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author seems to lay all his cards on the table, and to explain how each trick is turned. There is no family skeleton hidden away in the closet; and no mystery that he does not unveil and reveal in the white light of the noon-day sun. Whether he learned this art, or simply distilled it out of the kindliness of his own heart, he does produce somewhat the same charm as Stevenson.
If the reader turns to Mr. Burroughs, the Naturalist, he is immediately taken into the author's confidence. Mr. Burroughs leads him across the threshold of the forest, and sits down upon the first log or rock to await the signals. He offers himself as the reader's guide to the out-of-doors, and is charmed that the reader accepts him on his own terms, and is, on the whole, better pleased with him than he has had any reason to expect.
Mr. Burroughs loses no time in giving the reader instruction in the art of seeing things. "A good observer of Nature," he confides, as if it were one of the great secrets of the world, "holds his eye long and firmly to the point, as one does when looking at a puzzle picture, and will not be baffled. . . . The observer finally gets the fact, not only because he has patience but because his eye is sharp and his inference swift." Before the reader is aware, he is captivated by the author's immense amount of detailed observation.
Later, it dawns on the reader that Mr. Burroughs is such an intimate student of Nature that he does not dogmatise. He will not undertake to say what flowers bees do not work upon; after twenty years of scrutiny, he has for the first time seen bees gathering honey dew from the trailing arbutus. He has never yet seen a beech tree that has been struck by lightning, but he is still alert and hopeful that he may find such a tree. He can hit upon the reason why the porcupine is so tame and so stupid. He thinks he knows why the fox is so cunning. There seems to be a parasitical principle that runs through all Nature; this, perhaps, explains why the cowbird lays its egg in another bird's nest. He divines why the dog, the world over, uses his nose in covering the bone he
is hiding, and not his paw. And then, after a hundred other intimate discoveries, how charming it is to read: "If you ask me why the crow is so cunning, I shall be put to it for an adequate
And so it is with the red-squirrel: "There is one thing the redsquirrel knows that I do not (there are possibly several others); that is, on which side of the butternut the meat lies. He always gnaws through the shell so as to strike the kernel broadside." Mr. Burroughs is, in fact, aware of many a question upon which he reserves his judgment. He is not bent on plucking out the heart of every mystery in the fields and woods. This frankness and lack of dogmatism, more than any other quality, is the divining-rod which reveals the true greatness of Mr. Burroughs, the ceaseless observer of Nature.
Another quality that gives an added charm to Mr. Burroughs, is his literary interpretation of Nature. "Honey," he says, "is the product of the bee; it is the nectar of the flower with the bee added. To the sweet water of the flower, the bee adds a minute drop of formic acid. It is this that gives the delicious sting to her sweet." The bee is thus made the symbol of the poet. To the sweetened water of natural fact, the poet adds the formic acid of his own human instinct-he floods the cold landscape with the colors of his spirit. Mr. Burroughs knows how to cover his too exact fact in a way that White or Wilson or Audubon or Isaac Brown was never skillful enough to master. The facts have a way of peeping through just enough to assure the reader that Mr. Burroughs is their master and never their servant. "If I relate the bird in some way to human life, to my own life,-show what it is to me and what it is in the landscape and the season,then do I give my reader a live bird and not a labelled specimen.'
And yet there is a nice distinction between Mr. Burroughs and the ordinary romancer of Nature. Mr. Burroughs is always sure of his least important fact. The red-squirrel is always, to Mr. Burroughs, a human clown; but he is, in addition, a redsquirrel. The fox possesses the equal of the most highly developed human caution; but the fox is a fox, and not a man in fur. It
is this perfect blending of human instincts with accurate observations of fact that makes Mr. Burroughs easily the leading naturalist of his generation.
In some respects, Mr. Burroughs may be almost as guilty of "nature faking" as Thompson-Seton; but that derogatory epithet will never be attached to Mr. Burroughs; because Mr. Burroughs is so imbued with intimate actualities that the impression which he produces has all the reality of Nature itself.
Many have thought that Mr. Burroughs is enhanced with but the exterior appearances of Nature rather than with the life of the spirit. But to me, Mr. Burroughs has found just what practically every naturalist finds in the outer world, an interpretation of his own innermost spirit. "Man can have but one interest in Nature." says Mr. Burroughs, "namely, to see himself reflected
This was true of Thoreau. Everyone remembers the battle of the ants as characteristic of him. Not only his transcendental mysticism is reflected in this dramatic description, but his misanthropy, his braggadocia, his keen philosophic insight. What is the Battle of Concord, with but two men killed, compared with this decimating warfare! Here, no doubt, some principle is being settled as important as was ever settled in human warfare. Just so, the battle of the robins on his lawn is characteristic of Mr. Burroughs. There is a vast deal of locking of beaks and beating of wings and fluttering of hearts; but there is no plucking of tail feathers nor bleeding bodies. Mr. Burroughs reveals the kindly soul he is the curious, observing, inferring, sympathetic, factdistilling naturalist. But his pen is the soft crayola when compared with the sparking flint of Thoreau's.
It is the searcher after truth that one finds in Mr. Burroughs, the Literary Critic. He approves of no effort at "fine writing" or noisy clanging of the cymbals. He is rather the searcher after the "familiar style" of Hazlitt. "I suppose one comes to like plain literature as he comes to like plain clothes, plain manners,
simple living. What grows with us is the taste for the genuine. The less the writer's style takes thought of itself, the better we like it."
It was Lincoln's terse, clean, intense speech at Gettysburg rather than the elaborate, ornate, scholarly speech of Everett on the same occasion, that appealed to him. Vanity and makebelieve should be as lacking in the style as in the man. Simplicity, directness, high seriousness, these were the qualities which he admired and sought to forward.
The first writer to make a strong impression on Mr. Burroughs after he grew to manhood, was Carlyle. "To say that Carlyle is not a great writer, or, more than that, a supreme literary artist, is to me like denying that Angelo and Rembrandt were great painters or that the sea is a great body of water." He never changed his mind about Carlyle; he believed to the end that Carlyle brought to his task as a man of letters the greatest single equipment of pure literary talent that English prose has ever received.
Mr. Burroughs, later, gave a large place in his mind to Emerson. He smilingly related, in old age, how one of his early essays had been questioned by a certain editor because it was so like one of Emerson's poorer efforts. He called Emerson the "national New England type." He liked him because of his condensation, of his reporting net results, and of his pregnant essays on great subjects. In his older age, Mr. Burroughs outgrew Emerson, and became critical of his paradoxes, his daring affirmations, and his trick of over statement.
The quality, however, that Mr. Burroughs admired in both Carlyle and Emerson was that both were men whose greatness of character was on a par with their greatness of intellect. Their highest distinction was in the depth and fervor of their moral conviction. This greatness of character and moral distinction was in his judgment much more needful and helpful than the mere spirit of perfection in letters.
Mr. Burroughs' first long piece of literary criticism was his study of Walt Whitman. He started out to explain Whitman, but before he had finished, he discovered that Whitman could not be
explained: "The type of mind of Whitman's, which seldom or never emerges as a mere mentality, and independent thinking and knowing faculty, but always as a personality, always as a complete human entity, never can expound itself, but its operations are synthetic and not analytic, its mainspring is love and not mere knowledge." Mr. Burroughs has done as much, perhaps, as any other man to give a correct estimate of Whitman. How illuminating is his description of Whitman's life: "A pleased and interested saunter through the world—no hurry, no fever, no strife; hence no bitterness, no depletion, no wasted energies."
During his later years, Mr. Burroughs never lost a chance to say a kindly word for Whitman. In an article which he published a few days before his death, he fired a broadside at the contemporary, heady versifiers, who claim to be descended from Whitman. "I do not think that Whitman would be enough interested in them to feel contempt for them. Whitman was a man of tremendous personality, and every line he wrote had a meaning, and his whole work was suffused with a philosophy, as was his body with blood." Mr. Burroughs went on to say that these young men were putting forth the most astonishing stuff in the name of free verse that had probably ever appeared anywhere. To him, these verse-writers were the "reds" of literature. He classed them with the Cubists and the Futurists, and asserted that they would, if they could, subvert or destroy all the recognized standards of art and literature by their Bolshevik methods.
In this article, one finds the same Mr. Burroughs that one has become acquainted with in his two volumes of collected critical essays, Literary Values and Indoor Studies. It is the lasting and enduring in literature that everywhere attracts him, and the trivial and fustian that he always condemns. In this age of loud, blatant praise for the erratic and startling in literature, one will be at pains to find a more lucid or sensible literary critic than Mr. Burroughs.
When one comes to consider the philosophic writing of Mr. Burroughs, one comes, perhaps, to the least profitable of his work.