Home » On Naval Timber and Arboriculture (1831) » Reviews » Farmers’ Journal (1831)

Farmers’ Journal (1831)


Anonymous. “Matthew on Naval Timber and Arboriculture”. Evans and Ruffy’s Farmers’ Journal and Agricultural Advertizer, Vol 24 (1831), No. 1218 (Mon 17 January), p.3

This early review of Matthew’s book was quoted in later versions of the publisher’s advert for the book, alongside quotes from the Country Times, Perthshire Courier and Elgin Courier (the reviews from these last three journals have not yet been located).  The quotation is: “In recommending this work to landed proprietors, we shall only remark, that it displays an intelligent and cultivated mind, and an evident practical study of the subject.”

The reviewer is complimentary regarding Matthew’s “intelligent and cultivated mind”, and his practical knowledge, but is critical of Matthew’s view on free trade. In particular, the reviewer thinks that if the import duty on foreign timber were dropped, then domestic production of timber would not be able to compete with Norway. The reviewer notes that the Appendix contains “some singular inquiries and reflections on “Instinct or habit of breed,” and the effects of change of place and climate on the dispositions and habits of mankind”, but the reviewer does not directly refer to Matthew’s views on either natural selection or evolution.

The piece ends with a long excerpt from the book (pp.82-85, including footnote) on favourable growing conditions for larch. The reviewer agrees with Matthew that this tree “deserves much greater attention from the public”.

MATTHEW on NAVAL TIMBER and ARBORICULTURE; with Critical Notes on Authors who have recently treated the subject of Planting.— Longman and Co., London.

The Author begins by describing the various qualities desirable or necessary in naval timber, and training, pruning, &c., which trees intended for that use should undergo. Part II. treats of “British forest trees suited for naval purposes,” and contains some very interesting details on the larch, such as its uses and value as a naval timber, the soils best suited to its growth, &c. The 3rd Part is formed of miscellaneous matter on naval timber, nurseries, planting, and other branches of the subject. The 4th Part consists of “Notices of authors who treat of Arboriculture.” This part occupies a considerable portion of the volume, and reviews most of the modern works which have been written on that subject. There is an Appendix on the necessity and effects of naval power, and some singular inquiries and reflections on “Instinct or habit of breed,” and the effects of change of place and climate on the dispositions and habits of mankind.

We have not room to enter into an elaborate criticism of Mr Matthew’s opinions; and, indeed, it is a branch of rural economy which is only interesting to a portion of our readers. In recommending the work to landed proprietors, we shall, therefore, only remark that it displays an intelligent and cultivated mind, and an evident practical study of the subject. We must add that the author, taking it for granted that most persons undertaking arboriculture are acquainted with the elementary parts of the science, treats more particularly of its higher departments. We could have wished that Mr Matthew had not indulged in sharp sallies on political economy, especially when so contrary to the general opinion of those who are likely to become his readers. We have neither time nor inclination to discuss the question of free trade with so warm an opponent; but he must feel that, if his wish of a free importation of timber were realised, he might spare himself the trouble of furnishing instructions for growing it in this country, and the whole addition of his work might be exported for the benefit of Norwegian landowners. The following is an extract on the larch: this interesting tree deserves much greater attention from the public, and, if its admirable qualities were better known, it would soon supplant four-fifths of the timber now grown.

“Soils and subsoils* may be divided into two classes. The first, where larch will acquire a size of from 30 to 300 solid feet, and is generally free of rot; the second, where it reaches only from 6 to 20 feet solid, and in most cases becomes tainted with rot before 30 years of age.


Sound rock, with a covering of firm loam, particularly when the rock is jagged or cloven, or much dirupted and mixed with the earth.— In such cases, a very slight covering or admixture of earth will suffice. We would give the preference to primitive rock, especially micaceous schist and mountain limestone. Larch seldom succeeds well on sandstone or on trap, except on steep slopes, where the rock is quite sound and the soil firm.

“Fully the one half of Scotland, comprehending nearly all the alpine part, consists of primary rock, chiefly micaceous schist and gneiss. These rocks are generally less decayed at the surface, better drained, and fuller of clefts and fissures containing excellent earth (especially on slopes), into which the roots of trees penetrate and receive healthy nourishment, than the other primitive and transition rocks, granite, porphyry, trap, or the secondary and tertiary formations of nearly horizontal strata, red and white sandstone, &c. Primary strata are generally well adapted for larch, except where the surface has acquired a covering of peat-moss, or received a flat diluvial bed of close wet till or soft moorish sand, or occupies a too elevated or exposed situation — the two latter exceptions only preventing the growth, not inducing rot.

Gravel, not too ferruginous, and in which water does not stagnate in winter, even though nearly bare of vegetable mould, especially on steep slopes, and where the air is not too arid, is favourable to the growth of larch. It seems to prefer the coarser gravel, though many of the stones exceed a yard solid.

“The straths or valleys of our larger rivers, in their passage through the alpine country, are generally occupied, for several hundred feet of perpendicular altitude up the slope, by gravel, which covers the primitive strata to considerable depth, especially in the eddies of the salient angles of the hill. Every description of tree grows more luxuriantly here than in any other situation of the country; the causes of this are — 1st. The open bottom allowing the roots to penetrate deep, without being injured by stagnant moisture. 2nd. The percolation of water down through the gravel from the superior hill. 3rd. The dryness of the surface not producing cold by evaporation, thence the ground soon heating in the spring. 4th. The moist air of the hill refreshing and nourishing the plant during the summer heats, and compensating for the dryness of the soil. 5th. The reverberating of the sun’s rays, between the sides of the narrow valley, thus rendering the soil comparatively warmer than the incumbent air, which is cooled by the oblique currents of the higher strata of air, occasioned by the unequal surface of the ground. This comparatively greater warmth of the ground, when aided by moisture, either in the soil or atmosphere, is greatly conducive to the luxuriancy of vegetation.

Fine dry clays and sound brown loam.— Soils well adapted for wheat and red clover, not too rich, and which will bear cattle in winter, are generally congenial to the larch.

All very rough ground, particularly ravines, where the soil is neither soft sand nor too wet; also the sides of the channels of rapid rivulets. The roots of most trees luxuriate in living or flowing water; and, where it is of salubrious quality, especially when containing a slight solution of lime, will throw themselves out a considerable distance under the stream. The reason why steep slopes, and hills whose strata are nearly perpendicular to the horizon, are so much affected by larch and other trees, is, because the moisture in such situations is in motion, and often continues dripping through the fissures throughout the whole summer. The desideratum of situation for larch, is where the roots will neither be drowned in stagnant water in winter, nor parched by drought in summer, and where the soil is free from any corrosive mineral or corrupting mouldiness.

“Larch, in suitable soil, sixty years planted, and seasonably thinned, will have produced double the value of what almost any other timber would have done; and from its general adaptation both for sea and land purposes, it will always command a ready sale.”

* We have had no experience of larch, accepting very young, growing on chalk and its affinities. We are told there are a few instances where larch has reached fifty years in these calcareous soils, some distance south of London. This merits attention.

%d bloggers like this: