Thursday, October 20, 2011


Scene of Desolation

Charles Dormer, 2nd Earl of Carnarvon (1632-1709), defined wood as "an excrescence of the earth provided by God for the payment of debts." (Samuel Pepys, Diary, May 5, 1667.)

A few years later, just across the Channel, in Normandy, another noble Charles, this one Baron de Sévigné (1648–1713), had the woods on one of the family's estates cut down to raise money, to his mother's chagrin:
I was yesterday at Buron, and returned from thence this evening. I have been ready to weep to see the desolation of this estate; there were the finest trees in the world upon it, and my son, in his last journey, gave the finishing stroke to the last. He would even have sold a little copse, which was the greatest ornament of the place. Is not this lamentable? He scraped together four hundred pistoles by this plunder, of which he had not a single penny left in a month. It is impossible to think with patience how he acts, and what his Britany journey cost him, notwithstanding he discharged his coachman and footman at Paris, and took nobody but Larmechin with him. He has found out the art of spending an immense deal of money, without making any show for it, of losing, without playing, and of paying, without discharging his debts. War or peace, he is for ever crying out for money; in short, he is a perpetual drain, and what he does with his money I cannot conceive, for he appears to have no particular passion; I really think his hand is a crucible, which melts money the instant it is put into it. You must bear with me a little, my dear child, while I give a vent to my vexation. The afflicted dryads, the venerable sylvan deities, driven from their ancient abodes, and not knowing where to hide their heads; the old crows, who had inhabited the summits of our lofty oaks for upwards of two centuries; and the melancholy owls, who dwelt beneath the impenetrable shades of their branches, from whence, with their shrill cries, they denounced approaching misfortunes to man, all, methought, crowded around me with their complaints; and who knows but several of our old oaks might have spoken, like that in which Clorinda was enclosed? This place was once un luogo d'incanto (a place of enchantment), if ever there was one. In short, my imagination was so forcibly struck with the scene of desolation that presented itself that I returned home in sorrow; nor was the supper which the first president gave me able to rouse my spirits.
Letters of Madame de Sévigné to her Daughter and her Friends, vol. VI (London: Printed for J. Walker et al., 1811), pp. 24-25 (May 27, 1680, to her daughter).


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