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John Burroughs and the Place of Nature

James Perrin Warren

Publication Year: 2006

This study situates John Burroughs, together with John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt, as one of a trinity of thinkers who, between the Civil War and World War I, defined and secured a place for nature in mainstream American culture. Though not as well known today, Burroughs was the most popular American nature writer of his time. Prolific and consistent, he published scores of essays in influential large-circulation magazines and was often compared to Thoreau. Unlike Thoreau, however, whose reputation grew posthumously, Burroughs wasa celebrity during his lifetime: he wrote more than thirty books, enjoyed a continual high level of visibility, and saw his work taught widely in public schools.

James Perrin Warren shows how Burroughs helped guide urban and suburban middle-class readers “back to nature” during a time of intense industrialization and urbanization. Warren discusses Burroughs's connections not only to Muir and Roosevelt but also to his forebears Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman. By tracing the complex philosophical, creative, and temperamental lineage of these six giants, Warren shows how, in their friendships and rivalries, Burroughs, Muir, and Roosevelt made the high literary romanticism of Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman relevant to late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Americans. At the same time, Warren offers insights into the rise of the nature essay as a genre, the role of popular magazines as shapers and conveyors of public values, and the dynamism of place in terms of such opposed concepts as retreat and engagement, nature and culture, and wilderness and civilization.

Because Warren draws on Burroughs's personal, critical, and philosophical writings as well as his better-known narrative essays, readers will come away with a more informed sense of Burroughs as a literary naturalist and a major early practitioner of ecocriticism. John Burroughs and the Place of Nature helps extend the map of America's cultural landscape during the period 1870-1920 by recovering an unfairly neglected practitioner of one of his era's most effective forces for change: nature writing.

Published by: University of Georgia Press


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pp. -

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-

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pp. xi- xiii

In writing John Burroughs and the Place of Nature, I have experienced as much community as solitude. Even when I was sitting at my study desk in Still House Hollow, delving into ideas and finding words to put on paper, I was never really alone. Scholarship is always collaborative, and that remains...

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Introduction: The Power of Place

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pp. 1- 13

For the fifty years from 1870 through 1920, John Burroughs was the most famous and widely published nature writer in America. Today, less than a century after his death, he is largely unread, even by teachers of environmental writing. He shares his fate, of course, with scores of writers...

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One: Great Neighbors: Emerson, Thoreau, and the Writer’s Place

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pp. 14- 41

Nearing the end of his long life and lengthy career, John Burroughs made plans for publishing three volumes of essays over a three-year period, in return for which the publisher Houghton Mifflin guaranteed him an annuity of two thousand dollars. Burroughs regarded the amount...

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Two: Whitman Land: John Burroughs’s Pastoral Criticism

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pp. 42- 72

As important as Emerson and Thoreau were to John Burroughs as a literary naturalist and critic, Walt Whitman exercised the longest lasting and most profound influence on his career as a writer. The two first met in Washington, D.C., in 1863, and they were close friends to...

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Three: Pastoral Illustration: Burroughs, Muir, and the Century Magazine

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pp. 73-

John Burroughs never spared his friends. Writing on February 1, 1891, to Richard Watson Gilder, editor of the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, Burroughs criticized the magazine, especially the latest issue, which featured illustrations of poor white southerners, for printing “ugly...

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Four: Landscapes Beginning to Be Born: Alaska and the Pictorial Imagination

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pp. 113- 149

In an apparent aside in the late essay “Emerson and His Journals,” Burroughs combines three of his most important influences: “A remark of Emerson’s upon Thoreau calls up the image of John Muir to me” (Writings 23:23). Burroughs quotes Emerson’s journal entry, a perception...

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Five: The “Best of Places”: Roosevelt as Literary Naturalist

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pp. 150- 193

In a dedicatory letter to John Burroughs, penned at the White House on October 2, 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt opened his fourth book on American hunting, Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter, by addressing his friend as “Oom John”—Dutch for “Uncle John”...

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Six: The Divine Abyss: Burroughs and Muir in the New Century

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pp. 194- 226

In an editorial titled “The President’s Trip and the Forests,” Robert Underwood Johnson reflected on President Roosevelt’s famous tour of the western wonders in the spring of 1903: “The President’s trip is also likely to induce more of his countrymen to see the magnificent scenery...

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Conclusion: The Place of Elegy

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pp. 227- 234

John Burroughs outlived nearly all his friends, and his direct reflections on those who died are often curiously brief, bordering on the perfunctory. On Christmas Day 1914, upon learning of John Muir’s death, Burroughs writes telegraphically in his journal that it was “an event I have...


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pp. 235- 250


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pp. 251- 258


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pp. 259- 266

E-ISBN-13: 9780820330815
E-ISBN-10: 0820330817
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820327884
Print-ISBN-10: 0820327883

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 28 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 162149083
MUSE Marc Record: Download for John Burroughs and the Place of Nature

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Subject Headings

  • Muir, John, 1838-1914 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919 -- Knowledge -- Natural history.
  • Burroughs, John, 1837-1921 -- Influence.
  • Natural history -- United States -- History.
  • Nature in literature.
  • Burroughs, John, 1837-1921 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Natural history literature -- United States -- History.
  • American prose literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
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