Sigourney’s Definition of Home and Value of Nature

Sigourney’s initial definition of home is that of the harbinger “of extinction to the most sacred and solemn groves”, implying that wherever home is one can find environmental destruction linking the two inextricably (Sigourney, 119). However, this definition is by no means absolute.  She goes on to say that some clear cutting where “the bread for his household must grow, is of course a work of necessity” (120). She speaks of the need for balance between necessity and over-zealousness ultimately suggesting the philosophy that it is necessary to harvest the resources but home cannot truly exist without the presence of natural life to adorn and shade the landscape. This is evidenced by the passage “He builds a stately mansion but it stands unblessed by trees…now the burning noon maketh his spirit faint” (118). Had the farmer not cut down all of the ancient trees on his homestead he could enjoy the blessings they provide, such as shade.  Even though he has built himself a mansion it seems that Sigourney is implying that his mansion is of little value (is not much of a home) without the “pious care” of the vegetation that has been removed (119). This idea that a home must be amidst a preserved natural presence is supported by her positive descriptions of urban areas that incorporate natural features as sublime landmarks. She is quite vocal about the degradation caused by frontier development in the wholesale cutting of trees yet she fails to mention all of the old-growth forests that would have been cut down to make room for the settlements she speaks so fondly of. A relevant passage is that in which she discusses Rochester. The passage reads “Rochester is a pleasant city of rapid growth and extensive resources…The Falls of the Genesee River are here well worth visiting…in a volume of much grace and majesty” (124). Here her outspoken conservationism (discussed momentarily) takes a backseat to her marveling at the falls. She even briefly mentions the environmental degradation caused by this city in mentioning its “rapid growth” and “extensive resources” which were likely harvested like gangbusters yet conspicuously glosses over it (124). In light of the latter consideration, it would be a reasonable assertion that Sigourney’s definition of home is an place which preserves at least some of the natural beauty that existed prior to settlement that can be enjoyed in the sublime by future generations.

Sigourney clearly adopts a conservationist perspective for three reasons: her belief that natural sublimity exists as a demonstration of God’s glory, a belief in practical conservationism, and a belief in the intrinsic value of nature. The first perspective is apparent in the passage “It seems almost a wickedness, wantonly to smite down a vigorous, healthful tree. It was of God’s planting, in its veins are circulating the life which He has given. Its green and mighty arch is full of his beauty and power” (120).  Here Sigourney  takes  a moralistic stance on the environmental destruction, almost (but distinctly not) making the connection that natural destruction is a sin against God Almighty who hath planted these trees as a reminder and monument to His eternal glory. Regardless, through stating that these trees are of God and are a manifestation of his glory, Sigourney is making a clear point as to their value and suggesting a duty to protect them on spiritual grounds. The most persuasive of her arguments is that of the practical conservationist as apparent in the passage “Immense numbers must be needed for the wants of our increasing country; and no blame should be uttered, except for their careless and wanton destruction” (121). Here she suggests the need for preservation to meet the needs of the future populace which will be far more numerous. She specifies the need to stop “careless and wanton destruction”, emphasizing the vitality of considering necessity or even simply a brief moment of consideration prior to cutting down every tree that is deemed “in the way” (121). The third motivation is that of intrinsic value–nature as valued in and of itself. This is suggested in the passage ”
No one nurtured in New England, amid the veneration of fine trees, can traverse the more recently settled regions of New York…without bemoaning the recklessness with which the ancient glory of the forest is sacrificed” (119). Her employment of such words as “veneration” and “ancient glory”  independent of any references to divine glory or veneration obviously signifies that the trees are to be venerated for themselves and inherently possess an “ancient glory” by virtue of their own magnificence. Correspondingly, such awesomely venerable organisms need to be preserved as their destruction is an ill that “time can ne’er restore” (119).

Sigourney, L.H. Scenes in My Native Land. Ch./Art: Excerpts p. 117-132. pub. James Munroe and Company 1845

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by al002 on October 6, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    L.H. Sigourney’s definition of home is a direct connection to the value of nature. I agree with you that her definition is not absolute because she does go on and give examples of exceptions to the rule if you will. A person should not clear all trees just for the sake of it because although they may receive a resource such as timber and gain land for agriculture purposes. Sigourney enlightens her audience that this view of clearing land is a narrow-minded approach. As you mention that “Had the farmer not cut down all of the ancient trees on his homestead he could enjoy the blessings they provide, such as shade. Even though he has built himself a mansion it seems that Sigourney is implying that his mansion is of little value.” I think this is the main point that Sigourney wishes her audience to understand. Nature as a commodity is more valuable when used sparingly because it creates a renewable resource that can be used outside the normal uses such as trees for timber.

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