[from D. Robertson, Tour, 1794]
VIEWS OF SOCIETY IN DOUGLAS PROPENSITY OF THE INFERIOR CLASSES TO GAMBLING THE THEATRE PREJUDICES OF THE NATIVE PRODIGALITY OF THE ENGLISH AN AFFECTING STORY,
DOUGLAS, from its trade and commerce(1), is the most important town in the Island; and its inhabitants, from their intercourse with strangers, the most polished in their manners. But Douglas is not only the chief seat of commerce: it is also the principal residence of the English. Officers on halfpay, and gentlemen of small fortunes resort hither; invited by the abundance of the necessaries, and the easy access to the luxuries, of life. Besides these, there are several decayed merchants who have sought shelter here from the persecution of unrelenting creditors (2): these live in retirement, and seldom mingle with their more independent countrymen.
To the society of the English Douglas is considerably indebted. They have given life and gaiety to the town; and have contributed to polish the manners of the natives. Convivial societies, assemblies, and card-parties, are now frequent among the higher circles of Douglas. Whist is their favourite game; and they seldom play high. Cards are however introduced on every occasion, and generally accompanied with a plenitude of excellent wines.
Among the inferior classes gaming is far more pernicious. Inebriation is here its , constant attendant. The taverns are nightly filled with tradesmen; who, on the chance of a card, a die, or a billiard-ball, will hazard their last farthing. When carried to this excess, gaming is highly criminal. The mind, infatuated with play, becomes blind to every danger, regardless of every duty, and callous to every attachment. The gamester not only rushes on precipitately to his own ruin; he frequently involves the innocent therein.: and how greatly must it heighten his distress to reflect, that by this infatuation to play, he may have reduced a virtuous wife and late-flourishing family to misery! Yet, in Douglas, there are some awful monuments of this wretchedness.
Although the liberal arts have few votaries here, a neat theatre has been erected by Captain Tenison, with the benevolent design of contributing to the relief of the poor. But, from the penury of dramatic genius in this country, his charitable intentions have been hitherto frustrated: and experience has lately shown, that here the admirers of the Drama are too inconsiderable to support, even for a few weeks, a regular company.
The harmony of society in Douglas is sometimes marred by mutual prejudices. In many of the natives, a show of politeness and hospitality, there is a secret aversion to strangers: and in several of the English an unreasonable contempt of the Manks. The one is deemed too shrewd and selfish; and the other too prodigal. The Manksman has been accused of seeking interest, with insatiable avidity, in all his pursuits; and the Englishman, with much justice, has been upbraided with sacrificing every object to present enjoyment: while these prejudices are frequently heightened, by the thoughtless prodigality of the stranger involving him in debt to the native, and thereby subjecting him to the incivilities of an importunate creditor.
Many of the English gentlemen, resident here, are more acquainted with convivial enjoyments, than with the pleasures of retirement. They are more Bon Vivants, than Penserosos. Accordingly, the festive entertainments of the English are numerous and splendid; while each studies to emulate the other by the sumptuousness, or delicacy, of his table, and the variety and profusion of his wines. But this prodigality of the English, frequently exceeding their income, becomes highly culpable. It injures the natives; it affects the credit of other strangers; and often precipitates themselves into the deepest distress. Omitting many recent instances of this, I shall select one which happened some years ago, as it was attended with a circumstance peculiarly affecting.
Captain was a gallant Veteran, who had suffered and bled for his country, in the wilds of America. Having there distinguished himself by cool intrepidity, at the close of that unfortunate war, he returned with the troops to England; where he was soon afterwards reduced to half-pay. With this pittance he retired to Douglas. His daughter, a young, beautiful, and accomplished woman, attended him. Her beauty was softened by a pensive melancholy, arising from the perfidy of a wretch, who, under the most sacred vows, had violated her honour. On their arrival they attracted attention. He was respected for his valour, and she esteemed for her beauty. They were every where received with a splendid hospitality; which the pride of the gallant veteran endeavoured to return and emulate. But this profuse generosity soon exhausted his finances; and ere his next half-pay could relieve him, he was arrested and imprisoned. Every frown of fortune the veteran bore with the dignity of virtue. His daughter's presence illuminated the horrors of a prison. With filial piety she mitigated his sorrows; and in her tenderness he forgot for a while the injuries of mankind. This, however, was a deceitful calm; for a few weeks revealed the daughter's shame, and brought the father's grey hairs with anguish to the grave. Being exquisitely alive to the honour of a soldier, his feelings could not brook the dishonour of his daughter. Under such a weight of misery he sunk; yet in his last moments he tenderly embraced, and poured forth blessings over his deluded child. Her anguish was inexpressible. She buried her father: but did not long survive him. Her frame was too delicate to support the anguish of her mind. She languished; she sunk, and at length sought in a better world that peace, which had been denied her in this,
1: As Douglas is the principal port of the Island, I intend to give an ample account of its present trade and commerce, after the topographical department of the work.
2: The Isle of Man is universally accounted an asylum to those, who have contrasted debts during their residence in Britain or Ireland; and presuming on this, some have fled hither and defrauded their creditors: but, at present, there is no law existing in this Island, which protects a debtor from the prosecution of his creditor, when the debt is sufficiently Proved