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Browne the Beloved*

(Francis Fisher Browne)

by John Muir


Published in The Dial, v. 54, no. 648, June 16, 1913, p. 492 (Chicago, Illinois)

Francis Fisher Browne, or Browne the Beloved as I like to call him, was one of the finest and rarest men I ever knew. During the last five or six years of his life, when I came to know him intimately, my love and admiration have been constantly growing as the noble strength and beauty of his character came more and more clearly to view.

I have never ceased to wonder how he was able to do so vast an amount of downright hard work of lasting influence on our literature and at the same time lend a helping hand to hundreds of young aspiring writers, sympathizing with them in their struggles, and cheering them on with heartening advice while himself fighting an almost everyday battle against bad health, heavy enough utterly to disable most men. He was one of the literary pioneers of the old West who have made roaring commercial Chicago a centre of literature. His paper, The Dial, is regarded by far better judges than I am as the most influential of all the American periodicals devoted to literary affairs. This paper he founded some thirty-three years ago, and edited almost to the time of his death.

He never regained anything like sound health after it was broken by camp fevers in the Civil War. But nothing could crush him or in any appreciable degree abate his wonderful industry. Head and heart triumphed over everything.

He had a wonderful memory, knew almost every poet, and could quote their finest pieces as if reading from their books. The beauty and manly strength of his character and his capacity for life-long sacrifice and devotion are displayed in his writings, but they showed still more tellingly in his conversation when his fine face was glowing with soul radium. Like every great-hearted poet, he was a nature lover and a charming companion on wave-embroidered shores and sunny hills and mountains. And it is with peculiar delight that I recall my walks with him on the Pasadena hills in the spring and in sublime Yosemite.

When I took John Burroughs into the Valley two years ago we had the grand good fortune to find our beloved Browne there. He was suffering from one of his dreadful sick-headaches, and was unable to go to the hotel dinner table; so I managed to get something he wanted from the kitchen, and we all retired early to our rooms in the Big Tree Cottage and went to bed. Burroughs had a room to h himself, while Browne and I occupied a larger one separated from John's only by thin dry board partition, resonant as a fiddle, and which faithfully transmitted every word we spoke or sang. After the headache clouds had thinned and lifted a little, all bedroom rules, and even the great cliffs and waterfalls of the valley were forgotten; and we began a glorious revel in Burns's poems, all of which we had by heart, reciting and singing for hours, and sadly interfering with John's regular habits, as repeated rappings and calls for sleep-silence testified. With lowered voices we then continued our grand revel, keeping down our merry humor fits as low as possible until far on toward the "wee ama" hours ayont the twal," making a most memorable night of it. Beloved Browne was the only American I ever knew or heard of who had all of burns by heart, and who understood him so thoroughly that he was able to enjoy the immortal poet almost as well as a veritable Scot.

As we grow old we cling all the more fondly to old friends; but Death takes them away just when our need of them is sorest. Within the last two years two of my Californian friends of the dear old leal sort have vanished, never to be seen again in this world of light. And now Beloved Browne has gone, and all California seems lonelier than ever. Surely no man was better loved, and his lovely friendship will abide with us until the end.

John Muir.

* This letter reached us only a day or so too late to be included with the other tributes to the memory of Francis Fisher Browne, contained in our last issue. - EDR.


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