[From the Herald of Freedom of Aug. 6, 1841; Miscellaneous Writings, 146-153]
We feel strongly inclined, in this season of long drought and glaring sunshine, to pay a tribute to the magnificent trees, which emblosom and adorn the otherwise unsightly little capital of New Hampshire [Concord], and, to the eye of the observer at a distance, multiply its dwellings, and augment its dimensions to the appearance of a small city. We know no country village this side the water better off than this, on the score of shade, not excepting old Worcester, Mass., with all its stately button-woods. And what a glorious object is a tree! How magnificent a forest of them, on the boundless plain, or the mighty hill-side! And the single tree - there is scarcely its match for beauty among unintelligent objects on the face of the earth. It is surpassed perhaps only by him who walks among them in living and thinking grace and beauty. "In form," though not in "moving," like him, the tree, how "express and admirable!" The solitary tree - or the row - or group, planted by human hands, or spared by them from ordinary extermination, near the abodes of men. The thick-topped maple, with its wholesome looking foliage and impervious boughs, in whose close and dark recesses the hang-bird sings her "wood-note wild," in the hot summer noon. The lofty, clear-limbed, open-boughed button-wood - with its dainty leaf, its scarred trunk, and excoriated branches. And the elm, the patriarch of the family of shade; - the majestic, the umbrageous, the antlered elm. We remember one at this moment - in sight from our old home on the banks of the Pemigewassett. We have seen larger, but never one of such perfect symmetry and beauty. It stood just across the cold stream, near the bridge "Fayette" - by the road side - on the margin of the wide interval. "One among thousand" it stood of the multitudes which the taste of its early proprietor had left dispersed about on the broad landscape. It stood upon the ground as lightly as though it "rose in dance;" - and its full top bending over toward the ground on every side with the dignity of the forest-tree and all the grace of the weeping-willow. You could gaze upon it for house. It was the beautiful handy-work and architecture of God, on which the eye of man never tires, but always looks with refreshing and delight. We remember a clumo of white pines, too - right opposite on the other side stream; - tall mast pines - of the primitive woods - aborigines. We seem to hear their evening murmur, mingled with the flow of the rapids that hurried by their foot. How they came to be left there, we can hardly imagine. They are on the verge of the village, and must have stood there since long before the settlement of the town, and have survivied the axes of half a dozen hewing and hacking generations. We remember a crane lighting down on the tip top of one of the tallest of them, one day at sunset.
But the shade trees of Concord - we sat down to pay a hasty tribute to them. They are every thing to his stirring little regions of taverns and politics and printing offices. They hide its architectural deformities of State House, Court House, State Prison, sectarian pagodas, and dilapidated distillery, beautiful in its ruins. Some of the others would make pretty ruins. We trust they will speedily be left to clothe themselves in the interesting garment of dilapidation, tenanted by the moles and the bats. To us, who do not deal in aqny of the commodities vended at the ware-houses aforesaid, and to whom residence at in Concord might otherwise be irksome, there is relief and reconciliation in its glorious trees. The traveler would linger as he entered the village from the northward, under the venerable elms that overshadow the ancient Walker seat, and its neighboring dwellings, and the compact and refreshing maples, that front the respectable old resident of the late worthy Deacon Kimball. Going on, he would halt by Hoit's tavern; - not to refresh himself with the rum that we are sorry to learn continues to be sold there, in this day of light and reform, when the ditch drunkartds are every where rising from the gutter, in the majesty of awakened human nature, and at the bugle call of Hawkins are kindling the torch of reformation about the benighted meeting-house of the land. It is a shame to keep a rum tavern in the presence of these noble men, and their anxious wives and children. Not to drink rum would the traveler pause here - who has taste enough to look at a tree, but to gaze upward at the peerless elms that front that tavern. They are remarkably lively and spirited trees, and of a peculiar delicacy of twig. He would uncover his head, and pass slowly down the spacious street, quite o'er-arched in sundry places with the umbrageous elm boughs that spring in arches from either side until you come below the Merrimack County Bank, whose comeliness of structure is no wise diminished to the eye by the tree tops, a superb row of which right against it hide it from the sight. We hardly know a patch of public way so favored with shade at all hours of the day, as this. It greatly enhances the value of the residences there. Advancing as you pass in exceedingly graceful body of elms before the Dr. Green house, down the wide, exposed, and dusty Main Street, on one side of the way, and the Corinthian pile on the other - the temple of justice, of christian forbearance, and "forgiveness of debtors," for our county of Merrimack. You come next to where maple-decked Centre Street comes down against the old respectable Mrs. Stickney house, with its three magnificent elms topping out in one - a form they have assumed from standing together and by themselves alone. Proceeding on, you pause to contemplate with pleasure and regret the thrifty grove springing in the State House yard - pleasure at the number and beauty of the trees, and regret perchance at the unnatural straightness in which they are planted. Half the number, naturally disposed, as the English plant their parks - would furnish twice the ornament to the cold legislative establishment that stands up in Yankee stiffness in the midst of them. There stands the Statute Factory, the Government House, the Politics Market, the fountain of annual, perennial, and perpetual legislation; - where they repeal or modify this year, what they enacted or amended last, - and enact this year what they will modify next, and repeal the year after, under the increasing and varying light of the age, and at the tune of sixty thousand dollars a year. Two or three hundred able--bodied citizens of New Hampshire, capable of great usefulness at their respective homes, agonize their minds here some thirty days of each revolving year, in enactments, modifications, and abrogations of militia law, - of cat, fox, and crow bounty legislation, and pickerel protecting, and in bandying, from party to party, democratic asservations; each out-heroding the other, in acknowledgment of the sovereignty of the laborers at home, who are earning the sixty thousand dollars, with indurated hand and sweaty forehead. Sixty thousand dollars, per annum, of New Hampshire-earned money! - Those must be true lovers of the working people, who will thus spend it! All spent in perpetual-motion-tinkering at the old statute book, - at law-making, to enforce people to go straight in the path of justice. With what success, ask yonder hideous prison, and its caterer, yon comely Court House! O that the money were spent by the people in improving their beloved homes, and in cultivating their rude homesteads! - rude, rugged and barren now, because they must maintain politics. O that it were laid out in shading the highway with beauteous trees! The cost of this yearly mangling of the law book would prepare a complete road for every traveled rod of New Hampshire, if not of New England - and adorn it, both sides, with shady trees. It is squandered on counterfeit patriotism. One young button-wood in the north-east corner of the State House yard is, in our eye, worth more than the laws of all June session. It is a most beautiful tree - a model of its species. State Street, in rear of this concern, is well planted with shades, almost its entire length; but they are small yet. There are several clusters of charming young button-woods, - particularly about the houses where George Hough and Jacob B. Moore formerly lived, once printers and editors in Concord.
Passing down Main street from the State House, you find one wing of Leach's Buildings fronted with four princely elms; - the group adopting the form, at top, of a single tree of giant size. Farther on, another co-partnership of elms, three in number, of towering height, and great amplitude of shade, showing finely as you come down "Hopkinton road,"- and nearly opposite that great homely edifice called the "South Church." This great ecclesiastical barn stands there askew at the corner of two street, all shadeless and naked, in extreme architectural deformity, and as ugly as a Juggernaut. It is mounted upon one story of the same materials that compose the State Prison. It is dedicated, however, and has become an object of worship. About the last we knew of it, it was refused by Thomas Chadbourne and others, to Temperance and Anti-Slavery conventions, in September, 1840. Stepping up Hopkinton road, to the fine seat of late W.A. Kent, you come under an old stag-horned elm, that spreads out its antlers as broadly almost as Liberty tree on Boston common, - with sundry fine junior elms in its neighborhood. Casting the eye up to the corner of Green and Pleasant streets, it lights upon the handsomest button-wood in all the region, - a real gem of a tree. A corps of youthful maples, - as you turn down Main street again, grow before the former dwelling of our late fellow-townsman and anti-slavery friend, William Gault. Their tops are as round, thick and compact as so many cabbage heads. We pass without notice now, the king row of elms in Concord, and in New England, to go down and take a view about the famous old Count Rumfor seat, a few clever elms at the Concord Landing. The Rumford House, though it has not the finest elms, is most tastily shaded of any habitation in the town, and has a noble old oak among the trees, in its small park. This house has considerable of a history. Returning up to Main street, you pass the tasteful mansion of Theodore French, and admire the matchless shag-bark walnut on the green slope, behind it, and the fine grove of oaks on the hill-side that borders his beautiful field. This is far the pleasantest place in Concord - to our taste. We have passed it a hundred times, and never once, to our recollection, without admiration of that peerless shag-bark, which towers up like a good-sized button-wood; and in shape, dimensions, rich foliage and position exceeds almost any tree we ever beheld.
We ought to thank the early settlers of Concord for planting, or sparing, so many trees. We honor, too, the taste of the present inhabitants, in this behalf. They seem not only to appreciate the old shades that have come down to them from other times, but are prompt to plant trees themselves. And the soil is as favorable to trees, as the people. They flourish in every part of the town. And all the classes of people, the most unlikely, one would imagine, to have such a taste, seem to fancy these beautiful ornaments. The very party editors set out trees. One whole street owes its branching and leafy honors, it is said, mainly to one of them - the pretty little Centre street. It ought to bear his name. And we would respectfully suggest to the tasteful editor, whether he had not better devote his remaining energies to the further adornment for the town in this way, rather than to the miserable business of editing for political party, of any kind. Would it not be more for his own enjoyment, and certainly for his reputation with posterity, to vest the remainder of his renown in thrifty young elms, maples, and button-woods, rather than in party politics?
But we return down Main street to the patriarchs, the monarchs of Concord trees, and the peers at least of any we have ever beheld this side of old England. And indeed they would show the reputation even there, and would scarcely dishonor one of the royal avenues of Windsor Park, or even that king of kingly walks, the "Long Walk," from Windsor Castle, three miles into Windsor Forest, lined on each side with a double row of British elms! These royal Concord trees are about half way between "South Church" aforesaid and the pitch of the hill below it. They range along the west side of Main street - high up from the road, and cast their old shadows, toward sunset, far off into the beautiful meadows and the winding river. They are the oldest trees doubtless in the place. We have never seen any in New Hampshire of such venerable appearance. They stand so thick as to interweave their long branches. A wide and elevated side-walk runs along beneath them, affording a most pleasant saunter and promenade. You gaze upward into their dark tops, the giant branches running away up into the wilderness of foliage, and bending off in great curves again over the distant road, intersecting each other in countless gothic arches, like the roofing and recesses in the old abbeys and priories of England; branches big enough for trunks themselves - vast, shapeless, and rooted all abroad in the ground, to withstand the wrestlings of a century's winds upon their mighty tops. You feel awed and overwhelmed as you look up, as when in Westminster Abbey or the old York Minster. Here you are gazing on the originals, there on the architectural copies - the coping and the lancet arch of the old cathedral being borrowed doubtless from the tree tops. God built the old elm, and your Christopher Wrens and Inigo Joneses the "solemn temples" of Britain. Yet they get the homage and admiration of men, rather than the Architect of the universe.
Some of these great trees are scarred, where the lightning has struck them, and followed them from the high summit into the ground. The grand original row seems to have been interrupted. One great tree stands alone at considerable distance below it, and another above, both on a line with it, and evidently of the same generation. They are a magnificent spectacle; and there are some highly tasteful dwellings beneath their shadow. We wish the row had been continued the entire length of the high part of the street. Nothing in the world would be more magnificent. And how cheaply and easily it might have been done! The planting of a sampling is a trifle in expense. There it grows, and costs nothing but time.
We have omitted mention of sundry noble elms above the North Meeting-House. Perhaps, as single trees, some of these are unrivaled. The old veteran standing in front of the Coffin house, is an unrivaled tree.
But we have said a great deal, and must release our reader and pen, with a call on every man to a plant a tree. It is a virtue to set out trees. It is loving your neighbor as we love ourselves. Set out trees - not to make your home outshine your neighbor's; but for him to look at and walk under, - and to beautify God's earth, which he clothed with trees, and you cut them all down. Every tree is a "feather in the earth's cap" - a plume in her bonnet, a tress upon her forehead. It is a comfort, an ornament, a refreshing to the people. And when peace and liberty prevail, we will have an Eden of them, from one end of the land (and the world) to the other.