[From Our Centenarian Grandfather]
THERE were only three rectors in the island, all with stipends of a little over £300 a year, and fourteen vicars receiving about £130. This, however, seems to have been exclusive of their glebe land. But living must have been amazingly cheap in those good old times. Some of the habits even among the clergy were primitive. " While spending a summer day, on one occasion, with dear old Mr. -- at his rectory, I had written a letter just before leaving, and asked my host for a candle in order to seal it. After some hesitation he replied: " I am very sorry, Archdeacon, but I never allow a candle in the house between Ladyday and Michaelmas. We should all be sitting up too late if we had lights." Another time, in my earlier days on the Island, I dropped into a farmhouse about seven o'clock to pay a parochial visit. The sun had hardly sunk, and there being nobody about, I assumed they had not come in from their outside duties. So I entered the house and sat down on a stool by the embers of the peat fire in the kitchen to await them. After sitting some time in solitude, a suspicion of the truth began to dawn on me, and at the same moment the situation was unmistakably announced by a long-drawn snore issuing from the dark recesses of the room where there was a locker bed. In short, the whole household were in bed and asleep! "
That there was superstition in the island in those days is a matter of course. Manxmen declare there is a great deal still existing. Of course there is, and almost everywhere else in the kingdom, despite railroads, tourists and trippers save perhaps in the home counties, which represent all rural England, to so many writers of country articles. If they have not been exorcised from Devon and Cornwall, too, by the hordes of strangers that within my memory have literally transformed those counties, and almost vulgarized them, thanks to the great enterprise of the Great Western Railway, one might almost fancy they had been written out of existence in the miles of printer's ink concentrated upon the south-western peninsula. But there are still regions, and well-known to me, where the tourist goes not, and that the novelist, male or female, has not exploited, where strange. things go forward even still. In the wild mountain and moorland solitudes of central and South Wales, for instance, there are men here and there, owning several thousand sheep, who not only believe in witches, but who pay substantially for their charms and incantations. And there are certain families among them in which these mystic powers are hereditary. But these things are spoken of in a whisper and never to the outsider. The other day, however, a witch from this mountain country was sentenced to six months' imprisonment at Cardiff Assizes. A hill farmer, concerned about his health, had paid her in instalments £300. The English judge who sentenced her, spoke to me of the case a few months afterwards, as unique in his long experience. He had not imagined such things could be! It did not surprise me in the least, for I knew well they were always smouldering in that country. But what did surprise me was that the victim had the hardihood to take the case into Court !
And again I knew quite well a mountain ash tree at the corner of a wood in Herefordshire. Its silvery bark on one side had been nearly all chipped away in the course of years, and in each chip a gash had been made, and in each gash was or had been a human hair. An adjoining ash had just been started upon in like fashion the year the war broke out. The first cuts on it were quite fresh. and the 'hairs still in them when I last visited it.' This was no playful local custom or joke at all. The slight operation was done when required privately and seriously. It was a spell for the relief of natives of the parish living in distant parts, and suffering from a familiar specific disorder. The parish, which I knew well, was not a remote one, nor the people ignorant, but just normal country folk.
My grandfather held all superstition in utter scorn, as was natural to his creed and character, though they amused him. When, in his old age, any of the juveniles of his numerous clan expressed a fear of or interest in ghosts in his presence, he had one invariable answer which settled the matter in his opinion, for good and all, though it did not add much to psychological science. " My dears, I shall be (say) 89 next birthday, if I live, and I have never yet seen a ghost, so you may be quite sure you never will, nor yet anyone else." It is quite certain he would have gone for it straight if he had, provided it had been a gentleman. But then he was just one of those people, and perhaps one would not say it of many, whom one feels quite certain no spectre would have the hardihood to approach. But the local superstitions amused him considerably. Hardly anyone in the island would cross a country bridge at nine o'clock at night, as at that hour they were all briefly occupied by the witches. "In one of my visitations round the island, Mr. M--, a Manx parson, and my registrar, was riding with me on his old grey mare. As it was nearing nine o'clock, and we were approaching Sulby bridge, he was evidently in great anxiety, and kept hinting to me that it was time we pushed on. I knew what was in his mind, and out of mischief persisted in our slow pace. As we got close to the haunted spot, he pulled out his watch and so did I. It was just upon the fateful hour, and M-, without more ado, set spurs to his horse and galloped across the bridge as if Satan were at his very heels, leaving me shouting with laughter. "
" The house fires were everywhere extinguished on April 30, and fresh ones laid on May I, and ignited by rubbing two sticks together. (The Beltane fires are referred to in the first pages of this book.) Gorse, too, was sometimes burnt on the mountains to drive the witches out. The above-mentioned M-- was an old miser and a bachelor, who, out of a living of about £130 a year and a mountain glebe, we were pretty certain had saved a large sum of money by pinching and saving, and rather niggardly practices generally. Stopping at his vicarage one day in passing I said to him: ' M--, I have a missionary meeting in my schoolroom to-night, you had better come on with me and say a word at it.' ' Never attended a missionary meeting, and never made a speech in my life,' said the horrified registrar. 'Well, then, it is time you did,' said I, 'and I will tell you what to say. " Gentlemen and ladies, I am delighted to be at this meeting to-night, I ought to have subscribed to the society for the past fifty years, and to make up for this neglect of duty, I will put £50 into the plate to-night." The old man gasped 'Why, Mr. Archdeacon, it would totally ruin me 'Well,' said I, 'you are hoarding your money for others to spend probably in folly, possibly in sin, when you will be in your grave. Remember, you must meet your gold again at the judgment Day, and if it be found with a rust upon it, it will damn your soul.'"
This trenchant denunciation was worth £50 to the Society as, though the old miser shied at the meeting, when he died soon afterwards there was found a codicil to his. will of this date, to that effect. Though the sombre prophecies of his Archdeacon with regard to the ultimate dispersion of the handsome little fortune he left were not literally fulfilled, a much worse thing in the eyes of the deceased, if he could have witnessed it, came about. For through the immediate marriage of his next of kin it came into the hands of the man he hated most in the world!
" All our clerks were more or less original characters ; that at Bride, then Mr. Nelson's parish, was a one-armed man having lost his limb at Waterloo. He read the responses in a tremendous voice but would never repeat the sentence in the Creed 'descended into Hell,' but was always seized with a fit of coughing at the moment. I was taking the service there for a few Sundays and explained to him at great length how the word had not here the meaning he imputed to it and for what reasons. He seemed fully satisfied but on the next Sunday at the critical moment he had an even louder. fit of coughing and choking rather than pronounce the objectionable word, so I gave tip the attempt. My own clerk at Andreas was a bit of a character. He controlled the music, such as it was (my grandfather had not a note in him), and one day when a relative whom he hated, but who had made a good deal of money, turned up at church, he gave out the hymn, then in our old version: 'When wicked men grow rich and great.'"
Sheep stealing was a great trouble in the Isle of Man in those days and it was all the worse, despite the seeming paradox, in that it was a capital offence, Modern* writers are continually holding up the terrible penalties, recorded on the statutes in former days as if they were strictly enforced. In the Isle of Man, at any rate, the death penalty acted much more to the injury of the sheep-owners than of the sheep-stealers, for everyone shrank from pressing a case to judgment.
" One day while at Oak Hill Captain Bacon called me out to come and see how one of his sheep during the night had been killed, where the extremity of his land joined mine, and carried away. We sent for Major Tobin, a magistrate who lived near. I detected the thiefs footprint on the soft ground where the blood had been spilt and getting a piece of paper, cut it to the exact shape of the boot, which had an iron heel broken at one end and a nail out on the other side, defects easily marked. There was a man living at the end of my parish I had reason to suspect. So we all repaired in my carriage to his hovel where he was sitting over the peat fire looking dirty and jaded. 'What have you done with that sheep you killed in the night? ' I said sharply to him. He roughly denied the accusation. 'Then take ' off you left boot,' I said, which he refused to do. I called in William Christian (the coachman) from the carriage and said, 'Take that man's boot off!' He now saw there was no help for it and submitted. The proof was ample but there was no prosecution! We shortly afterwards had the law altered and whipping at the cart's tail and imprisonment substituted. Unfortunately, the first offender was a woman. The punishment was inflicted, nevertheless, near Peel, and that was the end of sheep-stealing in the Isle of Man."
The Vicar-General, as I have said, was now by virtue of his office a member of the Upper House of Keys, otherwise the Governor's Council. This was composed as it still is, of the bishop, archdeacon, attorney-general, receiver-general, the two Deemsters (judges), the vicar-general and the clerk of the Rolls.
The Lower House consisted of twenty-four members ; five from Douglas, one each from the other three towns, Ramsey, Castletown and Peel, the rest from six electoral districts. In those days there was not much of democracy in Manx politics. The House itself. was permanent and when vacancies occurred, two candidates for a division or town were selected by the sitting members submitting their names to the governor, who chose one of them; a comfortable family sort of affair. There was no voting or any nonsense of that kind !
All this was altered in 1866 and now the local government is run by the counting of noses male and female as in England, and indeed as it had been nominally in ancient times save for the women. The procedure of this diminutive Legislature was precisely the same as that of Westminster.
But when a Bill from the island had received Royal assent it was not valid until it had been passed by a full Court of Tynwald, which consisted of the three estates Governor, Council and Keys. The Vicar-General describes the first Tynwald Court he attended as a member of the Council. " It was held as customary on old Midsummer Day (July 6) near the church of St. John between Douglas and Peel and very nearly in the centre of the island. The meeting place was on the grassy mound which had been raised for the purpose in past ages On the top of this was pitched a tent surmounted by the English flag emblazoned with the ancient arms of Man, the familiar three legs. People came to it from all quarters of the island and made it a general holiday. First there was a service in St. John's church. After that all the officials marched in procession to the Tynwald Hill close by, the Commander of the troops, the Governor, the Council and the House of Keys. The two Deemsters from in front of the tent then read out the Acts passed in the preceding year both in Manx and English. I had to speak on this occasion in connection with my Vicar-Generalship and took the opportunity of inserting a few friendly words to the Wesleyan Methodists, who were a strong and respectable element in the island and had not yet quite broken from the church, though the late bishop, (poor Dr. Murray!) had greatly strained the connection. When all this was over the procession was again formed to the church, where the Acts were signed by the members of the two Houses and given over to the custody of the Clerk of the Rolls."
In connection with his Barrow professorship my grandfather was active in preparing young men for the church and recommending them for ordination at Chester or Carlisle, and not only for the Manx ministry. Among these students was one of the young Curwens of the well known Cumbrian family, a fact only worth mentioning as it led to an enjoyable and longish visit to Workington and also to Bell-isle, their beautiful second place on Windermere, and incidentally to a glimpse of the lake notabilities. "After preaching on Sunday at Ambleside, with Wordsworth in the congregation, he came into the vestry afterwards to thank~. me for my sermon, and invited me to visit him, which I did the next day, and spent an exceedingly pleasant two hours with him at Rydal Mount." Wordsworth's attitude towards his numerous visitors is always an interesting though not invariably an edifying note in the voluminous pages of Wordsworthian lore. I have forgotten, I regret to say, the Vicar-General's verbal recollections of the incident and the MS. note on it is brief as shown above. This visitor, however, was not one to suffer monologues gladly, nor can I quite imagine him listening with becoming rapture to lengthy recitations from The Excursion. They must have had some theological talk I may state that with certainty. Probably it was got over quickly and quite satisfactorily. But after all, perhaps, they went round the garden and talked flowers and trees, a subject of deep common interest.
" I also visited de Quincey who had not long written his Confessions of an Opium-eater. We remained a few minutes in the room before he appeared, and I noticed a silver coffee biggin which stood on the hob. We made free to take a peep into it and it contained his opium which he was then said to be taking in decreasing doses. I took no notes of my visits to these celebrities, but I did in the case of Southey whom I called upon a little later. He gave the first impression of a very while man, white coat and trousers that is to say, white face and white hair, a semicircular profile, very Roman nose and an expression of singular shrewdness, in his quick severe eye under his shaggy eyebrows. We went together into his study, crammed with books, as were two adjoining rooms. He showed me a bust of Wordsworth, beautifully executed by Chauntry. Whenever the conversation became animated he rose and rapidly paced the room in various directions so that he was sometimes behind me when I was addressing him. My eye caught Anuales Sanctorum in many volumes, many also of Baronius. I spoke freely on religious subjects, and found he was rather opposed to my views and alluded to the case of his friend, Channing, who after preaching the doctrine of Calvin, turned first Arian and then Deist. He much disliked all dissenters except the Wesleyan Methodists." They then discussed the merits of the Bishop of Durham's sermons, and those of Robert Hall, Miller and Delious, and the state of religion in America.
The thorny subject of conversion and converts by which the Vicar-General set such store all his life was then introduced, but Southey was sceptical on that point. His fencing on the subject is rather amusing, till he discreetly switched off on to politics, and both agreed that to rob the boroughs of their vested rights was a shameful thing, and that the King's mind which had already occasioned anxiety on a former question would give way at his surrender, and further that Brougham was not trusted even by his own friends. After a further talk about Southey's own prose work and a great deal about Edward Irvine and Hall, Southey telling many anecdotes about both with great vehemence and action, the ladies appeared ; " two daughters, kind, courteous, pretty and lively, and Mrs. Southey, a stout contented lady." The pair parted quite affectionately at the drive gate.
About this time my grandfather had an eccentric but welcome visitor who caused a mild sensation in the island. This was his wife's brother, Harvey Vachell, a young captain of Engineers, just returned from many years service in Van Dieman's land; one of the two boys at Harrow, when his father's house in Cambridgeshire was gutted by the rioters as already told. He had gone on to Woolwich, passed for the Engineers, been inspected with the cadets by the Great Duke, and apparently by his own wish sent at once on duty to the antipodes. It was a common jest long ago in the Army, that Engineer officers when approaching, middle life were either "mad, married or methodists." In the slightly hyperbolic sense herein implied, my great uncle was rapidly qualifying for the first and last of these characters. He deferred the middle one till he had had his fling of adventure. He had been stationed now for many years in Tasmania, then known as Van Dieman's land, and a penal colony. His job had been to take gangs of convicts into the remote wilderness, road making, surveying and the like, with a full measure of hardship and isolation, and for weeks together on "a mixed diet of kangaroo and parrot." He brought home some gruesome stories of his convicts. One told of how a couple in attempting to escape lost themselves in the bush. One alone in emaciated condition after many weeks of wandering found his way back to headquarters, having been compelled to kill and eat a portion of his friend! The penalty for attempted escape was not very severe! Particularly when it brought its own punishment as it generally did ; while the confession of manslaughter and cannibalism was not of course official,.but the man's excuse in intimate moments was short and frank. " Well, I was not going to starve" .
The captain brought a good sized monkey with him whose exploits in and around Oakwood made the house and neighbourhood in the end too hot to hold it, and brought it to an enforced and untimely end. he had conveyed this too enterprising beast all the way from Southampton on top of the coach, after a long preliminary struggle with the various drivers and guards, who had iisisted on charging a full passenger's fare for him as presumably he would occupy a seat. His master however, denied this and compromised for half-fare as the ape would sit quietly on his shoulder the whole way, a feat for both man and monkey, which was actually achieved to the dismay of some passengers, and the entertainment of wayside posting houses innumerable. The captain after a short time began to feel "the call of the wild " irresistible, and used to take to the mountains with gun and rod for days and nights together, sheltering when he felt like it in mountain hovels. This would not have much mattered, but he had brought home .with him his bush outfit, consisting of a full equipment including cap, contrived out of kangaroo and other skins. In this he roamed the country and scared some of the natives out of their wits. Incidentally too, he added to the mythical fauna of the island.
For some years afterwards, my grandfather and his brother-in-law were visiting a fisherman's family in a sequestered cove on the north-west coast. The old woman was discussing mermaids, apparently as common objects of the seashore, but had only discovered of late years, she declared, that there were also mer-men, as they had once watched one for a long time sitting on the rocks at the point of the cove, and it was covered with hair. This was, of course, my eccentric uncle in his fur clothing, though he did not reveal the fact to his entertainers, who lived and died no doubt, under their thrilling conviction. Possibly it abides there yet ! He soon qualified for the third attribute of the typical engineer officer and was "converted" by his sister and brother-in-law, for Mrs. Philpot, who had blithely shared all such gaieties as Suffolk afforded in her youth, had before coming to the island adopted her husband's more serious views with a rigidity that never mellowed in old age like his. She also helped in his work so far as was possible for a lady who bore ten living children in seventeen years with more to follow. Her brother gave up the Army, read for the church with my grandfather's other theological students and was ordained in due course by Bishop Ward. But the wild called him again, this time with the added enthusiasm of a missionary, to the ends of the earth. He returned. however, in a few years to Cambridgeshire, married there a Miss Pemberton, settled down in a country living in those parts, and died in his rectory at a ripe old age.