is a heritage we have from our English parentage,
from those country-loving, animal-loving folk, who
have their town life, indeed, for a month or two of
every year, but who have always by preference a home
amid trees and lawns and streams. In our people it
undergoes a certain transmutation, due to differences
of time and zone, and becomes a love of the wilderness,
as if we not only inherited it from an ancestry, but
from our predecessors, the red men, whom we dispossessed.
The Indian, in a sense, is one of our spiritual progenitors.
In colonial days, and indeed, until not so long ago,
our contact with these silent people of the wilderness
must have had its inescapable effect on our character.
Perhaps this will seem a fanciful and far-brought
supposition, but I think there is some truth in it.
And, certainly, the Indian must have taken hold of
the imaginative among us, his life and character must
have perceptibly influenced growing American letters
and art. He must have had for our artists and writers
a touch of something more wild and moving, more primitive
and significant and full of the poetry of the earth,
than anything folk could have seen in England since
the days of Robin Hood. I do not mean that it made
American literature or art any better than English;
I only mean that it made it necessarily different.
And, certainly, in books dealing with nature we have
made a distinct mark.
the first place, there is Emerson, whose name will
occur to every one. Not only his essay on nature reveals
the influence of wild life I am speaking of; almost
every page of him shows it. He is easily our first
author on the great theme: and almost any volume of
his will do as the foundation of a great library,
a vade mecum series. It was he who first sounded
the religious note in our sentiment for nature, who
fortified our timid conviction when we began to perceive
that deity is indifferent to walls and roof, and that
the meeting house is only of value in proportion as
it becomes too small for us. He taught us not to be
ashamed of our old yet new religion, and to confess
without fear that the serene and ennobling enjoyment
we find in the face of nature is quite as authentic
as the ecstasies of Moses or John.
literature of nature that has been produced in America
is surely one of our most praiseworthy accomplishments.
After Emerson and more exclusively vowed to nature
than he, comes to his townsman Thoreau, that inveterate
fieldsman, the founder of the cult of leisurists and
birdseekers. With but indifferent success in his own
day, Thoreau has grown more and more in fame, until
he takes rank among the best of our prose men. There
is a simple and unadorned directness in him very much
to out recent taste. He was thoroughly emancipated,
as Emerson was, from the literary style, the traditional
manner and conscious method of the earlier century.
He was the first of that ever-growing host who write
because they have something to say, not because they
wish to say something.
might think at first that the art of writing English
prose is on the wane in America, there are so few
men who seem to cultivate it for its own sake. With
scores of people writing and publishing books, you
still feel, I think, that hardly anyone is giving
to his work that deliberate care which made writing
a fine art. Everyone is more intent on the matter
of his writing than on his style. And if you keep
pace with the current periodical literature you will
see how large a part of it is produced by men who
are specialists, authorities in some branch of industry,
but by no means trained writers. This means that the
art of writing is becoming universal, does it not?
So much the better if it is so. For then we should
be sure to have a large mass of work, well informed
and accurate. The style in which it is presented may
be trusted to take care of itself. And there are always
a few men, the specialists in science or affairs or
travel or sports, who also have the innate feeling
for expression as well, so that their work becomes
the followers of Thoreau, every year growing more
numerous, there must be counted a few whom we with
all recognize as masters of the art of observation
and description. Mr. Burroughs has his place assured
beside Thoreau as a lover of bird and beast lore,
and Mr. Bradford Torrey is not far behind him on the
delightful trail. More lately comes Mr. Ernest Seton-Thompson;
with his well-deserved success, and I must ask leave
to add the name of Mr. William J. Long, whose books
on Ways of Wood Folk and Wilderness Ways
seem to me unsurpassed in scrupulous accuracy
and charm of narration.
men give us Nature as she is. There is no mere use
of nature as material for literature, but the truth
about things, which is far more fascinating as well
as far more valuable than romance. I confess, of course,
to thinking the Jungle Book equal to Ęsop,
and quite Homeric in its way. But it is, after all,
not a question of comparisons, but of positive excellence.
Let genius do what it will, there is no "arguing
agin success," as Artemus Ward said. And
we shall continue, no doubt, to have a plentiful supply
of literature which is of the imagination pure and
simple. Meantime there is this whole new kind of literature,
the literature of natural fact, which is growing up
about us, so instructive, so delightful, so full of
zest and spirit and clear air and open sky. Is it
not more significant than at first it seems?