Monday, 8 January 2018

Why Robert Chambers never reviewed Patrick Matthew's book On Naval Timber and Arboriculture (1831)

Mike Sutton (2014, Nullius in verba. Darwin's greatest secret, ThinkerMedia; 2015, On knowledge contamination, FAG 12: 167-205) claims that Robert Chambers read Patrick Matthew's book On Naval Timber and Arboriculture from A to Z and that, therefore, Robert Chambers later transmitted Matthew's ideas on species transmutation and natural selection to Charles Darwin (and Alfred Wallace) somehow. The article on which this claim hinges is a piece called On the Training of Plank Timber in the Chambers's Edinburgh Journal (vol. 1, no. 8: p. 63, 24 March 1832). Follow the link to an online repository and see the piece in question at the upper right corner of that page. As you can see for yourself, it amounts to nothing more than a recipe for pruning trees. What's more, the piece is not an original writing of the Chambers brothers but a copy-paste job done by them with some minimal changes in wording probably for escaping charges of plagiarism.

The sources
Most of the piece is identical with an earlier article by Patrick Matthew (28 July 1831. On Pruning. Quarterly Journal of Agriculture 3(no. 14): 300-308).* This article by Patrick Matthew contains a section called Directions for Training Plank Timber. It starts at page 303, ends at page 307, and Matthew introduces it by saying: "I find I cannot better illustrate the uses of the lower branches, and my views of pruning in general, than by quoting a few passages from my work on "Naval Timber and Arboriculture," published a few months previously to Mr. Gavin Cree's article." (see p. 303 within the article On Pruning). The original sections in Matthew's book On Naval Timber and Arboriculture can be found at pp. 8-14 and 300-302. (The table at the end of this post gives a sentence by sentence comparison of the articles in the Quarterly Journal of Agriculture and the Chambers's Edinburgh Journal.)

* [Hat-tip to Julian Derry for pointing out the identity between the Quart. J. Agric. and Chambers's Edinburgh J. Unfortunately, he has never found the time to put this interesting evidence online.]

Furthermore, none of the other pieces at page 63 of the Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, vol. 1(8), is original. For example, the first two (of three) columns are excerpts from a longer article on fox hunting first published by Nimrod (1832, Remarks on the condition of hunters, the choice of horses, and their management; in a series of familiar letters The Quarterly Review 47: 216-243). The Chambers's copy-paste job starts at page 222 of that article with "Melton Mowbray generally contains from two to three hundred ..." becoming "Melton Mowbray, a small town in Lestercershire, generally contains from two to three hundred ..." The remaining two short pieces On Preserving Corn in Sheaves and On Thickening Hedges are both taken from The Agricultural Journal.

The piece On the Training of Plank Timber is signed: ".—Matthew on Naval Timber," so that it might even have been collated by Patrick Matthew himself from his own book. In fact, the whole Chambers's Edinburgh Journal seems to be designed as some kind of readers' digest format selecting and reprinting miscellanea from all places. The paradigm for this kind of literary periodical that avoided the stap duty levied upon newspapers was set much earlier, for example, by Walter Ruddiman's Weekly Magazine appearing between 1768 and 1784. Its full title explicated the secondary nature of the contents: The Weekly Magazine, or Edinburgh Amusement, containing the essence of all magazines, reviews, newspapers, etc., published in Great Britain; also Extracts from every new Work of Merit, whether political, literary, serious or comical.

The Chambers's Edinburgh Journal differed from this earlier literary digest in that it was designed to address the lower middle class of the society and in that it contained original essays of Robert Chambers as lead articles. These original pieces remained unsigned, whereas the secondary material always ended with a reference of the original source or signature of the original author. Robert was skeptical, initially, about the merit of such a low-priced journal (William Chambers, 1872, Memoir of Robert Chambers with autobiographical reminiscences of William Chambers. New York; Scribner, Armstrong and Co., p. 209). That means that all pieces which are signed in any way were probably NOT by Robert Chambers. What's more, Robert Chambers role for the journal remained that of a mere contributor until the number 14, at which point he joined his brother as co-editor:
"Until the fourteenth number of the work, Robert was only in the position of a contributor." William Chambers (1872, Memoir of Robert Chambers with autobiographical reminiscences of William Chambers. New York: Scribner, Armstrong, and Co., p. 214)
The 14th number, however, was that from Saturday, 5 May 1832, whereas the recipe for pruning occurred in number 8 of Saturday, 24 March 1832. Further down, William Chambers specified Robert's role as contributor of content to the journal (ht to Julian Derry):
 "The permanent hold on the public mind which the "Journal" fortunately obtained, was undoubtedly owing, in a very great degree, to the leading articles, consisting of essays, moral, familiar, and humorous, from the pen of my brother. My own more special duties were confined for the most part to papers having in view some kind of popular instruction, particularly as regards the young, whom it was attempted to stimulate in the way of mental improvement." William Chambers (1872, Memoir of Robert Chambers with autobiographical reminiscences of William Chambers. New York: Scribner, Armstrong, and Co., p. 216)
Here are Robert's own words describing his own contributions to the journal:
"It was in middle life that I was induced to become an essayist [my emphasis], for the benefit of a well-known periodical work established by my elder brother. During fifteen years I have labored in this field, alternately gay, grave, sentimental, philosophical, until not much fewer than four hundred separate papers have proceeded from my pen. These papers were written under some difficulties, particularly those of a provincial situation, and a life too studious and recluse to afford much opportunity for the observation of social characteristics. Yet perhaps these restraints have had some good effect on the other hand, in making the treatment of subjects less local and less liable to the accidents of fashion than it might otherwise have been. One ruling aim of the author must be taken into account: it was my design from the first to be the essayist of the middle class, — that in which I was born, and to which I continued to belong. I therefore do not treat their manners and habits as one looking de haut en bas, which is the usual style of essayists, but as one looking round among the firesides of my friends. For their use I shape and sharpen my apothegms; to their comprehension I modify any philosophical disquisitions on which I have entered. Everywhere I have sought less to attain elegance or observe refinement, than to avoid that last of literary sins — dullness. I have endeavored to be brief — direct; and I know I have been earnest. As to the sentiment and philosophy, I am not aware that any particular remark is called for. The only principles on which I have been guided are, as far as I am aware, these: whatever seems to be just, or true, or useful, or rational, or beautiful, I love and honor; wherever human woe can be lessened, or happiness increased, I would work to that end; wherever intelligence and virtue can be promoted, I would promote them. These dispositions will, I trust, be traced in my writings." Robert quoted in William Chambers (1872, Memoir of Robert Chambers with autobiographical reminiscences of William Chambers. New York: Scribner, Armstrong, and Co., p. 217)
This suggests that, if anybody had his hands in the redacting of Matthew's recipe for pruning, then it was probably William and not Robert. Neither William nor Robert penned it, because it was not an original contribution but a secondary copy-paste job. However, Robert probably did not redact it either, because he was not involved in the editorial chores at the time.

The Ph.D. thesis of Sondra Miley Cooney (1971. Publishers for the people: W. & R. Chambers – the early years, 1832-1850. The Ohio State Unversity, pp. 56ff) gives a very true-to-life account of what these editorial chores actually involved. They either received articles from authors who wanted to publicize their work or they simply took articles published in other journals and subjected them to a rigorous scrutiny that would today be regarded as a rather strict publishing policy verging, sometimes, on restrictive political and religious correctness. William Chambers had insisted from the first moment on being non-partisan in political and religious issues.  
"How these principles of decorum were applied is perhaps best illustrated by the alterations made in the story of "Malhatchee," originally published in the Southern Literary Messenger and taken from an unidentified intermediate source for use in the [Chambers's Edinburgh] Journal. Of the seventeen alterations in the text, four were made because references to the nobility of savages and approval of warfare were offensive to moral sentiments. Five references to savagery—including a scalping—were deleted or rephrased. Allusions to the "Evil Spirit" and two incantation scenes were omitted as evidence of superstitious practices. The word devil in the phrases "squaw devil" and "she devil" was altered to fiend to avoid improper language. And two love scenes, innocuous though they were, were cut out." (Cooney 1971, p. 61)
How this editorial policy was not de haut en bas is beyond me. Anyway, it illustrates the secondary nature of the edited pieces. Nothing was original in the Chambers's Edinburgh Journal except for Robert's lead essays. Besides copy-pasted secondary content, Cooney (1971, 56ff) also recounts many instances of authors sending their articles to the Chambers and having them rejected for various reasons varying from containing dialect over lacking originality (hear) to being too explicit in descriptions of war, crime or love. This illustration of the editorial work leaves suggests that the recipe for pruning by Matthew, with which this post started, was either submitted by Matthew himself, copy-pasted from Matthew (1831) or, as the story of Malhatchee, taken from erstwhile unidentified intermediate sources* and then redacted according to their publishing policy.

*[As we now know one of these intermediate sources could have been the Quarterly Journal of Agriculture, see above.]

The range of possible interpretations
As you can see, the evidence can be interpreted in various ways, but in none of these does a copy-paste job for a recipe for pruning amount to a review of the whole book of Patrick Matthew including the passages that are relevant to the history of evolutionary theory.

Let's first consider the possible scenario that puts the book of Matthew (1831) as close to Robert Chambers as possible. Suppose that Robert has been the one to do that copy-paste job and that he needed to take the book of Matthew (1831) into his own hands, in order to copy those passages of their recipe for pruning that were not previously published in the Quarterly Journal of Agriculture. Even in this scenario, where Robert abridged the excerpt, he never reviewed Matthew's whole book. His copy-paste job only required that he read pages 8-14 of Matthew (1831)—Matthew's passage on pruning. Why, then, conclude that he must have received Matthew's ideas on species transformation and natural selection, leave alone having transmitted them to Charles Darwin somehow?

Second, consider the scenario that puts Matthew's book as far from Robert Chambers as possible. Robert might not have had anything to do with the publication of Matthew's recipe for pruning in the Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, 24 March 1832! It is possible that William Chambers picked up the pieces from elsewhere for reprinting. As in the Malhatchee case, a yet unidentified intermediate source—some journal that had published another chunk from Matthew (1831) on pruning—might have served William for pilfering and stitching the Chambers's recipe together from the Quarterly Journal of Agriculture plus the unidentified intermediate source. In this scenario, neither Robert nor William would ever have held the book of Matthew in their hands.

Scenarios that put Matthew's book at intermediate distances to Robert Chambers are also possible. For example, William could have augmented the piece taken from the Quarterly Journal of Agriculture (QJA) by some passages taken from Matthew's book, or he stitched it together from Matthew's book all alone without recourse to the QJA (which would be a strange coincidence given the overlap with the QJA). Or, possibly, William only conducted Matthew himself in stitching the piece together and Matthew produced something quite similar to his earlier article in QJA.

Robert Chambers did not necessarily ever hold the book of Patrick Matthew On Naval Timber and Arboriculture in his own hands. He might have done so, but there is no proof for that. 

Robert Chambers's further publications supply no evidence that he was in the know of Matthew's ideas about natural selection and species transmutation or his arboricultural expertise. On the contrary, a few months later the Chambers's Edinburgh Journal (vol. 1(no. 49), pp. 313-314, 3 Nov. 1832) did feature an article headed "Popular Information on Science. Trees." That piece was not signed, hence, penned by Robert Chambers. In it, Robert exhorts the virtues of science for agriculture and deplores the lack of its application to the cultivation of trees. However, the only book he can make out that did mitigate this situation was Henry Steuart's Planter's Guide of 1828.

The parsimonious explanation of this situation would be to assume that Robert Chambers did not know of the existence of Matthew's book. Mike Sutton (2014), however, construes an tenacious story of how Robert Chambers did not like Patrick Matthew: (1.) because Matthew was a Chartist and criticized Henry Steuart; (2.) because Robert Chambers was a friend of Sir Walter Scott, who was a friend of Sir Henry Steuart in turn; and (3.) because of Robert Chambers's dislike of the idea of natural selection.
     Nevertheless, says Sutton, Robert Chambers did advertise Matthew's book to the readership of the Chambers's Edinburgh Journal by publishing that recipe for pruning, but then bethought himself to purposely neither cite him in the November article on trees nor in one of the following publications:

     1. The Chambers brothers later published a series called Chambers's Information for the People, in which a long essay on Arboriculture (1842, vol. 2, no. 76, pp. 401-416) did not mention Matthew (1831) even once.
     2. Robert Chambers published the Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation anonymously in 1844. Again, he did not even adumbrate the idea of natural selection in any form, despite the fact that this book argued for species transformation and against species fixity, but lacked a mechanism for it.

Despite all this, Sutton (2014) claims that Robert Chambers must have somehow transmitted the idea of natural selection from Patrick Matthew's book to Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace and that believing otherwise amounts to magical thinking.


The table at the bottom of this post provides a sentence-by-sentence comparison of the pieces on pruning in the Quarterly Journal of Agriculture (QJA) and the Chambers's Edinburgh Journal (CEJ) with a colour code. The black passages are (almost) identical between the piece in the QJA and the CEJ suggesting either a copy-paste job from QJA to CEJ or a direct copying from Matthew's book On Naval Timber and Arboriculture (ONTA). The blue passages are not in the QJA, so they are copied directly from ONTA, unless some not yet discovered third article published by Matthew in some not yet digitized third journal could have served the Chambers bros as a source for these passages. Either way, nothing of the piece in the Chambers's Edinburgh Journal is original and it is not a review of the book. It all just amounts to copying and pasting a recipe for pruning.

Quarterly Journal of Agriculture, 28 July 1831, Vol. 3, no. 14, pp. 300-308. Chambers‘s Edinburgh Journal, 24 March 1832, Vol. 1, no. 8, p. 63.
Legend: Added a dash before each sentence. [My comments are in square brackets.] Red passages are from Matthew’s book but only occur in the Quarterly Journal of Agriculture. Legend: Added a dash before each sentence. [My comments are in square brackets.] Blue passages are from Matthew’s book but only occur in Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal.
Title: On Pruning
Section: Directions for Training Plank Timber
On the Training if Plank Timber
- Divide all branches into leaders and feeders; leaders, the main or superior shoots which tend to become stems; feeders, the inferior branches. - Divide all branches into leaders and feeders—leaders, being the main or superior shoots which tend to become stems—feeders the inferior branches.
-Should more than one leader appear from the time of planting the tree till it attain the required height for the plank, shorten all but the straightest most promising one down to the condition of feeders, making the section immediately above a twig, preferring one which takes a lateral or horizontal direction. - Should more than one leader appear from the time of planting the tree till it attain the required height of the plank, shorten all but the most promising one down to the condition of feeders, making the section immediately above a twig, preferring one which takes a lateral or horizontal direction.
- Should any feeder below the required height become enlarged beyond its compeers, reduce it by cropping to equality.

- Cut off, close by the trunk, all shoots which rise at a very acute angle with the main stem; also lop off all branches which, by taking an irregular direction, incline to rub upon the more regular, and remove all splintered, twisted, and diseased branches *.
*(Footnote: These extracts are taken from a copy of "Naval Timber and Arboriculture," in which I had inserted several additional explanatory remarks.)
- Cut off, close by the trunk, all shoots which rise at a very acute angle with the main stem.

- These nearly perpendicular branches generally originate from improper pruning, springing out where a large branch has been cut away.
- Reserve all splintered, twisted, or diseased branches.
- Do not cut away any of the lower branches (feeders) till they become sickly or dead.
- By pruning up these prematurely, you destroy the fine balance of nature, and throw too much vigour for a time into the top, which, in consequence, puts forth a number of leaders.
- Do not cut away any of the lower, branches (feeders) till they become sickly or dead.
- By pruning these prematurely, you destroy the fine balance of nature, and throw too much vigour into the top, which, in consequence, puts forth a number of leaders.
- You, in a very great degree, lessen the proportional increase of the fundamental and foraging part the roots, much less proper sap or organized deposite matter being furnished by high branches than by those near the ground for the extension of the roots.
- You diminish the growth of the stem by the loss of healthy feeders; the timber increasing in proportion to the quantity of healthy branches and foliage, (the foliage being the stomach and lungs of the plant).
- You also, by diminishing the number of feeders, increase the comparative size of those remaining, which throws the upper part of the stem into large knots, improper for plank, and renders their future excision dangerous; as large feeders, when circumstances or decay require their removal, or when they are rifted off by winds or snow, leave wounds which often carry corruption into the core of the tree.
- The removal of healthy feeders is in all cases detrimental to the ultimate extension of the individual, especially in exposed or arid situations, where the plant, in consequence of lengthened bare stem, and deficiency of rooting, generally falls into excessive seeding, and becomes prematurely aged: this is exemplified in the case of the trees of narrow stripes of plantation, which generally die at an early period; whereas trees equally exposed, as in single rows, from their low branching, and consequent strong rooting, attain to great size and age.

- After the tree has acquired a sufficient height for plank, say from 20 to 60 feet, according to circumstance of exposure, climate, &c, and also as much branching above this height as may be thought necessary to carry on advantageously the vital functions, as the superior head will now sustain small injury by being thrown out into large branches and plurality of leaders (if it be oak, it will become more valuable by affording a number of small crooks and knees), - After the tree has acquired a sufficient height of bole for plank, say from 20 to 60 feet,
it will then be proper, in order to have timber as clean as possible, and regularly flexible, to lop clean off all the branches on the stem as far up as this required height; should these be covering the whole or a considerable portion of the stem, as will occur in the more open situations, where the lower branches have not gradually become sickly or dead, they ought to be removed by several successive prunings at intervals of at least two years, that the plant may not suffer an injurious check by losing too many branches at once. it will then be proper, in order to have timber as clean as possible, and regularly flexible, to top off all the branches on the stem as far as the required height.
- From the early attention to procure very numerous feeders, and to prevent any from attaining large size, the wounds will soon be closed over, leaving no external scar, and as little as possible of internal knot or breaking off of fibre.

- We consider the spring as the least dangerous time (for pruning). [Parenthesis added by Chambers bros.]
- Should a number of small shoots spring out in consequence of this last pruning, they may be swept down, if good plank be desired; if not, they may remain, as their presence will not greatly injure the plank, and they occasion the stem to thicken considerably faster where they grow: they constitute " the gnarled and knotted oak,"—by the way, not so strong, though more difficult to split than the clean timber.
- The oak and elm are more disposed to this sprouting out than other kinds, and some varieties or individuals of these much more so than others.
- When the disposition exists in a high degree it ought to be encouraged, which can easily be done by pricking and slightly bruising the bark, and the timber set apart for the construction of cabinet-work, the knotted warty timber affording a beautiful veneer.
- This system of pruning—encouraging numerous feeders, and one leader, while the tree is young, and of allowing or rather inducing the branches, after the tree has acquired sufficient height, to spread out into a horizontal top, is in harmony with and only humouring the natural disposition of trees, and is therefore both seemly and of easy practice.

- The perfection of naval forest economy would consist in superadding (according to instructions to be given in training of ship-timbers) a top of which every branch is a valuable bend or knee, though, in consequence of the situation, the timber will be fragile, and of light, porous texture. - The perfection of naval forest economy would consist in superadding
a top, of which every branch is a valuable bend or knee.
[The opposite sentences (blue) conclude the section of Matthew’s book (pp. 8-14), which is also headed: “Directions for Training Plank Timber” in that book. It also concludes the piece in Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal.] - In pruning and educating for plank timber, the whole art consists in training the tree as much as possible, and with as little loss of branch as possible, to one leader and numerous feeders, and to the regular cone figure which the pine tribe naturally assumes. [in italics in Matthew 1831]
- This can be best and most easily performed by timely attention, checking every over-luxuriant, overshadowing branch and wayward shoot on its first appearance; so that none of the feeders which spring forth at first may be smothered till they in turn become lowermost; and by the influence of rather close plantation, which of itself will perform in a natural manner all that we bave been teaching by art, and will perform it well.
[The following sentences (red) are from pp. 300-302 of Matthew’s book, as also indicated by Matthew at the end of that passage. That is the section, where Matthew allegedly re-quoted Loudon from Steuart and cirticised Loudon’s alleged mad pruning-up advice, when in fact Loudon had advised moderation and care in pruning.] - This closeness must, however, be very guardedly employed, and timeously prevented from proceeding too far, otherwise the complete ruin of the forest by premature decay or winds, may ensue, especially when it consists of pines.
- Of course all kinds of pines require no other attention than this (well-timed thinning), and to have their sickly moss-covered under-branches swept clean down.—Matthew on Naval Timber,
- “We admit that a tree becomes more stemmy by being repeatedly pruned up.
- We admit that, on removal of the lower branches, the upper part of the stem may have, for a few seasons, larger annual circles; but the annual circles will be diminished in thickness in a much greater proportion on the lower part of the stem.
- We admit, that the timber, from being deposited in a clean lengthened cylinder, becomes far more useful, there being less redundant matter than when scattered out into stemmy branches, to which disposition trees in open situation often incline, especially if not transplanted when small plants, but to which they are, nevertheless, much more disposed, under the common mode of pruning up at an early stage of their growth, than when left to themselves.
- We admit, that trees, by pruning, raised to lengthened stem, and thence performing less assimilation, partly compensate for this less assimilation, for some time, by making more stem deposite, in proportion to the other deposite, which extends the parts more immediately necessary to new formation—the roots and twigs; but the deficiency of productory parts soon reacts, to diminish the amount of all the new products.
- We admit, also, that pruning in the first place impedes formation of flower-buds, and will sometimes thus prevent exhaustion of trees by seeding, which is so prejudicial both to the quality and quantity of the new wood-deposite; but the consequent greater length of stem, greater exposure to evaporation, constriction of bark, diminished formation of rooting, and slenderer connecting tubes between leaf and roots, all tend subsequently to promote formation of flower-buds, although the removal of the lower branches may for a few seasons have served to prevent this.
- We therefore consider pruning, excepting in a very slight degree, to guide to one leader, and to remove the sickly, lower, moss-covered branches a few seasons earlier than they would have dropped off in the common course of decay, to be generally preventive of quantity of wood deposite, even of common marketable timber in a tree in any considerable number of years, although pruning to a greater degree is often necessary in hard wood, when fine clean timber is required,”—page 300 to 302.
- See further observations on pruning in “Naval Timber and Arboriculture.”

[An editorial comment follows directly under Matthew’s article. In it the editors of Quarterly J. Agriculture dismiss Matthew’s views and side with Cree and Pontey. They would probably have sided with Steuart and Loudon as well, had they known the original book’s criticisms.]