This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
WhEn the poet Keats was lying on his death-bed in Rome, he requested that the epitaph on his tombstone might be, "Here lies one whose name was writ in water." From his earliest years he was an ardent lover of flowers, and many of his happiest hours had been spent in watching their growth and wonderful unfolding. A few days before he entered the "undiscovered country,"he said," 1 feel the flowers growing over me." A little headstone marks the spot where his ashes lie, on which are rudely carved, with impatient fingers, his name, age, and the epitaph I have quoted. No careful hand has planted tree, or shrub, or flower, above the spot; but the daisies he loved so well crowd in profusion the little mound above him, and keep tender vigil over the once genial and palpitating heart. But, although the dust of the desponding poet sleeps not by the side of his illustrious confreres in Westminster, his name is not "writ in water," but in the hearts of thousands from which come answering echoes to the sweet, sad strains he sung.
His love for flowers found frequent expression in lines of liquid melody.
Few are the men who would not, if they could, leave some indication behind them of a passage over life's ocean, when their voyage is overpast; but with most the waves close up behind, leaving no track nor trace, no vestige of foam or ripple, to tell succeeding voyageurs that a life has passed that way before them. A few - men of genius, or unquestionable ability - succeed in stamping their impress on all coming time by literary labor, or works of art, or political wisdom, or military power; but a vast majority make their exit, leaving at best but a faint and short-lived shadow behind - a fine dwelling, perhaps, or more likely an epitaph - "Sacred to the memory of, a kind father, a good citizen," etc., etc., coldly cut on some marble slab by surviving relatives. Plenty of such "names to live" may be found in country churchyards and our more imposing city cemeteries.
But no one, especially in the country, need be forgotten. A man may perpetuate his memory, and establish himself impregnably in the hearts of thousands yet unborn, by planting shade trees. There is no danger of planting too many. The streets of every city, town, and village in the land should be lined with these green and grateful sentinels, so that, in the dim future, the traveller, weary and foot-sore, toiling along his dusty way beneath a broiling sun, shall look up and say, "Bless the man, whoever he was, who planted these beautiful trees I May he be resting to-day beneath the green foliage of those on the banks of the River of Life 1" Thoughts like these were passing through my mind not long since, while riding through some of the smaller towns and villages of New Hampshire, towards its capital. Many of those village streets are handsomely supplied with thrifty shade trees - sometimes elm and sometimes maple. Although much more attention is paid to this cheap but beautiful ornamentation of the public thoroughfares now than formerly, still the mass of the people are not yet awake.
Why is this? Is it because man's innate selfishness argues, "I shall not live to get the good of them, and so what is the use of putting one's self to the trouble?" Shame on such short-sightedness - such folly ! Will men never learn to care for others, and by so doing care for themselves? Who of us does not expect to be here ten years hence? Yet ten years will give a fine growth to an elm or a maple planted in 1860. And besides, what should we have had valuable to-day had our fathers and grandfathers done as we are doing? They were willing to sacrifice themselves for the future and their children I Let indolence and selfishness no longer triumph; let us reform, and let us begin now.
THE OLD 8TICKNEY RESIDENCE, CONCORD, N. II.
As I approached the town - passing, meanwhile, the granite obelisk that marks the spot where five of her ancient citizens were scalped by the red men, and others taken captive - I listened, in imagination, for the whoop of the painted savage; but only sights and sounds of civilization met me. The primeval forests were gone, and the curling smoke from the red hunter's wigwam had long since disappeared above the tree-tops. Instead, cultivated fields, now covered with snow, and white men's dwellings, met my view. The thermometer stood at zero; the clouds were feebly shaking the snow from their shaggy coats, and so I hurried on. When I reached the little eminence that overlooks, and yet is a part of, this gem of New England towns, I stopped, a brief space, to look on the city below. For two miles and more in length, between my stand-point and the broad meadows of the Merrimack, the beautiful city lay stretched before me - beautiful in its long and wide streets of fine residences - beautiful in its quiet, and apparent peacefulness, scarcely permitting a thought of strife, and contention, and jostle, among the dwellers below - and especially beautiful, even at this inclement season, in its myriad shade trees, whose bare arms were held aloft, high above the house-tops, toward the great Source of revivifying power.
One has a touch of human feeling for trees in winter, with their limbs all unprotected, especially in the climate of northern New England, and would fain wrap around them some warm covering, and stanch their flowing tears.
"Yon naked trees, whose shadie leaves are lost. Wherein the birds were wont to build their bowre, And now are clothd with mosse and hoarie frost In steede of blosomes, wherewith your buds did flowre; I see your teares that from your boughes do raine, Whose drops in drerie ysicles remains".
So sang old Edmund Spenser three hundred years ago; and if the trees rained tears then, why not rain them now?
Bat often have I stood on this same spot, and surveyed the scene before me, when "lolly Iune, arrayd all In greene leaves," had buried the city almost as deep in its wealth of foliage, as Herculaneum and Pompeii were in the lava and ashes of Vesuvius. There are a few towns in New England where little remains to be desired in the matter of shade trees - and the capital of New Hampshire is one of them. It can boast its miles on miles of trees; indeed, from any point overlooking the town, it presents the aspect of a "grand old woods," with here and there a public building, a church spire, or a spacious dwelling peering through the green. The trees are principally maple and elm. And here I must be allowed to digress, and say, that while the maple is a remarkably fine shade tree, and of rapid growth, in my humble opinion it will not bear comparison with the elm, nor can any other of our forest trees. Among them all, the oak, perhaps, is monarch. He has an imperious will, a kingly bearing, and he scowls defiance at his foes. He was born to rule, and he has "ruled in the greenwood long;" there let him remain, our boast, our pride, and the subject of our song.
But the elm - the noble, dignified, social, parental, cheerful, good-tempered elm - let him come almost to our very fireside, our door; throw over us his protecting arms, shade us from the noontide sun, shelter our birds, and, in concert with them, sing us our morning and our evening songs. Heaven bless the elm, and bring it to the haunts of men in a profusion that shall know no end!
A large proportion of the shade trees of Concord are elm - trees planted a hundred years ago. The accompanying engraving represents a dwelling of the olden time, the frame of which is one of the most venerable in the city. It was originally built as a kind of fort in troublous Indian times, and is of massive oak. Many are the changes it has undergone since then; but while decay has long been gnawing at its vitals, and generation after generation has come and gone beneath its hospitable roof, the old veterans of the past, that have smiled and wept alternately in sympathy with those beneath them for a century of years, still live to mourn the demise of the hand that planted them; and future generations will admire and love them. The men who planted those trees and multitudes like them there, .though dead, "still live." Their names were not "writ in water." The benedictions of grateful thousands who walk those streets, follow those public-spirited, noble, unselfish benefactors, who planted for posterity.
Then plant shade trees - plant them along every street in city, town, and village, and they will live when you are gone. Children - your own, perhaps others' - what matter? - will play beneath their swinging branches; year after year the birds will build their nests among the leaves, and whisper to each other their little loves; many a weary wanderer will weave a web of happy thoughts as he looks up to their intertwining boughs, and, from their refreshing shade, gather fresh courage for a continuance of his journey to that "better country," where there is "no burning heat by day;" and all this when "Sacred to the memory of" shall be effaced by the rude hand of Time from the prostrate and broken stone that once marked your burial-place.