Of The Maple
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
1. The maple [acer minus] (of which authors (see Salmasius upon Solinus, c. 33.) reckon very many kinds) was of old held in equal estimation almost with the citron ; especially the bruscum, the French-maple and the pavonaceus, peacocks-tail maple, which is that sort so elegantly undulated, and crisped into variety of curies, as emulates the famous citria. It were a most laudable attempt, if some would enquire out, and try the planting of such sorts as are not indigenes amongst us ; such as is especially the German Aier, and that of Virginia, not yet cultivated here, but an excellent tree : And if this were extended to other timber, and exotic trees likewise, it would prove of extraordinary benefit and ornament to the publick, and were worthy even of the royal care. They arc all produced of seeds contain'd in the folliacles and keys, or birds-tongues (as they are call'd) like the ash, (after a year's interrment) and like to it, affect a sound, and a dry mould ; growing both in woods and hedge-rows, especially in the latter ; which if rather hilly than low, affords the fairest timber. It is also propagated by layers and suckers. By shredding up the boughs to a head, I have caused it to shoot to a wonderful height in a little time ; but if you will lop it for the fire, let it be done in January ; and indeed it is observ'd to be of noxious influence to the subnascent plants of other kinds, by reason of a clammy dew which it sheds upon them, and therefore they would not be indulg'd in pollards, or spreading trees, but to thicken under-woods and copses. The timber is far superior to beech for all uses of the turner, who seeks it for dishes, cups, trays, trenchers, &c. as the joyner for tables, inlayings, and for the delicateness of the grain, when the knurs and nodosities are rarely diapred, which does much advance its price : Our turners will work it so thin, that it is almost transparent : Also for the lightness (under the name Aier) imploy'd often by those who make musical instruments : Also that especially, which grows in Friuli, Carniola, and Saltzburglandt : There is a larger sort, which we call the sycomor.
2. But the description of this lesser maple, and the ancient value of it, is worth the citing. Acer operum elegantia, & subtilitate cedro secundum ; plura ejus genera: Album, quad praecipui candoris vocatur Gallicum : In Transpadana Italia, transque Alpes nascens. Alterum genus, crispo macularum discursu, qui cum excellentior fuit, Ó similitudine caudae pavonum nomen accepit. 'The maple, (says Pliny) for the elegancy and fineness of the wood, is next to the very cedar it self. There are several kinds of it, especially the white, which is wonderfully beautiful ; this is call'd the French-maple, and grows in that part of Italy, that is on the other side of Po beyond the Alpes : The other has a curl'd grain, so curiously maculated, that from a near resemblance, it was usually call'd the Peacock's-`tail, &c. He goes on to commend that of Istria, and that growing on the mountains for the best : But in the next chapter ; Pulcherrimum vero est bruscum, multoque excellentius etiamnum mollusculum, tuber utrumque arboris ejus. Bruscum intorti¨s crispum, molluscum simplicius sparsum ; et si magnitudinem mensarum caperet, haud dubie praeferretur cedro, nunc intra pugillares, lectorumque silicios aut laminas, &c. Ŕ brusco fiunt mensae nigrescentes, &c. Plin. 1. 16. c. i 5, 16. The bruscum, or Knur is wonderfully fair, but the molluscum is `counted most precious ; both of them knobs and swellings out of the tree. The bruscum is more ' intricately crisp'd ; the molluscum not so much ; and had we trees large enough to saw into planks for tables, twould be preferr'd before cedar, (or citron, for so some copies read it) but now they use it only for small table-books, and with its thin boards to ' wainscot bed-testers with, &c. The bruscum is of 'a blackish kind, with which they make tables. Thus far Pliny. And such spotted tables were the famous Tigrin, and Pantherine curiosities of ; not so call'd from being supported with figures carved like those beasts, as some conceive, and was in use even in our grand-fathers days, but from its natural spots and maculations, hem, quantis facultatibus aestimavere ligneas maculas ! as Tertullian crys out, de Pallio, c, 5. Such a table was that of Cicero's, which cost him 10000 Sesterces; such another had Asinius Gallus. That of King Juba was sold for 15000, and another which I read of, valu'd at 140000 H.S. which at about 3d. sterling, arrives to a pretty sum ; and yet that of the Mauritanian Ptoleme, was far richer, containing four foot and an half diameter, three inches thick, which is reported to have been sold for its weight in gold : Of that value they were, and so madly luxurious the age, that when they at any time reproach'd their wives for their wanton expensiveness in pearl and other rich trifles, they were wont to retort, and turn the tables upon their husbands. The knot of the timber was the most esteem'd, and is said to be much resembled by the female cypress : We have now, I am almost persuaded, as beautiful planks of some walnut-trees, near the root ; and yew, ivy, rose-wood, ash, thorn, and olive, 1 have seen incomparable pieces ; but the great art was in the seasoning, and politure ; for which last, the rubbing with a man's hand who came warm out of the bath, was accounted better than any cloth, as Pliny reports. Some there be who contend, this citern was a part near the root of the cedar, which, as they describe it, is very oriental and odoriferous ; but most of the learned favour the citron, and that it grew not far from our Tangier, about the foot of Mount Atlas, whence haply some industrious person might procure of it from the Moors ; and I did not forget to put his then Excellency my Lord H. Howard (since his Grace the Duke of Norfolk) in mind of it ; who I hoped might have opportunities of satisfying our curiosity, that by comparing it with those elegant woods, which both our own countries, and the Indies furnish, we might pronounce something in the controversie : But his not going so far into the countrey, and the disorder which happen'd at his being there, quite frustrated this expectation : Here I think good to add, what honest Palissy philosophises after his plain manner, about the reason of those pretty undulations and chamfers, which we so frequently find in divers woods, which he takes to be the descent, as well as ascent of moisture : For what else (says he) becomes of that water which we often encounter in the cavities, when many branches divaricate, and spread themselves at the tops of great trees (especially pollards) unless (according to its natural appetite) it sink into the very body of the stem through the pores ? For example, in the walnut, you shall find, when 'tis old, that the wood is admirably figur'd, and, as it were, marbl'd, and therefore much more esteem'd by the joyners, cabinet-makers, and ouvrages de marqueterie, in-layers, &c. than the young, which is paler of colour, and without any notable grain, as they call it. For the rain distilling along the branches, when many of them break out into clusters from the stem, sinks in, and is the cause of these marks ; since we find it exceedingly full of pores : Do but plane off a thin chip, or sliver from one of these old trees, and interposing it 'twixt your eye and the light, you shall observe it to be full of innumerable holes (much more perspicuous and ample, by the application of a good ' microscope.) But above all, notable for these extravagant damaskings and characters, is the maple ; and 'tis notorious, that this tree is very full of branches from the root to its very summit, by reason that it produces no considerable fruit : These arms being frequently cut, the head is more surcharged with them, which spreading like so many rays from a centre, form that hollowness at the top of the stem whence they shoot, capable of containing a good quantity of water every time it rains : This sinking into the pores, as was before hinted, is compeIl'd to divert its course as it passes through the body of the tree, where-ever it encounters the knot of any of those branches which were cut off from the stem ; because their roots not only deeply penetrate towards the heart, but are likewise of themselves very hard and impervious ; and the frequent obliquity of this course of the subsiding moisture, by reason of these obstructions, is, as may be conceived, the cause of those curious works, which we find remarkable in this, and other woods, whose branches grow thick from the stem : But for these curious contextures, consult rather the learned Dr. Grew. We have shewed how by culture, and stripping up, it arrives to a goodly tree ; and surely there were some of them of large bulk, and noble shades, that Virgil should chuse it for the Court of his Evander (one of his worthiest princes, in his hest of poems) sitting in his maple-throne ; and when he brings AEneas into the royal cottage, he makes him this memorable complement ; greater, says great Cowley, than ever was yet spoken at the Escurial, the Louvre, or White-hall.
Scorn not (great guest) the steps where he has trod, But contemn wealth, and imitate a God.
The savages in Canada, when the sap rises in the maple, by an incision in the tree, extract the liquor ; and having evaporated a reasonable quantity thereof (as suppose 7 or 8 pound), there will remain one pound, as sweet and perfect sugar, as that which is gotten out of the cane ; part of which sugar has been for many years constantly sent to Rouen in Normandy, to be refin'd : There is also made of this sugar an excellent syrup of maiden-hair and other capillary plants, prevalent against the scorbut; though Mr. Ray thinks otherwise, by reason of the saccharine sub-stance remaining in the decoction: See Synops. Stirp. & Tom. III. Dendrolog. de Acere. p. 93, 94-