[From Bullock's History of IoM, 1816]
Further Observations on the Society An Example presented to the Ladies for their Imitation, deduced wholly from Native Excellence The Peasantry Review of the State of Society at different Periods Contrast between the Natives and Strangers Anecdote of the Latter.
THE situation of the Isle of Man, slowly emerging from a state of depression, has been, for the last three centuries, peculiarly unfavourable to literature; the supply of bodily wants will allow ways supersede the improvement of the mind, hitherto the people have learnt only to live, they may now " live to learn." But though little has been done at home, the island has nevertheless. afforded some excellent specimens of the effects of foreign culture on native talent; and when recalling the names of those who, owing their birth to this confined sphere, have contributed to adorn, instruct, or defend, the parent state, every Manxman will record with pride the distinguished names of Colonel Mark Wilkes, the historian of India; the learned lexicographer, Dr. Kelly; Captains Heywood and Kelly, of the royal navy, gentlemen not more distinguished for courage and enterprise, than for science in their profession; these are all luminaries of the present day, and doubtless there may be many more equally worthy of notice. I have heard of only one native poet, and his talents, though certainly above mediocrity. were suffered to evaporate in local satire, of which the humour is now lost, and in course the momentary corruscations attendant on his essays, have expired with the subjects whence they sprung.
On the whole, I believe it must be admitted, that Mona is not poetic ground, and it seems to me, that the character of the Manx, when it shall be completely developed, will be found better adapted to solid attainments, than to those flights of fancy, which carry the enthusiast into the regions of fiction.
But even to the due cultivation of those talents derived from stature much is still wanting, and the foundation of scholastic learning is yet to be laid: the very heavy expence, -as well; -the inconvenience attendant on sending boys to England, restrains most families from adopting this plan, whilst those who do it, are apt to shorten their course so much that few have the advantage of a regular education, and thus each young man, in comparing the attainments of his cotemporaries with his own, finds them so nearly on a scale, that he has no incitement from emulation to advance nearer the goal.
Whenever the present class of pedagogues shall give place to only one or two school masters of real learning, this great disadvantage will be overcome, and as I know no place that offers a fairer opening to persons in this line, I trust the attempt will yet be made; but to the success of such an undertaking, moderation of terms are essential at the outset; the value of education, not being sufficiently appreciated to command profuse returns, especially before the; inhabitants have ascertained the real existence of those abilities, which they have been taught to doubt, from the extravagant and unfounded pretensions by which they have too often been duped.
The Manx ladies would have just cause of complaint, if I should pass than over in silent neglect, yet I confess I enter their coterie with some fear, lest those, who do not know then, should accuse me of flattery, and those who do, should charge me with severity.
In speaking of the female part of the community, I shall pass lightly over the occasional visitors, and confine my remarks almost wholly to the natives, those who have come hither from other countries have seldom presented good specimens; either extravagance or necessity are badly calculated to form the character of woman in the best mould, and to one or other of these causes may be ascribed most of the emigrations which have hitherto taken place. Future writers will probably have better subjects to describe, but till now the most striking traits exhibited by these fair wanderers have been a sovereign contempt for those them came to live amongst, a prodigious flippancy vast affectation of high breeding, and pretensions to a rank in their own country, not always borne out by facts. With these ladies it was usual to pass their time in querulous regret at the fate which had condemned them to irradiate so low a sphere, and eager anticipations of their return to a more extended circle. The ill policy of shewing this aversion to the retreat they had chosen, must be plain to any comprehension! no one returns esteem, for contempt, and nothing could be more natural than to join in the regret thus loudly expressed, that fortune had compelled them to take a station in society, where they were neither welcome or invited guests.
The generality of native ladies belong to that rank most favourable to feminine virtues, neither elevated by superior rank, talents, or attainments, nor sunk in vulgar and degrading ignorance They are admirably calculated to per, form their relative duties, and instances of dereliction are, in consequence, extremely rare; that they have not received the last polish, or acquired those arts which embellish the charms of virtue where she is, and outwardly supply her place where she is not, is most true; but neither do they exhibit those glaring vices, or that offensive disregard to propriety, which we some-times see accompany extraordinary intellectual advantages.
The term dashing is not to be found is the Manx vocabulary, nor do the young ladies, or their mothers for them, lay violent hands on admiration; but rather wait with perfect quietness: till it is spontaneously offered. I do not, indeed, consider the Isle of Man as the abode of Cupid or the Graces; in general, the marriages contracted by the natives, (though they take place at rather an early age) are founded on prudential calculations, no man, however youthful, marries merely for love; yet, as soon as any one is established in business or housekeeping, he naturally looks out for a wife as a necessary appendage to his domestic economy, and in his choice is influenced by parity of circumstances, by early associations, or some such motives, independent of the tender passion: in general, the same quietude of sentiments actuates both sides, yet are these marriages, in most instances,- fortunate in their results; a couple thus united live together on the best terms, they co-operate in their pursuits, habit soon gives them an undeviating conformity, and permits their lives to pass
" A clear and united stream."
The ladies are in general, admirable economists, and good mothers; they are rather fond of dress, but even this taste is so circumscribed, that it never leads them beyond the bounds of decency, whilst the vigilant superintendence of a narrow society restrains them from extravagance.
In the course of education pursued by the young ladies, all that is commonly called accomplishment, is attained with such difficulty and expence, that the attempt is generally relinquished, for, although in Douglas there are two female schools of tolerable celebrity, yet their plans are too superficial for essential good, and their efforts entirely crippled by the want of masters to assist in those branches of knowledge usually conducted by the other sex.
The style of visiting is like that which prevails in most country towns in England; they meet to play cards, to practise a little extra judicial inquiry into the proceedings of their neighbours, to relate their own domestic afflictions, to show their new clothes, and to kill time; but, for any intellectual attainments, for any "but of sentiment or flow of soul," it is as little to be found or expected here, as in any other circle of the same confined dimensions; and I own I have often observed, with smiling wonder, the avidity with which they individually run from house tip house all the morning, to repeat the same news, practise the same courtesies, and make the same inquiries separately, which the identical set must hear, see, and answer over again, collectively' the evening. The only scenes of active and public amusement hitherto established, to bring the young people together, are monthly balls, which are well attended. I wonder nothing like a book society has been attempted amongst the ladies; I am persuaded they have capacities for higher attainments than they have yet pursued, and I should rejoice to see their associations take a superior tone.
I would fain persuade my cotemporaries to assume the graces and charms of virtue in her best dress and character! to employ their time in acts of benevolence: to guide the ignorant, stimulate the idle, and substitute active goodness for the negative praise of harmlessness. In no place that I am acquainted with, are there better opportunities for this advance in real worth ! the female character here presents almost a spotless surface! there are no prevalent vices to combat ! no fashionable crimes to eradicate! all that is required is to improve, embellish, and call forth latent, good qualities, and give efficacy to dormant virtues, a purpose which I have little doubt, a very few examples would suffice to effect, and I think I cannot better conclude this short essay than with the character of a Manx lady not long since deceased; who, with only the narrow means of cultivation this island affords, presented in her life, and left behind at her death, a complete exemplification of all that is valuable in woman. I borrow the words from the sermon preached at her funeral, and I might call on the while circle of her acquaintance, to say if the picture exhibits one exaggerated feature. *
" Her piety, though silent in its exercise., and secret in its springs, powerfully influenced her life, and conversation, sweetened her temper, softened her manners, and elevated her views; from the exercises of public worship, from the retirement of her closet, and the perusal of the sacred volume, she returned to the active duties of her family with renewed energy: ' looking well to the ways of her household, and training up her children in the way they should go, the heart of her husband safely trusted in her, and she did him good all the days of her life.' All her duties were performed with singleness and sincerity, she walked in her family and neighbourhood as the angel of consolation offering a balm for every wound, and a remedy for every distress; often have the sick and dying experienced relief from her charitable aide and often has her.well-timed assistance suspended pain, and arrested the progress of misery.
" In discharge of her relative duties she was peculiarly exemplary, her conduct as a daughter was marked by the most cheerful obedience, and the most watchful attention: no language can convey an idea of the tenderness of her affection for her partner in lifeshe was his companion in health, his physician in sickness, ever anticipating his desires and preventing his wishes. Her attachment to her children was tender, rational, and constant ! she taught them by her precepts, but still more by her example to observe and adorn the doctrine of their Saviour in all things.
" The close of such a life might well be expected to be peace, and such it was, solid, substantial, well-grounded peace and hope; for although it was the will of heaven to remove her in the prime of lifer and though her sufferings in the last week of her existence were calculated to try her faith and patience, to the uttermost, yet she regarded them as the appointment of unerring wisdom, and endured them in silent tranquillity and resignation, exerting herself only to console those whom she was about to leave, and to point their hopes to a future meeting in bliss."
I believe no Manx woman can peruse this eulogium without some degree of exultation, and I trust also, not without an earnest wish to follow such an admirable example.
The general description given of the Mans peasantry is, that they are sullen, unmoved by benefits, and to a degree beyond all bounds fond of litigation. I am not prepared wholly to deny these charges, but I think I may, without deviating from the strictest truth, offer something in the way of defence and explanation. Assuredly they are not a gracious people, they are slow in their apprehensions, and somewhat cold hearted in manner, if not in reality, particularly towards strangers, of whom circumstances haven engendered a degree of suspicion, which is nimbi almost engrafted in their nature, and which off time, and an improved course of education can eradicate. The charge of ingratitude also admits of considerable palliation. This sentiment in uncultivated minds, must ever be in an exam ratio with their sense of the benefit conferred now it is most certain, that what an English peasant would consider as a state of actual starvation; is scarcely regarded by a Manxman. as including any particular deprivation; from their birth they are habituated, without effort or design, to live very hardly. Herrings, potatoes, oatmeal, and these in very moderate quantities, are the general fare equally of the small native farmer and the labourer.
The latter resides contentedly in a cottage of mud, under a roof of straw, so low that a man of middling stature can hardly stand erect in any part of it; if to the common necessaries above stated the good people add a stock of turf for the fire, and a cow fed in the lanes and hedges, they enjoy the utmost abundance of which they have any idea. A chaff bed for the whole family, a stool and a wooden table, constitute the furniture of the mansion, and here they vegetate in heaps, waiting the recurrence of the herring fishery for the renewal of plenty, and when their stores fall somewhat short of their consumption, they take such calamities with patience as matters of course, which must happen, but for which the remedy will come of itself in due season; or may be sought in a case of extremity, by spending a day or two in labour at a neighbouring farm.
When therefore a stranger, viewing this scene with compassion, (because to him it would be a. state of extreme misery) satisfies his own feelings by gifts, which the objects of his pity never desired, and scarcely know how to use, ought he to wonder that he excites none of those sentiments of gratitude which the same benefits would naturally produce in other places, should he be angry that the Manxman understands as little of this refined feeling as he did of his own wants.
On the other hand, there are traits of hospitality inherent in the character of these peasants which bespeak a natural generosity, and which it is remarkable are preserved in the greatest purity, where their exercise must be attended; with the most considerable self-denial. No cotter, however poor, will refuse to his neighbour or acquaintance a share of his herrings and potatoes, small as the portion may be that is provided for his own consumption, and though their miserable bed be crowded by a whole family, they still find a corner for a native traveller, who seeks the shelter of a lowly roof; and these good offices are extended with the most unaffected simplicity, and accepted more as a right than a favour.
The love of litigation is a charge which it is more difficult to meet with a due apology. Yet even on this subject something may be said. In the first place it is almost wholly confined to the lower orders. In the higher circles of the Manx, whether gentry or traders, there is little disposition to vexations or petty suing in the same classes in other countries, where access to law is guarded by expence and difficulty; on the other hand, the peasant has been accustomed from infancy to consider the deemster as the guardian of his rights, and an infallible decider of all disagreements, to whom he might apply whenever he felt himself injured or agrieved, and that, not entirely in the character of a judge greatly elevated above himself, who must be approached with awe, and who from want of experience could enter into none of the petty grievances brought to his cognizance: but on the contrary, the Manxman feels that this officer has a close and local knowledge of the character, circumstances, and family history of every client in his little district: and he remembers too, that a very short time perhaps has elapsed since the deemster moved in the same sphere with himself. Each man also, partial to his own cause, and knowing the decisions are to be governed by circumstances as they can be made to appear, has a hope, by telling his own story, of prevailing against his adversary. At all events the expence incurred is trifling, and the disgrace of failure none at all.
This habit of referring the merest trifles to judicial authority, diffuses a knowledge of the laws, or rather of the practice, neither beneficial
For every native man, woman, and child, understands the legal terms, and c dilate upon the history of actions, tokens, charges, and appeals, with technical precision and the pertinacity with which a common peasant will pursue a cause through all the differed courts, is both ridiculous and tormenting.
I heard an instance in point from very high authority, which I shall repeat as it was related to me.
"A man had made a charge of five shillings for digging; a grave, the customary price being only two shillings and sixpence. The affair was contended in the lowest ecclesiastical court, and in course given against the plaintiff, who them carried it to the bishop, and being still foiled has had the obstinacy to appeal to the metropolitan court at York, where this ridiculous case is still pending. But these contentions are generally amongst themselves, and form but trifling subject of annoyance to strangers, who with very little temper and caution, may keep clear of these petty inconveniences, which will never wholly subside until the legislature shall impose a tax upon law proceedings, and thereby render them less accessible to the peasantry, or till the deemsters, being remunerated by government at a fixed and competent salary, in lieu of the fees now granted, shall find it for their own ease to discountenance litigation.
The only military force at present in the island, are the volunteers, or local militia: there were formerly two fencible regiments of native troops in the pay of government, hut these being reduced at different times, a regiment of veterans took their place, who were however recalled when the war broke out again. It is probable the present system will not continue long, but that either a permanent force will be raised within the island, or some regiment from Great Britain be stationed here, it being absolutely necessary to have some troops for the protection of the prisons, and also to guard the stores, and enforce the authority of the customhouse officers against smugglers. It is a curious fact, that during the long period of war, when it was universally allowed that a single privateer might have ravaged the island, or laid either of the towns in ashes before assistance or protection could be afforded from England, yet no care was taken to organise those means of defence which were easily within the reach of the inhabitants. It is true that at every commanding point, all round the coast there were cannon; but these lay dismounted and useless, though, at the same time, government was paying a salary to an ordnance-keeper for his neglect. But immediately on the conclusion of peace an engineer being sent over, has ever since been actively employed in building batteries, arranging stores of ammunition, and mounting the cannon, as if it had been apprehended that, when all the rest of Europe was restored to tranquillity, the arms of the united potentates would be turned against the Isle of Man alone; at any rate, if this idea is considered as futile, I must leave it to clearer politicians than myself to say, why these measures of precaution were not taken before ? or why they' have been taken now?
If what I have said has failed to convey a general idea of the society and manners of the people, I know not how I shall make my account more accurate. In fact, except a few national traits, which remain permanently fixed, the features of the whole people have ever been liable to great variation, and are constantly influence by the different classes who come amongst thy of some of the most striking of these changing it maybe amusing, before we conclude, to take a slight review. In the earliest times we imagine the court of the. kings to have been adorned by knights and damsels, whom fancy is allowed to paint in all the splendour of chivalry and romance! next we find a race of peasants in mud-walled cottages, decked out on holidays, and at fairs, in their best blankets, and leaving us in some doubt what kind of drapery was substituted on less important occasions; sunk in extreme ignorance, dozing amidst foggy mountains, and dreaming of an intercourse with fairies and mermaids, or trembling at the power of witches and demons.
The next great revolution, converted these half stupified beings into a community having a mixed character between traders and robbers, who united the meanest traits of both professions, living by the exercise of fraud, and a sort of bastard courage called forth only by the prospect of gain, and wholly inapplicable to any better purpose: hitherto they had formed little connexion with foreigners, or had been little visited by them; all their varieties had sprung from internal circumstances; but at length a new scene opened, since which the changes have been more rapid, and of shorter continuance.
Luxury, as it advanced in Great Britain, continually drove out those sons and daughters of dissipation, who had sacrificed too largely at her altars, to expiate their vices or their follies in other climes; and when the revolutionary trap broke out, the continent being closed against such incursions, the Isle of Man became the sole retreat left open to them. At first, the animation and spirit which accompanied persons of this cast, threw a charm over their derelictions, and the natives, dazzled by the polished manners and superior acquirements of their visitors, opened their hearts end their houses to them; but this cordiality was short lived. Gold had, at this time, become one of the household gods of the Manx, and it was not possible to preserve this deity inviolate from the attacks of the strangers, hence arose suspicion on one side, and contempt on the other; so that, at last, both parties drew off into separate associations, and all chance of conciliation was at an end. It is now about twelve years since this feud was at its height, and as that was the period of my arrival in the island was both astonished and alarmed at the enmity then existing between them. The weekly paper was the instrument of war, and the anger of both sides was vented in repartee and inuendo in which attacks, it must be owned, the advantage lay with the strangers.
The Manx continually threatened to withdraw the protection afforded to these interlopes, who in their turn warned them, that the island would be ruined by such a measure: they insisted that all the prosperity of the country originated with them! that it was supported by their money, and might be civilised by their example; in fact, to listen only to one side, any one would have supposed these were a class of missionaries who had made a pilgrimage, with the disinterested view of diffusing light and wealth, whilst the Manx as sturdily denied the benefit, and expressed their wish to be left in mediocrity and ignorance, rather than be annoyed by the airs of superiority assumed over them. It was in the height of this contest that a new clan arrived to divert and occupy the public attention. These were a tribe of duellists, or what Addison would have called "Mohawks," chiefly drawn front the green shores of Erin, and no sooner had they landed than peace spread her wings, and for many months was heard of no more. I am not exaggerating when I assert, that every evening closed upon a quarrel, and every morning dawned upon a challenge! explanations! Apologies! points of honour! and effusions of valour formed the sole subjects of discourse! No meeting, however peaceably arranged between the most intimate friends, could ever brew up with-out a deadly feud, which nothing but lead and gunpowder could allay; for a length of time the whole island, [but Douglas in particular,] was in a state of ferment, till the meetings grew so frequent that even terror was worn out, and it began to be observed, that by some lucky change the heroes still gathered bloodless laurels; so that at last, the heroines left off to faint or to fear, and it became necessary to make some body weep, that every body might not laugh At length two gentlemen did meet in real earnest, and one fell a victim to Molock; yet such was the apathy with which the scene was regarded, that although at the moment of this melancholy event there were, as usual, a group of the " Mohawk" tribe assembled to witness the rencontre yet did they all take to flight in different directions, and left the unhappy man to breathe his last unassisted and unsupported.
This is the first and last fatal duel upon record in the Isle of Man, since that time the mohawks have "worn their arms with a difference," and to a certain degree the peace of the community has been restored; the principals fled the island, and the rest of the parties, dividing the reflected glories of this exploit between them sat down pretty quietly under the shade of them honours; only now and then taking advantage of the renewed fears of the ladies, to mutter an execration, look fierce, and exhibit their skill at snuffing candles with pistol balls.
But as it is out of nature wholly to repress the effervescence of original fire, the " Mohawks" next assumed a new fancy; they clothed themselves in long dark cloaks, encouraged the growth of their whiskers and mustachios, girt their loins with leathern belts, in which they stuck pistols, and a stiletto, and in this terrific array did a band of these worthies parade the streets of the town; yet I must do them the justice to say, I never heard of any essential mischief achieved by them, though one of them planted the lawn before his house with cannon, and certainly killed all the ducks and geese of a neighbouring farmer with grape-shot; but as he liberally paid the damage, it was, perhaps, as well as any other market to which the good dame could have sent her poultry.
Since this epoch there have been few striking alterations in the state of society, till the passing of the new act. At the present time all is peace and good order; the dissipated are nearly extirpated, the riotous effectually restrained, and, if I am not greatly mistaken in any calculations, the period is arrived when all distinctions being done away, the most easy and social intercourse will henceforth be established between natives and strangers, or rather, considering themselves as subjects of one government, the invidious distinction will be lost altogether in the common and enviable name of Britons.
* Extract from a funeral sermon preached on the death of Mrs. Stowell, by the Rev. Thomas Howard, vicar of Braddan.