Book, panel examine legacy of naturalist John Burroughs

Photo of John Burroughs by Clifton Johnson (courtesy of The Jones Library, Amherst, Massachusetts)

Photo of John Burroughs by Clifton Johnson (courtesy of The Jones Library, Amherst, Massachusetts)

What we now call natural history or the biosciences were once known as “natural philosophy,” and it was assumed that a scientist would also be an author. Indeed, our local hero, late-19th-century superstar naturalist John Burroughs, was more renowned in his time for his writings and ponderings than for any sort of groundbreaking research. Nineteen of his most famous essays were first published, between 1889 and 1920, under the collective title Manifold Nature in the North American Review.

That venerable periodical was America’s first literary magazine, founded in 1815 by Boston patriot Nathan Hale, among others. It ceased publication in 1940 following the revelation that it had been purchased for propaganda purposes by a Japanese spy, Joseph Hilton Smyth, two years earlier; but the North American Review was revived in 1964 and continues to operate today, printing works by some of America’s most prestigious contemporary authors. This month, the North American Review Press is reissuing Burroughs’ 19 essays as a standalone publication, with new prefaces to each essay written by Jeremy Schraffenberger, an editor at the magazine.


To celebrate the publication of Manifold Nature: John Burroughs and the North American Review, the Vassar College Libraries will be hosting a panel discussion on Thursday, September 29 titled “John Burroughs Today: The Legacy of an American Naturalist, Critic and Philosopher.” Organized by the John Burroughs Association, the panel will include local academics Steve Mercier of Marist College, Dan Payne of SUNY-Oneonta, Dan Peck of Vassar, Susan Fox Rogers of Bard College and Harry Stoneback of SUNY-New Paltz. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. in Room 208 of Taylor Hall, and admission is free.

Schraffenberger will also be the guest speaker at a book launch event at 12 noon on Saturday, October 1 – which also happens to be this fall’s Slabsides Day, when visitors can actually enter Burroughs’ rustic cabin and writing retreat – at the John Burroughs Nature Sanctuary. Open House hours will be from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and admission is free. The entrance to the Sanctuary is located at 261 Floyd Ackert Road in West Park.