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Editorial (1874-09-05)

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Untitled. Sheffield Daily Telegraph, Saturday 05 September 1874, p.2 col.2-3 (pdf image)

(Editorial published Sept 5 1874)
This Editorial is a warm and full-of-praise retrospective/obituary of Patrick Matthew, who had died 3 months earlier. The author is almost certainly the newspaper’s editor, William C. Leng, who was a friend of Matthew (see Newspaper Articles > Sheffield Daily Telegraph). The Editorial responds to a brief mention of Matthew made by Prof John Tyndall in his inaugural address as President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science on the 19th August 1874 (see Newspaper Articles > Retrospectives > Tyndall (1874-08-19)). The Editorial confidently predicts that Matthew’s “researches and discoveries will be better known to the scientific men of the next generation than they are to the men of the present”.

The Editorial describes Matthew as a “Seer” for his visionary prophesies. The Editorial suggests that it was “only by chance” that Darwin heard of Matthew’s views, so the writer is perhaps unaware that it was Matthew himself who alerted Darwin and the world to this (see Matthew & Darwin > Gardeners’ Chronicle > Matthew’s letter of 7 April 1860). The Editorial then suggests that it was due to a chance encounter between Matthew and “Mr. Walter, of the Times” that Matthew’s prediction of iron-clad steam-ram warships came to be widely publicized in 1862 (see Newspaper Articles > Steam ram prediction). However, this version of events contradicts what Walter (signing himself “J. W.”) originally declared in the Times article, which was that he had “no acquaintance with the writer”. The “Mr. Walter” referred to by this Editorial is presumably John Walter, the managing editor and proprietor of the Times at that time, although since the letter by “J. W.” was addressed to the Editor of the Times, this does raise the question of whether John Walter would have written a letter to himself, in the manner of an outside correspondent.

Matthew is described as shy and not good with words, but possessing a piercing and independent intellect:

Mr. MATTHEW was a thinking man, whose powerful mind and whose habits of keen and painstaking observance found both leisure and scope during the long life of lettered ease he led upon his pleasant estate in the Carse of Gowrie. His unobtrusive disposition, his love of retirement, a certain invincible shyness tempered by an inflexible independence in all that concerned his reason and his conscience, and, most of all, the difficulty he found in putting his views into a form sufficiently clear and concise to satisfy himself, all tended to make him that which he was – namely, a man who, although far in advance of his age, shrank from contact with the age in which he lived.

Mr. MATTHEW’s intellect was of a highly speculative order, and its speculations were characterised by a daring which contrasted strongly with his diffidence in other respects. He accepted nothing on trust, but mapped out his own course of thought and life with little regard for tradition, or for the respect paid to stereotyped conventionalisms. He was one of those who believe at once much less and much more than society at large believes.

He lacked the power to put into attractive and popular shape the information he had picked up. We have likened him to an Encyclopaedia, but he was an Encyclopaedia with the folios unnumbered, the chapters unedited, and the index unmade. The happy art of making hard things easy and strange things familiar by means of using here and there an apt metaphor was not his.

Matthew is described as “governed by an enlightened reason and highly cultivated sense of personal honour”, and as “a man of quick sympathies, and his sympathies were with the poor”. His time with the Chartists is mentioned (see Newspaper Articles > Chartism), and the Editorial’s description of Matthew as “elected Chairman of the Chartist Convention” presumably draws on Matthew’s own description of himself as the “secretary and convener” of the London Convention (see Newspaper Articles > Chartism > Matthew (1839-03-21)). He is described as a Democrat, but not of the “modern school”. The Editorial clarifies this by declaring that, while he was a “fervid advocate of education”, “he had more love for the people than faith in their judgment, and he would have done more for them than through them”. Matthew is described as having a paternalistic attitude to the peoples colonised by Britain, and “so far from advocating a policy of Imperial disintegration as good for the nations and as leading to desirable equality, he believed in the superiority of certain races of men over others, and regarded the patent of governing authority possessed by the Saxon race as one stamped and sealed with the indisputable sign-manual of the Maker of the World”. The reference at the end to Matthew’s belief in a Creator is of particular interest.

The piece ends by thanking “Professor Tyndall for placing his [Matthew’s] name just where Mr. Darwin would wish to see it placed – in a ‘co-partnership’ of honour and fame”.

The full text of Matthew’s retrospective/obituary follows:

The President of the British Association mentioned in his address at Belfast the name of a very remarkable man whose researches and discoveries will be better known to the scientific men of the next generation than they are to the men of the present. We dare say that when Professor TYNDALL coupled the name of PATRICK MATTHEW with that of Mr. DARWIN not a few of those who read next morning the Professor’s address would be inclined to ask “Who is Mr. MATTHEW?” To this question we are in a position to give some answer. Mr. MATTHEW was a thinking man, whose powerful mind and whose habits of keen and painstaking observance found both leisure and scope during the long life of lettered ease he led upon his pleasant estate in the Carse of Gowrie. His unobtrusive disposition, his love of retirement, a certain invincible shyness tempered by an inflexible independence in all that concerned his reason and his conscience, and, most of all, the difficulty he found in putting his views into a form sufficiently clear and concise to satisfy himself, all tended to make him that which he was – namely, a man who, although far in advance of his age, shrank from contact with the age in which he lived. It was only by chance that Mr. DARWIN heard of a rural philosopher who had anticipated him by long series of years in the promulgation of what is commonly known as “the Darwinian theory.” Mr. DARWIN read Mr. MATTHEW’s work on “Naval Timber,” found in it the theory of elective affinity or natural selection, and handsomely acknowledged that a country gentleman dwelling among his orchards in the famed Forfarshire Carse had gone before him on the path of research which he had regarded as exclusively his own. It was only by accident that Mr. WALTER, of the Times, met one day with an old man upon whom age sat lightly, and whose talk so interested him that he dipped into the same book on “Naval Timber,” and found to his amazement that he had been conversing with a Seer who had in his youth put upon paper his pre-vision – a vision seen with the eye of the mind – of the steam fleets of the future with their iron rams, their changed manoeuvres, their rapid movements, and their heavy armour plating. Mr. WALTER was so impressed by the chapter on armour-plated steam rams that he republished it in the pages of the Thunderer to let the world see that there was in England one man who, at the time when steam navigation was in its infancy – a mere timidly tentative thing – foresaw the changes which steam had made necessary in naval warfare, and foreseen some of those changes with a clearness which the Admiralty have hardly realised at this hour. An agriculturist had, in nautical matters, gone ahead of all recognised nautical authorities by more than thirty-five years. The chapter re-issued in the Times read like a revelation, and furnished one of the most curious illustrations this generation has seen of the triumph of mind over circumstances.

Mr. MATTHEW’s intellect was of a highly speculative order, and its speculations were characterised by a daring which contrasted strongly with his diffidence in other respects. He accepted nothing on trust, but mapped out his own course of thought and life with little regard for tradition, or for the respect paid to stereotyped conventionalisms. He was one of those who believe at once much less and much more than society at large believes. He loved to explore the unexplored in the realm of thought, leaving the world and its tumults behind him while he studied, with microscopic minuteness, the secrets of vegetable and animal life. In this way he became by slow degrees an animated Encyclopaedia of instructive knowledge picked up in the bye-paths of information. He knew much that was novel respecting the habits of birds and beasts and insects, the development of plants, and the laws which govern human life, and his desire to interest others in his own studies must, for a reason we are about to name, have caused him some disappointment. He lacked the power to put into attractive and popular shape the information he had picked up. We have likened him to an Encyclopaedia, but he was an Encyclopaedia with the folios unnumbered, the chapters unedited, and the index unmade. The happy art of making hard things easy and strange things familiar by means of using here and there an apt metaphor was not his. The few who shared with us the privilege and the honour of his friendship found that it required some previous preparation to enable them to follow him in his conversational statements of views which were to him sufficiently plain. But when he found thoughts identical with his own more clearly expressed by another than he knew how to express them his gratification was great, and this was particularly the case in respect of articles on the fighting ships of the future.

Mr. MATTHEW was a man of quick sympathies, and his sympathies were with the poor. In common with several other young men of great force of character he was carried early in life into active relations with the Chartist movement, and was, as a landed gentleman and an ardent Democrat, elected Chairman of the Chartist Convention. But he was no Democrat of the modern school. As an admirer of good government he respected those administrators who governed strongly. Abstemious in his own habits, governed by an enlightened reason and highly cultivated sense of personal honour, he was a fervid advocate of education – and not merely of the education of the schools, but of the educating influences that proceed from the setting of a good example. On his own land he planted fruit trees by the wayside, and he pointed with pleasure and with pride to the evidences that they were not injuriously molested. In another respect Mr. MATTHEW’s Democratic sympathies took a contrary direction to those of the Manchester – or GLADSTONE – school. He had more love for the people than faith in their judgment, and he would have done more <em for them than through them. He regarded the British Colonies with enthusiasm as the grandest patrimonial possessions of the nation, and so far from advocating a policy of Imperial disintegration as good for the nations and as leading to desirable equality, he believed in the superiority of certain races of men over others, and regarded the patent of governing authority possessed by the Saxon race as one stamped and sealed with the indisputable sign-manual of the Maker of the World. At the age of 84 the Philosopher of Inchture was reaping in brightness of spirit one of the rewards of his enlightened mode of life when he kindly intimated to us his wish that we should run up to the North to see him, and receive from his lips some account of his later researches. The Fates deprived us of that opportunity, and it was the last. The Seer, at once old and so youthful, weighted with years and so fresh in sympathies, so calm of mind and so cheerful at the period life when most men are querulous, has been removed, and we thank Professor TYNDALL for placing his name just where Mr. DARWIN would wish to see it placed – in a “co-partnership” of honour and fame.

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