- I have written a short commentary about Patrick Matthew. This was published on 20 April March 2015 in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. The published version will be freely available at the Biol. J. Linn. Soc. website for the 6 months following the publication date, here. The peer-reviewed and pre-peer-reviewed versions of the manuscript are freely available here.
- There is a short biography of Patrick Matthew, with input from his daughter Euphemia, available in Calman, WT (1912a) “Patrick Matthew of Gourdiehill, Naturalist”, in Handbook and Guide to Dundee and District, AW Paton and AH Millar (Eds), published by the British Association for the Advancement of Science, pp.451-7. The biographical details are also repeated, with somewhat different wording, in Calman, WT (1912b) “Patrick Matthew (1790-1874)”, in Journal of Botany British and Foreign vol 50, pp.193-4. Additional insight into this review is provided by a private letter from Calman to D’Arcy Thompson.
- Much of the material for Calman’s biography comes from a longer biography by May, W (1912) “Darwin und Patrick Matthew”, Zoologische Annalen vol 4, pp.280-95. The original article is in German, but an English translation has been kindly provided by Joachim Dagg.
- More on the life and family history of Patrick Matthew can be found in the books by William Dempster and Mike Sutton and also in the writings of Matthew’s great grand-daughter Errol J. M. Jones: “Data Relative to the ManuKau-Waitemata Land Company” (Auckland Waikato Historical Journal, September 1992, No 61. pp. 27-28); “An Historical Account of Matakana History by the Granddaughter of James Matthew, Mrs Errol Jones. Gourdiehill” (written in 2000, posted on the Denmylne blog on June 15th 2012); and her book “Shadows On My Wall, The Memoirs of Errol Jones” (Plymouth (New Zealand) PublishMe. ISBN 978-0-473-1644-9). Much family information can also be found in the Matthew Saga, a two-volume family history written in German by Wulf G. Gerdts, one of Patrick Matthew’s descendants, but this account is currently unpublished. See also here.
- Samuel Butler’s book “Evolution, Old and New” (1st Edn 1879) is perhaps the first high-profile attempt to promote Matthew’s ideas, although in fact Butler places little emphasis on Matthew and much more on Buffon, Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck. Indeed, Butler sees little difference between Matthew’s ideas and Lamarck’s. However, in a review of Butler’s book, Alfred Russel Wallace (Nature, vol 20 (issue of 12 June 1879), pp.141-4) wrote that “most naturalists will be amazed at the range and accuracy of his [Matthew’s] system”, and also that the passages quoted by Butler “show how fully and clearly Mr. Matthew apprehended the theory of natural selection”, and finally that “Mr. Butler will have helped to call attention to one of the most original thinkers of the first half of the 19th century”. See also “Wallace on Matthew“.
- Grant Allen’s biography of “Charles Darwin” (1885) states that “Patrick Matthew, in the appendix to a work on ‘Naval Timber,’ had casually developed, without perceiving its importance, the actual distinctive Darwinian doctrine of natural selection” (p.18) and that “in 1831, Mr. Patrick Matthew in that singular appendix to his book on naval timber actually enunciates the same idea, applied this time to the whole of nature, in words sometimes almost identical with Darwin’s own” (p.82). Allen goes on to quote extracts from Matthew’s book relating to natural selection, and to quote Darwin’s statement that Matthew “gives precisely the same view on the origin of species as that propounded by Mr. Wallace and myself. He clearly saw the full force of the principle of natural selection”.
- Zon (1913) “Darwinism in Forestry”, Proceedings of the Society of American Foresters vol 8, pp.289-294 is another article that seeks to promote Matthew’s name as Darwin’s antecedent, perhaps motivated by the previous articles by May (1912) and Calman (1912). The author also suggests that certain aspects of forest biology, such as the clearly observable competition between trees for space and light, may explain why Matthew, a forester, was able to formulate “the law of the struggle for existence as the basis for natural selection and the origin of new species”. The article is followed by a reprint of part of Matthew’s letter to the Gardeners’ Chronicle (7 April 1860), giving extracts from On Naval Timber and Arboriculture.
- Gifford (1924) “Patrick Matthew, the Forester”, Journal of Forestry vol 22, pp.907-911 (unfortunately, currently behind a paywall), in an interesting example of history repeating itself, is another article that seeks to promote Matthew’s name as Darwin’s antecedent, and indeed specifically in the context of forestry: “The forester’s work is mainly in guiding the struggle between species, acting himself as a biologic factor in helping the most fit for man’s purpose to survive and in finding and favoring the kinds best fitted to any particular environment. It is quite fitting, therefore, that a forester, who is most familiar with all the forces, good and bad, working within the forest, should be among the first, if not the first, to explain the origin of species, natural selection, survival of the fittest, and all that goes with the great law, commonly called the theory of evolution”. A footnote states that Gifford only became aware of the very similar article by Zon (1913) after he’d already written his, but Gifford still thought it was worth printing as “it is good, however, to keep the subject alive”. The article ends with a reprint of Matthew’s End-Appendix from his 1831 book.
- Loren Eiseley’s book “Darwin’s Century: Evolution and the Men Who Discovered It” (1958) also discusses Matthew, although again this not the primary aim of his book, which devotes much more space to other pre-Darwinians. Matthew is assigned to a sub-section shared with Robert Chambers, in a chapter titled “Minor Evolutionists”, but Eiseley does acknowledge that “Patrick Matthew is the first clear and complete anticipator among the progressionists of the Darwinian theory of evolution”.
- Eiseley is more well-known for his promotion of Edward Blyth’s influence on Darwin, which he first set out in Eiseley (1959) “Charles Darwin, Edward Blyth and the theory of natural selection” (Proc. Am. Philosophical Society, Vol. 103, pp. 94-158) and then later repeated in “Darwin and the Mysterious Mr. X” (1979). While Eiseley is mostly concerned with Blyth, in both his 1959 article and his 1979 book he also considers similarities between (and possible direct influence of) Matthew’s ideas and ideas expressed by Darwin in his unpublished essay of 1844 (see also my comments on Darwin’s reference to Matthew in “Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication” (1868)). Eiseley also notes the similarity between Darwin’s term “natural selection” and Matthew’s phrase “natural process of selection”.
- Camille Limoges’ book “La selection naturelle” (1970) has a 10-page section (in French) on Patrick Matthew (“Le cas Matthew”, pp.101-10). Much of this is spent in a critique of Loren Eiseley’s 1959 paper proposing that Darwin may have been aware of Matthew’s work (see above).
- Kentwood Wells (1973) “The historical context of natural selection: the case of Patrick Matthew” (J. Hist. Biol., Vol 6, pp. 225-58) is a rare example of an article devoted entirely to Patrick Matthew. Wells has many insights into the ways that Matthew’s ideas differ from Darwin’s, but his overall conclusion is a negative one. He sees these differences as detracting from Matthew, rather than as part of a valuable alternative vision to Darwin’s.
- Ernst Mayr’s book “The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance” (1982) briefly discusses Matthew (pp.499-500), and he concludes that “Patrick Matthew undoubtedly had the right idea, just like Darwin did on September 28, 1838, but he did not devote the next twenty years to converting it into a cogent theory of evolution. As a result it had no impact whatsoever.”
- Stephen Jay Gould discusses Matthew and William C. Wells in his 1985 popular science book “The Flamingo’s Smile” (Chapter 22: Hannah West’s Left Shoulder and the Origin of Natural Selection) and also in his 2002 treatise “The Structure of Evolutionary Theory” (p.137).
- William Dempster wrote three books with Matthew as either the central theme or as a very important component: “Patrick Matthew and Natural Selection” (1983); “Evolutionary concepts in the Nineteenth Century: Natural Selection and Patrick Matthew” (1996), which is a much-expanded second edition of the first book; and “The Illustrious Hunter and the Darwins” (2005). Dempster saw Matthew as the true originator of natural selection as a mechanism for the evolutionary origin of species, and thought that Matthew’s work had been deliberately suppressed by Darwin and by other scientists. Additional insights into Dempster’s thinking are provided here and here.
- John Barker (2001) “Patrick Matthew – Forest Geneticst” (Forest History Today, Spring/Fall 2001, pp.64-5) discusses Matthew in the context of his contributions to genetic forestry. He concludes that Matthew “espoused principles that are still valid and form a central theme in the forest genetics and silviculture we practice today.”
- Peter Bowler discusses Matthew in his 2003 book “Evolution: the History of an Idea” (2nd Edn). He concludes “No one took him seriously, and he played no role in the emergence of Darwinism. Simple priority is not enough to earn a thinker a place in the history of science: one has to develop the idea and convince others of its value to make a real contribution. Darwin’s notebooks confirm that he drew no inspiration from Matthew or any of the other alleged precursors”. He repeats the same opinion in his 2013 book “Darwin Deleted: Imagining a World Without Darwin” (p.54) “Patrick Matthew may well have stated the idea of natural selection as early as 1831, but he did nothing to explore its implications or to persuade his readers that it had the potential to revolutionize biology. His contribution is worth noting, but to suggest that it provides the basis for dismissing Darwin as the true founder of the theory is to misunderstand the whole process of how a scientific revolution happens”
- Milton Wainwright discusses Matthew in a 2008 article “Natural selection: it’s not Darwin’s (or Wallace’s) theory” (Saudi J. Biol. Sci., Vol 15, pp.1-8), a 2010 article “Patrick Matthew: from natural selection to the germ theory” (Microbiologist Magazine, Dec 2010, pp.43-45), a 2011 article “Charles Darwin: mycologist and refuter of his own myth” (Fungi, Vol 4, pp.12-20) and on his blogs (2008 blog, more recent blog). He concludes that Matthew is the true originator natural selection as a mechanism for the evolutionary origin of species, and believes that Matthew’s ideas have been deliberately suppressed.
- Hugh Dower has written an interesting online article (“Darwin’s Guilty Secret“, dated 2009) in which he expands on the evidence presented by Eiseley (1959) to argue the case for Darwin having plagiarised Matthew.
- Richard Dawkins (2010) “Darwin’s five bridges: the way to natural selection” (Chapter 9 of “Seeing Further: the Story of Science, Discovery & the Genius of the Royal Society“, Ed. Bill Bryson) discusses Matthew alongside Edward Blyth, William C. Wells, Wallace and Darwin. He concludes that while Matthew correctly saw the creative potential of natural selection to drive the evolutionary origin of species, he failed to grasp the truly revolutionary implications of his idea, unlike Wallace and Darwin.
- Michael Rampino (2011) “Darwin’s error? Patrick Matthew and the catastrophic nature of the geologic record” (Hist. Biol., Vol 23, pp.227-30) discusses Matthew as a precursor to modern ideas on mass extinction events and periods of stasis in evolutionary history.
- Donald Forsdyke has prepared an educational video series (uploaded Oct 2011) that reviews the principles of evolution by natural selection, treating the subject from an historical perspective and firmly placing the writings of Patrick Matthew at its centre. It is informative and well worth perusing. Forsdyke is also the co-author of a biography of William Bateson that contains a section on Bateson’s investigations into Matthew’s work in the 1920’s (Cock AG & Forsdyke DR. 2008. Treasure Your Exceptions. The Science and Life of William Bateson. Springer, New York, p. 643).
- Mike Sutton has written extensively about Patrick Matthew via his online fora (patrickmatthew.com, earlier blogsite, blogsite since June 2015), his e-book Nullius in Verba: Darwin’s Greatest Secret (1st Edition 2014; 2nd Edition 2017), his 2014 article “The hi-tech detection of Darwin’s and Wallace’s possible science fraud: big data criminology re-writes the history of contested discovery” (Papers from the British Criminology Conference, Vol 14, pp.49-64), and his 2016 article “On knowledge contamination: new data challenges claims of Darwin’s and Wallace’s independent conceptions of Matthew’s prior-published hypothesis” (Filozoficzne Aspekty Genezy (Philosophical Aspects of Origin), Vol 12, pp.167-205). His research has uncovered several new references to Matthew’s work (see “Citations” and “Adverts” for On Naval Timber and Arboriculture, and “Miscellanea”). He believes that both Darwin and Wallace plagiarised their ideas from Matthew, and that Matthew’s ideas influenced many other scientists. My contrary views to Sutton’s arguments are here.
- Julian Derry maintains a website, Sutton Woo, dedicated to debunking the views of Mike Sutton. Derry believes that Sutton’s research is so fallible that it is best described as pseudoscience.
- The podcaster Rick Coste has produced a 20-min podcast on The Case of Patrick Matthew (dated 16 Feb 2015). The podcast reviews Matthew’s ideas on evolution and natural selection, and focuses on the exchange between Matthew and Darwin in the Gardeners’ Chronicle in 1860. It brings the story to life, and it is highly recommended as an accessible introduction to Patrick Matthew. Rick Coste’s Pre-Darwin Evolution series also has podcasts on other pre-Darwin figures such as Robert Chambers, W. C. Wells, James Hutton, Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck.
- Grzegorz Malec has conducted part of his PhD on the question of whether Darwin plagiarised Matthew. He has written an article rebutting Sutton’s claims: “There Is No Darwin’s Greatest Secret” (2016) (Filozoficzne Aspekty Genezy (Philosophical Aspects of Origin), Vol 12, pp.325-331). Sutton has written a response: “Darwin’s Greatest Secret Exposed: Response to Grzegorz Malec’s De Facto Fact Denying Review of My Book” (2016) (Filozoficzne Aspekty Genezy (Philosophical Aspects of Origin), Vol 13, pp.1-10).
- Joachim Dagg has written an excellent article: “Comparing the respective transmutation mechanisms of Patrick Matthew, Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace” (Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, Vol 123 (April 2018), pp.864-878). A free-to-view pre-print version of this article, and additional commentary on it, is available here. Dr Dagg has also written many other interesting blog pieces on Matthew (the earliest is dated 10 August 2014 – scroll to bottom of page and click on “Older Posts” to see these). For example, there is an interesting review of how On Naval Timber and Arboriculture is structured.
Page created: 25 January 2015
Last modified: 3 May 2018