From The Nation, 1 December, 1849.
[A friend with a surly, satirical face flings in our way this banter upon “Irish indolence.” Very well friend; we shame the devil and print your libel. Fas et ab hoste doceri. If there be any seeds of truth in it they will grow, when the chaff and wrappage only make manure for them.]
(From Mr. Bramble’s unpublished Arboretum Hibernicum.)
Many Irishmen talk of dying, &c., for Ireland, and I really believe almost every Irishman now alive longs in his way for an opportunity to do the dear old country some good. Opportunities of at once usefully and conspicuously “dying” for countries are not frequent, and, truly, the rarer they are the better; but the opportunity of usefully if inconspicuously living for one’s country, this was never denied to any man. Before “dying” for your country, think my friends, in how many quiet strenuous ways you might beneficially live for it.
Every patriotic Irishman (that is, by hypothesis, almost every Irishman now alive), who would so fain make the dear old country a present of his whole life and self, why does he not for example – directly after reading this, and choosing a feasible spot – at least, plant one tree? That were a small act of self devotion, small, but feasible. Him such tree will never shelter. Hardly any mortal but could manage that – hardly any mortal, if he were serious in it, but could plant and nourish into growth one tree. Eight million trees before the present generation run out, that were an indubitable acquisition for Ireland, for it is one of the barest, raggedest countries now known; far too ragged a country with patches of beautiful park and fine cultivation like shreds of bright scarlet on a beggar’s clouted coat – a country that stands decidedly in need of shelter, shade, and ornamental fringing, look at its landscape where you will. Once, as the old chroniclers write, “a squirrel (by bending its course a little, and taking a longish leap here and there) could have run from Cape Clear to the Giant’s Causeway without once touching the ground;” but now, eight million trees, and I rather conjecture eight times eight million would be very welcome in that part of the empire. Of fruit trees, though these too are possible enough, I do not yet insist, but trees – at least, trees.
That eight million persons will be persuaded to plant each his tree we cannot expect just yet; but do thou, my friend, in silence go and plant thine – that thou canst do; one most small duty, but a real one, if among the smallest conceivable, and a duty which henceforth it will be a sweet possession for thee to have lying done. Ireland for the present is not to be accounted a pleasant landscape – vigorous corn, but thistles and docks equally vigorous; ulcers of reclaimable bog lying black, miry and abominable at intervals of a few miles; no tree shading you, nor fence that avails to turn cattle – most fences merely, as it were, soliciting the cattle to be so good as not come through – by no means a beautiful country just now? But it tells all men how beautiful it might be. Alas, it carries on it, as the surface of this earth ever does ineffaceably legible, the physiognomy of the people that have inhabited it; a people of hold breeches, dirty faces, ill-roofed huts – a people of impetuosity and of levity – of vehemence, impatience, imperfect, fitful industry, imperfect, fitful veracity. Oh Heaven! there lies the woe of woes, which is the root of all.
“Trees of liberty,” though an Abbe wrote a book on them, and incalculable trouble otherwise was taken, have not succeeded well in these ages. Plant you your eight million trees of shade, shelter, ornament, fruit; that is a symbol much more likely to be prophetic. Each man’s tree of industry will be, of a surely, his tree of liberty; and the sum of them, never doubt of it, will be Ireland’s.