On Naval Timber and Arboriculture was quite widely cited in the years after its publication. I list what I think are more important examples of these below. Most of these have been found by Mike Sutton through his Google Books text searches.

The general picture painted by these citations is that Matthew’s book was generally held in high regard as a reference text for its principal subject – the cultivation of trees for ship-building. While some people may have been put off by the brusque way that Matthew treated previous writers on the subject (see, for example, the vitriolic review in the Edinburgh Literary Journal), it appears most with an interest in the field were either not offended or at least willing to overlook that for the sake of the useful information it contained.

Equally striking is what is not contained in any of these citations. Not a single pre-1860 citation has yet been found which refers to Matthew’s ideas on macroevolution by natural selection, and indeed there is only one review (attributed to Loudon 1832) which critiques them. This is despite one of the citations being likely to have come from Robert Chambers, who later wrote Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, one of the most influential books on evolution pre-Origin of Species. But despite having (it appears) read Matthew’s book, Chambers makes no mention of it or Matthew’s ideas on macroevolution by natural selection in any of the many editions of Vestiges, suggesting that he, like everyone else it seems, had failed to grasp the importance and novelty of Matthew’s ideas.

Matthew’s book continued to be highly regarded by people interested in practical arboriculture in the 1840’s, more than 10 years after its publication. It was cited, positively, in Loudon’s multi-volume Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum (1838) and Selby’s History of British Forest-Trees (1842).  We know from Darwin’s notebooks that he referred to Loudon’s encyclopaedic reference work – see for example Dower (2009 web article).

However, Matthew’s book appears to have been unknown to James Brown, author of the highly influential Brown’s Forester which became the book on practical arboriculture of its time with multiple editions spanning 6 decades (1847, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1882, 1894). None of these editions cited Matthew’s book and, somewhat amazingly, it appears that Brown himself was not aware of it until 1860. This evidence is in an 1860 review I have found that appears to be by Brown and which admits that fact.

This implies that Matthew’s book was likely not widely known at the time of the publication of On the Origin and Species. But afterwards, it may have enjoyed something of a renaissance once again, thanks to Matthew’s new-found notoriety as a co-originator of macroevolution by natural selection. A review of previous literature on forestry in 1896 once again refers to Matthew’s book positively (see below).


Selected citation #1. Anonymous (likely Robert Chambers). “On the training of plank timber”. Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal, (1832) Vol. 1, No. 8, March 24, p.63
This piece is an abridged version of a section titled “Directions for training plank timber” in On Naval Timber and Arboriculture (pp.8-14). Robert Chambers was a regular contributor to Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal (see Wikipedia article), and given his stronger interest in science over his brother William it is likely that he wrote this piece even though he was not yet an official editor (he become one later that year – the title page for issue No. 8 states it was edited (“conducted”) by William Chambers only). Robert Chambers later wrote Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, one of the most influential books on evolution pre-Origin of Species, with multiple editions spanning 1844-1887. Despite having likely read Matthew’s book, Chambers makes no mention of it in any of the many editions of Vestiges, suggesting that he, like everyone else it seems, failed to grasp the importance and novelty of Matthew’s ideas.


Selected citation(s) #2. John Claudius Loudon. Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum: or, The Trees and Shrubs of Britain (1838), in 8 Volumes, 1st Edition
John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) was the likely author of the only review of On Naval Timber and Arboriculture to (briefly) critique Matthew’s ideas on evolution and natural selection. Loudon was also the author of two important reference works relevant to the cultivation of trees, and he cited Matthew in both of them post-1831: the Encyclopaedia of Gardening (new editions in 1822, 1824, 1825, 1826, 1827, 1835, 1860, 1865 and 1871), and the 8-volume Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum (1st edition 1838, 2nd edition 1854, although Matthew doesn’t make it into any of the abridged single-volume editions of 1842, 1869, 1875 and 1883).
Citations in the Encyclopaedia of Gardening (6th edition, 1835):
p.xxxii – Index ref to Item 6245 (actually 6248)
p.1112 – Item 6248. Matthew’s “valuable chapter” on types of naval timber described
p.1135 – Item 6403. “Mathews” (misspelt) directions for training trees described
p.1154 – Item 6556. “Mathew” (misspelt) cited on good soil for Scotch pine
Citations in the Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum (1st edition, 1838):
Vol 1: p.ccxi – Index ref to p.1380
Vol 1: p.ccxiv – Index refs to p.1953 and p.1400
Vol 3: p.1380 – “Matthews” (misspelt) cited on use of elm for ships
Vol 3: p.1400 – “Matthews” (misspelt) quoted on use of wych elm for ships
Vol 3: pp.1799-1800 – Matthew quoted 4 times on advantages of oak timber
Vol 3: p.1809 – Matthew quoted on how to “procure good oak knees”
Vol 3: p.1953 – “Mathews” (misspelt) quoted on use of yellow beech for ships
Vol 3: pp.1960-1 – “Mathews” (misspelt) quoted on use of beech for ships
Vol 4: pp.2177-8 – “Mathews” (misspelt) quoted on planting conditions for Scotch pine
Vol 4: pp.2183-4 – “Mathews” (misspelt) quoted again on planting conditions for Scotch pine
Vol 4: pp.2369-87 – Matthew repeatedly quoted on use of larch for ships


Selected citation(s) #3. Prideaux John Selby. A History of British Forest-trees: Indigenous and Introduced (1842)
Prideaux John Selby (1788-1867) is most well known for his works on ornithology, but he also wrote this book on British trees. It was only printed on one edition, but it was nevertheless well respected in the field. Selby makes repeated and extremely positive references to Matthew’s book. There are at least 20 citations in total, as well as nine references to Matthew’s term “power of occupancy”:
p.113 – “Matthew, in his able treatise on naval timber”, recommends elm for parts of ships.
p.130 – “Matthew, in his treatise upon naval timber”, quoted on the growth of wych elm.
p.132 – Matthew cited on the use of wych elm for ships.
p.153 – “Mr. Matthew, in his able treatise on naval timber”, quoted on the use of red-wood willow for ships.
p.269 – Selby agrees with “the opinion expressed by Mr. Matthew in his able treatise on naval timber”, that other authors have over-played the benefit of trenching and manuring the ground prior to planting oak.
p.279 – Among the various steam and mechanical devices proposed for the bending and shaping of timber, “we think those of Mr. Matthew best calculated to produce the effect intended, and to his observations on this subject contained in his able treatise on naval timber, &c., we refer our readers.”
p.282 – “Mr. Matthew, also, strongly advocates planting the Oak in hedgerows, and gives some excellent directions to ensure success”
p.290 – Matthew’s “high opinion” of Turkey Oak cited to advocate its planting.
p.312 – Matthew quoted on the disadvantages of beech.
p.313 – Matthew quoted on the treatment of beech.
p.317 – Matthew cited (“as Matthew well observes”) on methods of pruning.
p.322 – Selby for once disagrees with Matthew, over the action of the British climate on chestnut timber.
p.408 – The “authority of Mr. Matthew” quoted on the use of Scots fir versus other pines.
p.410 – Matthew quoted on clay soil as good for Scotch fir.
p.418 – Selby supports Matthew’s views on the negative effects of kiln-drying for extracting seeds from pine cones
p.421 – Matthew cited in reference to “heart-rot” in Scotch fir.
p.426 – Matthew cited in reference to “Splatch pine”
p.501-2 – Matthew cited and quoted on the advantages of larch for ships.
p.506-8 – Matthew extensively quoted on the types of best soil for larch.
p.512-5 – Matthew extensively quoted on the bending of larch for ship-building, and its tendency to rot.


Selected citation #4. Augustin Francis Bullock Creuze. Article on “Timber” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 7th Edition (1842), Vol. 21, p.291
This brief citation is noteworthy for confirming that Matthew’s book was regarded as “valuable” by the author of the 1842 Encyclopaedia Britannica article on “Timber”. Note that Volume 21 really was published in 1842, unlike the other volumes which although they stated “1842” on their title pages were in reality published in earlier years. The article is signed “(B.Z.)”, identifiable as Augustin F. B. Creuze (1800-1852) via the Table of Signatures in Volume 1. Creuze also authored other articles for the Encyclopaedia Britannica, including a lengthy one on “Ship-building” that was published as a separate treatise, but Matthew is not cited in it. The article reproduces a table from Matthew’s book on the “number of concentric layers of sap-wood”. The citation is also noteworthy for making a reference to the “many things irrelevant to its subject” in the book. A similar opinion was expressed in the 1860 review of the book, likely by James Brown.

The following table of the number of concentric layers of sap-wood observed in various species of timber trees is extracted from a valuable work on Naval Timber by Patrick Matthew; a work which abounds in much sound practical information, though mixed up with many things irrelevant to its subject.


Selected citation #5. John Wilson. “On the Literature of Forestry” Transactions of the Royal English Arboricultural Society (1896) Vol. 2, pp.179-190
This article, written at the end of the nineteenth century, reviews the history of literature on forestry. Prominence is given to Matthew’s On Naval Timber and Arboriculture, Selby’s History of British Forest-trees, and Brown’s Forester. Loudon’s works are omitted, perhaps because Wilson thought them too theoretical or off-topic, even though they in fact contain much practical information on forestry. It is possible that Matthew’s book regained notoriety as a result of his fame connected with his co-originating evolution by natural selection. However, it is also possible that Matthew’s book was known to more “bookish” foresters throughout the 19th century, but not to less bookish foresters like Brown – Brown is specifically painted as such in Wilson’s review below.

Wilson has this to say on Matthew’s, Selby’s and Brown’s books:

In the year 1831, Patrick Matthew published his very able “Treatise on Naval Timber and Arboriculture,” with critical notes on authors who had previously treated on the subject of planting. The book well merits a place in the library of every intelligent forester. Many subsequent writers on timber and timber-trees have been indebted to its pages.

“A History of Forest Trees,” by Prideaux John Selby, is a splendid work, full of the most valuable information; but it so barely comes within the prescribed line laid down by me at the beginning of this paper, that I should probably not have admitted it, had it not been for the purpose of referring the reader to an interesting planting experiment made by the author at Twizell, on trenched and non-trenched ground, and upon which he continued to note observations for about thirty years. The book was published in 1848, and is beautifully illustrated. If not exactly a book of practical forestry, it is undoubtedly one which every forester should read. The gifted author himself thought “it might be useful as a sort of manual to the planter and those interested in arboriculture.”

The first edition of what is known as “Brown’s Forester” was published in 1847, and has gone through several editions, and is perhaps the most popular and useful manual we possess on the entire subject of forestry. It has been considerably enlarged since its first appearance. I have not seen the first edition, but the second, of 1851, is before me, on which the later issues show very considerable advancement. It is the work of a thoroughly practical man conversant with the subject at first hand, and one who needed not to become conversant with it through what Dryden called the “spectacles of books.” It is not desirable that I should say more on a work so well and deservedly known, except that it should be the vade mecum of every forester.


  1. […] 6).  Coincidentally, Volume 21 (the last volume, which really was published in 1842) contains a citation of Matthew’s book in its article on “Timber”.  The advert is very similar to the Edinburgh Literary […]


  2. […] 6).  Coincidentally, Volume 21 (the last volume, which really was published in 1842) contains a citation of Matthew’s book in its article on “Timber”.  The advert is very similar to the Edinburgh Literary […]


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