John Muir Misquoted:
Misquote Alert: "When one tugs
at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world."
John Muir Quotations
We are frequently asked for the source of the above quote, which for some reason
has been included in many popular "favorite quotes" websites around the Internet,
and is indiscriminately posted on Twitter and other social networks. We even
found it being mistakenly
used by Smith & Hawken on a 2007 gift card and in several products
in the Northern Sun catalog.
Worse, we even found it engraved on granite! Actually, this statement is NOT
what Muir wrote. It is only a shortened paraphrase of what Muir wrote, and
is not nearly as interesting, eloquent, and charming as Muir's original.
Another variant of this misquote found on the Internet likewise mistakenly attributed
to John Muir is this one:
"Tug on anything at all and you'll find it connected to everything else in the universe."
Once again - Muir never said this! 1 Neither of
these quotes attributed to John Muir are correct. They are simply paraphrases
of the fundamental ecological principle of connectedness that Muir is considered
to be one of the first to articulate.
Sometimes it appears that writers just make something up out of whole cloth,
like this misquote attributed to John Muir in the San Francisco Chronicle on
January 8, 2005 by a journalist who should have known better: "If
you pick up anything in the universe, you find it hooked up to everything else." Sure,
this gets across the basic idea, but it garbles the proper place of the "universe"
and has none of the wit and indearingly quaint expression of Muir's actual
We have also heard yet another version of this quote, but attributed to John Burroughs: "Tug on one part of nature and you find the whole world connected." We don't put a lot of stock on this version of the quote either, since we've never found it on the Internet or in John Burroughs writings. If you know the source of any of these well-intentioned but inaccurate paraphrases - please let us know!
Here is the correct John Muir quote as Muir wrote and published it:
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it
hitched to everything else in the Universe."
You can verify the accuracy of this quote as it is found in Muir's book:
My First Summer in the Sierra
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1911), on page 110 of the Sierra Club Books 1988 edition.
It is found in Chapter
To be sure, tracking down Muir quotes accurately can be difficult. He frequently wrote multiple versions of some of his most eloquent writings.
Given variant sources and multiple versions of Muir's writings, it is not surprising to find that Muir actually did originally express the same idea in the famous "hitched" quote in a different way. As originally written, he was nonetheless as eloquent as always, although rather more wordy:
"When we try to pick out anything by itself we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe. "
According to Stephen Fox's book, John Muir and His Legacy (p. 291), this is the original version of the famous quote, which Muir wrote in his journal for July 27, 1869. Muir's journals can be found in the John Muir Papers 2 . Fox notes that Muir later revised the first sentence to read with the word "hitched" in his book My First Summer in the Sierra.
So, we encourage you to quote John Muir correctly: please use either the "hitched" or
invisible cords" version. Any other version which use "tugs" is just a weak paraphrase.
- Harold Wood, Chair, Sierra Club John Muir Education Committee
1. The only reference to "tug" based on a full-text search of
Muir's published writings is a reference to a steam tug that helped move a sailing
ship into a harbor in Cuba, which he describes in his book A
Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf.
2. Limbaugh, Ronald H.
Kirsten E. Lewis,
The John Muir Papers,
(Stockton, CA: University of the Pacific
With accompanying Guide
(Alexandria, Virginia: Chadwyk Healey,
With 40 copies in libraries throughout the United States,
and available to scholars through interlibrary loan,
this is the complete collection of all extant Muir correspondence,
manuscripts, notes, and illustrations.
See John Muir Collections, University of the Pacific
Favorite Quotations of John Muir
Writings of John Muir
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