Anonymous. “Literary Criticism”. Edinburgh Literary Journal, or Weekly Register of Criticism and Belles Lettres, Vol 6 (Jul-Dec, 1831), No. 138 (Sat 2 July), pp.1-4
There is no doubt that Matthew was able to rub some people the wrong way, and there is perhaps no better example of that than in this extraordinarily vitriolic review. It’s true that Matthew’s writing style could be abrasive, and if one reads the preface to On Naval Timber and Arboriculture it does indeed come across as haughty, even arrogant. And it’s also true that he spent the majority of his book criticising previous writers on the subject of planting trees. And because he is so convinced of his own veracity, he treats those with contrary views rather brusquely. So, given all these conditions, it is perhaps surprising that there are not more reviews like this one. But in fact the majority of the reviews of the book are complimentary, including one from 1860, 29 years later.
This review does not consider Matthew’s ideas on evolution or natural selection.
The piece starts:
“This is a publication of as great promise, and as paltry performance, as ever came under our critical inspection.”
The piece then notes the haughty tone in Matthew’s Preface.
Matthew is described thusly:
Mr Matthew is a man of a bold, inquisitive, and naturally active mind. He is abundantly obstinate and opinionative; tolerably ignorant of what he imagines he knows best; ill educated, half learned, but affecting learning, and endued with unconquerable self-sufficiency, and an unequalled opinion of himself. Of general science, accordingly, he knows little, and less of vegetable physiology, and the anatomy of plants. His turn seems to lie towards natural history and geology, and also towards politics; in which last department the wildness and confidence of his speculations will amuse the reader.