Excerpt from Note C, p.373

This excerpt is a single paragraph from Note C of the Appendix. Note C is a long section giving Matthew’s view on the attributes and merits of different human races. Matthew is in no doubt that white races, and in particular the British, are best. This paragraph is not alluded to in the letter Matthew sent to the Gardeners’ Chronicle on 7 April 1860, but it does refer to a natural selection process within human populations. Specifically, Matthew argues that human migration is beneficial because it allows natural selection to have free rein, whereas under normal circumstances it is suppressed by social customs like hereditary privilege. Thus the “agitation” of migration allows truly superior individuals to become leaders, rather than inheriting that position by accident of birth. This idea would become a central theme of his next book Emigration Fields (1839), and is also repeated in many of his post-1860 articles.

Note also the comparison to social insects, which can also be found in his End-Appendix section.

This paragraph is part of a longer sub-section, and the title in the book’s Contents is not very apposite. The title given is “Influence of civilization and confinement upon the complexion”.

Notwithstanding that change of place, simply, may have impression to improve the species, yet is it 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. When a swarm emigrates from a prosperous hive, it also will generally consist of the more adventurous stirring spirits, who, with the right of conquerors, will appropriate the finest of the indigenae which they overrun; their choice of these being regulated by personal qualities, not by the adventitious circumstances of wealth or high birth—a regard to which certainly tends to deteriorate the species, and is one of the causes which renders the noblesse of Europe comparatively inferior to the Asiatic, or rather the Christian noblesse to the Mahometan.


Excerpt from Note B, p.366

Following his memorable declaration of the principle of natural selection in his Excerpt 1, Matthew goes on to apply his idea to human society, in an example of what would nowadays be called Social Darwinism. Matthew argues that hereditary nobility and laws of entail (inheritance of property to the first-born male, regardless of ability) have stifled natural selection from working in human societies, and have operated “to retard ‘the march of intellect,’ and deteriorate the species in modern Europe”. To reverse this deterioration, in a direct analogy with the cultivation and breeding of fruit trees, Matthew suggests not only regular interbreeding with lower classes, but also periodic revolutions in which the noble class is entirely replaced and selected anew:

It is an eastern proverb, that no king is many removes from a shepherd. Most conquerors and founders of dynasties have followed the plough or the flock. Nobility, to be in the highest perfection, like the finer varieties of fruits, independent of having its vigour excited by regular married alliance with wilder stocks, would require stated complete renovation, by selection anew from among the purest crab.


Excerpt from Part I, p.9-10

In this footnote, Matthew notes that apple trees under cultivation suffer defects that cannot be blamed on Nature, for “had she formed them, as soon as she saw her error she would have blotted out her work”:

There are several valuable varieties of apple-trees of acute branch angle, which do not throw up the bark of the breeks; this either occasions the branches to split down when loaded with fruit, or, if they escape this for a few years, the confined bark becomes putrid and produces canker, which generally ruins the tree. We have remedied this by a little attention in assisting the rising of the bark with the knife. Nature must not be charged with the malformation of these varieties; at least, had she formed them, as soon as she saw her error she would have blotted out her work.


Excerpt from Part IV (Sec VI), p.284

In this aside, Matthew again argues that cultivated varieties of apple would not last long in the wild. This is partly due to “long continued selection” by man, and partly due to the artificial “culture, soil and climate” in which they are grown:

We ask if even the fact of these unnaturally tender varieties (obtained by long continued selection, probably assisted by culture, soil and climate, and which, without the cherishing of man, would soon disappear), being of rather more porous texture of wood, goes any length to prove our author’s assertion?


%d bloggers like this: