Monday, 18 August 2014

Part 2: Bombshell discoverer hoist with his own petard

[See here for all my 13 or so posts on Pattrick Matthew and plagiarism claims made on his behalf.]

Petards were used to blow up gates. A misfiring petard hoist the petardier instead.    
Mike Sutton claims to have found seven citations of Matthew (1831. On Naval Timber and Arboriculture) from before 1858, when Darwin and Wallace published their papers on natural selection jointly, and that these citations prove that Darwin and Wallace knew of Matthew's idea of natural selection and plagiarised it.

Three of these seven citations were from scholars he regarded as belonging to the inner social circle of Darwin and Wallace. In the previous post I have shown, however, that only one of these three actually referred to Matthew's idea of species transformation through natural selection. The other merely cited practical stuff about the effects of pruning or rich soil on timber quality, except one place where Selby discussed the effect of competition between species on their natural locations.

What about the other four citations? As it turns out, none of them actually referred to the idea of natural selection either. They instead referred to Matthew on pruning, planting hedge-rows or the effect of rich soil on timber quality

Murphy, Edmund (1834) "The Irish Farmer's and Gardener's Magazine. Vol. 1" William Curry jun. and Co., London.
Although Matthew (1831) has been quite critical of pruning, Murphy mentions him as recommending it and highlights Ballard as condemning the practice completely.While an argument could be made that Murphy is as unfair to Matthew, here, as Matthew has been to the authors that he had criticised previously, the citation suggsted nothing about natural selection or species transformation.
"Even amongst those whose treatment of timber trees appears to have been the most judicious, including, of course, persons of high scientific acquirements, a certain application of the pruning knife has ever been deemed of advantage, and has been recommended in every treatise on the management of timber from Evelyn's "Discourse of Forest Trees," to Matthew's Book on "Naval Timber and Arboriculture." It remained to Mr. Ballard to broach the principle that "it is utterly impossible by pruning to increase the quantity or improve the quality, er even (page 57) the shape of any tree."" (Murphy 1834, p. 200-201)
Johnson, Cuthbert W. (1842) "Plantation." The Farmer's Magazine, vol. 5 (January to June), pp. 364-368 
After advice on collecting, preparing and planting the seeds of trees with references to many other works, Johnson ends this section with a string of references for further reading:
"See also on the introduction of certain new forest trees in Scotland (Trans. High. Soc. vol. v. p. 121); "Reports relative to Plantations" (Ibid. p. 155); by Mr. Thomson (Ibid. vol. vi. p. 287); "On Economy in Planting;" "On the Larch Plantation of the Dunkreld and Athol Estates" (Ibid. vol. iii. p. 165); "On preparing large Trees intended to be transplanted," by Mr. Macnab (Ibid. p. 283); "On pruning Forest-trees," by Mr. Cree (Ibid. vol. iii. p. 59 and 447, and by Mr. Matthew, p. 300)" (Johnson 1842, p. 368)
Now, while this might be a reference to Matthew (1831, p. 300), a passage that is in fact on pruning, it might also refer to an article by Mr. Matthew in volume 3 of the Transactions of the Highland Society of Scotland. Even though Johnson probably had meant Matthew's book on naval timber, a reader might have misinterpreted this citation and searched in vain elsewhere. And even those readers that did get from this citation to Matthew's book have not thereby read, received, or transported Matthew's idea of natural selection and species transformation from elsewhere in the book.

Stephens, Henry (1851) "The Book of the Farm." William Blackwood  and Sons, Edinburgh, p. 569
In a chapter On the Planting and Rearing of Thorn-Hedges he wrote:
"Hedgerow trees are strongly recommended, by all the old writers on agriculture, as being best means of growing timber for the navy, and giving shelter to fields; and even a recent writer on timber seems to favour the plan of planting the oak in hedgerow, as if that tree could not be sufficiently gnarled for naval purposes, and rendered thick in the bark for tan, in other exposed situations where they could do no injury, rather than in thorn-hedges.†          
†Matthew On Naval Timber, p. 359" (Stephens (1851, p. 569)
However, page 359 in Matthew (1831) is the last page of his critiques of other scholars' works. It's a rather bleak conclusion about the state of the art of arboriculture ending:
"As a friend, we have stood on no ceremony with our brother arboriculturists.We have laid ourselves open to their criticism, and we hope they will shew as little ceremony with us." (Matthew 1831, 359)

Jameson, William (1853) Contributions to a history of the relation between climate and vegetation in various parts of the globe. 14.—On the physical aspects of the Punjab—its agriculture and botany. Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society of London 8:273-314.
"Matthew, in his treatise on naval timber, states that the Pinus sylvestris, if grown on good or rich soil, attains rapidly large dimensions and its best timber properties." (Jameson 1853, p. 307)
Of seven citations of Matthew (1831) from before 1858 only one actually referred to his combining the old idea of species transformation with the even older one of natural selection (Loudon 1832, see previous post). The other six only referred to practical matters (two even screw that by referring to wrong pages or wrong works), except for Selby (1842, 391), who misunderstood and rejected Matthew's idea about the effect of competition between species on the natural location of trees. 

Sutton interprets this as evidence that Darwin and Wallace probably knew Matthew (1831) in general and his idea of natural selection in particular.

That is, however, not the only possible interpretation of this evidence. If only one of seven scholars actually referred to Matthew's idea that natural selection could transform species, this may as well be taken as evidence of the obscure writing style of Patrick Matthew and the complex structure of his book. Historians may mute their Whig-alarm, here, I know. For a digest of the Structure of "on Naval Timber" see here.

P.S.: I do not say that Sutton's conclusion is necessarily false, only that the evidence he produced is not cogent and leaves room for interpretation.