Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
The Groans of the Forest
By John Evelyn (1620–1706)
From Silva

IN the meanwhile, as the fall of a very aged oak, giving a crack like thunder, has often been heard at many miles’ distance (constrained though I often am to fell them with reluctancy), I do not at any time remember to have heard the groans of those nymphs (grieving to be dispossessed of their ancient habitations) without some emotion and pity. Now to show that many such disasters as that which befel Erisichthon 1 have happened to the owners of places where goodly trees have been felled, I cannot forget one, who giving the first stroke of the axe with his own hand, and doubtless pursuing it with more, killed his own father by the fall of the tree, not without giving the incautious knight (for so he was) sufficient warning to avoid it. And here I must not pass by the groaning-board which they kept for a while in Southwark, drawing abundance of people to see the wonder; such another plant had been formerly, it seems, exposed as a miracle at Caumont near Toulouse, in France, and the like sometimes happens in woods and forests, through the inclusion of the air within the cavities of the timber, and something of this kind, perhaps, was heretofore the occasion of the fabulous Dodonean oracle. 2 But, however this were, methinks I still hear, sure I am that I still feel, the dismal groans of our forests, when that late dreadful hurricane (happening on the 26th of November 1703) subverted so many thousands of goodly oaks, prostrating the trees, laying them in ghastly postures, like whole regiments fallen in battle by the sword of the conqueror, and crushing all that grew beneath them. Such was the prospect of many miles in several places, resembling that of Mount Taurus, so naturally described by the poet, speaking of the fall of the Minotaurs slain by Theseus:—
                    Illa procul radicibus exturbata
Prona cadit, late quæcumvis obvia frangens. 3
  The losses and dreadful stories of this ruin were indeed great, but how much greater the universal devastation through the kingdom! The public accounts reckon no less than 3000 brave oaks in one part only of the Forest of Dean blown down; in New-Forest in Hampshire, about 4000; and in about 450 parks and groves from 200 large trees to 1000, of excellent timber, without counting fruit and orchard trees sans number and proportionally the same through all the considerable woods of the nation.  2
  Sir Edward Harley had 1300 blown down; myself above 2000: several of which, torn up by their fall, raised mounds of earth near twenty feet high, with great stones entangled among the roots and rubbish; and this almost within sight of my dwelling (now no longer Wotton), sufficient to mortify and change my too great affection and application to this work, which, as I contentedly submit to, so I thank God for what are yet left standing: Nepotibus umbram. 4  3
Note 1. Erisichthon, who, having cut down the grove of Ceres, was done to death by frenzied hunger in the midst of plenty (Ovid, Metam. Bk. viii.) [back]
Note 2. Dodonean oracle.  The sacred oracle of Zeus, where the responses were uttered from groves of oak. [back]
Note 3. Illa procul radicibus, etc.  Far spreading, it falls prone, torn up by the roots, breaking on all sides all it meets with in its fall. [back]
Note 4. Nepotibus umbram.vA shade to generations yet to be. [back]

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