Thursday, April 16, 2009


Scandalous Misuse of the Globe

Eric Thomson, in two recent emails, augments my collection of reactions to and descriptions of tree-felling.

I thought you'd like this vignette from a biography of FitzGerald I've been reading. I have a fondness for these Parson Adams types, especially when they lambast tree-felling. Uttered c. 1835, there's a prophetic ring to the phrase 'scandalously misused the globe'.

As we shall have occasion to speak of three Crabbes, all clergymen, and all named George, a word or two may be required to prevent confusion. The first George Crabbe was the poet, and very much FitzGerald's idol, who, as we saw, died at Trowbridge in 1832. George Crabbe the second, son of the poet, was vicar of Bredfield. George Crabbe the third was son of George Crabbe the second, and rector of Merton, in Norfolk. George Crabbe the second, 'The Radiator,' as FitzGerald dubbed him, from the gleams of wisdom and mirth he emitted, was at this time about fifty, or almost double the age of FitzGerald, who had just passed twenty-six. He was a strong, muscular man of the Parson Adams type, with a prominent Wellington nose. Like FitzGerald, he was careless of personal appearance, his clothes did not fit, his hat was never in the right place. As he could not be trusted with money (for when out he invariably gave away all he had to the needy or the plausible), his daughters used to take the precaution of emptying his pockets before he quitted the house. He was loved by all in the parish, and he loved all and prayed for all, 'including Mary Ann Cuthbert,' the only black sheep in his flock. FitzGerald calls him heroic, noble-minded, rash in judgment and act, liable 'to sudden and violent emotions, and morbidly self-distrustful, though over-confident in the success of causes near his heart; with simple habits' and a Cervantic humour. He had a passion for botany and fine trees, and once pleased FitzGerald hugely by saying of a land-owner who had felled some oaks that he had 'scandalously misused the globe.'
Thomas Wright, The Life of Edward FitzGerald (London: G. Richards, 1904), vol. I, p. 138.

A contribution to your collection (if it is not already there) - Philoctetes describing the stripping of Mount Oeta for Hercules' funeral pyre. I like the touch 'sedibus pulsae ... quaeruntque lassis garrulae pinnis domus' (1631 f.). Evicted birds are collateral damage.
When all his sorrowing friends began to fell
The trees on Oeta's slopes, beneath one hand
The beech-tree lost its foliage and lay,
Its mighty trunk prone on the ground. One hand
With deadly stroke attacked the towering pine,
Which lifted to the stars its threatening top,
And called it from the clouds. In act to fall,
It shook its rocky crag, and with a crash
Whelmed all the lesser forest in its fall.
Within the forest was a certain oak,
Wide-spreading, vast, like that Chaonian tree
Of prophecy, whose shade shuts out the sun,
Embracing all the grove within its arms.
By many a blow beset, it groans at first
In threatening wise, and all the wedges breaks,
The smiting axe bounds back, its edges dulled,
Too soft for such a task. At length the tree,
Long wavering, falls with widespread ruin down.
Straightway the place admits the sun's bright rays;
The birds, their tree o'erthrown, fly twittering round,
And seek their vanished homes on wearied wing.
Now every tree resounds; even the oaks
Feel in their sacred sides the piercing steel,
Nor does its ancient sanctity protect
The grove.
tr. Frank Justus Miller.

Ut omnis Oeten maesta corripuit manus,
huic fagus umbras perdit et toto iacet
succisa trunco, flectit hic pinum ferox
astris minantem et nube de media vocat:
ruitura cautem movit et silvam tulit
secum minorem. Chaonis qualis loquax
stat vasta late quercus et Phoebum vetat
ultraque totos porrigit ramos nemus;
gemit illa multo volnere impresso minax
frangitque cuneos, resilit incussus chalybs
volnusque ferrum patitur et rigidum est parum.
commota tandem cum cadens latam sui
duxit ruinam, protinus radios locus
admisit omnis: sedibus pulsae suis
volucres pererrant nemore succiso diem
quaeruntque lassis garrulae pinnis domus.
iamque omnis arbor sonuit et sacrae quoque
sensere quercus horridam ferro manum
nullique priscum profuit luco nemus.
Hercules Oetaeus ll. 1618-36.

Ivan Shishkin, Felled Birches

Related posts: The Groves Are Down; Massacre; Executioners; Anagyrasian Spirit; Butchers of Our Poor Trees; Cruel Axes; Odi et Amo; Kentucky Chainsaw Massacre; Protection of Sacred Groves; Lex Luci Spoletina; Turullius and the Grove of Asclepius; Caesarian Section; Death of a Noble Pine; Two Yew Trees in Chilthorne, Somerset; The Fate of the Shrubbery at Weston; The Trees Are Down; Sad Ravages in the Woods; Strokes of Havoc; Maltreatment of Trees; Arboricide; An Impious Lumberjack; Erysichthon in Ovid; Erysichthon in Callimachus; Vandalism.

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