The Story of My Boyhood and Youth
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Title: The Story of My Boyhood and Youth
Author: John Muir
Release Date: May 9, 2006 [eBook #18359]
Most recently updated: October 6, 2012
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OF MY BOYHOOD
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS FROM SKETCHES
BY THE AUTHOR
BOSTON AND NEW YORK
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
The Riverside Press Cambridge
COPYRIGHT, 1912 AND 1913, BY THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1913, BY JOHN MUIR
Published March 1913
The Riverside Press
CAMBRIDGE · MASSACHUSETTS
PRINTED IN THE U.S.A.
|I.||A BOYHOOD IN SCOTLAND||1|
|Earliest Recollections—The "Dandy Doctor" Terror—Deeds of Daring—The Savagery of Boys—School and Fighting—Birds'-nesting.|
|II.||A NEW WORLD||51|
|Stories of America—Glorious News—Crossing the Atlantic—The New Home—A Baptism in Nature—New Birds—The Adventures of Watch—Scotch Correction—Marauding Indians.|
|III.||LIFE ON A WISCONSIN FARM||90|
|Humanity in Oxen—Jack, the Pony—Learning to Ride—Nob and Nell—Snakes—Mosquitoes and their Kin—Fish and Fishing—Considering the Lilies—Learning to Swim—A Narrow Escape from Drowning and a Victory—Accidents to Animals.|
|IV.||A PARADISE OF BIRDS||137|
|Bird Favorites—The Prairie Chickens—Water-Fowl—A Loon on the Defensive—Passenger Pigeons.|
|American Head-Hunters—Deer—A Resurrected Woodpecker—Muskrats—Foxes and Badgers—A Pet Coon—Bathing—Squirrels—Gophers—A Burglarious Shrike.|
|The Crops—Doing Chores—The Sights and Sounds of Winter—Road-making—The Spirit-rapping Craze—Tuberculosis among the Settlers—A Cruel Brother—The Rights of the Indians—Put to the Plough at the Age of Twelve—In the Harvest-Field—Over-Industry among the Settlers—Running the Breaking-Plough—Digging a Well—Choke-Damp—Lining Bees.|
|VII.||KNOWLEDGE AND INVENTIONS||240|
|Hungry for Knowledge—Borrowing Books—Paternal Opposition—Snatched Moments—Early Rising proves a Way out of Difficulties—The Cellar Workshop—Inventions—An Early-Rising Machine—Novel Clocks—Hygrometers, etc.—A Neighbor's Advice.|
|VIII.||THE WORLD AND THE UNIVERSITY||262|
|Leaving Home—Creating a Sensation in Pardeeville—A Ride on a Locomotive—At the State Fair in Madison—Employment in a Machine-Shop at Prairie du Chien—Back to Madison—Entering the University—Teaching School—First Lesson in Botany—More Inventions—The University of the Wilderness.|
|Muir's Lake (Fountain Lake) and the Garden Meadow||62|
|Our First Wisconsin Home||100|
|Clock with Hand rising and setting with the Sun, inventedby the Author in his Boyhood||132|
|Barometer invented by the Author in his Boyhood||164|
|Combined Thermometer, Hygrometer, Barometer, andPyrometer, invented by the Author in his Boyhood||196|
|The Hickory Hill House, built in 1857||230|
|Thermometer invented by the Author in his Boyhood||258|
|Self-Setting Sawmill. Model built in Cellar. Invented bythe Author in his Boyhood||258|
|My Desk, made and used at the Wisconsin State University||284|
The Story of My Boyhood and Youth
A BOYHOOD IN SCOTLAND
Earliest Recollections—The "Dandy Doctor" Terror—Deeds ofDaring—The Savagery of Boys—School andFighting—Birds'-nesting.
When I was a boy in Scotland I was fond of everything that was wild,and all my life I've been growing fonder and fonder of wild places andwild creatures. Fortunately around my native town of Dunbar, by thestormy North Sea, there was no lack of wildness, though most of theland lay in smooth cultivation. With red-blooded playmates, wild asmyself, I loved to wander in the fields to hear the birds sing, andalong the seashore to gaze and wonder at the shells and seaweeds,eels and crabs in the pools among the rocks when the tide was low; andbest of all to watch the waves in awful storms thundering on the blackheadlands and craggy ruins of the old Dunbar Castle when the sea andthe sky, the waves and the clouds, were mingled together as one. Wenever thought of playing truant, but after I was five or six years oldI ran away to the seashore or the fields almost every Saturday, andevery day in the school vacations except Sundays, though solemnlywarned that I must play at home in the garden and back yard, lest Ishould learn to think bad thoughts and say bad words. All in vain. Inspite of the sure sore punishments that followed like shadows, thenatural inherited wildness in our blood ran true on its gloriouscourse as invincible and unstoppable as stars.
My earliest recollections of the country were gained on short walkswith my grandfather when I was perhaps not over three years old. Onone of these walks grandfather took me to Lord Lauderdale's gardens,where I saw figs growing against a sunny wall and tasted some ofthem, and got as many apples to eat as I wished. On another memorablewalk in a hay-field, when we sat down to rest on one of the haycocks Iheard a sharp, prickly, stinging cry, and, jumping up eagerly, calledgrandfather's attention to it. He said he heard only the wind, but Iinsisted on digging into the hay and turning it over until wediscovered the source of the strange exciting sound,—a mother fieldmouse with half a dozen naked young hanging to her teats. This to mewas a wonderful discovery. No hunter could have been more excited ondiscovering a bear and her cubs in a wilderness den.
I was sent to school before I had completed my third year. The firstschoolday was doubtless full of wonders, but I am not able to recallany of them. I remember the servant washing my face and getting soapin my eyes, and mother hanging a little green bag with my first bookin it around my neck so I would not lose it, and its blowing back inthe sea-wind like a flag. But before I was sent to school mygrandfather, as I was told, had taught me my letters from shop signsacross the street. I can remember distinctly how proud I was when Ihad spelled my way through the little first book into the second,which seemed large and important, and so on to the third. Going fromone book to another formed a grand triumphal advancement, the memoriesof which still stand out in clear relief.
The third book contained interesting stories as well as plainreading-and spelling-lessons. To me the best story of all was"Llewellyn's Dog," the first animal that comes to mind after theneedle-voiced field mouse. It so deeply interested and touched me andsome of my classmates that we read it over and over with achinghearts, both in and out of school and shed bitter tears over the bravefaithful dog, Gelert, slain by his own master, who imagined that hehad devoured his son because he came to him all bloody when the boywas lost, though he had saved the child's life by killing a big wolf.We have to look far back to learn how great may be the capacity of achild's heart for sorrow and sympathy with animals as well as withhuman friends and neighbors. This auld-lang-syne story stands out inthe throng of old schoolday memories as clearly as if I had myselfbeen one of that Welsh hunting-party—heard the bugles blowing, seenGelert slain, joined in the search for the lost child, discovered itat last happy and smiling among the grass and bushes beside the dead,mangled wolf, and wept with Llewellyn over the sad fate of his noble,faithful dog friend.
Another favorite in this book was Southey's poem "The Inchcape Bell,"a story of a priest and a pirate. A good priest in order to warnseamen in dark stormy weather hung a big bell on the dangerousInchcape Rock. The greater the storm and higher the waves, the louderrang the warning bell, until it was cut off and sunk by wicked Ralphthe Rover. One fine day, as the story goes, when the bell was ringinggently, the pirate put out to the rock, saying, "I'll sink that belland plague the Abbot of Aberbrothok." So he cut the rope, and downwent the bell "with a gurgling sound; the bubbles rose and burstaround," etc. Then "Ralph the Rover sailed away; he scoured the seasfor many a day; and now, grown rich with plundered store, he steershis course for Scotland's shore." Then came a terrible storm withcloud darkness and night darkness and high roaring waves, "Now wherewe are," cried the pirate, "I cannot tell, but I wish I could hear theInchcape bell." And the story goes on to tell how the wretched rover"tore his hair," and "curst himself in his despair," when "with ashivering shock" the stout ship struck on the Inchcape Rock, and wentdown with Ralph and his plunder beside the good priest's bell. Thestory appealed to our love of kind deeds and of wildness and fairplay.
A lot of terrifying experiences connected with these first schooldaysgrew out of crimes committed by the keeper of a low lodging-house inEdinburgh, who allowed poor homeless wretches to sleep on benches orthe floor for a penny or so a night, and, when kind Death came totheir relief, sold the bodies for dissection to Dr. Hare of themedical school. None of us children ever heard anything like theoriginal story. The servant girls told us that "Dandy