Matthew to Darwin, 3 December 1862. Letter 3843: Darwin Correspondence Project
In this letter, after offering some reasons for not writing earlier, Matthew expounds on some grandiose and dark themes. He says that he is now more interested in politics and society than in Darwin’s work, and that he has been attempting to promote more efficient farming practices by “enriching the vegetable mould”, an endeavour “of the highest importance to the British Empire & Race” (note that Darwin also had an interest in the vegetable mould – see last paragraph of “Liebig and the Vegetable Mould“).
In a dark turn, he then professes himself to be tired of life and unsatisfied with his existence, and wonders what will happen when “when all the great facts of material & vital science are pointed out” – a situation he expects to be imminent. His answer is that civilization will fall, as others have done throughout history. He ends by inviting Darwin and his family to Scotland next summer. He suggests this might be good for Darwin’s constitution and “mental conception”, but reading this letter one can’t help but feel that December in Scotland has not been good for Matthew’s.
NB. The “one or two pieces” that Matthew enclosed have been lost. However, given the references in his letter to “protection of property” and “vegetable mould”, these are likely to come from the articles published by Matthew earlier the same same year on these subjects in the Farmer’s Magazine – in particular 1862a, 1862c and 1862e.
Gourdie hill, Errol, N.B.
Dec. 3 /62
When in London last summ<er> it was only for a few days, engrossed with mercantile concerns so that I could not bestow that attention to scientific thought that I should have liked; I also learned from Prof. Huxley, that by coming up to London you were sometimes rendered unwell. I would have been sorry to bring you from home least I might do you injury, & therefore did not reply to your letter. I also could not but feel that I was an intrud<er> & that there existed in scientific me<n> a strong vis inertiæ & retiring inclin<ation> which I had no right to disturb, <more> especially as I believed I could <be of> no service in advancing your p<resent> pursuit. While you have been making advances in vegetable science, I have been attempting to promote a <be>tter system of land occupancy by the <f>armer—that there might be protection <of> property created by the farmer in <e>nriching the vegetable mould. This is a question of the highest importance to the British Empire & Race. My line lies more in the political & social, Your’s in tracing out the admirably balanced scheme of Nature all linked together in dependant connection—the vital endowed with a variation-power in accommodation to material change. Altho’ this is a grand field for contemplation, yet am I tired of <it>— of a world where my sympathies <are> intended to be bounded almost <exclu>sively to my own race & family. <I am> not satisfied with my existence < > to devour & trample upon my <fellow> creature. I cannot pluck a flower without regarding myself a destroyer. At present we feel some enjoyment in tracing out the scheme of Nature. Since I have paid attention to the progress of discovery, so much has been done that comparatively little remains to do. What will become of man when all the great facts of material & vital science are pointed out? We may be satisfied that we have lived in the great age of discovery & in the country & of the Race in which & by whom these discoveries have been made. Man cannot advance much higher. A reaction such as attended Babylonian, Egyptian, Grecian & Roman civilizations must soon ensue. The same powers that have reached high civilization cannot support it. Fall we must.
We have had a very bleak & unpleasant summer in Scotland, yet another season may be more propitious. Change of air & scene if the change is not too great acts a salutory part in the human constitution & a journey to Scotland might next summer be of service to you or any of your family. You mentioned you had a Son unwell. I hope he soon recovered. Should you think of a jaunt to Scotland I would be most happy in pointing out the little I know of the character of the country. There is something in the change of place which stimulates mental conception.
I enclose one or two pieces which I have been amusing myself with, & remain