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under a mistake in this, I should say, as Cicero in relation to the immortality of the soul, I willingly err, and should believe it very much for the interest of mankind to lie under the same delusion. For the contrary notion naturally tends to dispirit the mind, and sinks it into a meanness fatal to the godlike zeal of doing good : as, on the other hand, it teaches people to be ungrateful, by possessing them with a persuasion concerning their benefactors, that they have no regard to them in the benefits they bestow. Now he that banishes gratitude from among men, by so doing, stops up the stream of beneficence: for though in conferring kindnesses a truly generous man doth not aim at a return, yet he looks to the qualities of the person obliged ; and as nothing renders a person more unworthy of a benefit than his being without all resentment of it, he will not be extremely forward to oblige such a man.
No. 589. FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 1714.
Persequitur scelus ille suum : labefactaque tandem
Ovid. Met. viii. 774.
SIR, "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 show you oaks 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, à 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 Mamre, 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 critics, 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 until he had obtained leave from Cybele, to whom it was dedicated. The goddess could not but think herself obliged to protect the 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,
To save her ships, and finish Jove's decree.
First, from the quarter of the morn there sprung
O Trojan race, your needless aid forbear :
• 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 dependence 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 Rhæcus, 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 what
ever he should ask. As she was extremely beautiful, Rhæcus desired he might be entertained as her lover. The Hamadryad, not much displeased with the request, promised 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. Rhæcus 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 Rhæcus of the use of his limbs. However, says the story, he was not so much a cripple, but he made a shift to cut down the tree, and consequently to fell his mistress.?