(Editorial published May 12 1916)
Patrick Matthew is again fondly remembered by the same writer of the 1909 retrospective, here writing 7 years later in the middle of the First World War (which explains the anti-German sentiments expressed in other parts of the article). These reminiscences are part of a “Weekly Letter” contributed by a correspondent signing himself “D. S. S.”. We know him to be the same writer as the “Retired Farmer” of the 1909 letter because the same personal anecdote, of Matthew rowing across the Tay to have breakfast with the writer, is repeated here.
The writer first notes a piece in the British Weekly, which had quoted from Darwin’s letter to Wallace in May 1860, admitting that he had been “fairly forestalled” by Matthew. The writer then repeats the anecdote of Matthew rowing across the Tay, and recals Matthew’s staunch belief that the Tay Rail Bridge would fall, which was ridiculed until the catastrophe did indeed come to pass.
In the “British Weekly” of 4th inst., there is an interesting note by “A man of Kent.” He quotes the following from a letter by Darwin in 1860 :— “Here is a curious thing, a Mr Pat Matthews, a Scotchman, published in 1830 a work on Naval Timber and Arboriculture and in the appendix to this he gives most clearly but very briefly in half-a-dozen paragraphs our view of Natural Selection. It is a most complete case of anticipation. He published extracts in the “Gardener’s Chronicle.” I got the book and have since published a letter acknowledging that I am fairly forestalled.” This handsome admission by the great scientist concerning one of his greatest discoveries or theories is most honourable. Darwin’s anticipator was Mr Patrick Matthew, not Matthews, the laird of Gourdiehill in the Carse Cowrie. He died about 40 years ago, an octogenarian. I knew him well. He was a most independent and original thinker and an expert in arboriculture and fruit growing. His estate of Gourdiehill is a small one but it included an orchard of about 30 acres — said to be the largest then in Scotland. He used to hire shops in Dundee in the autumn for the sale of his fruit which also, 50 and 60 years ago, extensively sold from barrows on the streets of Forfarshire towns — in Arbroath among the rest. I daresay there may be some living still, who recollect these peripatetic fruitsellors, both men and women, yelling “Carse o’ Gowrie aiples! a penny the pund – Gourdiehill aiples fae the tap o’ the tree –penny a pund – penny a pund!”
A Wonderful Octogenarian
Mr Matthew was an old man when I knew him first in 1864 and many a happy evening I have spent at Gourdiehill. He always wore black clothes and I think a silk hat and with his long white hair had the appearance of a clergyman, though I never knew him attend church during the 8 or 10 years I knew him. He was for an old man a great walker and used to visit relatives in Newburgh, crossing the Tay at Port Allen to which he walked from Gourdiehill, a distance of 3½ miles. Well do I recollect a beautiful morning in the sunny summer of 1869. Before 8 o’clock we descried Mr Matthew coming towards our house in his shirt sleeves carrying his black surtout over his arm. He had walked into Newburgh from his friends’ residence, crossed the Tay —about miles — in a rowing boat (slanting down the river to Port Allen) afterwards toiling up to Mains of Errol in the hot sun. But to prove that he was not tired he ran up the stair our breakfast parlour taking two steps at a time though almost if not quite 80 years of age. After breakfast, during which he entertained with sundry philosophical speculations, as was his wont, he proceeded to Gourdiehill. Though he did not live to see it fall, he maintained stoutly, amidst much ridicule, that the first Tay Bridge could not stand. The Dundee newspapers, however, on that terrible Monday morning in December 1879, bore witness that the old philosopher had been right when he anticipated the catastrophe which had occurred the previous night.