“Trees, en masse, are like humanity en masse”

Lavinia Goodell, June 1861

During the Civil War years, when Lavinia Goodell assisted her father in publishing his anti-slavery newspaper, the Principia, she wrote a large number of pieces for the paper. (Some of them are featured here, here, and here.)  None of Lavinia’s contributions bear her full name, and many are signed only “L” or “L.G.” The anonymity allowed Lavinia to assume the identity of a man or an older woman, depending on the subject of the piece. In letters to her sister, Lavinia said she enjoyed the fact that no one would know she was the author. The lack of attribution also allowed Lavinia to try out various literary forms, including poetry, short stories, and inspirational pieces.

The June 1, 1861 issue of the Principia featured a Lavinia piece titled “Analogies,” a light-hearted article that compared people to trees.

June 1, 1861 Principia

Lavinia wrote:

Individual trees have their counterparts in individual human beings. Have we not all thus traced the likenesses of friends and acquaintances? Oftentimes a beautiful, not unfrequently and amusing resemblance, is suggested.

Young pine trees reminded her of “a joyous maiden,” while the graceful young aspen was more like her gentleman readers. “Puny, slender trees along our city walks” suggested “similarly situated and similarly developed young men, with moustaches, scented cambric handkerchiefs, very small white hands, and soft voices, and who are seen usually in drawing rooms, by gas-light.”

Chestnuts brought to mind stern, sturdy old souls such as “some good natured, genial, jolly old ‘Uncle John’ who loves to play ‘I spy’ with rosy cheeked boys and girls, and impersonate Santa Claus at Christmas.”

Fruit trees represented the hopes, dreams and aspirations of youth, which might ripen into the fruit of a noble and beautiful life. And the massive old oak “stands up a grand, well defined, living reality” and “seems the type of a grand, noble soul, grown strong in battling evil, in contending for truth and right.”

Lavinia concluded her essay:

Trees, en masse, are like humanity en masse. They develop similarly — the masses growing up, just as it happens, with a wild, careless freedom; the few carefully nourished and cultivated. The latter more symmetrical, individually more beautiful and harmonious; the former producing many of imperfect development, and many, too, of a strength, a grandeur, a higher beauty than the latter. The laws by which they are governed are similar. A sterile soil may stunt, adverse winds may bend, an uncongenial clime may blight, but in the dwarfed or crooked tree, and in the ignorant or embittered soul, we may discern the germ of what “might have been” — the ideal.

The entire piece may be found here.

Sources consulted: “Analogies,” by Lavinia Goodell, published in the Principia, June 1, 1861.

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