Matthew, P. Vegetation versus miasma. Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette (2 Mar 1872), pp.286-7
(Article dated Feb 10)
Matthew writes about “miasma fever”, a now discredited idea that diseases such as malaria (literally, “bad air”) were the result of noxious vapours or “miasma”. Matthew proposes that miasma comes from an over-productive vegetable mould, and the solution may be to plant trees to curtail this (see also his article of March 1866):
“A number of years ago I proposed that the fatal Campagna in the vicinity of Rome should be planted with forest trees of the most exuberant growth, of the greatest appetite for foul feeding, which, like vultures, might swallow up putridity, and proposed Beech, as one of the greatest gluttons.”
Matthew further proposes that the vegetable mould not only nourishes the roots of plants, but also feeds the upper portions of plants by giving off nutrient gases:
“It is thus not alone through the roots of plants that the vegetable mould is strongly conducive to luxuriant vegetation. It also exerts a very important nourishing power upon the plant above ground. There is not a doubt that this mould is continually giving out aerial fluids, carbonic acid gas, &c, which, from the natural constitution of gases remain close to, or near the surface of the earth, supplying the requisite materials for the growth of vegetables.”
Matthew goes on to describe the inter-connected dependencies of animals and plants, and how this displays “means to end”:
“Here is shown the distinctive character of vegetables and animals — that the same aerial fluids which are inimical to animal life are highly propitious to vegetable, that they mutually work for each other’s well-being. This disposition of means to end is conformable to the other balancings of Nature. The two kingdoms, vegetable and animal, work equally to each other’s existence and well being.”
Matthew then goes on to describe the vitalising “sun-ray power” of the Sun:
“The used-up materials of the vegetable, the food-combustion of which had given heat and locomotion to the animal, now along with the animal remains, &c, serve as food to the new vegetable seed when it is thrown into vitalised action by the sun-ray power. The vegetable, as it extends in growth, stores up the sun-ray power in its substance, which restores the latent heat the materials had lost in the last vital animal course, by combustion, in serving as food to the animals, or as forming vegetable mould to undergo a slow combustion and supply nourishment to the vegetable kingdom. Having thus renewed, by the absorption of sun-rays and vitality, the combustion-power, it is ready for a new course of life to supply warmth and locomotive power to animal life.”
The final paragraph refers to the use of natural phenomena as “proof of religious dogmas”, and briefly considers the myths surrounding the quivering leaves of the Poplar.
The article is reproduced almost completely (minus the final paragraph dealing with religion) in the Dundee Courier Monday 11 March 1872.