John Burroughs: The Nature of Freethinking

As I prepare to teach another course on naturalist John Burroughs as a Freethinker, I am once again reminded of the wisdom he left us.  I chose Burroughs for the sixth book in my series of “nature meditations” because of his wide-ranging thought that fearlessly challenged orthodoxy. . .for the love of Nature.

“It is well to let down our metropolitan pride a little. Man thinks himself at the top, and that the immense display and prodigality of Nature are for him. But they are no more for him than they are for the birds and beasts, and he is no more at the top than they are. He appeared upon the stage when the play had advanced to a certain point, and he will disappear from the stage when the play has reached another point, and the great drama will go on without him.”

“And does the sun shine for me any more than for yon butterfly? What I mean to say is, we cannot put our finger upon this or that and say, Here is the end of Nature. The Infinite cannot be measured. The plan of Nature is so immense,—but she has no plan, no scheme, but to go on and on forever. What is size, what is time, distance, to the Infinite? Nothing. The Infinite knows no time, no space, no great, no small, no beginning, no end.”

“Touches of Nature” (Birds and Poets, 1877)


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