Untitled. Dundee Advertiser 1909
This letter offers some delightful personal reminiscences of Patrick Matthew (who he refers to as “Old Gourdie”), from someone who “had the honour of intimate acquaintance with Mr. Matthew”. The letter is signed “Retired Farmer”, but one of the personal anecdotes (of Matthew rowing across the Tay to have breakfast with the writer) is repeated in a “Weekly Letter” to the Arbroath Herald in 1916 by a correspondent signing himself “D. S. S.”.
The writer notes: “I think Mr. Matthew claimed to have forestalled Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’”, and then adds, “Certainly he was a man of original ideas and a bold thinker”. Later he adds: “I can still recall his spare, lithe figure, almost invariably clad in black, his pale, keen features, and piercing eyes”, and also that “except to his friends he was not at all communicative, and he lived somewhat as a recluse in the old house at Gourdiehill”.
The writer recalls: “He had some rather unusual notions with regard to religion and theology, and though a gentleman with much reverence and elevated notions he never went to church”. Furthermore, “It was said: ‘He neither believed in God or Devil.’”. This reinforces the picture that Matthew had no truck with either a Christian God or Devil, nor in the Christian concepts of Heaven or Hell (see also his last private letter to Darwin). Nevertheless, I argue elsewhere that Matthew did believe in a Creator of the Universe.
The writer further notes: “He was popularly credited with a belief in the transmigration of souls, and that one very near and dear to him had become a blackbird”. This may explain other references to transmigration (reincarnation) in his writings (see, for example, Matthew 1862d).
Unfortunately, the British Newspaper Archive does not hold any copies of the Dundee Advertiser for the year 1909. The text below is reproduced from the Matthew Saga, the unpublished Matthew family history by Wulf G. Gerdts.
Among the most outstanding names amongst the landlords of the Carse about the middle of last century was that of Patrick Matthew of Gourdiehill.
He was already an old man when I first made acquaintance. He was a gentleman of varied, if not profound, scholarship, and was a philosophical Radical. He had some rather unusual notions with regard to religion and theology, and though a gentleman with much reverence and elevated notions he never went to church. He was something of a specialist in horticulture, agriculture, and especially arboriculture, and his orchards, extending to about 30 acres, were considered the most valuable in the district. Mr. Matthew was an early and enthusiastic follower of Darwin, but perhaps I am in error, putting it that way, for I think Mr. Matthew claimed to have forestalled Darwin’s “Origin of Species”. Certainly he was a man of original ideas and a bold thinker.
I had the honour of intimate acquaintance with Mr. Matthew, and greatly enjoyed his company; and as he was very fond of our Scottish minstrelsy we had mutual pleasure in that and some other subjects.
In the warm summer of 1868 I remember his appearing at our door one morning before breakfast. He had already – before eight o’clock, and though verging on fourscore – walked from the house where he had been staying overnight to the harbour there, hired a boat, rowed the three miles slanting across the Tay to Port Allan, and walked up to see if he could get breakfast with us. After breakfast he wandered over the fields with me for an hour or two and then started for Gourdiehill, three miles off. There he would probably at once engage in his works amongst his fields and orchards.
It was a very bright, hot morning, and the old gentleman arrived at our house carrying his black coat over his arm. He was full of talk, and the main subjects of his discourse were the great drought and the matter of the Tay Bridge. I forget whether the bridge had already been begun or was then only in contemplation. But I do recollect how earnestly he condemned the route which was chosen and how he pointed out the advantages of the alternative route.
How confidently Mr. Matthew predicted the fall of the Tay Bridge, and how he was laughed at for his pains, the columns of the newspapers of the time bear sufficient evidence. But on that terrible Monday morning, when a big blank was seen in the centre of the structure, and the awful news was read that a passenger train had fallen with the bridge, the warnings of the old laird were mentioned with the utmost respect. He did not live to see his worst fears realised; but it was a common remark in the Carse then that Mr Matthew was, with regard to the Tay Bridge as many things else, “before his time”.
I can still recall his spare, lithe figure, almost invariably clad in black, his pale, keen features, and piercing eyes. As I have already indicated, he was a man of very active habits, both physically and mentally. In this he formed a striking contrast to his son, who was such a favourite in the district. He was a picture of easy, restful contentment. Tall, stout, and deliberate in his movements, the son had yet much of the natural sagacity and shrewdness of his father. Both have long since “joined the majority” and the ancestral trees and acres have passed into other hands.
The old laird was a sort of man of mystery to the average peasant of the district; for except to his friends he was not at all communicative, and he lived somewhat as a recluse in the old house at Gourdiehill. I have heard many curious and amusing tales regarding him from some of the cottagers of the Carse. It was said: “He neither believed in God or Devil.” He was popularly credited with a belief in the transmigration of souls, and that one very near and dear to him had become a blackbird. I have been gravely informed that “that was the reason he would not allow the blackbirds to be shot in his orchard, for fear one could shoot her, although the birds did much damage to the fruit”.
There were also stories about Mr. Matthew at the time of the epidemic of cholera 60 years ago, how he took fright and went off to live in a travelling van to escape from the plague. Probably all such stories had little or no foundation in fact.
At any rate, I always found “Old Gourdie”, as he was familiarly called, a very gentlemanly, intelligent and interesting old gentleman, who thought for himself, believed in plain living and high thinking, and in many respects set a good example to those around him, who would have been happier had they followed it.