with all his purchases overboard. I can still remember
how disgusted and ruffled he appeared over it. At another time he was on this
little boat when it landed at
One of the ceremonies here at Riverby was the bringing in of the door mat at night. Mother did this or told me to do it — I doubt that Father would. It was brought in for fear of dampness or rain during the night, which would wet the mat and shorten its usefulness. How different from housekeeping nowadays!
Father always wore flannel shirts, of a dark gray, and these had the unfortunate habit of shrinking about the neck, so in washing them they were stretched and then dried over a milk pail — I can see them now, hanging on the line with the pail protruding from the neck. I played a cruel joke on Father one night; I was going out to the hired man's house to play cards and asked Father to leave the door open for me, which he did. It was very late when I returned, half-past nine or ten o'clock, and as I did not want to disturb any one I crept in in my most stealthy way and up to bed. In the morning Father asked me excitedly when I got in. "You must have been mighty sly about it," he said, half in admiration, half in reproach, when I told him, "for I lay awake listening for you to come in and when it got to be after ten I got up to come down and see what had become of you and I found you had come in."
It is ever true that many of the things that a man regards as important a woman does not; and conversely, many things a woman takes seriously are to a man a joke. The following gives a picture of the life here then and sums up the difference between the point of view of Father and Mother:
Thursday, May 17 
MY DEAR BOY,
I meant to have written you before this but I have been very much occupied and your mother has been wrestling with her house. She has gotten down to the kitchen with her cleaning. She has hired a woman who is to come next week and she wants to get the house in order for her. I have had company. On Friday afternoon "Teddy Roosevelt Jr" came and stayed until Monday morning. He is his father in miniature. He kept me on the stretch all the time. On Saturday we went up the Shataca and cooked our dinner on the little island where you and I did. We had a good time. He climbed trees and rocks like a squirrel. He was all the time looking for something difficult to do.
May 19. I was choked off here and now I am in a pickle. We began to fix the cistern yesterday and got it half finished when the rain came — an inch and a half of water and your mother is furious — cried all night and is crying and storming yet this morning. Of course the blame is all mine. I wanted to fix it ten days ago but she said no, she wanted the water to clean house. If I and you had both died she could not have shed more tears than she has over this petty matter. I shall take to Slabsides to escape this tearful deluge. It has been very dry, no rain and no tears for six weeks. I was glad to see it come, cistern or no cistern. It has saved the hay crop and the strawberries.
The leaves are all out here and the apple blossoms fallen. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson of N. Y. came Sunday and left Monday night. Clifton Johnson came Tuesday morning and left Wednesday. Some Vassar people were coming to-day but it rains from the N. E.
Of course you can pick up no decent girl on the street and I should keep aloof from them. A decent girl would resent the advances of a stranger.
The birds are very numerous this spring.
Your loving father
In the spring of '99 Father was
asked to join the E. H. Harriman Alaska Expedition, and though very reluctant
he consented to go — he was historian of the expedition and his account of it
appeared in the Century and in his
book, "Far and Near." Mother had always said that "his
folks" were afraid to go out of sight of the smoke of the home chimney.
Something of this was in Father. He had to make himself go. He was always
unhappy when leaving home and home ties. He made many new friends on this trip
— John Muir, whom he liked immensely in spite of the fact that he sometimes
called him a "cross-grained Scotchman"; Fuertes, the nature artist;
Dallenbaugh, one of those who made the trip through the
Near Fort Wrangell, Alaska June 5 .
MY DEAR BOY,
Still we steam northward through these wonderful channels and mountain-locked sounds that mark this side of the continent amid such scenery as you and I never dreamed of. This morning we woke up at Fort Wrangell under a clear cold sky, like a Florida winter, some of them said, mercury 44 and snow capped peaks all around the horizon. On shore some wild flowers were blooming and weeds and shrubs had a good start. I saw swallows and heard song sparrows, not differing much from those at home. We have had fair weather most of the time since leaving Victoria but cold. I have borrowed a heavy overcoat and wish I had two. I sit at the door of my state room writing this and looking out upon the blue sparkling sea water and the snow capped and spruce mantled mountain ranges. Muir has just passed by, then Mr. Harriman racing with his children. I like him. He is a small man, about the size of Ingersoll and the same age, brown hair and moustache and round strong head. He seems very democratic and puts on no airs. 11 A. M. We are now going up the Wrangell narrows like the highlands of the Hudson, 25 miles long with snow capped peaks in the back-ground and black spruce clad hills and bends in the foreground. Ducks, geese, loons, and eagles all along. Bang, bang, go the rifles from the deck, but nothing is hurt. It is clear and still. How I wish for you! Last night at nine thirty we had such a sun-set; snow white peaks seven or eight thousand feet high riding slowly along the horizon behind dark purple walls of near mountain ranges all aflame with the setting sun. Such depths of blue and purple, such glory of flame and gold, such vistas of luminous bays and sounds I had never dreamed of.
I keep well but eat better than I sleep. Only two or three times have we felt the great throb of the Pacific through open gateways in this wall of islands. The first time it made me miss my dinner, which is not as bad as to lose it. In a week or two we shall have to face it for many days; then I shall want to go home. We have seen deer and elk from the steamer. We have reached the land of Indians and ravens. Many Indians in every town and ravens perched in rows upon the house tops. Our crowd is fearfully and wonderfully learned — all specialists. I am the most ignorant and the most untravelled man among them, and the most silent. We expect to reach Juneau to-night and I may be able to write once more — from Sitka.
I wish I knew if you were going west and how things are at home. I suppose you will be home before this can reach you. I wonder if you have had rain and if the grapes are breaking. I got me a stunning pair of shoes at Seattle — $7.50. Down in the belly of our ship are fat steers, 2 horses, a cow, a lot of sheep, hens, chickens, turkeys, etc. It looks like a farmer's barn yard down there. But I must stop, with much love to you and your mother.
We have just passed the Devil's Thumb, over 9,000 feet high. From the top rises a naked shaft 1600 feet high — this is the thumb. Our first glacier, too is here, a great mass of whitish ice settled low in the lap of the mountains.
From Sitka, June 17th, he wrote:
MY DEAR BOY,
The steamer yesterday did not bring me a letter from you or your mother. I was much disappointed. If you had written as late as June 3rd it would have reached me. I got one from Hiram, he is well and his bees are doing well. There will be no other chance to get letters until we return the last of July. I dreamed of you last night and you told me the grapes were not doing well. I read in the papers of the heat in the east and we all wish for some of it here. I got me a heavy flannel shirt here and I feel warmer. The mercury is from 52 to 55 to-day. Dandelions are just past the height of their bloom, currant bushes just blooming, peas are up ten inches and weeds have a good start. There is no agriculture in Alaska, though potatoes do well. I have seen one cow, a yoke of oxen and a few horses. There are no roads except about one mile here. The streets of most of the towns are only broad plank sidewalks. Yet hens scratch here and roosters crow the same as at home. This town is very prettily situated; back of it rise steep, dark spruce-covered mountains, about 3,000 feet — in front of it a large irregular bay studded with tree-tufted islands, beyond that ten miles away rise snow capped peaks, from the top of which one could look down upon the Pacific. No land has been cleared except where the town stands. There may be 1,500 people here, half of them Indians. The Indians are well clad and clean and quiet and live in good frame houses. Many of them are half breeds. The forests are almost impassable on account of logs, brush, moss and rocks. We have nothing like it in the east. The logs are as high as your head and the moss knee deep. There are plenty of deer and bears here. Day before yesterday one of Mr. Harriman's daughters shot a deer. There are four nice girls in the party from sixteen to eighteen, as healthy and jolly and unaffected as the best country girls — two of Mr. Harriman's, a cousin of theirs, and a friend, a Miss Draper. Then there are three governesses and a trained nurse.
This is a land of ravens and eagles. The ravens perch on the houses and garden fences and the eagles are seen on the dead trees along shore. The barn swallow is here and the robin and red-start. One day we went down to the hot springs and I drank water just from Hades: it reeked with its sulphur fumes and steamed with its heat. I wish we had such a spring on board, it would help warm us. I have met a Hyde Park man here, De Graff. I have met four people here who read my books and two at Juneau and one at Skagway. We leave here tonight for Yakutat Bay, 30 hours at sea. I should be quite content to go home now or spend the rest of the time in the west. I would give something to know how things are with you — the vineyards and the celery and what your plans are and your mother's. I still eat and sleep well and am putting on flesh. Love to you both. Let me find letters at Portland in July.
Your loving father,
Near Orca, Prince William Sound, Alaska,
June 27 .
MY DEAR JULIAN,
Since I wrote you at Sitka we have come further north and spent five days in Yakutat Bay and since Saturday in this sound — have seen innumerable glaciers and lofty mountains and wild strange scenes. At Yakutat we went into Disenchantment Bay, 30 miles where no large steamer had ever gone before. This bay is a long slender arm of the sea which puts out from the head of Yakutat Bay and penetrates the St. Elias range of mountains. It was a weird grand scene. Birds were singing and flowers were blooming with snow and ice all about us. I saw a single barn swallow skimming along as at home. There were many Indians hunting seal among the icebergs.
In coming on here the ship rolled a good deal and I was not happy, though not really sick. On Saturday we entered this sound in clear sunshine and the clear skies continued Sunday and Monday. This morning it is foggy and misty. We steamed eighty-miles across the sound on Sunday in the bright warm sunshine over blue sparkling waters. How we all enjoyed it! Far off rose lofty mountains as white as in midwinter, next to them a lower range streaked with snow and next to them and rising from the water a still lower range, dark with spruce forests.
Orca, where we anchored Saturday night, is a small cluster of houses on an arm of the sound where they can salmon, immense numbers of them. Two hundred men are employed there at this season. The salmon run up all the little rivers and streams, some of our party have shot them with rifles. Camping parties go out from the ship to collect birds and plants and to hunt bears and to stay two or three nights. No bears have as yet been seen. I stick to the ship. The mosquitoes are very thick on shore and besides that my face has troubled me a good deal, till the sunshine came on Sunday. I must have a taste of camp life on Kadiak Island, where we expect to be eight or ten days. Yesterday we found many new glaciers and two new inlets not down on the largest maps. We are now anchored to pick up a camping party we left on Sunday. Near us are two islands where two men are breeding blue foxes, their skins bring $20. We have seen one Eskimo here in his kyack. One can read here on deck at eleven o'clock at night. We have set our watches back six hours since leaving New York. I am rather dainty now about my eating, but keep well. I dreamed last night again about home and that the grapes were a failure. I hope dreams do go by opposites. I suppose you are shipping the currants. We get no mail. I hope to send this by a steamer from the north, said to be due. We have lectures and concerts and games and the people enjoy themselves much. I keep aloof much of the time. I hope you both keep well. Love to you both.
From Kadiak Father wrote of the "epidemic of verse writing"
that broke out among the members of the expedition. It was the custom to hang
the verses up in the smoking room, and on that fact, even, Father later wrote
some doggerel. It was while on this expedition that he wrote, "Golden
Crowned Sparrow in
But thou, sweet singer of the wild,
I give more heed to thee;
Thy wistful note of fond regret
Strikes deeper chords in me.
seems so strangely pathetic and like many of his moods.
Kadiak, July 5, '99.MY DEAR JULIAN,
In trying to get off last night the ship got aground and must wait for high tide. I wrote to your mother yesterday. It is bright and lovely this morning, the mercury at 70 — it is hot. I send you a jingle. Several of the men write doggerel and put it up in the smoking room, so I am doing it too. Mine is best so far. We will soon be off now, I trust you are well. I try not to worry.
Bow westward faithful steamer
And show the east your heels
New conquests lie before you
In far Aleutian fields
Kick high, if high you must
But don't do so at meals,
Oh don't do so at meals.
Your swinging it is graceful
But I do detest your reels.
We're bound for Unalaska
And we do not care who squeals
But mend your pace a little
And show the east your heels
But in your waltzing with old Neptune
Don't forget the hours of meals
Don't forget the hours of meals
I'm sure you have no notion
How dreadful bad it feels!
Push onward into Bering
And hasten to the seals
One glance upon their harems
Then take unto your heels
More steam into your boilers
More vigor in your wheels
But in flirting with the billows
Oh regard the hours of meals
Do regard the hours of meals.
If in this we are exacting
Please remember how it feels.
We're bound for Arctic waters
And for the midnight sun
Then quicken your propeller
And your pace into a run
We'll touch at lone Siberia
To take a polar bear
Then hie away through Bering Straits
And more frigid regions dare
But in all thy wild cavorting
Oh don't forget our prayer
A noble task's before us
And we'll do it ere we go
We'll cut the Arctic circle
And take the thing in tow
And put it round the Philippines
And cool 'em off with snow.
Our boys will hail our coming,
But a chill will seize the foe.
And we'll end the war in triumph
Go you homeward fast or slow.
Kadiak, July 2, 1899.
Though this was a delightful trip, one might say, an ideal trip, he was homesick, sea sick, and, as he says of himself, of all the party the most ignorant, the most untravelled, the most silent. It was a new experience to him, this going with a crowd. I know he often spoke of the expedition's cheer, and how they would all give it when they came into stations —
Who are we!
Who are we!
We're the Harriman, Harriman
H. A. E.! H. A. E.!
and "how the people would stare at us!" Father said. He liked it, this jolly comradeship and crowd spirit, but it was new to him, almost painfully new, and though no one had more human sympathy, more tenderness and understanding with human weaknesses and shortcomings, no one had less of the crowd spirit. As he said, he kept aloof — not from aloofness but from embarrassment and shyness. Later he overcame most of this and was able to face a crowd or an audience with composure and sureness. With this picture in mind another is recalled, one of him here at Riverby on summer days, scraping corn to make corn cakes. With an armful of green corn that he had picked, I can see him seated and with one of Mother's old aprons tucked under his beard. He would carefully cut down the rows of kernels and then with the back of a knife would scrape the milk of the corn into a big yellow bowl. He would hold the white ears in his brown hands and deftly cut each row, a look of composure and serenity in his eyes. He could eat his share of the cakes, too, and I like to think of those summer days. That fall he wrote from Slabsides:
Nov. 30, 1899
MY DEAR JULIAN,
I am over here this morning warming up and making ready for dinner. Hud and his wife and your mother are coming over soon. We are to have a roast duck and other things and I shall do the roasting and baking here. I wish you were here too. It is a cloudy day, but still and mild. I keep pretty well and am working on my Alaska trip — have already written about ten thousand words. The Century paid me $75 for two poems — three times as much as Milton got for "Paradise Lost." The third poem I shall weave into the prose sketch. The N. Y. World sent a man up to see me a couple of weeks ago to get me to write six or seven hundred words for their Sunday edition. They wanted me to write on the Thanksgiving turkey! Offered me $50 — they wanted it in two days. Of course I could not do it off-hand in that way. So I fished out of my drawer an old MS, that I had rejected and sent that. They used it and sent me $30. It was in the Sunday World of Nov. 19.
I have sold four lots here for $225. One house will be started this fall. Wallhead and Millard of P. If I don't look out I will make some money out of this place yet. Your mother begins to look more kindly upon it. A N. Y. sculptor has bought the rock beyond the spring for $75. Van and Allie are ditching and cleaning the swamp of the Italians below here.
Photography is not an art in the sense that painting or music or sculpture is an art. It is nearer the mechanical arts. Nothing is an art that does not involve the imagination and the artistic perceptions. All the essentials of photography are mechanical — the judgment and the experience of the man are only secondary. A photograph can never be really a work of art. You can put those statements in the form of a syllogism.
I hope you are better of your cold. Some building burned up in Hyde Park early last night. Robert Gill shot himself in N. Y. the other day — suicide. We shall be very glad to see you again.
Your loving father,
A long line of ducks just flew over going north.
The last letter from Slabsides was on May 23, 1900:
MY DEAR BOY,
I am here surrounded by the peace and sweetness of Slabsides. I came here Saturday morning in the rain. It is a soft, hazy morning, the sun looking red through a thin layer of seamless clouds. Amasa is hoeing in the celery, which looks good, and the birds are singing and calling all about. I have got to go to N. Y. this afternoon to a dinner. I had much rather stay here, but I cannot well get out of going.... I begin to feel that I could get to writing again if I was left alone. I want to write a Youth's Companion piece called "Babes in the Woods" about some young rabbits and young blue birds Teddy [Footnote: The son of President Roosevelt.] and I found.
Did you row in the races? What race are you preparing for now? It is bad business. The doctors tell me that those athletic and racing men nearly all have enlargement of the heart and die young. When they stop it, as they do after their college days, they have fatty degeneration. In anything we force nature at our peril.
When you are in Boston go into Houghton Mifflin Co. and tell them to give you my last book "The Light of Day" and charge to me. There is some good writing in it. Your loving father,
When I graduated at Harvard of course Father was there and he went to the baseball game and other things — we had a little reception in my room in Hastings. In the yard one day one of the old classes came along and among them was the new Vice-President, Theodore Roosevelt, and everyone cheered. "Yes," said Father. as we stood there that bright June day, "Teddy takes the crowd" — how little did he know the future, or guess that some day he would write a book "Camping and Tramping with Roosevelt"! Jacob Reid has said that no one who really knew Roosevelt ever called him Teddy, and I know it was so in Father's case. On his trip to the Yellowstone with the President, Father wrote:
In South Dakota, April 6, 7 P. M.
We are now speeding northward over Dakota prairies. On every hand the level brown prairie stretches away to the horizon. The groups of farm buildings are from one half to a mile apart and look as lonely as ships at sea. Spots and streaks of snow here and there, fallen this morning. A few small tree plantations, but no green thing; farmers plowing and sowing wheat; straw stacks far and near; miles of corn stubble, now and then a lone school house; the roads a black line fading away in the distance, the little villages shabby and ugly. When the train stops for water a crowd of men, women, and children make a rush for the President's car. He either speaks to them a few minutes or else gets off and shakes hands with them. He slights no one. He is a true democrat. He makes about a dozen speeches per day, many of them in the open air. As his friend and guest I am kept near him. At the banquets I sit at his table; on the platforms I sit but a few feet away, in the drives I am in the fourth carriage. If I hang back he sends for me and some nights comes to my room to see how I have stood the day. In St. Paul and Minneapolis there were fifty thousand people on the sidewalks. As we drove slowly along through the solid walls of human beings I saw a big banner borne by some school girls with my name upon it. As my carriage came up the girls pushed through the crowd and hurriedly handed me a big bouquet of flowers. The President saw it and was much pleased.... Other things like that have happened, so you can see your dad is honored in strange lands — more than he is at home.... I see prairie chickens as we speed along, and a few ducks and one flock of geese.... It is near sundown now and I see only a level sea of brown grass with a building here and there on the rim of the horizon.... We are well fed and I have to look out or I eat too much. You can see that the world is round up here.
Your affectionate father,
How well I can see Father's expression as he wrote that line, "Your dad is honoured in strange lands — more than he is at home"! and I sympathize with him fully. It has always been thus, that people of genius are least appreciated in their own home. And yet few men have the patience and gentleness that he had; few were as easy to get along with. He asked little for himself and was generous with what was his, and generous to the faults or shortcomings of others. I remember in one of those early March days the school boys raided his sap pans and Father chased and caught them, and as he overhauled one boy, the boy exclaimed pantingly, "I didn't touch your sap, Mr. Burris!" and Father laughed over it. "The little rascal was all wet down his front then with sap!" Father would then tell the story of the boy in school who was seen by his teacher eating an apple. "I saw you then," exclaimed the teacher. "Saw me do what?" said the boy. "Saw you bite that apple." "I didn't bite any apple," replied the boy. "Come here," and as the boy came up the teacher opened his mouth and took out a big chunk of apple. "I didn't know it was there," promptly said the boy. Father would always laugh at that: he sympathized with the boy. Yet when he taught school he had a big bundle of "gads" as he called them and he hid them in the stove pipe, where the boys failed to find them. I remember how Mother said that one boy imposed upon Father's good nature too far, and then when Father did finally get angry he got furious and grabbed the boy, who hung on his desk, and Father took him desk and all, tearing the desk from its floor fastenings. Doubtless afterward he was very sorry he had let his temper "get the better" of him, as he would express it.
In those days we often went for a swim, either in the river, or over to the swimming pool in Black Creek. Father was a good swimmer but he would never dive — he said it always seemed to him that there would be many water soldiers down there holding up spears, and one would be impaled upon them if he dived. Many times I have asked myself just how he looked in those days when he was so strong and active. There was something very natural about him, a thin white skin that bled easily at a scratch; fine hair that grew well and was wavy; a fine-grained, fluid kind of body, like the new growth of ferns or new shoots of willows; medium size hands, broad and brown, with fingers bent from milking when he was a small boy; picturesque in dress, everything soft and subdued in colour. Someone once said that his style in literature was slovenly, and Father said that that was true. "I am slovenly in my dress and all I do, so no doubt my style is slovenly also." Though this may seem to be a harsh criticism, it is true in the sense that Nature he self is slovenly, slovenly in contrast to what is stiff and artificial. His eyes were grayish brown, light, with a hint of green. His voice was soft and when he was embarrassed he stammered; he would force the words out, with a little hesitation; then when the word did come it was quick and forced. In the same way his long-enduring patience, when once it did become exhausted the temper came out in full measure. Often he was the one who suffered — more often, I should say. In the following letter he refers to the broken bone in his hand, a long and painful break, that caused him months of suffering. One day when chopping wood on his wood pile by the study a small stick irritated him, it would not lie still, but rolled about and dodged the axe until in fury Father managed to strike it. The stick flew back and in some way broke the bone in his right hand that goes to the knuckle of the index finger, which he used in writing.
At Home, Feb. 12 .
Your letter was forwarded me from M. I got here early Monday morning. I got my teeth Saturday. I feel as if I had a tin roof in my mouth, cornice and all. I don't know how I can ever endure them, they are horrible....
I took your Hobo piece to Dr. Barrus and she read it to Miss C and me, they were both delighted with it, even enthusiastic. Forest and Stream has returned your piece. I enclose their letter. I have read the paper. It is not anywhere near as good as your Hobo sketch — has not the same sparkle, buoyancy, and go. You can make it better. In such an account you must put a spell upon your reader and to do this you must go more into detail and be more deeply absorbed yourself.
My hand is nearly well. Three doctors in M agreed that I had broken a bone.... Love to you all,
Father always took a most lively
interest in the few magazine articles I wrote and though he would never
"correct" a MS. he would tell why it was good or bad, and if it was
good it gave him the greatest pleasure. Once when I wrote an article called
"Making Hens Lay" and showed him the cheque I received for it, he
exclaimed, "That is the way to
make hens lay!" Though he often said that if he wrote what the editors
wanted him to write, very soon they would not want what he did write, he
replied to my saying that Verdi's most popular opera was written to order, that
a similar request from an editor gave him a hint from which he wrote one of his
best essays. The controversy which Father started and which President Roosevelt
joined and in which he coined the phrase "nature fakers" did Father
much good in that it quickened his thoughts and stimulated him in many ways. He
received many abusive letters, which only amused and entertained him, and in
all it made a most interesting episode. In one of his letters from
"That slip in the Outlook letter irritates me. But any one can see it was a slip of the pen — nothing can drift to windward — things drift to leeward. I see how they are laughing at me in the last number."
One first-hand observation Father made I can never forget. The joke was
entirely on him, but he laughed and saw only the nature facts. In going up to
There was one subject that Father always took seriously, and that was the question of his diet. In his youth he had known nothing of proper diet, and though the wholesome, home-made food on the farm had been the best possible thing for him, in his early manhood he had been most intemperate in his eating — "eating a whole pie at one sitting," he said. He loved to recall that when he had the measles he was ordered by the doctor to drink nothing, and when his thirst got to an unbearable point he arose, dressed, climbed out of the bedroom window and got some lemonade, of which he drank about a quart — "and I got well at once," he would add with a laugh. I wrote some verses about his eating experiments and I never knew whether he was amused or hurt. He said rather soberly, the only mention he ever made of them: "I have a new rule now, so you can add another verse to your poem."
Mother was taken sick in
I am much depressed, but must not
indulge my grief, our band of brothers and sisters has not been broken since
In the same letter, from his own experience he says:
I can understand your want of sympathy with the new college youth. You have learned one of the lessons of life, namely, that we cannot go back — cannot repeat our lives. There is already a gulf between you and those college days. They are of the past. You cannot put yourself in the place of the new men. The soul constantly demands new fields, new experiences.
In 1905 he wrote:
In this mysterious intelligence which rules and pervades nature and which is focussed and gathered up in the mind of man and becomes conscious of itself — what becomes of it at death? Does it fall back again into nature as the wave falls back into the ocean, to be gathered up and focussed in other minds?
During Mother's last illness she was tenderly cared for by an old friend of the family, Dr. Clara Barrus, who then took up the burden of caring for Father, not only safeguarding his health, but helping him in his literary work as well.
On November 23, 1921, we said good-bye in the station in
So characteristic of him and of his love of a dog and all the homely things is the line "Scratch Jack's back for me." I had written him that I was anxious to see smoke coming out of his study chimney once more, and this simple thought gave him much pleasure. But it was not to be.
La Jolla, California, Jany. 26 
Your letters come promptly and are always very welcome. We all keep well. Eleanor is back again and is driving the car. Ursie is getting fat, she drinks only filtered water, as we all do. I have had attacks of my old trouble, but a dose of Epsom salts every morning is fast curing me of them. It is still cold here and has been showery for a week or two. Shriner is painting my portrait and has got a fine thing.
We are booked to return on Mch. 25th. We shall go to Pasadena Feb. 3rd, our address there will be Sierra Madre. It is about six miles from Pasadena in Pasadena Glen. How I wish you could be here for those last two months. Yesterday Shriner took us for a long drive over in El Cajon valley and we saw a wonderful farming country, the finest I have yet seen in California, miles of orange and lemon orchards and grape vines and cattle ranches. For the past week we can see snow on the mountains nearer by than I have ever seen it. We can just see the peak of old Baldie, white as ever. As I write a big airplane is going north out over the sea.
I wish you would have Taroni or some one bring me a load of wood for my study fire.
I am bidding farewell to La Jolla and California. I never expect to return: it is too far, too expensive, and too cold. I long to see the snow again and to feel a genuine cold and escape from this "aguish" chill. I hope you all keep well. Scratch Jack's back for me. Love to Emily and Betty and John,
Your loving father,