Arboreal Values: Reconsidering the “plantes si sensibles, si merveilleuses, si intelligentes” of Rauch’s Harmonie hydro-végétale et météorologique

This essay examines shifting understandings of the vegetal in the first edition of Rauch’s Harmonie hydro-végétale et météorologique (1802). In this two-volume treatise which denounces the consequences of deforestation and calls for an intensive state-sponsored sylvicultural program, Rauch argued that twenty million more acres of trees were needed to redress the French climate, to arrest the calamitous meteorological phenomena that were destroying the country, and to provide food and energy for the nation. Interestingly, however, this instrumentalist discourse on the quintessential utility of trees also includes a claim that nature holds the right to be respected as a person. This article therefore places Harmonie in its cultural context; it analyzes Rauch’s different attitudes toward the plant kingdom, and ultimately considers the conceptual tensions running through this thought-provoking text.

Giulia Pacini
William & Mary