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Gardener’s Magazine (1832)

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Anonymous (attributed to J. C. Loudon). “Matthew, Patrick: On Naval Timber and Arboriculture”. Gardener’s Magazine and Register of Rural & Domestic Improvements, Vol 8 (1832), pp.702-3

The editor of the Gardener’s Magazine was J. C. Loudon, and it is likely that he was the author of this anonymous review. That is certainly what Matthew thought, as he refers to Loudon by name in his letter to the Gardeners’ Chronicle of 12 May 1860.

Given that Loudon is one of the authors criticized by Matthew in his book (See Contents: Mr Loudon’s statement, of the effect produced by pruning on the quality and quantity of timber, that tree produce their best timber in their natural locality, not supported by facts p.305), he is remarkably kind to Matthew in this review.

After starting with a paragraph considering what Matthew as to say about timber, Loudon moves on to the subject of varieties and variation within tree species, and the importance of circumstance and (artificial) selection:

” The British forest trees suited for naval purposes,” enumerated by the author, are, oak, Spanish chestnut, beech, Scotch elm, English elm, red-wood willow (Salix fragilis), red-wood pine, and white larch. On each of these he presents a series of remarks regarding the relative merits of their timber: and even notices, under each, the varieties of each, and the relative merits of these varieties. Indeed, our author insists particularly on the necessity of paying the greatest attention to the selection, both for planting and for ultimate appropriation, of particular varieties, he contending that vegetable bodies are so susceptible of the influence of circumstances, as soil, climate, treatment of the seed, culture of the seedling, &c. &c., as to be modified and modifiable into very numerous varieties, and that it is an essential object to select the variety most adapted to the circumstances of the plot of ground to be planted. This may be very true; but it is also true that extreme will be the difficulty of diffusing, among those most engaged in the operative processes of forestry, sensitive attention to these points.

This is the only known review that devotes space (briefly) to a critique of Matthew’s ideas on “the origin of species and varieties”. Loudon professes himself unsure of whether there are any original views, although he does think that Matthew’s views have been “exhibited … in an original manner”:

An appendix of 29 pages concludes the book, and receives some parenthetical evolutions of certain extraneous points which the author struck upon in prosecuting the thesis of his book. This may be truly termed, in a double sense, an extraordinary part of the book. One of the subjects discussed in this appendix is the puzzling one, of the origin of species and varieties; and if the author has hereon originated no original views (and of this we are far from certain), he has certainly exhibited his own in an original manner. His whole book is written in a vigorous, cheerful, pleasing tone; and although his combinations of ideas are sometimes startlingly odd, and his expression of them neither simple nor lucid, for want of practice in writing, he has produced a book which we should be sorry should be absent from our library.

So, why should Loudon be in doubt as to whether Matthew’s views on the origin of species are original or not? It’s useful to bear in mind the following general points, which may help explain why Loudon thought this:

  1. The idea of evolution had been proposed by others.
  2. The idea of natural selection had been proposed by others.
  3. Matthew’s referred to the Lamarckian idea of “inheritance of acquired characteristics” as well as to natural selection.
  4. Matthew primarily used natural selection to promote the idea of species stasis, rather than evolution, and even the adverts for the book emphasise this view.

More specifically, new evidence uncovered by the blogger Joachim D indicates that Loudon himself was familiar with the concept of natural selection, and was a strong believer in the influence of “circumstance” on plant species (i.e. the inheritance of acquired characteristics).  The passages of most interest come from Loudon’s Encyclopaedia of Gardening (1822), and are presented at the bottom of Joachim D’s blog piece.  It is highly likely that Matthew was familiar with this work, because he refers to Loudon as the “author of the Encyclopaedia of Gardening” both in the main text and in the adverts for On Naval Timber and Arboriculture (this also incidentally makes it likely that Matthew wrote his own copy for the adverts).  Matthew’s frequent use of the word “circumstance” may derive from Loudon’s use of the same word in the same context.

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