Page images


bowls :

be found a tree, scarcely less useful | Europe, or the rural peasant of classic and picturesque, than that which is at days. Its fibrous shell enclosed a white

once the ornament and blessing of the oleaginous nut, described by Pliny as
- sultry plains of India, the spicy groves “the sweetest of all mast,” and as used
of Ceylon, or the verdant islands of both for food and medicine. On this,
the Pacific Ocean ? Such a tree is the we are told, the people of Chios sub-
beech, no less distinguished for classical sisted during a siege, and beechen mast
associations, beauty of appearance, and formed in those days, as in the present
density of shade, than for general utility, time, the main support of their herds
and the variety of purposes to which of swine, on which they in a great mea-
they can be applied. And although the sure depended for food. These animals
progress of refinement, and the intro- devour greedily, and soon fatten on this
duction of foreign luxuries, may have mast; hence we may infer the import-
superseded and caused us to overlook ance of this tree when forests were
many of the products, for which in days valued by the number of swine they
of yore it was so highly esteemed, it would support, from the abundance of
will not prove an uninteresting or un-


it affords, both from the ease profitable employment to trace in “the with which the beech is propagated, and branching beech," no less than the the rapidity of its growth. cocoa palm, the provision made by the It has been questioned, whether the God of nature to satisfy the desires, and beech is indigenous to this island, as provide for the wants of every living Cesar, in his Commentaries, expressly thing.

states that he found no fagi in Britain. "Hence, in the world's best years, the humble Some writers have considered that he

here alludes to the quercus esculus, Was happily and fully furnished; Beech made their chests, their beds, and their which very nearly resembles the beech; joined stools,

and from the fact of its producing edible Beech made the board, the platters, and the

nuts, may have been aptly included while, as another writer tells us, they rived from the Greek word phego, to

under the name of fagus, which is dederived from

eat. But from the great identity which The wood, a house; the leaves, a bed." exists between our tree and that so Pliny relates that beechen vessels were frequently described by Virgil, others employed in religious ceremonies, though have been inclined to believe with Evelyn in general they were considered as the that this assertion of the Roman general furniture of the meanest people.


" from a grand mistake, or “ No wars did men molest,

rather for that he had not travelled When only beechen bowls were in request.”. much up into the country.". Thus These were sometimes curiously carved, much is certain, that if not an aboriginal and were then considered of great value: inhabitant, the beech must have been such were those two which Menalcus, introduced into this country by the when contending with Damætus for the Romans at a very early period, as all prize of song, offered to stake against the earliest writers upon such subjects the “brindled heifer" of his adversary,

enumerate it among our native timber “The pawn I proffer shall be full as good ; Two bowls I have, well turned, of beechen wood; given to this supposition by many beech

trees. Additional confirmation has been To neither of them yet the lip is laid;

trunks having been found in draining The ivy's stem, its fruit, its foliage, lurk In various shapes around the curious work.

bogs and marshes at a considerable Two figures on the side embossed appear, depth below the surface, in company Conon, and, what's his name who made the only with such other trees as are un

year ?" Damætus in reply, describes those he

disputed natives of our island.

The beech is one of the largest and already possessed :

handsomest of our forest trees. Its “ And I have two, to match your pair at home; The wood the same, from the same hand they feet, though when drawn up by being

usual height is from sixty to eighty The kimbo handles seem with bearsfoot carved, And never yet to table have been served :

planted among other trees, it frequently Where Orpheus on his lyre laments his love,

exceeds one hundred feet. "They mako With beasts encompass’d, and a dancing grove." spreading trees and noble shades,” says

But it was as “the mastful beech” Evelyn," with their well furnished that the tree was particularly esteemed and glittering leaves, being set at forty by the untutored savage of ancient feet distance; but they grow taller and

[ocr errors]

" The

more upright in the forests. In the sunny green, till in full perfection it valleys, where they stand nearest in stands - the Hercules and Adonis of consort, they will grow to a stupendous our sylva," it is perhaps unrivalled in procerity, though the soil be stony and its peculiar features, What can be very barren; also upon the declivities, more noble than its appearance when sides, and tops of hills.” But although a stately spreading tree, it will thrive in any dry situation, it

-it scales the welkin with its top,". attains the greatest perfection in a sandy loam or calcareous soil. Some of the and stretching far its giant arms supfinest specimens this island produces are ports a lofty mass of bright and glossy found upon the chalk ridge, which inter- foliage, like a verdant pavilion extended sects the southern counties. The Han

on silvery poles, and impervious even ger, a wood immortalized by the his- to the meridian rays of the summer sun. torian of Selbourne, forms a part of Nor can the approach of old age, or this ridge, and, to use the words of

even the progress of decay diminish, Mr. White,

the covert of this emis though they may vary the character pence is altogether beech, the most of its charms. Unveiled from the leafy lovely of all forest trees, whether we

covert and intertwisted branches which consider its smooth rind' or bark, its erst concealed them, we behold more glossy foliage or graceful pendulous clearly the picturesque beauties of its boughs." We have the more pleasure and fantastic roots, overspread with a

fluted trunk, knobbed protuberances, in quoting the naturalist's animated eulogium on his favourite tree, as another velvet-like moss of soft and brilliant writer, an acknowledged oracle on forest green, or garnished with the more gloscenery, has severely censured its pe

rious though evanescent beauties of the culiar characteristics.

fungus race. What can exceed the

massy, full grown, luxuriant beech,” says he, transparent delicacy of its downy leaves, “is rather a displeasing tree.

It is as they expand at the genial call of made up of littlenesses, seldom exhi- spring, late, but not least in beauty biting those tufted cups' or hollow dark among the verdure of the forest ? or recesses, which disport in the several what surpass the appearance of the tree, grand branches of the beautiful kind when ere long the tender green of its of trees. The branches are fantastically fringing foliage is varied by the gold wreathed and disproportioned, twining

and roseate hues of its clustered blos. awkwardly among each other, and run

-when ning often into long unwearied lines;

Of beauty on the beech tree; a rich shade in short, we rarely see a beech well

Of crimson teeming life; buds sanguine-hued, ramified. The whole tree gives us something of the idea of an entangled


Until they left their dye upon the cone, head of bushy hair, from which here Tipping each slender branch with beauty all and there hangs a disorderly lock. In full leaf, it is equally unpleasing : it has Where shall we find so secure a retreat the appearance of an overgrown bush. from the fierce “all conquering heat" This bushiness gives a great heaviness of refulgent summer, as to the tree, which is always a defor- “Beneath the shade, which beechen boughs difmity.” Such is the testimony of Gilpin, and many succeeding writers have or where so pleasantly spend the lingerblindly adopted his opinions. However, ing hours of sultry noon as under their even he is constrained to admit, that in umbrageous canopy? The sombre hue some situations and periods, "the heavy of sober twilight reigns around; and luxuriant beech” is not without pictur- the whispering breeze as it plays sporesque beauty, and these very exceptions tive amid the fluttering leaves, soothes to his censures form no inconsiderable the tired eye, and refreshes the enervated .encomium. In fact, there is no season frame. Nought disturbs the dreamy of the year, and no stage of its exist-stillness of the place, but the gentle ence, in which this tree is devoid of murmurs of some neighbouring stream interest. From the moment when its rippling along its pebbly channel : the pale fungus-looking cotyledons first ap- frolic gambols of the sportive squirrel, pear above the ground, as it progresses and the “deep mellow crush of the wood to maturity, its light and elegant branches pigeon's note;" or, save when a passing bending beneath an airy veil of soft and gleam of sunshine darts a momentary


-bursts are seen

As though the sunset clouds had o'er them

their own ?"-PARDOE.

fuse ?"

flash through the undulating foliage, and I duced on the superstitious mind by the illumines for a moment the “rich leafy embowering shade and arched vistas of a gloom.” Such a spot, at such a season natural forest ? Especially in the beechen has Gray delineated as the favourite wood we trace the peculiar characresort of the "youth to fortune and to teristics of that style; here we find in fame unknown."

the o'er-arching avenue, the swelling “ There, at the foot of yonder nodding beech,

roots, the fluted trunk, the ramified That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high, branches, and the massy foliage, protoHis listless length at noontide would he stretch, types of the majestic long drawn aisle, And pore upon the brook that bubbles by."

the buttressed pillar, the lofty clustered Which of the glorious tints that dye the column, and the pointed intersecting woods with more than rainbow splen- arch, and the delicate tracery, of the dour, can exceed the autumnal hues vaulted roof. No grassy sward dispels of the golden beech, pre-eminent even the illusion, a short dry moss like a time in decay? How beauteous its gradual worn pavement overspreads the ground, change from brilliant green to the while a “dim religious light” is shed brightest orange, then to glowing red, around. And though the scene may be and eventually a russet brown! Nor deficient in some of those associations can dreary winter despoil it of attrac. which are wont to add solemnity to the tions for the lover of nature. He then hallowed fane; though no sculptured beholds more clearly its majestic skele- marble or mouldering banners tell the ton; its fluted bole, and spreading arms, saddening tale of glory, honour, wealth, the pendant curve of the lower branches, or beauty fallen beneath the ruthless and the zigzag angles of its forked scythe of death; though no fantastic sprays; while the younger trees which carving, or storied fane, or treasured retain their withered leaves through the wealth bespeak the agonizing efforts of a gloomy season, enshrouded as it were, sin-convicted, awe-struck soul to atone in a warm umber mantle, strangely con- for a life of guilt by vain oblations before trast with the chill desolation of their the shrine of a fellow-mortal, or muleafless neighbours, with the glossy sur- nificent bequests, and other attempts face of the evergreens, or the bluish equally vain, to purchase the favour of tints of the fir and pine.

an offended Deity; yet“He who dwelleth It were surely unnecessary yet further not in temples made with hands," is in to commend the beech, as peculiarly very deed present within the solitude. suited for park and ornamental plantations. But independently of its noble The groves were God's first temples. Ere man form, the silvery hue of its rind, the

To hew the shaft and lay the architrave, successive beauty presented by its spring- And spread the roof above them; ere he framed tide shoots, summer foliage, autumnal The lofty vaults to gather, and roll back hues, and wintry appearance, and the

The sound of anthems,- in the darkling wood,

Amidst the cool and silence he knelt down, protection it affords to herbage and more And offered to the Mightiest solemn thanks tender plants ; it is no less desirable for And supplication. For his simple heart

Might not resist the sacred influences, such situations on account of the susten

That, from the stilly twilight of the place, ance as well as shelter, it yields to those And from the grey old trunks that high in heaven beasts and birds, which add to the pic

Mingled their mossy boughs, and from the sound

Of the invisible breath that swayed at once turesque beauty, while they relieve the All their green tops, stole over him, and bowed solitude of the scene. The stately

His spirit with the thought of boundless power

And inaccessible Majesty. Ah, why deer, the brilliant pheasant, the speckled Should we, in the world's riper years, neglect partridge, and the radiant peacock, feed God's ancient sanctuaries, and adore greedily upon its mast; no less so the

Only among the crowd and under roofs, thrush, the blackbird with many other sweet performers of our woodland choir,

In these calm shades thy milder majesty,

And to the beautiful order of thy works, who build beneath its covert, and “ sing Learn to conform our lives."-BRYANT. among its branches." But those who would rightly estimate

The timber of this tree is inferior in the charms of this tree should seek a value to that of many others. Being wood wholly planted with it. In such soft, spongy, and extremely liable to the a spot who is not disposed to admit the attacks of worms, it is little used by the theory of Sir James Hall, and imagine builder and shipwright. Yet if the wood with him that the Gothic style of archi- of the beech is destitute of those propertecture may be traced to the effect pro- ties which confer value upon timber, it


That our frail hands have raised !

Be it ours to meditate

Mechanic skill."

is not to be undervalued; for it serves

" The soft beech employs the turner's wheel, many purposes which, though apparently And with a thousand implements supplies insignificant, contribute in no small degree to our comfort and convenience. And thus it ever is in the world around with it "he makes dishes, trays, rims us. The most valuable and useful mem- for buckets, trenchers, dresser-boards, bers of society are those, unrenowned and other utensils. It serves the wheeler upon the arena of political life or in the and joiner for large screws, etc. It annals of heroic fame, undistinguished makes shovels and spade graffs for the among the votaries of science or the husbandman, and is useful to the bellows favourites of the muses, and unknown in maker. Floats for fishers' nets, instead the registers of ancestral dignity or the of corks are made of its bark. If the list of princely merchants, whose sole timber lie altogether under water, it is object in life is, a faithful and diligent little inferior to elm.” On this account discharge of the duties of their allotted it is frequently employed for keels of station, and their only desire to “maintain vessels, rings of water wheels, flood gates, a conscience void of offence towards God etc., for which it answers well. Wooden and towards man. Though loving and shovels, sieve-rims, peels for ovens, salt beloved by all around them, and the boxes, spinning wheels, pestles, rollers, centre of happiness to all within the with many other articles in daily use, are range of their quiet but effective efforts, also made from it. But the principal their path through life is only to be purposes for which the timber is applied tracked by the ever-flowing though silent in England at the present time, is for the stream of “patient well doing,” which pannels of carriages, chairs, bedsteads, marks their steps; their name is only and as handles to various sorts of tools. known as the watch-word of hope and There is also a great demand for it in comfort to the drooping heart and afflicted consequence of the numerous railways spirit. Such are the individuals who now carrying on, as it is found to answer best" serve their generation," and whose well for the sleepers or blocks, on which removal hence leaves the greatest blank the rails are supported. On the contiin society. Is it when the mighty mon- nent it is, if possible, yet more used for arch, the valiant hero, the monied man, domestic purposes.

The sabots, or or the hoary-headed philosopher is de- wooden shoes, worn universally by the posited with all the futile splendour of French peasantry in the mountainous disfunereal pomp within the mausoleum of tricts, are generally made from this wood; his ancestors, or the hallowed minster, for this purpose it is selected when green, when the long-drawn procession, the and dried rapidly over the smoke pronodding plumes and all the sable pa- duced by burning the chips, branches, geantry of mimic woe convey a “heap etc.; thus it absorbs the pyroligneous of dust” to the bosom of its parent earth, acid which is evolved from the beech in that “all faces gather blackness," and a larger proportion than from any other the retarded step and averted eye tell a tree, and the sabots, though rather brittle, tale of genuine grief and heartfelt sor- are rendered waterproof and more durarow? No: would we trace such grateful ble than those of alder or walnut. It is tokens of mourning affection, we must also on account of this chemical property turn from the semblance to the substance; that the wood is used in Scotland for we must stand amid the humble train smoking dried herrings, and in Germany around the lowly sod which shrouds for for the carriages of cannon, in situever from mortal ken, the beloved and ations exposed to a damp or saline atmovenerated remains of the tender parent, sphere. The ashes afford potash, and the duteous child, the beloved friend, the timber when burned green yields exor the unwearied benefactor. These cellent charcoal; in Buckinghamshire have cast more largely into the treasure the large forests of beech are almost house of human happiness than all those wholly employed for this purpose. As have done; these, though unnoted among fuel the wood of this tree is superior to the great and noble of the earth, are any other. The bois d'Andelle, which registered in the archives of heaven as is used in all the principal houses of honoured recipients of the ennobling Paris, is almost entirely beech. It throws title bestowed by our Lord himself on out a clear bright flame, and a great deal the devoted female he delighted to honour, of heat; though it burns rapidly when “She hath done what she could." dry, on this account the green wood is

“The beech mast fattens the forest boar."


Carved in a thousand forms her Tancred's name."

Hooce's Tasso.

preferred. To the fruit or mast of this f and the very buds as they harden make tree we have already alluded. When good tooth pickers. roasted, it has been substituted for coffee, The bark or rind of this tree is of but the principal use now made of it is light olive or silvery hue, and peculiarly as food for wild hogs and other cattle. smooth, soft, and susceptible of impres.

sions. Hence in all ages it has afforded a favourite tablet for the rural lover, not

the less so on account of a superstitious Large tracts of beech in the New Forest notion that as the words increased in size are enclosed during the pawnage season, with the growth of the tree, their hopes as it is called, and numerous herds of would increase in proportion. Virgil, as swine fattened upon their mast. It is, well as the poets of many other European however, said that the fat of these ani-nations, has alluded to this supposition. mals is more oily and less likely to keep than that of those fattened on acorns.

“The rind of every plant her name shall know, On the continent, beech nuts are appro- And as the rind extends, the love shall grow. priated to another purpose ; an excellent substitute for lamp or olive oil being ex

« On the smooth beechen rind, the pensive dame, pressed from them.

When prepared with care, this oil is preferred to the latter for frying fish, as it has no dis- Nor let the moralist disdain or the cynic agreeable smell. The nuts, after the oil censure, though they may venture to has been extracted, are given to poultry, doubt the correctness of the idea in although in Silesia the poor convert which this simple custom originated. them into bread, and use the oil as butter. To this universal practice of carving words The quantity of oleaginous matter pro- and sentences on the soft bark of the cured from these nuts, very much depends beech, we owe the first successful attempts upon the temperature of the climate in to obtain all those vast and yet incalcuwhich they grow. Linnæus found they lable benefits which have resulted and possessed scarcely any in Sweden. In may yet accrue to mankind from the France the supply is abundant; in the printing press. Here is the rudiment to year 1779, the forests of Compeigne which we may trace the revival of learnyielded sufficient, it is said, to supply the ing, the extension of useful knowledge, inhabitants of the district with oil for and the diffusion of science, pay, more, half a century. Fielding, a well-known our moral and political freedom, and author who lived in the beginning of the emancipation from the tyrannical and last century, speculated largely in the soul-prostrating thraldom of the church manufacture of beechen oil; and a plan of Rome. The invention of printing was proposed about the same time by one was the effective weapon of the ReformaAaron Hill for paying off the national tion, and the liberty of the press has in debt by the profits to be derived from every country proved the most effectual butter made from these nuts. Evelyn bulwark of civil and religious liberty. says of the leaves, that “if gathered Laurentius Coster, a native of Haerlem, about the fall, and before they are much as some have considered, "walking in a frost-bitten, they afford the best and wood near his native city, began at first easiest mattresses in the world.” A mo- to cut some letters upon the rind of a dern writer corroborates this statement, beech tree, which for fancy's sake being and from his own experience describes impressed on paper, be printed one or the beds made of beech leaves to be no two lines, as a specimen for his grandwhit behind the luxurious and refreshing children to follow. This having hapmattresses used in Italy, which are filled pily succeeded, he meditated greater with the elastic spathe of the Indian corn, things, and first of all with his son-in“ while the fragrant smell of green tea law invented a more glutinous writing which the leaves retain is most gratify, ink, because he found the common ink ing." The catkins are sometimes dried sunk and spread ; and then formed whole and used for stuffing pillows, or for pack- pages of wood, with letters cut upon them, ing fruit to send to a distance. The of which sort I have seen some essays, stagnant water in the hollow trees will printed only on one side, in which it is cure the most obstinate scurfs, scabs, etc. remarkable that in the infancy of printif fomented with it; the leaves chewed, ing (as nothing is complete in its first are wholesome for the gums and teeth, | invention) the back sides of the pages

« PreviousContinue »