Page images
PDF
EPUB

principal wood from which bows were Numerous passages in the Psalms, likemanufactured; some from taxis, ar-wise, prove that it was considered an imrangement, on account of the regular portant instrument in war.

We find, disposition of the leaves; and others too, from the histories of the Assyrians, again from toxicum, poison, from the Greeks, Romans, and other nations of deleterious properties attributed to it by antiquity, that the bow furnished one of ancient as well as modern writers. The their principal warlike weapons; and English, as well as French names of from passages both in Homer and Virgil, this tree, seem both to have been formed it appears that it was manufactured of from the Celtic word, iw, which signifies yew.

The Saxons introduced this weaverdure, and was most probably applied pon into England. Ascham, the preto it, as being one of the few evergreens ceptor to queen Elizabeth, who wrote a known to our ancestors.

treatise on archery, quotes, “from an The trunk of the yew is very straight, exceeding old chronicle, the which had no and is divided, at a short distance from name, that what time as the Saxons came the ground, into numerous branches, first into this realm, in king Vortigern's which spread rather in an horizontal days, when they had been here a while, direction; sometimes they are closely and at last began to fall out with the intertwined. These, as well as the trunk, Britons, they troubled and subdued the have the appearance of being grooved ; Britons with nothing so much as with the bark is thin, smooth, and peels off their bow and shafts, which weapons every year, being replaced by a fresh being strange, and not seen here belayer. The leaves are very narrow, and fore, was wonderful terrible unto them." closely arranged in a double row on the Nor did the Saxons, when established in branches. The berry forms a bright this country, neglect the use of these scarlet cup, of a thick pulpy substance, terrible weapons. The English archers within it lies the seed, which is of a were considered superior to those of darker colour. This tree thrives best in any other country; indeed, it was their a moist loamy soil, though it seldom ex- boast that none but an English yeoman ceeds thirty or forty feet in height. The could bend the long bow. The old peculiarity of its form, is owing to the ballads, which record the feats of lateral spread of the branches, and its the renowned Robin Hood, in dense mass of foliage, which is of the good green wood,” give numerous acmost sombre green. It is a very slow- counts of their dexterity in the use of this growing tree ; and probably on this ac- weapon. Many of the achievements recount, of great longevity; in fact, Eve- corded seem scarcely credible in these lyn tells us, it was regarded by our an- days ; but there is no reason to doubt cestors as a symbol of immortality, the their truth. Nor will they so much astree being so lasting and always green.

tonish us, when accounted for in a way The wood is close grained, hard, and which furnishes another to the many very elastic; on these accounts, it was proofs we already possess, of the incalcupreferred in the manufacture of bows, lable benefit of early training in these which, before the introduction of fire- points, where proficiency is desired. arms, constituted the main artillery of From the early age of seven years, it is an army. In the historical accounts of said, the English youth were daily exbattles, we frequently find details of the ercised in shooting at a mark; the bow valour and prowess of individual knights; was suited most carefully to their size and in these chivalrous descriptions, we are and strength, and from time to time exfrequently led to overlook the fact, that changed for one larger and stronger it was generally by the skill of “the until archers good,” that the fate of the day “Each one a six-foot bow could bend, was determined. This weapon is fre

And far a cloth yard shaft could send.” quently alluded to in Scripture. Saul, Good old Hugh Latimer describes his the first king of Israel,

father carefully attending to this part of wounded of the archers." Ahab, too, his education. “In my time, my poor received his death wound from a bow father was as diligent to teach me to “ drawn at a venture" in the heat of shoot, as to learn me any other thing; battle. - Jehu drew a bow with his full and so I think other men did their chil. strength, and smote Jehoram between dren: he taught me how to draw, to lay his arms; and the arrow went out at his my body in my bow; and not to draw heart, and he sunk down in his chariot." | with strength of arms, as divers other

66 the

was sore

nations do, but with strength of the enjoining every man to have a bow in his body. I had my bows bought me, ac- house ; and for the purpose of practising, cording to my age and strength; as I in- targets were erected at different places. creased in them, so my bows were made Newington Butts was one of these, and bigger and bigger, for men shall never still retains the name then given it. The shoot well unless they be brought up in bow was usually tipped at each end with it : it is a goodly art, a wholesome kind horn; the bow string made of hemp, of exercise, and much commended in phy- flax, or silk. The arrows used in war sic.” From his and other accounts it would were of ash; the heads of iron or steel; seem, that our countrymen had a pecu- the feathering was generally of goose liar method of using their weapon. They quills, though sometimes of peacock's did not, like other nations, employ all feathers. their muscular strength in drawing the The value of the yew has been much string with the right hand; but thrust diminished since the introduction of firethe whole weight of the body into the arms, although, on account of the excelhorns

of the bow, with the left. Hence lent qualities of the wood, combined with the English term of bending, and the its great durability, it is still prized for French of drawing the bow. So true many useful purposes. It is a common was their aim, and so dreadful its effect, saying in the New Forest, that " a post that Ascham quotes a Scotch proverb, of yew will outlast a post of iron;" and " That every English archer beareth un- when it can be procured in sufficient der his girdle twenty-four Scots ;" allud- quantities, it is considered superior to ing to the number of arrows they carried any other wood for posts, pumps, pipes, in battle. It was probably owing to this su- etc., which are exposed to wet or perior skill, in the use of the principal wea- damp. But it is chiefly by the cabinet pon of those days, that we may, humanly makers, and inlayers in wood, that this speaking, trace the ascendency gradually tree is now used. By the former it is acquired by Britain over her foreign ene- considered the finest European wood, mies. This was very evident in most, if being smooth, hard, easy to split; of an not all, of the battles in Scotland. Ireland, orange or brown colour; and sometimes also, was conquered by the long bow; very beautifully grained. It is generally while the victories of Cressy, Poictiers, used in veneers or thin plates, which are Agincourt, and others on the continent, glued upon a surface of a less valuable were mainly owing to the prowess and wood. dexterity of our archers. Sir Walter

their beauteous veins the yew Scott graphically describes the awfully And phyllerea lend, to surface o'er devastating effects produced by the discharge of their shafts, though he does The sap wood, which is white and very not correctly describe the English me- hard, is much prized in inlaying; when thod of drawing the bow.

dyed black, it assumes the appearance of

ebony. Several large yew trees formerly “ Then stepped each yeoman forth a pace, Glanced at the intervening space,

grew on Boxhill; they were cut down And raised his left arm high :

about the close of the last century, and To the right ear the cords they bring ;

sold to the cabinet makers at a high At once ten thousand bow-strings ring, Ten thousand arrows fly !

price: half of one of them fetched fifty Nor paused on the devoted Scot

pounds. The ceaseless fury of their shot. As fiercely and as fast,

The yew is now principally cultivated Forth whistling came the grey goose wing,

in gardens, to form evergreen hedges, As the wide hailstones pelt and ring

for which purpose it is well calculated, Nor mountain targe of tough bull hide,

as it grows thick, and bears clipping

well. It is admirably suited for underWoe! woe to Scotland's banner'd pride If the fell shower may last."

wood, as it is not injured by drippings Lord of the Isles.

from other trees. During the sixteenth

and seventeenth centuries, it was conSo important to the prosperity of Eng- sidered, by gardeners, as one of the best land was proficiency in this art consider- trees for topiary work. This consisted in ed, that even after the introduction of cutting the tree into all sorts of fantastic fire-arms, we find edicts issued by parlia- shapes, as beasts, birds, pyramids, and ment for its encouragement.

The last

even human figures. Evelyn claims the was in the reign of queen Elizabeth ; it merit of “having been the first who enforced a statute made by Henry viii., | brought it into fashion,” Pope humor

66

The cabinet."

Adown December's blast.

Nor lowland mail that storm may bide;

Cant. 6.

will

ously criticises this ridiculous custom in almost distracted for the loss of her a paper in the Guardian, where he enu- daughter, her chamber-maid, to comfort merates “a catalogue of greens to be her, said, Surely, what she gave her disposed of, by an eminent town gạr- was not the occasion of her death, and dener, who is arrived to such perfection, that she would adventure on it herself: that he cuts family pieces of men, wo- she did so, and died also.” Dr. Percemen, and children.”

Among his list we val, of Manchester, has also recorded a find, “ Adam and Eve in yew; then St. case, in which three children were George in box, his arm will be in condi- poisoned by taking a dose of dried yew tion to stick the dragon by next April : leaves, ignorantly administered by their a green dragon of the same, with a tail of mother, as a remedy for worms. ground ivy for the present. Noah's ark in Perhaps it is as much on account of holly; a quickset hog; a lavender pig; a the poisonous qualities attributed to this queen Elizabeth in myrtle ; a topping tree, as from its sombre appearance, that Ben Jonson in laurel ; with divers eminent it has been generally described by poets poets in bays.” In Harlington church- as exciting gloomy and melancholy ideas, yard stood a large yew tree, which was Blair, in addressing the Grave, thus declipped with great care, into the form of scribes it: two canopies, one above the other; the

“Well do I know thee by thy trusty yew, smaller surmounted by a pyramid, on Cheerless, unsocial plant, that loves to dwell the top of which was a globe, and upon

'Midst skulls and cofiins, epitaphs, and worms:

Where light heel'd ghosts, and visionary shades, this again a cock. Happily, with the in- Beneath the wan cold moon, (so fame reports,) troduction of a more natural and elegant Embody'd, thick, perform their mystic rounds. style of gardening, this fashion has been

No other merriment, dull tree, is thine.” long since exploded from general use, Certainly this tree has not the majestic though some vestiges of it may yet be grandeur of the oak, nor the airy graceseen in ancient gardens.

fulness of the birch; the lofty lightness The yew has the reputation of being of the elm, or the drooping elegance of poisonous ; some indeed have affirmed the willow; yet the ardent admirer of that it is unsafe to sleep beneath its shade. nature, under all her varied aspects,

find much to interest him in its appearthe solitary yew For ever dropping with unwholesome dew." ance, to say nothing of the associations

connected with its history. What can Pliny, and many other ancient writers; deep, sombre green, its feathery sprays,

be more majestic than this mass of considered the berries to be a mortal poison, and relate several instances to which look from a distance, like beads

enamelled with resplendent berries, prove that they were so; and, indeed, of the brightest coral ; especially when affirm it was injurious to drink out of viewed standing amid the ruins of those vessels manufactured from yew wood. Some, however, have considered" thai sacred fanes, whose rise, splendour, and the tree they speak of was a species of decay, this living monument of “the days cypress, and it seems now to be satisfac- that are long gone by,” has witnessed and

survived. And what tree is better suittorily proved that there is no corrected for the place it generally occupies ground for believing either the berries, the village churchyard being, as or the wood to possess deleterious qualities. have already noticed, symbolical both of The leaves, shoots, and twigs, especially gloom and immortality. Its melancholy when green, notwithstanding, are highly injurious; and numerous instances have gloom well harmonizes with our feelings, been recorded, in which they have proved tifully describes,

when standing where, as Gray beaufatal to cattle, who were suffered to browse on them. Evelyn relates a most

“Beneath the rugged elms, the yew tree's shade, melancholy instance of death, from drink- Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering ing a decoction of yew.

" A gentle

heap;

Each, in his narrow cell for ever laid, woman that had long been ill without

The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep." any benefit from the physician, dreamed that a friend of hers, deceased, told her Then our mournful musings will nature mother, that if she gave her daughter rally turn on those laid cold and motiona drink of yew pounded, she should re- less beneath the sod, snatched by the cover : it was accordingly given her, and ruthless arm of death, from all they knew she presently died. The mother being and loved, their dust commingling with

HARTE's Statius.

we: *

the earth on which they once walked or Most of the old yew trees, with which played. We reflect on the desolation we are acquainted, are found in churchwhich that fell destroyer has made, yards, or upon sites once dedicated to and remember that death entered into religious worship. Many different reathe world as “the wages of sin,” and sons have been assigned for this, some is daily “passing upon all men, for supposing that the boughs were used for that all have sinned.” We recollect, decorating the church at Christmas, or with solemn awe, that our own sum- carried in religious processions on Palm mons must one day come, and the place Sunday. One writer thinks they were which has known us, know us no more placed there for greater security, on again for ever; and that we know account of the value of the wood for not how near that time may be. But making bows. Others, again, have exthe venerable tree, which so well accords plained it by a practice which still prewith our gloomy sadness, may also raise vails in some of the secluded districts of the mind to brighter thoughts. It is England and Wales, that of carrying the symbol of immortality. We gaze branches of yew in funeral procession, on it and remember “the illustrious and casting them into the grave with the Deliverer of mankind,” who "suffered corpse. But a yet more probable readeath upon the cross for our redemp- son has been given, which also accounts for tion; and made there, (by his one obla- the fact of superstitious veneration being tion of himself, once offered,) a full, paid to this tree beyond any other everperfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, green. It would seem, from an ancient and satisfaction for the sins of the whole Welsh code, that our pagan ancestors world;" and thus "abolished death, and were accustomed to perform some relibrought life and immortality to light gious rite, by which the value of the through the gospel.” When able, with yew tree' was greatly enhanced; for we the eye of faith, to realize our own indi- find that “a consecrated yew” was estividual interest in that great salvation, mated as worth one pound; a wood yew death, no longer viewed as the king of tree one shilling and three-pence. We terrors, is regarded as the messenger of know that the rites of paganism were our heavenly Father, to summon his generally performed in the open air, unabsent children.

der the shade of a tree, or a grove of Instead of regarding death with the in- trees. Frequent mention is made in fidel, as annihilation, or a last long sleep, Scripture of the latter, in connexion with we shall contemplate it as the dark butshort idolatry. It is therefore highly probable entrance into everlasting life; and, hav- that to these consecrated yew trees the ing this hope, which maketh not ashamed, people were accustomed to resort for remay well exclaim, with the humble and | ligious purposes. We find, too, that the triumphant rapture of the apostle Paul, missionaries sent to these islands, by

O death, where is thysting ? o pope Gregory vil., were expressly enjoingrave, where is thy victory ? The sting ed, not to destroy the heathen temples, of death is sin ; and the strength of sin but only to change the worship performis the law. But thanks be to God, which ed there. It is most likely, then, that giveth us the victory through our Lord these spots, being already regarded as Jesus Christ," 1 Cor. xv. 55–57. sacred by the people, should have been

selected by them as sites for the churches “ The funeral yew, the funeral yew!

erected for the service of the one liv. How many a fond and tearful eye Hath hither turned its pensive view,

ing and true God. Nor will it diminish And through its dark leaf sought the sky! our interest in the venerable yews which More meet to deck the lowly grave, These living plumes by nature spread,

shelter our churches, to consider them Than sable tufts, that proudly wave

as, if not the identical, yet the offTheir pompous honours o'er the dead; And mindful love would long renew

* Mr. Brand explains this custom in the followIts grief beneath the funeral yew.

ing probable and beautiful way :-"The Romans

and other heathens, upon this occasion, made use “ The branch of yew! its tints divide

of cypress, which, being once cut, will never flouThe sparkling glow of early bloom ;

rish or grow any more, as an emblem of their It tells of youth and mart pride,

dying for ever, and being no more in life. Commingling with the dreary tomb;

stead of that, the ancient Christians used the It throws upon earth's pageantry,

things before mentioned, (various sorts of everA shadow deep as closing night,

greens ;) they laid them under the corpse in the And sweetly lures the awe-struck eye

grave, to signify, that they who die in Christ do not To rays of life and fields of light;

cease to live. For though, as to the body, they die And stars of promise burst to view,

to the world, yet, as to their souls, they live to Through thy dark foliage, mournful yew I"

But in

God."

66

spring of the very trees to which our speaks of one at Crowhurst, which was forefathers paid their idolatrous worship. ten yards in compass; and another at The yew possesses the power of per- Brabourne churchyard, which was fiftypetuating itself; it may therefore be con- eight feet in circumference. sidered as of lasting duration, and this, The most interesting yew trees, are in addition to the reasons we have al- perhaps those of Fountains Abbey, ready mentioned, may account for the not only on account of their age and adoption of this tree as the symbol of im- size, but from their historical connexion mortality. This property has been esta. with that venerable pile. The abbey blished in a very interesting manner.

In was founded under the auspices of the interior of several old yew trees, Thurston, archbishop of York, by cerespecially those in the churchyards of tain Benedictine monks, who desired, Llanthewy Vach, near Caerleon, and from conscientious scruples, to leave Mamhilad, near Pontypool, have been their own monastery at York, and adopt found an inner trunk, more or less per- the more severe discipline of the Cisterfect, quite distinct from the outer and cian order, then recently introduced into decaying one, although united to it by a England. The archbishop, at Christmas large branch at the summit. This re- 1132, being at Ripon, assigned them markable circumstance, which for some some land in the neighbourhood of time excited much astonishment, was at Ripon, which “had never been inlength explained, by finding, in one of habited, except by wild beasts, being the yews at Portbury, near Bristol, that overgrown with wood and brambles, a small shoot, from the base of a bough, lying between two steep hills and rocks, had grown downwards into the decayed covered with wood on all sides.” This part of the tree, and, when pulled up, was called Skelldale, from a rivulet which was found to be a perfect root. Had ran through the vale. Having elected this been allowed to remain, it would, an abbot, they withdrew into this unno doubt, have descended gradually couth desert, without any house to shelbut surely to the ground, nourished ter them in that winter season, or proviby the decaying wood, leaves, and other sions to subsist on, but entirely depend, rubbish, which from time to time accu-ing on Divine Providence. There stood mulate in the old trunk of a tree. As a large elm in the midst of the vale, on the trunk decayed and became hollow, which they put some thatch or straw, the mould, or soil, would fall out through and under that they laid, ate, and prayed ; the cleft, and the young shoot become, the bishop, for a time, supplying them by the effects of light and air, a per- with food, and the rivulet with drink. fect stem covered with bark, and an- Part of the day some spent in making nually depositing layers of wood to in- wattles to erect a little oratory ; while crease its size, till at length producing others cleared some ground to make a leaves and branches, it would overtop its little garden. But it is supposed they sheltering parent, ready to fill its place, soon changed the shelter of their elm for and surviving it for centuries, in due time that of seven yew trees,” (we can be at would produce in its turn a successor. no loss to account for such a change,

There are yew trees in Great Britain, especially during the winter season,) distinguished for their size, or some in- growing on the declivity of the hill, on teresting historical circumstances. The the south side of the abbey, all standing largest, probably now existing, is in at this time, (1658,) except the largest, Harlington churchyard, and which we which was blown down about the middle have already mentioned, although it is of the last century. They are of extranow allowed to assume a more natural ordinary size, the trunk of one of them is appearance. It is fifty-eight feet high, twenty-six feet six inches in circumferthe trunk nine feet, and the head fifty ence at three feet from the ground; and feet in diameter. Mr. Pennant mentions they stand so near each other, as to form a prodigious yew tree at Fortingal, in the a cover almost equal to a thatched roof. Highlands, which measured fifty-three Under these trees, we are told by trafeet and a half in circumference. It is dition, the monks resided till they had still standing, though now completely built the monastery ; and, as the hill side decayed and riven into two distinct parts: was covered with wood, which is now and the country people are accustomed to almost all cut down, it seems as if these carry between them the bodies brought trees were left standing to perpetuate the to be interred in the churchyard. Evelyn | memory of the monks' habitation there."

66

« PreviousContinue »