Amazing articles on just about every subject...

Of The Oak

( Originally Published Late 1800's )

1. Robur, the oak ; I have sometimes consider'd it very seriously, what should move Pliny to make a whole chapter of one only line, which is less than the argument alone of most of the rest in his huge volume : but the weightiness of the matter does worthily excuse him, who is not wont to spare his words, or his reader. Glandiferi maxime generis omnes, quibus honos apud Romanos perpetuus. " Mast-bearing-trees were principally those which the Romans held in chiefest repute," lib. 16. cap. 3. And in the following where he treats of chaplets, and the dignity of the civic coronet ; it might be compos'd of the leaves or branches of any oak, provided it were a bearing tree, and had acorns upon it, and was (as 1 Macrobius tells us). Recorded among the felices arbores ; but this ,v.XAt v - pavov was interwoven, and twisted with thorns and briars ; and the garland carried to usher the bride to her husband's house, intimating that happy state was not exempt from its pungencies and cares. It is then for the esteem which these wise and glorious people had of this tree above all others, that I will first begin with the oak ; and indeed it carries it from all other timber whatsoever, for building of ships in general, and in particular being tough, bending well, strong and not too heavy, nor easily admitting water.

2. 'Tis pity that the several kinds of oak are so rarely known amongst us, that where ever they meet with quercus, they take it promiscuously for our common oak ; as likewise they do ~pS, which comprehends all mast-bearing trees whatsoever, (which I think they have no latin word for) : And in the Silva Glandifera were reckon'd the chessnut, ilix, esculus, cerris, suber, &c. various species rather than different trees, white, red, black, &c. among our American plantations, (especially the long-stalked oak not as yet much taken notice of) : we shall here therefore give an account of four only ; two of which are most frequent with us ; for we shall say little of the cerris or aegilops, goodly to look on, but for little else : Some have mistaken it for beech, whereas indeed it is a kind of oak bearing a small round acorn almost covered with the cup, which is very rugged, the branches loaded with a long moss hanging down like dishevell'd hair which much annoys it. payoc is indeed doubtless a species of oak; however by the Latins usually apply'd to the beech, whose leaf exceedingly differs from that of the oak, as also the mast and bark rugged, and growing among the hills and mountains ; the other in the valleys, and perhaps, but few of them in Italy. Physicians, naturalists and botanists should therefore be curious how they describe and place such trees mention'd by Tbeophrastus and others, under the same denomination as frequently they do ; being found so very different when accurately examin'd. There is likewise the esculus, which though Vitruvius, Pliny, Dalcampius and others take for a smaller kind, Virgil celebrates for its spreading, and profound root ; and this Dalcampius will therefore have to be the platyphyllos of Theophrastus, and as our botanists think, his phegos, as producing the most edible fruit. But to confine our selves ; the quercus urbana, which grows more upright, and being clean and lighter is fittest for timber : And the robur, or quercus silvestris, (taking robur for the general name, if at least contra-distinct from the rest) ; which (as the name imports) is of a vast robust and inflexible nature, of an hard black grain ; bearing a smaller acorn, and affecting to spread in branches, and to put forth his roots more above ground ; and therefore in the planting, to be allow'd a greater distance, viz. from twenty five, to forty foot ; (nay sometimes as many yards ;) whereas the other shooting up more erect, will be contented with fifteen. This kind is farther to be distinguished by its fulness of leaves, which tarnish, and becoming yellow at the fall, do commonly clothe it all the winter ; the roots growing very deep and stragling. The author of Britannia Baconica, speaks of an oak in Lanhadron-Park in Cornwall, which bears constantly leaves speckled with white ; and of another call'd the painted oak ; others have since been found at Fridwood, near Sittingbourn in Kent ; as also sycamore and elms, in other places mentioned by the learned Dr. Plot in his Nat. Hist. of Oxfordshire : Which I only mention here, that the variety may be compar'd by some ingenious person thereabouts, as well as the truth of the fatal prae admonition, of oaks bearing strange leaves

Besides that famous oak of New Forest in Hampshire, which puts forth its buds about Christmass, but wither'd again before night ; and was order'd (by our late King Charles II.) to be inclos'd with a Pale ; (as I find it mentioned in the last edition of Mr. Camden's Brit.) And so was another before this ; which his grandfather, King James, went to visit, and caused benches to be plac'd about it ; which giving it reputation, the people never left hacking of the boughs and bark till they kill'd the tree : As I am told they have serv'd that famous oak near White-Ladys which hid and protected our late Monarch from being discovered and taken by the Rebel-Soldiers, who were sent to find him, after his almost miraculous escape at the battel of Worcester. In the mean time, as to this extraordinary precosness, the like is reported of a certain wallnut-tree as well as of the famous white-thorns of Glassenbury, and blackthorns in several places. Some of our common oaks bear their leaves green all winter ; but they are generally pollards, and such as are shelter'd in warm corners and hedge rows. To speak then particularly of oaks, and generally of all other trees of the same kind, (by some infallible characters) notice should be taken of the manner of their spreading, stature and growth, shape and size of the acorn, whether single or in clusters, the length or shortness of the stalks, roundness of the cup, breadth, narrowness, shape, and indentures of the leaf ; and so of the bark, Tpaxus, asperous, or smooth, brown or bright, &c. Tho' most (if not all of them) may rather be imputed to the genius and nature of the soil, situation, or goodness of the seed, than either to the pretended sex or species. And these observations may serve to discover many accidental varieties in other trees, without nicer distinctions ; such as are fetch'd from profess'd botanists ; who make it not so much their study, to plant and propagate trees, as to skill in their medicinal virtues, and other uses ; always excepting our learned countryman, Mr. Ray, whose incomparable work omits nothing useful or desirable on this subject ; wanting only the accomplishments of well-design'd sculps. There is likewise a kind of hemeris or dwarf-oak (like the robur VII. clusii) frequent in New-England ; and the white one of Virginia, a most stately tree, which (bearing acorns) might easily be propagated here, if it were worth the while.

3. I shall not need to repeat what has already been said Cap. 2. concerning the raising of this tree from the acorn ; they will also endure the laying, but never to advantage of bulk or stature : It is in the mean time the propagation of these large spreading oaks, which is especially recommended for the excellency of the timber, and that his Majesties forests were well and plentifully stor'd with them ; because they require room, and space to amplifie and expand themselves, and would therefore be planted at more remote distances, and free from all encumbrances: And this upon consideration how slowly a full-grown oak mounts upwards, and how speedily they spread, and dilate themselves to all quarters, by dressing and due culture; so as above forty years advance is to be gain'd by this only industry: And, if thus his Majesties forests and chases were stor'd, viz. with this spreading tree at handsom intervals, by which grazing might be improv'd for the feeding of deer and cartel under them, (for such was the old Saluts) benignly visited with the gleams of the sun, and adorn'd with the distant land-skips appearing through the glades, and frequent vallies ; Such places which wild apple-trees throughout Adorn, and happy shrubs grow all about.

As the poet describes his olive-groves, nothing could be more ravishing ; for so we might also sprinkle fruit-trees amongst them (of which hereafter) for cyder, and many singular uses, and should find such goodly plantations the boast of our rangers, and forests infinitely preferable to any thing we have yet beheld, rude, and neglected as they are : I say, when his Majesty shall proceed (as he hath design'd) to animate this laudable pride into fashion, forests and woods (as well as fields and inclosures) will present us with another face than now they do. And here I cannot but applaud the worthy industry of old Sir Harbotle Grimstone, who (I am told) from a very small nursery of acorns, which he sow'd in the neglected corners of his ground, did draw forth such numbers of oaks of competent growth ; as being planted about his fields in even, and uniform rows, about one hundred foot from the hedges ; bush'd, and well water'd till they had sufficiently fix'd themselves, did wonderfully improve both the beauty, and the value of his demeasnes. But I proceed.

4. Both these kinds would be taken up very young, and transplanted about October ; some yet for these hardy, and late springing trees, defer it till the winter be well over ; but the earth had need be moist ; and though they will grow tolerably in most grounds, yet do they generally affect the sound, black, deep, and fast mould, rather warm than over-wet and cold, and a little rising ; for this produces the firmest timber ; though my L. Bacon prefers that which grows in the moister grounds for ship-timber, as the most tough, and less subject to rift. But let us hear Pliny : This is a general rule, saith " he ; " What trees soever they be which grow " tolerably, either on hills, or valleys, arise to greater stature, and spread more amply in the lower ground: " But the timber is far better, and of a finer grain, " which grows upon the mountains, excepting only " apple and pear-trees. " And in the 39 cap. lib. 16.

The timber of those trees which grow in moist " and shady places is not so good as that which " comes from a more expos'd situation, nor is it so close, substantial and durable " : Upon which he much prefers the timber growing in Tuscany, before that towards the Venetian side, and upper part of the Gulph : And that timber so grown, was in greatest esteem long before Pliny, we have the Spear of tree so expos'd ; and Didymus gives the reason,

For that being continually weather-beaten, they become hardier and tougher : Otherwise, that which is wind-shaken, never comes to good ; and therefore, when we speak of the climate, 'tis to be understood of valleys rather than hills, and in calm places, than exposed, because they shoot streight and upright. The result of all is, that upon occasion of special timber, there is a very great and considerable difference ; so as some oaken-timber proves manifestly weaker, more spungy, and sooner decaying than other. The like may be affirm'd of ash, and other kinds ; and generally speaking, the close-grain'd is the stoutest, and most permanent : But of this, let the industrious consult that whole tenth chapter in the second book of Vitruvius, where he expresly treats of this argument, De Abiete supernate & infernate, cum Apennini descriptione : Where we note concerning oak, that it neither prospers in, very hot, nor excessive cold countries ; and therefore there is little good of it to be found in Africa ; or indeed, the lower and most southern parts of Italy (but the Venetians have excellent timber) nor in Denmark, or Norway comparable to ours ; it chiefly affecting a temperate climate, and where they grow naturally in abundance, 'tis a promising mark of it. If I were to make choice of the place, or the tree, it should be such as grows in the best cow-pasture, or up-land meadow, where the mould is rich, and sweet, (Suffolk affords an admirable instance) and in such places you may also transplant large trees with extraordinary success : And therefore it were not amiss to bore and search the ground where you intend to plant or sow, before you fall to work ; since earth too shallow, or rocky is not so proper for this timber ; the roots fix not kindly, and though for a time they may seem to flourish, yet they will dwindle : In the mean time, 'tis wonderful to consider how strangely the oak will penetrate to come to a marly bottom ; so as where we find this tree to prosper, the indication of a fruitful and excellent soil is certain even by the token of this natural augury only ; so as by the plantation of this tree and some others, we have the advantage of profit rais'd from the pregnancy, substance and depth of our land ; whilst by the grass and corn, (whose roots are but a few inches deep), we have the benefit of the crust only.

5. But to discourage none, oaks prosper exceedingly even in gravel and moist clays, which most other trees abhor ; yea, even the coldest clay-grounds that will hardly graze: But these trees will frequently make stands, as they encounter variety of footing, and sometimes proceed again vigorously, as they either penetrate beyond, or out-grow their obstructions, and meet better earth ; which is of that consequence, that I dare boldly affirm, more than an hundred years advance is clearly gain'd by soil and husbandry. I have yet read, that there grow oaks, (some of which have contain'd ten loads apiece) out of the very walls of Silcester in Hantshire, which seem to strike root in the very stones ; and even in our renowned Forest of Dean itself, some goodly oaks have been noted to grow upon ground, which has been as it were a rock of ancient cinders, buried there many ages since. It is indeed obser'd, that oaks which grow in rough stony grounds, and obstinate clays, are long before they come to any considerable stature, (for such places, and all sort of clay, is held but a step-mother to trees) but in time they afford the most excellent timber, having stood long, and got good footing. The same may we affirm of the lightest sands, which produces a smoother-grain'd timber, of all other the most useful for the joyner ; but that which grows in gravel is subject to be frow (as they term it) and brittle. What improvement the stirring of the ground about the roots of oaks is to the trees, I have already hinted ; and yet in copses where they stand warm, and so thicken'd with the underwood, as this culture cannot be practis'd, they prove in time to be goodly trees. I have of late tried the graffing of oaks, but as yet with slender success : Ruellius indeed affirms it will take the pear and other fruit ; and if we may credit the poet,

Which I conceive to be the more probable, for that the sap of the oak is of an unkind tincture to most trees. But for this improvement, I would rather advise inoculation, as the ordinary elm upon the witch-hazel, for those large leaves we shall anon mention, and which are so familiar in France.

6. That the transplanting of young oaks gains them ten years advance, some happy persons have affirmed : From this belief, if in a former impression I have desired to be excused, and produc'd my reasons for it, I shall not persist against any sober man's experience ; and therefore leave this article to their choice ; since (as the butchers phrase is) change of pasture makes fat calves ; and so transplantations of these hard-wood-trees, when young, may possibly, by an happy hand, in fit season, and other circumstances of soil, sun, and room for growth, be an improvement : But as for those who advise us to plant oaks of too great a stature, they hardly make any considerable progress in an age ; and therefore I cannot encourage it, unless the ground be extraordinarily qualify'd, or that the oak you would transplant, be not above 6 or 7 foot growth in height: Yet if any be desirous to make tryal of it, let their stems be of the smoothest and tenderest bark ; for that is ever an indication of youth, as well as the paucity of their circles, which in disbranching and cutting the head off, at five or six foot height (a thing, by the way, which the French usually spare when they transplant this tree) may (before you stir their roots) serve for the more certain guide ; and then plant them immediately, with as much earth as will adhere to them, in the place destin'd for their station ; abating only the ' tap-root, which is that down-right, and stubby part of the roots (which all trees rais'd of seeds do universally produce) and quickning some of the rest with a sharp knife (but sparing the fibrous, which are the main suckers and mouths of all trees) spread them in the foss or pit which hath been prepar'd to receive them. I say, in the foss, unless you will rather trench the whole field, which is incomparably the best ; and infinitely to be preferr'd before narrow pits and holes (as the manner is) in case you plant any number considerable, the earth being hereby made loose, easier and penetrable for the roots, about which you are to cast that mould, which (in opening of the trench) you took from the surface, and purposely laid apart ; because it is sweet, mellow, and better impregnated : But in this work, be circumspect never to inter your stem deeper than you found it standing ; for profound burying very frequently destroys a tree, though an error seldom observed : If therefore the roots be sufficiently covered to keep the body steady and erect, it is enough ; and the not minding of this trifling circumstance, does very much deceive our ordinary wood-men, as well as gardiners ; for most roots covet the air (though that of the Quercus urbano least of any) ; for like the Esculus

How much to heaven her towring head ascends, So much towards hell her piercing root extends.

' Which yet some, upon good experience will not allow in transplanting young Oaks ; affirming the taking them up without any abatement, or the least wound, does exceedingly advance the growth of this tree above such as are depriv'd of it.

And the perfection of that, does almost as much concern the prosperity of a tree, as of man himself, since homo is but arbor inversa ; which prompts me to this curious, but important advertisement, that the position be likewise sedulously observed.

7. For, the southern parts being more dilated, and the pores expos'd (as evidently appears in their horizontal sections) by the constant excentricity of the hyperbolical circles of all trees, (save just under 'Equator, where the circles concentre, as we find in those hard woods which grow there) ours, being now on the sudden, and at such a season converted to the north, does starve and destroy more trees (how careful soever men have been in ordering the roots, and preparing the ground,) than any other accident whatsoever (neglect of staking, and defending from cattle excepted) ; the importance whereof caused the best of poets, and most experienc'd in this Argument, giving advice concerning this article, to add.

Which monition, though Pliny, and some others think good to neglect, or esteem indifferent, I can confirm from frequent losses of my own, and by particular tryals ; having sometimes transplanted great trees at mid-summer with success (the earth adhering to the roots) and miscarried in others, where this circumstance only was omitted.

To observe therefore the coast, and side of the stock (especially of fruit-trees) is not such a trifle as by some pretended : For if the air be as much the mother or nurse, as water and earth, (as more than probable it is) such blossoming plants as court the motion of the meridian sun, do as 't were evidently point out the advantage they receive by their position, by the clearness, politure, and comparative splendor of the southside : And the frequent mossiness of trees on the opposite side, does sufficiently note the unkindness of that aspect ; most evident in the bark of oaks white and smooth ; the trees growing more kindly on the south side of an hill, than those which are expos'd to the north, with an hard, dark, rougher and more mossie integument, as I can now demonstrate in a prodigious coat of it, investing some pyracanths which I have removed to a northern dripping shade. I have seen (writes a worthy friend to me on this occasion) whole hedge-rows of apples and pears that quite perished after that shelter was removed : The good husbands expected the contrary, and that the fruit should improve, as freed from the proedations of the hedge ; but use and custom made that shelter necessary ; and therefore (saith he) a stock for a time is the weaker, taken out of a thicket, if it be not well protected from all sudden and fierce invasions, either of crude air or winds. Nor let any be deterr'd, if being to remove any trees, he shall esteem it too consumptive of time ; for with a brush dipped in any white colour, or oaker, a thousand may be marked as they stand, in a moment ; and that once done, the difficulty is over. I have been the larger upon these two remarks, because I find them so material, and yet so much neglected.

8. There are other rules concerning the situation of trees ; the former author commending the northeast-wind both for the flourishing of the tree, and advantage of the timber ; but to my observation in our climates, where those sharp winds do rather flanker than blow fully opposite upon our plantations, they thrive best ; and there are as well other circumstances to be considered, as they respect rivers and marshes obnoxious to unwholsom and poysonous fogs, hills and seas, which expose them to the weather ; and those silvifragi venti, our cruel and tedious western-winds ; all which I leave to observation, because these accidents do so universally govern, that it is not easie to determine farther than that the timber is commonly better qualified which hath endur'd the colder aspects without these prejudices. And hence it is that Seneca observes, wood most expos'd to the winds to be the most strong and solid, and that therefore Chiron made Achilles's spear of a mountain-tree ; and of those the best, which grow thin, not much shelter'd from the north. Again, Theophrastus seems to have special regard to places ; exemplifying in many of Greece, which exceeded others for good timber, as doubtless do our oaks in the Forest of Dean all others of England : And much certainly there may reasonably be attributed to these advantages for the growth of timber, and of almost all other trees, as we daily see by their general improsperity, where the ground is a hot gravel, and a loose earth : An oak, or elm in such a place shall not in an hundred years, overtake one of fifty, planted in its proper soil ; though next to this, and (haply) before it, I prefer the good air. But thus have they such vast junipers in Spain ; and the ash in some parts of the Levant (as of old near Troy) so excellent, as it was after mistaken for cedar, so great was the difference ; as now the Cantabrian, or Spanish exceeds any we have elsewhere in Europe. And we shall sometimes in our own country see woods within a little of each other, and to all appearance, growing on the same soil, where oaks of twenty years growth, or forty, will in the same bulk, contain their double in heart and timber ; and that in one, the heart will not be so big as a man's arm, when the trunk exceeds a man's body : This ought therefore to be weighed in the first plantation of copses, and a good eye may discern it in the first shoot ; the difference proceeding doubtless from the variety of the seed, and therefore great care should be had of its goodness, and that it he gather'd from the best sort of trees, as was formerly hinted, Chap. I.

9. Veterem arborem transplantare was said of a difficult enterprize ; yet before we take leave of this paragraph, concerning the transplanting of great trees, and to shew what is possible to be effected in this kind, with cost and industry ; Count Maurice (the late Governor of Brasil for the Hollanders) planted a grove near his delicious paradise of Friburgh, containing six hundred coco-trees of eighty years growth, and fifty foot high to the nearest bough : These he wafted upon floats and engines, four long miles ; and planted them so luckily, that they bare abundantly the very first year ; as Gasper Barlceus hath related in his Elegant Description of that Prince's Expedition. Nor hath this only succeeded in the Indies alone ; Monsieur de Fiat (one of the Mareschals of France) hath with huge oaks done the like at Fiat. Shall I yet bring you nearer home ? A great person in Devon, planted oaks as big as twelve oxen could draw, to supply some defect in an avenue to one of his houses ; as the Right Honourable the Lord Fitz-Harding, late Treasurer of His Majesty's Household, assur'd me ; who had himself likewise practis'd the removing of great oaks by a particular address extreamly ingenious, and worthy the communication.

10. Chuse a tree as big as your thigh, remove the earth from about him ; cut through all the collateral roots, till with a competent strength you can enforce him down upon one side, so as to come with your ax at the top-root ; cut that off, redress your tree, and so let it stand cover'd about with the mould you loosen'd from it, till the next year, or longer if you think good ; then take it up at a fit season ; it will likely have drawn new tender roots apt to take, and sufficient for the tree, wheresoever you shall trans-plant him. Some are for laying bare the whole roots, and then dividing it into 4. parts, in form of a cross, to cut away the interjacent rootlings, leaving only the cross and master-roots, that were spared to support the tree ; and then covering the pit with fresh mould (as above) after a year or two, when it has put forth, and furnish'd the interstices you left between the cross-roots, with plenty of new fibers and tender shoots, you may safely remove the tree itself, so soon as you have loosened and reduc'd the 4 decusseted roots, and shortned the top-roots : And this operation is done without stooping or bending the tree at all : And if in removing it with as much of the clod about the new roots, as possible, it would be much the better.

Pliny notes it as a common thing, to re-establish huge trees which have been blown down, part of their roots torn up, and the body prostrate ; and, in particular, of a firr, that when it was to be trans-planted, had a top-root which went no less than eight cubits perpendicular ; and to these I could superadd (by woful experience) where some oaks, and other old trees of mine, tore up with their fall and ruin, portions of earth (in which their former spreading roots were ingag'd) little less in bulk and height than some ordinary cottages and houses, built on the common : Such havock, was the effect of the late prodigious hurricane. But to proceed. To facilitate the removal of such monstrous trees, for the adornment of some particular place, or the rarity of the plant, there is this farther expedient : A little before the hardest frosts surprise you, make a square trench about your tree, at such distance from the stem as you judge sufficient for the root ; dig this of competent depth, so as almost quite to undermine it ; by placing blocks and quarters of wood, to sustain the earth ; this done, cast in as much water as may fill the trench, or at least sufficiently wet it, unless the ground were very moist before. Thus let it stand, till some very hard frost do bind it firmly to the roots, and then convey it to the pit prepar'd for its new station, which you may preserve from freezing, by laying store of warm litter in it, and so close the mould the better to the stragling fibers, placing what you take out about your new guest, to preserve it in temper : But in case the mould about it be so ponderous as not to be remov'd by an ordinary force ; you may then raise it with a crane or pully, hanging between a triangle (or like machine) which is made of three strong and tall limbs united at the top, where a pully is fastned, as the cables are to be under the quarters which bear the earth about the roots : For by this means you may weigh up, and place the whole weighty clod upon a trundle, sledge, or other carriage, to be convey'd and replanted where you please, being let down perpendicularly into the place by the help of the foresaid engine. And by this address you may transplant trees of a wonderful stature, without the least disorder ; and many times without topping, or diminution of the head, which is of great importance, where this is practis'd to supply a defect, or remove a curiosity.

11. Therefore, if you would propagate trees for timber, cut not off their heads at all, nor he too busie with lopping : But if you desire shade and fuel, or bearing of mast alone, lop off their tops, sear, and unthriving branches only : If you intend an outright felling, expect till November ; for this proemature cutting down of trees before the sap is perfectly at rest, will be to your exceeding prejudice, by reason of the worm, which will certainly breed in timber which is felled before that period : But in case you cut only for the chimney, you need not be so punctual as to the time ; yet for the benefit of what you let stand, observe the moon's increase if you please. The reason of these differences, is ; because this is the best season for the growth of the tree which you do not fell, the other for the durableness of the timber which you do : Now that which is to he burnt is not so material for lasting, as the growth of the tree is considerable for the timber : But of these particulars more at large in cap. 3. book I I I.

12. The very stumps of oak, especially that part which is dry, and above ground, being well grubb'd, is many times worth the pains and charge, for sundry rare and hard works ; and where timber is dear. I could name some who abandoning this to workmen for their pains only, when they perceiv'd the great advantage, repented of their bargain, and undertaking it themselves, were gainers above half : I wish only for the expedition of this knotty work, some effectual engine were devised; such as I have been told a worthy person of this nation made use of, by which he was able with one man, to perform more than with twelve oxen ; and surely, there might be much done by fastning of iron-hooks and fangs about one root, to extract another ; the hook chain'd to some portable screw or winch : I say, such an invention might effect wonders, not only for the extirpation of roots, but the prostrating of huge trees : That small engine, which by some is call'd the Berman-devil, reform'd after this manner, and duly applied, might be very expedient for this purpose, and therefore we have exhibited the following figure, and submit it to improvement and tryal.

But this is to be practis'd only where you design a final extirpation ; for some have drawn suckers even from an old stub-root ; but they certainly perish by the moss which invades them, and are very subject to grow rotten. Pliny speaks of one root, which took up an entire acre of ground, and Theophrastus describes the Lycean Platanus to have spread an hundred foot ; if so, the argument may hold good for their growth after the tree is come to its period. They made cups of the roots of oaks heretofore, and such a curiosity Athena us tells us was carv'd by Thericleus himself; and there is a way so to tinge oak after long burying and soaking in water, (which gives it a wonderful politure) as that it has frequently been taken for a course ebony : Hence even by floating, comes the Bohemian oak, Polish, and other northern timber, to be of such excellent use for some parts of shipping : But the blackness which we find in oaks, that have long lain under ground, (and may be call'd subterranean timber) proceeds from some vitriolic juice of the bed in which they lie, which makes it very weighty ; but (as the excellent naturalist and learned physician Dr. Sloane observes) it dries, splits, and becomes light, and much impairs.

13. There is not in nature a thing more obnoxious to deceit, than the buying of trees standing, upon the reputation of their appearance to the eye, unless the chapman be extraordinarily judicious ; so various are their hidden and conceal'd infirmities, till they be fell'd and sawn out : So as if to any thing applicable, certainly there is nothing which does more perfectly confirm it, than the most flourishing out-side of trees, fronti nulla fides. A timber-tree is a merchant-adventurer, you shall never know what he is worth till he be dead.

14. Oaks are in some places (where the soil is especially qualified) ready to be cut for cops in four-teen years and sooner ; I compute from the first semination ; though it be told as an instance of high encouragement (and as indeed it merits) that a lady in Northamptonshire sowed acorns, and liv'd to cut the trees produc'd from them, twice in two and twenty years ; and both as well grown as most are in sixteen or eighteen. This yet is certain, that acorns set in hedg-rows, have in thirty years born a stem of a foot diameter. Generally, cops-wood should be cut close, and at such intervals as the growth requires ; which being seldom constant, depends much on the places and the kinds, the mould and the air, and for which there are extant particular statutes to direct us ; of all which more at large hereafter. Oak for tan-bark may be fell'd from April to the last of June, by a Statute in the i Jacobi. And here some are for the disbarking of oaks, and so to let them stand, before they fell.

15. To enumerate now the incomparable uses of this wood, were needless ; but so precious was the esteem of it, that of old there was an express law amongst the Twelve Tables, concerning the very gathering of the acorns, though they should be found fallen into another man's ground : The land and the sea do sufficiently speak for the improvement of this excellent material ; houses and ships, cities and navies are built with it ; and there is a kind of it so tough, and extreamly compact, that our sharpest tools will hardly enter it, and scarcely the very fire it self, in which it consumes but slowly, as seeming to partake of a ferruginous and metallin shining nature, proper for sundry robust uses. It is doubtless of all timber hitherto known, the most universally useful and strong ; for though some trees be harder, as box, cornus, ebony, and divers of the Indian woods ; yet we find them more fragil, and not so well qualify'd to support great incumbencies and weights, nor is there any timber more lasting, which way soever us'd. There has (we know) been no little stir amongst learned men, of what material the Cross was made, on which our Blessed Saviour suffer'd : Venerable Bede in Collectaneis, affirms it to have been fram'd of several woods, namely cypress, cedar, pine, and box ; and to confirm it S. Hierom has cited the 6th of Isaiah 13. Gloria libani ad te veniet, & buxus & pinus simul ad ornandum locum sanctificationis mea', & locum pedum meorum significabo ; but following the version of the LXX. he reads in cupresso, pinu & cedro, &c. Others insert the palm, and so compose the gibbet of no less than four different timbers, according to the old verse :

Nail'd were his feet to cedar, to palm his hands ; Cypress his Body bore, title on olive stands

Quatuor ex lignis domini crux dicitur esse, &c. Pes crucis est cedrus, corpus tenet alta cupressus ; Palma manus retinet, titulo laetatur oliva.

And for this of the palm, they fetch it from that of 7 Cant. 8. where 'tis said, ascendam in palmam, & apprehendam fructus ejus, and from other allegorical and mysterious expressions of the Sacred Text, without any manner of probability ; whilst by Alphonsus Ciacconius, Lipsius, Angelus Rocca, Falconius, and divers other learned men (writing on this subject) and upon accurate examination of the many fragments pretended to be parcels of it, 'tis generally concluded to have been the oak ; and I do verily believe it ; since those who have described those countries, assure us there is no tree more frequent ; which (with relation to several celebrations and mysteries under oaks in the Old Testament) has been the subject of many fine discourses. Nor is it likely they should chuse, or assemble so many sorts of woods with that curiosity, to execute one upon, whom they esteemed a malefactor ; besides, we read how heavy it was, which cypress, cedar and palm are not in comparison with oak ; whilst Gretser denies all this, lib, 1. cap. 6. and concludes upon his accurate examination of several fragments yet extant, that 'tis not discernible of what timber it was fram'd. We might add to these, the furious zeal of the bloody and malicious Jews (to see our B. Lord inhumanly executed) could not possibly allow leisure to frame a gibbet of so many rare and curious materials : Let this therefore pass for an errant legend.

That which is twin'd and a little wreathed (easily to be discern'd by the texture of the bark) is best to support burthens for posts, columns, summers, &c. for all which our English oak is infinitely preferable to the French, which is nothing so useful, nor comparably so strong ; insomuch as I have frequently admir'd at the sudden failing of most goodly timber to the eye, which being employ'd to these uses, does many times most dangerously fly in sunder, as wanting that native spring and toughness which our English oak is indu'd withal. And here we forget not the stress which Sir H. Wotton, and other architects put even in the very position of their growth, their native streightness and loftiness, for columns, supporters, cross-beams, &c. and 'tis found that the rough-grain'd body of a stubbed oak, is the fittest timber for the case of a cyder-mill, and such like engines, as best enduring the unquietness of a ponderous rolling-stone. For shingles, pales, lathes, coopers ware, clap-board for wainscot, (the ancient 1 intestina opera and works within doors) and some pannells are curiously vein'd, of much esteem in former times, till the finer grain'd Spanish and Norway timber came amongst us, which is likewise of a whiter colour. There is in New-England a certain red-oak, which being fell'd, they season in some moist and muddy place, which branches into very curious works. It is observ'd that oak will not easily glue to other wood ; no not very well with its own kind ; and some sorts will never cohere tolerably, as the box and horn-beam, tho' both hard woods ; so nor service with cornell, &c. Oak is excellent for wheel-spokes, pins and pegs for tyling, &c. Mr. Blith makes spars and small building-timber of oaks of eleven years growth, which is a prodigious advance, &c. The smallest and streightest is best, discover'd by the upright tenor of the bark, as being the most proper for cleaving : The knottiest for water-works, piles, and the like, because 'twill drive best, and last longest; the crooked, yet firm, for knee-timber in shipping, millwheels, &c. In a word, how absolutely necessary the oak is above all the trees of the forest in naval-architecture, &c. consult Whitson, lib. I. cap. 13.

Were planting of these woods more in use, we should banish our hoops of hazel, &c. for those of good copse-oak, which being made of the younger shoots, are exceeding tough and strong : One of them being of ground-oak, will outlast six of the best ash ; but this our coopers love not to hear of, who work by the great for sale, and for others. The smaller trunchions and spray, make billet, bavine and coals ; and the bark is of price with the tanner and dyer, to whom the very saw-dust is of use, as are the ashes and lee for bucking linnen ; and to cure the roapishness of wine : And 'tis probable the cups of our acorns would tan leather as well as the bark, I wonder no body makes the experiment, as it is done in Turky with the valonia, which is a kind of acorn growing on the oaks. The ground-oak, while young, is us'd for poles, cudgels and walking-staffs, much come into mode of late, but to the wast of many a hopeful plant which might have prov'd good timber ; and I the rather declaim against the custom, because I suspect they are such as are for the most part cut, and stolen by idle persons, and brought up to London in great bundles, without the knowledge or leave of the owners, who would never have glean'd their copses for such trifling uses. Here I am again to give a general notice of the peculiar excellency of the roots of most trees, for fair, beautiful, chamleted and lasting timber, applicable to many purposes ; such as formerly made hafts for daggers, hangers, knives, handles for staves, tabacco-boxes, and elegant joyners-work, and even for some mathematical instruments of the larger size, to be had either in, or near the roots of many trees ; however 'tis a kindness to premonish stewards and surveyors, that they do not negligently wast those materials : Nor may we here omit to mention tables for painters, which heretofore were us'd by the most famous artists, especially the curious pieces of Raphael, Durer, and Holbin, and before that of canvass, and much more lasting : To these add the galls, misletoe, polypod, agaric (us'd in antidotes) uvae, fungus's to make tinder, and many other useful excrescencies, to the number of above twenty, which doubtless discover the variety of transudations, percolations and contextures of this admirable tree ; but of the several fruits, and animals generated of them, and other trees, Francisco Redi promises an express Treatise, in his Esperienze intorno alla Generatione de gl' Insetti, already publish'd. Pliny affirms, that the galls break out all together in one night, about the beginning of June, and arrive to their full growth in one day; this I should recommend to the experience of some extraordinary vigilant wood-man, had we any of our oaks that produc'd them, Italy and Spain being the nearest that do : Galls are of several kinds, but grow upon a different species of robur from any of ours, which never arrive to any maturity ; the white and irnperforated are the best ; of all which, and their several species, see Jasp. Bauhinus, and the excellent Malpighius, in his Discourse de Gallis, and other morbous tumors, raised by, and producing insects, infecting the leaves, stalks and branches of this tree with a venomous liquor or froth, wherein they lay and deposite their eggs, which bore and perforate these excrescences, when the worms are hatch'd, so as we see them in galls.

What benefit the mast does universally yield (once in two years at least) for the fatting of hogs and deer, I shall shew upon another occasion, before the conclusion of this Discourse. A peck of acorns a day, with a little bran, will make an hog ('tis said) increase a pound-weight per diem for two months together. They give them also to oxen mingled with bran, chop'd or broken ; otherwise they are apt to sprout and grow in their bellies. Others say, they should first be macerated in water, to extract their malignity; cattle many times perishing without this preparation. Cato advises the husband-man to reserve 240 bushels of acorns for his oxen, mingled with a like quantity of beans and lupines, and to drench them well. But in truth they are more proper for swine, and being so made small, will fatten pidgeons, peacocks, turkeys, pheasants and poultry ; nay 't is reported, that some fishes feed on them, especially the tunny, in such places of the coast where trees hang over arms of the sea. Acorns, esculus ab esca (before the use of wheat-corn was found out) were heretofore the food of men, nay of Jupiter himself, (as well as other productions of the earth) till their luxurious palats were debauched : And even in the Romans time, the custom was in Spain to make a second service of acorns and mast, (as the French now do of marrons and chesnuts) which they likewise used to rost under the embers.

Home | More Articles | Email: