An occasional series on eminent Scots unjustly ignored or forgotten
From the minute we were entranced by a bug on a rug, or wondered why blackbirds are black and gulls are white and live by the sea, we were told an old bearded man took a long journey on a sailing ship called the ‘Beagle’, and explain it all in his Origin of the Species – Charles Darwin. What a pity he was too slow to acknowledge his theory came from a Scottish farmer, Patrick Matthew. Alfred Russel Wallace was no better at telling the truth. It was not Darwin or Wallace who presented an original theory – it was Matthew.
A can of wriggling worms
Let me deal with Wallace here and now. Wallace claimed he had no prior knowledge of Matthew’s discovery. In recent times, investigations prove Wallace did have sight of Mathew’s work. Readers should acquaint themselves with the full story of this outrageous plagiarism in the research of Dr Mike Sutton, ‘Nullius in Verba’, an expose of Darwin and Wallace’s secret, a spotlight on the shameless role of the Royal Society.
The test is not who thought of natural selection first, but who published it first and described it accurately. There’s no getting away from it, that honour belongs to Matthew.
Wallace had lots of time to study Matthew’s papers before publishing his in 1855, Matthew’s theories published over twenty years earlier, in 1831. It’s quite a coincidence both Wallace and Darwin called their ideas ‘Natural Selection’, a term coined by Matthew as ‘the natural process of selection’.
Who was Patrick Matthew?
The more one reads of Matthew, the more one likes him. “Every Scottishman has a pedigree” said Sir Walter Scott, and he was right. Matthew was born in 1790, the second son of a line of distinguished gentlemen farmers. They farmed in the Carse of Gowrie from the sixteenth century, a fertile area between Perth and Dundee.
He was educated at Perth Academy. His name next appears in Edinburgh University Library Matriculation Index in 1804-05 attending the classes of Professor Gregory who held the chair of Medicine. He also attended classes in chemistry. His studies were interrupted by the death of his father, and he returned to help his mother develop the vast orchards they held at Gourdiehill. In many regards, Matthew, like Robert Burns, was a nationalist.
Before he published his now renowned book on tree culture, he appears to have travelled extensively in Europe making friends among fruit and wine growers that he met. It was his friendship with a German orchard farmer that saw his revolutionary work laid before Darwin lest Darwin took all the credit.
Patrick Matthew was a Chartist, a believer in the reform of Westminster. He canvassed against the abolition of monopolies, repeal of the Corn Laws, against hereditary titles and wealth, and in favour of free trade. He wrote letters to the Dundee Advertiser on botany and natural selection. There is recorded evidence he tried to raise the subject of evolutionary selection at a meeting of the British Society for the Advancement of Science (the villain is always ‘British’), but his proposal for the day’s agenda was suppressed by the visiting English chairman W. Sharpley.
His two sons Charles and James emigrated to New Zealand and set up the first commercial fruit orchards there, the seeds from Gourdiehill. Young trees were also sent in barrels. Like their father to them, they passed on their enthusiasm for hybridising.
A Perthshire farming friend wrote of Matthew: “The Laird of Gourdiehill was somewhat aloof, outspoken when the occasion demanded, but was a kindly, studious, and well-read man who believed in neither God nor the Devil!”
Matthew died in 1874, said to be buried in Errol cemetery. I doubt Darwin heard of his passing, such is the penalty of the pioneer that I know so well from my own work in Scotland. What is fairly certain is, both Darwin and Wallace read his work and lifted it piecemeal as the core of their theories, each assuming a Scottish author of an obscure book would never be cited as the originator of the origin of the species.
How, when, where?
In the autumn of 1831, shortly after Darwin sailed to the Galapagos Islands in the Beagle, Matthew published his book in Edinburgh and London that laid out his theory of natural selection under the title, Naval Timber and Arboriculture.
To this rather orthodox but erudite piece of tree arboriculture there is included an extraordinary appendix. Matthew writes of his theories on ‘the origins of species and varieties’ summed up the origin of the species in a few sharp sentences. Matthews had good cause later to remind Darwin of its existence when it became clear to him that Darwin must have read his work but had not acknowledged it anywhere.
Though it took coaxing, Darwin eventually acknowledged Matthew’s work existed before his. He waited until the second edition of his book, but studiously omitted to offer Matthew the fame of discovering the connection between nature and the survival of the fittest and the most adaptive. “I apologise to Mr Matthews for my entire ignorance of his publication”. Darwin’s weak excuse was that Matthew had lost meaning by scattering his theory among chapters – a lie. The Royal Society has yet to correct the historical record.
Matthew’s work was read by the few, Darwin’s by the many, boosted by subsequent severe scientific controversy, receiving the endorsement of British scientific establishment only after a raging battle over God versus Nature. Biologist and anthropologist, Thomas Henry Huxley famously defended Darwin’s ideas in open debate, bulldog fashion. Matthew found no need to travel out of his country to discover natural selection, nor a hero to defend him. He saw and studied it all around him in Scotland.
Darwin, unlike Matthew, had taken care to publish his work with quasi-religious hypocrisy attached to divert denunciation from the Church of his day. (The ruse did not work.) In this he was influenced by another Scot of his day, Robert Chambers. Chambers earlier work suggested The Creator laid out the animal and plant kingdoms like a carpet, that then allowed higher forms of life to evolve from lower forms. It was if The Almighty was too lazy to do it all himself, scattering a pile of bones on the ground like a voodoo man to see how they foretold the future of Earth.
Matthew felt no need to appease the Church, and rejected Chamber’s ideas. He practised natural selection in fruit tree growing, saw the regeneration of trees before his very eyes as it happened, tasted it in better apples and pears. The Hand of God had nothing to do with the varieties he paired.
‘Naval Timber and Arboriculture’
Mathew’s book Naval Timber and Arboriculture deals to an extent with rural economy, and in an age when tree growing was of paramount interest to British shipbuilders, the British government perpetually at war with its European seafaring neighbours.
The Appendix is divided into six parts:
The First Note deals with sea power and territorial acquisition. Matthew saw and deplored how the British state used the law of the strongest in its imperialistic quest to acquire and ravage foreign territories. The Second Note outlines the laws of Nature, the law that ‘sustains the lion in its strength, the hare in its swiftness, and the fox in its wiles.’ Adapt or die. Matthew related that maxim radically to politicians, to ‘selection anew’, if stock is to improve. The Third Note, like the second, is way ahead of its time. It deals with immigration and how it can invigorate a species. The Fourth Note deals with extreme opposites, good and evil, war and peace and imperialism. The Fifth Note deals with the register of shipping tonnage on the principles of ship construction.
The Sixth Note is a geological discussion on the features of the Firth of Tay. From his observations he concludes, rightly, that Holland was joined to Scotland at one time, later raising the level of the sea and shaping our coastline. His liberated mind, free of religious dogma, averred there was sufficient evidence around to explain geological differences and features. In this section Matthew introduces the dynamics of geology to explain the evolution of life on earth.
“The destructive liquid currents, before which the hardest mountains have been swept and comminuted into gravel, sand and mud, which intervened and divided these epochs, probably extending over the whole surface of the globe, and destroying nearly all living things, must have reduced existence so much that an unoccupied field would be formed for a new diverging ramification of life, which, from the connecting sexual system of vegetables, and the natural instincts of animals to herd and combine with their own kind, would fall into specific groups, these remnants, in the course of time, moulding and accommodating, their being anew to the change of circumstances, and to every possible means of subsistence, and the millions of ages of regularity which appear to have followed between the epochs, probably after this accommodation was completed, affording fossil deposits of regular specific character.”
Few scientists anywhere in the world, let alone Europe, Darwin included, were as clear, precise, or as radical as Matthew’s assessment of the history of the earth. It would be astonishing that he faded so quickly into obscurity were it not for the negative influence of the English scientific community, those with the most status dismissing his ideas as ‘merely a lucky summary’, yet he was regarded in highest respect by his Scottish and English arboriculture peers.
Plant growers in the eighteenth century were well aware of segregation and hybrid vigour, and Matthew realised it was present in all living things. It took Darwin twenty years of collecting data from his travels and then in the form of letters sent from others to put all that together and come up with a theory.
The unnatural process of selection
Though Darwin admitted Matthew had understood natural selection years before him, Wallace was a lot less honourable. In his Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection (1870), Wallace is disparaging about Matthew’s discovery. “They certainly propound the theories of natural selection but Matthew made no further use of the principle, and so failed to see its wide and immensely important applications.” That’s some inflated ego at work, or perhaps the wrath of a deflated ego.
Wallace could not point to any earlier mention of natural selection than Matthews. The first mention of the book arrived in the Gardener’s Magazine of 1835 when it reviewed Matthew’s book. For him to brush aside Matthew’s discovery as if skin flakes is damn dishonest. To secure respect and immortality, Wallace made sure his name would always be attached to the coattails of Darwin.
The problem Matthew caused for himself was espousing his political views in the midst of his natural selection theory, and that included his applause for the French revolution. The British establishment did not like that one bit. In fact, Matthew took it for granted everybody understood natural selection existed, but liberté, égalité, fraternité were far more important to attain than any endorsement of his work by the Royal Society. Consequently, he lost interest in the former and pursued democracy by the latter.
For my part, a Scot who dislikes his country robbed of due credit for originating anything, learning fast from the fabrications of the British state that keep Scotland servile, I add that we should beware of those who turn fallacious statements into unshakeable truths by dint of their perceived status, repetition, and the passage of time.
‘Discoverer’ of the evolution of natural selection must be removed from Darwin’s claim.
1: This essay is a work in progress.
2: Nullius in Verba – is the motto of the Royal Society.
3: Sources: (a) E. Blyth – an attempt to classify the varieties of animals; (b) R. Chambers – The Vestigies of the Natural History of Creation; (c) F. Darwin – Letters of Charles Darwin Vol 3; (d) J. Gloag – Loudon’s England; (e) T.H. Huxley – Vestiges of the Natural History of Selection; (f) P. Matthew – Naval Timber and Arboriculture; (g) W.J. Dempster – Matthew and Natural Selection; (h) Dr M. Sutton – Nullius in Verba; (i) A.R. Wallace – Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection.
4: More first rate analysis here: britsoccrim.org/volume14/pbcc_2014_sutton.pdf …
6: The history of cartographer and explorer Dr John Rae is not dissimilar to the treatment of Patrick Matthew: https://wp.me/p4fd9j-1pt