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Gardeners’ Chronicle (1860)


Anonymous (likely James Brown). “Notices to Correspondents: Books”. Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette (30 June 1860), p.604

This is a brief but favourable review of Matthew’s book. The “Notices to Correspondents” section of the Gardeners’ Chronicle was where the editors, or experts known to them, responded to queries sent in by readers. Here, we can infer that the correspondent wrote from Lyndhurst, and no doubt their query regarding Matthew’s book was prompted by Matthew’s letters to the Gardeners’ Chronicle earlier that year.

As well as being favourable, it is noteworthy for providing evidence in favour of the general obscurity of Matthew’s book at the time On the Origin of Species was published. Despite signing himself “W W C”, the reviewer appears to be James Brown, the author of the highly influential Brown’s Forester. And despite being perhaps the most important authority on practical arboriculture of his time (see 1896 article by John Wilson), he still hadn’t heard of Matthew’s book until “quite lately”.

The reference to Matthew’s “condemnation of the experiments by Barlow and others on the strength of timber” are on pp.211 onwards and pp.221 onwards of On Naval Timber and Arboriculture. Matthew is “astonished” that Barlow et al.’s experiments on the comparative strengths of different types of timber fail to take into account the place in the tree that the timber is cut from, the soil type where the tree is planted, and its variety. From p.213: “But to return to our subject. The facts stated go to prove, that the quality of timber depends much upon soil, circumstance, and more especially on variety”. Likewise, the reference to the reviewer’s “own [opinion] as expressed some years ago while discussing the quality of British Oak Timber” is from the previous edition of Brown’s Forester (1851), on p.195: “The quality of oak timber depends very much upon the nature of the soil and situation upon which it is grown” and on p.194: “For my own part, I am so thoroughly convinced of the superiority of the wood of the Q. pedunculata, that in planting I reject every young plant that has the appearance of the other sort” (although interestingly Brown reverses this view in his 1871 edition – see p.182, Item 509).

The fact that the sign-off initials “W W C” do not correspond to Brown’s initials may not be important – it was common practice to adopt a pseudonym or nom de plume and then initialise that. For example, we know Matthew signed himself as “A. O. C.” in one of his letters to the Mark Lane Express (see 1861k article). See also my comments in my Citations section.

Note also that, once again, Matthew’s name is misspelt – a problem that comes up more than once in the pages of the Gardeners’ Chronicle and elsewhere (see some of the post-1864 articles on Matthew).

Books: Lyndhurst. The title of Mathew’s book is “On Naval Timber and Arboriculture: with critical notes on authors who have recently treated the subject of Planting. By Patrick Mathew. Adam Black, Edinburgh; Longman, Rees, Orme, Browne, & Green, London, 1831.” It is so little known that we were not aware of its existence till quite lately. It is full of practical information, along with which are speculations on “What a British Gentleman should be; The apparent use of the infinite seedling varieties of plants; On Hereditary Nobility and Entail; Use of the Selfish Passions,” &c. This may account for a really valuable book having been passed by with little notice. It contains plenty of sound knowledge and common-sense criticism of writers on planting. His condemnation of the experiments by Barlow and others on the strength of timber are well worth perusal; they will be found to coincide with our own as expressed some years ago while discussing the quality of British Oak Timber. — W W C. — Brown’s Forester, and Mathew on Naval Timber.

1 Comment

  1. […] “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 […]


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