Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Structure of On Naval Timber (Matthew 1831)

[See here for all my posts on Pattrick Matthew and plagiarism claims made on his behalf or click on the label "Patrick Matthew" above.]

Front image from
The book On Naval Timber and Arboriculture; with critical notes on authors who have recently treated the subject of planting by Patrick Matthew (1831) is not one long argument, but a jumble of issues. The biggest surprise for a naive but persistent reader will be that, after the end of the main text and after the end of the appendix containing a list of long endnotes, the end is still not reached. Instead, a horizontal line occurs, like this:

And after that the text continues, as it does here, without a heading or anything explaining what is to be expected. The appendix has an appendix! Unlike the endnotes, however, it is not referred to anywhere in the main body of the book, except in the table of contents, where it is mentioned as "Accommodation of organized life to circumstances, by diverging ramifications,      p. 381." And this easily overlooked appendix of the Appendix is where Matthew laid out his theory of natural selection in a coherent way.

Those who cannot endure the very long digest of the much longer main body of the book that follows should scroll down to the next horizontal line in this post, and they will get the appendix of the Appendix detailing Matthew's theory of natural selection.

The main body of the book
The main text and the endnotes, on the other hand, only contain asides and abridged statements of his theory of natural selection that can also be overlooked quite easily as you can see if you don't skip to the next horizontal line and read on.

If the main text of the book has any common thread, then it is the importance of naval timber not natural history. Nevertheless, Matthew's evolutionary ideas pop up here and there in the book, for example, when he hands out advice on how to manage tree nurseries or plantations or when it informs his criticism of ill advice from earlier scholars on arboriculture. For readers who are particularly interested in evolutionary biology and have no special disposition towards arboriculture, wood science, ship building or navigation, however, these passages will be rubies in the rubbish, which they can easily overlook. And so they have been, it seems, by most readers.

May the following serve others as a reading guide or navigation tool through a thick old book that seems to have confused and frustrated many a reader.

Structure of the main text of On Naval Timber
The book is divided into an Introduction followed by four different Parts and an Appendix consisting of Notes A to F that have been too long to be included as footnotes in the main text. That is, the main text has footnotes, but some of these refer to one of the notes A to F in the appendix. This is why I also call them endnotes at times. Parts I to IV are subdivided in various sections or chapters that sometimes also have roman numerals, so that Part I has sections I and II and Part VI has chapters I to VII.

The table of contents gives the headings and pages of parts, sections or chapters, but those statements that are indented in the table of contents actually summarize a passage or highlight its main argument. These statements cannot be found as headings in the main text. An exception is the above mention of the line "Accommodation of organized life to circumstances, by diverging ramifications," which is not indented, but does not occur as heading of the Appendix's appendix either. Maybe the table of contents should be called analytical, but the jumble already begins in it. Nevertheless, the table of contents does sometimes contain additional information that is hard to be gleaned from the text. At other times, however, it obscures. For example, it refers to Note B as being "On heredity, nobility and entail," which is obscure, in retrospective, given that Note B starts with an apt formulation of the principle of natural selection and only thereafter drifts off into rants about the nobility and the law of entail making nobility hereditary.

The introduction seems to have been inspired by the patriotic song Rule Britannia. It's a strange melange of national chauvinism, rants against the law of entail, praise of war and the marine and how all that needs naval timber. This part is memorable only for a footnote on page 3 referring to Note B of the Appendix.

Part I.—Structure of Vessels
This is about planks (the skin) and timbers (the skeleton) of vessels. It details what wood is required for planks and timbers and how the trees should be treated, in order to yield the required wood. This part has nothing to say on natural selection. People not into naval timber will probably get lost as readers, here, unless they were attentive enough to follow the footnote in the introduction that refers to Note B in the Appendix.

Part II.—British Forest Trees used as Naval Timber
While Matthew stresses the variability among individuals within tree species, the main purpose of this part is to inform potential tree planters about the most suitable species or varieties for timber or plank production. That is, this part is not analogous to Darwin's chapters about Variation under Domestication and Variation under Nature being pre-requisite to introducing natural selection. Matthew is not following an inductive reasoning, here, that leads to natural selection as the most likely conclusion.
   After so many tree species and varieties, however, on the occasion of denying taxonomic distinctions of varieties of pines as artificial, the following remark is surprising—a ruby in the rubbish:
"We hope the above remarks will not be lost on those who have the management of the sowing, planting, and thinning of woods, and that they will always have selection in view. Although numerous varieties are derived form the seed of one tree, yet if that tree be of a good breed, the chances are greatly in favour of this progeny being also good." (Matthew 1831, 67)
Thereafter, Matthew descends into a plant pathological treatise about rot in larch trees and other issues. The common thread through all these curios being advice for tree planters, who want to yield timber or plank wood.

Part III.—Miscellaneous Matter connected with Naval Timber
This part begins with a chapter on Nurseries. The table of contents also summarises this chapter as follows:

"Nurseries,                                                                         P. 106
     Infinite variety existing in what is called species,        ib.
     Injurious effect from selecting seed of the
       inferior varieties for sowing,                                       107
     Injurious effect from kiln-drying cones,                        ib.
     A principle of selection existing in nature of the
       strongest varieties for reproduction,                            108 [...]" (Matthew 1831, x)

The chapter itself shows that Matthew's advice on nursing trees is informed by the theory of natural selection, but the chapter is not written in order to convince the reader of natural selection. He rather seems to take it as self-evident, once mentioned, and in no need of further argument.
"The consequences are now being developed of our deplorable ignorance of, or inattention to, one of the most evident traits of natural history, that vegetables as well as animals are generally liable to an almost unlimited diversification, regulated by climate, soil, nourishment, and new commixture of already formed varieties." (Matthew 1831, 106)
He then decries that tree breeders tend to select the least fit trees for reproduction and praises nature's ways.
 "The large growing being so long of coming to produce seed, that many plantations are cut down before they reach this maturity, the small growing and weakly varieties, known by early and extreme seeding, have been continually selected as reproductive stock, from the ease and convenience with which their seed could be procured; and the husks of several kinds of these invariably kiln-dried, in order that the seeds might be the more easily extracted! May we, then, wonder that our plantations are occupied by a sickly short-lived puny race, incapable of supporting existence in situations where their own kind had formerly flourished--particularly evidenced in the genus Pinus, more particularly in the species Scots fir; so much inferior to those of Nature's own rearing, where only the stronger, more hardy, soil-suited varieties can struggle forward to maturity and reproduction?" Matthew (1831, 107-108)
The rest is on how to manage nurseries so as to select seeds from the best trees. The following chapters on Planting and Pruning are purely practical advice. Likewise, the Observations on Timber and Concerning our Marine have nothing to say in respect of natural selection. The latter, in fact, trumpets the Rule Britannia theme again.

Part IV.—Notices of Authors who treat of Arboriculture
This is the longest part of the book, which also gained its own subtitle in: "On Naval Timber and Arboriculture; with critical notes on authors who have recently treated the subject of planting." In it Matthew reviews the treatises of earlier scholars on arboriculture. The works reviewed thus are:

" I.—Forester's Guide, by Mr Monteath, p. 140
 II.—Nicol's Planter's Calendar, 163
III.—Billington on Planting, 181
IV.—Forsyth on Fruit and Forest Trees, 192
  V.—Mr Withers, 198
 VI.—Steuart's Planter's Guide and Sir Walter Scott's Critique, 226
VII.—Cruickshank's Practical Planter, 309" (Matthew 1831, xi-xv)

While some of Matthew's criticism or praise of the advice of these various authors is informed by his theory of natural selection, these passages remain rubies hidden in a very big heap of rubbish indeed. According to my perusal of some of these authors, they did not have think that natural selection could transform species, but selection was a household term in their trade of tree breeding as much as it was among other breeders. Also, natural selection was an old idea being generally regarded, however, to keep the species fixed. It was therefore not a big leap for Matthew to formulate a contrarian theory that natural selection could, contrary to the orthodoxy of the time, transform species.

In his criticism of Steuart's Planter's Guide, for example, Matthew seems to have had a particular prejudice against Sir Henry Steuart being an aristocrat. Ad hominem attacks can be found at pages 283 and 293-294. Thereafter, Matthew criticises a long quote found in Steuart and reprinted by Matthew (1831, 295-298). Though Matthew only mentions the works of the original author of this quote, not his name, only John Claudius Loudon can have been the author of the works cited, when you search for them. An easier way to find this out is to consult the table of contents, which I did too late, for it does give Loudon's name. In criticising Loudon's quote, Taken out of its proper context, it is easy to criticise this quote from Loudon. In doing so, Matthew works himself up to another ruby:
"The use of the infinite seedling varieties in the families of plants, even in those in a state of nature, differing in luxuriance of growth and local adaptation, seems to be to give one individual (the strongest best circumstance-suited) superiority over others of its kind around, that it may, by overtopping and smothering them, procure room for full extension, and thus afford, at the same time, a continual selection of the strongest, best circumstance-suited, for reproduction. Man's interference, by preventing this natural process of selection among plants, independent of the wider range of circumstances to which he introduces them, has increased the difference in varieties, particularly in the more domesticated kinds; and even in man himself, the greater uniformity, and more general vigour among savage tribes, is referrible to nearly similar selecting law—the weaker individual sinking under the ill treatment of the stronger, or under the common hardship." (Matthew 1831, p. 307-308, my underlining)
This passage is noteworthy, because the sentence containing the phrase natural process of selection is often quoted out of context, that is, without mentioning that this ruby was hidden in a heap of academic spat – or proxy spat where Matthew attacks an author, but would not have done so if it wasn't for Steuart quoting him. 

The paragraph following the above given quote ends the review of Steuart as follows: 
"As our author's premises thus appear neither self-evident nor supported by facts, it might seem unfair, at least it would be superfluous, to proceed to the consideration of his conclusions and corollaries." (Matthew 1831, 308)
But did he slander Steuart or Loudon that way?

Appendix meaning the Endnotes
Note A (p. 363-364) trumpets the Rule Britannia theme again. Note B (Matthew 1831, 364-369) starts with the idea of natural selection, but Matthew quickly drifts from his insight about natural selection into a rant against the law of entail and then meanders on between rants against primogenitur and feudalism, praise of war as an agent of selection in humans, claims for political renovation and other issues. It mainly is a polemic pamphlet for a cause I do not know—probably a working or middle class cause. Here, it becomes clear that these biological, technical, cultural and political issues were all one for Matthew, but it had to appear as an utterly confused piece of writing for any reader who had enjoyed Darwin's inductive step by step explanation before. The first half of the first paragraph suffices to give you a taste of this fare:

"There is a law universal in nature, tending to render every reproductive being the best possibly suited to its condition that its kind, or that organized matter, is susceptible of, which appears intended to model the physical and mental or instinctive powers, to their highest perfection, and to continue them so. This law sustains the lion in his strength, the hare in her swiftness, and the fox in his wiles. As Nature, in all her modifications of life, has a power of increase far beyond what is needed to supply the place of what falls by Time's decay, those individuals who posses not the requisite strength, swiftness, hardihood, or cunning, fall prematurely without reproducingeither a prey to their natural devourers, or sinking under disease, generally induced by want of nourishment, their place being occupied by the more perfect of their own kind, who are pressing on the means of subsistence. The law of entail, necessary to hereditary nobility, is an outrage on this law of nature which she will not pass unavenged—a law which has the most debasing influence upon the energies of a people, and will sooner or later lead to general subversion, more especially when the executive of a country remains for a considerable time efficient, and no effort is needed on the part of the nobility to protect their own, or not war to draw forth or preserve their powers by exertion. [...]" Matthew (1831, 364-365)
Note C (pp. 369-375) is racial nonsense about the Scandinavian rover [sic], Caucasian, Jew, Kelt etc. After having denied the existence of clear gaps in morphology between pine varieties, Matthew seems to have no problem seeing them in humans. He does however speculate about changes in races due to migration, competition etc.

[update: 6 Jan 2015]
 "Notwithstanding that change of place, simply, may have impression to improve the species, yet it is more to circumstances connected with this change, to which the chief part of the improvement must be referred. In the agitation which accompanies emigration, the ablest in mind and body—the most powerful varieties of the race will be thrown into their natural position as leaders, impressing the stamp of their character on the people at large, and constituting the more reproductive part; while the feebler or more improvident varieties will generally sink under the incidental hardships." Matthew (1831, p. 373)
[end of update]

Note D (p. 376) is a short note on psychological dispositions.

Note E (pp. 376-377) deplores the law that vessels have to pay charges for lights and harbour according to their length and breadth rather than tonnage leading to deep and broad ships, built in order to save money, that are sluggish sailers in turn.

Note F (pp. 378-381) is on the mud deposition or alluvium on the east coast of Britain and geological observations.

The appendix to the Appendix
Next up is a horizontal line similar to the one below. Lo and behold, thereafter comes an appendix to the above list of endnotes that received no heading or lettering. It has nowhere been referred to in the main text, apart from the table of contents, yet it contains the theory of natural selection of Partick Matthew in a coherent way. Some online transcripts drop this horizontal line, making it seem as though this appendix to the appendix was in fact part of Note F (e.g., here). It has nothing to do with Note F, however, which is about the deposition of mud in what Matthew calls the German Sea (North Sea). These pages forming the appendix to the Appendix (381-388) are here given in full, because it is, where Matthew has hidden his theory of natural selection.

"Throughout this volume, we have felt considerable inconvenience, from the adopted dogmatical classification of plants, and have all along been floundering between species and variety, which certainly under culture soften into each other. A particular conformity, each after its own kind, when in a state of nature, termed species, no doubt exists to a considerable degree. This conformity has existed during the last forty centuries. Geologists discover a like particular conformityfossil speciesthrough the deep deposition of each great epoch, but they also discover an almost complete difference to exist between the species or stamp of life, of one epoch from that of every other. We are therefore led to admit, either of a repeated miraculous creation; or of a power of change, under a change of circumstances, to belong to living organized matter, or rather to the congeries of inferior life, which appears to form superior. The derangements and changes in organized existence, induced by a change of circumstance from the interference of man, affording us [page break 381/382] proof of the plastic quality of superior life, and the likelihood that circumstances have been very different in the different epochs, though steady in each, tend strongly to heighten the probability of the latter theory. 
   When we view the immense calcareous and bituminous formations, principally from the waters and atmosphere, and consider the oxidations and depositions which have taken place, either gradually, or during some of the great convulsions, it appears at least probable, that the liquid elements containing life have varied considerably at different times in composition and in weight; that our atmosphere has contained a much greater proportion of carbonic acid or oxygen; and our waters, aided by excess of carbonic acid, and greater heat resulting from greater density of atmosphere, have contained a greater quantity of lime and other mineral solutions. Is the inference then unphilosophic, that living things which are proved to have a circumstance-suiting powera very slight change of circumstance by culture inducing a corresponding change of charactermay have gradually accommodated themselves to the variations of the elements containing them, and, without new creation, have presented the diverging changeable phenomena of past and present organized existence. 
   The destructive liquid currents, before which the hardest mountains have been swept and comminuted into gravel, sand, and mud, which intervened between and divided these epochs, probably extending over the whole surface of the globe, and destroying nearly all living [page break 382/383] things, must have reduced existence so much, that an unoccupied field would be formed for new diverging ramifications of life, which, from the connected sexual system of vegetables, and the natural instincts of animals to herd and combine with their own kind, would fall into specific groups, these remnants, in the course of time, moulding and accommodating their being anew to the change of circumstances, and to every possible means of subsistence, and the millions of ages of regularity which appear to have followed between the epochs, probably after this accommodation was completed, affording fossil deposit of regular specific character. 
   There are only two probable ways of changethe above, and the still wider deviation from present occurrence,of indestructible or molecular life (which seems to resolve itself into powers of attraction and repulsion under mathematical figure and regulation, bearing a slight systematic similitude to the great aggregations of matter), gradually uniting and developing itself into new circumstance-suited living aggregates, without the presence of any mould or germ of former aggregates, but this scarcely differs from new creation, only it forms a portion of a continued scheme or system. 
   In endeavouring to trace, in the former way, the principle of these changes of fashion which have taken place in the domiciles of life, the following questions occur: Do they arise from admixture of species nearly allied producing intermediate species? Are they the diverging ramifications of the living principle under modification of [page break 383/384] circumstance? Or have they resulted from the combined agency of both? Is there only one living principle? Does organized existence, and perhaps all material existence, consist of one Proteus principle of life capable of gradual circumstance-suited modifications and aggregations, without bound under the solvent or motion-giving principle, heat or light? There is more beauty and unity of design in this continual balancing of life to circumstance, and greater conformity to those dispositions of nature which are manifest to us, than in total destruction and new creation. It is improbable that much of this diversification is owing to commixture of species nearly allied, all change by this appears very limited, and confined within the bounds of what is called Species; the progeny of the same parents, under great difference of circumstance, might, in several generations, even become distinct species, incapable of co-reproduction. 
   The self-regulating adaptive disposition of organized life may, in part, be traced to the extreme fecundity of Nature, who, as before stated, has, in all the varieties of her offspring, a prolific power much beyond (in many cases a thousandfold) what is necessary to fill up the vacancies caused by senile decay. As the field of existence is limited and pre-occupied, it is only the hardier, more robust, better suited to circumstance individuals, who are able to struggle forward to maturity, these inhabiting only the situations to which they have superior adaptation and greater power of occupancy than any other kind; the weaker, less circumstance-suited, being prema- [page break 384/385] truely destroyed. This principle is in constant action, it regulates the colour, the figure, the capacities, and instincts; those individuals of each species, whose colour and covering are best suited to concealment or protection from enemies, or defence from vicissitude and inclemencies of climate, whose figure is best accommodated to health, strength, defence, and support; whose capacities and instincts can best regulate the physical energies to self-advantage according to circumstancesin such immense waste of primary and youthful life, those only come forward to maturity from the strict ordeal by which Nature tests their adaptation to her standard of perfection and fitness to continue their kind by reproduction. 
   From the unremitting operation of this law acting in concert with the tendency which the progeny have to take the more particular qualities of the parents, together with the connected sexual system in vegetables, and instinctive limitation to its own kind in animals, a considerable uniformity of figure, colour, and character, is induced, constituting species; the breed gradually acquiring the very best possible adaptation of these to its condition which it is susceptible of, and when alteration of circumstance occurs, thus changing in character to suit these as far as its nature is susceptible of change. 
   This circumstance-adaptive law, operating upon the slight but continued natural disposition to sport in the progeny (seedling variety), does not preclude the supposed influence which volition or sensation may have over the configuration of the body. To examine into the disposi- [page break 385/386] tion to sport in the progeny, even when there is only one parent, as in many vegetables, and to investigate how much variation is modified by the mind or nervous sensation of the parents, or of the living thing itself during its progress to maturity; how far it depends upon external circumstance, and how far on the will, irritability and muscular exertion, is open to examination and experiment. In the first place, we ought to investigate its dependency upon the preceding links of the particular chain of life, variety being often merely types or approximations of former parentage; thence the variation of the family, as well as of the individual, must be embraced by our experiments. 
   This continuation of family type, not broken by casual particular aberration, is mental as well as corporeal, and is exemplified in many of the dispositions or instincts of particular races of men. These innate or continuous ideas or habits, seem proportionally greater in the insect tribes, those especially of shorter revolution; and forming an abiding memory, may resolve much of the enigma of instinct, and the foreknowledge which these tribes have of what is necessary to completing their round of life, reducing this to knowledge, or impressions, and habits, acquired by a long experience. This greater continuity of existence, or rather continuity of perceptions and impressions, in insects, is highly probable; it is even difficult in some to ascertain the particular stops when each individuality commences, under the different phases of egg, larva, pupa, or if much con- [page break 386/387] sciousness of individuality exists. The continuation of reproduction for several generations by the females alone in some of these tribes, tends to the probability of the greater continuity of existence, and the subdivisions of life by cuttings, at any rate must stagger the advocate of individuality. 
   Among the millions of specific varieties of living things which occupy the humid portion of the surface of our planet, as far back as can be traced, there does not appear, with the exception of man, to have been any particular engrossing race, but a pretty fair balance of powers of occupancy,or rather, most wonderful variation of circumstance parallel to the nature of every species, as if circumstance and species had grown up together. There are indeed several races which have threatened ascendency in some particular regions, but it is man alone from whom any general imminent danger to the existence of his brethren is to be dreaded. 
   As far back as history reaches, man had already had considerable influence, and had made encroachments upon his fellow denizens, probably occasioning the destruction of many species, and the production and continuation of a number of varieties or even species, which he found more suited to supply his wants, but which, from the infirmity of their conditionnot haying undergone selection by the law of nature, of which we have spoken, cannot maintain their ground without his culture and protection. It is, however, only in the present age that man has [page break 387/388] begun to reap the fruits of bis tedious education, and has proven how much "knowledge is power." He has now acquired a dominion over the material world, and a consequent power of increase, so as to render it probable that the whole surface of the earth may soon be overrun by this engrossing anomaly, to the annihilation of every wonderful and beautiful variety of animated existence, which does not administer to bis wants principally as laboratories of preparation to befit cruder elemental matter for assimilation by bis organs." (Matthew 1831, p. 381-388)

Thereafter, the text goes on, without a horizontal line, but after an empty line with an erratum attached. After the end of this erratum another horizontal line occurs.

What follows this line is a commentary on political and botanical changes having occurred since this volume went into press about two pages long. Finally, the word occurs:


Not yet! Another horizontal line and another list of errata follow. But then it's only blank pages.