Matthew to the 2nd Marquess of Breadalbane, 22 November 1841
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Matthew tells Breadalbane about his new situation. Since 1840, he has been living with his family away from Scotland, first in Spain and then in Germany. He has purchased a “small place” at Silber-tofle-berg in Danish Holstein, close to Hamburg. He adds that “my eldest son remains in Spain and another of my sons will be in Portugal”. After offering to buy some antiques in Hamburg for Breadalbane’s estate, Matthew ends with a digression into politics, promoting once again the benefits of free trade and competition. The letter is held at the National Records of Scotland, under reference GD112/74/42/29 and GD112/74/42/30.
Hamburg Nov. 22. 1841
Address rne[?], Care of Mr Mornington
No. 11 Neuer Kamp. St Pauli, Hamburg
I have been more than a year, with my family, absent from Britain, in Spain, Denmark, Germany. We are now settled down at Hamburg. – I have purchased a small place (Silber-tofle-berg) on the north-bank of the Elbe in Danish Holstein, about 6 English miles below Hamburg. My place is situated on the first rising ground near navigation north of France – the only place indeed deserving the name of Berg (hill) near the coast between France and the Baltic. My little place independent of being a very beautiful villa situation & having the higher parts covered with short springy heather, is well suited for warehouses and factories, having deep water close to the river bank, & Hamburg, the great Commercial Emporium of the north of Europe quite at hand, to be reached in half an hour by the steamers.– The prospect from Silber-tofle-berg (silver-table hill) a name connected with an old legend, is not equalled between the Baltic and France, a living picture, the Elbe below with its numerous rich islands, Hanover in the distance, and all the vessels traversing upward and downward, to & from Hamburg at little more than a stone cast.– When I went to Spain last year, I intended to have fixed with my family there, but I found that country rather too unsettled for females and children. We left Spain and our Spanish friends with deep regret. We experienced much kindness from them. We found the Spaniards kind & trusting and honest, much more than the Germans in this neighbourhood. My eldest son remains in Spain and another of my sons will be in Portugal.
I have just been furnishing my little house and in my research for this I find many things in Hamburg too good, or rather too dear for me which I think you might be requiring for your castle. Paintings, some of them of great merit, are brought to Hamb[urg] for sale from all parts of Germany : good statuary is sometimes to be picked up. Very beautiful porcelain is also sold here : the other day I saw a magnificent table service of massive china (very chaste looking, white with gilding) sold in auction for £17. (I might have had it for a few shillings more) I am told it has been sold again for £50. Good light wines are often to be purchased here much cheaper than where they are produced. Very elegant furniture is made in Hamburg and at a lower price that at any other place : much is exported to North & South America, N. S. Wales, the Cape and even to England (paying a duty of 30 percent). Fine ancient pier-glass frames with good plates are to be had, the frames beautifully carved of wood, as well gilt as natural oak. Many ancient pieces of furniture of carved oak are also to be met with.
I have just seen two groupes of white-marble statuary, each a young female borne off by a man. These groupes are about 6 feet high, weighing perhaps 1½ tons each. They are Italian, dug from out old ruins, and I think belong to the middle ages. They are a little mutilated, each groupe having lost a hand and sustained some other fractures, but the figures and attitudes are good, and they would not be out of place in your finest hall at Tay-mouth. The same person has also an ancient Grecian Diana with Hound of white marble, the goddess a clothed figure about 5 feet high with good draping & beautiful head (one hand mutilated) the groupe upon a blue marble pedestal. I am offered the two groups, including packing boxes, for £47, free on board at Hamb[urg]. The freight to Dundee or Perth will I think be from £2 to £3 so that you may have the whole at Perth for £50. The duty is a mere trifle. Shall I purchase them for you? In case I should send them I could add a few paintings or perhaps old carvings to the amount of some £20 or £30 more : and I am pretty certain you would prize the shipment so as not to wish it at the bottom of the German Sea. I trust that the very moderate price would be no reason for not appreciating the articles. It is very probable your Lordship may not be requiring these articles, or perhaps not be inclined to purchase articles which you cannot first see. I therefore expect you will consider it merely a commercial transaction & state without any reserve whether you would or would not wish me to purchase. I will charge these (the first as a sample) at what I give for them, & after having seen these, should you require more I will charge a commission upon the purchase.– One of the heads of these marble groupes is a modern-Italian substitution, not amiss; but the owner had the other mutilated parts substituted by a marble-cutter in Hamb[urg] and the repaired portions are miserable deformities which must be amputated before shipment.
In my recent travels I have found every where living proofs that of all kinds of liberty, commercial liberty is the most vitally important to the well-being of mankind – that even civil & religious liberty, compared to commercial liberty is as the ideal to the real,– the shadow to the substance. I have arrived at the clear rational conclusion that in all cases, it is the ultimate interest of the holders of what is termed real property, to pay the whole of the taxes (to be levied on the rental) and to have all industry – the manufacture and exchange of commodity – entirely free,– without custom-house, exciseman, coastguard, or any other pest whatever to take note of our doings,– In fact that the custom house is the grand evil under the sun,– the barrier to industry and wealth, the bane of the human-race. I find that where commerce is free (the taxes being paid by real property) that owing to commercial freedom increasing the wealth of the people & hence the demand for land produce, that the real property is increased in yearly value much more than the amount of taxes which it may pay. In the Basque provinces and Switzerland, where traffic is nearly or wholly free, the price and rental of land is almost double what it is in the neighbouring provinces where traffic is under restriction and where in consequence idleness & misery are in the ascendant. Even a poll-tax as we have here in the Dutch Holstein is incomparably preferable to shackles upon industry :– but unfortunately the custom-house is also not awanting here.
Should I write an account of the causes of the decline,– of the torpid idleness, poverty & misery of modern Spain, it would be merely a comment upon the depressing effects of monopoly & restriction. The Spaniards are attempting to regenerate things, but they look for salvation in civil & religious liberty; leaving the consuming evil, their restrictive tariff, which surely the Devil has invented to repress industry and promote misery, entirely unthought of.
Britain is the only country where the holder of real property would not profit exceedingly by free trade. This is the result of very peculiar circumstances – at the head of manufacturing industry, a limited territory with dense population, in possession of almost unbounded colonies,– but even in Britain the holders of real property would profit ultimately by reducing all monopoly and placing the taxes upon real property alone.
Your Lordship will pardon me this digression to politics. It is difficult for me to conclude even a business letter without adverting to a subject which I consider so important to the weal of my countrymen & of the human-race. I remain,
Your most ob[edien]t servant
[To] The Most Noble
The Marquis of Breadalbane
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Last modified: 27 January 2019