Born in England in 1856, H. Rider Haggard made his name as a prolific writer of lost world adventure stories and novels, most notably King Solomon’s Mines and the wildly popular She: A History of Adventure. However, when he wasn’t engrossed in these fantastical tales, much of Haggard’s time and energy was spent managing his wife’s Norfolk estate, which in turn saw him become something of an expert on all things agricultural. Published in 1899, Haggard’s A Farmer’s Year is a beautifully written account of his life in such surroundings and a love letter to the the world of farming. This entry came in February of 1898, at a time when he had been marking trees for thinning.
The Diary Entry
I know of nothing in life that needs more discretion than the marking of trees, unless it be an attempt to patch up a family quarrel. I am supposing, of course, that the trees are being cut more with a view to the advantage of the survivors and of the plantation generally than for simple profit. One may have the very best intentions, and have studied the tree or trees from all standpoints and at every season of the year in order to decide which shall go and which shall stay, and then, after all, find that a mistake has been made. Also the error, if it be one, is so utterly irredeemable, for no ordinary person can hope to live long enough to repair it.
It is extraordinary, however, to see what growth trees will make during the span of a single life. Thus on the lawn of this house stand many good-sized timbers, elm, oak, beech, lime, and walnut. With the exception of the walnuts, which are ancient, every tree of them was planted within the memory of a relative, now just eighty years of age, who was living in this house at the time.
Indeed, the man who actually set them was shoeing horses until, having been much hurt by a kick, he took to his bed and died not very long ago. It is not given to many to see oaks planted, cut down as good timber, seasoned, made into bookcases, window-frames, and shutters, and set up to furnish the room from which in childhood they watched the gardener setting them. Yet this has happened to the relative in question; moreover, it is now some ten years since the trees were felled…
Altogether I think that I marked about fifty trees this morning, small for the most part and of every variety. Some of these I find, by the healed-up scars upon them, I have already marked in past years and then spared. Indeed, it is evident that in several instances I have done this twice, but the day of doom has come at last. The trees upon these Bath Hills have been very much neglected in past times; if someone had thinned them judiciously fifty years ago they would be much better specimens than they are at present. As it is, the younger stands have been allowed to crowd each other, and even to destroy and distort the few old-established timbers by cutting off the air from their lower boughs and causing them to die…
On the lawn in front of this house stand four single trees, two beeches and two limes, which have never been crowded or deformed by the too close company of their kind. To my fancy those four trees are better worth looking at than all the dozens which surround them; indeed, their proportions are a pleasure to contemplate at every time of year. But about trees, as in other things, opinions vary.
Haggard’s A Farmer’s Year was published in 1899 so is very much out of copyright, which means it can be read online. However, if you prefer to hold your books, physical copies are available.
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