Published since 1946
Back in the Early Miocene, when I was pitted against higher education, literature research data were recorded on 3- by 5-inch notecards. The data could be organized topically or chronologically. Rarely was a student in that bleak Manual Typewriter Era able to accomplish arrangement both ways. I wasn't one of those savants. As evidenced by Manly Hardy (1832-1910): The Life and Writing of a Maine Fur-buyer, Hunter and Naturalist, neither was author William B. Krohn.
Manly Hardy (1832-1910) is a strange biography, in part because the man himself was more than a little unusual. Lacking formal education and an admitted "mother's boy" during a sickly youth, Hardy nevertheless was regarded, by the time of his death, as, "one of [the] greatest naturalists in America." He recoiled against "Scientifics" and scientific methodology of the age, preferring reliance on empiricism and inductive reasoning. Interestingly, he gained favor with the likes of George Bird Grinnell and crossed quilled swords with the eminent and prickly physician/naturalist/ornithologist Elliott Coues.
Hardy essentially was a backwoods entrepreneur, who dabbled successfully in all manner of woods lore for fun and profit. His wisdom was gained by meticulous scrutiny of the landscape and its wildlife and fairly meticulous documentation of his observations. He learned by extensive and frequent wilderness travel, particularly in his younger years and in the company of Maine Indians and along Maine watercourses, pronunciations of which can best be accomplished with a mouthful of gummy bears. His observations were as cogent as those of fellow New Englander, Henry David Thoreau, minus Thoreau's penchant for quixotic rambling. Hardy's literary style compares very favorably with that of famed naturalist/author Ernest Thompson Seton. In fact, Seton's voluminous writings on the lives of North American animals included a fair bit of information gleaned from Hardy's insights.
Hardy was an early conservation advocate but in a true, xenophobic Maine way. He espoused what he saw and experienced as the proper use of animals taken during certain seasons. On the other hand, he was keen against government impositions and regulations. It wasn't clear whether he merely resented authority or held a curiously provincial point of view that most hunters, trappers and other takers readily took to notions of self-restraint.
Most of Manly Hardy's preserved writings were from the period 1878 to 1910, during which time he published an average of five articles, notes or letters per year and on all manner of natural history topics. Usually, his style was straightforward, clear, concise and factual. On occasion, and even in the course of his own journaling, he lapsed into fits of the prosaic--a hybid of 19th century verse and moony hyperbole. For example, "We are still in the grand old woods. The frost has touched the leaves and transformed the green hilltops into mounds of beauty such as neither poet's tongue nor painter's pencil can describe. There is a beauty in our autumnal woods. I love to feast my eyes on the gorgeous colors, yellow, red, purple, orange and green so mixed and interblended as no human skill can describe." It was from those published works (and the writing and collections of his daughter, Fannie Hardy Eckstorm) that Bill Krohn salvaged and preserved the understated genius of Manly Hardy.
Only about a fifth of the 353-page book is devoted to biographical information. For better or worse, thanks to the now-extinct notecard organizational technique, the biography is principally accomplished topically. Consequently, that Hardy lived and died six times was only mildly distracting.
The balance of the book, published in 2005, is devoted to his writing ? either full articles or select excerpts and a very nice annotated bibliography. These gleanings are delightfully entertaining and informative. They are contributions to science and to history.
I was struck by the fact that Hardy died 18 years before the Outdoor Writers Association of America was founded. Though not a joiner, Manly might have made an exception for this organization. He might even have been a founding member of OWAA and he surely would have been a legend among that outfit's legends, such as Grinnell, Joe Linduska, John Madson, Chris Madson, Roger Latham, Chuck Cadieux, Durward Allen, George Harrison, Art Carhart and a very few others whose literary craft was similarly fashioned from curiosity, firsthand experience and noncommercial convictions.
Manly Hardy (1832-1910) is not a fast-paced read, but it holds plenty of interest for those who are curious about the underpinnings of conservation and the study of natural history. Bill Krohn is congratulated for resurrecting the writings and preserving the memory of an American original. ?
This softcover book is available from The Maine Folklife Center of Orono, Maine (http://www.umaine.edu/folklife/pubs1991-06.htm), for $19.95.