Item of the Day: Silva: Or, a Discourse of Forest-Trees

Full Title: Silva: Or, a Discourse of Forest-Trees, and the Propagation of Timber in his Majesty’s Dominions: as it was delivered in the Royal Society on the 15th Day of October, 1662, upon Occasion of Certain Quaeries Propounded to that Illustrious Assembly, by the Honourable the Principal Officers and Commissioners of the Navy. Together with An Historical Account of the Sacredness and Use of Standing Groves. By John Evelyn . . . with notes by A. Hunter. York: Printed by A. Ward for J. Dodsley, Pall-Mall; T. Cadell, in the Strand; J. Robson, New-Bond-Street; and T. Durham, Charing-Cross, London; W. Creech and J. Balfour, Edinburgh, 1776.


1. Since there is nothing which seems more fatally to threaten a weakening, if not a dissolution, of the strength of this famous and flourishing nation, than the sensible and notorious decay of her wooden walls, when, either through time, negligence, or other accident, the present navy shall be worn out and impaired; it has been a very worthy and seasonable advertisement in the honourable the principal Officers and Commissioners, what they have lateley suggested to this illustrious Society for the timely prevention and redress of the intolerable defect. For it has not been the late increase of shipping alone, the multiplciation of glass-works, iron-furnaces, and the like, from whence this impolitic diminution of our timber has proceeded; but from the disproportionate spreading of tillage, caused through the prodigious havac made by such as lately professing themselves against root and branch (either to be reimbursed their holy purchases, or for some other sordid respect) were tempted not only to fell and cut down, but utterly extirpate, demolish, and raze, as it were, all those many goodly woods and forests, which our more prudent ancestors left standing for the ornament and service of their country. And this devastation is now become so epidemical, that unless some favourable expedient offer itself, and a way be seriously and speedily resolved upon for a future store, one of the most glorious and considerable bulwarks of this nation will, within a short time, be totally wanting to it.

 2. To attain now a spontaneous supply of these decayed materials (which is the vulgar and natural way ) would cost (besides the inclosure) some entire ages repose of the plow, though bread indeed require our first care: therfore the most expeditious and obvious method would doubtless be one of these two ways, sowing and planting. But, first, it will be requisite to agree upon the species; as what trees are likely to be of greatest use, and the fittest to be cultivated; and then, to consider the manner how it may be best effected. Truly, the waste and destruction of our woods has been so universal, that I conceive nothing less than an universal plantation of all the sorts of trees will supply, and well encounter the defect; and therfore I shall here adventure to speak something in gerneral of them all; though I cheifly insist upon the propagation of such as seem to be the most wanting and serviceable to the end proposed.

3. And first, by Trees here, I consider principally for the Genus generalissimum, such lignous and woody plants as are hard of substance, procere of stature; that are thick and solid, and stiffly adhere to the ground on which they stand. These we shall divide into the greater and more ceduous, fruticant and shrubby; feras and wild; or more civilized and domestic; and such as are sative and hortensial subalternate to the others; but of which I give only a touch, distributing the rest into these two classes, the dry and the aquatic; both of them applicable to the same civil uses of building, utensils, ornament, and fuel; for to dip into their medicinal virtues is none of my province, though I sometimes glance at them with due submission, and in few instances. . . .



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Filed under 1660's, 1770's, Great Britain, Natural Science, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Timber

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