The themes John Burroughs wrote about
John Burroughs was an American naturalist and essayist important in the evolution of the U.S. conservation movement. According to biographers at the American Memory project at the Library of Congress, John Burroughs was the most important practitioner after Henry David Thoreau of that especially American literary genre, the nature essay. By the turn of the 20th century he had become a virtual cultural institution in his own right: the Grand Old Man of Nature at a time when the American romance with the idea of nature, and the American conservation movement, had come fully into their own. His extraordinary popularity and popular visibility were sustained by a prolific stream of essay collections, beginning with Wake-Robin in 1871.
In the words of his biographer Edward Renehan, Burroughs' special identity was less that of a scientific naturalist than that of "a literary naturalist with a duty to record his own unique perceptions of the natural world." The result was a body of work whose perfect resonance with the tone of its cultural moment perhaps explains both its enormous popularity at that time, and its relative obscurity since.
Early Life and Marriage
Burroughs was the seventh child of Chauncy and Amy Kelly Burroughs' ten children. He was born on the family farm in the Catskill Mountains, near Roxbury, New York in Delaware County. As a child he spent many hours on the slopes of Old Clump Mountain, looking off to the east and the higher peaks of the Catskills, especially Slide Mountain, which he would later write about. As he labored on the family farm he was captivated by the return of the birds each spring and other wildlife around the family farm including frogs and bumblebees. In his later years he credited his life as a farm boy for his subsequent love of nature and feeling of kinship with all rural things.
During his teen years Burroughs showed a keen interest in learning. He read whatever books he could get his hands on and was fascinated by new words or known words applied in new ways. His interest in arithmetic was equally keen. Among Burroughs's classmates was future financier Jay Gould. Burroughs' father believed the basic education provided by the local school was enough and refused to support the young Burroughs when he asked for money to pay for the books or the higher education he wanted. At the age of 17 Burroughs left home to earn the money he needed for college by teaching at a school in Olive, New York.
From 1854 to 1856 Burroughs alternated periods of teaching with periods of study at higher education institutions including Cooperstown Seminary; there he first read the works of William Wordsworth and Ralph Waldo Emerson, both of whom would become lifelong influences. He left Cooperstown Seminary in 1856 and with this departure came the end to his days as a student. He continued to teach until 1863.
In 1857 Burroughs left a teaching position in the small village of Buffalo Grove in Illinois to seek employment closer to home, drawn back by "the girl I left behind me." On September 12, 1857, Burroughs married Ursula North (1836–1917).
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