Matthew to the 9th Lord Kinnaird, 30 August 1860
(MS100/2/bundle574/1, pdf image)
A remarkable letter. Matthew writes even more candidly to Lord Kinnaird than in his previous letter of two months before – presuming to advise him on how to cope with his bereavement following the death of his son Charles Fox Kinnaird (see Matthew Family Records > Kinnaird Letters > Matthew (1860-06-15)), and suggesting that Kinnaird’s suffering is less than what Matthew himself has suffered (Matthew lost his eldest son John in 1857, and his wife in 1859). Matthew’s comment about the inconsequentiality of the loss of Kinnaird’s hereditary peerage (as both his male heirs were now dead) reflects Matthew’s known antipathy to hereditary peerage (see, for example, On Naval Timber and Arboriculture > Excerpts > Excerpt 1).
There are also fascinating insights into Matthew’s spiritual views in this letter, confirming what it hinted at elsewhere. He believes that a moral life will, “in all probability”, prepare one “for a higher sphere of existence”. He rejects the concept of Heaven as a sensuous paradise. He hints at the concept of a cycle of reincarnation, in which an “inferior grade” of existence may ensue from a selfish life. He writes of the slum conditions in Dundee, a subject he returns to in other public and private writings.
Finally, there are some insights into this family life. He blames the death of his wife directly on her bereavement following the death of their eldest son. There is also an interesting tale of the aunt of his wife, which may have acted as a form of morality tale on Matthew’s own character.
Gourdiehill, Augt. 30/60
I much regret to hear of the unhappy condition of your mind. I would earnestly desire to point out to you the true condition of man in this life. It is clear that civilised man has reached a high moral state on this Earth, in all probability to prepare him for a higher sphere of existence. That it is not by allowing the mind to become too other-worldly – too selfishly desirous of this superior existence, by which man can befit himself for a higher condition of being, but by performing his family & social duties in this life. This is the right preparation & the only road to a superior, without a selfish thought of that superior. To become other-worldly like a monkish recluse – living upon the labor of others, without performing one’s family & social duties here, is only excess of selfishness – is criminal, & must, under any sense of justice, should we come to exist again, place us morally in an inferior grade. The love of good – earnest desire & exertion to promote the wellbeing & moral advancement of others, is the right preparation to a higher nature, & success in this, with the society of those we love, is the true Heaven – not the low sensual enjoyment as depicted in the Gardens of the New Jerusalem. What is there in the departure of one part of your family that should crush your energies in doing all in your power for the wellbeing of the remaining part. Say that the departed one is looking on, would anything be more pleasing to him than to see you doing all in your power to console the bereaved Mother, & with redoubled earnestness working out the physical & moral improvement of those who are unable themselves – at least who require assistance to do so. I have recently suffered much more than you (I count upon the loss of the Peerage to your immediate descendants as comparatively nothing, they may be better & happier without it), & there has been cases where grief too much yielded to has had very sad results. An aunt of my Wife had a son drowned in Lindores Loch, & her Husband being dead, she indulged in grief so much along with the little younger brothers of the drowned boy – weeping with them day & night, that first one of them died then another, & she was left childless, to rue & bewail her selfish sorrow. The loss of my eldest Son was also the cause of my further bereavement of his Mother, & their loss has urged me on to do all in my power that I think can be pleasing to them. You must rouse yourself to strong exertion – first in trying to console those who are nearest & dearest & in doing all in your power for their wellbeing, & second in carrying out still further your former exertions to improve the condition of your unfortunate countrymen. Much, much, requires to be done to assist those who have it not in their power to help themselves. Every time I pass through the dense blocks of houses in Dundee, East of Union St. & North & West of Murraygate I cannot help from execration – so many pale poor looking children, doomed to a wretched existence & most of them to early death by unwholesome dwellings – unwholesome from want of ventilation, from filth & narrowness of rooms in proportion to occupants. Why is such a state of things allowed? Why are the laws not put in force against such dens of disease? But the law as it stands is not sufficiently explicit & stringent. To sell diseased or unwholesome meat is punishable. Why is to let unwholesome dwellings not also punishable – dwellings in which a healthy robust family cannot be reared, but in which 2/3 of the children die of (as they say) child’s diseases – where they are reared up so weak & sickly that they cannot withstand child’s diseases, & never, tho’ they survive, can become healthy strong men, fit to defend their country in the battlefield. We make much ado when a man or woman is murdered by blows or steal or strychnine, & when thousands on thousands of poor innocent children are murdered by unwholesome dwellings & by the misery & want caused by the resulting drunkenness & dissipation, no punishment is inflicted upon the landlords of the dwellings – the parents from ignorance & apathy are themselves not aware of the cause of their family’s destruction. Every rented house ought to be surveyed by a proper Officer & if found such as a healthy family cannot be reared in it, the house ought to be condemned, & if not quite as it ought to be, but still not altogether bad a yearly tax or fine of 5 or 10 per cent on the rental ought to be charged for behoof of the Infirmary, as it is chiefly such houses that give rise to disease.
Your Lordship succeeded so far in cleansing Errol that the Cholera did not visit it the last time it was in the neighbourhood, & in no doubt several are living who otherwise would be in their graves. A wide field of purification moral & physical awaits your Lordship in Dundee & I hope that at the risque of obtaining many encurses & much obloquy you will do all in your power to effect a Radical Reform in the dwellings & morals of the poor. Forgive this long letter. I remain,
your obedient servant
[To] The Right Hon. Lord Kinnaird
Page created: 2 February 2019
Last modified: 2 February 2019