Friday, January 27, 2012


Staunch Foes of Timber

William Barnes (1801-1886), "Thoughts on Beauty and Art," Macmillan's Magazine (June 1861), reprinted as Appendix Four in Giles Dugdale, William Barnes of Dorset (London: Cassell & Company, 1953), pp. 276-298 (at 290-291):
I am sorry to find that farmers have become such staunch foes of timber, if not of winding streams. A farmer, at a late meeting, thought that all the timber that may be needful for a farm should be grown together on the poorest land. Whether by poorest soils he meant those that are thinnest of mould, or deepest in corn-starving ground, I do not know; but I should be sorry to lose all elms but the stunted ones that may withstand the blasts on a soil of chalk, under three or four inches of earth. But I do not think the baleful gloom of a tree-head, or the winding of its roots is an unamended evil. It will shield a good space of ground from a slanting hail-storm, or nipping stroke of wind; its leaves are vegetable elements, and its wood is of service, and it screens cattle, and checks the waste of body-heat, which is a waste of good. A man who had seen some cows in a cleared field in a hail-storm, ended his tale to me with the question, "Didden they zet their backs up?" If, however, I were a landowner, and had, in a well-formed landscape before my house, a fine tree, whose body was the very heart of a well-clustered composition, and whose head repeated the breadth of morning light that fell on its hillock; and if, in the evening, it outbore a breadth of shade in the foreground that upfilled a picture with cows or hay-makers beneath it—if it showed boughs of gold or russet in the autumn, or waved its crystal limbs in the snowy winter—I should be unwilling to give it up to the ruthless hand of Pluto for a few pence or shillings a year; for, if a joy from the beautiful is not worth money, why do we buy a ticket for a concert of music, or give money for a landscape scene on canvas or a panel?
Barnes' poems on the subject of arboricide include The Girt Woak Tree That's in the Dell and Vellèn o' the Tree. See also some anecdotes about Barnes' love of trees and distress at their unnecessary destruction in Lucy Baxter, The Life of William Barnes: Poet and Philologist, by his Daughter (London: Macmillan, 1887), pp. 67, 104-105.

Charles Branwhite (1817-1880),
A Hard Day's Work, Winter

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


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