Matthew to the 9th Lord Kinnaird, 12 February 1861
(MS100/2/bundle703/2, pdf image)
Another fine example of Matthew arguing for the better treatment of the working class (and against the Poor House system). Even though he is addressing a Lord, he doesn’t mince his words in contrasting the “labor class”, where “the affections & family ties are stronger”, with the “more educated & richer”, who can substitute those affections for vanity in material things. He ends by warning of a possible “hardness of feeling” in the labour class against the aristocracy, engendered by the unfair system of hereditary privilege.
Gourdie hill Feb. 12/61
Pardon me for laying before you the following ideas regarding the utility of a Poor House for this district.
Taking a cold philosophic view of the subject your Lordship is perhaps right. It is proper that a compulsory assessment levied from the industrious to support those who are not capable to support themselves, should be employed in the most economic manner compatible with humanity & Christian feeling, & in such a way as encourage providence in the population. There are however two classes who requires support. 1st Orphans, children who have lost their Breadwinner, & in those disabled by accident or natural defect. 2nd Old people who have been improvident while able to work – who have wasted their winnings upon spirits, tobacco &c. or other unnecessary expenditure. The first class might indeed in most cases have entered into insurance Societies & thus insured a support. But I think it is better that mankind should trust in themselves individually in accumulating a small family capital. It both serves to ward off poverty under mishap or calamity, & to raise the family should all go well, while it affords a much stronger stimulus to expect workmanship & industry. On this account I greatly prefer the savings Bank system to provident Societies, which are only calculated to keep the whole population bordering upon misery. The above first class should never enter a poor house-prison, but be healthfully lodged & cared for in private families under due supervision, & in a majority of cases with their own nearest relations, except in the case of absolute mania. The second class are the only fit objects for the wretched position of a poor house existence, necessary, it may be, in terrorem.
In Scotland generally there is a strong feeling in the labor population of independence, & not to be recipients of public charity. As we stand in the 3 parishes I think your Lordship will find by far the greater amount of the assessment required for the support of the first class for which a poor house is improper in sympathetic humanity as well as in philosophic utility,– I need not say in Christian principle.
Has your Lordship ever thought of the law – worse than brutal, character that confinement in a poor house is calculated to generate – with selfishness & subjection to the lowest animal instincts? It is not a mere subsistence, such as will preserve life, that is worth existing for. It is the society, & desire to help in the wellbeing of those that are nearest & dearest to us that renders life desirable. In the poor-house, parental, filial & other ties & family affections are ignored. In this horrible prison we have no plans or purpose of good, no aerial castles of hope on this Earth to build up – we can only judge of any future life from the experience of this, & only the most selfish instincts remain. The affections & family ties are stronger in the labor class than in the more educated & richer, & banishment from all they regard more desolating & debasing to the mind. They having their social relations broken up, have less of vanity to be administered to, no property to be vain of, have no tie to life, & in the majority of cases would prefer death to the poor house.
I know the poor Board of Errol will not prefer a poor House to the present system, & I hope your Lordship will not urge it. I should feel pleasure & I know that others would also do so were you to say at next meeting that it might be as well to hold by our old system. I am aware that in many places the poor-house is thought to work well. It is however generating a hardness of feeling incompatible with an aristocracy primogeniture land entailed system & a hereditary privileged class, where providence is not required. I remain,
My Lord, your ob[edien]t servant
[To] The Right Hon. Lord Kinnaird
Page created: 9 February 2019
Last modified: 9 February 2019