'I am so great an Admirer of Trees, that the Spot of Ground I have chosen to build a small Seat upon, in the Country, is almost in the midst of a large Wood. I was obliged, much against my Will, to cut down several Trees, that I might have any such thing as a Walk in my Gardens; but then I have taken Care to leave the Space, between every Walk, as much a Wood as I found it. The Moment you turn either to the Right or Left, you are in a Forest, where Nature presents you with a much more beautiful Scene than could have been raised by Art.
'Instead of Tulips or Carnations, I can shew you Oakes in my Gardens of four hundred Years standing, and a Knot of Elms that might shelter a Troop of Horse from the Rain.
'It is not without the utmost Indignation, that I observe several prodigal young Heirs in the Neighbourhood, felling down the most glorious Monuments of their Ancestors Industry, and ruining, in a Day, the Product of Ages.
'I am mightily pleased with your Discourse upon Planting, which put me upon looking into my Books to give you some Account of the Veneration the Ancients had for Trees. There is an old Tradition, that Abraham planted a Cypress, a Pine, and a Cedar, and that these three incorporated into one Tree, which was cut down for the building of the Temple of Solomon.
'Isidorus, who lived in the Reign of Constantius, assures us, that he saw, even in his Time, that famous Oak in the Plains of Mambrè, under which Abraham is reported to have dwelt, and adds, that the People looked upon it with a great Veneration, and preserved it as a Sacred Tree.
'The Heathens still went farther, and regarded it as the highest Piece of Sacrilege to injure certain Trees which they took to be protected by some Deity. The Story of Erisicthon, the Grove of Dodona, and that at Delphi, are all Instances of this Kind.
'If we consider the Machine in Virgil, so much blamed by several Criticks, in this Light, we shall hardly think it too violent.
'Æneas, when he built his Fleet, in order to sail for Italy, was obliged to cut down the Grove on Mount Ida, which however he durst not do till he had obtained leave from Cybele, to whom it was dedicated. The Goddess could not but think her self obliged to protect these Ships, which were made of Consecrated Timber, after a very extraordinary Manner, and therefore desired Jupiter, that they might not be obnoxious to the Power of Waves or Winds. Jupiter would not grant this, but promised her, that as many as came safe to Italy should be transformed into Goddesses of the Sea; which the Poet tells us was accordingly executed.
'And now at length the number'd Hours were come,
Prefix'd by Fate's irrevocable Doom,
When the great Mother of the Gods was free
To save her Ships, and finish_ Jove's _Decree.
First, from the Quarter of the Morn, there sprung
A Light that sign'd the Heavens, and shot along:
Then from a Cloud, fring'd round with Golden Fires,
Were Timbrels heard, and_ Berecynthian _Quires:
And last a Voice, with more than Mortal Sounds,
Both Hosts in Arms oppos'd, with equal Horror wounds.
O_ Trojan _Race, your needless Aid forbear;
And know my Ships are my peculiar Care.
With greater Ease the bold_ Rutulian _may,
With hissing Brands, attempt to burn the Sea,
Than singe my sacred Pines. But you my Charge,
Loos'd from your crooked Anchors launch at large,
Exalted each a Nymph: Forsake the Sand,
And swim the Seas, at_ Cybele's _Command.
No sooner had the Goddess ceas'd to speak,
When lo, th' obedient Ships their Haulsers break;
And, strange to tell, like Dolphins in the Main,
They plunge their Prows, and dive, and spring again:
As many beauteous Maids the Billows sweep,
As rode before tall Vessels on the Deep.'
'The common Opinion concerning the Nymphs, whom the Ancients called Hamadryads, is more to the Honour of Trees than any thing yet mentioned. It was thought the Fate of these Nymphs had so near a Dependance on some Trees, more especially Oaks, that they lived and died together. For this Reason they were extremely grateful to such Persons who preserved those Trees with which their Being subsisted. Apollonius tells us a very remarkable Story to this Purpose, with which I shall conclude my Letter.
'A certain Man, called Rhoecus, observing an old Oak ready to fall, and being moved with a sort of Compassion towards the Tree, ordered his Servants to pour in fresh Earth at the Roots of it, and set it upright. The Hamadryad or Nymph who must necessarily have perished with the Tree, appeared to him the next Day, and after having returned him her Thanks, told him, she was ready to grant whatever he should ask. As she was extreamly Beautiful, Rhoecus desired he might be entertained as her Lover. The Hamadryad, not much displeased with the Request, promis'd to give him a Meeting, but commanded him for some Days to abstain from the Embraces of all other Women, adding that she would send a Bee to him, to let him know when he was to be Happy. Rhoecus was, it seems, too much addicted to Gaming, and happened to be in a Run of ill Luck when the faithful Bee came buzzing about him; so that instead of minding his kind Invitation, he had like to have killed him for his Pains. The Hamadryad was so provoked at her own Disappointment, and the ill Usage of her Messenger, that she deprived Rhoecus of the Use of his Limbs. However, says the Story, he was not so much a Criple, but he made a shift to cut down the Tree, and consequently to fell his Mistress.Translation of motto: