Sunday, October 03, 2010


Gothick Barbarity

Thanks to the indefatigable and erudite Eric Thomson for what follows.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, On the Site of a Mulberry-Tree; Planted by Wm. Shakespeare; felled by the Rev. F. Gastrell, from The Academy (February 15, 1871) 128; rpt. in his Collected Works, ed. William M. Rossetti, vol. I (London: Ellis and Scruton, 1886), p. 285:
This tree, here fall'n, no common birth or death
  Shared with its kind. The world's enfranchised son,
  Who found the trees of Life and Knowledge one,
Here set it, frailer than his laurel-wreath.
Shall not the wretch whose hand it fell beneath
  Rank also singly—the supreme unhung?
  Lo! Sheppard, Turpin, pleading with black tongue
This viler thief's unsuffocated breath!

We'll search thy glossary, Shakespeare! whence almost,
  And whence alone, some name shall be reveal'd
    For this deaf drudge, to whom no length of ears
    Sufficed to catch the music of the spheres;
  Whose soul is carrion now,—too mean to yield
Some Starveling's ninth allotment of a ghost.

James Boswell, Life of Dr. Johnson (A.D. 1776, aetat. 67):
Mrs. Aston, whom I had seen the preceding night, and her sister, Mrs. Gastrel, a widow lady, had each a house and garden, and pleasure-ground, prettily situated upon Stowhill, a gentle eminence, adjoining to Lichfield. Johnson walked away to dinner there, leaving me by myself without any apology; I wondered at this want of that facility of manners, from which a man has no difficulty in carrying a friend to a house where he is intimate; I felt it very unpleasant to be thus left in solitude in a country town, where I was an entire stranger, and began to think myself unkindly deserted: but I was soon relieved, and convinced that my friend, instead of being deficient in delicacy, had conducted the matter with perfect propriety, for I received the following note in his handwriting: 'Mrs. Gastrel, at the lower house on Stowhill, desires Mr. Boswell's company to dinner at two.' I accepted of the invitation, and had here another proof how amiable his character was in the opinion of those who knew him best. I was not informed, till afterwards, that Mrs. Gastrel's husband was the clergyman who, while he lived at Stratford upon Avon, where he was proprietor of Shakspeare's garden, with Gothick barbarity cut down his mulberry-tree, and, as Dr. Johnson told me, did it to vex his neighbours. His lady, I have reason to believe, on the same authority, participated in the guilt of what the enthusiasts for our immortal bard deem almost a species of sacrilege.
Isabel Roome Mann "The Garrick Jubilee at Stratford-upon-Avon," Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 3 (Jul., 1950), pp. 128-134, p.128:
The mulberry tree whose branches are intertwined in the tale was the one that William Shakespeare was said to have planted in his garden at New Place in 1609. By the 1750s, New Place had gone out of the hands of the Shakespeares, and was owned by Mr. Francis Gastrell, not a native Stratfordian. This retired clergyman was so annoyed by people coming to see the famous mulberry tree, and by the shade that the tree cast, that he had it cut down in or about 1758.4 The people of Stratford were roused to fury and to tears. In 1759, after further enraging the irate Stratfordians by razing New Place—because of his quarrel with them over the Poor Rate on the house—Mr. Gastrell left the town, "amid the curses of the populace."5 The mulberry tree survived, however, in the shape of small trunks, tea chests, etc., ingeniously made by the carpenter6 who purchased the felled tree.

4 According to R.B. Wheler, it was cut down in 1756. R. B. Wheler, A Guide to Stratford-upon- Avon (Stratford-upon-Avon, J. Ward, 1814) p. 46. J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps says "in or about 1758." J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps, Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare, 2nd Ed. (London, Longmans, Green, & Co., 1883), p. 443.
5 Thomas Davis, "The Jubilee at Stratford," in Memoirs of the Life of David Garrick, Esq. (London, Published by the Author, 1780), II, 214-5.
6 By "Mr. Thomas Sharp, watchmaker, of Stratford," according to R.B. Wheler, op. cit., p. 46.


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