Burroughs, John,1837–1921, American naturalist and author, b. Roxbury, N.Y.; son of a farmer. He was a journalist, a treasury clerk in Washington, and a bank examiner, before settling in 1874 on a farm near Esopus, N.Y. There he studied fruit culture and literature. His first book, Walt Whitman, Poet and Person (1867), was the first to adequately recognize the genius of his poet friend. His prose made widely popular the type of nature essay written by Thoreau. His best-known books are Wake Robin (1871); Locusts and Wild Honey (1879); Fresh Fields, a travel book (1884); Signs and Seasons (1886); and a volume of poems, Bird and Bough (1906). A growing interest in philosophy and in science is evident in Time and Change (1912), The Summit of the Years (1913), The Breath of Life (1915), and Accepting the Universe (1922). "The Sage of Slabsides" became the friend of John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, Edison, Ford, and other important people. He traveled to the Pacific coast, the South, the West Indies, Europe, and (with the Harriman expedition) Alaska, recording natural phenomena in simple, expressive prose.
See his autobiography, My Boyhood (1922); biographies by E. B. Kelley (1959) and P. G. Westbrook (1974).
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Burroughs, John(1837–1921) naturalist, author; born near Roxbury, N.Y. Raised on a farm in the lower Catskills, intermittently educated, he taught school in Illinois and New Jersey and published his first nature essay in 1860. He took a job as a treasury department clerk in Washington in 1863 and met Walt Whitman there; Whitman provided the title for his first book, Wake-Robin (1871). On assignment in England for the Treasury Department in 1871, he gathered material later used in essays published as Winter Sunshine (1875); reviewing the book, Henry James called him "a sort of reduced… Thoreau." He returned to the Catskills in 1873, built a house on the west bank of the Hudson near Esopus, N.Y., and turned out a book on the average of one every two years for the rest of his life. Long-bearded and rustic, he became something of a sage, his woodland cabin "Slabsides" the goal of naturalist pilgrims. He traveled widely in later years and formed friendships with Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas A. Edison and Henry Ford. He is credited, more than any other American writer, with establishing the nature essay as an important literary form.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.