Fall of the Great Ash Tree in Offley Park in 1760
My Uncle’s first Wife1, Heiress of Offley Place in Hertfordshire, where I pass’d my Youth — and hoped to pass my Age — was particularly fond of an old Ash Tree in the Park which was remarkably large & straight — & she called it her Tree: in a great Storm which happen’d in the Year 1760. ten Months after her Death it fell, and I wrote the following Poem upon the Subject — The Lady deserved all I said of her, and had She lived ten Years longer I had been happy! — but her Successor! 2
I, who erewhile beneath the Beechen Spray
Tun’d my rough Reed and pour’d my artless Lay,
Taught Forrester’s Complaints in Verse to flow,
And touch’d his Lord with pity for his Woe;
To wilder Notes now swell the Sylvan Lyre,
Genius of Offley—aid me and inspire.
A towring Ash, well worthy nobler Strains,
Long reign’d supream o’er all the neighb’ring Plains,
Superior on the verdant Summitt stood,
Pride of the height, and Glory of the Wood;
Erect and strong, sublime in sylvan State
Nor fear’d the Blasts of Fortune or of Fate,
While high in Air he rear’d his branching head,
And round his ample Trunk the twisting Roots were spread.
Now by the blust’ring Winds and Tempests torn
See where he lies—neglected and forlorn;
Stretch’d on that very Spot dethron’d he lies,
Whence his proud Top aspir’d to scale the Skies,
A sad Example for the Great—to see
How vain the Vaunts of Earth born Majesty.
Alas my Plant! no more thy guardian Powr
Shall screen soft Females from the driving Showr,
No more thy Branches prove a sure Defence
To the clean Robes of rural Innocence.
Near thee no more when Clouds the heavns deform,
And the Grove shudders at th’ approaching Storm,
The nimble Doe, to seek her tender Fawn
By Fear emboldned bounds along the Lawn,
Trips lightly by—nor prints the pliant Grass,
Trips lightly by, but marks the chosen place;
On the close Covert casts a sidelong Glance
Careful to watch if any Foe advance;
Lest some hot human hand too idly mov’d,
Should taint with Touch impure—the pledge belov’d.3
No more thy lengthy Leaves shall lend their aid,
To the poor Peasant panting in the Shade,
Who well refresh’d reviews the Fields he crost,
“; “;And finds the burning Labour was not lost:”; ”;
For now the Hospitable Gates appear,
Those Gates far—fam’d thro’ many a rolling Year,
For welcoming the weary Traveller.
And now supported by thy Bulk he stands,
And counts the Ridges on the furrow’d Lands;
Or loitring leans upon thy Trunk to shun
The Insects busy in the setting Sun;
When Titan’s parting Rays the place improve,
And dart a double Lustre thro’ the Grove;
Far less delight the well-instructed Eye
Feels from the finish’d Tint and glowing Sky
When Sol in Claude’s warm Landskips we behold,
Break through the Trees, and tinge their Tops with Gold,
No more upon thy wrinkled Bark reclin’d
Pensive I listen to the whistling Wind.
Or when mild Zephyr breathes a softer Gale
Survey th’ abundance of the smiling Vale;
Where the ripe Wheat the Reaper’s hook attends.
And to the Scythe the bearded Barley bends,
Where the rude Hinds express their simple Taste,
By the nice Rules with which their Sheaves are plac’d,
And in the level Line—and Knot fast ty’d
Fix their just Fame, and place their honest Pride.
But when the Plains no more rich Gleanings yield
And the light Shade flies transient o’er the Field.
When the Heat quivers on the fallow Grounds.
And the stanch Pointer beats the Flinty rounds;
Who scorns with Head up held the sultry Heat,4
And treads the Stubble with unfeeling feet;
How happy then beneath thy Shade to shun
The fervour of the fierce meridian Sun!
Far off to see the dazzling Splendours play
While ev’ry Flowr reflects a double ray,
And the bright Stubble glittring in our Eyes
Forms a gay Contrast to th’ unclouded Skies
While the refreshing—Turneps vivid Green
Revives the Sight, and variegates the Scene.
These Lays a listning Hamadryad heard
And sudden to my wondring Sight appe’ar’d;
Fairer than Passion paints the Nymph belov’d
Or Helen’s Charms by Homer’s pen improv’d;
Fairer than when beneath bold Titian’s hand
A radiant Beauty breathes at his Command
While soft expression, and attractive Grace
Live in each Line of Cytherea’s Face
Fancy, and Verse—and Titian’s Tints would fade
Plac’d by the Bloom of this Immortal Maid.
A Silver Girdle bound her slender Waist
Array’d in neatness, and a verdant Vest,
A verdant Cawl confin’d her auburn Hair,
Which parting on the Forehead left it bare,
An Oak’s broad Branch in her white hand she bore,
And verdant Sandals on Her Feet She wore.
So looked the Nymph less human than Divine,
Her Form enchanting as her Face benign,
Her voice like Philomel the Silence broke
And thus with sweet Serenity She spoke.
“; “;Alas how wretched is the Race of Man!
“; “;Of Life and length of Days how idly vain!
“; “;A Breath their Being, and their Time a Span!
“; “;As Sisyphus’s Stone must still recoil
“; “;To mock his poor unprofitable Toil
“; “;So vain to seek what heav’n has still denied
“; “;To mad Ambition’s Powr, or Learning’s lofty Pride.
“; “;And You Oh Stranger know—whose modest Lyre
Implor’d my Aid thy Doric song t’ inspire;
When Death implacable and powrful Night
Wrapt Anna’s Vertues from weak Mortals Sight,
“; “;Veil’d her bright Form from our pursuing Eyes
“; “;And plac’d untimely ’mong her kindred Skies
“; “;I left this Tree, till then my fix’d Abode,
“; “;And wander now the Genius of the Wood.
“; “;Then shrunk her favrite Plant, his Leaves grew pale,
“; “;Bow’d to each Blast, and sigh’d to ev’ry Gale;
“; “;For his fair Patroness ten Months he pin’d,
“; “;His faithful Heart consum’d, his head declin’d
“; “;Then feebly fell, faint yielding to the Wind.I
“; “;Oh hadst thou heard of Anna’s noble Ways
“; “;Thy Oaten Pipe had burst beneath her Praise;
“; “;Polite in Arts, in Erudition strong!
“; “;To celebrate her Fame how weak thy Song!
“; “;Her Fame to future Ages shall extend,
“; “;Steady to Truth, to Human kind a friend:
“; “;Like her lov’d Ash her boundless Bounty spread,
“; “;And stretch’d her Saving Arm o’er evry head;
“; “;Rejoyc’d when Merit met his due Reward,
“; “;Wept with th’ afflicted and their anguish shar’d;
“; “;Yet while their Pangs would force a Female Groan,
“; “;She bore with manly Fortitude her own:
“; “;None with more Skill explor’d the secret Thought,
“; “;None sooner saw, or later blam’d a Fault,
“; “;For Vice She griev’d, the virtuous few She priz’d,
“; “;Ador’d its Maker, but the World despis’d.”; ”;
This trifling Performance brought Tears into my Uncle’s Eyes, and Money into my Pocket for having celebrated so artfully I will own the virtues of a Woman he rememberd with Gratitude and Esteem. He read ’em to every body he saw I believe, and in a few Weeks I received a letter by the General Post with Bath upon the Mark, containing many Prose Compliments, and civil Verses on the Subject.
- 1. Sir Thomas Salusbury's wife Anne Maria Penrice.
- 2. Had Thomas Salusbury died a widower, Hester Thrale would have inherited Offley Place. However, he married his second wife - the Honourable Mrs. Sarah King née Burrows, widow of William King, brother to the first Earl of Kingston - who inherited instead.
- 3. The Doe will never touch her Fawn again, if you once take it into your lap and fondle it in the House—She will if you put it again by the accustomed Tree—stand at a Distance and seemingly lament it, but never suckle it more. Mrs Thrale.
- 4. This was written before the Act of Parliament for preserving the Game by forbidding shooting until after the first of September.