AUGUSTINE HENRY & HENRY JOHN ELWES
The Society of Irish Foresters 2012
7 volumes pp 3,000 fully illustrated h/b
€350/£300 ISBN 978-0-9520476-8-1
The first meeting between Henry John Elwes and Augustine Henry took place in 1901 at the Horticultural Society’s Lily Show. Elwes was chairman of the Horticultural Society and author of Monograph of the Genus Lilium while Henry, a highly respected plant collector and botanist, had been invited to lecture on Chinese lilies. Elwes was a wealthy landlord with a gregarious personality while Henry was a man of modest means with a cautious approach to life. Although opposites in background and personality, they got on well.
Augustine Henry’s (1857–1930) expeditions as a part-time plant explorer in China had yielded 25 new genera and some 500 new species by 1896 (See Irish Arts Review summer 2012, p. 110). Henry John Elwes (1846–1922) was also a plant explorer and an expert on the genus Lilium, but the swashbuckling landlord was more enthused by ornithology and big-game hunting. Elwes made a proposal that Henry found irresistible – to compile a publication on trees that would surpass Evelyn’s Sylva, Sargent’s Sylva of North America and Loudon’s Arboretum et Fruticetum in both scale and scholarship.
The cautious Henry agreed to the proposition, which required them to travel the world in search of species that either grew, or could grow, in Britain and Ireland. The plan was to publish five volumes of The Trees of Great Britain and Ireland – popularly known as The Trees – over as many years.
It has exerted a major influence on the development of forestry and the forest products industry on these islands, especially the contribution of conifers from western North America
By 1913, the masterpiece was completed. Together, they had researched, identified and catalogued 2,858 species and featured 412 photographs and illustrations. It drew huge critical acclaim at the time and is as relevant today as it was a century ago. As Matthew Jebb, Director of the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin wrote in his introduction to the 2012 facsimile edition published by the Society of Irish Foresters: ‘It stands today as a wonderful memorial to two very different, but equally inspiring men who have left us a magnificent testament to their industry and insight.’
The Trees influenced thinking on the role of exotics in parks and gardens and the role they play in our lives. It has exerted a major influence on the development of forestry and the forest products industry on these islands, especially the contribution of conifers from western North America.
With only an occasional original set of The Trees reaching the market today, the Society of Irish Foresters undertook the ambitious task of publishing a reprint edition 109 years after the original. Although book production has changed considerably since The Trees was first published, the Society has made every effort to ensure that the integrity of the original edition was maintained.
Donal Magner is author of Stopping by Woods – A Guide to the Forests and Woodlands of Ireland.