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Matthew (1861-11-25)

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“To the Citizens of Dundee”. Dundee Advertiser, Monday 25 November 1861, p.2 col.2-3 (pdf image)

(Letter dated Nov 22 1861, published Nov 25 1861)
In advance of a public meeting on the subject, Matthew promotes the need for a powerful Right-of-Way Association to protect existing public rights-of-way on footpaths. He sees this as no minor issue. To deprive people of their right to enjoy their own countryside, he argues, is akin to a form of “indirect slavery”.

The piece is interesting for the hypothetical way that Matthew refers to a “hereafter”, implying he does not subscribe to this view. He also speculates on “immaterial existence” being the next step in the evolution of man (“an advance of material life has take place this earth. Civilized man, as he now exists, appears to be the highest advance possible of material creation, and an immaterial existence is the next step”).

Matthew also relates a story regarding his planting of a number of pear trees on his estate alongside a public footpath. Despite the temptation to scrump, “there did not appear a single pear wanting” at the end of the season. This story is repeated in a retrospective of Matthew printed after his death.

TO THE CITIZENS OF DUNDEE.

FRIENDS AND COUNTRYMEN,— A public meeting is to be held in the Thistle Hall on Tuesday first, the 26th curt., upon the Right-of-Way. As one of the Committee, I submit the following observations for your previous consideration, with a view to expedite proceedings at the meeting.

Self-defence is the first law of nature — defence from home as well as from foreign plunderers. If men are fitted to be slaves, or to bear the oppressor’s wrong, there are always tyrants or oppressors at hand to rob them of their freedom or property. Liberty — the people’s right, can thus only be maintained by a perpetual struggle. To be freemen we must be up to the mark, determined to resist every form of oppression, not only to acquire national liberty, but to preserve it. We must merit the smiles of freedom to enjoy them. Independent of direct or personal slavery, we have several kinds of indirect slavery, not much less degrading and mischievous than the direct — religious, political, industrial, land distributive — along with that phase of oppression which the poorer and the most industrious portion of the city population experience at the hands of some of the unprincipled rich. Those already enjoying a large portion of the land of their country covet even the suburban foot-pathways where the city population have from time immemorial been accustomed walk, to look upon the serene face of nature — a poor boon, only to look at their own beautiful country, none of which they individually possess. It may be asked, why is this public property not protected? why does the civil Government, why does the police not take account of this rapine? what have the city authorities been about? why are the thieves not punished the same as in the case of theft of moveables? It is true, they do not carry off the stolen property, but they plough up, disfigure, or obliterate the smooth pathways chosen by your forefathers to points of view of great command of prospect, and of surpassing beauty, put up a board threatening punishment to comers and goers, and even rob the trespasser (?) of money by threats of prosecution if he does not pay the sum they demand, and which the poor man, rather than enter into a tedious and extensive litigation with the rich, submits to pay. It is such acts of the grasping hand and greedy heart that render a powerful Right-of-Way Association an imperative necessity. The cause of the neglect of the Executive, and the supineness of the Legislature the in case such theft in this shameful appropriation of public property by adjacent proprietors, can be accounted for by the fact that the plunderers are rich men of influence, and that the great mass of the people who use the footpaths are unrepresented in Parliament, and the few in possession of the franchise under the thrall of the rich.

In these thefts of the foot-pathways it is chiefly the poorer classes that suffer. Here we have the rich robbing their poorer brethren — of all crimes the most detestable. The richer citizens have, most of them suburban villas, where their families enjoy a garden residence, and the footpath ways are not with them a first necessity; besides, some of them may be aggressors, hence this class has not, with a few exceptions, looked with much favour upon the Right-of-Way Association. This want of sympathy I deeply regret. How can they view with indifference children brought up unacquainted with green fields, that grow up destitute of early associations with the flowers springing and the birds singing? The pale, weakly child, who has never been beyond stone walls, who passes its young life in dirty unventilated closes, who has never rolled on the green swank or plucked the wild flowers, is a saddening sight — perhaps the saddest in creation, and this is too frequent in Dundee. Herein lies the great value of the Park on the east of the city,— a beautiful and extensive recreation ground, most favourably situated for the sanitary enjoyment of the eastern portion of the city population. You believe in an hereafter — in future rewards and punishments — this seems an instinctive sense in the higher races of mankind. The poor man naturally clings to this idea of a future existence, from his trials and meritorious industrial exertions here. Suppose an hereafter — with what feelings would the donors of this gift to the people of Dundee look down upon numbers of happy children at play on this beautiful field, the mothers and elder girls busy in stringing wreaths of daisies to deck the brows and necks of the younger. But what feelings of sorrow and regret would those, the opposite of donors, come to a higher moral sense experience. This is not mere ideal dream — it is based upon the deepest philosophy — an advance of material life has take place this earth. Civilized man, as he now exists, appears to be the highest advance possible of material creation, and an immaterial existence is the next step.

The British land aristocracy are much wanting in a knowledge of their own position in standing aloof from procuring further Reform, and more especially legislative regulations for improvement of the sanitary condition and comfort of the city population. They boast of Britain being the land of freedom; yet in no other country of Europe where I have been are the interests and well-being of the working-men less considered. In no place abroad have I found the city population so circumscribed, so shut up by lines of stone walls, and with so few public grounds and open gardens. The cause of this is, that on the Continent the Government is the hands of a sovereign who has a strong interest in propitiating the great body of the people; while in Britain the governing power is in the hands of the land aristocracy, who, like other bodies of men, are in their conduct purely selfish, and in this case, unwisely so. Under the new circumstances of the general diffusion knowledge, it is impossible that a continuance of this system can come to good.

Need mention that the proprietors around Dundee are deeply indebted to the spirit and skill of the Dundee men — employers and employed — for the great increase of value of their lands in the immediate vicinity of the town where the pathways are stopped, tripled, and quadrupled in worth. How can we account for their glaring ingratitude to most beneficial neighbours?

Under present circumstances, with such vast accession of knowledge and power flowing in upon the city population, it certainly is not the time still further to extend indirect slavery and oppression — still further to imprison our city population within stone walls — to rob them of their beautiful suburban walks — to insulate them from conversing with Nature, where Nature so richly displays her charms, as around Bonnie Dundee. To attempt to do so here, and in other cities of Britain, is only to imperil social order and the present tenure of land property. Hitherto, this Society has held off in hopes that the neighbouring land-owners would second them in opening up and improving the footpaths, and following the noble example given on the east in still more {illegible} much rather desire to change from a Right-of Way Association into an association for ornamenting the public grounds, and for the defence of property around public grounds and public pathways. I may state here that there is a principle of honour in the people generally, which, when they find themselves trusted, is strongly shewn. I planted a number of pear trees along the side of the public road, about a yard distant from it, without any fence to prevent the passers by (of which there were considerable numbers of all ages) from reaching in their hand and taking the fruit from the low branches. On one young tree, the thickest in the row in fruit, I counted about two dozen pears, and let them remain, large yellow fruit, till most of them had dropped off from overripeness; and, when I gathered them, mostly from the ground, there did not appear a single pear wanting. This agrees with my grandfather’s practice at Gourdiehill. He would not allow any place to be locked in the house, giving as his reason that locks only made thieves. While, on the same principle, I once had neighbour of whom it was said he made all the people under him thieves. They found him not very scrupulous in his conduct towards them, and they enjoyed a little roguery in return. At the coming meeting, I hope that the scheme of action will be cautiously deliberated upon, and a determination come to regarding what interruption of pathway should first be proceeded against.

PATRICK MATTHEW.
Gourdiehill, Nov. 22, 1861.

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