[From Bullock's History of IoM, 1816]
Comments on the actual State of Society in the Island- Characteristics of the Natives - The Clergy - Methodists.
Having now given as full an account of the history of the island as my materials will allow; and impartially pointed out the local disadvantages a stranger may have to encounter, I must descend from the character of an historian in order to form a more accurate "chart du pays," it will be needful to introduce both anecdote and individual character, as far as they may serve to illustrate the present state of society, and manners, and enable my readers to judge how far I am correct in the assertion with which I sat out that the island offers a favorable retreat to persons of small fortune, and moderate habits.
Having formerly published some letters in a London paper on the same subject and with the same view, that of making our neighbours on the opposite coasts better acquainted with the Isle of Man, I shall not, I trust, be charged with plagiarism, if I make a restatement of some particulars there laid down. In the minds of those who have thought of this place at all, a strong prejudice has hitherto existed against it, as a mere asylum where debtors might elude the claims of their creditors! that the protection hitherto granted by the laws of the island, has in many instances invited the unprincipled and extravagant to a temporary residence, cannot be denied; but it is equally true, that in various cases, it has afforded a retreat, where by the practice of economy those affairs have been retrieved, and debts paid, which had the individuals been subjected to imprisonment, with its attendant disadvantages and expenses, never would have been effected; but at present the question in all its bearings way be laid aside as of no farther importance.
The insular legislature, influenced by a requisition, from the British government, have thrown open a door to the recovery of foreign debts; and the consequences of this act are, for the present, most seriously felt in the island, where the sums brought in by strangers, increased the circulation, and gave the necessary stimulus to commerce and agriculture; but these very circumstances concur to form a most favorable era for the introduction of those to whom, I am of opinion the island presents advantages nowhere else to be found in the United Kingdom.
In Great Britain, by the inroads, of luxury and the tremendous increase of taxation, existence is absolutely denied to that class which formerly constituted the middle rank ; whereas in the Isle of Man, these are precisely the persons best calculated to harmonize with the manners and customs of its inhabitants, in whose character habitual economy forms a very leading trait. By the vast increase of trade and commerce in England, and the consequent influx of wealth, things have completely changed their names, whilst their natures have undergone no alteration. Prudence is now degraded into parsimony, and prodigality has assumed the honorable title of liberality; but as in this isolated spot it has most frequently happened; that people have had to contemplate the result of this transposition of terms, divested of the glare attending its progress, as whilst the place afforded an asylum to the debtor, they too often found, that those who fled from the consequences of extravagance on one side the water, brought the same habits of expense and disorder to the other ; and as such characters are usually actuated by a sovereign contempt for those little minds who limit their expenses within their means; the legitimate fruit of this combination of profusion and scorn, was distrust and aversion. Hence it has become a rule that the stranger who would live well with the natives, was compelled to adopt their customs, and above all things found it requisite to avoid every appearance of profusion. When it is considered how much we are the creatures of example, and how many foolish things are done for no better reason than because others do them, or to evade the suspicion of poverty, the value of this remarkable feature must be duly appreciated.
It has been alleged that the Manx people are illiberal and inhospitable; but I speak from experience and observation, when I assert them to be neither one nor the other. Those characteristics I have enumerated, as generally belonging to the refugees settling here, and the high airs usually assumed 'by them, certainly prevented any degree of intimacy between two sets of people, whose arrangements were totally dissimilar. Nor would it have had any effect in producing unanimity, had the Manx hazarded their morals by an attempt at assimilation. But it does not follow that the same aversion to extend the circle of society, would operate to the exclusion of persons more consonant to themselves. I believe the very contrary will be the case, and that short time will suffice to root out all prejudices on this subject. Meanwhile, in the Isle of Man, no sacrifice is exacted to ostentation. There is no scale of expence established. to which all must conform, who would preserve a respectability of appearance. The simple assertion," I cannot afford it," is accepted as both reasonable, and honorable; and those whose current expences are completely bounded by their income, occupy a more advantageous station in the eyes of their contemporaries, than those who, to make a great shew, go not only to the extent of their means, but keep their credit also on the full stretch.
Another advantage, particularly to young housekeepers, is, the entire absence of luxuries the markets offer few,temptations, and the shops very little beyond articles of necessity. Here are neither public places or gaming tables, even tavern meetings are little frequented, and the possibility of extravagance hardly exists. When to this is added the entire freedom from taxation, it must be evident, that a very narrow income with tolerable management, may support a family in this island, to whom it would hardly give food in Great Britain.
Another particular most favorable to the maintenance of economy, lies in the habits of the house-servants, who, being usually trained up in Manx families, have no idea of that expensive scale of rights and privileges, which has crept in by combination and sufferance in other countries; but it is a necessary caution to those who would profit by the established customs, to warn them that they must not attempt to mix the native domestics with any others ; and that they must make themselves acquainted with, and steadily enforce the established practices of the country. The servants have, in general, but a limited knowledge of their duties, but with a little instruction, prove useful and active. The regular times of hiring is at May and November; for the ensuing six months, if the persons hired absent themselves from their service within the term of engagement, they are liable to imprisonment; if dismissed by the hirer, the full wages must be paid : these are moderate, and vary according to the abilities of the subject.
It is universally allowed, that no class have a greater influence in forming the character of society at large, than the clergy, and I shall enter on this subject with great pleasure, as it relates to those of the Isle of Man, whom I consider as deserving the most honorable mention. To the indolence, carelessness, and even irreligion, too often exhibited in persons holding the office of ministers in England and Ireland, it is, I believe, universally admitted, much of the ordinary vices of the lower orders of people may be ascribed: the remark is trite, but not the less true, that a precept has little influence, when example takes a contrary direction. The graces of elocution, the charms of learning, the finest taste in the choice of discourses, can never counterbalance the mischiefs effected by a negligent or immoral pastor; his Sunday lectures can have no weight,, whilst his weekly practice carries him through the haunts of vice and dissipation. Happily for this island., the inhabitants cannot, from experience, appreciate the veracity of this maxim amongst the whole order of Manx clergy, though some may be deficient in learning, and even in that elevated strain of piety so necessary to give full efficacy to the doctrines they teach. Yet I will undertake, without fear of contradiction, to say, there are few, if any, striking instances of dereliction from their duties, and that, generally speaking, the established habits of the whole body are consonant to the best rules of orthodoxy.
When Bishop Wilson first settled in the Isle of Man, he found the clergy sunk in ignorance, and not remarkable for propriety of conduct; he speedily saw the necessity of striking at the root of an evil so extensive in its consequences, and he began by establishing a seminary under his own roof, where, with unwearied pains, he trained up future candidates for the ministry: the benefits of this excellent plan are not yet exhausted, the pupils of his pupils are still alive to propagate the blessing.
If the Manx clergy are a little deficient in the exterior polish of those attainments derivable from a College education, they are, at least, preserved from the contagion of vices too often attendant on a superior course of instruction, and retain a simplicity of character and correctness of manners more conducive to the general good of those they have to instruct, than greater learning would prove with less humility.
Much emulation in reading and speaking has, of late, prevailed amongst the younger candidates, and the improvement in these particulars has been very striking, even within the term of my own observation. Great part of this evident change in oratory may be ascribed to the influence of the present bishop, whose discourses, which he delivers with calm, but energetic solemnity, are particularly impressive. Indeed it may be truly said, that his Lordship's example, as well as his vigilant superintendence, are highly conducive to the preservation of religion in diocese, as well as to the general amelioration of manners both in his clergy and people, his own, character being embellished with all the graces derivable from the high polish of elevated society, combined and corrected by the gentleness and moderation of genuine Christianity.
The service is performed in most country churches alternately in English and Manx, in the towns of Douglas and Castletown; the former language is adopted exclusively. The livings are none of them large, but they are pretty equally distributed; the highest does not exceed £350, nor the lowest fall beneath £80 per annum. The service of a curate is almost unknown, and residence very strictly enforced. I have witnessed with pleasure, the respect universally shewn to the clergyman and his family in several parishes, where such observations have come within my reach ; and the peaceful and orderly arrangements of these village-pastors in their houses, has forcibly reminded me of Goldsmith's description of a similar character.
To particularize some, cannot be done without injustice to other. But there is one minister in the island, in whose eulogy, I believe, all parties will concur with unqualified approbation. I respect the pious and unaffected humility of this gentleman's mind too much to mention his name. But, as " the friend of Man, a title universally accorded him, he is well known in his little circle, where his paternal care is actively employed to benefit and instruct; nor does he confine his pious endeavors to the narrow limits of his own parish-his writings and exhortations take a more extended range, and the good he is enabled to effect must return in blessings on himself.
The service of the church is attended by the laity with an appearance of devotion, very edifying to witness; nor is the rest of the Sabbath profaned by riots and drunkenness, as is too often the case in larger communities. A quiet walk, or a little chat from house to house amongst the decent villagers, seems to bound the Sunday diversions.
The methodists are, in this island, an increasing sect. It appears, that from their first institution, they have been favorably received here, as has ever been the case, when they have assailed an ignorant or superstitious people. Wesley, who visited them in 1777, says of this place, "We have no such circuit either in England or Ireland; it is shut up from the world; there are no disputes of any kind. Governor, bishop,*1 clergy, oppose not - they did for a season, but they grew better acquainted with us." It I confess I do not wholly subscribe to the predjudice entertained against this people ; I firmly believe, as the candid and ingenuous Dr. Paley observes, " that there is to be found amongst them much sincere and availing, though not always well-informed Christianity." That their devotion is too enthusiastic must be admitted , and where it goes the length of substituting faith, for works, the doctrine is undoubtedly more than erroneous, it becomes highly dangerous. But, these abstract points are not those which operate on the minds of the multitude, nor are they, those which are generally objected to, or even considered by their opponents; and though some far-sighted persons may discern a danger to the church and state, from the prevalence of puritanism, I confess I cannot bring myself as yet to partake of their fears, for I am inclined think, that the cry of the great mass, if duly analized, would be found to be as much excited by a high strain of devotion in general, as against the methodists in particular; a very little extra attention to duty, or opposition to prevailing vices, has the effect to raise the hue-and-cry of hypocrisy. According to the present system, drunkenness, debauchery, and profane swearing, are all vices incident to human nature, and for which, charity commands us -to make every allowance, and continually to bear in mind the precepts of our Saviour against partial judgments. But one seldom sees the same forbearance exhibited in decrying a praying psalm-singing rogue; his sanctity, even though no outward evidence impeaches it, is yet a subject of continual suspicion: in short, hypocrisy, whether real or imaginary, seems to include all the deadly sins; and to evade this charge, no hazard, not even that of our eternal happiness is thought too much,
The evil consequences to the rising generation, of this affected candor in estimating real vices, and this fearful avoidance of assuming virtue, must be obvious. Children, who continually hear all professions of piety ridiculed, and suspected, must naturally look on devotion as useless or affected; and whilst every mention of a future state, and every quotation from Scripture is avoided as methodistical cant, I would fain know by what intuition they are to obtain the knowledge, which, I trust, we are not yet arrived at the pitch of denying, is necessary to salvation.
My object in this digression is by no means to advocate the cause of enthusiasm, I only seek to, decry absolute irreligion; all that is done by the methodists, and much more than they can effect, would be far better, performed, by the enlightened and rational clergy of the established: church, if they would only exert themselves heartily, and conscientiously in the cause; for I fully agree with the author I have before quoted, (Dr. Paley), who says, "I have never yet attended a meeting of the methodists, but I came away with the reflection, how different what I heard, was from the sobriety, the good sense, and I may add, the strength and authority of our Lord's discourses;" and, therefore, though I would rather have the lower orders instructed in matters of religion, even by the methodists than remain completely in ignorance, yet in the Isle of Man, where no such neglect subsists, and where the clergy, from the head of the church to the youngest member of the class, are both adequate to their office, and zealous in performing the duties enjoined on them, I think interlopers are worse than useless; and should agree, heartily in the sentiments of those who wish some check or restraint should be imposed on their increasing influence; if the experience of all ages did not prove, that every species of coercion, in matters of opinion, has a direct tendency to strengthen and extend the evil.
*1 Dr. Hildesley was then diocesan. - I cannot help thinking Bishop Wilson would have resisted these innovators with more zeal.