Sunday, July 20, 2014


The Glory, the Beauty, and the Delight of Nature

John Wilson (1785-1854), aka Christopher North, "Sir Henry Steuart's Theory of Transplantation," Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume XXIII, No. CXXXVII (April, 1828) 409-430, partially rpt. as "Trees" in his Critical and Miscellaneous Essays, Vol. 1 (Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1842), pp. 96-107 (at 96-97):
Trees are indeed the glory, the beauty, and the delight of nature. The man who loves not trees—to look at them—to lie under them—to climb up them, (once more a schoolboy,)—would make no bones of murdering Mrs. Jeffs. In what one imaginable attribute, that it ought to possess, is a tree, pray, deficient? Light, shade, shelter, coolness, freshness, music, all the colours of the rainbow, dew and dreams dropping through their umbrageous twilight at eve or morn,—dropping direct,—soft, sweet, soothing, and restorative, from heaven. Without trees, how, in the name of wonder, could we have had houses, ships, bridges, easy-chairs, or coffins, or almost any single one of the necessaries, conveniences, or comforts of life? Without trees, one man might have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but not another with a wooden ladle.

Tree by itself tree, "such tents the patriarchs loved,"—Ipse nemus,—"the brotherhood of trees,"—the grove, the coppice, the wood, the forest,—dearly, and after a different fashion, do we love you all!—And love you all we shall, while our dim eyes can catch the glimmer, our dull ears the murmur, of the leaves,—or our imagination hear at midnight, the far-off swing of old branches groaning in the tempest. Oh! is not merry also sylvan England? And has not Scotland, too, her old pine forests, blackening up her highland mountains? Are not many of her rivered valleys not unadorned with woods,—her braes beautiful, with their birken shaws?—And does not stately ash or sycamore tower above the kirk-spire, in many a quiet glen, overshadowing the humble house of God, "the dial-stone aged and green," and all the deep-sunk, sinking, or upright array of grave-stones, beneath which
"The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep?"
We have the highest respect for the ghost of Dr. Johnson; yet were we to meet it by moonlight, how should we make it hang its head on the subject of Scottish trees! Look there, you old, blind, blundering blockhead! That pine forest is twenty miles square! Many million trees, there, have at least five hundred arms each, six times as thick as ever your body was, sir, when you were at your very fattest in Bolt Court. As for their trunks—some straight as cathedral pillars—some flung all awry in their strength across cataracts—some without a twig till your eye meets the hawk's nest diminished to a black-bird's, and some overspread, from within a man's height of the mossy sward, with fantastic branches, cone-covered, and green as emerald—what say you, you great, big, lumbering, unwieldy ghost you, to trunks like these? And are not the forests of Scotland the most forgiving that ever were self-sown, to suffer you to flit to and fro, haunting unharmed their ancient umbrage? Yet—Doctor—you were a fine old Tory every inch of you, for all that, my boy—so come glimmering away with you into the gloom after us—don't stumble over the roots—we smell a still at work—and neither you nor I—shadow nor substance (but, prithee, why so wan, good Doctor? Prithee, why so wan?) can be much the worse, eh, of a caulker of Glenlivat?

Every man of landed property, that lies fairly out of arm's-length of a town, whether free or copyhold, be its rental above or below forty shillings a-year, should be a planter. Even an old bachelor, who has no right to become the father of a child, is not only free, but in duty bound to plant a tree. Unless his organ of philoprogenitiveness be small indeed, as he looks at the young, tender plants in his own nursery-garden, his heart will yearn towards them with all the longing and instinctive fondness of a father.
On the murder of Betty Jeffs see Annual Register 70 (1828) 308-319. On Samuel Johnson's criticism of the treeless aspect of Scotland, see Papadendrion.

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

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