Abram Smythe Palmer.

Leaves from a word-hunter's note-book online

. (page 6 of 21)
Online LibraryAbram Smythe PalmerLeaves from a word-hunter's note-book → online text (page 6 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

from the scene. 2 And such is Mr Macmillan's
opinion with respect to the still living gigantic
cedars of the Sierra Nevada — ' They seem relics of
" the reign of gymnosperms," a fragment of the an-

1 Dr Livingstone called attention to the extraordinary vitality of
the baobab-trees he met in South Africa, some continuing to grow
even after they were cut down. One which he measured at three
feet from the ground was eighty-five feet in circumference.

Missionary Travels in S. Africa, p. 162.

2 The Fortunate Isles ; or. The Archipelago of the Canaries.


cient carboniferous epoch preserved in this lonely
solitude, amid all the cosniical changes elsewhere
going on, keeping in their annual rings of wood
the imperishable record of their growth, while
human races and dynasties sprang up and perished
around them. And still, though the shadows of
forty centuries are sleeping under their boughs,
their vital processes are as active as ever, they
exhibit no signs of what can be regarded^ physio-
logically as old age.' 1

The same to-day that they were at the beginning,
we discern something of absolute excellence in
their ' serene and invulnerable perfection.' And
therefore, as Dr Grindon truly remarks, ' trees are
adapted by their original and inalienable constitu-
tion to serve as metaphors for almost everything
great and good and wise and beautiful in human
nature. Hence the countless citations of trees in
Holy Writ ... on account of their being the
absolute representations and pictured forms in the
temporal world of the high and sacred realities
that belong to the invisible and eternal.' 2 * They
stand still in quiet dignity while we talk of four-
score as a wonderful lifetime, and for their own
part watch the rise and fall of nations. . . .
Hence it is that the grand scriptural image acquires
such richness and force, "As the days of a tree

1 Macmillan, Bible Teachings in Nature, p. 88.

2 The Trees of Old England, by Leo Grindon, p. 3.


are the days of my people " (Isa. lxv. 22). Hun-
dreds of trees are standing at this moment that
were alive when those words were written.' 1

It is not surprising, therefore, that among the
heathens, and sometimes even, as we know, among
the early Christian converts, trees were regarded
with religious veneration as the aptest emblems of
eternity and changeless existence, ' tanquam sacras
ex vetustate.' 2

' Eelics of ages ! Could a mind, imbued
With truth from Heaven, created thing adore,
I might with reverence kneel, and worship thee.
It seems idolatry with some excuse,
"When our forefather Druids in their oaks
Imagined sanctity.' 3

Another most striking feature in the growth of
many kinds of trees is their exact uprightness. It
is so in the poplar, the fir, the cedar, and the pine.
Mr Ruskin 4 calling attention to the straightness
and rounded uprightness of the last as its two
chief characteristics, observes that, placed nearly
always among scenes disordered and desolate, it
brings into them all possible elements of order
and precision. c Let storm and avalanche do their
worst, and let the pine find only a ledge of vertical
precipice to cling to, it will nevertheless grow

1 The Trees of Old England, by Leo Grindon, p. 5.

2 Quintilian, vide Evelyn's Silva, ch. 3.

3 Cowper, The Yardley Oak.

4 Modern Painters, v. Pt. VI. ch. 9.


straight. Thrust a rod from its last shoot down
the stem ; it shall point to the centre of the earth
as long as the tree lives. . . . Other trees/ he
adds, in his usual eloquent style, ' tufting crag or
hill, yield to the form and sway of the ground,
clothe it with soft compliance, are partly its sub-
jects, partly its flatterers, partly its comforters.
But the pine rises in serene resistance, self-con-
tained ; nor can I ever without awe stay long under
a great Alpine cliff, far from all house or work of
men, looking up to its companies of pine, as they
stand on the inaccessible juts and perilous ledges
of the enormous wall, in quiet multitudes, each
like the 'shadow of the one beside it — upright,
fixed, spectral, as troops of ghosts standing on the
walls of Hades, not knowing each other, dumb for
ever. You cannot reach them, cannot cry to them;
those trees never heard human voice ; they are far
above all sound but of the winds. No foot ever
stirred fallen leaf of theirs. All comfortless they
stand, between the two eternities of the Vacancy
and the Rock ; yet with such iron will, that the
rock itself looks bent and shattered beside them —
fragile, weak, inconsistent, compared to their dark
energy of delicate life, and monotony of enchanted
pride ; — unnumbered,, unconquerable. ' In another
place he speaks of ' their right doing of their hard
duty.' And therefore in the pine, to use the words
of a more recent writer, i we have the highest


moral ideal of trees, 1 which is dependent on their
right fulfilment of their appointed functions amid
the greatest difficulties. . . . Poverty - stricken,
hunger-pinched, and tempest-tortured, it maintains
its proud dignity, grows strong by endurance, and
symmetrical by patient struggle.' 2 No marvel
that the early settlers in India honoured the loftiest
and noblest of the conifers they there met with,
with the title of the 'deodara,' i.e., devaddru, the
divine or godlike tree, even as David styled the
cedars of Lebanon ' the trees of the Lord ' (Ps. civ.
16; lxxx. 10). 3

That these noble qualities of uprightness, dura-
bility, stability, and strength, so conspicuously
displayed by the ' kings of the woods,' and gene-

1 As an instance of a moral conception being embodied in the
name of a tree may be mentioned the aspen, A. -Sax. aepse, if, as
seems very probable, that be the same word as A. -Sax. ajse
trembling, aepsenys disgrace, dishonour, shame. There is a common
tradition that the cross of our Lord was constructed out of the
wood of this tree, and that ever since it has never ceased to shiver
like a guilty thing at the remembrance of the crime to which it was
made accessary. (French, le tremble.)

2 Macmillan, Bible Teachings in Nature, p. 69.

3 Hengstenberg observes that the cedar, as the loftiest among
created things, symbolises the elevation and majesty of God ; the
hyssop, on the contrary, as the least, His lowliness and condescen-
sion ; and hence he supposes they were both symbolically employed
in the Sacrifice of the Red Heifer (Num. xix. 6). — Egypt and
the Books of Moses, p. 175. Other instances of trees similarly
consecrated are the bogaha or god's tree of Ceylon, the shejcret
allah of the Arabs, the diu-dar of the Persians, the jambu of the
Buddhists, 'Jove's stout oak' (Tempest, v. 1), which Herrick
calls the ' holy-oke or gospel tree ' (H. C. Barlow, Essay on Sym-
bolism, p. 92 seq.)


rally characteristic of ' treeship,' should have been
present to men's minds, and influenced them in
selecting an appropriate name for the entire class,
is no more than might have been expected. Thus
in Hebrew itz, the word for a tree, is derived from
a root dtzdh, to be hard and firm, which also sup-
plies the word dtzeh for the backbone, so called
from its firmness and erectness. Similarly, the
English ' tree,' A.-Sax. tre, Goth, triu, Gk. drus,
Sans, dru, come without doubt from the root
drih, to be firm and strong, 1 to increase, dru, to

There is another root of the same significance as
drik, and differing but slightly in the initial letter,
which may probably be regarded as ultimately
identical with it. This is the root dhri, to be firm
and stable, other forms being dhru, dhruv, d/iar,
to stand fast, be established. Thence comes the
Sanskrit word dhruva, meaning (1) what is firm,
stable, solid, lasting, permanent ; (2) what is
true ; (3) a post, stock, the trunk of a tree, cer-
tain plants.

We thus arrive at the curious and interesting
result that the word i tree ' and the word c true '
are at bottom really the same, and contain the one

1 The derivation of dru, a tree, from the root dri, dar, to divide,
rend, or split, either supposing it to mean that which is fissile
(as Pictet), or that which can be stripped of its bark (as Kuhn),
seems very improbable. Vide also Ebel, Celtic Studies, p. 110.


radical conception of permanence and stability. 1
That which cannot be shaken, but is unalterably
fixed and unchangeable by time, is i truth.' That
which cannot be shaken, but is unalterably fixed
and unchangeable by time is a ' tree.' Of all
things that excel in strength, truth, as King
Darius rightly gave his decision, is strongest —

'As for the truth, it endureth, and is always strong : it
liveth and conquereth for evermore. . . . She is the strength,
kingdom, power, and majesty of all ages. . . . Great is truth,
and mighty above all things.' 2 1 Esdras iv. 38, 40, 41.

Truth, says a Spanish proverb, is an evergreen,
La verdad es siempre verde. In fact, says Dr
Holmes, with exact, but no doubt unconscious,
etymological insight, * there's nothing that
keeps its youth, so far as I know, but a tree and

truth.' 3

1 Les sillons, oil les bles jaunissent
Sous les pas changeants des saisons,

1 1 am not aware that this relationship of ' tree ' and ' true ' has
been made the subject of remark by any of the great German
philologers. A competent scholar of our own, however, Dr Prior,
has noted it in his ' Popular Names of British Plants,' s.v. Tree.
It was a happy guess of Dr Richardson, though certainly nothing
more, when he suggested that 'tree' was akin to the A. -Sax.
treowan (confirmare), and defined it as ' a plant advanced to firm
growth, strong, steadfast, established — with a strong stem, trunk,

2 ' Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon
the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously, by licensing
and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood
grapple ; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open
encounter?' MUton, Areopagitica.

3 Autocrat of the Breakfast- Table.


Se de'pouillent et se vetissent
Comme un troupeau de ses toisons ;
Le fleuve nait, gronde et s'ecroule ;
L'hiver effeuille le granit ;
Des generations sans nombre
Vivcnt et meurent sous son ombre :
Et lui 1 voyez, il rajeunit ! '

What Lainartine, in these lines, has said of a tree
may with equal correctness be affirmed of the
truth — it also possesses the secret of rejuvenescence.
Heaven and earth may pass away, but the truth
is immortal, and doth not pass away.

1 Truth crushed to earth shall rise again :

The eternal years of God are hers ;

But Error, wounded, writhes with pain,

And dies among his worshippers.' 1

Accordingly, the early Aryan, as he roamed the
primeval forests, not only, like the lover of the
greenwood, found < tongues in trees/ but further-
more, found truth there, the notion of a stable and
immutable principle ; and evolving two kindred ex-
pressions from a verbal radical which he already
possessed, the principle he called l truth,' the
subtantial type he called a ' tree.'

For ' true,' Sanskrit d/iruva, stands in the same
relation to d/iri, dkru (firm, stable), that ' tree,'
Sanskrit dru, does to drih (firm, stable), 2 two roots
whose approximation and identification has been

1 Bryant, The Battle-field.

2 Hearue would seem to have had some hazy notion of the cog.


proposed above. As to the form of the two words
in question, a striking correspondence is observable
in most of the Indo-European languages. In Old
English, to begin with our own, treowe 1 is true,
and treow a tree; treu is faith, trust, and
treu a tree ; trywe is true, and tryw a tree ; truwa
is trust, faith, and trurcung a prop or stay, (compare
;he Hebrew dman (1) to prop or stay, (2) to be
firm, (3) be true). When Moses cast the tree into
the bitter waters of Marah, according to the * Story
cf Genesis and Exodus' (1. 3301, ab. 1250)—

' A funden trew ^or-inne dede Moyses.'
In other lan^ua^es the words are found as

dar, derw.

nation of the words * tree ' and ' true,' when he jotted down in hi3
journal the remark — ' Some groves now in Scotland held sacred ;
nor will they permit the trees to be cut down ; stones in some of
them. Dru, alias trou, in the German and British tongue signifies
faith ; and the old Germans called God Drutin or Trudin; hence
Drutin signifies a divine or faithful person.

Reliquce Eearniance, Oct. 15, 1718.

From the same root come the A.-Sax. trum, firm, strong, sound ;
trymian, trymman, to strengthen, confirm, set in order, dispose
fitly, 'trim.' Whether the Irish trean, treun, strong, be related
is questionable. Compare French dru, thick, close, luxuriant.

1 Treoioe is frequently applied to things that are immovable, sure
and steadfast. It is used of a hill in an old luue ron, or love-
song, where it is said of a house, ' Hit stont vppon a treowe mote '
(Old English Miscellany, E.E.T.S. p. 97).

follows : —


0. Icel.











Irish dir, dior, direach.

dair, darach (cf. Pers. dirach).

Goth. triggivs, tranan.


0. Fris. triuwe, trouwe.


0. L. Ger. triuui.


0. Eng. treowe, trewe, triwe, trig.

treo, trcou, trew } treowe, trowc.

0. H. Ger. trtiwer.

Bav. ~der, -ter.

With ' true ' we may also compare the Irish
drotk, constant (Pictet, Langues Celtiques, p. 69).

In the identification of these words we mar
adduce, as strongly confirmatory of it, the Sanskrit
word bhaw/a, denoting that which is, what exists,
the truth, 1 and also a tree. That the truthfulness
of trees has not failed to attract attention, ths
following extract from a letter of Horace Walpole
proves. Writing from Houghton in 1743, he
says —

c My flatterers here are all mutes. The oaks, the beeches,
the chestnuts seem to contend which shall best please the lord
of the manor. They cannot deceive. They -will not lie.'

Our surprise at discovering that the word ex-
pressive of a high moral conception, 2 and the term

1 So ' sooth,' A. -Sax. sddh, is for santh, Lat. sens (part, of sum
in prcB-sens, Sec.) = being, existing. Cf. ' tooth ' and dens, ' goose '
and gans, &c.

2 Other ethical words yielded by the root dhri, dhar (to stand
firm), are the Sanskrit dharma, something established as an in-
variable rule, law, justice, duty, virtue ; dhdrd, custom ; dhrtvan,
virtue; dhtra, firm; Irish dir, just, dior, direach, just, honest,
dior, law ; Lith. dora, dermic, duty, doras, virtuous. (Pictet, Orig.
Indo-Europ., vol. ii. p. 427).

Compare statue and statute, something set up for a memorial or


for the mere vegetable product of the earth, are of
kindred origin, is lessened when we find that in
Hebrew the words for a tree and for the Divine
Being Himself are quite as intimately connected.
For there the name El, God, and eldh the terebinth,
elon the oak, Slim trees, come alike from the root
ul or il, strong, mighty. 1 On this no better com-
mentary is needed than the exclamation of the
same poet already quoted as he stood beneath the
branches of an aged oak —

' Seigneur, c'est toi seul, c'est ta force,

Ta sagesse et ta volonte,

Ta vie et ta fecondite,

Ta prevoyance et ta bonte !
Le ver trouve ton nom grave sous son ecorce,
Et mon oeil, dans sa masse et son eternite ! '

He adds in a note —

1 II n'y a pas plus de mesure a la force et a la duree de la
vegetation qu'il n'y eu a la puissance de Dieu. II joue avec
le temps et avec l'espace. L'homme seul est oblige de compter
par jours. Ces arbres comptent per siecles, les rockers par la
duree d'uu globe, les etoiles par la duree du firmament. Qu'est-
ce done de Celui qui ne compte par rien, et pour qui toutes
ces durees relatives sont un jour qui n'a pas encore com-
mence ? '

The ' truth ' of the Almighty is an expression

a rule, Sanskrit stheya, a judge, all from sthd, to stand, the radical
idea being the fixedness of legal decisions. So the Hebrew shophet,
a judge, Punic suffes, is traced to a root meaning to set up, to

1 In Johnson's ' Persian Dictionary ' the word ddr is said to be
a name of God, as well as meaning a tree.


frequently used in Holy Scripture to denote the
constant, stable, and unchangeable nature of His
mercy and goodness (e.g., Gen. xxiv. 27, xxxii. 10 ;
Deut. xxxii. 4). It would be fanciful, perhaps,
to see an allusion to the similitude of a tree in
other expressions, such as these, that His truth
'shall spring out of the earth' (Ps. Ixxxv. 11),
1 reacheth unto the clouds ' (Ps. lvii. 10), ' is fallen
in the street' (Isa. lix. 14). At all events, there
is no doubt that Abraham planted a tree at Beer-
sheba as an appropriate sign of the perpetual
troth 1 and covenant between himself and ' the
Everlasting God,' El-olam (Gen. xxi. 33). « The
hardiness of the tree, its long endurance, and the
perpetual greenness of its leaves, rendered it a fit
emblem of Him to whom the place was dedi-
cated.' 2 Joshua's dying act of setting up the
tables of the law as a memorial under an oak,
according to Mr Grindon, had a similar meaning.
That tree was chosen, because of its symbolic sig-
nificance of permanence and endurance, to be a

1 ' The Tree of Troth ' was an appellation given to a tree in the
garden of Sir Thomas More, at which, if Fox the niartyrologist is
to be believed, several of the Reformers underwent flagellation
under his superintendence. See Lord Campbell's ' Lives of the
Chancellors,' vol. i. It is very remarkable that in Hebrew the
same word dldh, elah, is used for an oath, a covenant confirmed by
an oath {e.g., Gen. xxvi. 28) and for the oak. Mr H. C. Barlow
observes that this tree is the natural symbol of the divine presence
and a divine covenant, and that for this reason we find frequent
instances in Germany of decrees being ratified and dated beneath
its branches, sub quercu (Essays on Symbolism, p. 89).

2 Bishop Wordsworth, Comm., in loc.


witness to the people that the ' laws of truth '
K v)l w&ZQ given to last for ever (Joshua xxiv. 26).
* y ^The Shemitic conception of truth seems to have
LP - been primitively that of straightness and steadfast-
^n ess*}) such as might be suggested by a pine or
^"palni-tree. For instance, the Hebrew emeth, truth,
£ is from dman, to be firm and unshaken, whence
also amen, truly, a word naturalised by the Church ;
tzddaq, to be just, righteous, originally to be
straight, in the Arabic to be stiff and rigid like
a lance, means also to be true ; qoshet, truth,
from qdshat, to be hard, inflexible, unwavering.
Compare these words from an ancient poem sup-
posed to have been made on Eobert Vere, Earl of
Oxford —

1 He hovyth ne lie wanyth for wynde ne Waste,
He dredeth no mystys, ne stormys, ne schowrys ;
But standyth styffe in tryeuth, stronge as a maste.' 1

The Egyptian tr, ( the shoot of a palm-tree,'
corresponds to the Coptic tar, i the shoot of a
tree,' and tor, 6 to stand upright,' ' fixed in the
ground ' (Osburn, Monumental History of Egypt,
vol. i. p. 157).

' Upright as the palm-tree ' is the comparison
that naturally occurs to Jeremiah (x. 5). In early
Christian art it was the recognised symbol, some

1 Todd, Illustrations of Gower and Chaucer (1810), p. 304, 8vo.


say, of strength, durability, and virtue ; 1 and from
a notion that the more heavily its branches were
weighted the more rapidly it increased in stature,
this tree was especially adopted as an emblem of
virtue oppressed and suffering wrongfully, but
lifted heavenwards by the very means employed to
keep it down. 2

Home Tooke's well-known heretical views as to
the nature and origin of truth have often been re-
futed. 3 Supposing that 6 truth ' is only what each
man c troweth,' he maintained that it had no objec-
tive existence per se, and that it was only relatively
to the percipient that any proposition could be pro-
nounced to be true or not true. What is true to
one man is false to another, and so the same thing
may be true and not true at the same time.
Thence he inferred that there can be no truth
apart from mankind of a necessary and immutable
nature. If it has any existence, it must be a re-
lative, not an absolute and essential, one. This
attempt to prop up bad philosophy by bad philology
was, in the fullest sense of the term, preposterous.
A thing is truth, not merely because a man troweth
it ; but on the contrary, a man troweth it when he

1 M. Tournal, in Didron's * Christian Iconography,' vol. i. p. 357.

2 An instance of the palm-tree, with the motto Crescit siibpondcrt
virtus, emblematically applied to the royal captive Charles I., will
he seen in the frontispiece to the ' Eikon Basilike,' 1649; the notion
is embodied in Vaughan's ' Silex Scintillans,' Pt. II. p. 12.

3 See his Diversions of Purley, p. 401 (4to, 1798).


believes or holds it to be truth— trowan from trow,
not trow from trowan. His conception of what
is fixed and immutable may change and fluctuate,
and still the fixed and immutable loses none of its
essential attributes. His subjective truth is uncer-
tain, variable, and often false ; the objective truth
is steadfast, consistent, and always true.

As we drive rapidly by the skirts of a wood, the
trees, according to their nearness or remoteness,
seem to our eyes to shift their relative positions,
and thread the figure of a mazy dance. The panic-
stricken tyrant believed that he saw Birnam Wood
in motion, and advancing to hem him in. The in-
experienced eyes of the man but newly gifted with
sight knew not whether in the moving objects be-
fore them they beheld menlike trees, or treelike
men. It would be a hasty conclusion, however,
to take these as the standards of correct vision,
and assume that trees may forego their rooted
fixedness and share in the weakness of human
mobility, moving hither and thither as men run to
and fro. It was only the hastiness, the passion,
the ignorance of the observers that made those im-
passible natures seem like our own. And so it is
with truths — which partake (as their name im-
ports) of the stability and steadfastness of trees.
They may seem to move and vacillate, they may
appear to change their nature and veer from their
own position ; but if they do ; the fault lies in our-


selves, the observers, we may be sure, and not
in them. Truth rests unmoved, the same in all
times and places, being the Sanskrit d/iruva, fixed,
established, certain.

That the word, however, was occasionally used
by early English writers in a sense such as Tooke
would assign to it as its primary one, and denoted
any belief whether correct or otherwise, may be
proved by many passages. In Langland's 6 Vision
concerning Piers the Plowman ' (1393) we even
meet a phrase so strange to modern ears as 6 false

When Lechery armed himself

1 He bar a bowe in hus honde, and meny brode arwes
Were fetherede with faire by-heste and many a fals treuthe.' l

So in Hampole's i Pricke of Conscience ' (ab.

1340), Antichrist says —

' Thai ly ved in fals troivthe alle
That has bene fra the worldes bygynnyng
Until the tyme of his commyng.' LI. 4228-30.

Dr Morris quotes a parallel to this from the
Harleian MS. —

< That fals Crist as I telle the
In the flum sal baptist be,
To save man sWles he salle be send,
And alle fals trowth he salle defend.'

The Three Kings, therefore, in the 6 Cursor

Mundi' (ab. 1320), were guilty of no tautology

1 Pass, audit 11. 117, 118, E.E.T.S., ed. Skeat, text C.

vice. 95

when they declared that they were come to the

new-born Saviour, prepared to

1 Honur him wit tiicthes tru. 1

In the following, from the prose treatises of

Richard Rolle de Hampole (died 1349), ' truth '

occurs where we now would use i faith.'

1 Sayne Paul sais that als lange als we ere in this "body we
ere pilgrymes fra owre Lorde. ... we go by trouthe, noghte
by syghte, that es we lyff in trouthe, noghte in bodily
felynge.' 1

Burke, in his ' Treatise on the Sublime and
Beautiful,' observes that trees generally manifest
much more of the former quality than of the latter,
being deficient in those features of delicacy and
softness which he holds as essential to the true
ideal of beauty, and remarks as conspicuous in
flowers and women. ' It is not the oak,' he says,
' the ash, or the elm, or any of the robust trees

1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryAbram Smythe PalmerLeaves from a word-hunter's note-book → online text (page 6 of 21)