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1864g Mould/Evol/Des

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Matthew, P. The vegetable mould. Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette (2 Apr 1864), pp.323-4

(Letter dated Feb 25, published Apr 2 1864)
Matthew reprises his defence of his views on the importance of the vegetable mould.

He also reveals, again, his belief in a progressive, designed evolution, and the part that the vegetable mould may have played in it:

It is thus that in the fields of Nature we find a connection betwixt the plant and the soil, and can determine of the kind of soil from the kind of plant. We also notice a great difference in the size of plants of one family or even species, according as the soil is rich or poor in vegetable mould and other provisions of fertility, or under the culture of man as the plant is suited to climate and soil. This being patent to all, we notice further that the flora and fauna of former eras have been much different from the present. Here we observe that the difference is nearly in the ratio of the recession backwards, and at the same time taking a comprehensive view of all, that in both kingdoms, from the highest antiquity we have indices of a gradual approach to the present forms and progressive rise of being in the higher organisms up to the present era — the era of the Cereals, rose-flowering fruits, mammals and of man, as if predestined and effected by a gradual provision for superior life,– that life itself is endowed by virtue of a variation power, to rise pari passu, as its field of life, the vegetable mould, becomes improved

And in a footnote to the above passage, Matthew notes:

To this conception of a gradual accommodation of life to circumstances, and other rather abstruse phenomena, I have given the key in the solution of the problem of species, by the variation power of organic life and by the law of competitive selection published more than 33 years ago, a time when the prejudices of the age could not brook progress in the higher fields of science.

Matthew returns to the idea of a designed universe later in his article. Animals are described as the organisms “for whom in the scheme of vital existence vegetables seem formed”. Matthew notes that “nothing shows the wise disposition and provision of nature more than the vegetable mould”, and that “How wisely this [the vegetable mould] is directed can best be felt by the chemist”.

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