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More on Matthew


  • 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.
  • 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family history written in German by Wulf G. Gerdts, one of Patrick Matthew’s descendants, but this account is currently unpublished.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”.
  • 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”.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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

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