When it was planned to remove a large beech tree in the gardens of Ardwell House around 1800, a movement arose to save it, resulting in a romantic poem.

The Sparing of the Ardwall Beech Tree


IN the spring and summer months, when the great vivifying principle of vegetable life is pushed through countless myriads of veins and arteries, until it terminates in all the beautiful variety of leaves, buds, and blossoms - when the eye, tired of the monotony of a northern winter, rests, with unspeakable delight, on garlanded woods and daisied meadows - when even the moss or lichen-covered rock "feels in its barrenness some touch of spring," there are few that are not ready to exclaim with Cowper, -

"O Tor a lodge in some vast wilderness,
Some boundless contiguity of shade,"

and at the same time regret that it is their lot to be chained to the labouring oar, amidst the din and smoke of a populous city, where trees of any magnitude are as rare as if they had been declared a nuisance by act of Parliament. In many respects a tree is the most beautiful object in nature. As a modern writer well observes, the massive strength of the trunk, the graceful tortuosity of the branches, and the beautiful and variegated green of the leaves, are all so many sources of pleasure to the beholder. But when we think on the series of fibres and tubes by which the tree, for ages perhaps, has drawn nourishment from the earth, and by a process of assimilation, added circle after circle of woody matter round the original stem, till it has acquired its present enormous bulk—when we reflect on the curious mechanism of the leaves, by which, like the lungs of animals, they decompose the air of the atmosphere, selecting through the day what part of it is fit to enter into the composition of the tree, and giving out at night a different species of air—when we think of the sap passing up the small series of tubes during summer, and these tubes again remaining dormant and inactive throughout the long winter,—these reflections awaken a train of ideas in the mind more lasting and more intense than even the first vivid impressions of simple beauty.

Captain Hall, while exploring an uncleared farm in the back settlements of Upper Canada, lighted accidentally on a noble oak, which appeared to have warred with the winds for centuries. Though surrounded and hampered on all sides, it towered above every other tree of the forest, and while his attention was arrested by the great size, graceful form, and giant altitude, of this "monarch of the wood," we can fancy him exclaiming, "why should such a noble production of nature, which has few or no fellows in the old world, which has been reared at such an expense of soil and moisture, and would almost yield the materiel of a ship itself, be laid prostrate by the ruthless hand of man. Under its glorious awning, a whole congregation of pious worshippers might raise, without crowding or inconvenience, the matin or vesper hymn of praise; and if seen standing in solemn loneliness, it would actually form a spectacle more noble and imposing than a temple reared by human hands." With feelings such as I have sketched, strong upon him, the traveller requested that its life might be spared: and it is unnecessary to add that so small a boon was granted in a moment. The captain's enthusiasm was reciprocated by the warm-hearted owner, and he not only promised to arrest the impending axe of the woodman, but expressly stipulated that, in so far as himself and family were concerned, the tree should remain unmolested so long as there was a bird to plume its wing and whistle in its branches. And the settler, to do him justice, kept his word, for, shortly after his visitor left the country, he fenced it all carefully round, bestowed on it the name of "Captain Hall's Oak," and has repeatedly vowed vengeance against all who shall dare to desecrate an object he now almost regards as sacred. We have thus an example of a tree saved and rendered classical by a word spoken in due season; and it is to record a similar instance that occurred much nearer home, that I at present trespass on the reader's patience.

Ardwall, the residence of James Murray McCulloch, Esq., is situated near to Gatehouse, in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, and on passing the gate - that is as far as the Ferrytown-of-Cree, - the traveller perceives, stretching before him, perhaps the most beautiful shore-road in Britain. For miles around, the country is rich in all the elements of the finest landscape - wood and water, hill and dale - mountains towering sublimely in the distance, with acclivities in the foreground, overlooking dells, each of which seems

“To bulwark in
One little Eden from a world of sin;"

are blended into one harmonious whole, and enlivened at every little distance with the most delightful peeps of marine scenery. To the left stands the ancient Castle of Cardoness, and to the right the modern residence of the Maxwells, on a peninsula that stretches far into the tide, as if anxious to salute its beautiful neighbours the Isles of Fleet. Nearly in front, on the farther side of a bay which may be crossed in a skiff in a few minutes, are the unequalled woods and pleasure grounds of Cally, rich in garniture of every description, with one walk shaded by flowering laurels, rivalling the tallest trees of the forest; a second, margined with exotics which, from their dimensions, seem indigenous to our northern clime; and a. third, graced with a magnificent tulip tree, which is annually crowned with myriads of flowers. The Bar-hill looks down in one direction on a shining lake, where a whole fleet of swans, with their cygnets around them, enjoy a little world of their own; and in another, on inclosures peopled with numerous flocks of red and fallow deer, and a race of cattle that is nearly extinct - the wild or ancient kine of Scotland - cream all over, save the nose and ears, which, in each specimen, are as black as jet. Stroll where you, will, the pheasant leaves his mate, and rises whirring on the wing, while the hares, equally numerous, are seen cropping the sod, not singly, but in such goodly companies, that they might be shot wholesale by a small piece of flying artillery, were such an engine compatible with the laws of sporting. But it would require a volume rather than an essay to describe the numerous beauties, natural and artificial, of Mr Murray's princely residence at Cally: and at present I must take an abrupt leave of the subject, and proceed with the little narrative alluded to above.

In the garden at Ardwall, there is a magnificent beechen tree, the age of which can only be guessed at. An hundred years ago, beech was little known in the South of Scotland, and it was not until about the middle of the eighteenth century that the proprietors of land became sensible of the many useful properties of this excellent species of timber. In ship-building it is found to be of the greatest use, is well adapted for the millwright's purposes, and in point of durability, almost rivals the oak itself, if kept continuously in the same state - that is, constantly dry, or constantly wet. Beautiful specimens of this wood abound on the Earl of Stair's grounds at Culhorn and Castle-Kennedy; and I have been informed that still finer ones are met with at Bargally, the property of Mr M'Kie, and more particularly in the vale of Palnure, the soil of which was so long proverbial for its sylvan properties, that it exhibited an almost "boundless contiguity of shade."

From the best information I have been able to obtain, it seems probable that the oldest of these beeches have alternately greened and withered for a century or more, and perhaps an equal period has elapsed since the one at Ardwall was found merely a tiny sapling in a spot which it now, to a very great extent, covers and incommodes with its expansive shade. Be this as it may, it is certainly one of the goodliest trees of the kind that ever spread its ample boughs around, to mitigate alike the summer's heat and the winter's cold, and in some respects is worthy to represent or stand as the patriarch of the whole tribe. Its height, I understand, is above forty feet; and, what is a great deal more remarkable, its branches, which are very nearly circular, and form one of the most delightful awnings imaginable, measure in circumference upwards of 180 feet. A tree so stately, and which, of course, yields no fruit, must be felt as rather cumbrous in a garden, by those who have no feeling for the picturesque; and accordingly, in the year 1800, the gardener at Ardwall, David Mason, exerted all his eloquence in libelling an object, the roots and branches of which were alike baneful - the first by exhausting the soil, and hampering the spade; and the second, by acting as a huge watering-pan, and distilling rain and dew to an extent that was felt to be altogether intolerable. As the man was quite in earnest, and had reason on his side, his master, though reluctantly, listened to his petition, and signed the tree's death-warrant. A few days subsequent to this, the ladies of Sir William Richardson's family, who thirty years ago resided at Ardwall, were visited by their neighbours the Misses Maxwell, of Cardoness, and while the whole party were walking in the garden,, and commenting on the beauties of the beechen tree, Mr McCulloch informed them that it had been found cumbersome, and was just about to be cut down. The ladies were astonished to hear him say so, and exerted all their eloquence to dissuade him from a deed which in their eyes seemed a species of petit, if not high treason against the majesty of nature. A cause which is pleaded by the young and the fair, cannot be said to suffer from the character of its advocates, and so many arguments were used, and appeals made to the sensibility of the lord of the manor, that he, perhaps, began to feel like the poet Shenstone,

"For he ne'er could be true, she averred,
That could rob a poor bird of its young;
And I loved her the more when I heard
Such tenderness fall from her tongue."

A respite was granted in the first instance, and shortly afterwards the highest poetic genius in the land was willingly exerted to avert the fate of the doomed tree. Among the party in the garden, there was a young lady, governess to the Misses Maxwell, and sister to the author of the "Pleasures of Hope;" and as she too was an admirer of the works of nature, she immediately wrote to her brother, related what was intended, and implored him to pen a petition in favour of the beechen tree. The poet complied, and almost immediately transmitted to Mr McCuIloch the original copy of the following verses. But the hand-writing was so cramp or hurried, that the latter found it difficult to decypher them, and it was not until the poem had appeared in the periodicals, and was admired and commended for its simplicity and sweetness, that he became aware of the mental calibre of his anonymous correspondent. The tree, however, was saved, and from its connection with the poem became an object of greater interest than ever. To strengthen the association, the verses were engraved on a brass plate; copies, too, were printed for private distribution, and a note appended by Mr McCulloch, detailing very briefly the burden of the present rambling tale, and concluding with the following manly sentence: -.”Although the Tree cannot be so lasting as the fame of him who composed its poetic, pathetic, and beautiful prayer, nevertheless, the present owner hereby fervently solicits his successors to let their tenderness and taste be marked, by giving a life-rent lease to this magnificent plant; or, to 'spare this little spot,' until the ruthless hand of Time, which spareth not either Man or Things, may terminate the existence of the Beechen Tree."


Oh! leave this barren spot to me!
Spare, Woodman, spare the Beechen Tree!
Though bush or flow'ret never grow
My dark, unwarming shade below -
Nor Summer bud perfume the dew
Of rosy blush, or yellow hue -
Nor fruits of Autumn, blossom-born,
My green and glossy leaves adorn -
Nor murm'ring tribes from me derive
Th' ambrosial amber of the hive -
Yet leave this barren spot to me;
Spare, Woodman, spare the Beechen Tree!

Thrice twenty Summers I have seen
The sky grow bright, the forest green;
And many a Wintery wind have stood
In bloomless, fruitless solitude,
Since childhood, in my rustling bower,
First spent its sweet and sportive hour;
Since youthful lovers, in my shade,
Their vows of truth and rapture made,
And on my trunk's surviving frame
Carv'd many a long-forgotten name.
Oh! by the sighs of gentle sound,
First breathed upon this sacred ground -
By all that Love hath whisper'd here,
Or Beauty heard with ravish'd ear,
As Love's own altar honour me -
Spare, Woodman, spare the Beechen Tree!

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