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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/68

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58
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

and twenty and three hundred and thirty as it had between ninety and one hundred.

This reduces the computation of the age of an oak to little more than guess-work. The Cowthorpe oak, the largest existing in England, reached at one time seventy-eight feet in circumference. Damory's oak, in Dorsetshire, was only ten feet less when it was so decayed that it was cut up and sold for fire-wood in 1755; and the Boddington oak, in the vale of Gloucester, was fifty-four feet at the base when it was burned down in 1790. It is needless to mention other English oaks which are also claimants to a remote antiquity; but it is obvious, from the very variable rate of the growth of oaks, that size establishes no indisputable title, and that the Cowthorpe oak need not therefore be the oldest English oak because it is the largest recorded. From Loudon's statistics of oaks are extracted the following notices of trees, according to their age and girth:

Years. Feet of
circumference
Years. Feet of
circumference
40 8 200 71/2
83 12 200 25
100 12 201 21
100 18 220 20
100 21 250 191/2
120 14 300 33
180 15 330 27

This table not only shows the great variability of growth, but, if we take the three specimens of one hundred years old, gives us the high average of seventeen feet as that of only the first century. Taking, then, as usual, the third as the average growth, we should require rather more than eight centuries for an oak of fifty feet, which reduces to a very small number the oaks in England that can claim a thousand years.

When, therefore, Gilpin, in his "Forest Scenery," speaks of nine hundred years as of no great age for an oak, it must be said that very few oaks can be named which by measurement would sustain their title to that age. Tradition, which is always sentimental, leans naturally to the side of exaggerated longevity. William of Wainfleet gave directions for Magdalen College, Oxford, to be built near the great oak which fell suddenly in the year 1788, and out of which the president's chair was made, in memory of the tree. Gilpin assumes that for the tree to have been called great it must have been five hundred years old, and, therefore, perhaps standing in the time of King Alfred. But it is clear that it need not have been a century old to have fairly earned the title of great, and that, therefore, a period of six centuries may have covered its whole term of existence.

We are certainly apt to underrate the possible rate of growth where a tree meets with altogether favorable conditions. The silver fir was only introduced into England in the seventeenth century by